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SAVOY 849; MAY 1952



Maybe it’s only fitting that the final record by Mel Walker to be released on Savoy Records – where he’d notched ten national hits in two years, plus other regional entries in that time – sounds as if it’s in mourning.

When Walker joined the label in the winter of 1950 Savoy was on the rise and would finish that year as the most successful independent label in the country thanks to Walker, Little Esther and Johnny Otis, the bandleader who brought them all together.

Now, a year and a half later, the latter two are gone and Walker is breaking his contract to get out the door and join them.

The heartache in this case belonged to Herman Lubinsky whose dreams of a musical empire was now all but over.


Back Where I Started From
I suppose there’s one consolation to this farewell record on the label… like the flip side it was a minor regional hit, this one cracking the local Los Angeles charts for a week.

Of course that and 39 cents will buy you tissues to blow your nose and wipe your eyes with when you realize that the gravy train that had once included a half dozen or more potential featured artists from Johnny Otis’s congregation of singers and musicians now has derailed completely as Otis and the band are gone to Mercury, where Walker will soon join them.

Obviously around here we take a dim view of record label owners… calling them idiots, morons, liars, cheaters and scum (among other colorful epithets). We don’t like or respect many of them, including some of those who – through a concerted public relations campaign lasting decades – have somehow managed to twist the truth so that a handful of them became genuinely admired figures, sometimes even the equal of the artists they robbed blind all those years.

So considering our withering contempt for the morality and ethics of such revered names as Ahmet Ertegun, Leonard Chess and Sam Phillips – people who at least had some musical taste and, at times, a mild interest in their artists well-being – what do you think our view on Herman Lubinsky is going to be?

The same man who tried collecting damning personal information on his employees to blackmail them into remaining with the company… the same owner who insisted his employees write letters rather than make phone calls to conduct their business (stamps were cheaper)… the same guy who never paid royalties and went back on deals…

Yeah, THAT guy, the epitome of record label chicanery and the industry’s most notorious cheapskate… was actually kinda wronged here and it was he who had grounds to claim Heartache Here I Come.

Mel Walker had signed a two year contract in 1951, then tried to void it a year later – just this past April – by declaring bankruptcy to get out of it (had he tried voiding it because he never got paid he might’ve won in court, or at least got paid back royalties), all so he could go elsewhere.

In the end – though Walker would lose the case – he was still able to do so more or less, but while Lubinsky might’ve gotten some restitution out of it, he lost something far greater in the process – a hit making artist.


Just Seems To Want Poor Me
The ironic aspect of this final side of Mel Walker for the company is that musically speaking it had no future.

The fact it connected briefly in L.A., the hometown of Walker and home base of Johnny Otis who wrote and arranged it, leading the band and playing vibes, has more to do with their popularity and name recognition in the City Of Angels than the stylistic direction of the song itself.

Now that being said Walker is still readily identifiable on Heartache Here I Come. His voice sounds great – his delivery on the simple words “other girls” is dripping with soul – and overall his manner here is actually right in line with the rock ballad approach that will remain fairly reliable for the next year or two. When he holds his notes and draws out a word or a line in the process he even manages to give some life to the rather dreary stately melody the song has.

All of this is fairly necessary because while the story itself isn’t terrible, it’s also not very deep or inventive. Walker is besotted with a girl who apparently doesn’t want him and rather than use the interest of other girls who are making eyes at him to spur her on into wanting him too, he’s giving up his ace in the hole and acting like a sad sack to this one hoping that she likes his puppy dog loyalty.

Oh well, at least he’ll be saving money on dates this year since he’ll be pining away alone in his room every night.

The music that goes along with this lovestruck misery is appropriate enough once it gets going, but hardly very interesting or memorable. But it’s that old school opening which turns you off because it’s so painfully out of date, not to mention and completely inappropriate for the style at which Walker was recording, even for January 1951 when this was laid down.

But no rock fan wants to take a trip back in time to 1942, which not surprisingly is when Johnny Otis came of age musically and as we know old tastes have a way of infiltrating records by stubborn people who think that their bygone tastes are applicable in modern times.

It gets better once they leave that behind, but there’s no reason to be looking far back over your shoulder to begin with


You’re The Reason Why
Ironically 1942 is also when Savoy Records was launched – and did so as a jazz based label by in large – and while they managed to adapt to rock ‘n’ roll initially in 1947 and hold their own for five or six years now, the beginning of the end was near and Mel Walker’s defection was the moment it became obvious they wouldn’t maintain their position.

It wasn’t ALL because of losing Walker, who frankly would’ve been hard-pressed to continue his success without Johnny Otis behind him – and Otis was NOT coming back to cut anything, even under another name, for Savoy under any circumstances – and so Lubinsky was forced to pull Heartache Here I Come from the vaults to issue.

The thing is, he DID have a stockpile of likeminded sides still available had he wanted to keep pushing them and hope to get some sales in the bargain, but once Walker notched his first hit for Mercury Records in a few weeks time the remaining efforts still in Savoy’s possession stayed on the shelves collecting dust.

Of course before anyone thinks we feel sorry for Herman Lubinsky of all people, let’s remind everybody once again that had he merely lived up the terms of the contracts himself, paid his employees fairly, doled out the required royalties and treated everybody with respect, maybe they all wouldn’t be in such a rush to leave, doing everything short of diving out open windows or changing their name and moving to Beijing, China to get as far away from him as possible.

Who knows, if he’d successfully overhauled his personality it’s even possible Savoy Records – the first chronologically of the classic era of independent labels – wouldn’t be facing irrelevancy just as rock ‘n’ roll was ready to break through to an even wider audience.

But when you have your sights set on stealing all of the nickels and dimes right in front of you, it’s inevitable you won’t look up to see the riches on the horizon.


(Visit the Artist page of Mel Walker for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)