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The Peppermint Harris story is a somewhat repetitive one unfortunately.

Competent in all areas, exceptional in none, his ceiling for greatness is somewhat low but he rarely fails to achieve a minimum standard thanks to some consistent and occasionally versatile songwriting abilities. Pair him with a great studio band and he can surpass expectations, yet saddle him with one which does little to elevate him and he can be somewhat tedious.

All of which is to say he’s not that much different than most artists who have a relatively small target they can hit.

Here’s another one from him that hits it dead center, but whether you find that enough to satisfy you may depend on how much of him you’ve heard as of late.


Come Back And I Will Be Alright
As we covered yesterday, Sittin’ In Records had lost the services of Peppermint Harris over the summer which was quite a blow to their operations.

It’s not that Harris had scored reams of hits for them – a few local sellers of note but just one that made the national listings – but rather their roster was being whittled down thanks to a combination of defections to other labels and because their more recent signees hadn’t paid off. At least with Harris they were assured of some steady sales even if it was hardly enough to let them compete with the better independent companies… like say Aladdin, which is where Harris was now.

Aladdin didn’t need Peppermint Harris to keep them afloat. They had Amos Milburn, the dominant rock artist of the 1940’s who was still churning out hits into the Fifties. They’d recently added The Five Keys, one of the classiest rock vocal groups who’d already topped the charts in their first year on the scene. They had Floyd Dixon, who like Harris could straddle blues and rock and had a smaller but loyal following. And that’s not even mentioning Charles Brown, the pre-eminant cocktail blues star who was a top seller for the last few years.

So Peppermint Harris was sort of a bonus for them, someone with name recognition who – with the right song and abetted by Maxwell Davis’s brilliance as a producer, arranger and saxophonist – could transcend his own limitations from time to time and give them something special, such as the #1 hit I Got Loaded.

Though he may never reach those heights creatively again, he was never going to reach them even once on Sittin’ In Records because their production accentuated his rougher rural upbringing… fine for selling locally but not for capturing a diverse audience across the nation.

That reality is pretty evident on She’s My Baby, a spry song with a relaxed vocal that doesn’t hide its similarity to another song of the same name, yet one which is kept from reaching its full potential thanks to weak accompaniment and an unimaginative arrangement.

That was the blessing and the curse of Peppermint Harris in a nutshell. You’d more than likely get something good enough to release out of him but not great enough to be a hit.


My One And All
As if the title itself doesn’t tip you off, the way that title is delivered in a rolling circular vocal opening would surely prod you into remembering another song by a far better artist using the same basic idea a few years back.

But whereas Fats Domino’s She’s My Baby had the crack band of Dave Bartholomew – the song’s co-writer, arranger and producer – to add support to Domino’s engaging (if somewhat high-pitched) vocals and infectious piano playing, poor Peppermint Harris is stuck with more mundane sidemen who don’t add anything of value to the song.

Now just to be clear it IS a different song, inspiration aside, and while the Domino cut with this same title had little in the way of a plot, Harris’s She’s My Baby doesn’t have anything all that special in that department either.

The song is a strange combination of boasting about his girl and a complaint about her not being around. It sounds to me like she’s NOT his baby, at least not exclusively.

But that’s a minor point, because the subject itself is secondary here since more than anything it’s just providing a lyrical touchstone for the call and response chorus which comes across well, but adds little depth to the record.

Instead where Harris and company are placing their bets is on the same kind of churning groove that Domino and Bartholomew used – again, not the same song but definitely the same idea. Yet Harris’s band is nowhere near as tight, has no instrumentalist as formidable as Domino, let alone the horn section, and is further done in by not insisting on more vibrant solos.

The sax break by Haywood Henry is all over the place, his alto sounding like a duck with a head cold, and though there are a few good passages they’re usually butressed by something that sounds like a mistake slipped past the producer.

The guitar solo by either Nelson Carter or Harris himself is underwhelming even though the notes are clean and pure, the dexterity is fine and it’s capably executed. What it’s missing though is BITE! It’s aiming for technical precision rather than emotional connection and because it is so deliberate in how it’s played, not to mention being mixed too low, the very thing that should galvanize the listener instead comes across as an interlude that encourages your mind to wander.

In spite of this however Harris himself delivers a fairly engaging vocal, the rhythm may be a little subdued but is admirably steady throughout and there’s just enough energy in the back and forth vocals on the chorus to make you feel as if you’re enjoying the record more than you really are.

It’s a capable performance in other words, not a compelling one.


Sticks Way Out Behind
Peppermint Harris was never a great singer with his nasal tones, but he got the job done on a certain type of record.

Yet he was hampered for much of his tenure at Sittin’ In Records by makeshift bands who had little or no investment in his career progress and not enough pure skill to make much difference even if they worked their asses off to come up with a killer instrumental track to bolster his compositions.

You can see the difference when someone is surrounded by really ambitious talent. Guys like Maxwell Davis and Dave Bartholomew had a rigid standards in the studio for cream of the crop musicians and they were determined to use those records to establish their own names and reputations and improve their own career opportunities in the process by making the records of someone else the best they could possibly be.

Harris, at least while he was on Sittin’ In, was overly reliant on his own consistent but somewhat limited skills, all while hoping the band didn’t do anything to detract from those qualities. On She’s My Baby he’s comes out more or less even thanks to a fairly catchy melody which was somewhat borrowed (consciously or subconsciously) to begin with, along with the character of the lead vocal, but the band and production are middling at best.

Though this is definitely a more appropriate side for rock ‘n’ rollers than what appeared on the flip side, the slapdash quality of it still can’t compete with the more polished Aladdin Records… or for that matter the much higher ceilings of artists like Domino or Milburn or countless others.

Water finds its own level and as always Peppermint Harris is just floating on the surface and while that’s better than sinking to the bottom it’s not nearly as good as riding the crest of a big wave.


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