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ATLANTIC 923; JANUARY 1951

 
 

 

For the better part of three years since leaving jazz behind, Joe Morris had been on the cusp of rock stardom without having fully broken through.

He was Atlantic Records’ most consistent seller in the late 1940’s but that only got him a few regional hits along the Eastern seaboard while it was left to other artists on the label to crack the national charts.

Yet while he’d been the one who steered Atlantic towards their ultimate embrace of rock ‘n’ roll when his rawer material was what sold best while his jazzier sides were left gathering dust, by the end of the 1940’s he was frustrated with how little he had to show for that and left the company for a short stint at Decca Records which failed miserably, both from a commercial and an aesthetic point of view.

His hasty return to Atlantic months later had the look of resignation… of coming back with your tail between your legs to a company whose fortunes were rising and may not need you anymore, but Morris brought with him a new weapon in vocalist Laurie Tate and in one fell stroke he salvaged his downward trending career and ended 1950 with a Number One hit, which fittingly was the very first for the label.

Would 1951 continue his good fortune or see it end as abruptly as it started?
 

 

How I Tried To Treat You Right
Joe Morris’s “comeback”, if you can call it that, was predicated on his cannily surveying the landscape and emulating Johnny Otis, a bandleader who became last year’s top artist by virtue of surrounding himself with good vocalists, most notably Little Esther, who churned out three number one hits for him in the span of a couple of months.

Tate was clearly filling the same role for Morris, right down to sharing a similar shrill voice, so maybe you could deduct some points for creativity but it’s pretty hard to argue over the results considering Anytime, Any Place, Anywhere captured that same magic so skillfully.

But Otis and Esther’s run had already crested somewhat when Morris and Tate’s smash was released in late summer and it was entirely possible that the public was ready for something new heading into 1951. After all, rock ‘n’ roll embraced change far more rapidly than other brands of music and with Tate with her loud piercing voice appearing somewhat one dimensional on both sides of her debut, despite their equal quality, you had to assume that she’d struck pay-dirt her first time out and was due for a precipitous fall.

Maybe that’s why they issued the standard Stormy Weather on the flip side of its follow up just after the New Year, conceivably to show Tate in a new light by heading in a pop direction while taking advantage of Morris’s background playing more sophisticate arrangements.

But that was never going to be an easy fit, for even there when Tate tries dialing down the intensity as the song calls for she almost can’t help herself and soon ratchets things up again, veering close to – but never quite going over – the edge in the process.

With that it was probably obvious to all of them at Atlantic Records that in order for Tate to be an asset on songs like Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me they would have to accept her natural instincts and hope that somehow Joe Morris was able to keep her under control just enough to stay between the marked lanes.
 

Try To Get Along Without You
With Johnny Griffith having left rock ‘n’ roll behind and taken his saxophone back to jazz last year, Morris’s reconstituted band has either successfully predicted future trends or lucked into it by giving added importance to the electric guitar.

Unfortunately we don’t know just who the guitarist is, so let’s start by saying who the guitarist is not… it’s NOT Roy Gaines despite what many outlets claim. Gaines, who just passed away last summer (2021) a day short of his 84th birthday, was just 14 at the time and literally just started playing the instrument that year in Texas. While he gave interviews where he talked about working briefly on the road with Morris, that took place in the mid-1950’s and he consistently stated he hadn’t even met him prior to that and never recorded with him. So it’s not him.

But whoever it is makes his presence known on Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me, starting with a slow, intense, but economical, intro before the piano and horns take up the job of backing Tate with the guitar holding back completely during the first stanza.

From there they trade off responsibilities, each component handling the primary accompaniment on alternating sections which shows that Morris has thought this out carefully.

The guitar is vital in keeping the song itself from spiraling out of control as it might’ve had Morris put the entire emphasis on horns, simply because with the guitar it was natural to allow space between lines – and even individual notes – for the sound to dissipate… to breathe… whereas horns tended to keep up the pace non-stop. With Tate exhibiting a lack of restraint in her past outings this was one way to slow things down.

Though it works out well in that regard the arrangement itself has no choice but to be rather modest as a result, hardly trying to show off much at all, even forgoing an instrumental break. Though this is just speculation it would appear this too is in response to who they’re working with as Morris and Tate cut this song twice, just a week apart, back in November. The first pass at it remained in the can and since usually a session will wrap only when the songs have been laid down without any outright flubs it probably means they didn’t like the overall performance and went back to tweak the instrumental arrangement to reign in their singer even more.

Speaking of which… if all of this work was put in to make the singer come off looking good, just how IS Tate on the final rendition?
 


 

If You Say That You Don’t Want Me
To spare you any unnecessary suspense, Tate manages to hold her own here but you can see her straining at the seams, ready and willing to send it over the cliff if given half a chance.

It’s a strange thing to contemplate in one sense, how somebody with a decent voice who sounds really good when sticking to a normal delivery would be so impatient to ramp things up and start… well, screeching might be too harsh a term, but you get the idea.

When she does that she’s not out of key, just out of sync with the songs themselves. It’s like driving too fast down through a residential neighborhood, just because you can doesn’t mean you should and when Tate brings too much intensity it runs the risk of throwing the meaning of the songs into disarray.

On Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me she’s on a tight leash and that’s what makes this enjoyable because despite being written by the great Jessie Mae Robinson it’s not quite as strong a composition as Tate’s big hit, certainly not musically anyway though it’s got a nice groove at times, so it’s vital that she not outrun the song in an effort to crank up her volume.

Luckily aside from the band’s efforts, the song itself has built-in stop signs along the route, such as the fact the title line goes down the scale rather than up, forcing Tate to apply the brakes when taking that turn… and not surprisingly that’s when she sounds best because it also allows her to reflect on the lyrics that finds her bemoaning a potential break-up. Granted that simple plot also gives her a bit of leeway in acting distraught too, so when she does begin to wail it’s not completely out of place for her character even if you hope she pulls back before rupturing a spleen.

In the end she may not offer us anything all that different than we got her first time out, but considering how well those worked on the whole it’s not something we’re complaining about by any means.
 

Don’t Say Goodbye
While judging her upside purely on the basis of technical skill Laurie Tate still has a long way to go before taking her place alongside the top female singers in rock – and unfortunately that’s still not a very deep roster.

But when it comes to connecting with audiences she’s now two for two as Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me went to #3 on the national charts making her more successful at this point than even her lablemate Ruth Brown and well… every other female in rock so far except Little Esther who of course she was brought in to emulate. So mission accomplished then.

Its success also solidified Joe Morris’s stature as a bandleader, resurrecting his career after seemingly hitting the wall just a year ago and giving him the clout to dictate his output rather than be beholden to record company whims from here on in.

More than though this was a form of validation for him, the ex-jazz sideman who ventured into rock ‘n’ roll when it was far from certain that it’d be more than a passing fancy and now, three years later, he’s one of its rising stars. Yes, it may have taken some time and was hardly without its obstacles, but then again it’s rare in life you’ll find that’s not the case for everybody who makes good.
 
 
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)