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IMPERIAL 5077; MAY 1950

 


When heading into the studio for the first time only a week after being signed to a recording contract, Fats Domino probably had little idea of what to expect. We assume that he and producer Dave Bartholomew got together in their off-hours in the days leading up to that session to try and work up some material, but that’s hardly a sure bet either.

Bartholomew had more experience as a songwriter and it’s likely that he was putting ideas together already – he was such a perfectionist in every way when it came to his career that it’s hard to imagine he’d walk into a session completely cold – but as for what types of songs and what kind of lyrical content he thought might be appropriate for Domino that was still an unanswered question.

So when casting about for ideas it’s hardly surprising that one of them landed on the notion of writing about the local club where Domino’s reputation had grown immensely over the past year and subsequently where the Domino-Bartholomew-Imperial Records partnership had just been consummated.
 

 

Same Way That I Met Him
The club scene in New Orleans was arguably more robust – certainly when it came to rock ‘n’ roll – than any other city in the country at the mid-way point of the Twentieth Century. Though Bourbon Street has all the national acclaim which makes it attractive to tourists, the local Black population in New Orleans have always had different haunts where the music serves as the heartbeat of these communities.

In 1949 Fats Domino was playing regularly at two different spots in The Ninth Ward. The first was at the ritzier Club Desire where he was merely the pianist (and occasional vocalist) in Billy Diamond’s band.

But at the same time that Domino was in the background there he was getting his share of the limelight at a smaller club down the road called The Hideaway, a hole-in-the-wall type place that was literally across the railroad tracks, nothing more than a shack really in the midst of thigh-high weeds with rickety tables and chairs, cheap décor and no bandstand to speak of, just an upright piano and barely enough room for the drummer to set up.

The saxes squeezed in where they could but nobody seemed to mind the haphazard arrangement because the clientele was just as unsophisticated as Fats himself, all of which made the painfully shy 21 year old feel a lot more comfortable performing.

Each weekend he and this small make-shift four piece band created a whirlwind of sound as Fats built his confidence playing storming boogies while honing his raw vocals for a drunken crowd. By the summer of 1949 even the estimable disc jockey/black newspaper columnist Dr. Daddy-O was touting his name on the air and in print and when Imperial Records owner Lew Chudd joined his newly hired producer Dave Bartholomew on a talent hunt in the city, they went to The Hideaway to see for themselves the kid who was making so much noise.

The rest, as they say, is history.
 


 
 

I Don’t Care What You Say
Since it’d be kind of impertinent of Fats to already be bragging about his discovery before he’d even had his first record released the song isn’t quite autobiographical, which means they’re going to have to come up with a somewhat generic story to affix to the more specific title.

Maybe not surprisingly Hide Away Blues suffers a bit as a result of that decision, costing itself the opportunity to use some true-to-life personal touches to give it more character. Though admittedly few outside of the region would’ve recognized those kinds of details that doesn’t mean that all listeners, regardless of locale, wouldn’t have appreciated a scene that was more distinctive and colorful because of its authenticity.

As it is though they go with a rather loose-knit “story” that finds Fats leaving the girl he’s with and vowing to meet another at the Hideaway. As a set-up it’s alright, but then he goes on to sing about the new girl (he moves quick I guess) but does so with mostly vague unconnected impressions as he attempts to tie it together rather than developing a more sensible narrative.

Essentially, other than the reference to the club itself, these are almost free-standing lyrical stanzas, switching characters and perspectives without much explanation and lacking a traditional chorus to at least let us return to something familiar. It’s no wonder that the only area where this single made the regional charts was New Orleans, and even some of them must’ve bought it in the hopes that Fats would mention their names if they’d been among the regular patrons at the club.

But despite of the haphazard songwriting there’s still a winsome charm in Domino’s vocals which show an appealing vulnerability even when he’s putting down the girl who did him wrong. It’s hard not to like this guy because he always sounds so darn earnest in his singing, there’s never any artifice or posturing to contend with. His delivery is genuine enough to allow you to still get the meaning he’s trying to convey even when his means for describing it falls a little short, making the record come across as slightly better than it has any right to as a result.
 

I’m So Sorry Baby
With all vocal records of course there’s another equally vital component to take into account when trying to determine whether its worth hearing and when it comes to Dave Bartholomew’s rugged crew of musicians, topped by Fats himself on piano, that’s usually going to be enough to swing the pendulum back in their favor, even when the other aspects of the record slightly let you down.

Early on that’s the case here as well, as we get a really nimble piano introduction that shows just how versatile on the instrument Fats already was. His playing is so delicate that it gives the impression that the keys themselves are merely suggesting their notes… whispering them in a way… yet retaining their clever melodic recipe that is as effervescent as it gets, like bubbles in champagne on New Year’s Eve.

Unfortunately though that’s the only really notable part of Hide Away Blues, and after Ernest McLean’s guitar echos Domino’s piano line leading into the vocals the arrangement reverts to a more simplistic formula.

Oh, it’s definitely well played – although Fats’s interjection of an alternate melody in the midst of the instrumental break over the same circular horn riff seems jarringly out of place – but it’s just there’s no moments to make you sit up and take notice. It’s far too subservient to Domino’s vocals, which in theory is admirable since it shows Bartholomew didn’t want to overwhelm the young singer just to show off his own creative urges, but as a result the track doesn’t excite you, it just delivers the basic requirements with a minimum of fuss.

Because of the consistently stately pace it adheres to there’s also not much opportunity for a more vigorous break, but letting the saxophone get a solo to amplify the undercurrent of emotional longing would’ve gone a long way to making this more compelling. Toss in a few slashing guitar chords to add the appropriate tension the lyrics constantly hint at and you would’ve at least had something to bolster the track rather than merely politely acquiesce to its uniformity.
 


 

Gotta Leave You That A Way
Though a flawed but somewhat amiable effort like this isn’t the end of the world by any means and should do Domino’s legacy no real harm, it’s also a missed opportunity that shows that they all still needed to put in a little more work to transform those good ideas into good records.

But that will come with time and until then Hide Away Blues is nothing you’ll object to hearing. In fact, the less closely you pay attention to it as it spins the more agreeable it will sound in passing.

Hardly a recommendation, but certainly not a condemnation either. In truth sides like these were just the normal growing pains any new artist experiences when embarking on their recording careers and when even your misses have just enough endearing qualities to make them reasonably pleasant attempts, then it’s probably a good bet that those shortcomings will be addressed and shored up the next time around.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Fats Domino for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)