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SPECIALTY 319; DECEMBER, 1948

 
 

 

What a difference a year makes.

Back in late 1947 when first we met Jimmy Liggins, musical maverick of the Liggins clan whose more dignified older brother Joe was already the established hit maker in the family, the difference between the two siblings was striking.

Whereas Joe Liggins’s music, particularly the mega-smash “The Honeydrippper” from 1945, may have hinted at the rock around the corner, he was by no means insistent about it. His style was more refined, as befitting his educated musical upbringing.

When untutored kid brother Jimmy came along he was anything but refined as he leapt into rock ‘n’ roll without a second thought and reeled off arguably the most consistent material of any artist with multiple releases during the style’s first six months, capped with an instant classic in Cadillac Boogie. At that precise moment he looked poised to lead rock music into the stratosphere almost singlehandedly.

When the greatest day of your life is in progress, when every second of that day glistens in the sunlight which seemingly stretches for infinity in front of your eyes, you may in fact realize the specialness of the moment as it’s happening yet nobody but the world’s biggest pessimist would ever stop to think what else it means.

It means you better enjoy while it lasts because you’ll never again reach such heights.
 

 

Although we certainly would never have guessed it at the time Jimmy Liggins had already peaked as an artist. That initial burst of creativity, the enthusiastic embrace of musical and cultural freedom his songs espoused, all of which was so fresh and vibrant back in the last months of 1947 and first days of 1948 soon became just a memory when Liggins failed to recapture that feeling, build upon it and take it somewhere new, but also – as we’re now seeing – failed to even match that early output with anything of equal quality.

Liggins story is far from being finished here on Spontaneous Lunacy and he has plenty of solid records still to come over the next six years or so, some even approaching his best work scattered amongst it, but based on the exhilaration of hearing those first offerings our hopes ran just a little bit higher with him. Jimmy Liggins’ historical curse was that he got off the starting line so fast and built a huge lead going into the first turn and had us thinking in terms of a record breaking run, only to tire in the stretch and find his competitors quickly catching him, then passing him.

Rather than being at the head of the pack from now on, Jimmy Liggins will be merely one of many racing to keep up and Homecoming Blues – good, but with no chance to be great – is a prime example of this.
 


 
 

Confess My Faults
Many of the musical attributes that marked Liggins as something special early on are still here, but the precise mix of them remains muddled. As was the case his last time out with Move Out Baby which was the weakest cut from his initial sessions and regrettably was issued after the better ones had whetted our appetites, this one also seems somewhat rote compared to what preceded it.

But there’s extenuating circumstances considering the topic they’re addressing in Homecoming Blues.

The horns that kick things off are perfect for the song’s content itself, a loud group effort drawn out to a moan and clearly meant to symbolize the train pulling into the station after a long journey. You couldn’t arrange such a thing much better than this (indeed, they’d sound like what his brother’s group would come up with, and that’s definitely a compliment in this instance), as they’re evocative of the very image you’re hoping to convey before you even hear the lyrics that are to follow.

The problem however is that the mood of the song is one of resignation, of easing back, getting OFF the road and back into your comfortable chair at home, kicking your feet up and taking it easy. In other words, this is rock with its foot off the accelerator.

Which brings us to a very notable – albeit unique – problem, namely the intentional monotony of the music itself means that unless you’re paying strict attention to the lyrics this might be the kind of song that doesn’t make a deep impression at all. It’s almost TOO effective at what it’s aiming for thematically since the type of casual listening rock songs thrived on – jukeboxes and house parties – almost ensures that such scrutiny will rarely accompany its playing.

Yet if you do take the time to listen the lyrics match the music to a T. Since it’s our job to listen closely to both attributes this should work better for our sensibilities than it may have when it was initially released, when those buying the latest Liggins record were probably seeking a rip-roaring good time such as found on past efforts.
 

Can’t Find Nobody Who Would Take The Place Of You
In the story he presents, Liggins confesses to his woman (and by extension to us) that he was a no-good wanderer, roaming the countryside – presumably in his role as a musician, though that remains unstated – in search of good times and fast women and now he’s had enough of that life and wants to return to his home and hopes his lady (girlfriend or wife, it matters not) will take him back.

As an idea that’s pretty solid. There’s certainly nothing at all wrong with that plot as it unfolds. It’s an entirely plausible and realistic situation, one Jimmy Liggins surely knew firsthand from his own life and career, as well as from his brother’s travels for whom he served as a valet before setting off on his own. His declarations of fidelity going forward are convincing and his tone sounds both contrite and optimistic, sure that she’ll forgive him but not coming across as arrogant or insistent about it.

You can easily see such a scene transpiring in your mind as you listen; the road-weary singer dragging his battered suitcase behind him, guitar slung over his shoulder, not quite dusty and disheveled but not fresh as a daisy like when he left six months or a year earlier either. His expression is somewhat sheepish as he approaches her door, looking up at her from the steps with a quietly hopeful hangdog expression. She looks him over, eyebrow raised questioningly, but already her defenses are dropping at the sight of him and she soon swallows her pride and invites him in as he earnestly begins reciting his vows to remain by her side from here on in.

He’s completely believable in this role in every way and we’re even a bit moved by his seemingly genuine remorse and hope that she’ll find it in her heart to overlook his past behavior and welcome him back home.

Yet we don’t want to HEAR about it! Or at least I don’t.

Not exactly anyway.
 

Throw Away My Troubles
It’s not that I don’t find such a tale to be worth my time, or that I’m cynical by nature and thus am already envisioning what missteps he’s sure to make in the coming weeks that will undoubtedly have her throwing him out on his ass again, but rather that I’m MORE interested in hearing about his adventures on the road that led to him being so completely spent that he’d find himself thinking the best option for recuperation was to come back to the quiet life he’d left behind.

That’s where the excitement is going to be found, the wild, reckless and potentially illegal, or at least immoral, actions that has him returning here for shelter, sanctuary and possibly to hide out until the heat blows over.

We KNOW the types of situations that must’ve happened somewhere on the road as he was driving in the flashy new Cadillac he sung so boisterously about last winter, so rather than have to guess at what occurred in the intervening months I want to hear it firsthand! Change the names and places for legal reasons if you must, but don’t skip any of the salacious details when questions like these come flying fast and furious…

Just what woman of the night were you dangling outside a third story hotel window for with your pants around your ankles as her husband or pimp came in the room seeking blood?

From what rowdy hole in the wall juke joint did you and the band barely escape with your lives amidst a hail of gunfire as you tore out on the darkened street in that Caddy at 3:15 in the morning?

In which stop along the way that you bring up in your mid-song itinerary here did you fall for a woman and spend two weeks lying naked in bed with her, drinking whisky and smoking weed in between wild bouts of bumping and grinding until she revealed she was pregnant and wanted you to do the decent thing and marry her?

THOSE are the stories we want to hear about in all their lurid details.

Instead we get none of the X-rated tales, only his expurgated version that leaves out each and every juicy scandalous detail which led to this homecoming and instead he only conveys the bigger picture of disenchantment with the lifestyle in a vague and unsatisfying way.
 


 

Never No More To Roam
Of course I’m being too harsh on Liggins and on the record itself, both of which are fine for what they DO show. While I can’t say that the results are altogether exciting, something I anxiously want to return to hear over and over, there’s also nothing about the performance or the songwriting that I can really find fault with.

Everything they aimed to do with this works as well as it can be expected to. The horns churning underneath smartly keep that train motif present throughout, yet it doesn’t get cloying even during the extended break which is intentionally tedious and works all the more for it.

Liggins meanwhile sells his vocals with the right amount of guilt-ridden remorse and, as always with Jimmy, though he sounds as if he could use some decongestant to clear his nostrils, in this case it’s entirely appropriate considering the storyline calls for him being somewhat choked up thinking of all he’s been through and hoping he’ll be welcomed back all the same.

I’ll even go on record as saying it’s downright unfair to be comparing it to something that doesn’t even exist other than in my feverish imagination. But it’s just that we know what Liggins was capable of, both musically and thematically, and know that’s where he excels. Yet here he’s aiming for something that is a cut below that standard.

It doesn’t help that the pacing is just uptempo enough to draw surface comparisons to the previous songs which ramped up the excitement far more, but still used the same basic foundation from which to build. Had they slowed this song down and made it into even more of a mournful ballad maybe the difference would’ve been striking enough to be taken better on its own rather than wishing for something it isn’t instead.
 

 

None of this is Jimmy Liggins fault per say. This was cut in his last session of 1947, just days before the recording ban started, and notably after all of those better sides were in the can.

Homecoming Blues was a good idea actually, it fit well into the persona he was building for himself on record and maybe with a bit more time he’d have come up with some tracks to bridge the gap between the euphoria of the first sides and the subsequent downfall of his character’s ego that he reveals here that would’ve delved into his road to perdition in all of its shameful glory.

Yet he didn’t and so we have to go with what he did lay down and while it’s okay, certainly nothing to be ashamed of and definitely worth hearing and even admiring in a way, it’s something of a painful reminder that of all of the major figures in rock’s first year or so none suffered worse due to the recording ban than Jimmy Liggins who saw his creative momentum stopped frustratingly short.

No wonder he’s going home for a rest.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Jimmy Liggins for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)