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We’ve reached the end of the line with this pairing of artist and record label… one which has been fruitful in that the production values that Maxwell Davis brought to the table elevated Little Willie Littlefield’s material and helped to turn him into a hitmaker.

Yet any time you were dealing with the unscrupulous Bihari Brothers – Jules, Saul and Joe – you were bound to be left without two nickels to rub together as they routinely stole writing credits from their artists in the most brazen way possible.

Maybe in a last ditch attempt to prevent their star from leaving them, the Biharis let Willie actually keep the credit he earned for writing this song, but their “generosity” when it came to telling the truth didn’t pay off for them in this instance as Littlefield soon departed for Federal Records and so the Biharis went right back to cheating their artists left and right.

No wonder Littlefield’s last missive while on their label is about “trouble”.


A Heart Full Of Aches And Pains
Though we won’t let Modern Records off the hook for their rampantly dishonest business practices, we will add that they usually didn’t skimp on trying to score hits when it came to their artists.

Whether that meant ample promotion, reliable distribution or outright bribes to jukebox operators, the fact remains that Little Willie Littlefield scored three national hits in two years at the label and would never again notch another hit in his career despite some great records on some pretty notable labels.

Of course, it should also be said that his style had become a bit redundant by now, for as we mentioned with Wynonie Harris yesterday on Here Comes The Night, it’s hard keeping things fresh when you basically have just two primary deliveries, for when you hear enough records utilizing one or the other with little variation they do tend to lose their ability to pull you in.

In Littlefield’s case he had an additional problem in that regard as his natural feel for a song was so intrinsically tied to Amos Milburn – both Texas born piano players with similar vocal qualities and each having their records overseen by Maxwell Davis – maybe the combined exposure to them has worn down listeners patience.

But if that’s the case they were missing out on some well-crafted, sung and produced songs because while Life Of Trouble may offer little in the way of new sounds or approaches, the old habits still pack a wallop when you listen closely to what they were putting down.

It might not be a sound that was causing a lot of commercial waves anymore, but for those wanting something a little more downcast this was where you’d turn.


I Tried To Do My Best
With its creeping pace and multi-textured arrangement featuring a resonant crystal clear guitar tone, aching saxophones and Littlefield’s contemplative piano over a ticking drum pattern this was the sound of someone looking bleary eyed into a an empty whiskey tumbler at three in the morning while wondering where things went wrong.

As mood pieces go this is remarkably evocative even if the methods for delivering it haven’t changed much in rock’s four and half years on the scene. Considering Davis was the one who perfected such an approach you can hardly fault him for sticking with what works so well, especially with someone who sounds so naturally morose as Little Willie with his stuffed nasal passages adding to the ambiance.

There’s not much insight into his Life Of Trouble but details might only make it too specific and lose the connection with the audience in the process.

When it comes to bad luck, or no luck at all, it’s usually better to keep things rather vague simply because everybody, no matter their lot in life, feels wronged by fate at one time or another and the better able they are to transpose their own circumstances into a song the more likely they are to return to it so they can feel sorry for themselves.

By the sounds of it, whatever your problems are it’s safe to say that Willie’s got you beat as he’s wallowing in the stench of his many failures and hints at a most drastic outcome when he confesses that he’s contemplating suicide.

Now this being 1952 most songs tended to avoid such chilling thoughts and not surprisingly he merely hints at it here, yet you can read between the lines pretty clearly when he says how he “won’t be trouble no more”. But rather than consider his song an endorsement of that dire outcome, we’ll choose to view it for what it really is, which is a cry for help.

The reason he’s singing – or the reason anyone contemplating that drastic final act who speaks of it aloud – is to be talked out of it. When someone is in that much pain they want to have somebody reassure them that life is never as bad as it seems on your worst day and whatever help you need to get back on your feet someone will be there to give it to you.

What matters therefore isn’t trying to discern what events got him feeling so low that he sank to this point, but rather our willingness to listen and to understand that the feeling of worthlessness itself is what needs to be purged. To that end the understated arrangement of Davis, allowing each instrument to breathe without intruding on his sorrow, gives the impression that he’s not alone, even if they’re hanging back out of respect to let him get this off his chest.

Haunting though it may be the results are riveting and if you can take solace in one thing it’s how in the last line he seems to put off the decision until a later time, hopefully realizing that things may look different in the light of day.

Some Sunny Day
The good news is that Little Willie Littlefield laid this song down way back in November 1950 which means what sounded fairly imminent on record was no longer foremost on his mind when the single was finally released.

Furthermore Littlefield lived until the ripe old age of 81 and enjoyed a late career renaissance, particularly in Europe, and so we’ll hold off calling The Samaritans hotline for now.

But just the fact that we’d be moved to worry about such a thing shows how unsettling Life Of Trouble sounds and subsequently how good of a performer he really was in making it so convincing.

Unlike songs about falling in love or recounting the excitement of a wild party, the kind of thoughts expressed here are hopefully those which most listeners can’t relate to, making it sort of a voyeuristic look at despair that is as close as we want to get to such a point of view.

But maybe because of its effectiveness those who do hear it – really hear it, putting themselves in those shoes for a few minutes as he sings – will have a greater sympathy for those looking into the abyss and prompt you to be the one who reaches out when someone needs it most.

You might claim that’s a pretty tall order for a simple rock record, but then again things this deep are rarely as simple as they seem.


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