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FEDERAL 12082; JUNE 1952



Around here we’ve gotten something of a reputation for being unsparing with our criticism of record labels for their short-sighted lunk-headed decisions regarding everything from poorly chosen song material and bad musical arrangements to poorly timed release schedules and various promotional mistakes.

Though virtually all of the companies with a significant investment in rock ‘n’ roll have been on the receiving end of our attacks, some of them – Jubilee for example – can rarely get through two consecutive releases without getting hammered for one indefensible decision or another.

We haven’t kept tabs on it officially, but chances are if you tallied up the barbs we sent their way, Federal Records would be somewhere near the bottom of the list, as the majority of their moves – at least following a slightly rocky start with their big signee Little Esther – have been pretty solid top to bottom.

That’s about to end… this time around they’re gonna get blasted for what actually winds up being a pretty good record in spite of their illogical maneuvering.


What Can I Do About It?
You’ll notice looking at the record that we see two unfamiliar names adorning the Federal label, each bringing with them some obvious – albeit different – troubling issues.

The first name is completely new to us, Lil’ Greenwood, a singer with a fairly impressive background in a different milieu, as she had been singing with pre-rock icon Roy Milton’s band, essentially replacing Camille Howard who was balancing a recording career of her own while still touring with Milton.

As such Greenwood’s style is bound to be out of place in rock ‘n’ roll even though she’s still in her late twenties, and to be honest if this was a solo record by her we might not be as willing to include it without knowing for sure if she’d continue in this field.

But the presence of somebody referred to simply as “Little Willie” makes Monday Morning Blues a mandatory inclusion around here because this is none other than Little Willie Littlefield, an established rock star making his debut on Federal after three years as Modern Records’ resident hitmaker.

Wait a minute… what? When did this happen?

Well, we know that Littlefield released Too Late For Me, his last single on Modern in February and we even told you he was headed to Federal, but the real question you had to ask in the spring of 1952 was… THIS is how they choose to launch his career on their label?!?! With second billing to an unknown newcomer from another style while in the process they inexplicably drop the most familiar identifying feature of Littlefield’s name?

How on earth does this make any business sense, let alone is defensible musically?

The answer is, it’s not… certainly not for the first question and in spite of the fact it sounds pretty good, it probably isn’t the best move for the second one either.


I Couldn’t Do A Thing But Cry
There are two notable aspects of this song that can’t help but jump out at you.

The lilting melody is eerily familiar, popping up in various guises over the years such as Down In The Alley by The Clovers in a far more suggestive manner. Here though it’s something that almost demands you hum along to it, peacefully rising and falling like someone softly breathing while asleep.

The other thing that you realize right away is that this doesn’t give Little Willie Littlefield anything notable to do. His part was devoid of personality by design, which leads to the question of why Federal Records, having just snagged their biggest established name in two years – since Esther’s arrival – reduce Littlefield to window dressing on his first release on the label.

What a waste!

But we’ll let you fill in the requisite indignant obscenities Ralph Bass and company have coming to them as we transition to the actual record as an aesthetic document.

Monday Morning Blues is the story of a couple separating after a tryst that may have lasted months or just a wild weekend after hooking up at a bar on a Friday night. The lyrics are more or less effective in putting across the rather broad plot centered around their mutual sorrow at parting on bad terms even though it fails to advance it much past the initial premise.

Actually by pre-emptively getting them to apologize it cuts to the chase too quickly, but for some reason chooses to employ a long repetitive fade that simply have them repeating the first two words of the title as if watching their relationship swirl lazily down the drain, making it somewhat contradictory in that regard.

Musically it achieves that melancholy vibe with a subdued arrangement that matches – if not beats – the vocal wistfulness they employ by featuring a very nice alto sax performance by our old friend Joe Lutcher, apparently in need of money since he reputedly quit playing rock ‘n’ roll due to frustration with his lack of success and for religious reasons.

As for Greenwood, she’s got a good voice, better than Littlefield who sounds harsher by comparison to her smoother tones that ooze out of her like melted caramel. Her measured delivery nicely conveys her aching confusion and hurt without either underselling it or going overboard in an attempt to prove how broken up she is.

That’s the best aspect of this, the fragile emotional ground they both stand on, joined there by the musicians, all of whom are wary to step too hard and break the spell.

As such Monday Morning Blues is more an atmospheric record than one designed for jukebox spins (though it charted for a lone week in Dallas for what that’s worth), which again makes little sense considering that you’re trying to introduce a new singer to rock audiences while simultaneously hoping to bring Littlefield’s existing fan base over to Federal which would seem to demand a record listeners can’t help but gravitate towards.

This however, as nice as it is, almost seems constructed to be overlooked.


Talkin’ Through My Hat
I suppose in the spirit of fairness and completeness, we need to give some plausible explanation of (though not defense of) Federal’s decision to release this duet when they did.

The educated guess you’d make regarding this is Federal figured they didn’t have to worry too much about Littlefield’s commercial prospects since he had an enviable track record to date, and so their main focus was on establishing Lil’ Greenwood.

We didn’t even mention the fact that while The Four Jacks were credited as singing harmonies, they are not audible on this side, but DID share the stage on the flip side – My Last Hour, basically a gospel song with the religious aspects toned down just enough to be considered a secular record – which Littlefield was not a part of, nor was he credited… and which cracked the regional listings in Atlanta.

What that means is Federal looked at Monday Morning Blues as a Lil’ Greenwood record first and foremost.

Furthermore, they surely were basing their decision on pairing these two up on the fact that the last charted side by Littlefield on Modern came last fall when he teamed up with Little Lora Wiggins on I’ve Been Lost, thereby giving them all the evidence they needed to defend this decision should anybody question it.

Fair enough.

Still, it’s not a decision I would’ve made, not at this point anyway. it makes far more sense to let both of them become established on Federal first, holding this back until summer if one of them should hit with a more suitable initial release on the label, or waiting until fall or even winter to put this out when you’d conceivably be attempting to build off something you’ve already done.

Instead this becomes a rather curious move to make for a label that had seemed to be operating with a more intuitive sense of the business than their competitors. Despite some scattered curiosity, in the end it really benefited none of them – not Littlefield, Greenwood or the label itself.

It just goes to show you that if you give any company enough rope, they’ll wind up hanging themselves eventually.


(Visit the Artist pages of Lil’ Greenwood and Little Willie Littlefield for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)