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J-B 603; NOVEMBER 1952



The second ever review we posted here contained a fairly obvious statement that still needed to be said just to make the broader point about the birth of the genre as clear as day.

It was the flip side of the record that had launched rock ‘n’ roll and we began by asking if that one had been an aberration or an archetype and then kindly answered it for you by insisting it was the latter. The reason being was Roy Brown immediately “backed up a rock song with… another rock song”.

Five years later rock ‘n’ roll’s place in the world is obviously firmly established. It’s the most dynamic and popular style of music in Black America and has been for most of that time, but even so there are occasionally artists who get slotted in another genre who try their hand at rock without fully convincing everybody that they’re serious about their attempts and as a result their musical affiliation is perpetually questioned.

So we go back to that second review from years ago to confirm Guitar Slim’s place in this movement for the same reason… he too backed up his unquestioned rock song with… another rock song. But he even did Roy Brown one better, because this one was a hit.


You Said You’d Stay Here Beside Me
Some guys have luck when they step right from the amateur ranks to sign with a pretty big record label with a good track record for rock ‘n’ roll.

On the surface Guitar Slim, still billed as Eddie Jones at the time, seemed to fit that description when he got a contract with Imperial Records in 1951 after making a good showing for himself in New Orleans at The Dew Drop Inn.

But despite their recent success Imperial was in disarray after Dave Bartholomew quit over a lack of recognition for his work and as such their output in 1951 was not what it was the year before, or would be again when Bartholomew returned to the label in mid-1952. They were still a viable label, but one largely dependent on the inherent talent of the artists themselves rather than the ability of a genius producer to get the best work out of them in the studio.

Though blessed with natural talent, Jones was still inexperienced outside of the club where he’d formulated a style centered largely around imitating someone else. His rocking sides were modeled on Gatemouth Brown without much innovation of their own, while his blues-based songs were rather run-of-the-mill offerings that drew little attention. Had Imperial kept him around another year who knows what gems he would’ve come up with once Bartholomew’s steady hand was at the controls.

But sometimes luck is where you find it and for Guitar Slim, as he was now billing himself, he found it in Nashville of all places when Jim Bulleit launched his first label since shutting down Bullet Records awhile back.

Though J-B Records never matched his previous label which had issued records by Cecil Gant, Wynonie Harris and the first sides done by B.B. King, as well as a massive pop hit with Near You, there was one thing that J-B Records had to make them more than just a minor footnote in music history… they featured the emergence of Guitar Slim, rock artist, with the invigorating Certainly All.

But as good as it was, that wasn’t the side which put his name on the wider musical map. Instead it was Feelin’ Sad which topped the New Orleans charts for much of the last month of the year, not only showing the immense following he had from his stint playing in the Crescent City, but also showcasing the soulful vocals which would help to set him apart.

This was the melting pot rock ‘n’ roll had been born from. His bluesy guitar mixed with jazz derived horns, a small combo rhythm section led by Huey “Piano” Smith and topped by his own gospel derived vocals. It’s no wonder Ray Charles covered this one around the corner, but while Charles may have tightened up the arrangement, not even The Genius could top Slim’s original performance.


I’ll Tell The Story Just Once Again
For a record that provided such a huge boost to Guitar Slim’s career, it might actually be dominated by some glaring weak spots if you refuse to look past them to see what lays beneath.

But while the shortcomings make it an imperfect recording, in many ways it also makes it a more poignant, relatable and sincere record because it better embodies the song’s entire theme.

After all, it’s called Feelin’ Sad, and sadness is not something neat and clean. It’s messy. The sadder you are, the more you lose the tight grip on your emotions and find the situation slipping away from you.

There’s a reason why people don’t like to let someone see them actually break down and cry, and while Guitar Slim isn’t on the brink of doing that in his vocals here (other than the somewhat painful opening moan he introduces the record with), the band seems to be fulfilling that role themselves with the atonal horns that are almost intentionally grating on you, even as they embody the mournful outlook Slim has.

How much or how little you concentrate on them may very well dictate your appreciation – or lack thereof – for the record, but if you can just let them be sort of an aural wallpaper rather than the focal point then everything else falls into place rather nicely as Huey Smith’s twitchy piano is giving this just enough notes to break up the droning horns which still provide the main instrumental support.

But both of those, the good and the bad, take a back seat to Slim’s haunted vocals, which are perfectly realized when it comes to expressing despair. Throughout this he sounds aching, hungry, mournful and emotionally lost. Being a recording, not a picture, you can’t actually see the vacant look in his eyes but you can hear it in his voice as he has lost everything that matters to him – his family is gone and he was shipped overseas to fight a meaningless war for a country that treats him like dirt.

It was because of being on the other side of the world for a year that his girlfriend’s affections strayed from him. Though we can surely criticize her for not remaining true to him, at that age who among you is thinking about long range plans? They’re just kids in need of someone close to make them feel good in the moment and without him around she let her eyes wander, breaking his heart in the process.

He’s so overcome with grief that Slim’s guitar playing is completely absent here, but you don’t mind because as great as he was on that instrument, he was always just as good as a vocalist. His gospel background not only lets him reach much deeper to reveal these emotions, but also gives his voice the flexibility and control it needs to showcase them properly.

By the end the horns aren’t sticking out like a sore thumb anymore, they’re merely part of the overall discomfort that swirls around the man in the middle of the room who finds himself left all alone and unable to come to grips with it.


Sending You All My Money
Let’s be clear about this… it’d be easy enough to transform this into a pure blues if that’s what they wanted. Just drop the horns, hand him his guitar and have him play single string fills. The lyrics obviously wouldn’t need to change at all, though he’d probably need to wail less and moan more to really make it a seamless fit, but it’s not a huge overhaul by any means.

Yet he didn’t do that and not because he didn’t have the personnel available, or that J-B Records were pushing him to aim at another field… after all, blues was almost as big as rock was in 1952, for the last time ever.

No, he crafted Feelin’ Sad as a rock song from the start, one in the same vein as cuts by Andrew Tibbs, Little Willie Littlefield, Billy Wright, even some Fats Domino and Big Joe Turner sides.

In the end, genre affiliation is comprised of a lot of different things – instrumentation and arrangements, vocal style and song content, artist identity and intended audience – and there will always be times were those lines get blurred and you need to weigh each one to find some reasonable justification for including something or keeping it out.

But Guitar Slim made it much easier for us with this because of his own choices in how to present it, forsaking the very things that would’ve kept the outcome in doubt or placed it solidly to the other side of the fence.

In other words he backed up a rock song with another rock song and while he’ll still have those claiming he’s more blues than rock when looking at the totality of his catalog, it’s harder to state it definitively when his best songs and biggest hits fit much comfortably over here.


(Visit the Artist page of Guitar Slim for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)