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Our second contestant in rock’s Oh Babe sweepstakes comes from Pennsylvania. He’s a bandleader who’s enjoyed some success over the past year with a number of national hit records for Gotham Records… will you please welcome Jimmy Preston.

Hi, Jimmy, good to have you here. Tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I play saxophone and do a little singing as well and my band and I…

What are they called, Jimmy?

The Prestonians…

A modest sort of fellow, isn’t he folks? Heh-heh. You’re with a new company, Derby Records out of New York…

Yes, that’s right… they’re a tremendous organization and we hope we can live up to their expectations for us and I’m sure we’ll do some really great things with them.

That’s fine, Jimmy, that’s fine. Now how about you and The Prestonians take us through your rendition of this terrific tune that’s making waves from coast to coast.

Here he is ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a warm round of applause for Philly’s own… Jimmy Preston and The Prestonians!


First You Say Hello
Chances are in the race to come out with the first rock version of Louis Prima’s rapidly rising song that it was THIS record which beat Larry Darnell’s off the line, yet we wrote about that one first because with Darnell there was no side issues with him to delve into which allowed us to spend part of the review focusing on Prima and Keely Smith’s boisterous original to show where this material was coming for and why it was deemed a likely candidate for successful rock interpretations.

However, with Preston we have a number of other topics to squeeze in here that we can hardly avoid talking about, most importantly their move from Gotham to Derby which is a major defection for his hometown label which had basically been kept afloat by his records the last few years.

His decision to go to Derby was rather strange in many ways, for while I’m sure they offered him a sweeter deal, maybe more money up front and a slightly better royalty rate that they had no intention of ever paying, but as far as improving his stock in the marketplace this was definitely a sideways move, not a step up in terms of each company’s ability to push their product.

Furthermore, Derby was less equipped in many ways to aid Preston’s cause, for Gotham had in their stable some accomplished rock songwriters – Harry Crafton for one – and a better track record for production when it came to rock ‘n’ roll than did Derby whose top artist and musical director Freddie Mitchell had a few hits and some good records, especially as of late, but who was notorious for sticking with the same arranging ideas for far too long. He also was constantly looking to other genres for material, something which may explain why Preston was saddled with Oh, Babe! as his first release for the company.

But there was another new element to consider which made the outcome of such an endeavor more uncertain… namely the presence of another vocalist who will be asked to share the microphone with him.

Shake It And You Break It
There’s not much information available on Burnetta Evans other than we know she cut a single for the tiny Melford label late in 1949, but while the two sides – Thrill Me and All On Account Of You – got good reviews in Cash Box it didn’t do much for her career until she teamed up with Preston upon his arrival on Derby in the fall of 1950 where cut multiple sides with him.

Whether this was Preston’s idea or Derby’s, and whether she was already playing club dates with him before they cut these sides is unclear but if not you can see why they were paired together for Oh Babe! as the male-female partnership on Prima and Smith’s original was something that companies would naturally want to try and replicate.

But even so the majority of the run time is going to be dominated by Preston, who was the major star and the guy that Derby Records had just forked over a good deal of money to sign, therefore they sure weren’t going to bury him on his debut for the label.

It’s a good thing too because by now the once shaky vocal talents of Preston have been honed by experience and he knew exactly what he was capable of and how to best display it. He may not have had a great voice but his enthusiastic delivery combined with his overall music sensibilities from his bandleading and sax playing duties meant he was never going to make any vital missteps in putting a song over.

With this song – an uptempo ode to lust wrapped in a disarmingly chipper package to take the edge off – he was truly in his element as were the Prestonians who get this off the ground with a vibrant energy that’s infectious.

Once You Get Started This Is What Will Happen To You
The horns, piano and drums are at full speed right off the bat, romping through the repetitive riff with a gleam in their collective eyes. The bassline hits you in the gut while the horn improvisations grab you by the throat and yanks you off the ground leaving no doubt that this is most definitely a full-on rock ‘n’ roll record, no matter its origins.

What makes this song so pliable can be traced back to Prima, who was never bound to any stodgy concepts of jazz as many of his peers were, especially once the market shifted and rock came along to knock it off its perch. Prima was a bona fide New Orleans soul who understood that rhythm was addictive and could be just as easily conveyed by horns as by bass and piano, yet when combined those elements could be lethal.

Preston and company manage to ramp up the pace and the excitement on their version of Oh Babe!, sending the rhythm into the stratosphere compared to Prima in both power and precision. Theirs is riffing on steroids, taking a song that Prima used almost as a quasi send-up of this kind of frantic wild music and turning it into the very thing Louis was good naturedly poking fun at.

When Preston comes in his vocals pack just as much of a punch as the music does, his cadences are so locked in that it acts as an echo chamber for the pounding drums, doubling up on the most captivating part of the record in a way that sounds perfectly natural. We know from Darnell’s version that the lyrics are nothing more than a way to stir excitement but where Larry had to work his way up to reaching that frenzied peak and never really embodied it fully, Preston has no such problem. He’s singing this the way it was meant to be sung, stripping the ironic smirk off it that Prima used and replacing it with a deviant horniness that is unmistakable.

After a wild instrumental break where all the horns are determined to lay waste to the studio with hurricane force blowing, Evans comes in to try and carry it home. Her higher voice provides a nice contrast to Preston and while she may be taking things a little TOO fast, who can really blame her? The energy in the room is clearly infectious and if she was at all nervous about singing alongside an artist who was a genuine star in the rock world she definitely had the right material to burn those off those nerves in a matter of seconds with this.

By the end you feel almost battered by the relentless force of the arrangement, all of it thrown together with the sole purpose of transforming their musical fire into a raging inferno. If the concept of the record is still pretty juvenile you tend not to notice because you’re too busy extinguishing your singed eyebrows after getting too close to the speakers.


You Rock It, But You Definitely Don’t Knock It
The song itself wasn’t original of course and not specifically designed for rock either, but it showed that rock ‘n’ roll had the potential to slug it out with the pop world on their own turf as this equaled Darnell’s by landing at #5 on the national charts.

Like Darnell, who enjoyed his final national hit with his version, Oh Babe! proved to be Preston’s last hit as well, making the song something of a jinx perhaps for both artists who had helped to define rock ‘n’ roll as it transitioned into the second half of the Twentieth Century.

Historically though it’s entirely possible that Preston’s has become the best known, the most acclaimed and truthfully the most stylistically accurate of the ones we’ve seen so far. The idea to cover a quirky pop novelty song may have been shallow and questionable aesthetically, but sometimes it’s not where you get something, it’s what you do with it that matters most.

Well, Jimmy, that was quite a performance you fellows put on for us. How about it, folks, wasn’t that something?

We still have one more contestant to hear from of course but I’m betting this performance is going to be pretty hard to beat…


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Larry Darnell (October 1950)

Wynonie Harris (October 1950)