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REGENT 1021; JULY 1950



With the pecking order now firmly established in the Johnny Otis universe when it came to featured artists to take the lead on his records, both vocally and instrumentally, it was up to Johnny’s magnanimity to ensure that the lesser names in his outfit got an occasional nod in their direction as well to keep everybody happy.

But rather than be just worthless throwaways these records not only let each member of the organization feel appreciated but it also allowed Otis to feature an entirely different mood than his more frequently showcased stars afforded him.

So for those who prefer their rock vocals to come dripping with testosterone and exuberance bordering on righteous fury, we re-introduce you to Redd Lyte.


Don’t Want No Other Kind
Give credit to Johnny Otis for knowing that diversity – whether in life or in music – is always a good thing and to that end he made sure to have people available to fill each and every role a traveling rock show needed, from instrumental stalwarts to a wide array of vocal stars.

Little Esther was the teenage ingenue whose delivery belied her years as it seemed aged with hard-earned experience, and Mel Walker was the sleepy voiced ladies man whose good looks and mastery of ballads won over ladies in the audience while his more humorous interjections on records with Esther kept the fellas from viewing him as a threat or a rival.

In Redd Lyte they had a more explosive figure to offset those two.

Originally the emcee at the club who was drafted into singing and proved quite capable on more raucous material, Lyte didn’t have the technique to knock anybody out but he had plenty of energy and the tightest band around to help shore up his deficiencies. Meanwhile Otis crafted songs to give him an indelible image as a roustabout, perhaps in an effort to have someone to compete with Wynonie Harris, much as Johnny had crafted The Robins to act as a rival to The Ravens.

Of course Lyte was no Harris and with the actual Wynonie fulfilling the needs most record buyers had for loud-mouthed debauchery Lyte’s value was probably best served on stage, but every so often he also would get a few records of his own, in this case just to balance out an instrumental on the flip side of this release, and Good Time Blues perfectly exemplified his intense approach.

Generic by nature, yet not without some crude charm, the real question listening to this is whether Lyte would overwhelm the song with his gruff voice and inability to tone down the volume, or if the song would wind up overwhelming him.


Havin’ A Good Time
We know going in that they’ll waste no time sneaking up on the tune with a quaint mild intro and lyrical restraint before pulling back the veil of moderation to reveal something more uncouth, but instead they’ll simply throw Redd Lyte into the gladiator pit and let him slug it out with lions from the start. Sure enough Lyte comes out bellowing like Tarzan and the band responds by charging back at him with the horns rallying the masses to ready for blood.

Hardly subtle of course but as Good Time Blues “settles in”, if you can call it that, the song manages to take shape and shows that even when the vocalist is constantly flirting with disaster, the band is professional enough to keep him from impaling himself.

The horns have the heaviest responsibility here even if they are sort of misused, their tonal qualities not sufficient to balance out the crazed vocals Lyte uses throughout the track. Had they let a baritone sax into the party and given the tenor a bigger role maybe then it could offset the screeching, but instead the horns are sort of fueling his race with destruction. When one of the trumpets gets the initial soloing spot you cringe because it sounds so out of its element on such a down and dirty track and surely there’s not much that can save this from going down in flames.

This being a Johnny Otis led track however the parts do manage to fit together snugly as Devonia Williams’ piano shines in its brief spotlight and Leard Bell’s drumming is every bit as muscular as Lyte wishes his voice could be.

When James Von Streeter comes in and unleashes a strong tenor solo with Bell introducing it with crashing cymbals and they come out of that stretch with the band chanting in unison and Lyte replying in kind, you think they might pull this off, as chaotic as it is, but in the end there’s too much noise and not enough cohesive action to make much sense of it all… and that’s before we even get to the lyrics which are perhaps even more scattershot than Lyte’s delivery in singing them.

I Swear We’re Gonna Fight
Because Redd Lyte gets a co-writing credit on this it’s safe to say he, umm… well, “crafted” the lyics is clearly the wrong phrase here, so I’ll say “”came up with” the words to the song, though I doubt they were actually put to paper.

The lyrics sound half-cribbed from the hundreds of floating verses that existed in roadhouses around this time, and the rest were probably ad-libbed on the studio floor and as a result though there IS just enough of a structure to let the song take shape in a familiar structure, that doesn’t mean they are telling a story that’s easy to follow.

We’ll start with Lyte’s persona, which that of a crazed man with “romance on my mind”. But going by the tenor of his voice and the accelerated pace of his delivery, it’s not romance he’s after, but sex. He’s horny and it’s the kind of horniness that you might expect from someone who was in prison for twenty-seven years and then after being released was captured by vultures who dropped him on an uninhabited island for another seven years before finally making it back to civilization.

Yet rather than use that as the basis for some humor, maybe show how eager he is for female companionship and then have him thwarted at every turn – by the girl’s parents, his neighbors dropping by, the usher in the movie theater with an overactive flashlight and perhaps even a wino in the alley interrupting his last chance for sexual fulfillment before he has to take this girl home for the night.

Instead all Lyte does is rave about having a fat woman to service his needs and his vague threats to any guy who tries to horn in on his action. That’s it, that’s the whole plot.

So maybe you’re hoping that some of the lines themselves are funny enough to make Good Time Blues worth a laugh or two along the way, but no, not only is the content too haphazard to make much sense out of, but Lyte is so frantic that he robs it of any nuance. Listening to it is a bit like being bludgeoned with a stick the closer you focus on the content the more battered your senses become.

His enthusiasm, if that’s what you insist on calling it, probably worked much better in the midst of a live show with more refined elements book-ending it, not to mention more drinks flowing to numb your senses and impair your judgement to better appreciate this kind of a no-holds barred performance.

In that setting you’d be more caught up in the surging energy produced by everyone on stage and could also maneuver further back from that stage to avoid being hit with any stray projectiles, but on record this is something likely to be played once or twice hoping the excitement they’re trying to stir with their performance is genuine before realizing that it’s just creating a racket with nothing much to show for it.


Can’t Boogie No More
Like the more proficient instrumental A-side, Freight Train Boogie, this might be something you’re happy exists to give you another example of what you could’ve expected to hear had you been around in 1950 but beyond that there’s not much value in it compared to the better work of Otis’s crew found elsewhere.

Redd Lyte’s role to fill on stage, and even in his better moments on record, may have been important, but that role was hardly very demanding and merely required more enthusiasm than skill. On Good Time Blues there’s little skill shown and the enthusiasm is misplaced and overdone.

It’s not terrible, it’s energetic enough to work okay as background music for an orgy I suppose and there’s always a place in rock for shameless hedonism for its own sake, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done a lot better than this.

There will always be those who find this kind of uninhibited performance worth celebrating but the rest of us will be sure to give you a wide berth when you come careening into sight, knowing that it won’t be long before your head is in a toilet bowl and you’re just moments away from passing out on the bathroom floor… “good times” indeed!


(Visit the Artist pages of Johnny Otis and Redd Lyte for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)