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PEACOCK 1526, MARCH 1950



Although inevitably it’s the stars of any era that are most often remembered by the general public the majority of those making records over the years have been the marginal acts. Though not necessarily lacking in talent, their failure to carve out an immediate and lasting image with their work meant they’d forever be scrambling for their next opportunity.

Those opportunities could be few and far between however, sometimes appearing at unlikely times for reasons they couldn’t quite predict.

When Iona Wade suddenly found herself presented with an opportunity to cut a rock record by a new label in Houston despite her lack of experience in that style she wasn’t about to turn down the chance.


Call Me When You Come To Town
While she may be someone who could pop up now and again on these pages over the next decade Iona Wade was not a rock singer by trade and it was only due to the needs of a record company surveying an expanding market for this material that she found herself recruited to the movement.

Wade was not a complete unknown, she’d actually been a fairly well regarded vocalist for Sherman Williams’ band for a number of years before this. In fact Williams, with Wade on lead, had recorded sides for DeLuxe Records after rock became that label’s primary output.

We didn’t review it, which should tell you all you need to know about its contents… it wasn’t rock, nor anything close to rock ‘n’ roll for that matter.

Williams’s outfit was a swing band, but the reason why despite Wade’s quality efforts for them that you probably haven’t heard of her is because Williams and company were decidedly second rate. This is not an insult exactly, just a realistic assessment of their material, execution and public appeal. There were LOTS of perfectly serviceable swing groups in the 1940’s that had no major impact, just as there’ll be plenty of rock acts in the decades to come who were skilled enough to keep working steadily yet never were able to break through nationally.

Yet maybe the fact that Wade was considered a talented singer by those in the know, her peers and audiences alike, got her to re-think her career path. All she had to do was look around her to see that swing music’s heyday was long since past and Williams wasn’t ambitious enough, nor probably musically adroit enough to completely overhaul their style to appeal to a new fan base. As a result Wade left his employ in early 1949 and began to look for new opportunities to make a name for herself.

Williams was from Houston and so they’d spent a good deal of time there including doing stints at Don Robey’s Bronze Peacock club, so it’s not surprising that when Wade went out on her own she’d turn to Robey and his new record label in hopes that her local name recognition might help her cause. He did indeed give her a break… though maybe not quite the break she was looking for.

She’s paired with a band billed as Eric Von Schlitz and His Big Six, a name which hardly gives any indication they’re forward thinking in any conceivable way, but in truth the outfit was led by pianist Jay McShann, a fairly big name, albeit in uptown blues, not rock. Normally that might not be a problem, Wade could handle that style too, except Peacock Records with their finger on the pulse of the sounds making the most noise commercially as the Fifties dawned steered them in the direction of rock ‘n’ roll.

Take My Number, Baby may not quite be a pure rocker, which conceivably could help Wade’s handling of it, but absent a more declarative musical statement it probably meant Wade was going to have to keep handing out that number of hers to other companies if she wanted to keep being invited back to cut sessions in the future in the hopes of keeping her career alive awhile longer.

Put It In Your Pocket, Daddy
Maybe the best way to describe this record is that as a song, a performance and an arrangement it’s very malleable. That is, with a few tweaks it could’ve been suitable for a bunch of different styles, including ones Wade was undoubtedly more familiar with.

That lack of familiarity doesn’t hamper her much however, because she does a fine job at conveying just the right emotional touches to make Take My Number Baby convincing as a slow aching rocker… not quite a torch song, yet not exactly a sultry come-on either.

That middle ground approach was probably the smartest bet for them all things considered. For starters it allowed them to potentially appeal to some diverse constituencies, and maybe more importantly it ensured that the band and Wade herself would be able to connect with the song in ways that didn’t betray their own experience yet also didn’t undercut the record’s intent.

Featuring a simple but effectively minimalist piano intro by McShann and supported by a stinging but discreet guitar as the main accompaniment, the band doesn’t try and overstep its role here. That guitar is the most noteworthy feature of the track, almost sluggish in pace yet leaving no doubt it’s capable of springing into action without warning, like a deadly snake slithering in the grass. Once you’re aware of its presence (snake or guitar it matters little in this instance) you don’t take your eyes (or ears) off it, fully respectful of its ability to inflict damage.

That adds a great deal of quiet menace and tension to the track, all of which goes along at an unhurried pace and for the most part contains no sudden shifts to something more explosive. The closest they come is McShann’s piano becoming more assertive midway through, yet even there he’s not hammering away on the keys as you might expect, but rather just being a little more emphatic on the treble end to keep you from falling into too complacent a mood.

The guitar solo that follows is deceptively mesmerizing featuring a great tone and some languid lines that are perfectly judged. They were top notch musicians of course, professional in every way and that usually makes for the ideal accompanists behind a singer who knows just what to do with a story that seems right up her alley by the sounds of it.


If You Want To Have A Ball
Interpersonal relationships tend to form the basis for a lot of songs in all types of music. Someone with plenty of time and patience should do a study on it but if I’m making bets I’d say it’d top 50% of the lyrical subjects of the post-War era for sure… maybe as much as 65% if you included every plausible variation of that theme.

Take My Number, Baby is about as straightforward in its subject as can be – a girl sees a guy she likes and throwing discretion to the wind gives her phone number to the guy in hopes he has the initiative to give her a ring so they can get together and he can give her another ring… whichever way you want to parse that line, it’ll do, be it a ring as in wedding ring down the line, or just a little ring-a-ding-ding if you have the crass cockiness of Frank Sinatra when talking about a roll in the hay.

In any event the key to making this work is how the singer conveys her hope and lust without being so vague that her true intent is left open to debate, or too blunt in which case her horny desperation will cause it to take on a less sympathetic vibe to many listeners. This being rock ‘n’ roll though if you’re going to err on one side or the other it’s better to cross the line of decorum just enough so that there’s no doubting that her desire stems from a region approximately three feet below her cerebral cortex.

Iona Wada pulls this off with a deft touch throughout the song. The lyrics are simple enough to need no interpretation, yet well-written enough to make them seem deeper than they really are. But a lot of that is due to Wade’s sensitive reading of it, her voice expressing longing that takes us to the brink of lust without crossing that line and changing the entire mood the song is reliant on.

Her voice is so self-assured it makes all of her choices in her line readings seem natural and effortless… the manner in which her voice rises and falls to lend different emotional nuance to some otherwise unadorned lyrics, or the way she holds some notes unexpectedly and draws out their power in the process, or how she eases back on others to suggest someone who’s trying to not seem too anxious even though she clearly is hoping this guy will give her the response she’s longing for.

All of it’s done expertly, there’s not a single syllable she utters that you’d wish was delivered any other way. It may be subtle and uncomplicated with no histrionics to emphasize her choices, but what this shows is a singer every bit as intuitive and smart with her choices as she is skilled with her vocal chords.

Call Me Up Sometime
This is a record that grows on you, something I feel I’ve said more often for female singers than males for some reason over the first three years of rock’s evolution. Maybe that comes down to the types of songs women have been asked to sing, or the comparative lack of frequency we’ve gotten to hear female artists compared to their male counterparts which means there’s a lot more variety when it comes to men’s output.

Whatever the reason though while Take My Number, Baby might not have the pizzazz to become a runaway smash (it did hit the Top Five in Houston however, for what it’s worth), there’s more than enough here for it to earn a spot in anybody’s playlist, particularly one that is being programmed for after the lights go down at night and you’re hoping that someone dials your number in search of a nocturnal rendezvous.

Sometimes songs that are workmanlike and stylistically unambitious as this get a bad rap because they aren’t taking a lot of risks, but that doesn’t mean carrying out these songs doesn’t require a good deal of effort and ability and if Iona Wade was simply going along with the program and trying her hand in rock due to the demands of the era you’d never know it by listening to this. She sounds as if you called her number she’d definitely pick up the phone and what more can you ask of a record… or a girl.


(Visit the Artist page of Iona Wade for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)