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If you could go back in time and give certain early rock artists a career “do over”, applying a better understanding of their specific strengths and the way in which those abilities could’ve been used to greater advantage in the emerging marketplace, then surely Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis would be a prime candidate for just such a makeover.

A brilliant guitarist who was rarely afforded the chance to cut loose, a solid songwriter who saw many of his songs undercut by bad arrangements and someone whose youth, good looks and catchy nickname all had far more potential for widespread promotion than he was ever afforded at his many stops along the way, Lewis was shaping up to be rock’s ultimate underachiever.

Here he manages to come up short yet again and once more we’re left to wonder if Lewis should shoulder all of the blame, just some of the responsibility, or absolutely none whatsoever.


I’ll Pay For What You See
Though not yet twenty years old the sound being affixed to Lewis’s persona here is that of a much older figure, they’ve even eliminated the distinctive “Baby Face” moniker from the record label, and rather than emphasize youthful energy in a song that seems tailored made for such a perspective they’ve turned it into a lament instead.

As a result All The Fun’s On Me becomes a title that almost cruelly mocks the fate of its artist, as the record robs it of the fun it refers to, further relegating Lewis to the status of “what might’ve been”.

Because Jimmy Lewis wrote the song however it’d be perfectly understandable to attribute its shortcomings to the artist himself. But before you lay the blame on him we need to keep in mind the usual protocol of the day when it came to making records, which meant Atlantic’s producers probably listened to the song as Lewis ran it down for them, then came up with a quick arrangement on the studio floor, wrote simple lead sheets for the band, and cut it in two or three takes before moving on to the next song in the same fashion.

If that’s indeed the case the flaw in their approach was in keeping the song at too slow a pace, even if Lewis sang it that way when demo’ing it. Though the song’s perspective has Lewis bemoaning his girl stepping out on him all the time and living it up, the twist in the plot is when Lewis tells her that he’s the one who will go out and have fun after they break up, showing that two can play this game.

It may just be a bluff on his part to mask his pain but because of that component you have the built-in option allowing you focusing on that vow of defiance – the yet unrealized aftermath – giving the song a resilient attitude which better embodies the mindset of the rock audience, not to mention plays into Lewis’s best musical characteristics.

Instead we get a record that never delivers on the promise of its title, but rather hands us a desultory effort which does neither the song nor the artist – or for that matter Atlantic Records themselves – any favors.

Electric Chair, Here I Come
The first fifteen seconds exemplifies the conceptual failure of the record as it opens with a decidedly sparse sound that features two guitars, one of which is session ace René Hall, sitting in on the session. He and Lewis trade lines, neither of which are very fleshed out, both of their parts coming across as dry and brittle and far too isolated to give any sense of excitement or danger.

Though only a few rock artists have learned just how to best utilize the guitar yet, this subdued style clearly isn’t it which should’ve been obvious to anyone in the room. You have two young guys who can both tear it up and instead it sounds like two old bluesmen on a back porch… you can almost taste the dust in your mouth as they kick this off.

If they were trying to position All The Fun’s On Me as a blues record, as misguided as that would be, this approach would at least be understandable yet that’s clearly not the intent as the ensuing structure shows. The arrangement emphasizes the dramatic aspects of the song with a stop and start progression with lots of pauses before the verbal payoffs, but in doing so they shortchange the musical side of the equation altogether.

Since the guitars are going to be this subdued it’s virtually mandatory that they make up for it by giving other instruments a more pronounced role, but this is as skimpy a backing unit as can be found and even though Hall and pianist Ernie Freeman are both top shelf sidemen you’d never know it by listening to this drab arrangement.

Forget That You’re With Me
If the first problem with is the inclusion of an unnecessary second guitarist, the next thing to take issue with is the complete absence of horns which is absolutely unforgivable, robbing the song of more varied textures to be used while also eliminating the best option for establishing the kind of vibrant setting it needs to connect.

In their place we have only softly shuffling drums, a simple distant bass and Freeman’s intermittent fills to try and establish the rhythm. Not only are they undermanned but they’re given so little to do and mic’ed in such a way that it makes them sound even more parched, so much so that the resulting track is apt to blow away if someone opens the window and a slight breeze wafts through the room.

Clearly Atlantic Records had no idea what to do with Lewis by this point. They’d scored no hits with him in the ten months or so he’d been with them and to show how far he’s fallen in their eyes they didn’t even bother to promote All The Fun’s On Me in the trade papers, focusing instead on Al Hibbler’s Danny Boy as the record they were pushing hard this month.

You can sense their uncertainty by the session itself, trying to put different people around him in the hopes they might bring something worthwhile to the table. But while hiring Hall, who previously had been working exclusively with Jubilee Records across town, shows they had good ears since he’d barely made a name for himself yet in session work, you have to question the decision to take further responsibility away from Lewis in the process.

Ironically the two brief interjections of Lewis’s own guitar during Hall’s drawn out technically proficient solo is what gives it some brief flashes of energy and even that has less to do with his playing and more to do with just the unexpected wrinkle it adds to the instrumental break, hardly the best sign for a record that is flat enough already.


I’ll Give You What I’ve Got
As is becoming a troubling trend when it comes to both Lewis and frankly much of Atlantic’s output to date, the song itself as composed had far more promise than what was delivered.

Though he’s tackling an oft-repeated theme of disillusionment in romance that’s hardly worth writing home about, Lewis’s lyrics are strong and his perspective is nuanced enough to keep it from being one-dimensional… something the stultifying arrangement can’t claim unfortunately.

All The Fun’s On Me therefore becomes a record that was destined to be passed over without a second look. What’s most disturbing about it isn’t that Atlantic seemed to have no idea of the potential of their own artist, but that they were content to issue something that had no chance of success in any field.

Maybe the question they should’ve asked of themselves is why bother making records at all when they’re going about it in such uninspired fashion as this.


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