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KING 4487; AUGUST 1951



Though I doubt many of the lunatics who come to this site are SO crazy that they pay close attention to the label numbers at the top of the page, if you happen to be one who does then this particular one might leave you a little confused… maybe not quite yet but in awhile when we review another Tiny Bradshaw record with a lower number.

The explanation for this is King Records, the only independent company with their own in-house pressing plant, had their upcoming releases churned out well in advance which meant the next Tiny Bradshaw single was already on the docket for this month before being pulled at the last minute for another one, freshly cut, which had to take the next free number available which was well in advance of the last single on the label we covered (King 4469).

The reason they did this – besides their sadistic desire to mess up our neat orderly site – is because once again they’re acting like a major label and looking to hastily cover a recent release that was burning up the charts.

And that in the end is a more egregious crime against humanity than screwing up our numbering in the Label Discography.


All The Wrong…
It won’t be too long now before this practice goes the way of the dodo bird and thankfully disappears forever, but for the next few years we’ll have to live with it even if it shows just how vapid the record industry was.

Rather than let their artists cultivate their own music, free of outside interference, they look to sell records as if they were TV Dinners and figure that a rising hit by a fairly unproven commodity could have its sales usurped by a bigger name with a built-in fan base, thus giving the label a hit without much fuss. After all, the song has already been written and it doesn’t take much to devise a slight variation of the arrangement if you feel that’s necessary, and there’s even advance “promotion” being done without any expense on your part as the name of the song is being spread by word of mouth and so it’s not hard to step in and try and siphon off sales.

I know, I know, this was standard operating procedure in the early fifties and no cause for alarm. But just because everybody did it doesn’t mean it was right. Those songs are somebody else’s livelihood and for most acts hits are exceedingly hard to come by so for somebody who’s enjoying his very first one to have to compete with another veteran artist cutting THEIR song is unethical and frankly kinda scuzzy.

Of course saying that is pretty redundant because the record industry is as unethical and scuzzy as any business known to man.

The “victim” in this case is Jimmie Nelson, an artist who on the surface seemed to be a mass of contradictions… a blues singer with a gospel upbringing and a laid-back shouting style with a jazzy backing band… and during his four years as a professional had nothing to show for it until “T” 99 Blues started breaking big. Unusual in its musical dichotomy – the soft slow chanting of the title phrase behind Nelson’s brasher lead – it was a fantastic nuanced record that took off over the summer causing Tiny Bradshaw to come in at the end of July and cover it in his own indomitable style.

Making matters worse was the San Francisco club Nelson was performing at wouldn’t let him out of their extended contract in order to tour behind the record and earn some dough off his hit. On top of that the Bihari Brothers who ran RPM were the biggest thieves in the business and stole half the writing credit as usual so he basically wasn’t getting paid from any corner for his chart topping smash.

Bradshaw didn’t know this and maybe wouldn’t have cared if he had. He’d been around long enough to know the only rules in this game were there WERE no rules and so when King Records upended their release schedule to put out his version of T-99 it was nothing personal… just business as usual in the dirtiest business there was.

Sure Looks Good To Me
To be fair, Bradshaw definitely brings something of his own to his version of the song to distance it from the original, increasing the tempo and emphasizing the backbeat while his vocals typically go right to the edge of the cliff, balancing precariously between control and chaos.

In that way I suppose you can excuse this to a degree, in that they have two different audiences. Nelson’s not the prototypical bluesman by any means, but his style on this falls clearly into that realm, whereas Bradshaw by this point is a pure rocker, irrepressible as ever and now featuring an even more potent secret weapon in his band in the form of Red Prysock.

Surprisingly though Prysock takes it easy on T-99, playing as well as he always does but in the most subdued manner of anyone on the record during his solo stint. He’s almost being used for a calming effect after Bradshaw’s vocals are constantly straining at the seams, ready to knock you over if you give him half a chance.

Bradshaw sounds really good though… much different than Nelson of course, who’s far more reflective in his vocals… but Tiny sells the enthusiasm well and if it shifts the impression of the lyrics a bit, it’s to Nelson’s credit that they work well in each context. Unlike Nelson who was downhearted over this situation, Bradshaw comes across as not being too broken up over his girl’s sudden departure but instead with his vast experience with women knows that no relationship is bound to last and rather than cry about it he’ll choose to remember it fondly.

Maybe his greatest attribute as a singer is how he always sounds as if he’s relating something personal in his vocals, telling us what happened as if it actually took place and grappling with his feelings as he reveals the story. As a result every word sounds authentic, as if he were coming up with the lines himself in real time even as virtually every aspect of this was taken directly from Nelson… different projection, but same phrasing and tossed-off asides.

With Nab Shields hammering away on the drums and Willy Gaddy adding some stinging guitar licks from time to time, the musical pedigree is solid from top to bottom and the band’s chanting of the title (which refers to the Texas highway the girl headed out of town on) has more vigor to it than the more soothing vocals on Nelson’s hit, something which makes Bradshaw’s pals sound almost as if they’re slyly taunting him for losing this girl that he was surely bragging about to them the night before.

Though you can criticize the act of trying to undercut the original, you can’t find fault with Bradshaw and the band on any musical aspect of this record.


Drag It Home
As well as it may have been carried out, the ploy didn’t pay off, for while Bradshaw’s record is really good in its own right, Jimmie Nelson’s original was already on all of the charts across the country heading for the top and nothing was going to derail it.

So I guess you’d say in the end justice prevailed even though Nelson’s career never reached the heights it should have considering his ability. He’d score no more national hits, though he’d have a few strong local sellers around Houston where he moved in the mid-1950’s, but then dropped out of the recording scene and got work in construction as a mason, hardly something that would bring him fame even as he was among those pouring the cement for the Astrodome in the mid-1960’s.

Eventually he’d make a well received musical comeback in later years, choosing to write new songs rather than re-hash his old glories, but when all was said and done he’d forever be known for this song, which wasn’t surprising since record labels after this would have his name read Jimmie “T-99” Nelson.

As for Bradshaw, though his career hardly needed the boost of swiping someone else’s song, or having it swiped for him by King Records, this is no uninspired by-the-numbers cover and if you happened to be one of those who preferred his version of T-99 over the original, we can hardly accuse you of having bad taste.

This is a song where you can’t go wrong with either version even if this one shouldn’t have existed in the first place if artistic autonomy was a consideration. But since it rarely was, take this for what it is… a bad deed done well.


(Visit the Artist page of Tiny Bradshaw for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)