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CORAL 65075; DECEMBER 1951



As much as we want to look forward when we get near the end of a given year to peek ahead at what’s around the corner, we always need to look back as well. Usually we’re only looking back over the previous twelve months of the music calendar, but occasionally we have cause to go further back than that.

In this case MUCH further back, to the pre-rock era of the early to mid-1940’s as we meet up once again with bandleader Lucky Millinder, a vital figure in the transformation of the entire black music scene whose heyday might be long since ended, but who keeps popping up on our radar every so often.

Normally he’s not a featured artist, so we’re able to point to his advances from a half decade or more ago and commend him for bringing us one step closer to rock ‘n’ roll’s emergence in 1947. However when we HAVE had to talk about him in the current scene thanks to him teaming up with some legitimate rock acts, we haven’t been able to be so kind.

Today he’s hip-deep in Eunice Davis’s latest record and that means the arrows are going to fly.


Anything You Want That I Ain’t Got
Once again let there be no doubt as to the overall importance of Lucius Millinder, bandleader, songwriter and talent scout extraordinaire. His work during the 1940’s brought such luminaries as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Wynonie Harris into the limelight and his band was a breeding ground for musicians who’d still be making their mark when we flipped the calendar to the 1960’s.

But try as he might – and sometimes he seemed to barely want to try – Lucky Millinder had no luck in transitioning to rock ‘n’ roll.

He’d been brought to King Records a year ago, a big name from the past looking to fit into the future, but it didn’t work out. Even when he teamed up with his one-time frontman, Harris, the results were out of whack for the rock scene of 1950.

Now, a year later, he finds himself working with Eunice Davis, co-writing What Do You Want with her and presumably backing her in the studio as well, but certainly writing and arranging the music if not, and the results are – once again – out of step with the current trends.

The thing is… Davis knows this. Lucky does not. Something has got to give.

What Do I Have That You Can Use?
You expect some debonaire white middle-aged man in a tie and tails to come on stage to announce this night’s attractions at the swanky club when you hear the blaring horns that open the record in a most unfortunate way.

This was music of 1946 – at the latest – not rock ‘n’ roll for late 1951.

Yet moments later Eunice Davis comes in determined to change that impression through sheer effort alone, using a throaty growl to both announce her presence and to suggest that the lyrics she came up with could in fact be read in two different ways.

Crucially she wants us to hear them HER way, salaciously, even though the words themselves are fairly innocuous on the page.

She’s asking a guy What Do You Want from her in a seductive and impatient manner and it’s fair to say we don’t have to guess what he’ll choose… and that’s without even knowing what other options are on the table. For all we know maybe she owns a few diamond mines and would let him fill his pockets with jewels or perhaps she’s got oil wells scattered around and he can have her pump it into a swimming pool and float in black gold.

But we know what he wants and so does she – her body.

Now Davis doesn’t come right out and SAY it, but she suggests it by the way she’s revving her engine, ready to be taken for a ride and naturally this appeals to us very much (purely as detached listeners I assure you). She’s selling this with the right amount of lurid innuendo during the bulk of the song, which is built around compact riffs that thanfully downplay the role of the massed horn section that opened this record.

But when she has to downshift for the bridge that’s when those horns decide to intrude, prancing along trying not to draw the scorn of dear old mother who might be listening. The way they coast into the first instrumental break with broad smiles and peppy enthusiasm is so ridiculous that we’re afraid Davis’s fella is going to take the consolation prize she’s offering, which is some week old cheese danish left in the sun too long, and make a hasty retreat.

But then comes the sax, probably Big John Greer, who tries to right the ship even though he’s got to carry the rest of the band on his back while doing so. His tone is good, the lines themselves are a little simple but effective enough if he was allowed to play without the rest of them horning in on him.

When she returns for the second half Davis however the transformation from racy to cheeky has her flustered. She never recovers the unholy gleam in her eye, surely seeing the folly in trying to convince a bunch of squares that it’s the curves in the song – and the girl – that matter, so while she never gives up the ghost altogether, she eases off things too much for us to feel comfortable giving her the benefit of the doubt here.

In short, she set out to corrupt the band and they wound up taming her down… at least enough to allow the record to fizzle out after some promising moments here and there.

You Can Have It If You’re Mine Or Not
Considering he co-wrote the song and was directing the band, Lucky Millinder probably saw this as his song as much as he did hers and was determined to prove that HIS way, the sounds of yesterday, were still a good fit in the present.

Granted his name wasn’t on the label outside of authorship, probably for contractual reasons if he was still signed to King (though it was registered under King Records publishing arm, Lois Music) but guys like Millinder – or anyone really who still got plenty of bookings thanks to past glories and admirable professionalism – never quite knew when their time was up.

If you were to ask Lucky the simple question, What Do You Want?, he’d probably answer he’d like a return to a time when good classy music reigned in the charts and a record like this would be seen as the rousing opening number before they settled down for some more tasteful selections.

But if you were to ask us the same question, we’d say that we wanted guys like Millinder to retire gracefully and not try interfering with the current music scene. if he agrees to that we promise to give him a nice testimonial dinner, a gold watch and our hearty thanks for all he’d done a decade earlier.

Once he accepts his gifts, poses for a few pictures and thanks us all for the kind words however, we’ll race out the door, down the street and across the tracks, taking Eunice Davis with us, where she’ll throw off these musical shackles and tells us what SHE really wants.

Chances are there’ll be plenty of deviant “music lovers” there to give it to her too.


(Visit the Artist page of Eunice Davis for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)