No tags :(

Share it




After encountering a torrid blues-rock record yesterday by newcomer Jesse Allen, we’re here to show you how that same combination by an old friend Peppermint Harris, had an uphill struggle to make the same strong impression when leaning more towards the blues side than the rock side of the equation.

Call it a chemistry study if you want, as with ingredients this potent you always had to be careful that you got a precise mixture when blending them together.

When something was just a little bit off, the resulting experiment would fizzle in the test tubes.


If You Mean It, Baby
Having delved into the story of Harrison Nelson… a/k/a Peppermint Harris… countless times around here, we don’t need to do more than simply remind you that he was one of the handful of acts, mostly Texans, who were equally at home in pure blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

The decision on which direction to take may vary from one song to the next, which is hardly anything to hold against them, but when they tried to combine them and find a middle ground, probably hoping to draw from each constituency, that’s when the trouble started.

It’s not that blues and rock couldn’t be compatible, but rather that the manner in which you approached it determined which fan base was going to react strongly to it.

Let The Back Door Hit You was going to be more well received by the blues audience, as Harris slows down the pace, amps up the guitar and slurs his words with a more Southern flavor and if that were all there was to this record we’d graciously tip our hat to him, acknowledging his need to keep his eye on that field as well in case his rock success dried up, and we’d move on without reviewing the record at all.

But that’s not all there is to it, as you can probably guess since the review is staring you in the face as we speak.

What else is here, minor though it may be in the bigger picture, keeps it tethered to rock but not enough to earn our praise. Ironically it’s also what causes it not to have quite the same appeal in the blues market, thereby pleasing no one.

I Hope It Knocks You Down
Let’s start with this as if it were a pure blues record… which is exactly what you’d think the first minute or so.

It starts with guitar, piano and light drums playing a slow shuffle over which Harris’s solumn baritone tells in almost conversational tones a story that is definitely blues in terms of subject matter.

He’s had a fight with his girl who is threatening to walk out, yet Harris is completely unfazed by this. He sounds half asleep, or maybe he’s just hit the bottle and is a drowsy kind of drunk rather than a hellraiser, but it’s not his diction that is clear, so too are his intentions. He doesn’t care what she does, but wants to make sure that she KNOWS he doesn’t care, which is why he tells her Let The Back Door Hit You on her way out.

As a blues song it’s nothing special, but not awful either. He’s embodying this character well enough and the drawn out pace with its minimalist arrangement is slightly addicting, as if you too were stealing a few swigs from the bottle and getting grogged yourself.

Where things change is at the 1:20 mark when Maxwell Davis, whose name is credited on the label for once, comes in to add his saxophone to the procedings and in the process drag it more towards rock… though not ENOUGH towards rock to help matters out.

His solo is fine. Davis is too good a musician and too strong a writer not to find a way to incorporate himself without completely upending what’s already been played. As a solo for a slow rocker it works well, but this at its core is not quite a slow rocker, not in terms of the rest of the arrangement or the demeanor in delivering its subject matter.

It certainly could’ve been without changing a word. Give it a slight bump in tempo, have the guitar play quick single-string fills rather than carry the rhythm and tell Harris to sing more from the front of his throat rather than the back and emphasize the sarcastic humor a little and it’d have qualified.

It still might not have been great but it’d be a more seamless fit. Instead the song is more comfortable in blues up to the moment when the sax pulls it away. Then it’s left trying to straddle an increasingly wide divide and the only place for them all to go is down into the bottomless chasm below.


If You’re Unhappy Baby, Move On Down The Line
Even with the rock interlude by Davis this record probably would be something most people – myself included – would be fine with passing over. Heck, Aladdin itself held this back for months, thus explaining why it’s numerically out of order with their last releases from 1951. In fact, musically speaking its inclusion may be confusing to those who don’t scrupulously read them front to back to find out why it’s here.

So why IS it here?

Simple, because we just got done looking at Let’s Party, a blues-rock masterpiece that leans overwhelmingly to rock in its overall attitude, lyrics and arrangement. You can still see blues sensibilities in its DNA, but they are secondary at best.

From now on that will become the standard operating procedure in rock. The blues side will have to adapt, modify itself and be downplayed for most to accept it under the rock heading. Occasionally, with artists more renowned than Harris was for their output in the rock field, someone might occasionally slip a bluesier cut in the discussion without raising an eyebrow. But for those who were equally welcome in both genres, their stylistic choices would have greater repercussions.

If Peppermint Harris wanted to keep a hold on blues audiences, that was his right and probably a good career move. But compromising a track like Let The Back Door Hit You wasn’t the way to go about it because the blues audience, like the rock fan, wanted your full attention when you played for them.

Here Harris has one eye on us while the blues fan, already feeling slighted by rock’s increased drawing power, gets increasingly disgusted by having to share a song with them.

Better to make one side of a single blues and the other side rock and leave no doubt as to which song is for which audience than to try and play both sides against the middle.


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