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MERCURY 8180; MAY 1950



When rock ‘n’ roll began in the late 1940’s the major record companies largely dismissed it, unaware of it at first, or thinking it was little more than a meaningless trend unrelated to their more serious artistic pursuits.

But when the independent labels embraced it and quickly saw their companies grow exponentially as a result, suddenly became harder to ignore and consequently a few of the majors tried to latch on to the music in an insincere manner, watering it down and attempting to subvert the true intentions of the music to capitalize on it while at the same time undercutting its effectiveness.

It didn’t work of course and so for the most part they’d spend the next decade doing their best to avoid it, belittle it or legally trying to stop it from being played on radio.

But very briefly in August 1949 one such major label, Mercury, appeared ready to jump in with both feet as acting on a tip from a local distributor of theirs who recommended the company take advantage of the deep black talent pool in the city, they made a pilgrimage to New Orleans, the birthplace of rock, and signed up a bushel of local artists and cut a week’s worth of sessions that got released steadily over the next year. But when just one of those singles became a hit Mercury did an about face and abandoned rock ‘n’ roll altogether like all of the rest of the major labels who would never fully recover from their wholesale dismissal of the sounds of the tomorrow.


I’ve Got Some News I’m Sure You’d Like To Know
Though the name Joe Gaines, or Little Joe Gaines as he was apparently called here – I can’t find a copy of the label for either side unfortunately – might not be widely known to even more studious fans of 1950’s rock, he actually left a slightly bigger imprint on the genre than just this one quickly discarded single.

In 1952 Gaines would become a member – and frequent lead singer – of The Hawks, one of the surprisingly few New Orleans rock vocal groups of the 1950’s. In truth the group was an amalgamation of The Humming Four gospel group (of which Gaines was a member) and a much younger lead singer Allan “Fat Man” Matthews who Dave Bartholomew brought to them when he decided to record the group doing rock ‘n’ roll.

These gospel to rock conversions weren’t as radical as they might seem, as plenty of singers started in church and found the devilment of Saturday nights to be much more rewarding than the piousness of Sunday mornings.

Like the others in the gospel group – which got together way back in 1932 (!), though with slightly different membership – Gaines was now somewhere in his thirties, which made them a little long in the tooth for a new group, even with the barely in his teens Matthews joining them for their descent into the sin and depravity of rock ‘n’ roll.

But that’s for a later date and is just brought up here to tell you that Joe Gaines had a fairly broad musical background – and clearly no devout uneasiness over the improprieties of rock – when Mercury Records came calling in the summer of 1949 looking for singers who’d be amenable to cutting records like She Won’t Leave No More, a rather generic rocker featuring fairly trite lyrics but a solid musical backing and a good display of Gaines’s robust vocals.

How To Treat Your Baby
Knowing of his gospel background you can’t help but look for some sign that he was at least on a first name basis with sin but considering the story presents him as married we can’t quite take any pleasure in the song’s brief flirtation with carnal fulfillment.

The overall plot here is actually one that probably would pass muster among the congregation as it details the key to a successful relationship which includes such doting acts as breakfast in bed, total financial support along with frequent praise, love and affection and – when the lights go out – some special cuddling, a topic that only gets hinted at without much salaciousness.

Gaines’s low tenor has some genuine fire to it throughout the song, a chesty, albeit melodic, shout which comes up just short of being classified as a bellow or a roar. It’s a good voice though with just enough grit in it to seem more than comfortable slumming on our side of town. He’s got great projection without resorting to overdoing the volume, he has a firm grip of the melody and rides the rhythm with apparent ease and genuine enthusiasm. In other words, he’s not at all out of place singing rock ‘n’ roll.

Unfortunately She Won’t Leave No More is not exactly the best vehicle to launch Gaines as a really promising rocker for the subject is little tepid for the more youthful and unmarried audience who’d probably have preferred some more humorously suggestive examples of how to satisfy your woman than what he gives us… or should I say, more than he may have given her as much as she would’ve liked, perhaps forcing her to look elsewhere for satisfaction.

That’s the real shortcoming of all this… his refusal to expound upon the one item staring you right in the face throughout the record, right down to the it taking up the entire title… namely, what was it exactly that cause his wife to leave him in the PAST?!?!?

I mean, if he’s telling us she won’t leave any more that means not only did she run out on him once, but seems to have done so a number of times. Regardless of whether or not she came back, or that he took her back, what exactly were the events led to her initial departure?

His infidelity or hers? His bad treatment of her or her unrealistic expectations of him? Her dissatisfaction with his no good friends or was it his mother-in-law who got in her daughter’s ear and told her she could do better than this guy?

Obviously Gaines himself wouldn’t be in such a rush to divulge any of this gossip and innuendo and if he truly wants her to stay this time he’s probably correct in being so discreet about it, but if he wants to have a hit record he’d be better off risking the marriage by not leaving out a single juicy detail.

Without giving us what we crave in that manner however, this will have to rely on everything else to finish up to par.


Can’t Do Without ‘Em
As with all of Mercury’s sessions that week in New Orleans the same group of the city’s top musicians were thrown together under the aegis of bassist George Miller, to back a wide array of singers.

The saxophones of Leroy “Batman” Rankins, formerly of Roy Brown’s Mighty Mighty Men, and rising studio ace Lee Allen anchor the horns, while Gaines himself takes over for Jack Scott on guitar for his sides. The sessions were rounded out by lesser known, but still first rate, musicians like Duke Burrell on piano and Duke Alexis on the drums.

They’re all in great form on She Won’t Leave No More which features a really tight arrangement, yet one that still allows for plenty of individual moments where all of them can have a chance to shine.

The horns start off playing a succinct riff that sounds almost like an engine starting up for the first time in awhile, taking a moment to catch and then once it does it gets sufficiently revved up to get it warm. In the brief pauses in between their lines we get to hear Miller’s acoustic bass playing a nifty little lick – hey, he’s getting his name on the label, he might as well do something to stand out!

That gimmick also keeps the engine running at a controlled pace, something that might be a little more necessary with a studio novice behind the microphone who otherwise could be prone to racing ahead of the band if given half a chance. This ensures that everything is locked in and kept on track.

Burrell’s piano provides the most support for Gaines during the vocal sections, keeping things interesting by playing various runs that wander up and down an entire octave rather than merely sticking with something simplistic and repetitive.

When it’s time for the instrumental break we don’t get shortchanged in the least as Gaines launches a slicing solo whose tone is thin, taut and wiry and manages to convey some of the dirty secrets his vocals are trying to keep hidden.

As Rankins and Allen take their turn in the spotlight with Rankins embellishing Gaines’s parts before Allen takes the solo, the mood shifts again to something a little more boisterous but also more cryptic. His lines are engagingly melodic but a little mysterious, hinting at something happening just out of view before Gaines’ vocals come back in to try and convince us all is well in his household.

It may not reveal the potential scandal laying under the surface, but it does a good enough job implying it to keep our interest.


Don’t Throw It All Away
Considering that Mercury Records went into New Orleans without much forethought, and aside from Professor Longhair signing mostly nondescript second rate local talent, they actually came away with some very serviceable records which makes you wonder why they didn’t try and strengthen their connections there rather than abandon rock ‘n’ roll altogether once they left the city limits.

Of course songs like She Won’t Leave No More weren’t quite good enough to become hits either and so cutting ties with Little Joe Gaines and company was probably all too easy to do for a company with loftier goals than this to begin with.

Considering Gaines seemed to have no trouble convincing his gospel group to make a similar jump two years later when Dave Bartholomew came calling, you have to assume he found something in rock ‘n’ roll to recommend and so by that measure this was a record that had some long term value not apparent to those who passed it over when it came out.