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ALADDIN 3130; APRIL 1952



“Surround yourself with capable people” is one of the eternal truisms when it comes to your life’s pursuits but it’s amazing how few actually do this.

Maybe it’s because there are not a lot of capable people out there, and those who are don’t necessarily WANT to be around all of the lazy incompetent grifters looking for help in their swindles, which is totally understandable.

But when you happen to see the enormous benefit there is in having somebody truly skilled aiding you in your endeavors, especially if a particular deficiency you have threatens to overwhelm your own abilities at times, then there’s no doubt you made the right choice by accepting that somebody more capable than you can help bring you success.

Peppermint Harris, like many others before and after him, had found a most capable accomplice in Maxwell Davis.


Boot That Thang
If you were to meet Harrison Nelson in everyday life, chances are nothing about him would strike you as a detriment to his prospects… other than the fact he was black in a racist country of course.

He was ambitious and smart with a bachelor’s degree in English. Whatever his chosen field, someone like that was bound to succeed.

That his chosen field was music might seem a little odd, but he was talented in that area as well, as a songwriter and guitarist… but it was just that his voice, the thing which makes the most lasting impression on listeners, wasn’t quite melodious enough to work in every type of music.

Had he followed the blues path that he initially seemed inclined to pursue, it wouldn’t have been as much of an issue. There his nasal croak would not have been so out of place amidst John Lee Hooker’s hypnotic speak-sing approach, Muddy Waters’ eerie hoodoo inspired style or Lightnin’ Hopkins’ parched-throat vocals, all of which thrived in the slower, often less rhythmic, type of blues popular at the time.

But reinvented as Peppermint Harris he ventured into rock ‘n’ roll which required a more supple voice, more tunefulness for lack of a better term, which were attributes he didn’t have a grasp on. When the song was right, when he was able to sing with that detached dreamy – drunken – effect, as on the top side of this, it downplayed his weakness, but on Maggie’s Boogie, a vital commercial alternative to that approach – faster, bouncy and made for dancing – that wouldn’t fly. He needed to “swing” to make it work.

Maxwell Davis showed him how. Not by changing his voice per say, but merely by how he framed that voice in order to lessen its responsibility within the song while still allowing Harris’s personality to shine through as bright as ever.


Knows What It’s All About
Romping horns with a prominent baritone to give it a solid bottom end… a steady drum beat buried further down in the mix but audible enough to give that bottom some snap… and a piano that adds a brighter feel to the boogie of the title without overwhelming the track in the process.

It’s a simple formula maybe, but one which relies on a precise blend of instruments to cushion Peppermint Harris when he enters the picture, still beset with the same vocal issues as always but blended into an arrangement that is going to carry him along.

Harris isn’t fighting it by any means, as you can hear the lilt he puts into his voice to try and mesh better with Davis’s plans for Maggie’s Boogie. His tone still may not be perfect for conveying the song, but the more relaxed way in which Harris approaches it certainly is. Since the story takes a back seat to the general feel of the record he’s not required to do much heavy lifting anyway, just add a certain amount of vocal rhythm to the overall effect along with a verbal hook to get you in the spirit.

All of that comes across really well, provided that you’re okay they’re not aiming very high here. Even with limited goals Harris does toss in a few lines that create some vivid images… I can’t say I’ve ever seen a girl who you’d describe as “She’s long and lean with hair like drops of rain”, but I’ll be damned if I don’t want to see one now.

Davis’s sax solo is perfect for this kind of low-key affair, it’s melodic as you’d expect with just a hint of muscular power lurking under the hood that shows its teeth every so often with higher pitched squeals before settling back down to business by keeping things moving and grooving with a minimum of fuss.

Harris’s highlights are the semi-spoken exclamations he makes along the way – conveying the “oohs” and “wees” Maggie is saying while doubling as his own reactions to her exhortations. We don’t really know what kind of boogying he’s talking about – we can guess of course, but the song is desexualized enough where that guess would represent our hopes rather than any evidential proof – but the overall vibe is engaging enough where the subtext doesn’t really matter much.

In other words this is a song that isn’t going to derail the mood of a party in 1952, even as it has no hope of being the record that is going to fill the dancefloor, lift the roof or send half a dozen people scrambling to the record player to spin again as soon as it ends.

All of which makes it an ideal B-side, the very thing they set out to do. Funny how that works out, isn’t it?


All Night Long
Artists big and small all have their strengths and weaknesses which generally don’t change much over time. Those where the latter override the former aren’t around as long while the ones who are only bothered by minor glitches in their arsenal amidst an abundance of strengths are rarely cited for their slight flaws.

Most though, like Peppermint Harris, reside somewhere in the middle with some genuine talent sharing space with noticable disadvantages and it’s up to them – or their producers – to mitigate their shortcomings.

Maxwell Davis does that on Maggie’s Boogie for Harris, giving him an easy-flowing arrangement where all he needs to do is ride the current.

There’s a built-in ceiling to that kind of thing of course preventing Harris from ever becoming a transcendent star, but the reliable consistency of well-produced songs suitable to his skills will allow him plenty of opportunity to keep making records as long as he wants.

When you think of how many total hacks, cheap hucksters and outright criminals there were in the record industry of the 1950’s, the greatest fortune Peppermint Harris had may not have been any of his individual songs themselves, as good as some of them were, but rather that he found such a capable figure to align himself with along the way to make sure all of those songs reached their full potential.


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