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In what’s usually no longer than one skimpy paragraph on drummer/vocalist Earl Forest in music history books, they’re sure to mention how he was a member of the famed Beale Streeters which included B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Johnny Ace and Billy Duncan, the first three of whom had more hits between them on their own over the course of their careers than the entire population of many states.

They’ll also say how Forest joined them on the charts for one Top Ten entry himself, the top half of this record, in the process giving their collective résumé a little more depth, even though that performance was pretty desultory all things considered.

Looking back, it’s entirely possible that in 1952 they just credited the wrong side with being a hit…


How Can You Love Me And Treat Me So Unkind?
It’s funny how expectations shift with just a little information added or taken away.

If you were a relative novice to this era of rock ‘n’ roll, or at least only familiar with the major names and records, and told that the A-side of this single was a Top Ten hit you’d probably go into the record thinking it’d be pretty good based on that information alone.

If you were told that the singer wasn’t a singer by trade, but a drummer who’d initially been forced into singing by unusual circumstances in the studio, you’d probably downgrade your assumptions on just how good he might be.

Yet if you found out that his bandmates in The Beale Streeters included Johnny Ace and Billy Duncan (a forgotten name because he never had a hit of his own, but well respected at the time around Memphis), along with Bobby “Blue” Bland and at one point B.B. King, all of whom Forest played behind on record, you’d likely elevate his chances for coming up with a good record on his own, strictly by the company he keeps.

Yet he’s the same artist with the same strengths and weaknesses in every case, it’s only the details being conveyed to you that changes your preconceptions.

So having learned that Whoopin’ And Hollerin’ was the hit side of this single – and then presumably having heard it and found it lacking thanks to underwhelming vocals and a weak arrangement led by a painful alto sax that takes too much of the focus – you’d may expect this song which wasn’t deemed to be even as good as that by Duke Records, who slapped it on the B-side, to be dreadful.

At the very least you’d be able to tell yourself that based on the tastes of the general public in 1952 who got to pick between them and willfully chose the other one, that surely Pretty Bessie must at least be the lesser composition and weaker performance and thus you wouldn’t miss much if you chose to pass it over altogether.

But that’s not the case, for while you wouldn’t necessarily say this is hit material, it’s certainly exceeds your lower expectations whereas the other side failed to live up to the higher expectations it’d have knowing that it’d been a hit.

Then again, maybe you can just throw expectations out the window because this is clearly the better side no matter what you thought going in.


I Try Everything
What immediately sets this apart over the strangely popular A-side, is this is actually an ensemble performance by Earl Forest and the band, starting with Johnny Ace pounding the piano at a steady pace right as the needle drops.

He’s not going crazy on it, bruising his fingertips or anything, but he’s giving you something to grab hold of, not only giving you a melodic thread but a rhythmic one as well, and when the horns join in the already vibrant sound of the keyboard is brightened even further as the melodic riff takes hold.

What they’re playing is pretty basic stuff, just a run of the mill barroom band riff essentially, and since they don’t deviate from this pattern you might think it will become a little monotonous after awhile, but because it’s built around delivering that bouncy feeling you tend not to mind as much and just let yourself get caught up in the flow.

It also helps that on Pretty Bessie the vocal requirements are much more suited to Forest’s rather limited skills in that department. Unlike the more deliberately paced dejection of the other side which exposes his vocal discomfort, here Forest gets to just ride the musical wave created by his bandmates which requires far less emotional nuance on his part, as well as less time to overthink it and second guess his decisions.

Of course the song itself isn’t very deep, as while it has the surface appearance of something upbeat and positive, is actually another case of him bemoaning the loss of his girl. Rock stars may not have a problem getting laid, but they sure seem to have issues keeping the women around come daybreak.

Forest’s not adding any new scenarios, solutions or side issues to the problem, but when the Billy Duncan’s sax break comes along you don’t really care much about them anyway. His playing isn’t going to peel paint or melt steel, but he keeps you in the groove well enough and has a nice tone after a distant sounding lead-in from the wayward alto we bemoaned elsewhere. There’s also some good guitar licks thrown in and Forest himself is providing a solid beat on the drums to help keep you locked in as everything falls into place without any loose ends to distract you along the way.

You could certainly make the argument this song, the arrangement (even if it is much busier than the other side) and Forest’s performance aren’t very ambitious, but while its aspirations may be modest, it at least manages to fulfill them all well enough to keep you reasonably satisfied in the end.


The Day Would Never Come, Baby When We Would Part
While this is indeed the side of the single which is more efficiently carried out by everyone involved, let’s not go crazy and say it was hit-worthy in its own right.

Pretty Bessie is what most of the other Earl Forest records have been… perfectly competent rock ‘n’ roll done by someone taking on a role he was unaccustomed to but willing to put himself out there and take the shots if it didn’t turn out well.

He’s got to be a little intimidated being surrounded by multiple guys who have such star power, even if it’s still in the process of being uncovered for most of them, and yet he’s lumped in with those acts based on proximity more than anything artistically tangible.

In other words, if he were doing this with a bunch of nobodies a few miles away in East St. Louis, his career might be long forgotten, but he’d be less scrutinized by people like us for simply being an adequate multi-faceted rock artist rather than sort of sloughed off for not being a big star like his pals.

Expectations, as always, can be misleading.


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