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Every journey is comprised of many steps, at least that’s what we’re telling ourselves when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll in general and the career direction of one Peppermint Harris, who with this entry moves on step closer to embracing his rock identity after vacillating between blues and rock to kick off his career.

But every journey is not always a straight line either and so while this is most assuredly a welcome sight for our interests as rock chroniclers, it’s no guarantee he’ll continue down this road forever, pledging his everlasting devotion to the needs of this genre and audience.

With some artists who can’t seem to make up their minds you learn to take what you can get… for however long it lasts.


Track My Baby Down
After his early success in blues leaning material Harris increasingly turned to rock, scoring a legitimate hit with Fat Girl Boogie to kick off summer and then following it up with the less successful, and less potent but still more than adequate Gimmie, Gimmie, Gimmie to close out the season last month.

Now he’s back with a quick turnaround on his third straight release that is entirely comfortable within rock’s parameters, despite his nasal tone and drawn out delivery that could at times be a detriment to convincing you he belonged in this field no matter the topic he was covering and no matter the instrumental support he was receiving. But there were ways of utilizing those perceived weaknesses and making them work to your advantage and here Harris does this by framing a story that reflects those traits.

In spite of its title which suggests some form of elation, Oo-Wee Baby is a song about a guy who misses his girlfriend who went away for undisclosed reasons. Okay Pep, you’re not fooling anyone, reading between the lines it’s pretty obvious she broke up with your ass and you’re just reluctant to admit it on a commercially released record for fear it will incriminate you when you… break the law to get her back! We don’t approve but we get it.

In other words this is a typical set up with a slight twist to it as he starts off sounding optimistic, something which is backed up thematically by the somewhat jaunty horn-based backing, as he waits for the train due at the station that he hopes will have his baby on board, ready to play house again.

Truthfully he’s kind of a pathetic figure with that hang-dog expression being conveyed in his voice, like he’s putting on a brave face for the others on the platform, but he sounds as if he’ll burst into tears if no one matching her description disembarks when the train pulls in.

When he tells you the reason he’s optimistic she’ll return is because… well… he bribed her by sending her a C-note in the mail, presumably with the ticket enclosed, you’re inclined to have some sympathy for this hapless figure… until he upends that by informing you if it doesn’t work he’ll take his shotgun and track her down and bring her home at gunpoint.

So much for chivalry.


End Of The Track
Yet throughout this he doesn’t sound threatening enough to be convincing. In fact just the exaggerated way he pronounces the word “shotgun” all but tells you it’s a bluff coming from somebody too ineffectual to carry it out (not that we’re advocating he do so, you understand).

Harris knows she’s gone and knows there’s nothing he can do about it, for if there was something appealing about him she wouldn’t have left in the first place. By this point he’s just in the midst of the long arduous process of coming to grips with that reality and all of the conflicting emotions that go with it: disbelief, frustration, shame, self-loathing and unfocused anger.

Of course by now we’re no longer pulling for him to get her back and in fact are actively hoping the girl was smart enough to pay somebody headed in the other direction to drop a postcard in the mail from a stop far down the line to throw him off her scent.

That probably won’t even be necessary though, for by the time Oo-Wee Baby wraps up he’s more or less resigned to his fate and as we suspected all along he isn’t going to do anything about it but moan to himself while drowning in self-pity.

The band clearly senses this too because while they’re giving him solid support with a prancing piano, and clickety-clack drumming for the train motif while horns and a sneaky guitar act as the primary embellishment in the arrangement, they don’t get carried away during the break and let him think they’ve actually got his back in his fantasies about hunting her down and are about to form a posse to help him in his delusional quest.

Instead they let Ed Wiley play a fairly controlled tenor solo, bringing just enough heat to keep it interesting so as to not deflate Harris’s ego entirely, letting him down easy in the hopes that will have a calming effect on him. Maybe as a result this comes across as a somewhat modest record, featuring a slightly unsympathetic figure bemoaning his lot in life with nothing too exciting to distract you from the sorrowful mood.

But that misses the point, because his intention is to create that mood accurately in the first place and in that regard he meets that goal with room to spare. The story arc shifts the emotional nuance with each stanza and every single aspect of the musical backing fits like a glove. Meanwhile Harris’s vocal textures – so often a detriment in carrying out his assignment – is ideally suited for the job at hand for once, making this the perfect marriage of artist, song and style.

When The Evening Sun Goes Down
Audiences at the time agreed, making this a very strong regional hit across the South in Cash Box and confirming his somewhat unusual appeal.

Unusual in that he straddled styles more than is normally recommended, wasn’t ideally suited for either one in terms of his skill set, yet generally came across as well-intentioned rather than calculating, sincere in his pursuits and striving to get the most out of his relatively modest attributes.

Actually that’s kind of a harsh way to close out a review of something well-worth hearing and so instead let’s leave it at this – Oo-Wee Baby is the kind of a record that you wish you got hear more often than you do.

Not in terms of how it necessarily sounds, but rather that it maximizes everything it has to work with. In an industry that sees far too many artists fall short in either their ideas or their effort and lets you down because you know they’re capable of more if they focused more or gave a damn, Peppermint Harris lives up to your expectations with this and that’s a compliment that never gets old when handing out.


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