Give them credit for this much… while the chances that Johnny Otis’s guitarist Pete Lewis was ever going to score a hit on his own was sitting somewhere between “slim” and “none”, Federal Records was still committed to releasing singles on him.

Sure, maybe this was a calculated move to keep Otis happy in the event that the next time his contract was up he might actually keep his promise and come to Federal as he had led Ralph Bass to believe last year before heading to Mercury instead for a bigger paycheck and presumably more prestige.

But if all they were doing was going through the motions with Lewis that end game plan would’ve been far more transparent. Instead they were taking creative risks that allowed them to experiment with different ideas that may have been too unusual for their bigger stars to be able to weather without losing some of their commercial pull.

Since Lewis wasn’t a big name to the general public, he provided them with the perfect testing ground as there were no lofty sales targets to puncture in case the ideas didn’t work.

This single had one that did work aesthetically, and one that didn’t. We’re looking at the one that did.


Scratch That Off The List
Just so you don’t wander away to check what the flip side was while it’s still fresh in your mind, we’ll start by briefly examining that one before moving on to the main event.

Two things are important to remember with Pete Lewis. The first is besides the guitar, which now unofficially became his middle name on record, he was also proficient on harmonica. That in turn leads to the second thing of importance with him which was he was from down south where dusty back porch Delta blues styles had formed at least some of his musical upbringing.

Those two facts explain Scratching, an instrumental whose title makes absolutely NO sense considering that’s something more associated with guitar, which Lewis doesn’t bother to even pick up once here. Instead he blows a mouth organ solo that’s rather jaunty and which is backed by even more whimsical horns – George Washington’s trombone mainly – and a prominent drum, making it sound like a late 1960’s sonic collage that artists would occasionally slip on the second side of a long playing album more as a joke than anything.

I’m not saying it’s not interesting, but it’s too weird to be enjoyable without some very potent drugs to aid in your appreciation of it.

This side however, Ooh Midnight is more of what we’ve come to expect from him, namely that he’s playing his axe throughout it, but it too finds an unusual way to present it, one that also will have influence of sort into the future.

It may be doubtful anyone doing something similar twenty years from now heard this record, but if they did it’s likely they’d never forget the impression it left on their libido.


Whisper In My Ear
The first notes, pensive and drawn out, are kind of like sinking into a hot tub that’s too hot or an ocean that’s too cold. You go in slowly, trying to get used to the temperature change on your skin before going a little deeper.

As always, Pete Lewis greatest strength is his intuitive ability to hold notes, build tension and then provide release. His timing and taste are impeccable in this regard and you quickly realize this is a mood piece… not an ominous one that has you envisioning danger lurking around the next dark corner, but rather a seductive one… with a bit of an edge.

Normally that kind of analysis might be pretty apparent to anyone with ears when it comes to music alone, but even so it’s almost always open to interpretation on behalf of each listener who may get a different vibe out of the notes being played. But not here because Lewis has someone along for the ride who tells us precisely what’s happening despite only uttering the two word title… multiple times throughout the record however.

But it’s not WHAT she says, but rather HOW she says Ooh Midnight that makes the greatest impression and fills in all of the important details of these racy nocturnal activities.

Each time she speaks these words she coos them with a slightly throaty gargle of her voice. You’d have to have spent your entire life in a monastery not to be able to envision just how she’s delivering such a line. At most she’s got on a black negligee and is stretched out on the bed or couch while Pete is gently stroking… her hair, her cheek, her arm, her chest or someplace a little further south of the border. Her eyes are now half closed and she’s got a devilish grin on her face as she’s anticipating what’s to follow.

Unfortunately for us we may have to wait until the sequel for that turn of events to be described to us, because she keeps repeating the same two words in the same fashion, each one still potent because it means we can picture every detail about her in our mind’s eye this way. Maybe she just twisted her hips this time, or rubbed her foot along his calf, or dropped the strap of that negligee off her left shoulder. Let your imagination run wild.

Meanwhile Pete, like most experienced guys in the boudoir, isn’t rushing things and it’s his patience that gets expressed through his guitar lines. Sometimes they speed up a little, taunting her sexually, before he eases off and drives her crazy as her juices start flowing more and more.

His playing is tasteful in spite of the images it conjures up and we get soft horns blowing heartbeat riffs while Devonia Williams adds some color with some piano licks and Leard Bell’s drums maintain the faint beat. But in spite of skill of the musicians and the tight sparse arrangement, it wouldn’t be worth all that much at midday, in a crowded well-lit room, nor would it be anywhere near as alluring without that expectant horny female voice softly urging him to put down his musical instrument and pick up his more primal instrument and start playing on – or in – her.

Come to think of it, if you’re by yourself tonight, maybe this is one side you ought skip for your own well-being.


Night Into Day
It’s not unusual for songs that are technically classified as instrumentals to have some sort of spoken word interjection.

Tequila by The Champs and Wipe Out by The Surfaris are probably the most famous of those that employ that gimmick, but they’re hardly alone.

What both of those are doing differently however are using their words to keep the excitement up, whereas Ooh Midnight utilizes the title line to suggest a different type of excitement in a slow-burn delivery.

It reminds me of one of my favorite records from 1970 – which at our current pace we’ll review sometime in 2055 – by The T.S.U. Toronados where the same type of female voice (perhaps the daughter of Pete Lewis and his lady friend of this record) purrs seductively every so often – “Oooh, play the MUSIC Toronados” over a faster, but no less seductive track.

That’s a much better record on the whole thanks to the horn riffs that form the musical bed, but this one – for its time and place – is still pretty good and shows that Ralph Bass, maybe Johnny Otis, and certainly Pete “Guitar” Lewis, were thinking slightly outside the box… at least until Pete worked his way into her box, but that’s for after the record stops and the lights go out, something which they smartly leave to your oh-so-fertile imagination.


(Visit the Artist page of Pete “Guitar” Lewis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)