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KING 4431; FEBRUARY 1951

 
 

 

During World War Two there were countless songs referencing the Armed Forces… from patriotic celebrations to humorous complaints about the regimented lifestyle, there were popular records about this subject coming out in virtually every musical style and in the years since they’ve remained a symbol of that era in American history even if they’re rarely listened to anymore other than to put the period into context.

But how things have changed in just a few years, for while many kids in the early Fifties saw themselves drafted and sent overseas to risk their lives fighting in Korea, the songs referencing this conflict weren’t nearly as common, the reception they received wasn’t anywhere near as enthusiastic and the lasting impressions these records made are virtually nonexistent.

No wonder Uncle Sam is blue.
 

 

I Got My Papers This Morning
With the proliferation of vocalists being added lately to what had been purely instrumental outfits you knew that Sonny Thompson might follow suit.

Unlike the majority of bandleaders though who seemed to be drafting female singers – Little Esther kicking things off with Johnny Otis, Kitty Stevenson with Todd Rhodes, Laurie Tate with Joe Morris – Thompson went with a male singer, Jesse Edwards, a guy with a decent enough voice who is just is the wrong man for the job here. In fact after hearing him struggle to make sense of Uncle Sam Blues he might just be categorized as 4-F and sent back home.

Whatever the reason Edwards wouldn’t stick around long, just this one session, and down the line Sonny Thompson would learn his lesson and draft a female in his next recruitment drive and with Lula Reed things would improve. But for now it was an all-male club and like most guys in the early fifties they had not only the draft on their minds but also the girls they’d be torn away from if they were conscripted.

Unfortunately for them all it’s a topical record for a topic that nobody really wanted to think about and as a result it’s a record that nobody really wanted to listen to.
 


 
 

The Sharpest Cat In Town
Let’s examine this one backwards by starting off with what’s good about it and how if the rest of it was up to par then it might’ve been a decent record.

Like the top side this was another song written by Henry Glover alone. Pay no attention to the three names on the label, the Mann (Sally Mann) was King Record owner Syd Nathan cutting himself in for a share of the credit. To counter this Glover added his own alias, Bernard, which was his middle name and one he frequently used rather than his own on compositions. This time it enabled him to get two-thirds of the royalties rather than losing out on half because his boss was a greasy criminal.

In truth Glover really only has two thirds of a good record here so maybe it WAS fitting after all.

The good parts of Uncle Sam Blues are the structure itself, a rugged framework that features a pulsing rhythm, Sonny Thompson’s showy right hand on the piano, some subtle guitar and horns that ebb and flow nicely. The fact he kicks off the record with them, then has them sit out before slowly coming back in but sticking to the background before becoming more and more prominent leading into the solo is a really good piece of arranging.

You wonder if it was done on the floor itself by moving them closer to the microphones as it went on, or if they did it on the control board. My guess is the former because Glover himself was among the horn players, picking up his trumpet for this session after a long layoff upon being hired by the label to oversee their productions.

The sax solo by Tina Brooks is nice and gritty, full-bodied and yet still straining at times for notes as if it were a struggle to replicate the urgency found within the lyrics which ironically is the very thing you’re prone to miss because of the way in which they’re delivered… the missing third of a good record.
 


 

Won’t Be No Good Men Around
We’ll avoid delving into the topic of U.S foreign policy circa 1950 which led the country into the international quicksand that was the Korean War and even sidestep the idea that for some reason on a whim the country you live in can haul you out of bed one morning, put a gun in your hand and tell you to march or peel potatoes for two years, and instead focus on the story of a guy who is facing that very real predicament.

His problem doesn’t seem to be with the job description of being a soldier, but rather that doing so will take him far away from his girlfriend who he is certain will end up in somebody else’s arms while he’s gone… somebody specific, a cat named Jody who has his eye on his girl and it waiting for his opportunity to steal her away.

That’s a legitimate concern for sure and one with some definite comedic promise, but Uncle Sam Blues is the kind of record that needed to be written for somebody you already KNEW could pull it off properly, not a guy making his recording debut and being told when he steps to the microphone that he needs to not only sing it well, but act it out in a way the emphasize the humor.

The complaints that Glover hands him to bitch about are of course entirely valid and there are some legitimately good lines here including him asking the Army if they can’t send Jody overseas to get shot at instead of him, but Edwards is focused more on nailing the singing requirements than conveying the humor and as a result he undersells the jokes which of course is the main point of the song. If they don’t connect, then the song doesn’t connect.

Now to be fair delivering humor like this properly is a difficult proposition for anyone but that’s why you need to be cognizant of your personnel beforehand and tailor songs to suit them.

Down the road The Coasters could’ve turned this into a winner… Jesse Edwards on the other hand can’t pull it off. In fact if you’re not aware of the intent going in you might need to listen a few times before you even realize it’s being played for laughs and that’s hardly a good sign for a supposedly humorous record.
 

You’ll Need Everybody You Can Find
You like the attempt more than the results here and you feel bad criticizing a novice who’s doing the best he can and sounds okay as a singer but not as a comedian.

The problem is you can’t give many points for effort alone if Uncle Sam Blues falls short because of a lack of execution… heck, if you did that then the United States might’ve won the Korean War… without Jesse Edwards or Jody laying down their lives in the process!

Besides, for a Sonny Thompson records there’s not a lot of Sonny Thompson to be found around here. He’s a glorified sideman here and although the song’s concept and structure hold up, the key to its accessibility is missing.

Maybe he had the right idea though, for he learned that any time Uncle Sam comes around to your door just tell him you aren’t home.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Sonny Thompson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)