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ATLANTIC 914; AUGUST 1950

 
 

 

Few record labels in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll have the long term cache and enduring legacy of Atlantic Records.

Their story has been recounted so many times, both by its cagey publicity savvy founder, Ahmet Ertegun and the minions of sycophantic writers and industry insiders he cultivated over the years, that there’s hardly any hardcore rock fan who can’t reel off their list of highlights since their founding in 1947.

That their start coincided with rock ‘n’ roll’s birth is a fortuitous coincidence as over the years it has been insinuated by many that these two events were somehow related… and in a few far-fetched tellings some suggest that Atlantic was more responsible for rock’s exploding popularity than the other way around.

But for all of the kudos they’ve gotten thrown their way and all of the trivial facts regarding their rise to power that have passed into common parlance among rock historians, it’s doubtful that many can immediately recall which artist scored their first regional hit in their early months and which artist gave them their first chart topper a few years later.

The answer to both questions is today’s artist and the record which became Atlantic’s first #1 hit was this one.
 

 

Yes, I’ll Be There
The Joe Morris saga is a surprisingly long and winding one for someone who was just 36 years old when he tragically passed away in late 1958. By then his hits were all well in the past, though he was optimistic about his chances for a career revival having recently rejoined Atlantic for his third go-round with the label he arguably kept afloat for much of its first four years.

But the month he died from a brain aneurysm it’s doubtful than any of the rock fans perusing the bins in stores while debating on which of the latest hot releases by Chuck Berry, The Everly Brothers and Ritchie Valens they should plunk down their allowances to buy were even aware of who Joe Morris was and how much music he’d packed into his relatively short life.

From his days as a budding jazz star with Lionel Hampton’s band in the 1940’s to his helping to set rock itself into motion with his early forays into the burgeoning field in the spring of 1948 where his release Lowe Groovin’ gave the fledgling company their first notice on the local charts, Morris traversed more ground than most enduring names ever could.

It was during that period where his jazz past and rock future were hashing out his ultimate allegiances, both musical sensibilities wrestling for control of his artistic direction. Somewhat shockingly it was the rock side which won out, the commercial rewards apparently outweighing the professional admiration of his peers.

Over the past year however Morris’s career was at a crossroads. Having been Atlantic’s most consistent seller since their inception he was courted last fall by major label Decca Records who sought to make inroads into rock with somebody who they could also market as a more respectable act by pushing him further towards “mainstream” material. It didn’t work, either commercially or aesthetically, and they quickly ended their deal, presumably by mutual consent.

That’s also when Morris’s great band began to fracture, as his primary cohort, saxophonist Johnny Griffith, the dominant soloist on their records and a former Hampton sideman himself, grew frustrated with the rock scene he’d never felt comfortable with and he returned to jazz, carving out a solid career for himself in that field. Other band members departed as well and it wasn’t long before Morris landed back with Atlantic who found their roster somewhat thin without him.

It’d be perfectly understandable if all of this recent turmoil was causing him to second guess his musical direction but when he came out of his first session in June with Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere featuring newcomer Laurie Tate on vocals, the resulting record propelled him to stardom when it soared up the charts, holding down the top spot for a full month this fall and convinced him to throw his full weight behind his rock output. As if that wasn’t a big enough impact its success also helped to cement Atlantic’s artistic course for the remainder of their existence as well.

For such a monumental release it’s a pity that it’s not even that well remembered today.
 


 
 

You Were Meant For Me
Comparisons to Johnny Otis are unavoidable when it comes to this stretch of Joe Morris’s career. After starting out with largely instrumental repertoires that stirred some interest they both soon found more tangible success in backing singers contracted elsewhere (Joe Swift in Otis’s case, while Morris struck gold behind Wynonie Harris on the #1 hit All She Wants To Do Is Rock last summer).

Realizing his main strengths were organizational by nature – composing, arranging and leading a band – Otis assembled various singers to go along with his first rate musicians and this past winter and spring had set the rock world on fire with hits featuring Little Esther, Mel Walker and The Robins, all of which also carried his name on the labels as co-lead artist despite only playing on them, not singing.

Morris possessed the same strengths as a bandleader and songwriter, so undoubtedly inspired by Otis’s success he decided to follow suit and try and build a strong, versatile act centered around his talents but using multiple vocalists to be able to cut records with diverse perspectives and broader appeal, starting with hiring Laurie Tate as his primary vocalist.

Tate was similar enough to Little Esther in her sometimes shrill vocal textures to draw comparisons without being a mere imitator. On Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere the disparity in their approaches was laid bare even more explicitly as Tate delivered the title line which formed the song’s oft-repeated hook in her loudest tones, almost blaring the words in a way that Esther never would’ve been asked to do.

The tactic is effective however, not just by setting those two singers apart, but more importantly in giving this record a visceral appeal right out of the gate, hitting you in the face with such a declarative opening that ensures you’ll pay attention as it unfolds.
 

I’ll Be Right Here If You Need Me
Now truthfully Tate could’ve dialed it down considerably after that opening line because the melody itself is strong enough to stand on its own without the need for cranking up the volume and intensity to sell it so dramatically.

When she does ease off in the middle of the phrase she shows she’s got a delicate enough voice to handle such an approach, one which would pull you in rather than set you back on your heels, but while we might question the need to sing it so emphatically, what can’t be questioned – and what should be celebrated – is the response of rock fans to such a powerhouse female singer.

We’ve bemoaned the dispiriting commercial fate of such great singers as Albennie Jones, Kitty Stevenson and Erline Harris and wondered if some combination of traditional societal expectations when it came to more demure female presentation and the potentially troubling resistance of rock fans to celebrating women on stage as they did men was at fault, but Tate’s success on Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere shows that they might be starting to come around.

She, far more than Joe Morris, is the dominant figure on this record, her voice wailing in romantic rapture at one love story in rock that features no broken hearts, sudden splits or hurt feelings, but instead gives us someone who is going to achieve bliss through sheer determination alone.


 

Though he takes a back seat to his singer here Morris had to be just as happy in the outcome and not just for the obvious reasons but because it’s Tate who is the one steering Morris in the right direction artistically.

During the first break here the band’s playing is far too jazzy and uptight, the horns prancing rather than grinding or strutting or aching. When the saxophonist – whoever he was that was called on to replace Griffin – comes in, the mood certainly improves some but there’s still a lingering big band stench to some of the short breaks and fills that follow from the other horns.

But thanks to Tate’s unleashing her vocal power without cease it negated some of the jazzier backing that otherwise might’ve overwhelmed the record and rather than allow Morris a safe pathway towards revisiting the past, this hurtled him forcefully into the future.
 

That’s The Way It’s Gonna Be
Ultimately we know it’s going to be Joe Morris’s commitment and belief in the choices he’s making that will prove to be crucial in determining his ongoing relevance. Despite gravitating more towards rock aesthetics in days gone by he still might not have been fully convinced of that direction once he lost his recording contract and best band members over his inclination to stick with rock in the face of declining response of audiences as of late.

But this proved to be the turning point. Any doubts he’d had as to rock’s ongoing viability were erased in one fell swoop for him and besides simply having the validation a Number One single to justify his actions, this record gave him the breathing room he needed to ensure his newfound opportunity wouldn’t dry up right out of the gate as it may have been with an indifferent response and allowed him to build upon its success with a clear idea as to what worked best.

So while Tate’s vocal may indeed be excessive and over-the-top emotionally for the lyrical requirements of Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere, her histrionics were absolutely necessary to swing the balance of power in the arrangement back towards a rock mindset and convince them all – Morris and Atlantic both – to follow it up with even more assertive actions in the future.

Maybe that makes it a far more important record in the big scheme of things rather than a truly great record, but considering the long term ramifications of it there’s absolutely no shame in that.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Joe Morris as well as Laurie Tate for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)