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You wouldn’t think artistic talent would necessarily be equated with personal morality or a lack thereof, yet looking back over history clearly tells us otherwise.

Of course just because one group of people loudly trumpets their righteousness to the world does not mean they’re ethical human beings… in fact there’s plenty of evidence to suggest quite the opposite.

Yet putting them aside, the fact of the matter is – at least during the rock era – there’s far more great music being put out by those who made no pretense of their misdeeds and who no one in their right mind would claim were model citizens.

Whether walking on the wrong side of the tracks somehow leads to an artistic flourishing in someone, or if it’s simply that those who have creative talent naturally gravitate towards experiencing life in all its many forms regardless of social scorn, there’s one thing that can’t possibly be disputed… if you were on friendly terms with the unapologetic sinners of the world you never lacked for good song material.


Knocked Out Loaded
The fascinating, tragic, almost unbelievable tale of James Waynes has already been delved into before so we don’t have to get into it again other than to say that he was always skirting trouble and seemed particularly ill equipped to handle it when it came calling.

To some that would indicate this song about drug addiction must be autobiographical, but that’s not the case. However it’s safe to say that he was at least aware of the issue if he were running in certain circles and that first hand perspective brings a degree of authenticity to Junco Partner that’s hard to beat.

Junco of course is another term for junkie, or junker, which is heroin for those living under a rock, something portrayed as being more of a jazz musician’s drug at the time rather than a street drug as it has become ever since doctors began over-prescribing opioids to manage the slightest twinge of pain someone might feel which too often leads to those same patients turning to heroin to get their fix once the opioid prescription runs out.

Regardless of who was using it however, by now virtually everyone knows of its debilitating effects but for those in 1951 who had little idea of its existence, let alone any first hand experience in using the stuff, Waynes sets out to paint an accurate picture as possible… whether to dissuade others from trying it, or merely to create as vivid a story as he can for your entertainment.

Either way it’s pretty damn effective.


He Wobbled All Over The Street
Right off the bat you’re captivated by his distinctive voice… a pinched nasal tone delivered with a lazy drawl that is perfect for the sluggish high of a drug addict. Of course it’s important to point out that Waynes himself isn’t portraying the one getting his fix, but rather he’s telling us of encountering someone who is already high, but it actually might be to the record’s benefit to have you a little confused about just who is staggering around in a drug fueled haze.

As strange as it seems, it’s that unsteady delivery which makes this so compelling. When someone with a more normal voice tries this song, it never works, even when they try and adapt themselves to the peculiarities of the tune. Artists as diverse – and as great – as Louis Jordan and The Clash have butchered it, while others ranging from Hugh Laurie to Warren Zevon with R.E.M. (as Hindu Love Gods) clearly aren’t comfortable with it either, despite obviously loving the song. The reason is all of them are far too self-conscious singing it.

Yet when Professor Longhair with his cracked voice, or notorious real-life junkies James Booker or Dr. John tackled it, the song comes alive. Nobody though was ever as convincing with it as Waynes who sings it delightfully off-rhythm using a quirky inimitable time signature that the instruments accentuate.

Maybe it’s a New Orleans thing, (though Waynes was from nearby Houston and this track was recorded in Atlanta), but he’s always been associated loosely with The Crescent City, maybe just because he seemed to be the one outsider who fully grasped its musical intricacies.

On Junco Partner that reveals itself in the overlapping rhythms created by three musicians, the pianist who uses a series of mesmerizing hesitation moves to keep you off balance, soon being supplemented by a more standard percussion, although purposefully placed off-center to the piano, and then topped by a slightly wheezy horn that takes yet another route so that all three are both working in conjunction with each other in that they’re following similar progressions, yet at the same time are pulling in completely opposite directions because of how they’re situated.

Dr. John called this “the jailhouse beat” as the song, though put to paper by Waynes who shaped it into something easily definable, originated in prison where you had to make do with creating a beat without instruments, hence the percussive nature of what the musicians are playing in the studio while trying to adapt that.

On the surface it doesn’t seem as if it’d be alluring because the melody is so fractured, but once this gets in your head you can’t get it out and so you become a willing passenger hoping that Waynes won’t lead you astray with what he contributes vocally and lyrically.

He Was Singin’ This Song To Me
Drug users are generally not the most enjoyable people to encounter for myriad reasons, but one of the less serious ones is a lack of focus as their minds aren’t well organized during their departures from their senses.

Yet Waynes manages to make that appealing rather than an annoying and thanks to the way in which he innocently shifts pronouns as the story unfolds you’re left trying to decipher who is who, as he starts off saying this junkie was coming down the road towards him before telling us what exactly this guy was singing as he stumbled along.

When he delivers the lines of the Junco Partner he in effect becomes the one on drugs and rather than that being a problem it adds to the feeling of uncertainty the song requires to fully connect.

But the lines themselves are fully lucid as are the insights the addict has, particularly his sad realization that his friends were using him when he had money, but when he needs them “not a single friend can be found”.

His jailyard boasts about not sweating a ninety-nine year sentence are sold with carefree conviction and his later attempts to pawn his girlfriend for money to buy more smack has the kind of humorous twist ending that sparkles in his telling.

All of this is conveyed with delightful innocence by Waynes, at times almost seeming as if he’s singing it for his own amusement in a state of inebriation, a sly grin on his face, feeling no pain.

That’s the attitude the song needs too, and one reason why those listeners with moral objections to “glorifying” such a person, or those artists trying to distance themselves from the vaguely suggested pleasures of this form of addiction by using a more forceful and strident delivery, fail so badly to connect with it.

Waynes doesn’t concern himself with society’s reaction to the story, because it’s just that – a story… a colorful story with unforgettable characters which creates such a unique atmosphere.

It may not be one you want to face in your own life – let’s hope not at least – but it doesn’t hurt to experience it on record.


If I Had One Million Dollars
Quirkiness in music rarely finds consensus and this record is surely no different. Coming off a national hit in Tend To Your Business, Waynes couldn’t duplicate that success with this oddball offering, although it sold very well in certain areas and it’s even possible that trade papers – or those reporting the jukebox spins – were reluctant to tout the popularity of a song about drug addiction.

But that lack of truly universal appeal only makes Junco Partner more potent for those who look to get high off its idiosyncratic charms.

One of rock ‘n’ roll’s most important attributes over the years is its willingness to break taboos and push boundaries, be it in terms of subject matter or just trying different vocal styles and eccentric musical arrangements in the hopes of coming up with something fresh and memorable.

To do that you can’t be conservative in life. You need to embrace the world around you because all of it, the good, the bad and the ugly, are there to be explored and shying away from the unsavory parts of life, or just avoiding anything unusual when it comes to how songs are to sound, is the surest sign that you’re putting a limit to your creativity and thus decreasing your odds that you’ll ever stand out.

Luckily rock ‘n’ roll rarely had that problem and as such this record is perfectly at home in rock. In fact, it’s perfect period.


(Visit the Artist page of James Waynes for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)