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DUKE 103; JUNE 1952



Getting a last minute replacement worker is probably something that most companies only agree to with great reluctance and then are more or less resigned to not fulfilling their daily agenda.

Imagine your surprise when the temp winds up out-producing all expectations and proving their worth to such a degree that you end up hiring them full time.

It doesn’t happen much, but here’s one case where it did.


Found Our Leader
The session information is a little murky, but what we know is also pretty straightforward.

Bobby “Blue” Bland was signed to newly formed Duke Records to cut a session in May and given songs to learn by company owner – and WDIA program director – David Mattis only to discover the night of the session that Bland hadn’t learned them because he couldn’t read and was embarrassed to tell him.

Making the best of a bad situation Mattis had the group’s pianist Johnny Ace cut two songs when he heard him doodling around while they discussed their options and he also drafted their drummer Earl Forest into cutting the songs Bland was supposed to sing.

Apparently Baby, Baby was one of them even though it, like the flip, got credited to Forest as songwriter.

Usually record companies STEAL an artist’s writing credits, but then again Mattis was new at this and apparently hadn’t gotten the memo on the proper procedural moves designed to benefit them and rip-off their artists.

Forest proved a quick study and a good choice as he was able to sing with two slightly different vocal styles, using a deeper voice that has more presence on Rock The Bottle while lightening it up here which coincides with the more laid back, almost casual way he tosses off the compliments to his girl.

Truthfully this vocal sounds a little better. The relaxed mood he presents goes well with The Beale Streeters’ work on the lazy melody as Billy Duncan’s sax plays a catchy repetitive riff throughout the verses whose simplicity works to its advantage, while the solo at least stretches out beyond those handful of notes even as it remains fairly restrained in terms of assertiveness.

The soloing spot features a few guitar licks in support to give it a different vibe from the work on the verses where Ace’s somewhat harsh triplets and Forest’s drumming give it enough of a beat to hold course.

Lyrically it’s a little more interesting than that as Forest bemoans his unfaithful girlfriend while never quite unloading on her for what brought them to this point. He sounds more disappointed and conflicted over this turn of events than angry and when he projects a little more coming out of the break there’s some hints of Fats Domino in his vocals, not just in the tone but also in how Fats would frequently employ the same incredulity in his songs of this nature which allow you to feel sorry for the narrator.

Again, none of this is too advanced, but it’s pleasant enough to listen to and a nice representation of a pivotal moment in rock ‘n’ roll, where the Memphis contingent of musicians got their first real chance to show off their wares.


I Can’t Forget You
Duke Records had lucked out with Bland’s misguided pride, for not only did they wind up with him as their longest tenured star, straddling the line between rock and blues for decades worth of hits, but in Ace they got rock’s biggest male solo star over his all-too short lifespan.

Among that company Forest would unsurprisingly take a back seat to those whose star talent was far more evident, but he’d give them a huge hit in his own down the road and proved to be a capable vocalist in addition to providing drum services for two tenures with the label.

Baby, Baby might not seem like much of a calling card to build a career that would last more than forty years, but when he stepped to the microphone – or sat behind it since he was also drumming – as the tapes rolled, I’m sure David Mattis wasn’t expecting much and would be satisfied just to get something releasable with this makeshift lineup.

He got a lot more than that, but then he’d soon lose it all to another interloper, proving that maybe the only way to keep your hands clean in the record business was to just listen to them rather than try and make them yourself.


(Visit the Artist page of Earl Forest for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)