No tags :(

Share it

ATLANTIC 940; MAY 1951



After speculating about the identity of the top flight guitarist on the instrumental which adorns the flip side of this release and wondering if it might be Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis who definitely was in the studio on that session, with or without his guitar, because he was contracted to sing on THIS side for Joe Morris, it’s good to report that this one kind of confirms that hunch beyond much doubt.

It’s not definitive by any means, but the case for it would be harder to disprove after hearing this one which he wrote and sang which also has the same guitar… just not quite enough of it to make it entirely worthwhile beyond providing evidence for his presence on the better side of this single.


When I See You Comin’
When it comes to the pecking order of rock artists with fairly deep catalogs to date, Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis probably wouldn’t rank very high on anyone’s list.

He’s not irrelevant by any means, in fact his presence early on wielding a very potent guitar is actually fairly important in showing one of the ways in which the music might evolve over time. The problem is the labels he recorded for seemed to have no idea of what to do with him from there because there was no stylistic precedent to point them in the right direction.

Had anyone been bright enough to just let him and his guitar have center stage backed by a simple rhythm section (drums, bass, piano) and unobtrusive riffing saxes, it’s entirely possible that Lewis might’ve become a star.

Usually we criticize the record companies when it comes to how they’ve mishandled him at every stop, and that’s certainly not disproved here, but considering that Lewis wrote Love Fever Blues himself he’s got to shoulder some of the blame for not taking advantage of his own greatest attributes and forcing Atlantic’s hand when it comes to exhibiting those talents.

Sure, if he had a handful of hits already in a more brazen style than you could say that a slower song with contemplative lyrics and dreamy vocal delivery like this would be a nice change of pace, something to show off his versatility, but until you get those hits and make a name for yourself, then songs like these are only going to ensure that stardom constantly eludes you.


Be Your Servant
On paper the idea of pairing Lewis with Joe Morris’s band was a really good one. A self-contained unit with hits of their own were sure to have their finger on the pulse of the public a little better than session musicians whose income wasn’t affected if the records they played on failed to stir any interest.

Besides, Morris already HAD carried out this role with great success when they backed Wynonie Harris on All She Wants To Do Is Rock two years ago, so despite being headliners in their own right they seemed to be fine with putting their own egos aside for the betterment of a vocalist and since this was going to come out under their own names it stood to reason they’d want to be at their best.

Unfortunately it’s hard to be at your best when bland and subservient are Lewis’s goals on Love Fever Blues, as he crafts a song that finds him in emotional bondage to a nameless girl who hardly factors into the story other than what she does to his state of mind.

We get no description of her other than she’s “wicked and evil”, there’s no word on whether she even is aware of him let alone if they’re actually in a relationship, only that he is ready and willing – even eager – to be her slave if she’ll let him.

Hardly sounds very appealing.

Lewis sings this convincingly enough, his voice was always a little underrated and his delivery with its judicious spacing between lines manages to heighten the drama of it all, but he doesn’t even sound passionate or lustful, just sort of desperate and love songs without any signs of love are kind of hard to relate to.

Clean It Up
With such a lurching rhythmic base to the song there’s not a lot of opportunities for Morris and company to breathe some life into the proceedings. Droning horns open it up and are mostly used as accents behind Lewis’s vocals after that. They play well enough but it’s a minimalist arrangement by nature with distant piano and guitar adding color but little else.

There are two moments where this steps things up and the first, though all too brief, is the revealing one, at least when it comes to making the claim that Lewis was the guitarist on Midnight Grinder, as he injects a snarling little fill between his vocal lines that unquestionably is Baby Face, simply because of where it falls in the song.

It’s a line that a guitarist would put in to respond to his own vocals, not one that a sideman would be quick enough to add on his own. Besides it matches the tone Lewis was known for in the past and since he wrote Love Fever Blues it stands to reason that he was the one running it down on guitar for the band before they cut it, meaning he brought his guitar to the studio with him.

The other higher quality musical turn comes during the somewhat brief instrumental break when a saxophone gets a chance to blow and seems to be releasing some frustration about having to keep things under wraps up to this point. It’s a loud, drawn-out sort of solo, still slow but impatient in his pacing, like it was a caged animal wanting to be set free.

Other than that however this is hardly the kind of record that would indicate any of them – Morris, Lewis or the band – were anything more than anonymous, poorly paid and uninspired sidemen with one eye on the clock.

That’s One Thing I Know
The spring of 1951 was when everything really seemed to come together for Atlantic Records. Flush with success dating back to last fall with Ruth Brown and Morris’s sides with Laurie Tate, the company has been on a roll with newly signed artists all chalking up quality hits… The Clovers, The Cardinals, Big Joe Turner.

Yet Jimmy Lewis who on paper was as talented, certainly more versatile anyway, than most of them considering he was the only one among them who could sing AND play AND write, somehow got left behind.

On Love Fever Blues he had little chance of changing that trend, even if his performance itself is hardly bad… just poorly chosen for what he needs to do to stand out in a rock universe that was full of bright shining stars as it was.

You can certainly say that no label is going to bat a thousand when it comes to scoring hits with their entire roster, but we’re not suggesting that. Instead every label, no matter how big or small, should be expected to get the most out of each and every artist by making sure they’re steered in the right direction.

This isn’t the right direction.


(Visit the Artist page of Joe Morris and Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)