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IMPERIAL 5124; MAY 1951



A record… a single song… has roughly two to three minutes to capture listeners attention the first time they hear it and hook them enough to come back a second… and third and fourth time.

Because of this singers, songwriters, musicians and producers are constantly trying to thread a needle… make it unique enough to stand out, yet familiar enough to be easily appreciated.

It’s not always easy. Lean too far in either direction and you miss your mark.

This single by Smiley Lewis shows what happens when you’re just a little bit “off” in your decisions. The flip side was a little too unique to capture enough ears to succeed on a widespread scale, while this side leans into a more generic approach which only ensured nobody paid much attention to it either.


Goin’ Away
Among Smiley Lewis’s fans the unique charms of Bee’s Boogie are more than enough to suffice. In fact as we said in closing when reviewing it, there are many who probably like it MORE because its arrangement – replete with a 24 bar trombone solo – is so unusual.

But since most rock fans of any given era are not specifically a fan of specific artists, but rather fans of the broader genre in whatever direction it’s cumulatively headed, those idiosyncratic instrumental choices Dave Bartholomew threw in made it not quite as accessible to the casual fan.

On My Baby Was Right he has a much more streamlined sound, but he also makes a few interesting choices when it comes to instruments again that don’t seem designed to court the widest audience possible. Was Bartholomew simply testing out various theories to see how well they worked, or was it a case of him being deprived of his usual arsenal of tenor saxes (no matter what the session sheets may say) and he had to make due with various substitutes?

Or was it possible that rather than aim for a more commercial sound – churning tenors, throbbing bass, boogie piano – which would help the company he left months earlier, he instead indulged in his own wilder ideas just to see how they’d sound, knowing perhaps that it might sink the commercial chances of Lewis in the process?

That doesn’t sound far fetched at ALL. After all, he had angrily quit the company that gave him his big break and he immediately took his talents to Decca, his pride hurt, his dander up. He had every right to blow their chances up with dynamite if he so chose.

But he didn’t do that exactly. These were good records still, some people like them even more than the standard approach at the time, but they weren’t aiming for the charts in the same way he had been. Instead they were affording Bartholomew – who was clearly working as a “shadow producer” here, probably without anyone from Imperial knowing he was there – the opportunity to experiment without any consequences should they fall short.


Hold Me Tight – Right Now!
If this side of the record doesn’t quite work it’s only partly because of Bartholomew’s production choices, the rest is due to Smiley Lewis needing just one more take to nail the vocals… or more accurately, a quick lyrical edit because some of the lines have too many words to fit in the space allotted for his delivery.

The result is much of My Baby Was Right feels a little sloppy. The plot doesn’t help matters much in this regard as it centers around a woman who is gallivanting around town – guys, booze, the usual run down of vices – while Lewis is left at home to ponder her actions. He’s not angry, not hurt, in fact at times he sounds pretty enthusiastic about telling us even though he makes it clear he’s not partaking in any of these illicit activities.

Making it a little more confusing is the fact he’s largely telling this from HER perspective, albeit using a first person narrative, so you need to listen closely to figure out what lines are delivered by the girl and which come from Smiley himself.

The frantic pace might help you to ignore such questions and just go along for the ride and Bartholomew is making sure this has some horsepower to run on thanks to the dovetailing arrangement with horns, piano and guitar surging forward throughout the record.

Ernest McLean’s guitar deserves special mention, largely because it’s still not the favored soloing instrument in rock, yet Bartholomew gives him a nice showcase for making its case as to why it should get more opportunities. With plenty of space buffeting the riffs he makes it sound even faster and slightly more aggressive than it really is, yet his playing remains sharp and tasteful, adding different layer to this than most New Orleans songs at the time.

Though the music itself holds up well – though we could do with even MORE Tuts Washington on piano than we get – where you question things a little is in the horns again.

It’s a tale of two arrangements – musical and instrumental. The riff they play during the bulk of the song is well conceived, but the horns being used to carry it out are not muscular enough.

Though tenors are listed on the call sheet, neither side of this single has one as a soloing instrument. Both times we get Joe Harris’s alto and it doesn’t have the same impact. The part of the arrangement focused on WHAT the horns are playing is right in rock’s wheelhouse, but the weaker instruments that are tasked in carrying those parts out clearly undercut its effectiveness to a degree.


‘Til I Lose My Happy Home
Because Imperial Records were quicker on the draw than Decca, we don’t get to examine the Dave Bartholomew rift with his old label first, the way we should… instead we have to look at the aftermath of his decision to leave via the latest releases from Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis before finally getting to “hear” Dave’s side of the story with his first release at his new label next month.

On top of that throw in the confusion – and thus the speculation – over the circumstances of him recording with Smiley Lewis for Imperial in April, months after quitting the label himself, and you can see that the theories presented here might be akin to wild guesses rather than hard facts.

But people are people and their reactions to certain offenses are easy enough to understand and since Bartholomew’s ego and pride are legendary you know that this was no ordinary session for him.

That doesn’t mean he sabotaged the songs outright, but without any personal incentive to come up with the most commercial sound possible he was able to try things out that he probably knew had a higher chance for failure.

My Baby Was Right may have been a more typical approach but would a stickler for details like Bartholomew have left Lewis’s garbled lyrics on the master take if Dave’s own reputation was at stake? Not likely. Would he have chosen less potent horns to carry out the main musical thrust of a record that may have had hit potential with better horns if he was getting credit or blame for its success or lack thereof? Probably not and that’s what makes it interesting.

Of course none of these questions mattered to an unsuspecting audience who turned a deaf ear to this for purely musical reasons in 1951 and none of these questions are likely able to be answered today after the participants have all gone to the great beyond.

But posing those questions and pondering the multitude of possibilities is a parlor game with no end in sight.


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