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We know it wasn’t bound to last long, but the brief convergence of two up and coming songwriters and a stable of talented first generation rock artists on a record label that mostly seemed to know what it was doing was kind of like rock ‘n’ roll’s version of the Yalta Conference in World War Two.

Unlike the Allied powers in that war however, there were few hits to emerge from this meeting of past, present and future superpowers.

But don’t let that fool you, some of the records they launched were pretty potent weapons and might’ve caused a lot of destruction had their navigational systems just been a little more accurate.


Comes My Way Someday
They always say hindsight is 20/20 because when looking back at events already recorded in the history books you obviously can pinpoint the mistakes you or somebody else made along the way and by eliminating them you theoretically would’ve succeeded in grand fashion.

But I’m not sure that’s true… at least in the case of Little Esther’s dwindling commercial prospects anyway.

Sure, we can say with some assurance that leaving Savoy Records at the end of 1950 hurt her short term popularity, if only because audiences might not have been aware of what label she was on since Federal Records was brand new. But that excuse has a relatively short shelf life, as it isn’t exactly hard to find her new home, and other artists switch labels all the time without necessarily experiencing a sustained drop off in interest.

We can also definitively state that a few of her early sides once she landed on Federal were not the ideal material for her, taking her too far away stylistically from what she’d made her name on the year before.

But that too was remedied as of late and in the past year she’s released a bunch of top shelf songs spanning a wide cross-section of rock styles, including Flesh, Blood And Bones, which gives her an all-too rare chance to cut something was faster paced and full of swagger.

Yet this too sank without a trace, leaving Ralph Bass at Federal bewildered as to why the hottest star in all of rock two years ago now seemed washed up at fifteen years old even with the same band backing her and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller supplying a song that had all the components of a hit.

All components that is except the requisite number of listeners to vault it onto the charts.


When I Feel This Way I Know Just What I Need
Pick an area of this song – theme and lyrics, arrangement and musicianship, vocal delivery and attitude – and there’s hardly a weakness to be found.

Not that it means all of those things are operating at absolute peak efficiency throughout the record, but most records that fall short of perfection – which means most records, full stop – have one clear aspect that is lagging behind the others, forcing the other areas to compensate for it.

But here everything is on even ground starting with an arrangement that jumps off the starting line with Devonia Williams’ pounding piano racing ahead of the pack and forcing the drums and guitar to catch up. When the horns join the party, responding to Esther’s vocals, they too hit the ground running, giving the musical backdrop the kind of vibrant energy it needs to help put across the story.

That in turn leads us to Jerry Leiber’s department, as he shows off his linguistic dexterity with lines that on paper may seem too long or too convoluted to fit in a typical structure, but there’s no chance for that to happen with Mike Stoller’s musical framework fitting it like a glove and in the process making Esther’s declarations sound both witty and perfectly natural.

Though the theme of Flesh, Blood And Bones – an eager girl seeking a man – is hardly new, the wording to get across this message is a bit more complex than you’ll usually find in the type of “Want-Ads put to music” approach that make up the majority of songs on this subject. Esther’s specificity here is the musical equivalent of swipe left, swipe right in today’s parlance wherein she’s able to make her choices known in an instant without any time spent mulling over the decision.

If there’s one complaint to be made lyrically it’s when she declares “I don’t know how to write, I don’t know how to read” as a prelude to the heading of this section of the review. Chances are not much thought went into it beyond the rhyme scheme, but on a more famous record around the corner Johnny Otis – who is audible yelling encouragement during the instrumental break – will claim that Leiber & Stoller had a tendency to include some unflattering racial stereotypes that he had to excise.

I don’t THINK that’s the case here, but it could’ve easily been rephrased to avoid any unintended implications as they do cause a moment of unease listening to them knowing that if taken literally they feed into what was, certainly at the time, a sinister yet widespread cultural assumption that should be eradicated.

Even if we dock it for that however, the record is still good enough to make up for the demerit, as James Von Streeter is smoldering during his first sax solo, giving this the sonic punch it needs to overwhelm any lingering doubt or misgivings.

As for Esther herself… we can’t forget about her!… she lays into this with a blistering confidence, sassy and determined with an intuitive sense of what it takes to get what she wants. We never do find out if she succeeds in that quest, but hearing how focused she is throughout this we wouldn’t bet against her.

Then again, we wouldn’t have bet against the record scoring big either and look where that got us!


To Call My Own
Sometimes great records don’t get widely heard for a variety of reasons and there’s no big conspiracy against them to lay blame.

That would seem to be the case when looking for explanations as to why Flesh, Blood And Bones failed to make its mark commercially… unless you want to say it was because Federal Records inexplicably used the plural tense for the title’s last word on the label and rock fans wanted to prove the educational slur the record may have contained was patently false and rejected it for purely grammatical reasons!

Maybe the best guess however – beyond the fact they’d now released two great singles on Esther within the span of a month which may have canceled each other out – was that after struggling to keep up her popularity upon landing at Federal following her breakout year on Savoy, too much time has now passed for audiences to instinctively seek Little Esther’s records out anymore.

With just twenty spots on a jukebox remaining the market’s most effective promotional tool, it’s possible that juke ops were passing over her releases for artists with more recent success and thus without that exposure this record didn’t have much chance to be widely played to start making enough noise to start a snowball effect commercially.

Suffice it to say if it had been heard it’s tough to imagine that people wouldn’t have responded to it, for even if the only name involved they would’ve recognized is Esther’s, the rest of those on the session have no shortage of success, both now and in the future. That should be all the evidence you need to see that rock fans were receptive to what they were all capable of doing at their best… and hit or not, this one can hold its own with most of ‘em.


(Visit the Artist page of Little Esther for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)