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The official designation of a novelty record tends to be one that is designed to be either blatantly humorous or one that is gimmicky in how it’s put together.

This would not qualify on either count.

But there’s another way to define novelty which I think does apply here a little better and that’s to describe it as a record whose main appeal is to be… how can I put this nicely?…



Harmlessly benign?

If that definition passes muster, then this side probably qualifies.


Choo Choo’s Coming Down The Track
We’ll say this about Peppermint Harris… he’s sure a hard act to figure out. An artist who seems to be have been put together out of leftover parts resulting in a mess of contradictions

He’s an engaging singer with a soft, yet harsh, sounding voice. He’s a good songwriter who pays close attention to details but who comes across as somebody flighty whose attention wanders. He’s a rock act with an affection for blues, yet doesn’t seem to belong firmly to either one at times.

In spite of all this he’s given us some really consistent – and really good – records over the last few years. A one of a kind spinner of tales who draws you in because of his quirkiness rather than in spite of it.

On the surface I Sure Do Miss My Baby has many of the same attributes that defined his other songs… the lazy vocal delivery of someone with a buzz on… the genial attitude that characterizes his perspective within the story… the easy-going loping arrangement conceived by Maxwell Davis to give Harris the soft landing he requires. All present and accounted for.

But this time around there’s something else… something that’s been present before, but maybe not as accentuated as it is here and that’s the nursery rhyme quality of it all.

He sounds like he’s singing this to a restless four year old upon putting her to bed, yet without the kid knowing just where this originated from which makes it so enduring.

Two Dogs, One Shaggy Hound
What catches your attention first are the horns here are more prominent than we remember with Peppermint Harris, playing a more jazz inflected riff but one that somehow doesn’t sound out of date or out of place.

Then we notice the vocal riff that goes with it and suddenly it starts to piece together in your mind, as this is something you’re sure to recognize whether your source is gospel or the blues. Past or future.

Theirs was clearly gospel, where it was taken from the standard This Train, made famous by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1941 when she was in the process of establishing herself as the forerunner in the field. A few years after this Willie Dixon, the famed bassist and songwriter for Chess Records, re-worked it into My Babe, which immediately became a blues standard when done by Little Walter.

Same song, totally different meaning.

But it was Peppermint Harris and Maxwell Davis who first saw the potential for a secular interpretation with I Sure Do Miss My Baby, keeping the train motif intact, yet changing the story from an allegorical one about riding up to heaven to one that has finds Harris hoping that his girlfriend is coming back to him on a train after she left him for unspecified reasons.

The novelty aspect though isn’t the changed narrative, but rather the way in which the entire vocal approach is rendered with a childlike delivery that differs greatly from Tharp’s holy-roller vocal – and a long ways off from Walter’s defiantly boastful assertations.

Harris sounds so disarming that it’s hard to believe this woman left him for reasons other than her own capriciousness. Surely somebody this docile couldn’t have driven her off because he was cruel to her, cheating on her, or just not being kind enough towards her. We think to ourselves that she must be slightly disturbed and he’s a caring compassionate soul to be willing to take her flaky ass back.

Of course that’s probably NOT the case, which is why this is such a great psychological study of Harris, who when we actually pay attention to the lyrics find out he’s not above pursuing this woman to get her back, possibly even using violence to ensure she returns.

Yet we’re willingly fooled by the presentation, not just Harris’s cunningly non-aggressive acting, but also Maxwell Davis who treads so lightly during the bulk of the song that it sounds almost like the lullaby that its narrator’s framing it to be.

Even the sax solo, while more insistent, has no elements of danger in it, more like a frivolous good time that awaits us all – them, the girl and us – if we manage to get together down at the train station.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ll gladly get off at that stop just to take a look around and see what kind of a reunion this turns out to be. I may regret it if this was all an act to enable Harris to haul his woman off and chain her in the bedroom, but when it sounds so inviting how can we resist the entreaty?

Just be ready to hop back on the train should trouble arise.


When The Evening Sun Goes Down
While it’s generally considered good for your career if you stand out as a one-of-a-kind artist, sometimes that image has its downside too.

For Peppermint Harris, because there’s no obvious act to compare him to, he’s sort of been left to float through the netherworld of the music galaxy on his own, untethered to existing planetary objects that make him easier to classify.

But the gravitational pull of his music should always keep him within reach for rock fans, as even here on I Sure Do Miss My Baby when he draws from gospel and predicts the blues, borrowing a little from jazz along the way, he never is drawn into their orbits, choosing instead to stay true to his own muse as rock’s most unique star.

Since you can’t turn to anyone else for this kind of dreamy mixture of styles you’re going to have to keep buying Peppermint Harris records. By the sounds of this though, if you forget to do so, he may just track you down… then win you over with his charm yet again.


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