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If you were picking early rock artists strictly on their potential – as singers, as songwriters, as instrumentalists, even as possible matinee idols for whatever that’s worth – Jimmy Lewis would be high on anyone’s draft board.

Yet he’s largely failed to live up to that promise at every stop along the way.

Sometimes he was the victim of bad arrangements, other times he was miscast in terms of his stylistic direction and then there was the odd fact that he always seemed to be sort of an afterthought on whatever record label he signed on with, but at a certain point even the legitimate excuses aren’t enough. If he was ever to become a viable artist he had to look in the mirror and ask: What did HE envision himself as being?

Unfortunately he’d never firmly answer that question but maybe this record is the closest he’d come to hitting on something that had commercial possibilities while still suiting his musical temperament.


I Know That’s What You’re Thinkin’ Of
We’re not quite sure how much time Jimmy Lewis (the label had dropped the “Baby Face” moniker, a bad move from a promotional standpoint if nothing else) had spent working with Joe Morris’s group over the past year or so.

We know he cut one lead vocal for a Morris release – Love Fever Blues – and we assume that it was his flashy guitar that highlighted other tracks, most notably Midnight Grinder from that same session – but we’re not certain if he was ever considered a full-fledged member of the band, perhaps an ancillary featured performer on the road, or if he was just a convenient artist to grab for some session work.

Since Morris was clearly looking to emulate the diverse crew Johnny Otis used on his records it would seem as though Jimmy Lewis was the perfect fit for them – as a guitarist and as an occasional singer – and so maybe his studio opportunity with them was something of an audition… which by all appearances he seemed to have passed with flying colors.

Yet that didn’t seem to be the case, as we aren’t even sure if he continued recording with them in Morris’s next two sessions in February and April. We do know that Lewis never got another songwriting credit or lead vocal after that first featured performance and we also know that Billy Mitchell, who’d made his own debut as a singer for Morris on that same January 1951 session, quickly became entrenched as the male vocalist in the outfit, perhaps deeming them to view Lewis as somewhat superfluous.

So by June it would appear that Lewis was no longer involved with Morris in any way and was back trying to establish himself as a solo artist as he went in the studio under the auspices of Howard Biggs who’d risen to prominence in music circles as The Ravens pianist and arranger before heading to Regal Records as head of A&R in addition to freelancing as a songwriter and arranger around New York. He co-wrote Let’s Get Together And Make Some Love with Lewis and what stands out about this record is that for once the arrangement actually seems to have taken Baby Face’s own strengths into account.

Wow, what a novel concept!

By The Way That You Twist
Just because it’s been tailored more to suit Lewis’s musical DNA doesn’t mean all of the choices are spot on as the horns for one are a little too brassy for their own good.

You know Biggs wanted to open the record with a dramatic flourish but this is too uptown for the song that follows. A solitary tenor sax grinding away to kick things off would’ve put you in the right frame of mind for a song that is, at its core, a lusty proposition to a shapely girl.

Now to be fair it CAN work as a more PG-rated scenario too, where the “sex” part of Let’s Get Together And Make Some Love is downplayed for the “let’s get together” part, but this is rock ‘n’ roll we’re talking about and so you tend to want to focus on the aspects of the story when the clothes come off in your songs.

Lewis though is already disrobing as he gets an early opportunity to… ahh… fondle his guitar so to speak by injecting some curly-cue notes behind the tough-sounding rhythmic section which gives the song the proper grounding after those horns threatened to clean things up a little too much.

As a singer Lewis has always had a good voice and he acquits himself well enough here, but you wonder if he used a slightly lower tone emanating more from his chest if it wouldn’t have conveyed a few more suggestive details that he’s hinting at throughout the song.

“We’ll hug and kiss and pet and play” just needs a little more lechery in his delivery to really get the point across, doesn’t it?

No matter, the premise itself is obviously rock solid and he’s got the right enthusiasm for it – eager but not anxious, excited but not in disbelief that he might get laid – and if the lyrics only suggest certain dirtier aspects of this plot, his guitar manages to fill in all of the blanks.

You Don’t Have To Worry About Nobody Else
Guitar breaks in rock ‘n’ roll were still something of an anomaly in 1951 so the fact that one has been purposefully carved out for him here is definitely a positive, but it’d mean relatively little if he soft-peddled it to suit the expectations of the industry at the time.

The horns are providing the backdrop for him and you fear that they might try and challenge him for supremacy as this goes on, but thankfully they stick to their subordinate roles and let Lewis have the spotlight to himself.

He’s taking his time about it though, more concerned with establishing the right melodic qualities and impressing you with technique rather than knocking you on your ass with an all-out assault. Some admittedly might prefer the latter but it’s hard to complain when what Lewis delivers is so skillfully executed.

His tone, his judgement and his run of quirky variations on the theme are all exquisite and if there’s one complaint it’s that we don’t get more of it, for while the solo is an ideal length, you wish they’d have given him a more prominent part in the lead-in to the song as well as granting him the opportunity for an extended fade.

But those are mere nits to pick, because Let’s Get Together And Make Some Love is exactly the kind of record that Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis should’ve been making all along.

…The kind of record that would’ve allowed him to stand out when he was getting started a few year back.

… But alas it was the kind of record which, by 1951, was destined to be lost in the shuffle.


When The Sun Goes Down
The formula for stardom is an uncertain one at best and if anyone ever claimed they had a surefire recipe for achieving it there was bound to be so many exceptions to so many of the so-called rules that you’d never be able to replicate it with any consistency.

Luck, timing and that always unpredictable response of an audience at any given time make the entire ordeal seem almost random at times. But Jimmy Lewis’s misfortune was that at every turn he didn’t get the break he needed to become established.

His guitar playing early on in his career in 1947-1949 was out of step with the horn dominant sound of rock, now as the guitar gradually becomes more prominent and he’s perfectly positioned to take advantage of it on Let’s Get Together And Make Some Love, it’s released at a time when it just wasn’t as exhilarating as the flood of hits Atlantic was issuing throughout this year.

But this is still Lewis’s best record to date. Even though we’ve given out a few of the same scores on his releases prior to today, those were borderline cases where we rewarded him for what HE did on those records rather than penalizing him for what others did.

Here maybe the reverse is true, as his parts are still better than the horns which wind up keeping this from getting it an added point… but then again the context has changed and the average rock release for 1951 is a lot higher than one a few years back making it harder to stand out.

Still… this should’ve been a stepping stone for Lewis, a chance to see what worked and then improve on it next time out. But instead it was his last release on Atlantic – for a couple years anyway – before moving on to RCA where he had little chance for sympathetic production. As a result when this failed to connect his chance for ascent was officially over.

But this isn’t a bad final statement to make from that last moment where his potential was still his greatest attribute.


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