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RCA 20-5069; DECEMBER 1952



Here in the present looking back at records that came out seventy some-odd years ago, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the people making this music whose names we know so well and whose achievements are etched in stone, were often inexperienced kids for whom making an actual career in this field must’ve seemed at times to be a pipe dream.

Otis Blackwell was all of twenty-one years old and a professional singer for a grand total of a few weeks when he entered the studio at RCA, a company with office furniture older than him.

So while he may have shown promise on his first few sides, he was still far from a finished product which is something the label should’ve kept in mind before curtly dismissing him after that one session, and is something we need to remember too when it comes to critiquing his first few tentative steps as an artist.


I Was Young When I Left, Didn’t Realize What I Was Doing
Because he’ll be known primarily as a songwriter it’s natural for us to focus on that aspect of these records since he not only sang them, but wrote them as well.

But since he’s trying to make it as a singer we can’t downplay his performance when trying to figure out his chances to be more than a journeyman artist.

In truth two things are already evident based on just his first few sides which is he’s got talent in both areas, but that talent hasn’t been polished yet, which is about what you’d expect for someone at this stage of their career.

In his favor as a singer is the fact he’s not holding back. Please Help Me Find My Way Home is an emotional song and for a kid just starting out – especially working for RCA who doesn’t respect rock ‘n’ roll outside of its commercial potential – he’s admirably cutting loose with his vocals, regardless of what the stuffed shirts might think.

As to his songwriting, it’s clear he’s still unsure of his footing, trying to tighten up some good ideas without really knowing how to do so yet.

This side shows some potential but also reveals the struggles in honing his talent, which makes him not unlike most kids that age in life… the difference being that most kids aren’t going through those growing pains in front of the entire nation.


Pains And Trouble
Say this much for him, Otis Blackwell is committed to his vision in presenting this his way, wailing away in anguish from the very first note in a way that must’ve turned the hair on RCA’s executives even whiter than it already was.

You can imagine them staring at one another in the board room if they were tasked with listening to the upcoming week’s releases and having a look of shock and horror etched on their faces as the room falls silent. When one of them dares speak the words coming out of their mouth were probably something like… “It sure doesn’t sound like Perry Como to me!”.

Therein lies the problem for Blackwell at this company. They were used to Como and his ilk, restrained adult music for adult listeners whose biggest visceral thrill in life was getting the barbecue to light on the first try. Como was twice as old as Blackwell and the executives in that room were twenty years older than that most likely and so when Otis is singing about going out on his own for the first time in life, it’s a perspective that none of them can even remember.

Probably the only line that registered with them was when Blackwell admits, “I should’ve listened to mother and father cause they knew what was best”.

Unfortunately mothers and fathers weren’t buying rock n’ roll and so Otis is going to have to connect with their kids and here’s where he runs into his own problems, as the defeatist attitude of Please Help Me Find My Way Home is not one that kids are going to want to hear when they too are on the verge of asserting their newfound independence.

The emotions he’s recounting as he goes over his own missteps may be accurate enough in a rather broad way, but they aren’t painting a very compelling story in the process, something exacerbated by that high strung vocal style which sounds on the verge of tears.

It’s one thing to be cursing your misfortune with a girl, or bitterly describing someone doing you dirty… then you can be on the verge of a breakdown and rock fans will have your back. But to essentially confess in not so many words that you’d be better off moving back in with your folks, maybe subjecting yourself to a curfew and probably being forced to do household chores like taking out the trash until you’re mature enough to try and make it on your own again in a few years time sure isn’t going to sit well with most kids who still have no choice in the matter and are looking to get OUT from under their parents thumb.

Those listeners are going to look at the record label and not knowing Blackwell’s biographical portfolio are going to naturally assume this was a concerted effort by RCA to keep their generation in line in order to soften them up for going right from sitting in high school chemistry class to getting a 9-5 job and settling down with a wife and kids two months after graduating so they can start buying Perry Como records!

So while Blackwell’s artistic intentions here may be honorable in trying to show a realistic story, he’s misreading the audience by showing somebody falling on his face and immediately running back home. Although it may be true to life, it’d be more rock ‘n’ roll of him if he robbed a liquor store, got a girl pregnant and faced the next 2-4 years doing hard time on a chain gang.

At least that’s what RCA would’ve probably preferred to happen to all of these rockers, even ones they had signed themselves.


The Biggest Mistake I Ever Made
But incarceration is the myth of the ruling class, thinking it’s going to solve problems when all it does is exacerbate them. So in an effort to rehabilitate Otis Blackwell before he ever gets to that stage, let’s help him out by saying both of his sides – one better than average, this one definitely not up to par – have similar structural flaws which seem the easiest place to start when it comes to shoring up his deficiencies.

We mentioned with the other side that he was lucky to have such first rate rock musicians – René Hall on guitar and Frank Culley and Budd Johnson on saxes – which he showed off thanks to a fantastic arrangement on that one.

But even there he failed to include an instrumental break when a sax blowing wild for twelve or sixteen bars would’ve done wonders for the record.

On Please Help Me Find My Way Home he’s also trying to put this over without an instrumental break because and this time around he doesn’t even have the benefit of a really strong arrangement to distract you from the vocals which can’t help but start to grate after awhile.

Start there, let your musicians take a more prominent role and in the process reduce the responsibility of your own vocals to carry the entire load. Even with the bad social outlook this story possesses, that addition alone would help it go down easier with most listeners.

We’ve made it pretty clear that in the early 1950’s the worst place for a young rock act to be was a major label and while we can’t fault RCA here for forcing him to sing cover songs or giving him a pop arrangement with Hollywood orchestras behind him, and can’t even claim they dumped this onto the market without trying to promote it, we still stick to our general warning that this is not the place for someone like Otis Blackwell to try and establish himself.

What he needs is a small company that focuses solely on the rock market and would consider a debut single selling even 10,000 copies to be a major success, not an epic failure.

We know here in the future that things will turn out alright in the long run for Blackwell… the songwriter, if not the singer… but that’ll only happen when he gets a little room to breathe and leaves behind the patronizing mindset of his elders, be it his parents or his record company.


(Visit the Artist page of Otis Blackwell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)