No tags :(

Share it




The bitter fallout over the fate of Todd Rhodes’ recording contract which consumed much of two vital years of the (second) prime of his career has seen a curious mix of solutions to his reluctance to give Sensation Records – who’d resuscitated his recording career starting in 1947 – his best ideas.

One avenue he pursued while waiting to be free of his contract so he could sign with King Records, who’d been distributing a lot of those Sensation records on a national scope – was to cut decidedly non-commercial material, classy stuff a step beyond even the jazz that he’d been aligned with before rock entered the picture, that was sure not to appeal to his primary audience now who didn’t want waste money to hear his take on George Gershwin songs.

His other recourse was to release songs with vocalists he was working with around the clubs of Detroit, thereby helping their careers as well as boosting his own drawing power if these supporting acts in his show could draw some interest on their own.

The first beneficiary of this practice was the – pardon the pun – sensational Kitty Stevenson on two singles back in the spring. Now he handed the reins over to a male vocalist who’d never become a star either, but whose output was largely admired by those fortunate enough to hear it.


Be Careful What You Do
Technically speaking this is an Emmet Slay release… sort of… for while he got the lead artist credit on this side, the flip was one of those aforementioned classy piano recital efforts credited to Rhodes alone which presumably meant this single helped to fulfill his contract in terms of how many masters he owed Sensation.

That song, Brenda, is as far away from rock ‘n’ roll as anything this side of Irish folk songs and Gregorian chants, and while I suppose it’s well played it still probably won’t be enough to get even the septuagenarians and their even older roommates in the retirement community to shake a leg even though it sounds as if it’s aimed squarely at their musical sensibilities.

Beulah on the other hand would put those old folks in the intensive care unit because it’s noisy and upbeat with a vocal by Slay that is fairly suggestive.

Slay was a guitarist who’d come up from Mississippi and settled in Detroit at the end of the 1930’s where he became entrenched in the local music scene. He’d cut some sides with Louis Armstrong in the mid 1940’s and in a 1948 Detroit Tribune readers poll Slay actually received more votes for best guitarist in the city than Rhodes – who was enjoying national hits – did for best pianist, although to be fair the guitar was still less prominent an instrument so there was less competition.

Emitt Slay’s tenure in Rhodes’ band lasted somewhere between one and two years… details are sketchy. Rhodes typically didn’t carry a guitarist, his was a horn-centric combo with his own piano handling the melodies, but he was obvious branching out some with vocalists and new lineups around this time.

But Slay WASN’T a vocalist. A songwriter? Yes, he penned Stevenson’s fantastic It Ain’t Right for one as well as this song today, and of course he was a tremendous guitarist. But even when he started his own trio and signed with Savoy two years from now the vocalist in the group was Bob White, not Slay. Throughout his career he always backed others, even when he was credited along with his wonderfully named band The Slay Riders, they had other vocalists out in front.

But not here and since he sounds pretty damn good on this the question then becomes… why?

Something about this doesn’t make sense.


I’ll Tell The World On You
Because Todd Rhodes was more or less peeved by the whole situation it’s reasonable to assume there wasn’t much communication between him and the company in regards to personnel. Maybe he wanted it credited to his guitarist and the company assumed that it was Slay doing the singing as well and put that on the label.

But considering the circumstances it’s also remotely possible that there was some chicanery going on because this singer sounds an awful lot like our old friend Crown Prince Waterford. Their tones are just imperceptibly different but they share the exact same phrasing, that weird manner in which Waterford rises in the middle of a line rather than the beginning or end – it’s especially notable here on the line “I could tell from your looks from your looks that you’ve been dealing from a crooked deck” when he raises up on the word “tell”.

There’s also the WAY in which those more emphatic words sound coming out of his mouth, this has that same high pitched whine in his voice and the manner in which he holds the note is very reminiscent of his royal highness.

It also makes sense because Waterford was signed to King Records, which of course was Rhodes ultimate destination, and so maybe he was having him sing on the sly because to put one over on Sensation, or help King, or even perhaps if the song took off it might enable King to step in and say that Waterford was under contract to them and who knows what legal retribution Syd Nathan might try for.

But barring more evidence than just our ears we’ll take them at their word that this was indeed Emitt Slay, but with no other vocals of his (aside from this same session) to compare it to let’s just go on record with our skepticism.

WHOEVER it is though shows good enthusiasm which helps to make Beulah as strong as it is, for it’s a pretty generic song on paper, more like a compendium of themes we’ve all heard before. But while the story is a typical man berating a cheating spouse for disrespecting him with her actions, it’s done in a humorous fashion, both the lines themselves as well as “Slay’s” delivery, turning what might’ve been an angry or mournful song into a celebration for getting rid of the one who did him wrong.

Turning lemons into lemonade… that’s Emitt Slay.

Fell In The Door With Your Shoes In Your Hand
Actually THIS is Emitt Slay, or at least the Emitt Slay we’ve come to to this party to hear and have no question is actually him once he cuts loose with his guitar.

Though Beulah is certainly a vocal record and one that lives up to whatever modest expectations you had upon seeing a non-singer as the one being tasked to deliver it, but surely any song that has Emitt Slay getting such prominent credit on the label is going to have to let him break that guitar out and show what he can do.

Strangely though it takes awhile as Slay or no Slay this is still a Todd Rhodes production and that means his own tastes and hard-earned experience with what the public wants is going to take precedent.

The horns that open this are spry but structured a little old fashioned. Even when the vocals start they’re offering mild support and while we get some good emphatic drumming and a few decent fills by Rhodes on the keys, the entire energy is conveyed in the vocal for almost the entire first half.

Then Slay comes in.

His first notes are loud and fierce, startling you momentarily and even when he eases back in volume he doesn’t play any milder, instead he offers sharp cutting lines with a vibrant ringing tone that make the track come alive. It doesn’t last quite long enough maybe but while he’s tearing it up you remain riveted.

But when he bows out things don’t take a step backwards as you might’ve feared, instead we get just as lively a tenor sax solo from Louie Stephens, not as acclaimed as many from this era, but he’d go on to be one of the cornerstones of the King Records house band when Rhodes moved over to that label.

That one two punch makes the instrumental break on par with the vocal exuberance and shows that when he wasn’t trying to appeal to the blue-haired society matrons Todd Rhodes could dish out some pretty potent arrangements.


I Can’t Use You No More
This is a unexpectedly solid record as well as one that qualifies as atypical for Rhodes for a number of reasons ranging from bucking his usual aversion to vocal records and the appearance of a guitarist supposedly doubling as a singer but sounding like another singer altogether.

The reasons behind these decision may be quite simple or they could be extremely convoluted, but even as he was quite literally counting the days until he was free from his contract, Rhodes was not shortchanging his own creativity… or maybe in this case allowing the creativity of others in his orbit to flourish.

Beulah is one of the songs that fits perfectly in its era, hinting at the past, yet pointing to the future with Slay’s fretwork, and whether they credited the right person standing at the middle of it all or not, the end result is definitely worth hearing.

The only ones to really feel sorry for in this are Sensation Records who were about to lose not just the bandleader that put them on the map, but also those around him like Stevenson and now Slay, the combination of which might’ve kept their company viable for a lot longer had they all stuck around.

While they’re still here though and churning out records like this, we won’t complain, even if it makes us a little confused when trying to sort things out.


(Visit the Artist pages of Emitt Slay as well as Todd Rhodes for the complete archives of their respective records reviewed to date)