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One of the surest signs something has moved from being experimental in nature to being firmly established is the appearance of countless practitioners jumping into the fray without their decision to make this move being singled out as important or even particularly noteworthy.

This transition in which things from the fringes of society quickly move into the mainstream is nothing new of course. The first few families on the block who bought an automobile in the 1910’s were a viewed as a novelty, but by the 1920’s lots of houses had a black Model T Ford parked outside and so nobody made a big deal of it if someone else made the plunge and bought one.

So it was with rock ‘n’ roll as 1949 drew to a close when the Rhythm & Blues Charts were crammed full of rock songs and the handful of big name artists who’d put the field on the map over the past two years now had enough company in the ranks that unless they showed up to the club meetings early they were at risk for not even getting a seat any longer.

Though the rapid increase in viable artists naturally made it much more difficult to draw attention to yourself upon your arrival, the fact the landscape for the form as a whole was becoming more hospitable by the day meant there were plenty of new outlets for artists to try and make their mark.


There’ll Come A Day…
Harold Conner would never become a star, never even earn a regional hit, but he managed to last at least fifteen years earning a living in music, recording intermittently when the opportunity presented itself and enduring the grind of the road when singing at whatever club would have him. By the mid-1950’s he was an opening act for B.B. King which brought him in front of the biggest audiences he was likely to ever see but while he was a skilled tenor vocalist who featured plenty of energy on the rocking numbers and a good deal of pathos on the ballads, he never seemed to have the right support behind him in the studio to connect.

But as we’ve said before the health of any musical genre isn’t predicated solely on the number of stars and major hits it has at any given time, equally as important are the amount of journeymen in the field who manage to stick around the scene for a long time without tasting much notable success. If they’re able to keep getting recording contracts in spite of offering little in the way of tangible commercial returns and are never at a loss for gig on a Friday and Saturday night even if the clubs are decidedly small and out of the way, that’s what provides the most tangible evidence as to the music’s overall appeal. Being able to simply earn a decent living playing rock ‘n’ roll is no small feat and sometimes that fact gets lost when focusing too much on the hub-bub of worldwide stardom and million selling records by a select few.

Affording Conner this early opportunity was Ivory Records, a small label recently started by Dagmar Van Haur, a former secretary Dial Records, making her one of the few women who operated her own label at this time. Naturally, like all start-up companies, it would struggle to make inroads and would last barely a year but during that time it had some interesting artists nonetheless and they seemed to be fully cognizant of the potential rock had to give them some sales.

Maybe it’s not surprising because the label was still in its infancy that some of their artists were called on to pull double-duty, as here we see their biggest names – The Do Ray Me Trio – entrusted to back Conner on his debut. Since we’re not going to have a chance to meet up with them again because they weren’t a rock group we should probably just delve into their résumé a little for the sake of completeness.

The Do-Ray-Me Trio were a vocal group that had some success around this time with a big national hit the year before (as Do, Ray and Me) with Wrapped Up In A Dream a fairly nice poppish ballad that was a #2 hit on Commodore. Having come up in the pre-rock era they were too far removed from the social and musical context the new style specialized in and so the group – though they continued to release some really nice records in their own style for a number of years to come – were sort of cursed because they were among the last remnants of an era that was already coming to a close, at least in the sense of it no longer being at the vanguard of black music as the Fifties dawned.

The group all sang and played instruments and by 1949 consisted of Joel Cowan on guitar, Curtis Wilder on bass and the group’s leader, pianist Al Russell whose other rock connection is writing A.B.C. Boogie earlier in 1949 when they backed a singer named Mary Del, five years before Bill Haley turned the song into one of his mid-50’s rock hits.

So they at least had some experience being called on as studio sessionists already and assuming they got a few pennies for their efforts it wasn’t a bad way to supplement their income, which as we know wasn’t likely to amount to much otherwise, hit record or not.

Then again, considering the group can’t quite match Conner’s decidedly modern efforts on I’ll Get You (When The Bridge Is Down) maybe he’d have been better off searching for his own group of younger cats to back him up.

Raise Your Hands And Shout
The song is right in line with the dominant rock sounds of the day for the most part – fast paced with lots of emotion – which distracts us from the rather confusing long title that couldn’t have helped this to draw much interest on a jukebox back in the day.

I’m assuming it’s meant to refer to him being dismissive of his ex-girlfriend, something along the lines of “I’ll call you when I’m hard up”, but unless drawbridges were much more common in communities then which allowed them to take on euphemistic meanings widely known to the general populace at the time, the inference to any specific meaning remains something of a mystery today.

The odd title aside, the focal point of I’ll Get You When The Bridge Is Down is Conner’s supple voice and soulful delivery and rightfully so, as they leave no doubt that he was a full-fledged rocker and had it what it took to be a pretty good one at that.

Though his tone and delivery both sound like familiar benchmarks for early rock we actually haven’t seen TOO many examples of them in this way to date, maybe Mr. Google-Eyes sort of fits the same description, but these attributes are about to become more prevalent as we get into the Fifties. It’s a youthful loose-limbed sound, a little ragged around the edges and carried as much by bouncy enthusiasm as anything, yet still maintaining solid technical skills even if they’re mostly de-emphasized in the vocal arrangement.

There’s plenty here to study however for in a somewhat uncommon tactic Conner’s voice swells on the verses rather than the choruses which gives the song a rather interesting progression to follow. It’s a lot like flooring the gas pedal when the light turns green and jumping off the line but then easing off once you’re at cruising speed. Though that’s not the ideal way to handle a car maybe it’s certainly turns heads on the sidewalk and in much the same manner it allows Conner to make a memorable impression here as well.

The lyrics are standard issue for this type of song for much of the next decade, presenting a series of small vignettes covering his grievances with this girl as he seems to have put up with a lot of casual affronts since they’ve been together as she apparently took his love for granted and felt she didn’t have to pony up with any respect. Of course since his complaints take up an entire song it means he must’ve stuck with her with for quite awhile which sort of shows WHY she took him for granted.

But truthfully I gotta say that even as engaging as Conner’s voice is, I’m gonna side with the girl in this relationship dispute because it seems as if what he’s really mad about is she didn’t idolize him in the same way he worshiped her. Aside from spying her flirting at the bar he really just spends half of his time saying how great she was before breaking down and admitting that her biggest fault was she didn’t put him first, which I’m taking to mean that he wanted her in the traditional homemaker role that mid-century America idealized with no regard for the female’s own individual interests and aspirations.

It also sounds as if he’d take her back in a heartbeat if she’d cast her eyes downward with a trembling lip while offering up a humble apology that wouldn’t even have to be sincere provided he was simply allowed to let it inflate his ego enough to feel vindicated.

Oh well, by the sounds of it this is his first romance anyway and probably wasn’t meant to last. I’d like to think that while Conner was slogging away on the road, singing for a few bucks a night for years on end after they broke up, still trying to crack the big time, she was off getting her doctorate degree somewhere.

All Night Long
But while the sentiments Conner expresses might be rather simplistic and even shortsighted, his manner in delivering them is spot on and we still feel some sympathy for him as he regales us with his plight.

Somewhat to our surprise he’s helped a little in this regard by The Do Ray Me Trio behind him once I’ll Get You When The Bridge Is Down gets going as Russell’s piano provides a steady rhythm for Conner to ride. Though they don’t contribute much in the way of fireworks they’re clearly allowing themselves to be subservient to his needs during much of this (maybe he should date THEM instead!), but unfortunately they can’t keep it up and their playing starts to deviate from the course he sets just when he needs them to make a more powerful impact.

Maybe the band will claim their sudden missteps were the result of being confused by rather odd instructions from Conner, who heading into the extended instrumental break verbally encourages all of them to contribute a solo, albeit in a rather unusual way, telling each one to “blow it all night long”.

Let’s pause a moment while we contemplate his meaning.

Hmmm… nope, I’m at a total loss. How ’bout you?

With no sensible answer at the ready we now need to call into question Conner’s familiarity with instruments and how they’re played, for there’s no horns to be found here – something which is unfortunate, and not just so his instructions could be better carried out, but because a sultry tenor sax solo would’ve worked great here. Instead he tells the piano to blow away all his blues and Russell contributes a fairly long solo that’s a pretty big step back from his work behind the vocals earlier in terms of intensity, the first sign of a stylistic disconnect between singer and group.

Undaunted by this – and apparently thinking his directive makes sense because it was understood – Conner then tells the guitar to blow as well and while Cowen plays some nice licks, really the best playing found within, with a nice reverberating hollow tone that wouldn’t be too out of place in five years time in rock, it’s still not exactly taken at the kind of blistering pace it would be in the future, which might’ve helped to boost this even more. But at least Conner is showing no preference among his compatriots in the studio as he closes this section out by telling the bass to blow and while I for one would like to see that tried by some brave soul on one of those unwieldy stand-up bass fiddles, Wilder chooses instead to use his fingers to pluck away on the strings. Though bass solos can be an interesting wrinkle on a record at times, the acoustic bass in rock is hardly the place for it unless maybe we’re talking the slap bass of rockabilly down the road, and this part also understandably drags a bit, taking the record out of the running for something that surpasses expectations.

When Conner jumps back in things get back on track as he’s full of vigor as he wraps up the story with some day-dreaming fantasy about how he hopes his girl winds up “down and out” in the future just so he can crow about coming out on top which perfectly fits the familiar combination of cockiness and insecurity that defines so much of the teenage romantic terrain. Because it’s so suited to the topic and the characters he paints we don’t even bat an eye at it for its lack of chivalry and grace.

You Need Me Baby
Rock songs of course rarely feature either of those attributes and so Conner can’t be reprimanded for his public display of petulance upon their breakup. Besides, rock’s audience is situated in the same age demographic and so they – or at least many of the fellas buying the record – are probably in full agreement over his response to this girl.

No word on what the ladies thought, but I’m sure upon seeing any females in the crowd when he made his debut on stage around this time Harold Conner would be more contrite and sweet when singing something designed to attract their attention.

Who knows, maybe one of them caught his eye and one thing led to another and a few months later he’ll come up with another song to tell us how that one went. If all goes well he might not be mildly warning anyone I’ll Get You When The Bridge Is Down because his fortunes will have taken an upturn in the intervening time.

We know that commercially speaking that won’t be the case, for this wasn’t a hit, but it was a sign to anyone interested in the music biz that Conner was at least worth taking a chance on… provided you weren’t a 17 year old girl with needs of your own outside coddling his still fragile ego.

But hopefully when he matures a bit emotionally he’ll keep the same engaging way with a song, no matter what its topic may be, because rock ‘n’ roll needs more kids like him to speak the language that the genre was built on from the very start.


(Visit the Artist page of Harold Conner for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)