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SAVOY 812; AUGUST 1951



It says a lot about a man’s constitution in how he deals with losing a girl he felt was “the one”.

Is he devastated by her departure, locking himself in his room, unable to face the world, maybe even desperately trying to get her back with flowers and phone calls? Or does he stoically face life without her, determined to move on and maintain his self-respect?

Johnny Otis was never romantically involved with the girl he lost of course, but after his star teenage vocalist Little Esther decamped for another record company at the end of 1950 following months of uninterrupted hits they’d churned out together, Otis’s career went into a slow tailspin.

He was still a respected bandleader, songwriter and producer, but the key to his commercial success was gone and so he kept looking around in search of someone who might ease his broken musical heart.


Listen All You Women
You can debate the wisdom of trying to find another female to take Little Esther’s role on his records if you wish, since anything short of overwhelming success was bound to look like abject failure by comparison, but it’s not like Johnny Otis had many options. He still had potent male vocal star in Mel Walker, plus occasional output from Redd Lyte as an alternative… and even Johnny himself had just taken his first lead vocal with the surprisingly good All Nite Long, so it only made sense to balance all that testosterone out with someone with another X in their chromosomes.

The real question though was what would he try creatively with these female newcomers to help ease their acceptance with the public? Would he try and imitate Esther’s coquettish innocence and weary heartbreak or instead attempt to carve out an entirely new stylistic path, one more rhythmic and aggressive vocally than anything Esther was cut out for?

In truth he tried both and at times was aesthetically successful, one listen to the ribald Beer Barrel Boogie with masquerading gospel vocalist Marilyn Scott tearing things up would show you that he surely knew how to adapt to a new strategy, but rather he never had a clear vision for how to proceed and as a result cast too wide a net, hoping the commercial results might tell him which direction to pursue.

Warning Blues is his second single with Linda Hopkins and after her first effort back in March, Doggin’ Blues, this should be a release that was eagerly anticipated because the last time out she was so damn good even if it had failed to click with audiences.

Hopkins was a dynamic talent, but with even broader musical interests than Otis had, a restless desire to sing everything – sometimes all at once – which never allowed her to pursue just one creative direction at a time.

To that end she needed Otis to rein her in, to set the ground rules for what they were going to try and establish her as going forward, but since he seemed to have no firm idea of what might work at this point either, the two of them wandered around aimlessly hoping their latent talent would overcome their lack of focus.


Talk About You When You’re Gone
The human voice is a flexible instrument with most who utilize it regularly having a pretty good idea of how to project the feeling they’re trying to get across from the time they’re children.

A whiny voice when you’re begging your mother for something… a sheepish softer tone for when you inevitably have to apologize for whatever you did wrong or face your parents wrath… an excited squeal on Christmas morning or an angry bellow when your sibling is annoying you. All of these things come from the same larynx but produce far different sounds.

Singing is the act of harnessing sounds, then refining them and then calling upon them as needed in order to convey the emotions required in a song. Some artists do this very well for one style or mood but are adrift when it comes to trying to do so outside that comfort zone.

Linda Hopkins had the vocal skill to be able to technically impress in virtually any approach – as she would over a career that lasted eighty years in the spotlight – but as we see here when you have all of these tools to work with, sometimes knowing which to pull out of the shed for a specific job is the biggest problem.

As the title suggests Warning Blues is a slow, slightly ominous bluesy song that tries balancing a prominent electric guitar by Pete Lewis with Otis’s lush vibes, an uneasy alliance that is indicative of the song itself and its own trouble in finding a consistent voice for Hopkins to apply.

Her effortless power has always been her greatest strength as a singer and she breaks that voice out here a lot and from a technical standpoint those are undeniable high points of the record. Yet contextually they’re a little more hit and miss because it takes Hopkins out of the more introspective image she tries to craft the rest of the time.

Hopkins sounds better whenever she’s unleashing that voice and you can make the case that if she laid into that anguish from start to finish it’d be a more consistent and impressive performance. But the mood for which the song was written is one that inhabits a quieter form of inner torment, one which she’s not as well equipped to put across. Her contralto is too “heavy” in those moments because she’s gearing up for another power bombing run.

Instead of singing with an airy wistful tone, she’s veering close to a bluesy moan… which is fine if that’s the overall direction you’re choosing. But once she starts belting out other lines it immediately takes the moaning technique off the table because they don’t mesh well, nor do they provide a sudden dynamic contrast to highlight the switch.

None of this is helped by a melody that wanders all over the place… maybe in search of Hopkins when she abruptly switches lanes… but the result is a record that has a few good individual moments taken in isolation that never feels as if it fits together smoothly.


Don’t Ever Be Too Sure That You Have A Man All By Yourself
There’s a parlor game that revolves around the concept – Can I Do This Career Over? – meaning you’re supposed to discuss people (usually athletes, singers, actors, or maybe just kids you knew in junior high), who had a world of talent but failed to deliver on that promise and whose subsequent life or career was perceived as a let-down.

The key is to find people where it clearly wasn’t a lack of drive or effort on the person’s part which made them fall short of their potential, but rather they simply found themselves in the wrong situation which derailed their progress and sent them off on the wrong path and if they’d just had been in a different situation things may have turned out really well for them.

It’d be hard to say someone as accomplished as Linda Hopkins suffered too much from this shaky start in the long run – she won Tony Awards on Broadway, became a respected jazz singer, had a rock hit with Jackie Wilson – but in terms of OUR admittedly narrow focus Linda Hopkins definitely is someone you’d like to go back and start over with and see what might become of her if she stuck with rock exclusively AND if she whittled down her vocal approach to concentrate on what she did best – on the A-sides anyway.

Warning Blues might not make you any less impressed about her vocal abilities, but unfortunately it will have you questioning her vocal choices as well as Johnny Otis’s plan for her as his potential female headliner.

That ultimately wouldn’t come to fruition – this was Hopkins one and only session with Otis – so you might think she didn’t pass the audition so to speak. But the more likely answer is that she was never going to be able to stick to just one musical identity for very long no matter what circumstances she found herself in.


(Visit the Artist page of and Johnny Otis as well as Linda Hopkins for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)