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FEDERAL 12062; MARCH 1952



Moving on up… to a bigger, better, more established record label with national distribution is a major event in an artist’s career. When that artist is just 16 years old and has been in the recording business all of a few months it must seem as if they’re on a rocket ship to the stars.

If you were Dorothy Ellis and looked around, seeing the band of Johnny Otis there to back you in the studio, you couldn’t help but think of Little Esther who they had similarly taken from obscurity when she was even younger and quickly turned her into a star… and with the same man in Ralph Bass producing those records as was now helming yours.

How could this go wrong?

You had to ask…


I Can Hardly Hide My Tears
Let’s not drop this theme so quickly, because this is one of those things that shows you that sometimes the more you learn, the less you know when it comes to music.

When we first met Dorothy Ellis back in the fall of 1951, she was not only making her debut in the studio, but the record label itself was taking its first bow. While Jake Porter, the owner of Combo Records, was a veteran jazz performer with plenty of experience, the company he started was his initial venture into that end of the business and so you’d think it’d be beset with a few problems that would be worked out over time.

While it’s true their arrangement for the song was a little confused stylistically, it was still fairly smoothly done.

Well, I guess so is He’s Gone, but if you thought that Bass, Otis and the band were all experienced enough to sidestep the potholes that had tripped up Porter, you’d be wrong, because they take a lot of the same missteps here starting with the fact they’re not quite sure how to frame Ellis, despite the fact that Federal Records is a rock label and the band, while skilled at other styles, had their success primarily as a rock act.

Yet this song is not sure what it wants to be any more than the Combo release was. It’d be one thing if they settled on something firm, even if it wouldn’t be our own choice – say a pure blues song and arrangement – but instead they seem to wander between ideas themselves.

On top of that Combo, despite being brand new on the scene, was able to promote their release far more than Federal did in the trade papers, all of which has you wondering if anybody involved with this was actually competent enough to stand trial for their crimes against an underaged girl trying to make a career while surrounded by incompetent fools.

It Seems Like A Thousand Years
As confused tracks vacillating between approaches go, this one at least has a pretty strong sense of professionalism in how they play… although the same had been true for Porter’s crew back in the fall too.

Maybe it’s that He’s Gone has just a hint more heft behind it because Ellis is singing in her more natural range from the start… or maybe it’s that repetitive horn hook that masquerades as rhythm just enough to fool you into thinking this is a little heavier than it really is.

Or it could just be that we’re going soft and are sympathetic to any teenage girl who was literally raised in a cottonfield as the daughter a sharecropper who watched her mother die of heat stroke in that same field when she was 11 years old and after being in a homeless shelter went out on her own at 13 to move to another state, get a job to support herself, while singing on the side.

Damn, if we handed out points for overcoming obstacles she’d be getting big green numbers every time out.

The thing is, it’s obvious Ellis can sing really well. She’s got really good control, a nice measured voice and a strong sense of melody. The song itself as written isn’t all that great, but at least fairly tolerable. She’s able to project weary resignation tinged with just the fainted trace of underlying hope (Gee, I wonder what she drew on to get that across?) and she meshes okay with the band. It’s just that the band seem to be treating this like a warm-up session before they get down to some real playing.

Now to be fair, the way this is laid out I’m not sure they could’ve turned it into anything more riveting without upending the song, but that’s exactly what they needed to do to make a bankable record. This is pleasant at best, indifferent at worst, a colorless backdrop for Ellis to try and paint over.

If she had walked off the street or won a talent contest or something and they were just taking a chance on her then this kind of backing would be more understandable, but no, they snatched her up once her Slowly Go Out Of Your Mind hit the Top Ten in Los Angeles and so obviously they thought of her as hot property.

Yet THIS is what you come up with to launch her into the national spotlight? A record that’s timid rather than bold, showcasing a vocal that’s forced to be reserved rather than vibrant while surrounding her with an arrangement that is laid back rather than in your face. If ever there was a single released with the intent of being overlooked, this is surely it.


I’ll Find My Consolation…
One more knock against the material, if you’ll indulge me. The heading of this last section, as with most of them on the site, is taken from lyrics of the song in question and that line which Ellis sings here ends with the admission ”in dim lights and alcohol”.

Now forget for a second that she’s just a kid – after all, she’s been forced to act as an adult since before she was a teenager – but think about how you’re presenting her to the public and imagine, as they surely must’ve, the best case scenario for this record.

D’ya see the problem brewing?

A torch song like He’s Gone is going to appeal to adults in classier clubs… where she’ll be legally unable to play for another two years because she’s underaged!

That’s right, give her a song that if it’s successful she won’t be able to capitalize on it in any way since she obviously wasn’t going to be getting performing royalties, which would be a pittance anyway even if this topped the charts for six months.

Little Esther of course had the same problem, which necessitated hiring someone else to sing in her place for the more stringent clubs, but while we can ridicule the laws themselves it’s far better in this case to ridicule those who were oblivious to the consequences of those laws for someone who needed to be able to earn a living by singing.

Idiots… every last one of them.


(Visit the Artist page of Dorothy Ellis for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)