No tags :(

Share it




In all forms of creative art there are those whose success inspires imitators, or downright plagiarists… those attempting to score points on the basis of successfully replicating a very precise and identifiable style down to the smallest detail.

Occasionally, such as with the movie Charade which “out Hitchcocks” the Master of Mayhem himself, the work is so good that the effort is praised rather than scorned, but usually there’s an inevitable backlash for trying to copy somebody without bringing anything new to the table.

But what if the imitator had the audacity to bring that work to the originator and have it come out under their name, in effect almost trying to dupe you into thinking it came from the artist’s own mind?

Is that ingenious or exploitative, or a bit of both?


I Put My Future In Your Hand
There are a plenty of one-note legends in music but they’re usually confined to a smaller subgenre of rock where repetition in style is not just acceptable, but expected by the fans of that type of music, be it punk, metal or gangsta rap.

But when seeking sustained broad popularity, as was still the case for most performers in early Fifties rock before the subgenre distinctions really took hold commercially, the goal was to be diverse enough in your material to not grow stale and be discarded by listeners seeking something new.

Percy Mayfield was an exception to that rule as he was not suited to shouting uptempo dance songs, nor was he capable of showing off a impressive technical voice on a more melodic performance.

His overwhelming skill was as an introspective songwriter with a clear-eyed but dire view on man’s existence, someone who understood the futility of dreams in a world where death is the final outcome for everybody.

Hardly cheerful music ideal for parties.

So when he finally records a song that he himself did not write – and one that was penned by the premier female songwriter for hire in rock in Jessie Mae Robinson, you’d think this would be the perfect opportunity to showcase something different… either a quicker pace, or a more diverse musical structure, but mostly an outlook that brought a little light into the darkness of his soul.

Instead Lonesome Highway is a song that Percy Mayfield may just as well have written himself, as it contains the same mindset, vocal style and musical arrangement complete with a familiar sharp-eyed focus and creative turns of phrase.

Depending on your tolerance for such things, this is either the greatest doppelganger writing effort thus far in rock ‘n’ roll, or a missed opportunity of the highest magnitude if looking for something to shake up the formula.


I’ve Gone A Million Miles
I’m not entirely sure if this had been written by Percy Mayfield, word for word, note for note, it would be better received or worse received by me.

It’s a good song with some great lyrics and Jessie Mae Robinson deserves a ton of credit for pulling off such a feat that only Mayfield had been able – or willing – to successfully tackle (something she was almost denied when Specialty put someone else’s name in the writers credit on the promo release). If she’d written it for someone else, clearly attempting to mimic a successful approach by one of rock’s most unique stars, it probably would be broadly panned for ripping off the master.

But the fact it was done by Mayfield himself changes perceptions. It’s more in line with ghost-writers for certain high profile rappers who can’t spit out rhymes with the precision of the true elites and their reputation takes a hit for it.

In Mayfield’s case however we KNOW he wasn’t falling short in that area and we’re pretty confident he hadn’t had a recent case of writer’s block either. This was just one great writer trying someone else’s shoes on to see how they fit and finding out they looked just fine on her feet.

Where it lets us down, just slightly though, is the fact that we get no twist on that formula that Mayfield might be too conservative to take with his own self-penned songs. The plot of Lonesome Highway finds Percy facing the prospects of losing what he worked so hard to achieve in love, something he’s an expert on examining.

Though filled with great individual lines they don’t lead anywhere unexpected… no shocking plot twists, no uptempo bridge, no breaking down in uncontrolled anguish in the outro. Instead we get the same mournful delivery and subdued arrangement by Maxwell Davis that we’re used to. It’s well done as you’d expect, but it’s decidedly uninventive for somebody more than capable of breathing new life into the old formula.

That’s the real disappointment here, as even when he’s reciting dialogue written by another he remains unable to find true happiness, obsessing on life’s shortcomings… always seeking more but never finding it. Maybe, just maybe, this outside contribution was the chance they had to give him a different outcome.

In the end, we still can admire the skill of all involved, appreciate the effort put into making this sound authentic coming from the performer… and even be placated by the note of humanity both Robinson and Mayfield seem to find in the struggle for a satisfactory life in a harsh world… but sometimes when looking at a succession of constantly bleak landscapes on a canvas you’d like to see a ray of sunshine piercing the gloom, especially if someone else was painting the picture.


I Hope You Meet Somebody And He Dogs Your Heart Around
Whether you’re of the belief that a singer should stick with what they excel at so as they don’t fall short if they deviate from their strengths, or if you believe that one aspect of being a creative artist is to push the envelope and try new things, we probably can agree that as a stand-alone record this certainly doesn’t harm Percy Mayfield’s reputation in any way, shape or form.

Everything about Lonesome Highway starting with the title itself shows a great deal of craftsmanship and the knowledge of how to bring out its best qualities in an appealing way. We can’t find fault in the execution in other words.

But we CAN take slight issue with the attempt itself… an unnecessary and redundant “recap” more or less of what Percy Mayfield’s own strengths are as put together by somebody else.

Too good to be called a paint by numbers approach, yet not the same as a truly original and inspired work of art.


(Visit the Artist page of Percy Mayfield for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)