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IMPERIAL 5210; NOVEMBER 1952

 
 

 

Where do we start with this?

Should we announce the news of the return of Dave Bartholomew the artist to Imperial Records, joining Dave Bartholomew the producer who had come back to the label last spring after a year and a half absence in that capacity?

Or should we focus on the fact that Bartholomew may have finally found the key to his artistic persona with the acceptance that he was unlikely to find consistent success as a straight vocalist and so he’s fine-tuned the smart, witty and sarcastic wise guy approach which will form a large part of his image as a singer from now on?

Or this being Christmas Eve as the review goes up, maybe we should just take it as an opportunity to raise a glass to him on what would’ve been his hundred and fifth birthday.

Whichever route we choose, this record makes for an early Christmas present for all of us.
 

 

I Had To Take A Walk
First thing’s first I guess, which is the fact that now we have both sides of Dave Bartholomew under the same roof. Artist and producer.

Though we’ll soon be seeing a leftover track coming out on King Records, his home from this point forward, at least until well into the 1960’s, will be Imperial Records. While we still may wish that he was free to produce sides for other labels – namely Aladdin, where he recently oversaw Shirley & Lee’s smash debut, and Specialty, where he shepherded Lloyd Price to stardom – we can’t complain that he’s reunited with his best collaborator in Fats Domino at Imperial.

But while his writing and production work will naturally form the bulk of his towering reputation, the fact is Bartholomew’s own performing career was hardly just an egotistical indulgence.

Granted, his odd semi-spoken vocals accentuated by the often fractured melodic gait he employed and the increasingly off-the-wall subjects he chose all combined to ensure he was hardly a threat for mainstream stardom, but he was always at least interesting to hear, frequently enjoyable and occasionally downright inspired.

The latter designation definitely includes this song which is more than quirky enough to assume it came from his pen, when in fact Who Drank My Beer While I Was In The Rear was written by Billy Austin and already saw two releases in the last few months, one by Chuck Murphy and the other by Tommy Duncan.

Though we rail against cover versions in general, every so often someone upends that position because they understand how to choose material for purely artistic reasons rather than commercially opportunistic ones.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that Dave Bartholomew the producer knows how to make something like this work for Dave Bartholomew the artist.
 


 
 

Such Dealings Call For Action
Most songs where the story itself is supposed to be funny have a much higher rate of failure due to the simple fact that the delivery requires a perfect touch, selling not just the jokes themselves, but the character’s personality required to make those jokes believable.

Both Chuck Murphy and Tommy Duncan’s records are in the country field and whatever your opinion on the artistic quality of the music itself, there’s little question that it’s a genre which everything is taken at face value. There’s very little nuance to be found lyrically and so while the story holds up no matter who sings it, the performances leave something to be desired.

Duncan plays it so straight that the humor is lost altogether. Murphy on the other hand plays up the humor with a track that throws in sound effects, mostly played by instruments at least, while his vocals are that of an exaggerated rube at times. It tries TOO hard to be funny, while Duncan’s doesn’t try hard enough.

Dave Bartholomew on the other hand is an actor who adds so much to the character in the script that it almost demands a writing credit as he gives him such an inflated sense of self that it makes his having his drink pilfered understandable, thereby adding immeasurably to the humor by providing motivation while at the same time sets up the attitude behind his own response to the crime.

When Duncan asks the question posed in the title he’s merely shaking his head in stupefied amazement, giving off a vibe of sad incomprehension regarding his fate. Murphy meanwhile is playing to the crowd in the bar when he finds his drink gone, trying to win them over with his silliness, probably because he has to acknowledge the theft but doesn’t want to fight over it.

But when Dave queries Who Drank My Beer While I Was In The Rear he’s more indignant than angry, as if the affront to his sense of honor is of greater importance to him than reimbursing him for the booze. He’s talking down to the other patrons without drawing their ire in the process, scolding them in such a manner that is sure to neuter their response to his harsh criticism of their actions.

On one hand this supercilious figure questioning their morality might deserve a punch in the snoot, but he makes himself seem so above that kind of confrontation – despite vowing to ”disconnect their future” – that his unusual approach surely is putting them back on their heels.

Here’s where his semi-spoken delivery fits the character so perfectly. He’s actually sticking to the melody pretty well, adding to it in fact, but his pinched slightly nasal tone reflects the piqued mindset he’s showing so well that you can practically see the look on his face just by listening, thereby giving you a visual image to make the lines even funnier.

Meanwhile his usual cohorts in the band are framing the performance nicely by keeping it a slow steady pace, sort of a slightly buzzed feel if you want to link it to the subject matter. By contrast the other versions are taking it too fast, thereby eliminating much of the implied tension in the barroom.

When the sax starts blasting away in a stuttering progression before handing off to a more measured brief solo, it serves to build your anticipate for the payoff. That it’s humorous is to be expected. That it’s conclusive in wrapping up the tale is nice, as not all songs think to do that for us. But as he’s resigned to losing his ten cent draft, frowning with disappointment over the low moral character of his fellow man, we actually get the complete picture of the role Bartholomew is playing. A haughty somewhat self-important figure who expects others to live up to his standards while refusing to stoop to theirs.

That’s Dave Bartholomew in real life by all accounts, but the fact that he found a way to showcase it while making him more likeable in the process – and by using somebody else’s song no less! – might be his greatest feat as an artist to date.
 


 

Point The Buzzard Out To Me
The timing and placement of this review is not coincidental… and not just because Dave was born Christmas Eve 1918 either and we planned it this way to celebrate the birth of rock’s greatest producer.

But we also purposefully had it follow Margie Day’s cover of a country hit called Midnight, which she sang well but was done in by a putrid arrangement while not reflecting her artistic persona in the least.

The point of this sequencing is to show that while cover versions are mostly an anathema to artistic expression, there ARE exceptions to every rule. It’s just the exceptions usually come when somebody who has no shortage of creative autonomy themselves are the ones doing it rather than having it forced upon them.

As Dave Bartholomew shows with Who Drank My Beer While I Was In The Rear it’s possible on occasion for an artist to completely embody a song that someone else did first as if it came from your own heart, mind and soul.

This one is so thoroughly HIM in spirit that you almost believe that its origins must either be a cruel joke or completely made up, because while it seems almost blasphemous to say, this might be the record the best personifies Dave Bartholomew the artist… at least thus far.

It’s not a birthday present or a Christmas gift to say this one is absolutely perfect in his hands.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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