No tags :(

Share it

FEDERAL 12092; AUGUST 1952



No, I don’t understand it either.

The dramatic overuse – or should I say misuse of The Four Jacks, who were shaping up to be the handymen of Federal Records, guys called in to do seemingly small jobs for a number of clients (IE. other artists), usually wind up doing more than expected and yet still be paid little in the way of career advancement.

Talk about being overqualified, in 1952 these guys have been the poster boys for that trend in rock ‘n’ roll and it only continues here.


I Want To Know
At the very least we’ve heard Shirley Haven singing with The Four Jacks in support already, not that it did either one of them much good.

For starters Haven wasn’t going to get a single of her own without the group in tow and the group itself – while they WOULD get some sides of their own that were quite good – their jobs with Federal continued to be mainly singing in support of others.

Their sexual workout on Sure Cure For The Blues back in may had some decent ideas and Haven sounded alright in her role, but they certainly didn’t take the explict nature of the topic far enough to achieve any kind of explosive climax as it were. Considering this is the same label who’d practically advocated sex around the clock and with underaged church goers, their prudency on this record was somewhat inexplicable.

But maybe we get a clue as to why on Troubles Of My Own, because here Shirley Haven sounds a lot like she was a gospel singer making money on the side singing the Devil’s music.

That’s not the case however.

In truth Haven was an actress who had a pretty big part in No Time For Romance made in 1948 when she was all of 23 years old. But because there weren’t many parts for black actresses, even lighter skinned ones, she turned to singing next and had a fine voice as she had gotten her break in 1946 playing Miss Operetta in the stage show Jump, Jive ‘N’ Jam and even toured Korea with the USO in the first all-black performance.

But while it’s admirable that Federal Records signed her to a contract and thought she might make a go of it as a rock singer, they failed to do much in the way of ensuring that.

Two singles, no real promotion, and worse yet, songs that failed to establish a distinctive identity as to just who they wanted her to be.

You’ve Done Me Wrong, Pretty Baby
The way this starts off with the somber bass voice of Ellison White intoning some vague criticism of a man who Shirley Haven is seeing, who then comes in showing off her crystal clear soprano voice while the guitar rings out its delayed notes until it nearly sounds like an organ, you feel as if you’ve been placed in a second row pew at a cathedral.

It’s really beautifully done all around and draws you in for what you hope may follow.

Of course though it may be invocative of a church service, most religious songs don’t deal with this kind of earthly predicament, other than to harshly condemn all sexual relations other than for procreation, so maybe it’s got THAT going for it at least. Though they may not delve too deeply into why she proclaims she’s got Troubles Of My Own, it’s certainly not hard to read between the lines as to the source of her misery.

What IS hard, at least on first pass, is differentiating the voices here, because when White drops out after that first line we get a male high tenor – falsetto really – who enters the picture in the co-lead role. It’s probably Browning Mansfield (though Federal couldn’t even be bothered to have their photo taken, so forgive us for not being able to give more detail), but whoever it is sounds alarmingly close to Haven’s tone on a few lines before you start paying closer attention to the lyrics and find he’s the cad who hurt her and this song is a back and forth between the two.

The melody itself is pretty nice and both of the leads sound good, but the melodramatic lyrics are laughable at times, for how else would you describe Haven – the one who was wronged – crying her heart out saying she was a fool and having the guy who hurt her answer by saying, “Yes, you’ve been a fool”?

Can somebody please smack him upside his thick skull for making it worse for her?

The fact is though, that’s actually the best sung line in the song, each note sounding like smooth polished stone and makes you wish they had something better to show off these skills. On the whole you could even claim he sings this better than Haven, who is hampered by having to recite this inane story. I guess they figured that as an accomplished actress she could handle the emotions necessary, but the script still has to be up to par in order for anyone, even Vivian Leigh, to make it compelling.

Instead this is a pretty shallow look at broken love without any details to make it compelling. The arrangement is equally sparse with only some floating guitar lines that have a nice tone but little to really connect them to the narrative. It’s certainly kind of haunting in a way, but “kind of” doesn’t quite make up for the shortcomings elsewhere.

Though we can definitely appreciate some individual lines by each of the leads that are really well-delivered and work well in isolation, they’re not building towards any climax in the song. This is meant to put her – and thus you – through the emotional wringer but without a more thorough backstory and a payoff which wraps up the plot in a satisfying way, it winds up going nowhere in the end.

Don’t You Be A Fool Again
We’ve followed the career of Ralph Bass from his days at Savoy Records where he was the one responsible for signing the cream of the West Coast rockers – Big Jay McNeely, Johnny Otis, Little Esther – who made the label’s reputation in this field from 1949-1950.

When he got his own label to run in Federal, a subsidiary of King where he had total control, we were very optimistic, especially when he drafted The Dominoes and insisted to their overseer Billy Ward that he write rock ‘n’ roll, not watered down pop material, and has gotten nothing but genre defining hits out of them ever since.

But his reputation lately is taking a beating because of decisions like these.

Criticize the idea of trying to turn one of the few black female actresses of note into a recording star all you want, something that on paper seems shallow and exploitative and rarely works, but it’s obvious Haven can sing well enough to justify the attempt.

Yet he’s managed thus far to try her doing everything under the sun, giving us little idea of who she was as a singer and then not even promoting her in a way to at least call attention to her acting to get her some radio play (you’re telling me that those disc jockeys sitting in a cramped booth for hours on end wouldn’t have wanted to interview her on the air to break up their day?!?). On top of it all she was hampered further by material like Troubles Of My Own which at best was a good premise with little skill shown in putting it together. Add it all up and you have the ingredients for a disappointing “career”.

Haven deserved better than this, as did the vocal group in support of her, who once again prove they have the singing chops to be more than simply a (Four) Jack(s)-of-all trade for a label that seems to have lost their magic touch when it comes to decision making.

We’ll give the singers slightly more credit than the rest of the record deserves in lieu of Bass’s ongoing musical mental block, but considering that before long both of these talented artists will be gone from the label with nothing much to show for their time there, you can easily see how a lower grade would be handed out if this was Ralph Bass’s name adorning the label.


(Visit the Artist pages of Shirley Haven and The Four Jacks for the complete archive of their respective records reviewed to date)