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As a songwriter and producer Dave Bartholomew was as fastidious as they came, a perfectionist who viewed his work for other artists as a reflection of himself and was such a proud man that decades later he’d still be rankled by the smallest flaws in even the biggest hits he oversaw.

Yet as an artist it seemed at times as if all of his persnickety obsession over the smallest details went out the window completely, not just shrugging off the occasional technical defect, but in fact ignoring the basic concepts of creating a smooth well-constructed song itself!

As such his own records were almost a total repudiation of his greatest attributes as a producer, yet still – for the most part anyway – they were still pretty good records in their own right, sometimes even approaching greatness.

Was this a case of him using his own output as a public testing ground for an entirely different approach, or was it simply somebody recognizing his own shortcomings as an artist and compensating for it with a carefree attitude that ran counter to his overall persona?

With Dave Bartholomew no longer around to ask, the question falls to a gal named Bessie.


Sit Back And Play It Cool
At the risk of being presumptuous and answering our own question, it seems most likely that when it came to his own performances Dave Bartholomew, no matter how much you’d think his growing success would insulate him from typical human insecurity, was a little self-conscious when it came to his own singing and every record he made had to find ways to deal with his reservations about revealing this.

Keep in mind, Dave Bartholomew came up as a jazz trumpeter, someone who hoped to play Dixieland in New Orleans, primarily an instrumental style in which vocal refrains – if any – were kept brief and typically done by the group as a whole rather than individuals.

But as times changed during his formative years in the 1940’s a different type of music emerged that was far more profitable. When Imperial Records came along in late 1949 and tabbed him to head up their sessions it allowed him to focus on what he did better than most which was write, arrange, produce and – at times, depending on the material – play trumpet in the band.

But seeing as how he was also an artist with his own string of releases, including the big hit Country Boy, before arriving at Imperial, he naturally expected to keep recording under his own name… except now he was bound to be outshined by those whose careers he was shepherding, most of whom were natural showmen with much stronger voices and singing styles that were better suited to the demands of rock singles.

So Bartholomew made two decisions with his own output. First he focused on quirky material like Messy Bessie where his odd delivery wouldn’t seem out of place but instead could be seen as part of the humor of those records… then (and this is mostly “educated speculation”) he tried not to give off the appearance in the studio that he cared much about the results, in effect downplaying expectations now that his production responsibilities made his position with the company secure.

Though understandable the results sometimes came across as simply… well, “messy”.


Driving Me Out Of My Mind
The opening eight seconds of this are fairly intoxicating with their interlocking piano and claves (replicating finger snapping) and while it’s nothing elaborate it’s certainly catchy and somewhat intriguing to see where they might take this.

Unfortunately they take it straight into Dave Bartholomew’s vocal chords where he proceeds to mangle the song beyond any recognition.

He sounds drunk at first, unaware of how loud and obnoxious he’s being, stumbling around, losing his key (literally in this case) to the point where if you were with him you’d be embarrassed and want to shove him into his room to pass out in peace.

But as it goes on he slowly sobers up… not completely, there’s no magic elixir for either drunkenness or misguided singing after all… but he seems to steady himself and focus on at least staying upright by sticking closer to the melody and not pretending that this recording session was all just a stupid joke that he wasn’t taking seriously.

Despite his increased efforts as it goes along, he never does settle in comfortably to the performance. It’s a case of somebody simultaneously doing something while watching themselves do it… or more accurately imagining other people watching him as he sings, and so he’s too stilted for this kind of casual conversational lyric to come off well.

Which brings us to the next aspect of Messy Bessie that Bartholomew didn’t apply his usual concentrated attention on – the lyrics.

Because this doesn’t take the time to craft much of a story and he seems more content to goof-off with a few colorful put-downs than create any motivations for the characters involved, it’d be easy to surmise that Bartholomew may have ad-libbed them on the studio floor, or at best scribbled them out just before the tapes started rolling.

But the evidence doesn’t bear that out for Dave cut this same song at another point around this time, with identical lyrics, for DeLuxe/King Records, showing that it had been composed in a more traditional sense all along (That version – although it went unreleased at the time – is the one available on Spotify which is why it’s not embedded here in case anyone was wondering).

Despite it being actually committed to paper beforehand though the lyrics aren’t all that inventive and often contradictory to boot.

Bessie is referred to as a clown, very pretty on the outside but cruel and demanding, while Dave’s response to this is to dump her even though he tells us he really loves her. As a result it all comes across as the ruminations of a man who is still grappling with his feelings for such a frustrating mate but rather than examine it with any substance he’s making light of it.

I suppose in a way that works, after all most people don’t turn to three minute records for deep human insights and so a casual character study, heavy on the quips and light on psychology, is hardly a detriment to those who just listen with casual interest. But you’d still like to get a sense there was some more thought that went into the narrative rather than being left to hope that the rest of the arrangement is able to fill in the holes left by such a scattershot type of song.

Played Me For A Fool
Musically you’d expect him to rebound from the haphazard story and oddball delivery and at least make the backing track compelling enough to earn a few spins on those merits alone.

To a degree it does that, but more so because of the quality of musicians than anything specific that they play.

That herky-jerky rhythm never lets up which is certainly to the song’s advantage because it’s got an addictive quality to it that ensures you won’t grow bored. Meanwhile the horns – minus Dave’s own trumpet since he’s far too busy waxing poetic on Messy Bessie and all of her personality defects – chip in with some melodic currents to keep the song moving forward, all of which is catchy enough to suffice.

The sax solo by either Clarence Hall or Herb Hardesty is not quite what we’d expect out of them, though it’s reasonably efficient without ever really stirring the senses. At least there’s a few moments of whimsy thrown in, maybe to keep the band amused during the session come to think of it, but while pleasant enough it doesn’t add up to much.

Yet in spite of the all-around half-hearted effort shown by everyone, from Bartholomew on down, there’s still somehow just enough character and nascent charm for you to mostly overlook its shortcomings.

Though this isn’t a record you’d be likely to ever seek out on its own it’s also not one you’d rush to turn off if it came up in the midst of a run of far better records of its time. Granted it’s far too idiosyncratic in nature to be widely appealing to the masses but sometimes that kind of eccentricity can work to its advantage, standing out for being weird rather than standing out for being subpar.

Maybe that was Bartholomew’s goal all along which fits in with our larger premise, particularly when it comes to maximizing his chances for modest success even if it undercuts his own artistic image in the process.

Hardly the most lofty objective all things considered, but not anything to bitterly complain about either.


(Visit the Artist page of Dave Bartholomew for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)