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ALADDIN 3097; JULY 1951

 
 
 

 

After having just been urged to drink beer by Gatemouth Brown in the final review for the first half of 1951, how did you think we were going to kick off the second half of that year… stone cold sober?

Hardly.

This is rock ‘n’ roll after all, where a bit of libation is expected from time to time and as summer was now underway it means there’ll be a lot more parties to attend, most of which have a tendency to spill over into early morning.

Because of that it’s nice to know that when our old friend Peppermint Harris has had a little too much to drink he’s got somebody responsible to take the wheel now and see to it that he gets home alright.
 

 

Made Me Feel So Happy
The big time.

Or something reasonably close to the big time when it comes to independent record labels, as this marks Peppermint Harris’s first release on Aladdin Records after a long run on Sittin’ In With… a decent label in their own right, but without quite the same high production standards that Aladdin was known for.

But it wasn’t this company’s owners, Eddie and Leo Mesner, who were responsible for the quality of the records on Aladdin, but rather producer Maxwell Davis who oversaw the best studio operation in rock at this point with great engineering, versatile session musicians, including himself on saxophone, and with his own songwriting and arranging skills at the ready for any artist who needed some help in those areas.

Harris never needed any help when it came to writing, and sure enough I Got Loaded was his own creation, but as his previous work had often negligible arrangements the presence of Davis was good news indeed for his future prospects.

The record became Harris’s signature song, his only #1 hit and one of many drinking theme songs that were all the rage in rock ‘n’ roll around the this time.

Yet in many ways it was somewhat atypical for him, at least compared to his earlier records, where on his best sides he was a far more forceful singer utilizing faster tempos and a more pronounced rhythm. Usually when he slowed things down he veered heavily towards blues, such as on the flip of this, It’s You, Yes, It’s You, a quality song but one intended for another audience with a much different mindset.

What made this side so potent was the fact that the unusual vocal textures he employed and the distinctive ambiance Davis gave the song allowed both constituencies to embrace it equally for once and the cross genre appeal meant it took five months to dislodge from the Top Ten.
 


 
 

Stopped Into A Tavern
The life of a rock star in the early fifties – playing dingy nightclubs and being on the road for months on end, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles between gigs with just a few people for company all while hoping to maybe hook up with a local girl for some hanky panky on night in some town you may never be in again – is a perfect recipe for becoming an alcoholic.

Drunkenness has a way of making you forget your surroundings and the indignities and inconveniences of life in a still segregated world with no familiar faces around you save for maybe a few band members who were naturally just as put-upon as you by this dull routine between shows.

It’s hardly a recommended vice, but you can understand why artists drank more than most and so it’s hardly surprising when they later put those experiences to paper when coming up with songs.

To that end I Got Loaded is one of the better stories in this boozing category to date, not so much for the plot itself but the fact it’s built upon a very realistic image that is easy to picture in your mind’s eye of a guy who simply stopped in for one and then kept it up all night. He may not even be a regular drinker, the story actually works better if he’s not because it’d be so out of character for him (though by the sounds of it he’s got a little experience in this realm already), but whichever way you take it his willing acquiescence to demon alcohol in such a setting is believable as can be.

But as strong as the story’s details are, what puts it across so well are the vocal textures Harris uses to embody someone half in the bag. He sings with a sleepy-eyed grin on his face, utterly serious in his explanation of his choices that day, yet not quite aware of the response he’ll get from his girl who expected him home – sober – hours before.

Most drinking parties aren’t this mellow, for as we surely all know in real life drunks can be annoying as hell, either loud and belligerent or utterly hapless and are thus best avoided, but in this guise Harris manages to be more engaging than we’ve ever heard him before. In fact you wouldn’t necessarily think this even IS Peppermint Harris based on how much this departs from his usual vocal tone, but that only makes it all the more impressive. It’s first rate acting carried out with melodic assurance, but as good as he is here he’s really got to share equal billing with someone who doesn’t contribute a single sound of his own to what we hear coming out of the speakers.
 

The Juice Down There Was Free
One of the signs of a great producer is knowing when to lay back and let the song itself and the person singing it be a record’s greatest attributes. Too often producers try and “add” something to it in order to let others know they had a hand in things but on a song like this anything that breaks the spell Harris is under – and puts you under by listening – would be the equivalent of being served flat beer or watered down drinks.

Maxwell Davis’s arrangement on I Got Loaded is carried out with such a light touch that you begin to get the impression that you might be a little woozy yourself when hearing it.

There’s three instruments on the track led by Gerald Wiggins’s piano which is the most crucial because it’s the one which has the job of making sure it conveys the drunken bliss of Harris’s condition while still keeping things in a subdued mood. His left hand discreetly establishes the lazy rhythm without drawing attention to it, but it’s his right hand which is acting like the bubbles in his champagne, playing a simple recurring riff in between the vocals that is joyful sounding but never ebullient. Call it the sound of happy contentment and every time it rises to the surface and swings the melody back around to the start it becomes even more addicting.

The rest of the arrangement is downright skeletal as Red Callender’s bass and an unknown drummer are entrusted with keeping the drunken Harris on his feet, gently guiding him along without any haste. The drummer is particularly good, his deft touch ensures he never rousts Peppermint from his stupor and keeps us from having to readjust our own tranquil mood as we eavesdrop on them.

Davis had tried to cut this first with a big band, sixteen pieces according to Harris, but realized it worked better with a low key environment and so he had virtually everybody, himself included, sit out and the record is all the better for that sparse setting, allowing us to settle down together before all passing out with smiles on our faces.
 


 

Oh I Sure Got High
It’d be hard to kick off your run with a bigger label in much better fashion than this.

Though most of Harris’s work to date has been pretty good and he did already have a national hit to his credit, this was the kind of song that was going to have some legs to it, not only reigning on the charts until the dawn of the following year but also in giving us a different sounding Harris to consider.

With Aladdin’s greatest weakness as a company being their predilection for mining the subject if not the entire structure of hits for subsequent songs, Harris would have to be careful they didn’t force him to go on a bender every time he came into the studio after I Got Loaded became such a runaway hit.

That would in fact become an issue, one he rightly complained about, though maybe because he spoke out against doing so it was not nearly as problematic as it became for Amos Milburn. Also with Milburn’s later drinking songs selling better than Harris’s forced attempts to recreate the same subject he was free to explore other topics and other styles a little more often.

But while many of those later original ideas are really good, this is the song he’ll forever be remembered for and its success ensured that when he woke up the next morning, even if he forget the rest of the night’s events when he sobered up, neither he nor anyone else would risk forgetting how good this drink tasted going down.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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