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CHESS 1496; JANUARY 1952



We’ve been seeing a lot of these male-female duets in rock over the past two years, a trend that might have some legitimate artistic merit at times but save one very prominent example not much in the way of commercial returns, which in the record business is always the most important aspect of any decision.

But then again when it came to Chess’s dealings with Jackie Brenston they were ready to try just about anything.

Less than a year ago he’d given them their first Number One hit and in the months since has lost the great band who’d backed him on that record, been impersonated by another artist on the follow-up single released by the company and was not a songwriter able to come up with equally promising material of his own to get himself back on top.

So when someone came up with the bright idea of pairing him up with a female singer I’m sure they felt, why not? What did they have to lose?


You Can Ride With Me
The better question of course is what did they have to gain?

Usually these decisions are based in part on spreading the word about the newcomer the established act is being paired up with. We saw this with Mary Lou Greene who shared one side of a record with Larry Darnell which resulted in… absolutely no interest whatsoever in Mary Lou Greene, despite her doing a decent job.

Little Laura Wiggins impressed alongside of Little Willie Littlefield but it came to very little in the big scheme of things, as Wiggins didn’t find herself in much demand as a result of it despite I’ve Been Lost charting across the South in the winter of 1951. That wasn’t even her best effort with Littlefield, as Ain’t A Better Story Told was an absolute killer of a track that fell on deaf ears a few months earlier.

Of course when the prototype you have to go on is Mel Walker appearing alongside Little Esther soon after she’d established herself as one of rock’s biggest stars you can see why companies would want to jump on board, as Walker quickly rose to stardom himself, not only with the aforementioned duets but as a solo artist as well.

Maybe most of the likeminded attempts didn’t amount to much, but not all of the efforts in their wake have been in vain, as Burnetta Evans got a hit when singing with Jimmy Preston on Oh Babe! even if she wasn’t able to translate that into a viable solo career.

So surely that was the thinking in bringing Edna McRaney on board for Hi, Ho Baby, a move with a dual purpose as Chess wanted to try and boost her chances for a bankable career going forward, as well as to revive the sagging fortunes of Jackie Brenston by giving him someone to play off of in a rousing performance where he only has to shoulder half the load.

Of course it did neither one of them too much good, as McRaney just got a few more chances on Chess (albeit only one single fully of her own), while Brenston was soon dropped from the label after one more release. Yet what quickly becomes apparent is this song they cut together wasn’t that far away from being good enough to propel them both to higher ground.


When We Get Together We Steal The Show
The Newborn brothers once again provide the rollicking musical backing that launches this song into orbit.

But unlike on the conflicted Leo The Louse where their hyper backing undercut the supposed humor of the story – even though it was clearly the best aspect of the record – on this side it’s much more in line with the song’s plot, both working in tandem to make the total package as appealing as possible.

Rolling waves of horns, clattering drums, Phineas Newborn’s spasmic piano, a grinding sax solo followed immediately by one of the most sizzling guitar solos we’ve come across courtesy of Calvin Newborn… it’s a track that again might be a little TOO out of control for its own good, but it’s arranged in a way to ensure you aren’t disoriented and overwhelmed by the sheer frenzy of instruments attacking the song like piranhas.

Obviously with this kind of souped up musical engine the singers are going to have a tough time not being thrown overboard, to say nothing of the songwriter finding the right lyrics to justify such antics, but surprisingly this isn’t the case.

Hi, Ho Baby may not be very deep, nor all that original – there are numerous references to flashy cars, surely done to accentuate the automotive connection between this song and its nearly year old predecessor, not to mention the same “ad-lib” Jackie tosses in as the sax starts to play – but while it’s fairly rudimentary overall, it’s also entirely fitting for the circumstances.

McRaney kicks it off in a strong voice, assertive and confident, much more so than the more laid back Brenston who follows, providing a nice contrast as it seems she’s the one itching for some action, whether on the road or in the back seat, you be the judge. The lines don’t necessarily tie in with one another, some seem more like random observations strung together, but they generally convey the same restless state of mind that would lead two adventure seeking kids to hit the road together.

All of this is really good and when the instrumental solos come along you desperately want to be caught up in the maelstrom it all creates but there’s one thing weighing the record down that no matter how many times I listen and no matter how much I try and ignore it becomes too egregious to overlook and that’s the responsory lines where they implore one another to “Talk to me, talk to me baby!”.

It seems like such a small thing, and a natural thing for that matter, as both are worked up over this prospective joyride and egging one another on, but it’s not what is being said that’s the problem, it’s the prominence of it in the mix that grates on your nerves, particularly when McRaney is the one delivering it between Brenston’s lines in the chorus.

Had they moved back from the microphone when singing those replies, or had the engineer had the common sense or technical ability to adjust the input on that microphone during these parts so they sound more distant and detached, almost like an echo, the record would’ve been so much better.

As it is though it’s still pretty damn good.


We Get Loud And Put In Jail
Oftentimes it seems that those who want to tout something relatively obscure, maybe because they genuinely love it despite its flaws or perhaps just to promote a song, artist or era that gets very little attention otherwise, will react with outrage if the thing that actually prevented the record from reaching true greatness is held accountable for doing so.

But that’s the only way to ensure that songs without notable missteps, where every element works to the advantage of the finished product, gets properly rewarded when the time comes.

Maybe Hi, Ho Baby still wasn’t likely to become a big hit if they’d downplayed those infernal “talk to me” retorts, but brief though they might be they overwhelm your senses to such a degree that it detracts from everything else, making the enthusiasm seem almost hostile rather than invigorating at times and turning a potentially great record into one that just misses.

It may be a small detail in an otherwise stellar all around performance by singers and band alike and so dropping it a full point might seem excessive, but then again sometimes a single pebble in your shoe will make a long walk a lot less enjoyable.

That being said this is still the best side we’ve encountered by Jackie Brenston since his debut and makes you wish they’d remixed it to see just how high this might’ve gone.


(Visit the Artist pages of Jackie Brenston for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)