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If you were forced to slot Peppermint Harris into just one genre at this point in his career chances are it wouldn’t be rock ‘n’ roll that he’d fit most comfortably in.

That’s not to say you couldn’t justify it if you did want to call him a rocker, but there’d be an asterisk attached no matter how insistent you were about him belonging here. After all his lone hit was pure blues and the majority of his catalog to date had strong blues elements to it, even among those songs which we classified as rock.

But with this release his presence in this field could no longer be questioned. Granted one side of one record may not earn him a permanent pass to all of the rock parties forever more, but having this on his résumé at least guarantees that his name on the guest list won’t be seen as an anomaly because this single could be called nothing BUT rock no matter how exclusionary you wanted to be about such things.


From Side To Side
Certain artists present a conundrum for these types of stylistic boxes.

Some were legitimately restless in their interests and didn’t want to confine themselves to any one style – Gatemouth Brown and Earl Bostic for example – while others like Floyd Dixon or Cecil Gant were malleable by nature and didn’t seem to have any preference as to what they were being asked to deliver as long as somebody was willing to record them.

Then there were those like Peppermint Harris who could handle multiple styles as well but never seemed to firmly commit to just one, either because he genuinely liked the different elements he could bring to the table at various times or because he didn’t completely win over one audience and thus wanted to keep his options open by tweaking his approach to see if something might bring him wider acclaim and greater success.

Because of this Harris remains in an historical no-man’s land. Rock outlets usually refer to him as blues, while blues studies downplay him because of his frequent embrace of rock.

To be shunned from both is patently unfair and since his rock output will remain a major facet of his career he’s going to be included here no matter what… even if at times it means we’ll have to awkwardly squeeze in such records as This Is Goodbye, Baby and Mabel, Mabel to keep you updated on his whereabouts between more appropriate releases.

For this record however there was never any question about what classification it’d fall under, as Fat Girl Boogie makes its allegiance to rock clear from the first second it explodes from the speakers, giving us all the proof we need… not to mention all the proof he should’ve needed himself… to know this is where he truly belongs.


Let’s Boogie Now!
A pounding piano, horns droning at a lively pace and Harris’s energetic vocals are all recognizable hallmarks of rock ‘n’ roll at this stage of its evolution. Throw in the sexualized and somewhat offensive characterization of the female subject of the song and this checks off all of the relevant boxes.

But merely being characteristic of the genre is not quite the same as serving as a worthy entry in that genre’s portfolio and that means simply hitting all of the marks laid out in the game plan won’t be quite enough to pass merit, Harris and company are going to have to add the appropriate conviction to the formula in order to bring the concept to life.

They do that and more on Fat Girl Boogie, laying into the exuberant nature of this performance with a collective gleam in their eye that steamrolls any uneasiness regarding the content itself. Yes, it’s obviously crude, both the topic and the delivery, but not in as demeaning a way as the title would imply. In fact Harris is an avowed fan of the pleasantly plump and not ashamed to admit it publicly.

The rest of his screed hits all of the expected high points… he’s enraptured with her form, the way she moves and, in what will surely result in a double-take the first time you hear it, the fact he’s got enough girl for TWO guys to enjoy at once but since he’s got her for himself he’s overjoyed that he doesn’t have to share any of her.

In other words he’s so worked up he’s practically babbling incoherently over his good fortune. When he tells us this girl is on her way home the overeager Harris sounds as if he’s singing while he’s in the process of removing his trousers and quite possibly getting tangled in his suspenders while tripping over his discarded shoes in the process.

The record comes to a rather perfunctory stop and I swear the final drum kick is actually her closing the front door as she rushes in to meet him. If any rock record to date can be said to aurally capture the exact feeling of unbridled horniness, this is most definitely it.

When You Get Back, I’ll Be Gone
Yet as… ahhh… stimulating as all that is to hear, it’s not even the primary selling point of this record because the band behind him seems as if they’re elbowing each other out of the way to peep their bedroom antics through the window and if anything they might be even more excited about the prospects of this upcoming afternoon tryst than Harris is… which frankly says a lot about their character (skeezy people maybe, but probably good rockers).

The track is bursting with energy to match – and even surpass – Harris, whose vocal tone sounds older than his 24 years. The band however sounds like rambunctious teenagers left to their own devices with pianist Willie Johnson’s two-fisted assault on the keyboards and Ed Wiley’s non-stop saxophone standing out in the frantic arrangement.

Wiley gets the first solo and he’s trying his best to keep it under control but Johnson and drummer Ben Turner keep kicking him in the ass which makes his task all that much harder and finally he gives in and starts to squeal with no concern for how undisciplined it makes him seem. He mostly sticks to the higher end of the tenor’s range during Fat Girl Boogie, so we get no honks or other crude interjections, but considering the theme of the song that probably would’ve been overkill anyway and so his choices might be for the best.

The second instrumental break comes all of fourteen seconds later following another brief vocal turn by Harris and this time it’s Johnson’s turn to act up. He’s hammering away on the piano with a vengeance giving us some of the most aggressive boogie playing we’ve heard in rock to date. When he eases off to let Harris back in you almost get the sense Peppermint is hesitant to comply because he knows there’s no way he can compete with what we’ve just heard. Hell, Goree Carter was on this session and even he sat this one out, which actually might be a good thing for if HE chimed in and felt compelled to match what’s already been laid down with something more explosive than his usual ferocity there’d have been nothing but a crater left where the Houston studio once stood.

Coming Home
Is any of this revolutionary, groundbreaking or even particularly innovative? No, of course not. But is it exhilarating, impressive and just damn fun to hear?

What do you think?

Apparently others back then felt the same way, as if you listen to the way Harris delivers the line about how this girl “Walks and wobbles from side to side” you can hear yet another thread in the direct link from Jimmy Liggins to Jackie Brenston, all of which further shows that the attitude was embedded in rock’s DNA from the start and as long as you picked up on that everything else was just semantics.

So no matter how many out and out blues records Peppermint Harris releases and no matter how much some of his more ambiguous stylistic songs hint at that older more venerated style, Fat Girl Boogie shows that as a pure unadulterated rocker Harris more than makes the grade.

So don’t waste your time quibbling over what genre classification he was most at home in or should be confined to for eternity based on a lifetime of seeing others raise questions they’re unqualified to answer, and just sit back and let your ears tell you all you need to know, for this is exactly the kind of hedonistic record that helped define rock’s enduring image as wild, manic and sometimes mindless fun in any era and that’s always the final arbiter of such debates.


(Visit the Artist page of Peppermint Harris for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)