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ALADDIN 199, OCTOBER, 1947

 
 

 
As with yesterday’s review we’re headed back in time to add a record and an artist we’d initially left out. These occasional additions after the fact are done to ensure that all of rock history is accurately represented here. We’ll resume our regular chronology shortly.
 

 

As a general rule of thumb for this website we should tell you that when there are back to back reviews of an artist on these pages it usually means that we’re covering both sides of that artist’s single.

That being said, not all B-sides will always be covered though, either because the song was outside of the rock parameters or because it didn’t offer anything – good or bad – to really delve into and with seven decades (and counting) worth of records to review we can’t always afford to linger too long on something or someone we’ve already thoroughly examined.

But we’re also not going to merely gloss over artists’ more obscure sides either as often the little heard B-sides provide a lot of insight as to their thinking as well as reveals a good deal more about the directions rock had to choose from at any given moment.

So when you see two cuts by the same artist consecutively around here you can virtually be assured that you’re getting an extended look into the flip side of their latest single.

Except this time you’re not. What you’re getting instead is the much rarer instance of a record company releasing two different singles by the same artist at roughly the same time, something which – with very few exceptions over the years – will never really work out for the artist or for the record label. Of course that never stopped anyone from trying all the same.
 

 

You Didn’t Do The Things You Should
It’s fair to say that music continues to be popular in spite of record companies who often do their best to subvert their own goals of selling records. In the 1940’s things were a little different when it came to their specific goals, especially in such fields as blues, country and nascent rock which had smaller and generally less affluent fan bases which meant purchasing 78 RPM singles for home listening wasn’t quite as prevalent as it was for pop music or jazz, or even gospel.

Instead the labels specializing in those fields focused more on the jukebox trade which catered to these fringe styles and their clientele. But inevitably too many companies got greedy and looked to get two singles by an artist stocked rather than simply focusing on pushing one. This overly ambitious plan was folly however because jukeboxes didn’t have unlimited slots to fill. There were only twenty five (or fewer) spaces on each one and unless you were Louis Jordan you couldn’t be expected to monopolize the boxes with record after record.

Then there was this to contend with: each region of the country had very specific tastes. Certain areas, such Texas, went more for blues than a place like New York which preferred “classier” styles such as vocal groups. The West Coast had an abundance of laid-back cocktail blues to choose from while a lot of Midwest locales seemed to go for more black pop records.

That meant the remaining slots went to whatever was hot, whoever had the best name recognition and longest track record to go on. There wasn’t a lot of leeway here. One or two poorly chosen singles could significantly cut into the owner’s take and so it wasn’t the wisest of moves to try and peddle two different singles by the same artist – a newcomer at that – simultaneously. Yet that exactly what many of them tried to do.

Aladdin Records of all labels should’ve known better as it wasn’t a novice company by any means. Started two years earlier by brothers Leo and Eddie Mesner they’d actually scored some hits along the way including the epochal Driftin Blues by Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers as well as Helen Humes’ Be Bob A Leba, both top three hits in 1945 (when the label went by its original name, Philo).

But disregarding common sense the scattershot method of releases prevailed, with companies throwing records into the market almost indiscriminately just hoping that something stuck, but if one did they’d be damned if they knew why.

With that less than stellar endorsement of the industry as a whole we can focus on the failed attempt by Aladdin Records to successfully break the career of Gatemouth Brown on his second of two more or less concurrent releases, Without Me Baby, yet another stylistic hybrid that might not comfortably fit in any established genre but which proved to be a portend of sorts for the genre that was just emerging in the fall of 1947 called rock ‘n’ roll.
 


 

You May Go Out
Technically speaking this is the B-side of Brown’s second release, though it’s the one far more suited to rock ‘n’ roll. It’s not surprising that Aladdin instead chose the more traditional blues Guitar In My Hand as the A-side since that music had a more easily defined market to try and reach. But with its mixture of down home guitar and uptown horns framing the sad lyrics it was probably too schizophrenic to draw a response from the average blues fan.

While this side has its own divergent components to try and contend with, Without Me Baby does a far better job getting them to peacefully co-exist and even compliment one another in a way.

That’s not to say this record has the same potential to be a trendsetter as his first single, Gatemouth Boogie, nor is it the type of performance to establish his musical identity as that initial release was, so I guess we can give Aladdin some credit for picking the right song to launch his career with a few weeks earlier (if that).

This one finds Brown sharing the spotlight instrumentally even more than on his previous efforts. Whereas before his guitar was in the forefront, here the horns are front and center, which considering what musical trends were to emerge in rock’s first few months winds up being a savvy choice for the arrangement.

That job of course is the responsibility of Maxwell Davis, the man leading the band, playing tenor sax, writing that arrangement and for all intent and purposes the one who was also producing the session, full stop.

Davis gives this a spry, almost blaring, brass introduction, at risk for becoming quickly dated by the developments that would soon follow in rock (many of which came as the result of his own rapid creative evolution), but for the time being this is merely a half step behind the curve rather than sounding so out of place that it sinks the record before it really gets a chance to start.

Brown follows that lead-in with his most prominent standalone spot for his guitar and his playing is typically strong, but cautious, almost as if he didn’t want to rev things up too much and overheat the entire track. His notes are carefully chosen, tentative in a way, with plenty of room in between to let each one sink into your consciousness. It’s agreeable enough to hear without it ever being truly captivating.

The same could be said of the song itself.
 


 
 

Try To Have Some Fun
Brown’s songwriting here shows promise, we’ll certainly give him that much. But that doesn’t mean the position his character is inhabiting within the song is one we necessarily admire, as following an early feint towards introspection in the initial lines he quickly reveals himself to be the ultimate pussy-whipped husband, happy to simply have a girl willing to occasionally fulfill his desire for intermittent companionship and a few tumbles in bed.

We never do get to meet this girl but she sounds like someone who is too good for him… in the most shallow and transparent ways possible that is. She’s got no shortage of other options when it comes to men, let’s put it that way, so either she’s really beautiful and simply wraps guys around her finger, as she’s apparently done with Gatemouth, or she’s so… umm, how can we phrase this?… “so casual with her affections” that her dance card is always full.

Harlot. Floozy. Tart. Hussy. Strumpet. Tramp.

Choose one, they’re all colorful words that are more enjoyable to say than many of the more obscene alternatives that are usually delivered with venomous anger and indignant righteousness by spurned suitors.

Brown however is not one of those disapproving men who responds harshly to his lady’s illicit activities, even going so far as to tell her that she can do as she pleases as long as she comes back to him when she finds the time. I can’t say that this couple have the best long-range prospects for a happy life together but it’s his choice, not ours, so we’ll just listen with a knowing smirk as he tries to convince us that he’s truly at peace with her entertaining the troops as it were.

Why do we say “troops” when the song itself doesn’t mention anything about what type of guys she’s playing around with? Well because the horns that follow each line revert back to more of a war-time sound in their playing. They’re too polished in their tone and too orderly in their construction for the particulars of the story… or for rock’s emerging aesthetics. Some raggedness here would give it a more believable emotional impact, hinting that Brown is putting up a brave front over his wife not upholding their vows of matrimony when in reality he’s being eaten up inside by her actions.

Yet just when you’re set to dismiss Davis’s restraint in how he frames the horns he comes at you with his own solo which hurtles this back into the future, or at least the present. Never a rip-roaring honker or squealer like so many of rock’s early tenor sax aces, Maxwell Davis’s calling cards were a smoky sensuality on the slower riffs and an impatient urgency on the faster stuff which hinted at the underlying power he possessed but often chose to keep under wraps. Yet here, after giving us the former in a particularly mesmerizing manner, he cuts loose a few times, well once in particular, and while it lasts only seconds it galvanizes the track, giving it the momentary thrust it needs to reflect the feelings that Brown himself is surely repressing.

When Gatemouth returns his nasal singing has taken on a slightly more full-bodied tone and is delivered with more aggressiveness even if what he’s saying doesn’t quite match it, as he’s still holding out hope to the end that she’ll realize what a catch she has in him and reform, settle down and bring him his pipe and slippers after dinner.

She won’t of course, but we won’t tell him and spoil his meal.
 


 

You Can See What You Have Done
After these first two sides on Aladdin stirred no action Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown would go two years before stepping into a studio again and then his re-emergence would only come when his own manager started a record company specifically to promote his artist.

While it’s certainly true that none of these initial songs had “hit record” written all over them, they were each very competent examples of his diverse talents. Though he was loathe to do so he could conform to the dominant blues techniques of the day as he showed on the other side of this single, but as was apparent with the two sides we reviewed he could also combine two mutually exclusive styles and somehow get them to mesh well enough to pursue further should he be so inclined.

Without Me Baby has plenty of elements that pique your interest and get you curious to hear more from him. His songwriting, his guitar playing, his vocal delivery and most promising of all his willingness to not be confined to pre-existing mindsets about what is and isn’t possible when it comes to musical styles all bode well for his chances at making an impact in the future.

Sometimes failures aren’t really failures at all but rather they’re simply necessary excursions into uncharted territory to see what the terrain is like once you deviate from the map. Neither Gatemouth Brown or his efforts to date were failures in that regard, even if they weren’t successful enough for Aladdin Records, or anyone else, to be confident enough to let him head a little further down the road just yet to see what might be around the next bend.

Don’t worry though, Gate, two years isn’t really that long a time and we don’t mind waiting to hear from you again. Trust me, it’ll go by before you know it.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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