No tags :(

Share it




Getting into pointless battles of one-upsmanship when it comes to debating the travails you had to go through in life is never a pretty thing.

You sprained your wrist, I broke an arm… you lost your keys, my car was stolen… you stubbed your toe, I had my leg mangled in a freak thresher accident… you can see how nobody wins in this kind of game.

But those who feel like playing it anyway probably think that they can “beat” anybody in their tale of woe when it comes to what they’ve had to endure in 2020 with a global pandemic that has resulted in three million infections and counting in the United States alone, widespread job loss and long stretches of isolation… until of course you realize that the rest of civilization is suffering through the exact same issues and thus your scorecard looks no different than anybody else’s.

Yet Jimmy Liggins would’ve probably gladly traded months of mask wearing, hand-washing and social distancing for the good of society for what he went through starting in April 1949 when he was one of rock’s biggest stars who suddenly found himself nearly killed when he was shot in the face at close range while playing a concert which kept him hospitalized for months as he tried to recover.

Now, just under a year later, he’s lost his entire band, multiple teeth and nearly his tongue in the ordeal and is still not quite back in action but here he is releasing another record to see if his rudely interrupted career can begin to get back on track.


Haven’t Got A Friend
I guess we’ll have to keep referring readers back to the lurid details of the shooting whenever we encounter Liggins, at least until he’s back in the studio and touring again, so while it’s one of the longer reviews on the site, Nite Lfe Boogie is also one of the more interesting ones we’ve written because of the outrageous story of that fateful night in Mississippi.

The aftermath of that incident was that Liggins’ band walked out on him as he convalesced in his hospital bed because they felt Jimmy didn’t have their back in the confrontation over a lout hitting on sax player Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson’s wife and thought he was more concerned with not alienating the patrons who had come to see him play.

Thankfully for Specialty Records he’d cut enough material with the band that was still in the vaults to tide them over but because they were unsure of Liggins’ road to recovery and – in a rarity for record labels where shortsightedness is not just a quirk but a requirement – they chose to be judicious in their releases for him while he was laid up, waiting seven months to release his first post-maiming single and now they let another five months pass before issuing the appropriately titled Misery Blues.

While being prudent is never a bad thing, in the frenzied world of rock ‘n’ roll where styles change with the weather the risk was that by waiting SO long to release this after it was cut back in late 1948 you were taking the chance that the song would be woefully out of date by now.

But such was the skill of Liggins and the now-departed band that they not only sound current but, ironically in a way they hadn’t shown before, actually sound eerily ahead of their time.


Walk The Streets At Midnight
Jimmy had taught himself to play guitar while he was a chauffeur for his brother Joe’s immensely popular jazz-oriented group in the mid-1940’s and soon after he put together his own band to see if he could equal his brother’s success… albeit in a far different style of music that was taking shape by 1947.

When Jimmy and His Drops Of Joy proved to be a perfect fit for the newly emergent rock ‘n’ roll the die was cast… with one notable exception that is. Early rock, as you well know if you’ve been keeping pace around here, was horn-driven not guitar-oriented, and so Jimmy’s axe got mostly put on the shelf in the studio. He’d play it, but he was just strumming chords, lending incidental support to the churning saxes that drove his music.

But on Misery Blues he finally gets a chance to show us what he can do, which incidentally might be why Specialty’s Art Rupe held it back from release initially, preferring to stick with proven formula. But since now Rupe had little choice but to grab whatever was leftover this got its rightful airing and showed that Liggins, while no virtuoso on par with Goree Carter or anything, definitely had what it took to help propel the guitar to the front of the stage in rock after all.

Of course being cut when it was horns DO kick this off, playing a rather bleating droning riff, like sheep impatiently waiting to be let out of their pen in the morning, but Liggins is right there with the sharp sting of his guitar behind them to keep them in line.

Once they do quiet down Jimmy leaps to the forefront with a simple but fairly mesmerizing lick played with an icy tone that cuts through the air and gives this a sense of edgy anticipation.

The plot of the song is sort of a standard issue rumination about being alone and despondent – appropriate for him considering the circumstances he’d soon encounter in real life – and while there’s no real surprises within it does contain a few pretty decent lines and a sympathetic perspective… call it Percy Mayfield-lite in terms of outlook and you’ll get a good idea of the story.

Of course Liggins’ biggest problem remains his rather limited nasal voice and repetitive melodic instincts which plague him here far more than the particulars of the story do. Yet in spite of that obstacle there’s still plenty to distract you from that malady starting with the solo he breaks out for the first time on record.


A Crucial Hour
We all know, even if some have trouble admitting it, that guitar solos are rather indulgent by nature, something which reached its apex in the 1970’s when people attending concerts were known to have both conceived a child and gave birth all while Jimmy Page kept playing endlessly.

But when done right the guitar solo, like the sax solo (and in very rare exceptions a drum solo) provide a much needed break in the vocal flow of a record. The line between inspired and indulgent may be a thin one that’s often crossed but you’ll take the occasional over-the-top effort if it means you get a handful that perfectly drop into the proceedings and send the song off in a different direction… as Jimmy Liggins does here.

To call it a typical solo though would be misleading because he’s not so much playing a melodic line that’s easy to follow as he is performing a series violent blitzkrieg attacks to upend your concept of what a rock song can be.

These distorted stabs are alarming to hear coming after the more traditional arrangement featuring horns and piano playing a gently surging rhythm behind Liggins’ vocals, tossing in a few fills along the way and keeping the song churning efficiently. But Jimmy’s sudden arrival throws everything into chaos, almost as if he’s using his guitar as a musical defibrillator to shock your heart. Two decades into the 21st Century this sort of thing may not seem unusual at all but in 1950 this might’ve sent people scurrying under their beds in horror.

Yet it also serves its purpose quite well, instantly changing your mood from introspective to alarmed and in the process driving home the emotional fragility of Misery Blues in a way which is more direct and effective than even the best lyrics could be.

It’s essentially the aural replication of a panic attack, a person at the end of their rope staring into the abyss, depressed, confused and on the verge of either lashing out or giving up.

But after offering up those options Liggins goes with neither of those, choosing instead to calm himself with a sort of musical breathing technique if you will, playing a measured riff that slowly winds down, bringing him in off the ledge and back into the relative safety of the melody once again.

That this ends the record rather than appears in the middle as most solos do is a wise decision, allowing it to serve as a cathartic outlet as well giving the instrument the last word on the matter before bowing out.

If your appreciation of Liggins in the past was centered on his delivering the basic concepts of rock in an efficient manner – the rhythmic energy, the sometimes defiant lyrical attitudes and the ability of his band to do the heavy lifting, all of which were shrewd choices when building a name for himself – this shows he had more expansive instincts than many gave him credit for.

Some Folks Sleep While Others Pray
Though this record may earn a lion’s share of its credit in the present for being ahead of the curve, when evaluating it in the context of 1950 it still more than suffices even if we concede that it might’ve come across to some listeners back then as downright radical if not altogether alarming by nature.

Misery Blues might not be the very best side we’ve heard out of Liggins to date but it’s the first release of his in two years where we can see he’s got it in him to evolve beyond those great early prototypes that he’s essentially been riding ever since.

The question yet to be answered though is would he be more likely to pursue this further with a different band behind him, one not as loaded in the horn section, or would he revert back to the safety of what had done him so well in the past, maybe even forgetting what he saw in something this far outside the box when he laid it down as 1948 came to a close.

Whichever route he chose we can at least be grateful that this finally got released and allowed us to see what Liggins was capable of even if it proved to be only a momentary diversion in his now uncertain career trajectory.


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