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It’s a move that seems to be eerily prescient of Sam Phillips abruptly turning his back on the black musical community of Memphis in the mid-1950’s for the more attractive possibilities to be had in courting white audiences with white artists.

He may have been a long way off from that turn of events, but a few months ago Jackie Brenston had recorded the first hit Phillips was ever associated with and one which Phillips would take an inordinate amount of credit for in time, and after screwing Brenston out of the chance to release his own follow-up in July, he now hands him a tune that was composed by a white pianist in a Navy band for a musical comedy of all things!

Apparently Sam Phillips had a sense of what side his bread would be buttered on from the start… white bread of course.


Nothin’ To Talk About
Just so nobody gets their panties in a bunch, yes, I’m well aware that white songwriters (and artists) will come up with scores of great rock songs over the years and that, in some ways, they already had contributed to rock’s early progress with compositions – be it standards or current hits from other fields – that were turned into legitimately good rock records.

It should also be said that Larry Meeks, the songwriter in question, was not simply a random seaman from the sticks who wrote songs to sing to his sweetheart in Boulder, Colorado. He was someone who’d have an actual career in music with some pretty big names from Benny Goodman to Tennessee Ernie Ford, but for the time being he was in the Navy stationed in Tennessee and wrote a comedy called Prairie Navy which had all of two performances in Memphis before the curtain mercifully came down.

Apparently Phillips was not one of the 23 patrons who had attended the shows, but rather Meeks came into his studio to record a demo of the big number in the play, Tuckered Out, a few months after which Phillips gave it to Jackie Brenston who was completely unsuited to performing this kind of thing.

Brenston didn’t like it, but he was in a bind. Since his July session which produced both Independent Woman, released at the time on the back of a song that was done somebody else pretending to be him, and My Real Gone Rocket, which was on the top side of this release, Brenston and Ike Turner had split over the hurt feelings the latter had over the former receiving credit for Rocket 88… which Brenston was in fact entitled to.

But Turner wasn’t incidental in that success by any means, as it was his band that Brenston was a part of, a sometime singer and second sax player who fortune briefly smiled upon when he got a chance to re-write and sing a song that would momentarily catapult him to fame. But now, without a cohesive band to work up material with, Jackie was left to fend for himself and as a result he was stuck recording songs like this.

Of course Meeks wasn’t happy about it either, for he didn’t like having a black singer he never heard of record it on a record label he never heard of, in a style he didn’t care for.

So just who DID like this song?


In General I Was Tired
No, not us… not entirely anyway, though admittedly the composition itself, to Meeks’ credit, is structured sensibly and the lyrics tell a fairly well-crafted story. Not an interesting story mind you, certainly not an exciting one, and definitely not memorable one by any means.

In other words it’s exactly the kind of song that you could picture taking center stage of a second rate musical comedy that lasted all of two performances.

The first thing we have to get used to here is Brenston being forced to change his vocal delivery to suit the song. No longer brash and upbeat, his subdued persona is actually carried off nicely even if it makes for a fairly nondescript performance as a result.

He tells us a decidedly G-rated story about going to a dance with his girl and after just a few hours has had enough and wants to go home to bed. Now any rock act who gets Tuckered Out by midnight just from dancing is no rock artist at all, but of course Brenston is playing a character conceived as white and – by the sounds of it – not very worldly at that, and so maybe it makes some sense.

They go home – in a surrey of all things (apparently this took place in Oklahoma in the 1800’s) – and he’s too tired to do anything which might’ve made this song worthwhile. Each of the next two stanzas vaguely hint at some nocturnal hanky panky, but not even Brenston’s more knowing-reading of it can get a rise out of you and therein lies the difference when it comes to source material… some demographics go inside after midnight for conversation and others go inside for procreation.

As sleepy as Brenston is acting here, we can’t really blame him, for while the band is solid and the arrangement gets about as much mileage as it possibly can out of such a limited concept, they can’t turn water into wine.

With the Newborn brothers holding court you knew it’d be smoothly professional if nothing else, as Phineas on piano gives this enough a pulse behind the vocals to be tolerable while Calvin delivers a guitar solo with a ringing tone that sounds nice, even if it’s awkwardly cut short, but there are no moments to really make you sit up and take notice.

Brenston’s character acting in this is surely far better than whatever Navy hick they had on the stage performing this part, but the only difference between the two performances is you might stay awake a little longer listening to the record than you would if you were in the audience for the play.

Oh So Late
Record companies, or in this case record company surrogates like Sam Phillips, tended to be terrible when it came to choosing songs for rock artists to sing, as most were musically ignorant in general, and obviously culturally removed from the very market they were trying to reach.

Phillips surely heard in this a “neat” concept and thought it’d make for a different sound for Brenston that might broaden his horizons, but while we can freely admit that Tuckered Out may be a better idea than yet another thinly veiled remake of Jackie’s initial hit, the fact remains that those reconfigured songs at least were built on an appropriate foundation and sound and failed because they were unambitious by nature, not because they weren’t musically suitable for rock acclaim.

This on the other hand was misguided by nature and that’s always the far bigger offense.

Though Brenston will get more releases on Chess and then Federal, all hoping to capitalize on the lingering recognition for that first hit, this release was really the last chance he had to establish a viable career as a promising newcomer rather than an easily dismissed one-hit wonder from the past.

It was inevitable that with ever decreasing returns he’d soon become an afterthought.

This wasn’t hard to see coming through, because not coincidentally Brenston – and his career – both seemed to have been an afterthought by Sam Phillips from the very start and while one of them would go on to bigger and better things by shifting his attention elsewhere, the one who gave him that opportunity to begin with sadly faded into oblivion.


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