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IMPERIAL 5209; OCTOBER 1952

 
 

 

In a career that featured just under a hundred charted hits – and even more if you count regional hits – it’s hardly surprisingly that not all of them are widely familiar close to three quarters of a century later.

When you see that this one only briefly entered those charts for a lone week at #9, the explanation as to why this is among those without much lasting recognition seems somewhat self-explanatory.

But those aren’t the reasons… not exactly… not when he’s got other songs with similar stats that have more long-term appeal.

The reason why this record falls short of greatness, and thus a measure of musical immortality, is because of the name next to his in the the writing credits… a talentless charlatan who had nothing whatsoever to do with writing it and only nominally produced it, but whose presence in the studio meant that this had been recorded months ago when the guy who might’ve turned this into something even better was still estranged from the Imperial Records family.
 

 

There Is Nothing I Can Do
As if we needed to explain what that introduction means to regular readers, we’re talking of course about Dave Bartholomew, who when this track was laid down last winter was still in the midst of his fifteenth month fallout with Imperial Records caused by Al Young.

The same Al Young who took Dave’s place as Fats Domino’s overseer in the studio despite not even having the qualifications necessary to even turn on the lights or sweep the floor in that studio.

Though Domino had managed to get three hits with Young producing, this being the last of them, and which even included the #1 smash Goin’ Home, the fact of the matter is none of them were as well made on a technical level as the stuff Domino would cut with Bartholomew, one of the most gifted writers, arrangers, bandleaders and producers rock has ever known.

The fact that Imperial waited so long… or should that be “waited How Long?” to put this out… shows they didn’t have much faith in it themselves.

But while it’s tempting to say that the only reason this record made the charts at all was because of Domino’s reputation, the performance itself is actually really good.

What’s keeping it from being better than that isn’t so much what Young contributed to the recording – which is “absolutely nothing” – but rather it’s what was missing from the recording which wouldn’t have been lacking had Dave Bartholomew been in the studio that day instead.
 


 
 

You Know That I Need You…
Songs are put together like buildings. Some are shacks, others are skyscrapers.

All of them start with the architecture… the chords, melody and lyrics in musical terms. Then the workers (IE. the band) come in to lay down the foundation, put up the frame, erect the walls and leave room for the windows and doors.

Those are the details which are found in the arrangement an area that Dave Bartholomew excelled… and one area where Fats Domino, who could write the music and the words, play his parts and sing them just fine, fell a little short in.

But thankfully all of the things that Domino does well, are done very well on How Long.

It’s a record that features a nice mid-tempo groove, a sad but not despondent vocal, while the lyrics have moments of surprising dexterity from someone who typically favored simple phrasing over complexity.

Here the best moments come when he rushes through a sentence with too many words to fit the allotted bars and yet finds it works better because of that rapid fire pace –“well you tellmeeverydayyou’regoinawayand leave meee” – giving it a realism that it makes it hard to resist.

The record frankly needs that kind of authenticity so that it’ll overcome the image of the rather pathetic pushover he’s embodying.

It seems that Fats is being mistreated by the one he loves and feels powerless to wrest control of the situation from her because he fears the consequences of his actions if he should try. So instead he whines… hardly the most endearing quality to exhibit, but one that is a fairly common trait on records where his sad-sack delivery sounds more charming than grating, in part because of that game of catch-up he has to play with his vocals.

Had he dropped the word “everyday” it would’ve fit the space carved out for it, but lost much of its charm in the process. Though the song as written is pretty good, his personality is what allows it to overcome the stripped down, bare-bones arrangement they were forced to use without Bartholomew around to beef it up.
 

…So Won’t You Please Hurry Home?
Those are the windows and doors we were alluding to in the building analogy. The structure of the record – the melodic and rhythmic framework – is solid and the layout of the floorplan – the story – is fine. But because of Al Young’s ineptitude as a producer everything else is boarded up so we get no view and no breeze blowing through.

Instead How Long sounds almost like a glorified demo or early run-through. Domino never deviates from the piano triplets he uses here while the melodic embellishments by Harrison Verret’s guitar are very good, but they take on far too great a role simply because there’s nothing to alleviate them elsewhere.

The horns meanwhile are so underused that you forget they’re even there, moaning unobtrusively in the background. We get no solos out of them and even the piano playing of Fats in the instrumental break is just repeating the same basic pattern used under the lyrics. In other words, there is no real arrangement here.

To the degree it actually works comes down to the cohesiveness of the musicians and their familiarity with Fats after playing with him so long. Had Bartholomew been there however, he’d have started with the loose head arrangement they came up with on the fly and added to it with countermelodies and having different instruments overlap each other with new interlocking parts, giving it the depth this record is lacking. Surely he’d have also come up with a soloing spot for Buddy Hagens’ tenor sax to provide an aural respite it so obviously could use.

Color would’ve been added, sonic depth would’ve been achieved and the record, which was already compelling thanks to Domino’s strengths might’ve become indelible with the attention to detail that Dave Bartholomew could’ve brought to the table.

Instead, while still very good, it sounds very incomplete and thus it’s hardly surprising it didn’t become a more successful single and more memorable hit in the long run.
 


 

Must I Wait For You?
All things considered Fats Domino weathered the loss of Dave Bartholomew about as well as could be hoped.

He scored some hits, got some experience and, maybe most importantly, learned the true value of Bartholomew’s contributions, somebody he was prone to take for granted and even get annoyed with when Dave was always around barking out orders.

By going without him for over a year Fats saw how much work went into the polishing the songs in the studio and surely had to realize that as good something like How Long was in this rough state, it would’ve been made much better with a more skilled right hand man by his side.

Any artist as prolifically talented as Fats Domino would’ve still been successful on his own, but the gap between modest hitmaker and transcendent star is a lot wider than it sometimes seems from the outside, and it was only with Dave Bartholomew taking charge in the studio, fine-tuning the songs and perfecting the arrangements, that Domino was going to be assured of lasting stardom.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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