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With his tragic fate looming over his music career and the hard to believe story surrounding his false arrest for attempted murder, a psychiatric evaluation that was wrongly assessed and the subsequent prescribed drugging over a number of years to “cure him” of the delusions that he was a famous singer/songwriter who feared for his life after being an eyewitness to a murder, it’s understandable that the records he made might suffer by comparison when simply looking at what makes for the biggest headlines.

But his music shouldn’t take a back seat to any sordid tales and with this, his one and only national hit, James Waynes stakes his claim as one of the more engagingly idiosyncratic artists of the 1950’s.


Neighbor Neighbor Get Up Off Of Me
Some singers have beautiful voices, crystal clear resonant tones and an unerring sense of how to best use them.

Others, like James Waynes, have voices with “character”.

This is not a backhanded compliment by any means, just an accurate description of what it is that makes certain singers so appealing despite not having the technical skills of many of their peers.

Waynes exudes a humble charm in almost everything he sings, his pinched nasal voice never standing out for its limitations as much as its likability. He’s always got a firm grip on his strengths and with his conversational tone delivering colorful songs with revealing glimpses of psychological insight, you felt almost like Waynes was somebody you knew, the eccentric guy at the corner bar who always had a smile and a warm greeting for you whenever you came in.

He was an approachable vocalist in other words and that creates an instant connection with his material… or at least it should have.

His strong two-sided debut last summer Gypsy Blues backed with the even better Millionaire Blues drew no real interest and despite recording for some credible independent labels over the next few years he never broke out as big as he seemed destined to even though regionally many of his records were big sellers.

The one exception, his only coast to coast hit, was Tend To Your Business, a record that features plenty of the quirky attributes Waynes would always be known for while backed by a tight band playing a tough arrangement.

It was one of those songs that just sounded like a hit from the moment the needle dropped.


Don’t Put My Business All Out In The Streets
With a medium paced rolling piano boogie, crisp drumming and a restless saxophone the song is in full swing within seconds and Waynes’s arrival is just one part of the larger sonic landscape the record creates.

In fact you might argue that he’s just playing an equal role to the sax and piano in the song, all of them sticking to their own lane but getting plenty of room to stretch out.

The story, such as it is, finds Waynes gently griping about rumors swirling around him, telling people to Tend To Your Business “and leave my affairs alone”.

He’s not angry about the gossip, not even visibly annoyed really, it’s more like he’s mildly hurt by people talking about him without his consent. From all accounts this was remarkably similar to who he was in real life… easy going for the most part yet easily distressed when things he can’t quite control befall him.

The majority of the lines are pretty basic stuff, but the last stanza has you wondering just what the heck he’s talking about as he tells us “I’m not no dentist but I can get your teeth out free”, which – by the way he delivers it in such a nonchalant manner – has you wondering if he’s soliciting customers for a side-business before you realize that it’s a threat… he’s telling you – nicely – that he’ll punch your teeth out if you don’t stop spreading talking about him behind his back.

But that’s James Waynes in a nutshell. He’s generally good-natured but will respond with sort of reluctant determination if pushed too far… something that came back to haunt him time and time again in his everyday existence.

In a song however it’s endearing, his voice dripping with bayou attributes that never fail to draw you in. The story may just be grazing the surface of a deeper characterization, but you’re not left feeling as if you were shortchanged by the lack of details or resolutions and that’s almost entirely due to how winning he sounds while spinning this tale.


Try To Get Some Of Your Own
Of course the OTHER aspect of the record that would have you overlooking most any shortcomings from a narrative point of view is the band who are clearly designed to be the co-stars of this production and don’t disappoint.

With Ed Wiley’s saxophone handling the primary responsibility of supplying the heat to Waynes’s cool demeanor there’s a really strong balance between all facets of Tend To Your Business.

The whole song creates what could best be described as “relaxed momentum”, a swinging groove that never eases up even as the singing starts. Wiley’s saxophone doesn’t dominate the track during the vocal sections yet is omnipresent… embellishing the rest of the sounds you hear rather than clashing.

When he gets a solo he increases the intensity without really ramping up the tempo too much allowing it to keep in the pocket nicely. Only Willie Jackson’s piano solo that follows derails things ever so much as the attacking nature of it seems out of place, coming across as a little too harsh for everything surrounding it.

When the sax takes over again we return to a slightly more laid-back atmosphere, albeit one that never loses the vibrant textures the song relies on.

This is one of those tracks where nothing jumps out at you but everything for the most part works as it should. There’s a cohesion to it, a game plan that was mapped out carefully in advance and followed to the letter. If you want some idea of how to construct a rock song, this isn’t a bad place to start.

Everything Will Be All Reet
With a slightly less talented – or less focused – cast of characters this would be something that you’d admirably call “workman like”. A basic story, some solid musicianship and a charming vocal.

But James Waynes and the band are so locked in to what they want to do, and so charismatic in carrying it out, that Tend To Your Business winds up being far more memorable than the basic components might lead you to believe.

This might be a half a notch below his more oddball offerings, but then again the fact it was easier to grasp on first listen surely helped its cause. The fact it hit #2 nationally is a bit surprising maybe, but it’s easy to see why people were won over by it and once it got into people’s heads it was something they wanted to keep returning to.

You can flip a coin between the two scores it’s balancing precariously between and still not satisfy everyone. We’ll go with the higher one even though it’s got a few minor drawbacks that would justify dropping it down just a little, but it goes to show that when you have such a distinctive personality it’s easier to get the benefit of the doubt.


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