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SAVOY 764; OCTOBER 1950

 
 

 

This is the culmination of nearly a year’s investment in an ongoing fictional saga between two singers and the visionary bandleader who oversaw their productions.

An idea that could be reasonably seen as cheap and exploitative or cute and clever is a thin line to walk but in 1950 there was no doubting which side the public would fall, as they still could not get enough of this odd pairing as once again they scored a Top Ten hit, the eighth of the calendar year that featured some combination of these artists.

So put on your tie or your chiffon dress, or both, and find an empty pew before the ceremonies commence.
 

 

I’ve Been Waiting Here Long Enough
The first thing to remember is none of this was planned way back in the winter when Johnny Otis cut a song at the end of a session featuring 14 year old Little Esther and The Robins called Double Crossing Blues.

It wasn’t necessarily a throwaway track but it definitely wasn’t the song they were most focused on, nor was Esther herself seen as a budding star with her odd pinched nasal high voice and her less than modest appearance.

But within weeks of its release she became the biggest star, male or female, in all of rock, quickly overshadowing Otis whose name still adorned the lead artist credit on the label.

That too would soon change and when The Robins and Otis had a falling out the next month he brought in sleepy voiced Mel Walker to handle the male role in future duets with Esther as well as be featured on his own singles. With each successive release their popularity soared and two additional chart toppers later the fictional rocky romance between the two that many of their records suggested, was reaching its apex.

What better way to climax it before you became completely beholdened to that rather limited approach than with a record celebrating their nuptials, Wedding Boogie, thereby providing a presumably satisfying conclusion to the events while allowing everybody to hopefully move on to other topics.

If, by chance, the public resisted such a change in tactics in the coming months, well they could always revive this idea with records about badgering mother-in-laws and dalliances with a girl on the corner for him and the milkman for her before sending them divorce court eight months from now.

Let’s hope – for their sake and ours – it doesn’t come to that and this make believe union lasts.
 


 
 

Never Here On Time
Back in June we gave their record Cupid’s Boogie which got them “together” and more or less set the date for this wedding, the highest grade possible, making it the best record Otis was involved with which covered a lot of different vocalists and instrumentalists over the past few years.

This record understandably tries to harken back to that in melody and vocal structure and falls well short of those lofty precedents.

Maybe this was to be expected. Sequels of any kind are rarely as good as the original and while you have to give Otis credit for not merely recycling the plot too, everything else about this seems almost phoned in.

Naturally Wedding Boogie kicks off with a “Here Comes The Bride” quote that’s smartly altered at the end to lead into something we hope is more original. Instead Esther picks up the familiar cadences of that past record and starts singing about getting hitched today before Mel comes in to complain about the preacher not showing up.

What jumps out at you is how skimpy the actual composition itself is throughout all this. It’s a song that seems based on a skit, whereas in the earlier records the song came first and even without the laughs they’d have still been solid performances. You can’t say the same about this.

The aforementioned skit that forms the centerpiece of this record comes when the boorish preacher, “played” by one of the group’s trumpeters Lee Graves, makes his appearance. Though his delivery is fairly good and we can somewhat excuse the gimmicky nature of it all, the problem is the set up and punchlines of the entire production are mind-numbingly simple, often badly written and for the most utterly at odds with the Esther and Walker vocal parts.

Graves gets in two good lines, one a barely audible throwaway during the spoken section which has no justification for even being there simply because Esther’s lead-in complimenting him makes absolutely no sense AT ALL! Graves clearly had his joke and they needed a way to introduce it so they just crammed it in. The rest of his lines are atrocious – “I hope you live for the rest of your life”?!?!? That’s just emblematic of how little actual effort went into this before the tapes rolled.

Meanwhile Walker sounds as though he’s so bored and disgusted by the material that he’s already planning on going to Reno for a quickie divorce and maybe a fling with a showgirl while he’s there. Give Esther some credit for doing her very best to keep her professional reputation intact with her shifting delivery to try and suit the mood, but I’ll be damned if she has any idea of what’s going on here either… though since she was not old enough to wed in real life maybe that’s the only authentic part about this mess.
 

Don’t Start No Stuff
Musically is where we’d at least expect Otis to overcome a hastily written, or badly planned, story, yet even this is a major let-down.

For one thing the the obvious choice to make if you’re actually taking this plot seriously is one they incomprehensibly avoid. That would have had them starting off with a very solemn track suitable for the occasion before the drunk preacher’s arrival sent everything off the rails and the music got unhinged in the process leading to lots of raucous noise – saxes blaring, drums crashing, piano skittering, guitars slashing, you name it.

They didn’t have to make it sloppy in the process, though surely it’d hint at that early on, but rather let them sound as if they were just about to go out of control while still keeping it melodically and rhythmically in formation.

Instead they give Wedding Boogie an arrangement out of their stock catalog without any moments of inspiration.

How mediocre is this you ask? Well when Graves is imploring all the guest to “jump and swing” what follows is a flat, emotionless and boring musical interlude with not a solo to be found. It not only runs counter to the song’s supposed theme but it also shows how even the musicians were unimpressed with this entire idea.

No thought was put into any of this, save the verbal interludes with Graves, and none of it comes together well. Yet even so it clearly found an audience, albeit one who I have to assume showed up only because they received an invitation in the mail from people they’ve enjoyed spending time with this past year.

Like most weddings – yours included I’m sure – the entire thing was an overpriced shindig whose costs would’ve been better spent on three kegs at the beach while putting the rest into buying a nice house.

Better yet, stay single.
 


 

You Can’t Do No Worse
This was one of those songs that you forget how bad it is until you actually are forced to break it down line by line repeatedly.

Maybe that’s because the concept itself seems contrived and so you tend to skip over it most of the time and merely assume it’s better than it is because of who’s involved. In fact the only REALLY clever aspect of any of it is the fact it’s billed to Johnny Otis’ Congregation and maybe that alone gets you to think what’s inside must be at least tolerable.

In a way I suppose it is, provided you don’t pay what they actually say or play much attention. Nobody’s missing notes, Esther and Graves are doing their best to stay in character and if Walker is out of step it’s more because he’s been given the worst role in Wedding Boogie and gets no lines worth the time it takes to sing them.

But while this definitely does merit a mention in Otis’s biography when it comes to chronicling his sheer commercial dominance during 1950, it’s one that the future preacher who presumably officiated at multiple wedding ceremonies in real life would be best to leave off his résumé when advertising his matrimonial services.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist pages of Johnny Otis, Little Esther and Mel Walker for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)