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KING 4579; NOVEMBER 1952

 

 

Society is strange the way it confers (or denies) respect to certain professions that are the antithesis of the very attributes they claim to be crediting.

For instance we vilify drug dealers for providing a service that is unavailable through normal means. The product itself may be damaging but the widespread sale of it is a remarkable example of creative capitalism, thriving despite not having any normal infrastructure to support it (brick & mortar buildings, advertising, FDA approval or money back guarantees) and those in need of it are more or less getting exactly what they’re paying for with no complaints as to the service.

Meanwhile society has championed police officers despite the complete lack of integrity or morality in the profession, where framing suspects, lying under oath, widespread brutality, even murder, are not just common occurrences in departments across the country but are protected by the very institutions themselves and aided by a corrupt legal system that treats the entire profession as if they’re heroes for wearing badges even as they systematically violate the trust communities place in them.

When it comes to rock history most music fans can tell you all the seamy details of self-destructive artists and their many public foibles that oftentimes derailed their careers, yet they largely turn a blind eye to the deceptive practices and outright thievery that the record labels propagate at every turn.
 

 

The Walls Are Moving In
Having just taken aim at one armed and dangerous institution, lets blast away at another that gets widespread undeserved credit as well, the United States military which in a roundabout way is responsible for the sleazy situation we have before us on today’s release by The Swallows.

Last winter, in 1952 that is, The Swallows lead singer Junior Denby was drafted into the Marines, his life upended and his career derailed at the very moment he and the group were poised to succeed.

In music, where popularity is fleeting even without such obstacles, this was akin to destroying his life’s work, as unlike being a machinist or a gardener or an office worker, you can’t simply return from a two year hitch and pick up where you left off with no adverse effect on your earning potential. The small window of opportunity to build their name and reputation was closing rapidly and Denby’s forcible removal by the government all but ensured the entire group’s future prospects were snuffed out forever.

Needless to say for a young Black male who was now compelled to risk his life serving a country where he did not even enjoy equal rights, to say nothing of equal opportunity, equal education, equal pay or equal lifespans (even without foreign soldiers dropping bombs on you), this was as immoral and cruel a situation that could be found in a country falsely proclaiming to be the land of the free.

But I digress…

Anyway, Denby’s departure meant the other Swallows were left to tour without him, even as they had no new records to promote once he was gone, this in spite of the fact that the group actually had many capable leads in the midst. Bass singer Bunky Mack had already taken two leads while tenor Eddie Rich had actually been their primary singer when they first signed with King Records until producer Henry Glover fell in love with Denby’s voice and laconic delivery and made him the focal point thereafter.

And THAT’S where we run headlong into the label’s deceit – not just to the public, but also the group itself, who are not even present on Please Baby Please. It seems Glover found out Denby was on a two week leave from the military and hauled him into the studio, giving him a bunch of songs to sing while backed by a gospel group enlisted to approximate the sound of the missing Swallows who were somewhere in the sticks trying to earn a living, unaware that the record company deemed them completely irrelevant to their own output.

Though the song he wrote isn’t bad, the actions of Henry Glover after it was written are anything but admirable.
 


 
 

Love Ain’t Love No More
There’s little doubt the gospel group – probably The Swan Silvertones according to the invaluable investigative work of Marv Goldberg – can handle their simple parts easily enough and Henry Glover, for all his personal shortcomings in this instance, was still a great songwriter and arranger who could compensate for whatever missing parts he was forced to deal with.

As a result the opening which features the group softly repeating a nonsensical phrase, sort of humming it in the way they put it across, is catchy enough without being incriminating as to their true identity.

It’s also a spry enough pace to offset Junior Denby’s typically lackadaisical delivery, a distinctive character trait of his rather than a character flaw. His sleepy vocals have already become a group trademark and so it was up to the group – whichever group this actually was – to make sure that it didn’t put the listener to sleep in the process.

As a result their quickened introduction, which gets repeated throughout the song in between the stanzas, is like a shot of concentrated caffeine behind Denby whose stuffy nasal baritone was more like vocal melatonin.

That works fine here, but it wouldn’t mean all that much had Please Baby Please not had such an interesting way of describing what was essentially a standard situation of a guy bemoaning his lost love. Rather than stick entirely with simple phrases and thoughts to express his dismay, Glover gives Denby a few more colorful metaphors to try and convey just how broken up he is over this girl’s departure which if nothing else get you to contemplate his situation more than if he were just using the same “woe is me” techniques of a hundred other likeminded songs.

With its sparse arrangement featuring a bluesy guitar break rather than the more common sax or piano – or for that matter, a vocal bridge by another member, since the other members were currently pooling their last sixty two cents to buy a can of pork and beans to share for dinner somewhere in Virginia – this record has a much more haunting atmosphere than most vocal group offerings.

As Denby starts repeating “Pleeeeeease baby” down the stretch while the make believe “Swallows” deliver their stuttering vocals behind him as if calling out from a darkened room, the bleak environment that Glover wanted to project is complete.

It may not be a very commercial song, and of course it’s hardly a very honest depiction of the group in question, but it’s definitely interesting, even without knowing the behind the scenes machinations that went with it.
 


 

My Brain Is Spinning Around
The kicker to this story is that Henry Glover didn’t even bother to explain to Junior Denby the situation, or try and offer up some flimsy excuse that would justify him going behind The Swallows back like this.

In fact, Denby was surprised to later learn this went out under their group name even though his friends IN the group were not involved in any way.

Obviously he didn’t see the promo release meant for the disc jockeys which actually played UP these circumstances (with a notable omission regarding the group itself)… no doubt in an effort to earn spins from patriotic radio stations supporting a dedicated soldier!

Whatever hurt feelings Please Baby Please may have caused within the group certainly wasn’t HIS fault, but the fallout was that Eddie Rich, still thinking The Swallows were going to have a long career as one of King Records’ favored groups, turned down the chance to replace Clyde McPhatter in The Dominoes (though considering Billy Ward’s tyrannically reign was getting more heavy-handed by the day, maybe that was for the best… the job went to Jackie Wilson though, who didn’t do too bad as a result).

When Denby got out of the service it was Bunky Mack’s turn to get kidnapped by Uncle Sam, leaving another gaping hole in The Swallows who now were also without a contract, as King had unceremoniously dropped them altogether, even though the company DID get Denby to come back for a solo session.

Not surprisingly he soon quit the business altogether when he discovered that King Records had stolen his writing royalties. Meanwhile The Swallows – who we’re far from done with around here – carried on with other singers for other labels but never regained the status they enjoyed before everybody involved with them did them wrong. An all too typical story in an industry known for these types of heinous acts.

If there are heroes and villains in every story, it’s clear that the good guys are the group members themselves who dutifully followed orders given to them by a succession of bad guys which naturally include the unethical United States government and the equally disreputable record company machinery, both of whom treated other human beings as little more than pawns to move around a chessboard for their own benefit.

Yet somehow in this backwards world in which we live we’re expected to salute the flag and praise King Records for being one of the top independent labels in rock history.

If the Marines gave Denby a machine gun and ammunition while forcing him to play solider against his will, I can think of a few easy and deserving targets for him to practice shooting at.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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