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MODERN 855; FEBRUARY 1952

 
 

 

“LIVE”.

A word that denotes all sorts of things to a music fan… excitement, action, spontaneity, atmosphere and the possibility of something magical occuring that was completely unplanned and unexpected.

Yet live recordings in rock ‘n’ roll typically are confined to albums and we’re a ways off from any album, live or otherwise, being issued in rock, and so up until now the only way to experience the thrill of a rock act on stage in front of an adoring crowd was to be there in person and hope the memory of that event lasted well after the cheers died down.

Not anymore. Now you had documented proof of the event whether you were there or not.
 

 

They May Be Different
You’d think that when it came to issuing live recordings in this field you’d start with somebody with a bit more name recognition… somebody who was known for their explosive stage show… somebody who’d pull in sales based on their reputation which would overcome the potentially shoddy recording or the sloppier musicianship captured on record.

Instead we get Mickey Champion, a female vocalist who is all but unknown to the general public – at least under her own stage name, for she DID substitute for an underaged Little Esther in clubs for awhile in Johnny Otis’s revue – and so there’s not going to be any novelty aspect to sell a release like this.

In fact, the label itself doesn’t even tell you that both sides were cut at a live gig, though one listen to it and you’d know full well that either the studio was overflowing with members of her fledging fan club or that it was indeed taken from a concert.

In this case the concert was Gene Norman’s Blues & Rhythm Show at the famed Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles where for years Norman, a popular local disc jockey and concert promoter, would stage huge shows featuring the best that Black music of all-kinds, from jazz to blues to rock ‘n’ roll, had to offer.

As for the song itself, it had marked the first release of Mickey Champion back in the fall of 1950 as He’s A Mean, Mean Man on 4 Star Records where she was billed as Little Mickey with Happy Joe Lewis Band. That was a much more timid approach to the rather ribald subject matter which was exacerbated by Lewis’s rather outdated musical accompaniment, though Champion herself sounds fine throughout the performance.

But what this release shows was something we’ve been insisting was the case all along, namely that early rock ‘n’ roll in the studio was probably just a watered down version of what you’d hear on stage and though it took awhile, now thankfully we have some proof.
 


 
 

No One Else Will Do
Anyone who considers themselves a music fan, not just rock, though that style does tend to exacerbate the differences more than most genres, is how much artists use live performances to stretch out and add to songs that in their studio versions were somewhat restrained and buttoned-down.

Part of this is the context of course, as you have a living, breathing organism of humanity in front of you riding the wave you create with your music and once that starts to flow it’s pretty hard to let the waters calm before the set ends.

But it also allows for artists to discover what it is about a song that works best over months – or years – of performing it on stage, where they learn to accentuate those things and, in the case of He’s A Mean Man, to make it sound much more vibrant as a result.

Yeah, the backing of her husband, Roy Milton’s top notch group The Solid Senders, definitely helps as they’re playing with a fury that their own records – not rock ‘n’ roll remember, but rather the pre-rock styles that led to it – rarely do. But it’s Champion herself who is fueling them from start to finish with her unbridled vocals.

The story she’s got here is a good one, if fairly typical, as she’s in love with a guy who isn’t any good for her, yet no matter how he treats her she can’t resist him. On the studio version she’s left to convince you more with the words themselves, as Happy Joe Lewis’s band didn’t give her the room to emote and add much more than vague subtext to the lines. But here the convincing argument isn’t made by what she’s saying, but rather HOW she’s saying it.

If you need any evidence that girls go crazy over guys who make them feel something… anything… emotional, this should be front and center in your education. She talks about other guys here having the qualifications that should make them more suitable partners – looks, class, money – yet the only one who makes her FEEL anything inside is this rogue who she loses her mind over whenever she thinks about him.
 


 

Find Myself A Real Good Man
While we go to great lengths to point out the differences between the pre-rock styles that somebody like Roy Milton embodied, and the rock ‘n’ roll that replaced him and his kind in the hearts of young Black America in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, we’re always careful to point out that it wasn’t talent that separated them, but merely intent.

Milton’s crew were more than capable of being rock stars had they put their mind to it, as some of their songs from this era like Junior Jives or T-Town Twist with their scintillating guitar work so ably prove. But to do that would mean turning their backs on their own hard-earned loyal constituents who still filled dance halls each night and allowed them to earn a consistent income by sticking to the music from a previous era.

On He’s A Mean Man however, their only duty is to provide Roy’s squeeze Mickey with the proper backing and as a result The Solid Senders are free to cut loose. Even if they’re not quite landing their punches with same accuracy as a more experienced rock act would, they’re certainly not holding back when swinging away with roundhouse rights and lefts at every turn.

The sax solo starts with ferocious energy before taming things down for more of a melodic interval before squawking away to try stirring the masses. Though it’s more manic than aggressive, it doesn’t allow the energy to drop and gives Champion enough of a boost to come out firing on all cylinders after that.

The following sax solo is more controlled in a way, but more consistent too, sticking to a weird gravelly tone as Mickey is screaming her lungs out behind it. Meanwhile Camille Howard on piano shows why she was such a great asset to any act even when she didn’t open her mouth to sing. Here even she’d have a tough time wresting this from Champion who when she returns and drops down for a saucy aside gets the crowd react in a way that shows why live performances were always the true test of an artist’s connection with their audience.

Together, this older group and younger singer, united through marriage, shows that mixed families do in fact work, both in life and in music.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Mickey Champion for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)
 
 
 

 
Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
 
Little Mickey Champion (September 1950)