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There are certain artists in rock history who were never big stars, sometimes barely made so much as a ripple commercially, but who somehow managed to carve out a small niche in a specific time and place that allowed them to be remembered by those interested in that period.

For outsiders it can be hard to understand their relative importance in that field, but when you dig deeper and try and look at it from inside that bubble then their achievements, minor though they may have been to the larger world, become more apparent.

The funny thing is that while the bulk of Little Caesar’s music career is largely confined to about a two year period (though he continued cutting records off and on for another decade), his recognition actually grew in the thirty years after his peak as a recording artist… and not for his singing.

He might be just a minor blip on the radar in rock history, with only one national hit to his credit, but his overall résumé makes him one of the more interesting figures we’re going to meet along the way.


I Started Walkin’
As you can tell by the lack of the usual label scan in the lead-in, we have very little evidence outside the music itself and the label number, that Little Caesar (his real name, well, actually it was Harry Caesar but it’s close enough) saw his debut get a wide release.

This isn’t surprising considering it came out on John Dolphin’s Recorded In Hollywood label which often pressed up just enough copies to sell at his own Dolphin’s Of Hollywood store which of course was located far from Hollywood on Central Ave.

But we want to cover everything, provided we can hear it, and luckily we can thanks to the great compilation album posted below, but otherwise we’re not even entirely sure exactly when Talkin’ To Myself came out. The very next release on the label (234) was also by Little Caesar and we do know that came along in July and hit the local charts immediately and was followed soon after by his only Billboard hit, the records coming out in rapid fashion with little time to let them really flourish.

Obviously John Dolphin could care less about responsibly building someone’s career, he just wanted to have product to sell in the present and would worry about the future tomorrow.

So while we WILL mention the flip side in spite of his admonishment against it in the title, Don’t Mention The Blues, and say it’s pretty well done, we’ll also sidestep reviewing it by using the flimsy excuse that it’s a little more bluesy than the side we’re looking at now. But we had to cover one of them just to make sure Little Caesar’s introduction to the world gets some mention around here because the ex-boxer and future actor turns out to be a very good singer and songwriter.


I Can’t Be Happy
The music here is slightly jazzy, but not in the way you’re thinking. Saxophonist Que Martyn, the former Les Hite sideman, lays down a very mellow groove behind Little Caesar that is very intriguing.

Actually “mellow” might be pushing it at times. Somnambulistic would probably be more accurate. Not that Martyn is sleepwalking through the performance, but rather the performance is almost meant to conjure up sleepwalking with its drowsy manner and works quite well in that regard, getting you to lower your defenses… or expectations… along with your heart rate which allows Little Caesar’s baritone as he slowly spins this tale of heartbreak to make a clear impression on your senses.

The story of Talkin’ To Myself, as with a lot of Caesar’s work, is downbeat which suits both his introspective nature and his melencholy delivery, although Martyn’s sax solo livens things up a bit and has the unexpected treat of the drummer really emphasizing the steady beat while the sax takes center stage.

Caesar’s despair is over losing his girl to his best friend, admittedly a pretty foul thing for both of them to do to someone, but at least it gives him a good plot for a song. He puts that dirty deed to good use too, drawing out the particulars thanks to the crawling pace he sets it at, building suspense at the expense of his pride and self-image.

The appeal of this record though isn’t the story, which is pretty standard, or the melodic structure he welds it to, which is serviceable but hardly innovative. Instead it’s the comfort level both Caesar and Martyn (at right) have with their roles.

For a novice singer, Little Caesar is remarkably in control at every turn here, never trying to out-perform the content so to speak. He knows that the song works best if he keeps his weary sadness at the forefront and so while it prevents him from drawing more attention to himself, he ensures the attention remains on the story and most importantly its accompanying mood.

That’s where the band’s classy low-key support comes in, bolstering that atmosphere rather than trying to compete with it. Any time you have such cohesiveness on a recording the end result is bound to be better and to do so the first time out while cutting for a company without much quality control in place it’s a good sign for future success. The professionalism here stands out even if the record and its content is no more than average for this day and age.

My Troubles Made Me Do It
Because making records was John Dolphin’s secondary line of work after selling other people’s records, Little Caesar would never get the full court press that another label would put into his career.

Dolphin would undoubtedly push his records heavily in his own store, the most popular of its kind in one of the country’s biggest cities, helping to get Caesar’s two subsequent singles into the regional Los Angeles charts and making him a local celebrity, the second of which – due in part to its controversial content – did get national attention.

But Dolphin was mostly concerned with the store and often viewed the label as merely a way to maximize his profits within that realm. Though he’d gladly take the bigger sales from around the country when a record seemed poised to hit big, the idea of trying to build a reputable national label required more diligence, marketing and patience (especially in collection past due accounts for recalcitrant distributors) than he might’ve been willing to do.

Because he had so few artists he released Little Caesar’s records in rapid succession, as Talkin’ To Myself was probably released in June with another to follow a few weeks later in July and then another a few weeks after that and so on, showing his callous disregard for nurturing a lasting career for his artist.

That Little Caesar managed to connect with audiences shows that he was an artist with some potential, and the fact that he parlayed his minor fame and connections made through his music into a viable acting career that saw him take roles in countless big name movies and TV shows later in life, gives some indication as to his determination to succeed.

But you also wonder how big of a rock star he might’ve become had he landed somewhere else in his early career.

What’s still to come however makes for a colorful enough story even without a roll call of hits to his credit.


(Visit the Artist page of Little Caesar for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)