No tags :(

Share it

CHESS 1512; MAY 1952



You know the saying, “Sometimes you just can’t win”? Well, sometimes in the record business that seems to be by design when it comes to certain artists.

You’d think record companies would have a vested interest in seeing the acts they sign to their labels actually succeed, but too many of them are determined to put as many obstacles in front of them as possible, taking almost perverse pleasure in sabotaging their chances.

Here the guilty party is Chess Records who continues in their attempts to take a promising female singer and ensure she’s a perennial second banana.

C’mon Mama, Let’s Do This Right
If this record was just the work of Eddie Johnson we definitely wouldn’t be covering it.

I know, I know, that’s a major disappointment to most of you and goes against our intent of meticulously covering every single rock release in the history of mankind, but Johnson – a sax player with a long track record, especially for the great Louis Jordan – was something of a non-entity as a solo artist, especially in rock, and on top of that his sides aren’t always easy to track down.

Even this one takes some searching but because it features Edna McRaney as the co-lead vocalist we felt obligated to seek it out since she more than held her own with Jackie Brenston on the enjoyable Hi-Ho Baby back in the middle of winter 1952.

You’d think with that good showing – and without Brenston being anywhere near the studio – Chess Records might see fit to give McRaney a shot at carrying a song on her own, but not only do they force her to share space with Johnson on Back Up, but they compound this by letting him sing in addition to playing saxophone and then give him the entire spotlight on his horn with an instrumental on the flip side.

Why bother even bother bringing McRaney into the studio and forcing the janitor to unlock the ladies room door if all she’s going to be doing here is making a cameo appearance?

Why? Because Chess Records was run by morons… as if you needed to be reminded of that… and so stupid decisions are what they specialize in.

I Can Drive Now Daddy
Despite Eddie Johnson’s background in other fields of music, the structure of the song qualifies under the rock banner in a rather vague and non-committal way.

It’s got a steady rhythm, a decent beat and a spot for a tenor sax solo by Johnson that apparently was achieved by overdubbing vocals, as Eddie Johnson is also the one urging himself on.

If you want to give credit to Chess Records for experimenting in the studio, as they’d recently been toying around with echo and now overdubbing, and thus grant them a little leeway for simply using McRaney here as a guinea pig in those efforts, okay, we might go along with that in theory, but the main job of a commercial recording session is still to sell records and you do that in large part with the performance of the singer on the label.

Edna McRaney is listed second and thus she takes the secondary role here after helping to launch this after a somewhat rousing intro in which backed by horns and drums she and Johnson spar back and forth before she cedes the microphone to him to set the story up.

Back Up is another car related song, something Chess seemed obsessed with since a record about a certain type of Oldsmobile gave them their first chart topper, but luckily this is more non-descript as Johnson (rather cleverly we should say) is describing her errant driving style and yet really talking about her actions in the sack.

Technically I guess these qualify as double entendres – a saying with two possible meanings – but the words unto themselves aren’t at all racy, it’s just your own ability to substitute her body parts for car parts and its references to bumpers and the fact her “chassis’ too long” get the point across.

As a result it’s not quite as humorous as they think, nor as lewd as we’d hope, but they at least have the right spirit in presenting it, as Johnson is enthusiastic even if his singing ability is just fair. The problem though is because he doesn’t have the lascivious glint in his eye of say a… oh you know who… we don’t get the same kicks from hearing him delivering lines that are merely bordering on risqué.

But swapping out Johnson for someone far more equipped for this sort of thing, like Wynonie Harris (there, we mentioned him after all!), would only solve some of the problems, for Johnson’s sax solo never fully conveys the raunchiness of the story, nor even tries to replicating the honking of a horn which would obviously fit the other interpretation related to automobiles.

As for McRaney, she doesn’t get to sing on her own until after the halfway point but when she reappears she’s forced to repeat the exact same lines as Johnson did, yet because she’s trying to bring something new to the table she’s using a more strained vocal that comes across as agitated more than excited. The contrast between the two of them – her all wound up, him more laid back – doesn’t work nearly as well as it had when she was with Brenston a few months ago.

You may admire the look of the car here, maybe the engine sounds like it could throw you back in your seat if you give it more gas, but the steering is a little loose, the interior isn’t top of the line and the warranty is hardly worth the paper it’s written on making this one car that looks better on the showroom floor than it does cruising down the street.

If It Don’t Fit, Don’t Force It
Because Edna McRaney will never become anything resembling a star and it’s doubtful she’s going to even be given the opportunity to really develop creatively this release really tells us more about Chess Records and their mindset as a label.

To that end they had two goals in mind… the first is to give the instrumentalist Eddie Johnson a different way to present himself and secondly they wanted to do so in a way that might draw more interest from the rock audience than say jazz or some non-descript style in between genres.

Hence they use McRaney as a tool to achieve those goals. That’s not necessarily a criticism of their idea or even their attempt, but it is a knock against their lack of concern for boosting her own career.

The song as written has some promise but it needed to be fleshed out more. The music as played also shows vitality but doesn’t rev it up enough. The vocal performances of both Johnson and McRaney show spirit but doesn’t fully embrace the characteristics needed to suggest the saucy repartee it envisioned on paper.

In other words as a record Back Up shows that Chess Records had some good instincts but undercut them with bad decisions left and right, starting with the fact that they’ve deemed Edna McRaney a second class artist on their roster.

If she was worth signing in the first place then she’s worth the effort to try and build her up into something more than an afterthought.

Back up and try it again indeed.