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IMPERIAL 5061; FEBRUARY, 1950

 
 

 

It’s frustrating trying to piece together largely forgotten bits of history without always having access to reliable information.

In most of these reviews if need be we can bypass some of more problematic biographical holes in the story by focusing on the records themselves seeing as how they’re the main focus of this project after all, and so when we occasionally meet someone where the story details are not very clear it’s aggravating but usually can be sidestepped with relative ease.

In this case we know the artist in question fairly well and have already detailed her story pretty clearly to this point so you might be thinking if we can’t tie up a few loose ends it’s not that big of a deal.

Yet it’s at this very point where Jewel King’s career implosion comes to a head and the fact that we’re left to make random and uneducated guesses about the particulars of this song and the various figures she was tied to is something that’s not easy to overlook when trying to make sense of the record.
 

 

If I Should See You, Baby, Around My Part Of Town
Okay, the bare bones recap of the King saga is this:

Jewel King, a club singer from New Orleans possessing a good voice and the ability to use it effectively, is brought into the studio by Dave Bartholomew, bandleader extraordinaire who had worked with her briefly once before and who now was getting his chance to produce for Imperial Records as the label made their first real concerted effort to reach the rock market.

King cuts four sides in November 1949 including 3 x 7 = 21, an immediate Top Ten hit and the first rock song to chart for Imperial, getting the partnership between the label and Bartholomew off to a rousing start. King herself obviously will benefit from this as well, as she’s given the headlining spot over another new Bartholomew/Imperial signing, Fats Domino, on a West Coast tour in the winter of 1950.

But the best laid plans of mice, men and record companies fall apart when her husband, guitarist Jack Scott, an accomplished arranger and songwriter for Paul Gayten’s band, is either worried about his attractive wife being on the road surrounded by other men, or he’s simply jealous of her rising stardom and wants to use her success to his benefit and demands to accompany her, leading the band himself, even though he doesn’t work for Imperial and didn’t take part on her recordings.

The “offer” is rejected out of hand, King backs out of the tour and her star quickly falls from the sky.

All of that is pretty well documented, both by us on previous reviews and by others through the years. To that end it helps that Dave Bartholomew’s producing career wound up being so accomplished and since he lived to 100 he answered plenty of questions regarding his start with Imperial and thus Jewel King’s name never was erased from the history books altogether. But Bartholomew was left just as much in the dark about her subsequent existence as we were, aside from the fact she and Scott moved to San Antonio by the mid-1950’s and did club work there, although no future recordings were made.

Yet it’s not her ultimate fate that stymies us, as sad as it may be to wonder what she might’ve done had she tossed her hubby to the curb. Nope, what we’re at a loss to explain is THIS record from her second and last session, or at least the story surrounding it, because it was written by none other than Jack Scott himself.

Ahh, the plot thickens!
 

I Didn’t Know The Score
Using Bartholomew’s comments about this six week or so stretch when she went from promising starlet to bitter has-been in the blink of an eye, here’s what we know… When she told the company she wasn’t touring without her husband, Imperial Records said they’d make do without her – taking their other new signee, Tommy Ridgley on the road instead, singing her big hit no less! Bartholomew had tried talking her out of her impetuous decision, saying she was making a big mistake, but she was steadfast in her refusal.

Now here comes the point of confusion… just before the tour was to begin King was coaxed into cutting this second session for Imperial in early January where I’ll Get It was recorded. Obviously she brought this tune in herself (her first session in November had songs all written by Bartholomew), but the question is just who was backing her on this date?

Imperial’s newest producer Dave Bartholomew… or King’s hubby Jack Scott?

We don’t know, but considering everything that was going down during this momentous period it’d really help if we did, just to find out what the actual steps all involved took in the aftermath of that fateful decision.

If it was Scott accompanying her in the studio, something he was certainly capable of doing having been a steady presence on Paul Gayten’s records for the past three years, playing and writing as well as arranging, often with the same musicians that found their way to Bartholomew’s band, wouldn’t that suggest maybe a deal could’ve been reached… not necessarily to let him go out with the tour, but to promise in the future that Scott would get the opportunity to play a bigger role in her career?

It it was Bartholomew however, wouldn’t the fact that the resulting cuts turned out fine in spite of the probable tension in the room over recent events make all of them realize that King was too talented to not try and mend fences with, even if she was the one at fault for their rift for insisting on her husband’s involvement in the first place?

And as for Jewel King herself, wouldn’t the chance to cut good records for a living be enough of an incentive to hash things out with a) her husband, b) her record label and c) her own conscience to make sure that her professional chances wouldn’t end once she walked out of the studio on this day, in what sadly would wind up being her last session as a recording artist.

Everyone in life has made mistakes they’d like to take back, but few of us can actually go back and listen to what was happening during the very stretch they were making those mistakes, but thanks to this record, we can do just that.
 

I Know Just What To Do
When you hear King start the song by talking not singing, and then appearing to stumble over the first few words besides, you start immediately thinking that all of this needless drama was starting to take a toll on her psyche. But fear not, for King quickly regains her footing, finds the required sassy attitude and then cuts short the snappy dialogue about her disdain for some guy acting the big shot around town and with that settled she thankfully starts singing.

Though not blessed with a powerhouse delivery her voice is warmly conversational in its tone, giving off a sense of sly understanding of the sentiments required, which in I’ll Get It boils down to her calculating manipulation of menfolk. Listening to her smirk her way through the lines with cocky charm you’re convinced she can win over most guys without breaking much of a sweat. She may not be able to make grandpa feel like he’s 21 again like Chubby Newsom could, but King has an alluring mixture of confidence and timidity to work wonders on the typical male ego without most of them even realizing they’re being played.

She lays out her talents in that area pretty effectively here by starting out with declaring she’s on top of things in her quest for a man, then shows just how she goes about it – by coyly feigning ineptness at the very thing she’s good at to draw the men to her like flies before asserting herself in her declarations of just what she’ll do to keep the guy she sets her sights on.

Of course we don’t know how much of this was her husband’s real-life interpretation of her winsome personality and how much was his insecure fantasies about how she’ll follow him anywhere in order to be together. The fact that she did just that and sank her own career in the process gives the story some added intrigue but even at the time, without that knowledge of what was soon to come, the song’s themes work quite well and her performance is on point throughout as she shifts between sung refrains and spoken asides with remarkable dexterity that makes it all seem as natural as can be.

Once again, Jewel King is more than holding up her end of the bargain, showing that it wasn’t just luck or good timing – or even Bartholomew’s guiding hand – that was totally responsible for her one big hit, this proves she was every bit as good as those around her and had it in her to be a lasting presence in rock if not for outside events.
 

Make You Change Your Dirty Ways
The arrangement of the song is where we’d expect to find some hints as to who was running the session, Bartholomew or Scott, but there are elements here that suggest a little bit of both of them, all while the more recognizable features for each of them are strangely absent.

If it was Bartholomew, still the most likely bet, you’d expect a more assertive rhythmic undercurrent than I’ll Get It features. Instead there’s a light piano and short choppy horn accents in the verses that keep the song flowing well enough but it’s closer to a steady trickle of music than it is a gushing torrent of sounds that Dave was already becoming known for.

Were this Scott’s production then you’d have to assume his own guitar would feature prominently in the arrangement, if for no other reason than to ensure his role on stage – which of course was the root of his protestations to Imperial when he demanded to accompany her on tour – would be seen as all the more vital by those at the label.

Instead there’s no guitar to be found up front here at all and though the aforementioned work behind her on the verses is somewhat reminiscent of the more subdued approach Scott often used with Paul Gayten, it’s quickly upended in the instrumental break that follows which features a romping tenor sax solo that may be a universal New Orleans touch, but which Bartholomew was using more successfully in his outings than Gayten – and by extension Scott – were in their songs.

Now naturally whoever was playing it was someone who had worked with both of the producers (the big names went back and forth between the bands for a spell) and so the sound is going to be the same, but how assertively it’s used here tends to favor a Bartholomew production. Regardless of who’s responsible for its inclusion though it’s entirely appropriate for the song and while it might not blow the doors off the recording studio it still rattles the windows enough to give the track a nice balance between the diffident and the bold, matching her own shifting persona very nicely.

But even as we enjoy the symmetry between singer and band we can’t help but feel a little bittersweet about already passing the midway point in King’s entire catalog, an unpleasant reality which becomes the cloud hanging over this release no matter how good it sounds.
 

I Want A Love To Last
We know going into our introductions to most artists in history that our relationship to them through their work will be fleeting at best. All of them, the good, the bad and the ugly, will only get so many releases before their opportunities begin to dry up and they’re replaced in the roll call of artists by the record company’s latest signing.

We accept this turnover – begrudgingly at times – but with a certain understanding of the realities of the game. Change is vital for the stylistic evolution of the genre as a whole… for offering new perspectives, new faces, voices and ideas. The ones who somehow manage to extend their allotted time on stage are a rarity and there’s no reason to assume that Jewel King would’ve been among those – like her lablemate Fats Domino – who managed to stay at the top of the heap for more than a decade and remained a viable touring act for longer still. Chance are, like most acts, she’d have started fading away within a few years time no matter what happened differently in the winter of 1950.

But because of what DID happen then, a tangled web of opportunities and insecurities, of ego and obstinance, of love (presumably) and jealousy between a couple, we were deprived of even the minimum reasonable expectation for King’s career arc.

Instead of two dozen singles, an album or two and a handful of unreleased sides thrown to satiate us down the road, we got only two sessions and then seventy years of silence.

Rock ‘n’ roll of course got along just fine without her – it usually does, no matter who drops out along the way – but as I’ll Get It proves we still missed out on someone who was capable of giving us a whole lot more and that’s always sad and frustrating to have to come to grips with.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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