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A little more than a year into the endeavor the anchor of Don Robey’s growing Peacock Records stable remains their biggest seller as well as the embodiment of their stylistic identity which fuses blues elements to rock frameworks.

But while successful now, and certainly very influential fifteen years down the road, the evolving rock landscape of the early 1950’s was seeing clearer lines starting to be drawn that would in time discourage this type of cross pollination.

This single showcases the divergent paths laid out before Gatemouth Brown and while this song remains welcome in rock ‘n’ roll the flip side can no longer be admitted into the party.


I Love The Life I Live
For about a ten year stretch from the mid 1940’s to mid-1950’s urban blues was running on a concurrent track to rock, not nearly as closely related as later writers would claim, but rather that each was seeing the benefits of the growing economic power of the black community as well as taking advantage of the increased opportunity in the first flush of the independent record label boom.

So while rock acts like Roy Brown, Amos Milburn, Wynonie Harris, Paul Williams and The Ravens were taking off in one segment of the populace, in another slice of that demographic pie it was T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Lowell Fulson who were thriving.

In other words as long as both were in direct competition with one another it didn’t pay to leave audiences questioning where your loyalties lay. In the early Fifties they were perceived as being neck and neck with one another (though rock was easily besting it in terms of expanding their sound and attracting a younger, more progressive and faster growing audience) but by the mid-1960’s it was clear the blues had no shot of ever overtaking rock commercially. The race was over and rock had won, fair and square.

As a result artists of that later era could more comfortably hold dual citizenship… or at least incorporate blues touches in rock songs and rock attributes in blues numbers… and neither side felt threatened by it because there was little at stake anymore.

But it’s not 1966, it’s 1951 and Gatemouth Brown’s seeming indecision about where to place his bets stylistically meant he couldn’t really get ahead consistently in either area. You had to make a clearer choice and he was hedging on which one to throw in with. On the flip side of this single Justice Blues might convince you he was packing up and leaving for full time residency in the blues, despite the moaning horns that are trying to keep it still tangibly connected to rock.

But one listen to I Live My Life would make you reconsider that assertion because this is rock ‘n’ roll through and through even if at this specific juncture it still sounds slightly out of step with the vocal groups, pounding boogie pianos and wailing saxes that are still dominating the rock landscape.


Oh What Joy It Brings
Despite the perspective he’s offering as he deals with a cheating partner, Gatemouth Brown retains his irrepressible attitude, both musically and in terms of his outlook, which is one of rock’s defining traits.

There’s never much despondency in his demeanor, it’s almost as if he’s too restless to sit around and cry over his situation. Of course that doesn’t mean he can’t bitch about it, but his style of singing means he’s not seeking sympathy as much as simply getting things off his chest.

The lyrics to I Live My Life are familiar enough to any one who’s heard enough mid-century music because they’ve been used in bits and pieces in a lot of songs… floating verses and key taglines including the inversion of the title line here, something Esquerita would later use in similar fashion to construct an entire song around.

It’s just as well he’s sticking to stock phrases because it gives us easier access to his thoughts allowing us to skip over the details of the fractured relationship other than to know “the one (he) loves is lovin’ somebody else”.

From there it’s more a generalized overview on life using simple but effective platitudes, all of which are merely lead-ins for the real focal point of the record which is his own playing and that of the band.

His guitar has already been hyperactive between each of his vocal lines but that’s just a warm up for his solo during the extended break just before the halfway point. Actually it’s the saxophone that gets the first standalone spot here playing a nice winding riff before Brown takes over to take it in a different direction.

His tone is a little thin maybe but his playing is clean and melodic as he’s showing off the technical aspects more than the energetic side of his technique. As he winds down he hollers, “Blow, Johnny, Blow!” and we’re back in the saxophone lane getting a slower more contemplative solo.

Still not finished with the break though, which all told stretches a minute and twenty five seconds… of a song that runs just over two and a half minutes! Brown never ramps it up as much as we’d like, but he doesn’t slack off either and brings the interlude to a nice conclusion.

By now you’ve almost forgotten he started off the song singing but he resumes his vocals with a hint of optimism over his love life, though to be honest after listening to him over the course of the record you never doubted he’d get through it thanks to that aggressively defiant attitude.

Which in the end of course is pretty much the definition of rock itself.


It’s Real Tough When You’re Doing The Best You Can
Though this clearly is nothing but rock ‘n’ roll from front to back it’s still not a hit sound for rock and with generic lyrics and a long instrumental break that’s more solid than extraordinary it doesn’t position him well going forward.

Not that I Live My Life is going to set him back any, he’s far too proficient at what he does for that to happen, for even if you were not as comfortable with this much guitar you couldn’t help but appreciate his skill. But there’s not a compelling reason to place him higher on your “must get” list when his future releases come out.

Peacock Records would continue to have this – call it a problem if you want, but the better definition is probably “issue” – for the rest of their run. They specialized in what could only be called blues-rock, a term that was more than a decade away from being a widely known and was not yet a sound to broach multiple constituencies.

What it had though was a hot bed of interest around Texas which meant Peacock could thrive as a dominant local label with more sporadic national interest and as a result Brown’s legacy as a rocker got somewhat shortchanged if not denied altogether by disingenuously shuttling him off to the blues genre exclusively.

The uncompromised nature of this side (which was the hit side in Atlanta) should be more than enough evidence to dissuade people from taking that position, but then again if you flipped this record over (where that side did great in the more blues oriented Chicago as well as Houston) you can make the case the blues had just as much of a claim to him in the end.

So as usual with Gatemouth Brown we keep waiting for a clear sign he’s committed to one or the other and never get it, but even as he keeps us guessing he still delivers records that are good enough not to mind the uncertainty.


(Visit the Artist page of Gatemouth Brown for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)