No tags :(

Share it




You’d think that if ever there was a match made in heaven in the world of rock ‘n’ roll it’d be this one.

A visionary teenage rocker whose early guitar experiments hinted at the yet unheard sounds that would go on to define rock ‘n’ roll in due time is now hooking up with a record label that, while yet to really make much headway, would soon claw their way to the top of the heap in rock and would be the only one of the indie labels born in the earliest days of rock ‘n’ roll to still be around in the Twenty-First Century.

But don’t go buying any wedding gifts for Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis and Atlantic Records just yet because if there’s one thing the music industry always proves it’s that you can never underestimate their ability to screw things up somehow.

Hang Your Head And Moan
After plenty of early missteps when Atlantic Records had no idea what types of records might sell and so they tried anything and everything under the sun, none of it very good, they finally began to get some returns with ex-jazzman Joe Morris and Tiny Grimes playing something other than jazz. What they were playing was rock ‘n’ roll and as those two artists became the only ones in their stable to get any decent returns they looked for others who might pursue a similar path and in early 1949 found two.

Stick McGhee and Ruth Brown would each score Top Five hits with their initial releases on Atlantic but even as the returns were coming in it seemed that Ahmet Ertegun, Atlantic’s founder, and Herb Abramson, his more experienced partner, were still unconvinced of this direction. They would inexplicably follow up McGhee’s rock smash with a record where one side was squarely in the down-home blues idiom and the other was a beguiling mix of pop and blues, a decision which is all the more indefensible considering they had another pure unbridled rocker cut at the same session as his hit that was sitting on the shelf gathering dust.

So much for being visionary. Hell, so much for being able to see mere inches in front of their faces for that matter!

But these frustrating gaffes aside Atlantic was aware of the potential rock ‘n’ roll had if nothing else and thus far when confronted with artists best suited for that realm they were able to extract some quality records out of them and would do so with increasing regularity over the next year or so until it became obvious that rock was truly where it was at and they put all of their efforts into conquering it.

So that’s where we find ourselves the last day of August 1949 when Lewis, newly signed to the label, entered the studio for the first time under the auspices of Atlantic and cut his initial sides for them. Yes, he wrote them both himself, so the concepts for the songs, their pacing and delivery, fell on his shoulders, but the production and arrangements were surely shaped in large part by the men behind the glass at Atlantic and its here where the match made in heaven takes a detour into a less divine area of town.

The Only Lover Who Could Love Across The Sea
We may be letting Lewis off the hook – and putting Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson ON said hook – unfairly, since we don’t know who suggested what in the studio, but it’s hard to believe that a cocky teenager who played guitar as well as he did would voluntarily toss that guitar into its case and put that case in the hall closet when he stepped on the studio floor for the first time to impress his new employees.

I’ll ask it this way: In your experience have you EVER known a teenager (whether yourself or others) to NOT want to show off if given the opportunity?

I didn’t think so.

So that’s why the arrangement to All Night Lover Blues strikes you as being an uneasy compromise between a record label seeking to make headway into a broader marketplace and an artist not wanting to piss off the adults in the room by petulantly stalking out and refusing to play unless they actually LET him play his guitar.

Oh it’s here, they at least acquiesced into letting him keep it in his hands for a sense of security if nothing else, but he’s barely playing it despite plenty of opportunities where it’d make perfect sense to showcase it.

But instead it’s the piano, playing slow and deliberately, which kicks this off while Lewis provides muted answers in the intro and then dull chording behind the main body of the tune itself. The problem is there’s nothing much else to compensate for its absence. There’s a tenor sax somewhere in the room, but he seems to be more interested in playing bid whist in the corner with the similarly under-used drummer than contributing to the atmosphere musically. Honestly we get just one moment where the horn is distinctly audible and that’s right as the vocals come in, from then on it’s lazily blowing an uninspired single note drone so far off-mic that if he got paid so much as a dime for his efforts he made off like a bandit for what he contributed.

The same can be said for the drummer who had a little shuffle going at the start and then could’ve discarded his sticks altogether for what he was called upon to do. When the stand-up bassist is the most active of the rhythm section and he’s barely notable, that tells you all you need to know about the backing track.

The pianist is Ernie Freeman, one of the more talented musicians and arrangers of his era, but he too was nearer the start of his recording career and hadn’t quite made a name for himself, so who knows if he’s the one responsible for the sparse accompaniment here. He gets the only solo and while it’s played pretty well, it’s hardly worth getting excited about.

For excitement we have to hope Lewis is up to the task, but as we see he’s half-asleep here as well.


Cry, Cry, Cry Baby
We’ll grant you that not every rock song has to be exhilarating, nor even uptempo, and that there’s plenty of room in the rock canon for slower meditative songs to touch upon another mood. But All Night Lover Blues is a recruitment poster for narcolepsy, a song that focuses far too much on the “night” in the title and not enough on the “lover” part, which presumably would involve some bed-spring testing athleticism if nothing else.

The story is told from a third person perspective, meaning Jimmy’s not even taking part in this tale. He’s telling about a guy who apparently was quite successful with the ladies but who is now despondent because the girl he was with has left him.

Okay, so if this guy is enough of a stud with the ladies to have a song written about him why doesn’t he go out and get another girl? Shouldn’t they be lining up to meet somebody who’s such a catch? I mean, there’s certainly more than one of them in the world after all and plenty are willing, ready and available so you don’t need to bore us with your misery – or your buddy’s misery delivered second hand to us as it were – when you could be acting as a wing-man to get him another girl who can last all night.

If one won’t suffice, maybe he could take them in shifts, an hour or two per girl, that’d surely make the night go by faster… not to make for a much more interesting song!

Instead he drags this out until we all feel as though it’s four AM and we’re wide awake, checking our clocks with dread at the thought the sun will soon rise and we’ll have gone all night without a wink of sleep.

But then again maybe he’s sympathetic to our plight and that’s why he’s singing this in such a lethargic manner, hoping to make us drowsy enough to fade into dreamland. He even seems to be channeling Andrew Tibbs a little in his vocal mannerisms, though usually Tibbs showed much more emotion than Lewis is mustering here.

The song is also devoid of any interesting lyrics to keep us interested that way. He incorporates a brief snippet of the Marines Hymn… ”From the halls of Montezuma…” but screws up the concluding line, replacing “to the shores of Tripoli” with ”to the LAND of Tripoli”.

As if we already weren’t beating our skulls against the headboard, this will only further our frustration with a song that seems ten times longer than its three minute running time.

Packed Up And Gone
It’s hard to imagine how any of them, Lewis, Freeman or Atlantic, thought this song had the appeal necessary to get Baby Face off to a good start with the company. It not only is dull and dreary, but it doesn’t give us any indication as to the best facets of his ability. If this was your first time encountering Lewis you wouldn’t even know he played an instrument, let alone played it so brilliantly. That’s what is so hard to understand about this. Normally you’d want an artist’s first record on your label to act as a calling card for their talents, a sneak preview of coming attractions, something to give listeners an indication of what they can expect each time they buy a Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis record. Because of that urge to define him right out of the gate you may even be guilty of focusing too much on those aspects to the detriment of a more well-rounded song.

If that had been the case here, if they had turned Lewis and his guitar loose in the studio and told him to play as if his life depended on it, then whatever excesses the final product would contain could be easily explained.

But THIS?!?!?

There can be no plausible excuse for All Night Lover Blues, an underwhelming, uninteresting, unnecessary excursion into detached mourning for someone else’s lost love which is a sign that Atlantic Records, even after its recent successes, clearly doesn’t know which way is up. Granted not every move a company makes is going to be the right one and sometimes it’s exceedingly difficult to read the fluctuating market… but not in this case, not at this point and certainly not with this artist!

With Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis there was only one choice to make – let your new hellbent rocker “bend hell” with his playing – yet instead they somehow allowed him – maybe even encouraged him – to put you to sleep. It’s decisions like this that make you wonder sometimes how Atlantic ever survived into the 1950’s let alone the next century!


(Visit the Artist page of Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)