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MERCURY 8179; MAY 1950



Who would’ve ever thought that an unremarkable – and largely unknown – vocalist whose recorded output consisted of a lone single on a major label that save for this brief flurry of activity all but ignored rock ‘n’ roll for years, would be the key to so much speculating about the inner workings and tangled relationships of the entire New Orleans musical scene?

That this record isn’t very good (and truth be told really isn’t rock ‘n’ roll either) shouldn’t detract entirely from the opportunity it provides us to examine with a little more depth some of the major players from the city in which this entire musical odyssey began.


If You Hear My Plea
Since we’re including this almost solely for the side stories I suppose we should get the musical analysis out of the way first because it’s best done in a perfunctory manner.

Lost Love is a mournful ballad that in better hands vocally might’ve been modestly adequate. Admittedly that’s setting a pretty low bar and considering Theard Johnson can’t even clear that sort of tells you that in the close to a thousand records we’ve reviewed to date, this one, though not doomed to be called the absolute worst record we review, is probably the least compelling when it comes to musical content.

Johnson has a fair baritone voice at best but an absolutely putrid delivery. He’s artificially melodramatic, both here and on its even more pop-slanted flip, I Walk In My Sleep, mistakenly thinking his feeble attempts at a sonorous delivery may suggest added depth and pathos.

It doesn’t work, for even if you were to buy in to each and every word he says he’s continually done in by his ham-fisted projection – sort of like Billy Eckstine if Billy had gotten a concussion from kickboxing a kangaroo – so that you don’t have any sympathy for his plight. It’s a bad monologue in a bad stage play, one where there’s no genuine emotion being displayed which results in no personal connection with the audience.

The song as written is only moderately better, although admittedly it’s kind of hard to picture it without the thick vocal gauze that Johnson’s wraps it in. But even without his unfortunate choice of delivery it’s a song designed to be far too classy – noble trumpets squawking, dainty piano doodling, starched collars everywhere you look – to be able to effectively pull at your heartstrings no matter what misery Johnson’s girl leaving him has caused.

Had they chosen instead to add a slightly choppy beat accenting the off-notes, giving it a mocking prancing rhythm behind Johnson’s pitiful emoting it’d have been downright humorous… or if they’d overhauled it with far more dramatic instrumental accompaniment, moaning saxes, throbbing bass, twitchy drums with an occasional double-time bass drum kick in the teeth for good measure, then let somebody far more skilled – Roy Brown or someone of that ilk – apply their best gospel-derived technique on the same material, practically breaking down into hysterics by the end, then you’d have something potentially interesting.

But this?!?!? A deadly serious framework to a song already suffering from a pretentious lead vocal? Nah, we’ll pass if you don’t mind.

However now that we’ve gotten that unfortunate business out of the way we can focus on the real reason… the ONLY reason… why this record gets an airing around these parts, one that has virtually nothing to do with the focal point of the record other than his connection to those in his orbit.

I Found You, Then I Lost You
If you happened to glance at the pictures of the record labels included on the page you’ll see three very familiar names. Dave Bartholomew, who wrote the other side, and the husband-wife team of guitarist Jack Scott and vocalist Jewel King who penned Lost Love.

Their mere presence alone of course doesn’t make these songs a good fit in rock but it DOES make talking about them relevant to the bigger picture we’re trying to paint here, specifically in unraveling some of the byzantine New Orleans musical web in the middle of the Twentieth Century just as jazz was giving way to rock on record and yet was, in certain circles anyway, still lagging slightly behind the older forms when it came to securing club work.

Despite having some hit records of his own as well as overseeing even bigger rock records by others, Dave Bartholomew at this point in time couldn’t make a living on stage playing only rock ‘n’ roll. New Orleans might’ve been far more progressive than any other city in America when it came to featuring this unruly music (with Los Angeles a fairly close second) but the Crescent City’s live music scene was still built on diversity where Dixieland rubbed shoulders with pop which held court alongside rock and shared the stage with blues.

In other words, one of the reasons why Dave Bartholomew was thought to have the best band in the area was because they were proficient at playing a little bit of everything. We in the rock community might not have wanted to waste any time (or a review) on anything OTHER that rock ‘n’ roll, but these other brands of music were unquestionably part of their local identity at the time and thus an integral part of their stories.

Hell, it’s one reason why Bartholomew had gotten his job producing for Imperial Records in the first place last fall, the fact that he was conversant in so many styles meant he was much more likely to be able to mesh with various singers in the studio… like say Jewel King, the co-writer of this song.

Need You Oh So Badly
We’ve gone over the torturous self-defeating saga of Jewel King and her jealous husband Jack Scott each time we’ve met them that we don’t have to delve into it yet again here. But this record does at least give us a chance to show that their life together wasn’t entirely defined by his suspicion and her acquiescence to his demands.

Each were very good at what they did – far better than Lost Love would indicate actually – who at the time of this recording session in August 1949 were still as of yet unaware of the tumultuous highs and lows that would soon follow when King was signed by Bartholomew and scored the label’s first rock hit with 3×7=21 only to have her chance at headlining a national tour end when Scott insisted on tagging along… leading the band on stage in place of Bartholomew, even though he wasn’t signed to Imperial himself.

As a result the timing of this recording session is what matters most when it comes to putting the last few pieces in all of their stories into place.

Back then Bartholomew had just scored his first – and only – national hit as an artist, Country Boy, and his recording contract with DeLuxe Records was not quite up yet. He was still a month or so away from venturing to Houston to play an extended engagement in Don Robey’s Peacock Lounge where he’d be seen and subsequently hired by Imperial’s Lew Chudd to head their operations in New Orleans.

King, who had recorded for DeLuxe with Bartholomew a year earlier though none of those records had been released, would be among Dave’s first signings in his new position which briefly made her a star. Her husband hadn’t even been able to get her a recording contract himself even though he was the main musical force in Paul Gayten’s band who’d been the first New Orleans act to record for DeLuxe and now they were the cornerstone of Regal Records in its formative stages.

So all of these figures were still in the process of working out the pecking order of the New Orleans rock scene as this Mercury Records session took place, each of them looking for means with which to further their own prospects. These sides therefore represented an opportunity to establish themselves as major players outside of their own records… all of which means poor Theard Johnson was little more than an afterthought on his own record.

Just who WAS Theard Johnson, you ask? Well, as hinted at earlier when talking about how Bartholomew needed to be able to play all sorts of music on the bandstand to stay in demand around town, the (surprisingly young looking) guy he’d hired to handle to pop-ballad fare was none other than Johnson, which explains how this rather unmemorable and otherwise totally obscure singer winds up making an ill-fitting appearance in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

Where Are You?
Okay, okay… I know what you’re asking: Was it really necessary to waste an entire review of a song that has no business being discussed on purely musical grounds in a rock history blog?

Well obviously since you just read it – or at least skimmed it – I think the answer is yes. Granted the actual record is by far the least compelling part of the entire story (and its score is at least in part due to its incompatibility with the direction of rock which was largely by design), but including it was the only way that story – which IS important to rock’s evolution – could reasonably be told.

But don’t feel TOO sorry for the memory of Theard Johnson, for if not for the participation of Dave Bartholomew, Jewel King and Jack Scott, not to mention the rest of the band of heavy hitters who seem similarly straitjacketed here, then Lost Love wouldn’t have reason to EVER be discussed.

Sometimes in life it’s not what you do that matters, it’s what you bear witness to that puts you in the middle of some sort of seismic event that will resonate through the years. If so, don’t bemoan your lack of contributions to the revolution at hand, just be glad that you get to appear as a fuzzy face in the corner of the picture because those around you are what will ensure you’re always included somewhere in the history books, however insignificant a place that might be.


(Visit the Artist page of Theard Johnson for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)