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The stakes have been raised now that Dave Bartholomew was back at Imperial Records as producer while still recording as an artist for their better funded rivals, King Records.

With more hits to his credit overseeing his New Orleans running mates Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and others, his overall market value has increased, even if his own records still aren’t hitting the charts themselves.

But while normally that may spell trouble for his prospects as a solo act, that may not matter much anymore, for if you had him under contract as an artist, wouldn’t it stand to reason that you might think it’d open the door for him to produce for your company as well… maybe even bring in new acts he discovered to bolster King’s strangely diminishing roster of hitmakers?

That’s the theory anyway and so the commercial fate of this latest single takes on added importance, as King Records surely wants to keep him happy in the hopes that his continuing presence on the label provides a new well-spring of possibilities as it had done for Imperial Records these last few months.


If They Treat Me Dirty, I’m Gonna Treat Them Dirty Too
We in the present know full well that Dave Bartholomew was not going to become a hit-maker on his own. In fact none of his subsequent sides for any label would make the charts and so his artistic career from this point forward is seen as merely a sideline to his primary occupation as producer, songwriter, arranger and bandleader, roles which earned him a veritable fortune over the years.

But that doesn’t mean his own output was irrelevant – for instance often times he worked out ideas on his records that he wound up fine-tuning for others later on – and it also doesn’t mean there weren’t some really interesting, often quirky and wholly enjoyable sides to be found amidst the commercial indifference.

However, because nothing much he did during the Nineteen-Fifties under his own name was a very big seller, and because there doesn’t seem to be too much consensus about which of the D.O.A. singles were entirely deserving of praise (save for one 1957 side that got belated widespread acclaim), that leaves each person to pick through his catalog in the hopes of finding something that jumps out at them personally.

Some might gravitate towards a particularly complex arrangement found on some of his sides. Others may look for an amusing storyline with memorable lyrics. There might even be a few who love the slightly bent vocal techniques he used on many of the songs. Regardless, he was too good of a music maker for there not to be at least something among his commercial still-born sides to pique your curiosity.

The Golden Rule wasn’t one of them going into this for me. It seemed okay, a fairly typical attempt of his at the time which had the usual pros and cons working for and against it, yet it hardly stood out at first listen. But as we always preach, in order to really understand an artist’s development and appreciate their creativity you have to go into each record with an open mind and often times only through repeated listening do you find what it is they were attempting to get across.

When you do that, this might actually become one of those dark horse candidates for an underappreciated minor gem.


May It Be Fast Or Slow, Live It Until You Die
Most people, when talking about Dave Bartholomew the creator, will invariably bring up his musicality. That’s what you notice on his records for others… the dense layers of instruments, each playing different parts but working in tandem to bolster those playing alongside them. At their best the arrangements shift under your feet while never making you unsteady as they go along.

Sure enough here he employs many of those techniques to good effect and we’ll definitely look at those. But first we need to examine another facet of his work that may unintentionally get the short-shrift historically… how good of a lyricist he was.

Now to be fair, when listening to Bartholomew himself croak these lines in his inimitable semi-spoken patter, it can be hard to really focus on the words and their underlying meaning rather than the way he delivers them. Because HE never seems to be taking them seriously – which was more a sign of his insecurity regarding his singing voice – it tends to prevent us from taking them seriously, or even noticing the flair with which he expresses his thoughts to begin with.

But on The Golden Rule the lyrics are uniformly strong even if the broken-melody he affixes them to makes them harder to stick in your mind as most good lines have a tendency to do.

The key facet of this here is how he takes the rule itself – “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” and immediately turns it on its head, saying he’s willing to forgo that rule to avenge somebody who has wronged him. So much for turning the other cheek!

But rather be a violent diatribe what this does is establishes his character right out of the gate, as he goes on to basically say that he’s somebody who wants only to be true to himself, to follow his own guiding star which seems to be to enjoy life without being hassled. It’s not a deep philosophical outlook by any means, but it’s a highly successful one if your goal is to be happy.

Maybe it’s hard to find much moral rectitude in a line like “If you go out balling and come back by the break of day/Just stagger on in, man, don’t worry about what the neighbors say”, but I guarantee that on a Sunday morning when those neighbors are trudging off to church while Dave is passing out in his own bed with a contented smile on his face after a long night of harmless depravity, the one who feels bad physically will feel a helluva lot better emotionally than those who are on their knees worshipping a fictious god who promises some eternal reward for their servitude.

He may not always say it in the smoothest of ways, but the message Bartholomew imparts here is bound to make you smile along with him.


Let’s Play It Cool
Now we get to the area that he’s in no danger of being shortchanged on when it comes to credit… the musical aspects of this record, which are not designed to be explosive and knock you off your feet, but rather keep hitting you with one short quick jab after another, wearing you out and piling up points.

The amazing thing is, he wasn’t even using his OWN musicians here, though he could hardly go wrong with Todd Rhodes’ veteran crew… at least when it comes to skill, discipline and versatility.

But they’re not New Orleans musicians and so it’s interesting to see how Bartholomew deploys them on The Golden Rule, a song he wrote with a very definite Crescent City mindset at work.

The guitar of John Faire is most prominent here, not a big name historically but someone who put in a lot of time backing everyone from Roy Brown to James Brown in the studio. Here he’s ripping off ringing notes and then downshifting for more of a slurred effect. Meanwhile the others are playing a steady mid-tempo romping beat as Faire is zig-zagging around them. There’s an alternate take available where he’s even more aggressive and is well worth hearing, though the released version is more coherent making it a better choice for connecting on a broad scope.

The horns which were pretty subservient during those sections are rewarded by being given the break to themselves with Lefty Edwards’ tenor in the spotlight. It’s certainly not the kind of wild bouncing solo that a Herb Hardesty or Lee Allen would give him back home, but it’s got the right grit, the right tone and the right rhythmic insistence to make it work, all while the alto of Holly Dismukes, Teddy Buckner’s baritone and even Willie Wells’ trumpet (as opposed to Dave’s own trumpet) weave in and out behind it.

It’s a tight, efficient arrangement that consistently pushes forward without ever breaking stride or getting too far ahead, which gives Bartholomew’s odd-vocal lurch the steadiest possible ground for him to traverse.

You Satisfy
Though it’s hardly surprising this wasn’t a hit… very few rock fans at the time were even aware of Dave Bartholomew’s behind the scenes contributions after all… it’s not hard to envision something like this getting some spins outside of Louisiana.

The musical track has plenty to catch your ear, the composition has enough memorable lines to want to seek out again and it’s on a label with a good reputation to boot.

Granted the voice and delivery of Bartholomew is a bit unusual and in many cases that might be enough to steer some people away. Even now, with every rock fan worth their salt fully aware of his towering reputation, there’s bound to be those who just can’t warmly embrace the records of somebody who sounds so strident.

If so, it’s unlikely anything I say will convince you otherwise and I could even understand those qualities driving down somebody’s score for The Golden Rule a point… or even two.

But as a record this has so much going for it that it’s hard to imagine anyone dismissing it outright. The song presents a widely held attitude among rock fans in a colorful and interesting way with experienced first rate musicians at the peak of their powers under the helm of one of rock’s great overseers.

Give it a chance to grow on you and maybe along the way this will become a record that helps to show what was so special about the guy behind it all.


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