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MERCURY 8180; MAY 1950



Combining humor and music in a singularly coherent fashion is arguably the trickiest of all things to balance because of how their individual effectiveness differs. Simple jokes grow less funny with each subsequent telling, whereas music demands frequent airings in order to become widely popular.

In more traditional approaches a lot of otherwise really good songs can have a bum line or two and are still able to overcome it with some rollicking musicianship and a great chorus. But if you’re expected to laugh at what’s being sung and it’s just not funny enough to do more than just crack a smile, it almost doesn’t matter what the band is doing behind them, the song is going to fail.

Joe Gaines reportedly wasn’t casting about for a funny topic in a calculated pursuit of a hit of this kind, but rather he based this song on his own experiences with a Creole beauty whose unfortunate predilection for smokeless tobacco made for a rather disappointing physical relationship in the smooching department.

But in order to put this idea to music there was no chance that his romantic malady wasn’t going to be turned into comedy in the hope that those listening could somehow find the humor in something as repulsive as the topic at hand.


Stay Out Nights
I guess the most pertinent thing to say is that this really isn’t funny. Receding gum-lines, brown drool on your blouse and an early death from oral cancer usually aren’t. Even making fun of such things are not going to be humorous enough to get you to laugh out loud and probably won’t even draw so much as a mild smirk out of most people listening. It’s amusing at best and even that is a stretch.

Yet when casting about for a song that might be unique enough to draw notice this had some possibilities I suppose, but the fact is there’s not many avenues in a song to explore this. Music isn’t a visual medium and so the sight of a girl using something so unladylike is lost on a record and though there are ways to describe that in a way that might get a laugh Gaines doesn’t even try, possibly because it also might draw censure for being so revolting and off-putting that nobody would want to hear it.

So lacking those options Gaines just voices his displeasure about the nasty habit in general terms and spends his time contrasting it to other unappealing – but presumably slightly more tolerable – weaknesses such as smoking (both cigarettes and even cigars), drinking to excess and spending his money recklessly. Though the individual gripes are somewhat lacking, largely because he doesn’t seem to grasp the need for outrageous exaggeration to make his points, let it at least be said that Gaines sells his exasperation with this girl perfectly.

He’s using a semi-spoken delivery for much of Snuff Dipper and aside from just the naturally expressive Louisiana accent he’s got a genuine sense of theatrics. He employs good pacing, leading you into the punchlines with the proper build-up while doing all he can to sell the jokes with how he uses his voice. But when all of the so-called humor is consistently weaker than his performance you’re left feeling awkwardly unfulfilled.

Give credit though to Mercury Records for at least seeing to it that they gave Gaines the best chance for this crop to come in, fertilizing it if you will by having a female chorus handle a lot of the singing, answering Gaines at times, harmonizing with him at other junctures, all sounding pretty good – certainly not pop-sounding in any way – but ultimately they’re saddled with the same problems as he is, which is that the song as written just isn’t good enough to make something worthwhile out of.


Fine And Mighty Sweet
Arguably there was one good thing about Mercury Records diving into rock ‘n’ roll with absolutely no concept of how it was made and that was their decision to absolve themselves of overseeing the entire production, resulting in the one redeeming feature of these marathon sessions which left all musical decisions in the hands of those on the studio floor.

They didn’t disappoint either, using this opportunity to make even a subpar composition like Snuff Dipper appealing thanks to a pretty remarkable musical backing that was untainted by the usual meddling oversight of professional A&R men.

Now the structure of the song with its measured vocal recitation by Gaines means there’s not much opportunity for instrumental embellishment during the meat of the song outside of Duke Burrell’s piano, but once they get their chance to cut loose during the break that’s when their inventiveness and skill starts to display itself and makes this record, even with its primary flaws staring you in face, still worth checking out thanks to some truly great guitar work that stands out in an era of saxophone dominance in rock.

Surprisingly – if the session info is to believed – it’s not Jack Scott playing guitar, as he’d done behind the other artists recorded during this run of sides, but rather Joe Gaines himself who contributes a scintillating guitar break, one which starts off buzzing with some downright primal distortion before easing back and cutting off cleaner but no less invigorating lines.

It’s not quite long enough for our needs and when Burrell’s piano takes over there’s a palpable drop-off in intensity, but for a brief moment as Gaines’s guitar seemed ready to explode and send musical shrapnel flying around the room, it was almost enough to actually recommend what in most other respects is a pretty insignificant record.

You Don’t Have To Be Nice
When a song fails at what it sets out to do there’s not much chance for it to stand out in any way other than as an embarrassment. For something trying to be funny this is especially true.

But not so with Snuff Dipper, a record that would be far better received had it been about another topic altogether, say cholera or typhoid… ya know, one that didn’t try and find any room for laughs.

Because they’re hemmed in by the limitations of the topic it’s inevitable that the pitfalls of that approach will be what you focus on the most and as a result it’s a little hard to get so worked up over smaller details even though they’re uniformly commendable. As such Joe Gaines is going to have to be content with getting a few compliments amidst some broader conditional criticism.

But that’s always the Achilles Heel when it comes to music – the weakest attribute will almost always drag the rest down with it. That its obvious shortcoming doesn’t wind up completely defining this record is a testament to the men who made it and shows why for those who took their music seriously as these guys did, it might’ve been best to take the subject matter seriously too and just sing about more typical points of contention that guys always seem to have with girls rather than try and get a few cheap laughs at her expense.

Besides, if you do that she’s also not as likely to spit in your eye when you’re done singing about her.