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CHESS 1465; MAY 1951



A tight versatile band who were known for their instrumental prowess across stylistic lines cutting a vocal record featuring the contracted artist’s own brother as the singer?…

That sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen.

Of course it’s not, but that isn’t to say there’s not anything here to criticize, it just so happens that criticism isn’t directed at the band but rather those trying to take advantage of them for their own nefarious reasons.


Mean And Evil, Baby
Let’s start this review by cataloging all of the misdeeds being committed here by the both label owner and the producer, two revered figures in rock history who show from the very start they were no different than all of the con-men, scoundrels and thieves the music industry was renown for.

First off there’s the matter of the writing credits – Phillips and Chess – that would be Sam Phillips, who cut this at his studio in Memphis, and Leonard Chess, the former owner of the Macomba Lounge in Chicago before buying out Evelyn Aron of Aristocrat Records and changing the label’s name to his own.

Neither one could find an F Sharp on the piano if you gave them a map and compass. In case you think either one may have written the lyrics (though it couldn’t have been Leonard because there are no profanities in them which made up at least half his vocabulary) let it be said that they also received credit for the instrumental – Ridin’ The Boogie – found on the flip side, although they cleverly disguised their theft by having those credits read Sam and Leonard.

Gee, a detective could go crazy trying to figure out their dastardly schemes!

Keep in mind these two figures have had more praise heaped upon them by naïve, starry-eyed writers for a half century than virtually any mere musician who actually played on the records they put out. Maybe the writers were impressed because they were such quick learners, for in less than a year in the business they’re already up to speed on how to blatantly rip-off their artists.

Then of course there’s the fact – as we detailed yesterday – of how Chess changed the name of Luther Steinberg, the trumpet playing leader of the band, to Lou Sargent… without even telling him!

Not satisfied with that underhanded and disrespectful hocus pocus act, he then credits Steinberg’s brother Wilbur, the band’s bassist who sings a very credible lead on She Really Treats Me Wrong, to “Les Mitchell”.

Was “Bing Crosby” taken?!?!

If you can get past the deceit and crass behavior shown by the far-too celebrated talentless hacks behind the scenes, you actually have a better than expected record waiting for you as a reward for your tolerance.

Everything Is Really Alright
Because the band’s primary background was in club work around Memphis where their professionalism, versatility and technical skill made them consistently popular for years – whether when most of these guys were in Tuff Green’s Rocketeers, or when Luther Steinberg left after 1949 to start his own band with pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. and others in tow – those attributes were not always beneficial for cutting rock records.

Rock excelled on being loose, club work required a more formal tightness in their playing. On the bandstand in many of those clubs you wouldn’t do anything to draw undue attention to yourself, yet in a rock environment each band member sought to draw as much attention as possible by any means necessary short of kicking a fellow horn player in the balls to steal his solo. Steinberg’s outfit presumably never resorted to such cheap tactics to gain notice.

Surely having this kind of band back a singer drawn from their ranks rather than a featured vocalist was a recipe for disaster on paper. If Wilbur wasn’t used to this role it’d only be natural to be a little nervous and if the band was trying hard to be precise in their playing it’d only make it all sound forced and artificial.

Yet She Really Treats Me Wrong is anything but forced or artificial… in fact at times it’s actually pretty casual and carefree.


The initial circular horn riff gets this off to a nice start and while the song’s structure is rather limited it’s got some good lyrics even if the story is taken from a thousand and one common-usage tunes over the years regarding marital discord.

The first banked horn parts struggle to find their footing, trying to be a little too classy perhaps, but Wilbur is so relaxed and natural singing that he sounds as if he were just making this up as he goes along, throwing out lines off the top of his head which gives the record a very laid back vibe which contrasts nicely with the more mannered backing.

Luther puts his trumpet to good use behind his brother, delivering an aching response after the line “All you wanna do is fight” leading into Tot Randolph’s sax solo which is suitably rough-textured and gives She Really Treats Me Wrong some genuine rock credentials.

Coming out of that instrumental break we get a stop time section that really stretches the definition of “stop time” as it literally STOPS…. silence, silence, silence… before suddenly kicking back in.

It’s possible Wilbur missed his entrance and the band held back for him as long as they could before drummer Jeff Greyer took matters into his own hands and used his kit as a defibrillator for his vocalist, but the result is really a high point, adding unexpected drama to a standard device, helped all the more because it leads directly into the song’s best lines about his girl’s follicly deprived cranium.

It can’t help but settle back down to a more predictable conclusion musically after that, but lyrically the story does a surprising about face as he decides he wants her back despite her faults, but then again who can blame him when he’s been corrupted by this low-brow music?

Ramble All Night
Though it’s hardly very innovative and probably didn’t have much preparation before they entered the studio, it’s still an enjoyable performance that succeeds on a limited basis in spite of its flaws. Because it would be the only release for Luther Steinberg on Chess however… err, for Lou Sargent that is… we don’t know how they would’ve acclimated themselves over time to the far different domain of the studio and rock ‘n’ roll in general had they been given more opportunity.

But Sam Phillips wasn’t trying to build artist’s careers when he had his own livelihood to think about and he began concentrating on getting more cuts by his lone hitmaker to date, Jackie Brenston – as well as a different singer who he and Leonard Chess passed off as Brenston to the public (again, as if you need yet another example, these people are NOT heroes).

He also brought in local icon Rufus Thomas to lay down some sides for Chess before landing the biggest find of his career when Howlin’ Wolf walked through his doors and in the process Chess got one of the greatest blues artists ever.

As for Steinberg and company, after She Really Treats Me Wrong they went back to doing what they did so well and what record companies could never accurately capture when it came to the various combinations of musicians from this era of the black Memphis club scene.

This almost certainly isn’t indicative of the band at their best, nor is it likely what the members would want as their musical epitaph, but the title of this cut, though it was surely coincidental, does serve as a belated warning to those prone to being hoodwinked by the white men behind the desks tasked with recording and releasing all this music we’re covering.

They were the ones doing wrong and yet somehow, in spite of that (or maybe because of it and the power and prestige it brought them), they got away with it and today are the ones celebrated for their sleazy practices while musicians like the Steinberg brothers are not only largely forgotten but also don’t even make it to the small print in the history books under their own given names.


(Visit the Artist page of Luther Steinberg for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)