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FEDERAL 12075; MAY 1952



Introducing new artists around here can be a little hectic and trying at times.

The idea of course is to try and present each act as they’d have been seen at the time when these singles came out, unknowns just trying to catch your ear. That can be hard to do however when looking back from the present where their legacies have long since been determined by the successes and failures still to come.

So while it’s probably always unlikely that the soon-to-be stars and the quickly forgotten are going to be presented in exactly the same fashion in their respective premiere reviews, the hope is that we can sort of put off discussing their ultimate fates until the time comes, which in the best of cases might be years down the road.

But we can’t here, because today we’re meeting a group who had genuine potential yet from the very beginning seemed to be sabotaged at every turn by the very label who signed them, ruining their chances for success before they even got off the ground making this odd title for a debut single sound almost prescient.


Since You’ve Done Me So Wrong
On paper The Four Jacks were a great addition to Federal Records thanks in large part to the unique and somewhat groundbreaking role they were being given.

This was not just a stand-alone group with their own releases under their own names, they were conceived as a way to bring a vocal group dynamic to other artists, everything from singing rather anonymous backgrounds on a solo artist’s records to getting co-lead artist credit for duetting with a solo act, as well as the aforementioned singles of their own.

It was what Atlantic and Jesse Stone would do down the road with The Cues, who grew out of The Blenders when their struggling singles career died down, except in their case they rarely did more than backgrounds under various names, but they were a vital presence on countless records as a result.

The Four Jacks could’ve been that and more. Like The Blenders before them The Four Jacks owed a very big debt to The Ravens, using the same kind of suggestive bass-lead on their songs, including Goodbye Baby.

Yet they weren’t entirely reliant on that approach and showed impressive stylistic versatility – even when it was misplaced such as on the pop-centric flip You Met A Fool, which certainly didn’t help establish them with a rock audience who might’ve discarded them entirely after hearing that.

The problem though wasn’t the occasional misfire, but rather the fact that Federal overused them in the spring and summer of 1952 before dropping them altogether at which point the group broke up.

Since their career arc is so short, that puts all of Federal Records’ decisions – the good and especially the bad – under the microscope more than usual.


You Shouldn’t Ought To Done It
It was the last week of March when The Four Jacks sauntered into the studio for their only session as the lead artist on a record. They cut the standard four sides for two singles and half of the material was outdated pop-influenced stuff and the other half was more suitable rock songs.

To their credit I suppose Federal at least split the sides up, issuing one of each on both of their releases, but the question arises whether they actually envisioned the pop stuff getting any spins at all. I mean, who on earth did they think was going to buy it? This was a rock label that didn’t have any name recognition in the pop kingdom for starters, while the number of black vocal groups in 1952 that were appealing to pop listeners were acts that were leftover from the 1940’s.

But putting that aside and focusing on the efforts we’re concerned with, Goodbye Baby shows The Four Jacks to have a pretty good handle on the requirements of rock, even if it harkens back a little too overtly to The Ravens prototype which was now more than six years old.

Because of this the key figure in the group is obviously the bass vocalist, Ellison White, a convert from gospel who’d been with the famed Wings Of Jordan prior to this, showing once again that gospel and the church in general was, for most anyway, just a commercial gig, not a way of life. This is all the more obvious when you listen to the way he draws out the word “Bay-bee” early on and then goes on to complain about how she treated him, how he’s leaving and how she’s going to miss him.

No head in the clouds waiting for divine intervention for Mr. White.

As for the other Jacks, they’re a little more subdued, though we don’t know if they were refugees from a cult with a steeple too. They certainly don’t sound bad, they have nice harmonies when they’re allowed to stretch out, but their backing parts are fairly mundane after a decent opening making it case of having too little to do rather than being incapable of doing it altogether.

The song – yet another written by the suddenly prolific tandem of Johnny Otis’s bassist Mario Delegarde and established tunesmith Rick Darnell who’ve collaborated on lots of singles for seemingly every act on Federal Records the last few months – is fairly well constructed, if a little simple, with no surprising plot twists, memorable lines or dramatic structural innovations.

Goodbye Baby works well enough though because it’s built out of reliable materials even if it doesn’t attempt to stand out in the process. With the group as a whole not being given a lot to do, you’d expect the musical side would get a bigger showcase, but while Tiny Mitchell’s electric guitar throws in various licks that brighten the record and bring some added energy to it beyond the rolling rhythm that they’ve borrowed wholesale, there’s no instrumental break to highlight it or Dimples Harris’ piano playing, which means the entire record rides on White’s impressive pipes and his comfort with the style.

He more than holds his own in both areas which means this record sounds fine unto itself, but in just one side the label has already shown their limited imagination when it comes to the concept itself by sticking with the expected rather than trying to shake things up.

Nothing I Can Do But Smile And Say Goodbye
Of course we know full well that not every artist, and certainly not every release that a label issues, is going to be a candidate for hit status and The Four Jacks with their unusual backgrounds might not have ever been poised for rock stardom no matter how good they sounded right out of the gate, but they really needed to push things a lot harder than this to force audiences hands.

We know – or at least we soon will learn (wink-wink) – that they had much better card to play coming out of this session but instead they chose to deliver their second best attempt as their debut. While Goodbye Baby is perfectly acceptable thanks to White’s commitment, it’s still far from ambitious which is the standard we’re now holding the best acts to at this stage of the game.

Even the biggest supporter of this side would have to admit that its quality is more of a testament to The Ravens enduring impact than anything The Four Jacks brought to the table themselves, even if they have slightly modified the sound with a sharper backing track.

It’s hard to say that a slightly better than average record for its day is a letdown, especially with an unknown quantity serving as the focal point on their debut, but there’s an exception to every rule and this is it.

Put this one down as a good record that still wasn’t quite good enough to give us any confidence that Federal Records actually knew what they were doing.


(Visit the Artist page of The Four Jacks for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)