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MERCURY 8184; SEPTEMBER 1950

 
 

 

Usually it’s the small time independent record labels whose shoddy paperwork and a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants mentality when it came to business meant that things we tend to care about in this field… like accurate recording dates, writing credits and release information… were not being done with the greatest of care.

But Mercury Records was a major label with presumably high standards of office management. They weren’t being run out of a shoe-box (that would be Specialty Records early on), nor were they trading writing credits to pay off gambling debts (any of the labels run by George Goldner) and they were flush with enough money to be able to pay for professional studio time rather than shove the desks and chairs against one wall to cut records in their office after hours (as Atlantic did).

Yet it’s Mercury Records who are seemingly guilty of the same careless attention to detail as their so-called inferior competitors and to this day there remains some intrigue around some of the sides we’re examining now.

But maybe that’s should be expected when any company stoops so low as to record rock ‘n’ roll.
 

 

Taken And Shakin’
The reason for this rant against Mercury’s bookkeeping methods comes about because this is now the second time we’ve reviewed Mercury 8184 by Roy Byrd… Professor Longhair to you and me.

The first encounter with this entry came back in July when we gave him good marks for both sides including the somewhat hypnotic Her Mind Is Gone which remains on this re-issued version as the B-side.

But history shows that Mercury 8184 has another song to contend with, namely this one, Hadacol Bounce, and this is the one which has slightly more lasting recognition than the other two songs.

That part of it is easy enough to explain, the company simply pulled the first issue of the single off the market and replaced the cheerfully catchy Oh! Well with this tune instead as summer drew to a close. It’s a little odd that they’d wait two months to do so maybe… after all you’d think they’d just put out this cut on their next single in a few weeks… but certainly nothing to get worked up about.

But then we’re faced with the fact Hadacol Bounce was simultaneously being issued on Mercury by country artist Bill Nettles who got writing credit for it, leading us to believe that ‘Fess’s version was an opportunistic cover, which it may well be.

For the longest time though it was believed that ‘Fess himself had done just one session for Mercury, either in August 1949 or January 1950) (there’s that faulty paperwork again), but it turns out he actually cut this in July of 1950 at a second Mercury session, a few months after legal issues regarding the proper ownership of his contract had hit the fan when Star Time Records became incensed that he was cutting the same material for Mercury and Atlantic as he was cutting for them… and at the same time no less! So perhaps Mercury was simply using an abundance of legal caution when it came to disclosing when he may have recorded this song leading to the confusion.

But the confusion isn’t limited to Professor Longhair’s version, for Nettles it seemed only recorded HIS version of this in early August – after ‘Fess – and he did so in a radio station in Virginia rather than a professional studio, giving it the appearance of a rush job designed to get it on the market quickly. Furthermore, if there was no recording of Nettles doing it in the can for ‘Fess to copy it calls into question how he actually got the song in the first place. Did Nettles submit sheet music and lyrics to them before he even recorded it himself?

It could just be the dates are wrong (both the recording dates AND the release dates, as this might’ve been cut weeks later, after Nettles, OR it could’ve been issued weeks earlier than we have it, even as early as late July) and if so, there’s your answer… sort of.

But there’s one final issue that calls everything we think we know about this tune into question, namely of the two people recording it only one of them actually seems to understand the song as written is supposed to be funny and that’s the dizzy mad Professor who brings all of the laughs and personality to it which gives the lingering rumor that he wrote it himself some added validity.
 

Make Your Eyeballs Bounce
To be fair Bill Nettles had a long list of stellar compositions to his name dating back to the mid-1930’s and certainly was a legitimately good songwriter whether this was his original composition or not.

Furthermore this was a sequel to an earlier record of his which he absolutely did write called Hadacol Boogie, a hit on the country charts a year earlier. Nettles was also well known for cutting follow-ups to earlier songs so this would seem to fit in with that evidence.

But there’s no question that Hadacol Bounce SOUNDS like a Professor Longhair song from start to finish – the melody and weird lyrics are right in his wheelhouse – while Nettles by contrast sounds stilted and awkward with the entire thing.

Then again what appeals to country music fans – then or now – is sometimes beyond my ability to understand. I suppose Nettles’ version is okay for the country field, at least the lines themselves retain some charm though he’s not doing much to add any personality to their reading, but his nasal twang and the steel guitar accompaniment certainly don’t lend themselves to laughs and whoever wrote it clearly had laughs in mind as that’s where the song earns its keep.
 


 
 

I Ain’t Been Hugged And I Ain’t Been Kissed
Adding a slow-paced jittery piano intro with a guitar kicker, ‘Fess comes in with his wobbly vocals that are perfectly suited for such a tale as this.

Hadacol, you surely remember, was sold in the South as a “medical elixir” to get around the ban on alcohol sales in many communities. It had absolutely no curative powers unless your doctor prescribed a “drunken stupor” to get over your maladies.

Because this was so widely known and something of a shared joke among those from these regions there were plenty of songs about it including Little Willie Littlefield’s Drinking Hadacol. Nettles was already nearly 50 himself and was probably the prime demographic for such a product and he used the age aspect as the main source of his humor, saying how it makes the old feel young and how he drinks it to keep his hair from turning gray.

Since ‘Fess was considerably younger, though when it came to rock he was hardly a kid himself at 32, it might not have quite the same connotations but then again one listen to his croaked vocal tones and it’s a safe bet that nobody who hadn’t seen him in person could tell if Roy Byrd was 20 or 80 and he plays that up perfectly on Hadacol Bounce where he sounds half in the bag but still having a good time.

Hearing the two versions side by side what strikes you is how Nettles seemed almost oblivious to the farcical nature of the song’s claims. His delivery is so straight and so square that it’s left entirely to the lyrics themselves to try sell the jokes.

But ‘Fess adds so much character to them with not just his cockeyed voice but also his quirky pacing, hesitations and the manner in which he emphasizes certain words that you don’t expect, all of which makes it even funnier than it is on paper and miles away from Nettles rendition.

Musically speaking as with most Professor Longhair records – on any label at any time – the focus is naturally on his piano work, which has a nice percussive quality to it here. There’s no wild solos or glissandos but he’s emphasizing the rhythm nicely and with its heavy left hand playing a slow to mid-paced tempo it lulls you into a drowsy state of mind, something appropriate for a cheap patent medicine that was 12% alcohol and would surely knock you for a loop.

This is also the only one of the tunes he cut for Mercury at any session that features a guitar – another potential clue that you’re free to speculate on in your own free time if you want – which lends a nice understated second “voice” to the arrangement, picking up the melodic slack and contributing a different texture with its echoing notes than we’re used to with him.

The whole thing is a sound collage that’s as dizzying as the medicine it describes, a perfect way to close out a night on the town where you don’t quite remember where you went, who you saw or what you did, only that you smiled a lot while doing it.
 


 

They Tell Me That I’m Wrong
Unfortunately the mystery surrounding this record overshadows its appeal, although to be fair you can take the official claims at face value and have just as good of a chance of being right as somebody who disputes them all.

Did ‘Fess write this song or was it a cover of one by Bill Nettles? If so, did he actually record it before Nettles or after? Is it possible that he DID only have one double session for Mercury that took place in late 1949 or early 1950 and the later July date was conceived to justify Nettles getting credit for the song?

Does any of that really matter one way or another?

No, probably not. Professor Longhair’s catalog is filled with lots of similar tunes, things that someone else wrote but he redefined, or things where nobody quite knows who wrote what.

You’d like to see the one responsible for penning Hadacol Bounce, whether Nettles or ‘Fess, get proper credit but ultimately the song is remembered because of Professor Longhair which sort of makes any other claim to it all but irrelevant.

All of this underhanded quasi-legal intrigue is perfectly fitting for the song’s controversial topic however and serves as yet another reminder to everybody to take each claim anyone makes about anything in music with a grain of salt… or a shot of over the counter medicine.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Professor Longhair for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)