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IMPERIAL 5055; DECEMBER, 1949

 
 

 

Serendipity (n.) The development of events by chance in a beneficial way.

Sometimes in life you plan things down to the smallest detail, cutting your risks to the absolute minimum while taking advantage of every small edge you can find in an effort to make sure everything works out just right and you’ll be able to get what it is you’re after.

Other times, either due to overconfidence, a Devil may care attitude or poor judgement, you just sort of wing it, sitting back and letting things work themselves out and somehow – someway – wind up with the same fortunate result.

Though that sure doesn’t describe what happened to Jewel King in her career, this record does provide me with with just such a serendipitous moment when it comes to writing about her failure to capitalize on her initial success.
 

 

If You Know What You’re Doing
One of the ancillary benefits to covering rock history in such depth is that as these reviews pile up they start to serve as an in-depth biography for each of artists in question, allowing for far more detail when broken down into periodic updates of their ongoing lives and careers than we can possibly touch upon in our more succinct biographical overviews for them all.

Occasionally though the major events of someone’s career happens so soon after meeting them that there’s scarcely enough room to set properly the stage in our introductory visit with them, such as was the case with Jewel King, who we were first introduced to yesterday on the top side of this, her debut single.

That the song in question, 3 x 7 = 21, was so good and a big hit to boot meant that we could hardly just skim over the record’s contents in between delving into her background, detailing how newly hired Imperial Records producer Dave Bartholomew made her one of his first acts he recruited, all of which marked a major turning point in the thriving New Orleans rock scene, the shifting priorities of Bartholomew from artist to producer, and the arrival of another viable female artist in what has been a field disproportionately served by men, there was really no room to discuss the most notable aspect of King’s truncated bid for lasting stardom that immediately followed.

But maybe that’s what underwhelming B-sides are for, to give us a chance to step back, catch our collective breath and take in the big picture for a moment. What makes this opportunity today serendipitous however for such a task is the song’s title and theme which perfectly frames the specific larger story we need to get to in a way that makes it seem eerily preordained.

The title is Don’t Marry Too Soon, advice that King herself failed to take, which may be why the story she spins is so prescient considering what was about to happen to her which irrevocably derailed her career just at the very moment when that career should have been taking off if not for the actions of her husband.
 

I Wish You, Darling, The Best Of Everything
Delving into the marital woes of other couples is never a smart thing to do and may in fact get you a poke in the eye or a belt on the schnoz if you attempt to offer any helpful advice on the matter. But since the characters involved in this story are all now at the great marriage counselor in the sky we’ll be able to safely chime in on the the particulars of their story without fear of reprisal.

But that story can wait… or rather, what we need to do first is cover this record so we can then get to the aftermath of it which is where Jewel King’s career gets sidetracked.

Don’t Marry Too Soon is in many ways a typical B-side for what we’ve seen in the rock kingdom over the past two plus years. It’s serviceable for their needs while not striving to be much more than that.

A downhearted ballad to contrast with the joyful optimism of the uptempo A-side, “Don’t Marry” is not quite a warning, as you might expect from the title, as much as it is a generalized message of advice tempered by experience.

She’s imparting these words of wisdom with almost a motherly tone, although not sounding as if the one she’s telling is near the age of consent at all but rather is still a child who just happened to ask her mom about getting married which sent Jewel into a bout of wistful reminiscing where all of her own ups and downs are effecting how she delivers this message.

If you think this might be a strange position to put an artist who’s making her recording debut in, especially in a field such as a rock ‘n’ roll which values youth, you’d be right. Like her hit on the other side stated, she was in fact just 21 years old at the time and so she’s got to do a bit of acting to pull this off.

But she handles this far different perspective pretty well here, looking inward while she sings rather than projecting outward, giving added weight to the divergent lyrics recounting the difference between getting stuck with the wrong man and waiting for the right one to come along. Though hardly uplifting to hear her looking back with mixed emotions, she’s a good enough actress with a good enough voice to pull it off.

Pity that Dave Bartholomew, of all people, is the first one to let her down.
 

I’ve Had A Hard Time With The Wrong Kind Of Man
A tight but higher pitched horn section opens it off showing a little bit of a spry kick at times, but then it downshifts into a maudlin tone it never shakes free of, burdened with a slow, almost draggy tempo that makes King more conversant in her delivery as the melody slips out through the back door.

Try as she might King can do nothing to embellish her delivery without breaking the song’s fragile setting and even at times when the lyrics offer some hope she’s forced to stick with the same vocal technique that is never going to be able to convince you that she’s even smiled once in since her wedding night, let alone viewed marriage as “the best thing in life”.

On one hand you can credit Dave for picking one tempo to match the dominant mood rather than have it veer back and forth between the two extremes as the lyrics recount the ups and downs of being hitched, but the one he chooses for the arrangement is unquestionably the less appealing of the two.

Ernest McLean’s guitar takes a lead role as the primary counterpoint to King’s vocals which matches her despondent tone, his slow single-string runs almost drawing out the pain after each line, something which is further emphasized by Bartholomew’s equally morose trumpet replies. Everything fits the overall gloomy motif, so I guess you can say it was smartly constructed if that’s their goal, but it’s hardly something you’d want to hear over and over again.

In a way Don’t Marry Too Soon is almost too realistic for its own good… something Jewel King herself was about to find out firsthand.

 

You’ll Only End Up Crying
With the rock music scene becoming increasingly national it was becoming imperative to establish artists across the country to maximize their sales potential going forward. To that end when the top side of this record took off, along with the debut by her new labelmate Fats Domino, they were scheduled to do an extended tour of the West Coast which was to start in February 1950 at which time it was King’s record, 3 x 7 = 21, which was doing slightly better than the more recent release by Fats.

This was a fairly important promotional excursion, not merely a string of one-nighters with local pick up bands working behind them and as such Imperial Records were having Bartholomew accompany them with his crack band to provide backing music that was as close an approximation to their records as possible.

That’s when her (much older) husband, Jack Scott – an exceedingly talented guitarist and frequent arranger in the New Orleans based band of Paul Gayten that was arguably the equal to Bartholomew’s – vociferously objected. Chances are he was wary of seeing his young bride leave town in the company of so many young men – other musicians – and be cheered by lots of young fellas in the audience night after night with plenty of idle time between shows to kill. Being a musician himself he had to know what that scenario lent itself to more often than not and so Scott decided to head that possibility off at the pass.

Though he wasn’t signed to Imperial and hadn’t anything to do with her record, he announced HE wanted to go out with his wife and lead her band himself. To cover his real reasons behind this move he told her they weren’t paying her enough to headline and talked shit about Dave’s crew to try and dissuade her into going with them, thinking that her refusal would cause Imperial Records to capitulate to his demands.

They did not.

Instead they drafted Tommy Ridgley, whose first release for Imperial was only a local New Orleans seller, to replace her… reportedly he even sang King’s big hit on stage each night – and Jewel King was left behind, a victim of her own husband’s self-serving grab for power.
 

Wish I Could Be Near You
We never know for sure how things are going to turn out when we make the decisions that will wind up shaping our lives, but we have to live with the results of those decisions no matter what.

For Jewel King this understandably might’ve been somewhat hard for her to do the rest of her days. For right as she was on the precipice of a major breakthrough and the fulfillment of her dreams she allowed those dreams to be snuffed out. Rather than stand up for herself in her marriage and tell her husband they needed to keep their careers separate from their home lives, she acquiesced to his demands and her career never recovered.

Bartholomew told her she was making a big mistake and urged her to reconsider to no avail. When Domino’s record wound up being a slightly bigger hit Imperial Records focused more of their attention on him and though they still might’ve had high hopes for King, when her follow-up releases failed to meet with the same commercial response as her debut they quietly moved on.

But make no mistake about it, Jewel King was a good singer, even here on Don’t Marry Too Soon, though an awkward and at times painful song to sit through, she does all she can with it and it’d be easy to envision her career turning out far different with a string of records hand-crafted by Bartholomew to better suit her talents. But unfortunately she didn’t heed this song’s advice and married the wrong man… or at least made the mistake of letting her husband have the final say in a matter that had nothing to do with him.

After one more session for Imperial she drifted away. Bartholomew said the last he’d heard she and Scott had moved to San Antonio in the mid-1950’s and sure enough, when King passed away in 1997 at the age of 87, it was in San Antonio. Maybe she and Scott remained together that whole time, and if so, good for them, at least something worthwhile might’ve come of their union. But if they did stick together you wonder what conversation around the dinner table was like all of those years when the topic turned to music, their respective careers and a lifetime of missed opportunities.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Jewel King for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)