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You’d think that by doubling down on the word “blues” in the title of the flip side of a record that was more bluesy than recommended for rock ‘n’ roll audiences, that this would be another song just skirting the edge of the rock genre, destined to be dismissed by one and all.

Yet while it’s definitely downhearted with a slow pace and morose vocal, there’s a melodic spark and a faint element of hope sitting at its core which makes this one of the more interesting records in Peppermint Harris’s catalog.

Not necessarily one of his absolute best by any means, but if he’s going to put his name – or initials – to something, this isn’t a bad choice.


I’ve Got Some Blues But No One Will Care
It’s simplistic to paint any musical genre with a broad brush, definitively stating that all songs with a despondent point of view are blues just as it’s equally narrowminded to say that all songs expressing unbridled excitement belong in rock ‘n’ roll.

And yet that’s not completely off base either.

Music itself is not concerned with labels, but those who make it tend to gravitate towards certain styles to depict their point of view and for generations blues was used to cope with forces outside your control that hold you down. Its artists came from a demographic that was systematically oppressed by the mainstream culture in America, denied equal education, equal opportunity, equal pay and equal rights… so of course that was going to effect the music coming out of that community.

It’s no surprise that as conditions (marginally) improved by the 1960’s coupled with a greater optimism that they’d continue to do so in ensuing generations the blues stopped being a commercial force in Black America.

So considering Peppermint Harris was born in 1925, coincidentally right at the start of the blues boom on record, and started recording in the late 1940’s as the blues was arguably hitting its commercial peak, it was only natural he’d be attuned to that and venture down those same paths.

But since the start of his career also coincided with rock ‘n’ roll which rapidly overtook blues as a commercial force with even broader audience potential, it wasn’t surprising that Harris tried his hand in that too.

Which brings us to P.H. Blues, a song that draws on elements of both, maybe not fully committing to either in how Harris wrote it, but with the presence of Maxwell Davis who handles the arrangement, the weight is incrementally thrown behind the rock side, giving the record a slightly more modernistic bent.

It may be only a matter of degrees, and with Harris’s worn vocal chords it’d be easy to think otherwise at a casual glance, but this was indicative of the post war black music scene in a nutshell. Blues upbringing meets rock instincts with a jazz schooled third party trying to make the pieces fit.


I Feel Like Talking But Who Do You Know?
Employing a slightly deeper, more somber tone to open the song, Peppermint Harris sets up the stakes in dramatic fashion. It’s a little overwrought maybe, but he’s sincere about it and when he shifts to his usual delivery he’s got a subtle lilting melody to play with, one abetted by the faint moan of the horns in between the stanzas.

It’s those horns, along with a halting piano and bass, that form the skelatal framework of the song, precisely constructed but delicate in its application, careful not to step on each other to let the different instruments shift the mood, such as when Tiny Webb’s creeping guitar solo enters the picture after you weren’t even aware he was on the track prior to that.

Davis’s horn is used sparingly but with maximum effectiveness, lending a haunting tint to R. H. Blues, a sense that though things are looking bleak they’ll improve once daylight comes around again.

At the center of it all is Harris himself… “drinking and thinking and living alone”… bemoaning his troubles, but mostly dejected because of his isolation. It’s not the loss of a girl per say that has him feeling so low, but rather the fact he’s got no one to unburden himself to – no one but us that is.

Human beings are social creatures in need of emotional connections to operate at their peak. Sometimes that means romantic or purely sexual connection, but more often than not it just means verbal connection where you can talk through your problems and by listening to others do the same realize that the entire species is dealing with the same issues which in turn makes it easier to get through the hard times.

It’s important to note that Harris hasn’t given up on this, he hasn’t lost all hope of forging those connections, he’s just at a loss of where to find them, as those in isolation usually are. This song then is his cry for help, hoping someone out there hears it.

He’s not looking for sympathy, just someone to listen to him and yet, afraid of being hurt even more if nobody responds, he approaches it cautiously, assessing your willingness to tolerate his gloomy outlook so that he can confirm your better intentions.

But he’s not alone… not completely anyway, none of us are. Most people don’t pull back from an extended hand or turn away from eye contact, they just don’t necessarily go looking for it. In Harris’s case he’s got the band who are there in the shadows providing gentle support.

He’s also got you and me, those who are always out there in the dark, ready to not just listen in on his private torment but to be drawn in by it because when you get right down to it we all know that at one time or another everybody has been shrouded in that darkness for a spell themselves and sometimes all it takes to get back in the light is someone with an open ear and an open heart to not turn away when we reach out.

Harris might not get either in the end, but at least he hasn’t given up trying and that’s half the battle.


Bound To Drive Me Crazy
This is a song, like so many mood pieces, where your ability to appreciate it grows over time, provided you get in the right frame of mind first.

In that regard it’s almost too personal for a single. This was the kind of thing made for the album era where listeners spun LP’s in the privacy of their own rooms, lost in their own private thoughts while letting their own experiences shade their internal responses to the music.

Singles, particularly rock singles, have a tendency to be more social events, songs heard at parties or with other people and activities swirling around you.

But those parties eventually end, you say goodbye to those you hung out with and head on home, often alone. When you get there and the buzz of the evening wears off and the silence envelops you, that’s when you put on records like R. H. Blues and let them bring you down from those highs.

In the long hours until dawn when the only other sound is of your own breathing, that’s when you need them the most.


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