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CHESS 1472; JULY 1951



If there’s one thing that music tends to grant you as an artist it’s the possibility for redemption.

There’s always another song, another performance, that can boost your fallen stock, or in this case to show that the powers-that-be that they were not only morally wrong to conspire to steal your opportunity to follow-up your chart topping debut as they did, but that they were also misguided when it came to their musical judgement.

It may only get heard as the B-side to somebody else masquerading as you, which is the side being aggressively promoted by Chess Records, but if enough people flip that out of control mess over and give this side a spin, at least Jackie Brenston would have the ability to win them back over, to prove Sam Phillips and Leonard Chess wrong and in the process afford himself greater opportunities in the future.

On the other hand if it too is hardly worth our time or trouble, then Brenston is right back where he started… another itinerant singer in search of a record deal from labels who would just as soon stab him in the heart rather than deal fairly with him.


Come Back Baby And Try Me One More Time
First thing’s first… if there’s one thing helping Jackie Brenston’s cause here over Billy Love’s crazed “impersonation” of him, it’s going to be the quality of the backing band.

Love was playing with a local Memphis band, some of whom were skilled musicians but in the case of Calvin Newborn, a usually solid guitarist, he was clearly not accustomed to rocking out on his instrument and mistook tumult for excitement, which is one of the reasons that even without the disgraceful behind the scenes machinations carried out by Phillips and Chess to dupe the public over the singer’s identity, the record itself was still below average. The band just couldn’t play this effectively and like so many musicians in over their head they felt cranking volume and maintaining a frantic pace would mask that fact.

Well, maybe if you WERE Juiced like the song was urging you to be, you might find it to be a good time, but remember in that scenario you’d also be taking a leak on the living room rug, falling all over yourself and would eventually pass out in your own puke, so sure, in that environment go ahead and have a ball listening to that record… it’ll suit you.

But the side that Jackie Brenston himself contributed to this release, Independent Woman, had been cut at the same session as Rocket 88, with Ike Turner leading the band and had been presumably worked out well in advance, thereby it’s a much tighter song with a better arrangement being played by far more disciplined musicians.

Furthermore, not that this is a positive trait in our view, but it also better suits what record companies are aiming for as they tended to prefer barely concealed variations of an earlier hit to be used as a follow-up. Since this basically is riding in the same rhythmic chassis it’s familiar enough on first listen to give them what they wanted – a reminder of how much you liked that last record.

Whether all of that – or any of it – is enough to pass muster here though is another question entirely.


Don’t Want Nobody Else
With Turner’s pounding the treble keys as the low hum of Willie Kizart’s guitar with the broken amp plays ominously behind him, this gives off a really strong vibe to start with. The melody is reminiscent of the car song without being completely the same which gives Brenston a little room to maneuver when he enters the picture.

Unfortunately his singing pattern is accentuating that similarity rather than distancing himself from it merely because of which syllables he emphasizes. This is his inexperience at play for had he simply switched that up – not a hard feat to do either – then the connection would’ve been much more difficult to spot.

Thankfully though he’s singing this using an even more relaxed delivery which works to its advantage. The lyrics for Independent Woman are relatively simple but quite good in laying out the plot as it finds him apologizing for past transgressions – including drinking – and so the fact he’s maintaining a more subdued demeanor fits nicely with the story while at the same time allows the throbbing menace the band projects to serve as the insistent devil on his shoulder whispering in his ear to forget this girl and go out and have some fun.

In that way the arrangement is spot on, giving this a push-pull dynamic that keeps you off-balance. Amazingly they actually acknowledge that underlying vibe and use it effectively, for what follows Brenston’s unsuccessful plea for the girl to stick around is spelled out only with music as Raymond Hill takes a long sax solo which doesn’t get too wild, but also never lets up, presenting the opportunities that await Jackie if he forgets this girl and returns to his old way of life. Not surprisingly Brenston starts getting caught up in the growing communal feeling of friends cutting loose all while Kizart’s guitar keeps applying constant pressure on his resolve.

Sure enough when Brenston starts singing again he’s changed his tune, telling the girl to forget it, he’s going back out drinking and partying with his friends and she can be independent all she wants because he’s through with her.

While hardly an admirable long term life decision, as a plot twist in a three minute rock record it stands as something far more inventive than most songs are able to do, especially in how they carried it out by letting the music alone act as the impetus for his changed outlook.

Its overall sound may be a little too derivative and not as exciting as its inspiration, but it serves as a much more suitable – and much better – follow-up to Brenston’s hit than what was offered by someone entirely on the top side of the record.

Be On Your Merry Way
With the legend surrounding the first record (some of it legitimate, some massively over-hyped in the years since) and the convoluted story regarding the A-side of this release, it’s probably inevitable that this side of the record, as well as potential alternative outcomes for the Jackie Brenston story, are lost in the shuffle.

We can blame that on the headline skimmers of the world who are content to let the narrative be dictated to them by self-serving figures who never expect you to put real thought into the fact that these were people’s lives we’re talking about here, not just irrelevant pawns in a bigger game.

Maybe Jackie Brenston never was cut out to be a lasting star, but he had the right to try at least and this record, while admittedly not as exhilarating or as good as Rocket 88, shows he and Turner were a solid team capable of producing interesting music without interference from the people behind the glass.

In terms of construction alone Independent Woman may actually stand as a slightly more creative song and shows that maybe their initial hit was the single worst thing that could’ve happened to Brenston, Turner, et all., for it ultimately broke them apart before they were able to improve their approach to songwriting and work out their respective responsibilities – and credit – in a way that would benefit them all.

Instead when Brenston DID come in for a proper follow-up session he was forced to cut an even more transparent sequel to his hit because record companies never believe that creativity and originality are as reliable as scams, swindles and deception.

In an alternate reality had they scored a smaller hit with the first record, then another regional entry with this, all while gaining valuable experience in the studio, maybe Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner would’ve remained together, churning out really good and increasingly diverse records for years to come.

The headlines would’ve been smaller, but the story would’ve almost surely been better and at least had the potential for a much happier ending.


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