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What did we just get done saying about Jimmy Liggins?

Wasn’t it something about his tendency to recycle old melodies and arrangements giving so many of his releases a sense of déjà vu that it became hard to appreciate them even for the competent writing and playing behind them?

Doesn’t that sort of imply we want to hear something fresh out of him, maybe even something experimental?

Yes, it does… but no, this wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.


Clear The Line
In the review for the top side of this record we acknowledged that it was all technically well executed… the story had a decent theme, if an all-too vague backstory and a one dimensional character opposite Jimmy Liggins, and the musical side of the equation, while featuring absolutely nothing new, was played with admirable proficiency by the studio session aces backing him.

Yet we found Lover’s Prayer slightly subpar in spite of the technical attributes of the record all having been met with little trouble because it was so stale by now.

Here we have a different conundrum facing us, because whatever else you may say about The Washboard Special the one thing you can’t accuse it of is being redundant musically or thematically.

You CAN however question whether this unusual idea was worth pursuing in the first place.

Not that changing things up, especially for someone so stuck in his ways as Liggins, wasn’t a good move. Any creativity, even misguided attempts like this, is good to see simply because these records give us something new to consider. It also might spur him into exploring even more options and who knows if one of them might pay off down the road.

So we admire the effort wholeheartedly… it’s just that… well, the end results are a little TOO unusual to fully appreciate.


For those who haven’t had the “pleasure” of listening to this yet, the best way to succinctly describe the record is that it’s a rocked up nursery rhyme.

A guy we just met a few days back named Bill Haley would follow this path a little more in the future when trying to figure out what the younger rock audience might like, except his ideas went TOO far back, almost into the cradle, and naturally they weren’t always the best way to connect to high schoolers.

Whether Jimmy Liggins had the same intention, or more likely if he was just combing his memory for some sort of inspiration for a new song, the result was the same… a familiar childhood refrain amended to a song intended for people much older than pre-pubescent tykes.

The Washboard Special at least starts with an interesting premise, or at least a novel one for a rock song, that of a woman doing her laundry.

Yup, that’s it. That’s the entire story, right there. I just saved you two and a half minutes of listening to find out that all Jimmy Liggins tells us is how she washed clothes. Of course if you are a stickler for details he informs us WHICH clothes were in the tub – linens and silks, underwear and blouses… you get the idea. He also puts in a plug for Procter & Gamble soap along the way.

But while it may make for an instructive lesson for those moving into their first home, there’s no drama to be found… no action… no conflict, all of which are crucial elements of a good story. But there ARE bubbles… plenty of bubbles… and although I think the chorus is drawn loosely from “Three Men In A Tub” , there are no men popping up in this story, either in the tub itself, which would be very interesting, or to come in and help Aunt Lou with the wash.

Now you might be saying this is supposed to be ridiculous. It’s obviously a joke – the chorus is almost embarrassingly juvenile – and clearly this must mean Liggins is just trying to put one over on us, get us to laugh at the absurdity of it and show that you can literally make a song about almost anything.

But it doesn’t quite come off that way. Yes, he IS singing in a lighthearted fashion but he’s not singing as if it were all a lark.

No, I think what happened is he simply was the next in line for songs and when he got to the window they told him they were all out, there were none left and he’d have to make due with whatever words he could throw together.

Either that or his stage clothes needed cleaning and he was hoping some overzealous fan listening might offer to do the job for him.


Pretty And Bright
If Jimmy Liggins had taken this approach musically with a better subject we’d have been celebrating the occasion rather than skewering it, but the fact remains that taken on its own the arrangement for this record is a breath of fresh air when it comes to his often monotonous sounding catalog.

So you’d think by 1951 they finally came to the conclusion that a little change of pace was a good thing for his career, but no, The Washboard Special was actually taken from a session way back in late December 1947!

That’s right, when rock was all of four months old.

Damn, Jimmy, though the topic is a little too goofy, if you’d showed this same spirit of adventure over the last four years we might not be getting your musical obituary ready to print.

Regardless of when it was cut, the reason this improbable tune works even modestly well is because the music follows the same silly pattern as the lyrics with an almost cartoon-like throbbing horn line that sounds farcical, yet also slightly lecherous. It’s impossible not to get caught up in it which means you’re now focused on what else they might do to surprise you.

Remember these are his original Drops Of Joy, a great band led by two sax stars, future jazz great Harold Land and Charlie “Little Jazz” Ferguson. The first solo is is about what you’d expect, gritty but due to the amusing narrative not too intense. The second solo is taken by altoist James Dedmon, sounding almost as if he’s on clarinet, and it’s much more exotic and beguiling by nature. I’m not sure that fits the story but it’s definitely a nice twist to keep things from getting stale.

Lastly we get a rare guitar solo by Liggins himself, showing a delictate touch on a quirky melodic run it adds yet another layer to what has already been a much more diverse sounding record than we’re used to by him.

Again, this is hardly the kind of song that has hit written on it but as a B-side it’s a welcome change in his arsenal.

Cleaning Day
When Specialty Records was faced with a long absence of Liggins from the recording studio while he was convalescing following a shooting incident in the spring of 1949, they were rather stingy in what they released waiting for him to recover.

They issued some older tracks but you got the idea they were doing so more to keep his name out there as opposed to actively seeking hits or releasing songs to advance his career in some way, so the assumption was they’d run out of material. Obviously they hadn’t.

But while The Washboard Special isn’t overly commercial, it IS something that would elicit some curious interest and if ever there was a time to have released something like this it’d be when he was prone in bed and unable to forcefully protest on the grounds it might sink his career.

It wouldn’t have done that, but it would have shown fans that Liggins had a few tricks up his sleeve and maybe a decent reception to it might have helped him to explore some other off-the-wall ideas when he got well. Why they pulled it off the shelf NOW though is another question entirely, although my hope is they too realized he was in desperate need of a new image… although this probably isn’t it.

So yeah, it’s too childish by 1951 to be seen as a viable record, but as a mild diversion to what else is going on this year it has its charms. Considering this curio has been sitting around a vault collecting dust for so long it’s nice that it finally sees the light of day and shows Liggins wasn’t always so dour in the studio.

But you know what they say about that, sooner or later everything comes out in the wash.


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