No tags :(

Share it




It’s been more than two and a half years since Little Esther first wore the crown as the Queen Of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but since then that crown has been tarnished by diminishing commercial returns as well as repeated artistic misfires.

She no longer sits on the throne, her position long since usurped by Ruth Brown who will reign over this kingdom… queendom?… for years on end, but at this point Esther is not even a member of the Queen’s Court as it were. She’s got just one scant hit to her name during the last two calendar years and that came when she reunited with Mel Walker, showing that the only interest she’s attracted since coming to Federal Records was based more on past glories than new approaches.

So in that vein the company did what they could here to generate a similar response, bringing in Bobby Nunn whose bass vocals had contributed heavily to the success of her breakthrough #1 hit on Savoy as 1950 dawned.

Unfortunately, while that song had been a gem, this one – despite the future credentials of its writers – doesn’t capture much of the excitement of a Saturday night. In fact it sounds more like a rainy Wednesday afternoon.


Sitting By My Phone, Just Waiting For You To Call
You know the script by now… with expectations high, the top artist of 1950 Little Esther had signed with the new subsidiary of King Records run by the producer overseeing those hits, Ralph Bass, but their returns on that investment have not paid off. Not with hits and not even with a lot of great records that somehow missed the charts.

Though earlier this year the quality of her output improved, it was with songs that had more intrinsic appeal to older audiences than were going to connect with younger rock fans. Even that shift though hadn’t gotten her more than some regional notice on the charts.

It had to be hard for Bass to conceive of how she went from the top of the world to the bottom of the barrel in such a short time, especially since they were working with the same band and songwriters for the most part.

Without being able to pair up with Mel Walker again, since he was now at Mercury with Johnny Otis, somebody had the bright idea to track down Bobby Nunn and enlist two rising songwriters in Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller for Saturday Night Daddy, hoping that they can somehow recapture the magic… okay, hoping they can recapture the sales… of Double Crossing Blues.

Maybe it wasn’t a bad idea at that, at least on paper. Esther and Bobby didn’t need much time to get reacquainted as vocal partners, Johnny and the band are present and accounted for, Bass is in the control room and Leiber and Stoller had recently scored their own first chart entry with a song for cocktail blues king Charles Brown.

With all that accumulated star power they probably thought this couldn’t miss… but that’s what they get for thinkin’.


Tonight We’re Gonna Play
The transparent nature of this record is evident from the moment the needle drops and we hear the familiar vibes of Johnny Otis.

He’s not listed on the session sheets, but that’s because he was under contract to Mercury at the time, while the other musicians were contracted to him, not a record label so we know for certain it’s them.

But while that may be a comforting sound to those who don’t like change – which often includes producers, record companies and older listeners who can’t bring themselves to accept new musical ideas – the problem is it’s not 1950 anymore and this sound has played itself out as both Esther, and even Johnny Otis himself have found out over the past year or two.

It doesn’t help that Saturday Night Daddy is one of Leiber and Stoller’s weaker compositions. Musically it’s rather dreary, and that’s not just due to the outdated arrangement of Otis, but melodically it goes nowhere. It’s the definition of non-descript and that means it’s not going to stick in your head five minutes after the record ends unless the storyline and the singing used to convey are top of the line.

But here too it falls well short. It’s not terrible, the basic concept is fine (though again, is aiming at too old an audience), but there’s absolutely none of the trademark Lieber wit or inventive rhyme schemes to be found. The only line that brings so much as a smirk is Nunn’s complaint, “Well, pretty baby, this is a heck of a life, one night of pleasure and then six more with my wife”, which tells us two things… one is that Esther is his mistress not his partner, the other is that even Jerry Leiber is going to have off-days now and then because their illicit affair is the entire point of the song and doesn’t get expanded on in the least.

Their vocal disparity does make things a little more interesting… or should I say a little less monotonous, but there’s no spark between them, no joy in recounting their stolen hours together, no sense that they’re even having much fun on those Saturday nights. To me it sounds as if they’re two unhappy people who are just glad to have someone to bitch about their problems to and afterwards allow them both to hear slightly different moans of faked pleasure in bed than they’re used to the rest of the week.

Then again, life is filled with unhappy people, many of them married, so maybe this resonated with them. But since rock’s more youthful audience aren’t at that stage in life yet, it’s no wonder this failed to make an impression on them. Heck, half of them undoubtedly had no idea that nearly three years earlier these two singers were setting the rock world on its collective ear, and no indication that the guys who penned this melancholy tune would in three years time be poised to upend the rules on songwriting forever more.

Sadly, this caught them all smack dab between those points… just past the peak of the singer and band and just before the rise of the writers in question.


I Know Just What You Mean
Maybe this is why they say you can’t go home again. Nothing stays the same and when you try and recapture something from the past, it invariably means you’re ignoring the present and in rock ‘n’ roll that’s a death knell to its commercial potential.

But while the sound they came up with is past its prime musically, at least it’s competently played as always, the theme itself holds some promise, even if it’s just skimming the surface of its potential lyrically, and Esther and Nunn are both singing well enough to let it drift harmlessly in one ear and out the other without urging you to shut it off.

But considering the talent involved – once the greatest band in rock led by the greatest bandleader that’s being fronted by the former Queen of the genre and accompanied by another singer with credentials down the road that will certify his own star power, who are cutting a song written by arguably the best ever in that regard and produced by someone who has his own lengthy résumé of hits – Saturday Night Daddy is a crushing let-down, even if as a record it merely gets an inconsequential shrug rather than a one-way ticket to the trash heap.

Yet while it’s obvious why this didn’t work, you can certainly see their logic in trying to milk that formula one last time in an effort to turn things around for Esther. If this kind of thing connected before, not just once but repeatedly, it’s really hard for those who benefited from that to grasp the fact that it won’t work again… certainly not at this late date.

What you hope though is that those involved understand WHY it didn’t work and give up trying to return to a well that’s already run dry and instead look elsewhere to find a new more fertile oasis to draw from.


(Visit the Artist pages of Little Esther and Bobby Nunn for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)