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MODERN 20-818; MAY 1951



The assemblage of young talent on this record was considerable and included one all-time great plus another who would have a long successful career in variety of guises, but the one whose name adorned the label, though at this point by far the most experienced among them as well as the one with the impetus for getting them all together on record, never reached the heights some of the others did.

He didn’t completely disappear from the Los Angeles rock scene that exploded over the next few years, but after this effort he was never anything more than a minor figure on the periphery of that scene.

One listen to this song may explain why.


At The Party Where I Met You
Rock history is littered with names who tried their hand at one thing and either failed at it or found it not to their liking and so they moved on to something else that suited their talent or temperament better and excelled at their new role.

Barrett Strong and Eddie Holland began as singers with some success but little comfort in the roles before finding their true niche was as songwriters for Motown. Kenny Gamble was another singer with some talent who likewise discovered a flair for writing and producing, overseeing the vast Philly International stable in the 1970’s. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis being another prominent example of guys who switched from artists to producers.

It worked the other way too though, as both Maurice White and Barry White – unrelated, as if you needed to be told – started off behind the scenes, Maurice as a drummer in the Chicago rock scene of the 60’s and Barry as a pianist and arranger for a number of labels before becoming one of rock’s biggest stars of the 1970’s.

But opportunities like that were far more common in the 1960’s and 70’s and beyond than they were in the 1950’s.

There were SOME who did early on… Maxwell Davis, Dave Bartholomew, Paul Gayten, Johnny Otis… but the independent record labels of the 1950’s were conditioned to think less of rock ‘n’ roll as a long term investment and more as a series of one-off releases, hoping to hit on something that could be exploited for awhile without any real sense of how to build an entire sound around one person’s vision.

Had one of the Los Angeles based labels had the foresight to think in these terms then perhaps Richard Lewis would be a widely known name in rock history today rather than a barely recognizable figure from the murky recesses of the past. He was a good pianist, a decent songwriter and a forward thinking organizational dreamer without the singular performing talent needed for it to pay off as an artist in his own right.

Believe In Me is the perfect example of his strengths and weaknesses. It’s fairly well written but he can’t sing to save his life and on a vocal record that’s something of a drawback.

In another era he’d have gone nowhere near a microphone and considering the vocal talent in the room with him at the time, the ensuing record might’ve been a precious gem rather than a piece of crumbling coal not worth picking off the ground.


Please Learn To Love Me
The analysis of this record is pretty easy… you have a solid composition and a terrible performance and the former makes the latter all that much more painful to hear.

A bad song with a poorly executed vocal is easily dismissed, its failure is spread over multiple areas and if you have a bad arrangement or faulty playing to go with it then there’s plenty of blame to go around.

But Believe In Me has some definite promise as a song which makes its shortcomings all the worse to deal with.

The melody is a little deliberate but catchy enough and the arrangement featuring Marvin Phillips and Emory Perry’s saxophones and solid drumming by either Jimmy Huff or Johnny Holt is fine, especially the semi-exotic sax solo with some random cries in the background. Maybe it could’ve been filled out a little more, Lewis’s piano and Candy Johnson’s bass are a little too far in the background, but it’s definitely workable.

Meanwhile the lyrics are endearing largely because the perspective being used is so accurate. Lewis is trying to convince a girl he’s the one for her with all of the normal teenage emotions at play… inexperience and uncertainty combined with a deep-rooted conviction that your feelings at this stage are true.

All of that succeeds… provided you can see past the atonal vocals it’s delivered with.

Lewis just can not carry a tune… not in a bucket, not in anything else. He’s flat, his voice has no sustain, no pleasing timbre, a lack of resonance… He’s using an exaggerated delivery that you’d say was meant to be humorous if the lyrics were at all funny, but instead just shows he’s got a lot of insecurity about his voice and is hoping this will either distract you or allow him to say he wasn’t taking it all that seriously if it fails to work out.

Carl Green, who in time would become the first “Johnny” in the duo Marvin & Johnny which emerged from this group of like-minded kids, doubles Lewis on the choruses but is almost drowned out when Lewis gets even more off-key, making this almost the literal definition of caterwauling.

Unfortunately nothing can save this. The music track isn’t explosive enough to take your mind off the vocal failings which themselves tend to obscure any appreciation of the storyline. It’s a good idea turned into a subpar record because of the painful deficiencies of the artist in the spotlight.

You’ll Go Up In Smoke
In life most people wish they could do something they can’t. Whether playing a sport at a high level, being able to draw or to sing, the skill set required is so specific and based largely on natural talent that even with endless practice there’s only so far you can go before you’ve reached the limit of your potential.

Richard Lewis loved music, could play and write well enough to have a career in it, but the one area that he needed to excel at to make his dreams come true was out of his grasp.

That he was surrounded by those like Jesse Belvin and to a lesser degree Marvin Phillips, who had that ability he lacked must’ve been galling to him and so you can understand his desire to take a lead vocal on Believe In Me in the hopes it might turn out better than expected and lead to more opportunities down the road.

Instead it only showed he’d never be a viable lead artist and while the others involved would see their stars rise, Lewis’s rapidly dimmed. He’d have a few more shots at glory, get to play piano for a number of acts – particularly in live gigs around L.A. – but his prospects were never again as high as they were heading into this session.

There was nothing he could’ve done to sing better, but had he realized his limitations going in and handed the lead to Belvin or Green or Phillips this could’ve been a good record and maybe then he’d have discovered that there was more than one way to be a major player on the rock scene he so desperately wanted to be a part of.


(Visit the Artist page of Richard Lewis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)