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OKEH 6844; DECEMBER 1951



Your tolerance of surprises in life probably varies depending on age, situation and the type of surprise we’re talking about.

An eight year old might respond with elation at a surprise party thrown for them while an eighty-eight year old might keel over from a heart-attack.

A music fan would be surprised to hear a good artist release something dreadful and yet even that might not elicit the same level of shock as hearing an artist you’d written off as an untalented hack suddenly come out with something that shows genuine skill.

Considering just how bad his first pitiful efforts at warbling a tune had been, it’s actually quite possible that hearing Titus Turner confidently putting across a song with power and precision might give you a heart-attack as well.


Have You Going Crazy
The first steps a baby takes probably won’t find them waltzing across the floor. The first time you get behind the wheel of a car generally won’t end up with you cruising past the checkered flag a few hours later to win the Indianapolis 500.

Likewise we don’t we expect the first record a singer releases to be a chart topping smash, however we DO assume their debut to feature at least a moderately competent vocal performance because unlike those other examples most artists signed to record contracts have surely already proven themselves to be GOOD at singing… be it at talent shows, open auditions or demo sessions of some kind.

Titus Turner, on the other hand, seemed to have wandered in off the street having taken a wrong turn and ended up in a recording studio rather than a bus depot or shoe store where he’d have been more at home.

His first effort at cutting a record in 1950 for Aladdin on I’m Just A Lucky So And So was ear-splittingly awful and not surprisingly it took more than a year for the industry’s eardrums to recover from such an ordeal and give him another chance, this time on Regal Records where he proved to be just as inept on Stop Trying To Make A Fool of Me, a title that surely referred to those executives who saw some potential in this kid who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

The flip side was slightly better by degrees, but its title – Let’s Forget The Whole Thing – seemed oddly prescient considering his difficulties at performing his most basic duties in the studio. Surely no other company was going to risk their reputation by taking a chance on him.

But when Regal Records folded their operations this past fall and sold their stable of artists to OKeh Records who were glad to get a bunch of proven hitmakers in Paul Gayten, Annie Laurie and Larry Darnell, the coal in the Christmas stocking was Titus Turner whose contract apparently wasn’t flammable and so he did indeed get another chance to subject listeners to a brand of aural cruelty with his cracked vocal pipes.

But maybe the change of scenery did him good, or perhaps OKeh Records had a studio engineer who dabbled in magic on the side, because Don’t Take Everybody To Be Your Friend winds up not only being tolerable (the odds of which were easily a 100-1 against) but in fact exceeds even those lofty goals and shows that Turner might have chosen the right career after all.

In other words the 18 year old had finally learned to walk, drive and… most importantly… to sing.

Shoot Him If He Stands Still And Cut Him If He Runs
Hearing Titus Turner’s voice pouring out of the speakers following a mesmerizing interplay between piano and guitar you marvel at his vocal maturity.

Not only has his voice deepened some and smoothed out the rough edges, but he’s somehow managed to learn such techniques as discipline, projection and emotional nuance over the past few months and is putting all of those to good use here, giving you a feeling that he actually knows what the hell he’s doing for once.

It’s a performance that is dripping with confidence, perfectly measured and eminently comfortable in every way.

You’d say that this might be because he wrote the song himself and therefore knew what he was capable of heading into the session, but he’d written his last effort as well and that didn’t help him any. (And just so nobody asks, this is NOT the Sister Rosetta Tharpe gospel song with the same title unless Jesus is now a jealous boyfriend with vengeance on his mind… which frankly would liven up the Bible in ways it desperately needs!)

Certainly the polished arrangement with its cool rhythmic strut is a benefit here as well but he wasn’t exactly working with amateurs in the past so while we can praise the judicious support which gives equal time to all of the lead instruments including a tasty sax solo, they aren’t propping Turner up by any stretch of the imagination.

The production is first rate too with a subtle echo effect on the vocals which helps to make his voice shimmer, but it’s hardly being done to hide any deficiencies.

Nope, this is Titus’s show from start to finish and he earns his accolades on Don’t Take Everybody To Be Your Friend, delivering a forceful message about being wary of those getting too close to you and warning you to keep an eye on those who demand your trust before they earn it.

Though he touches on a number of examples, from them borrowing your clothes and your money, his real concern is them stealing your girlfriend and midway through he leaves no doubt that he means business by laying out in starkly violent terms just what he has in store for anyone who doubts his intent.

It’s an unexpected turn of events but he sells it with conviction which adds a sinister edge to the entire performance, although in the process it obviously renders the song as being somewhat inappropriate for dancing with your sweetheart. But not all records are made for such social affairs and since his previous outings were suited only for playing in an empty barn to keep rats from nesting there, we’ll rest our feet while this plays and appreciate it for Turner’s self-assured vocal turn where even his tossed aside “Wells” are carried out with the greatest of ease.


Make A Fool Out Of You
As if we needed yet another example, this is why we never give on people in life, no matter how futile their initial attempts at something may be.

Granted, a lot of artists just don’t have it in them to be anything more than third rate journeymen no matter how hard they try, but when one of them manages to step up their game out of nowhere – whether consistently, or even just one time – it’s always worth the wait.

There’s a level of satisfaction you get from being surprised like this, of hearing a record that you went into with absolutely no expectations because of the name adorning the label and having your opinion of them irrevocably altered with each subsequent line.

In the end we should all want each artist we encounter to succeed, not just for their benefit but for ours as well. There’s never enough good singers to keep us satiated just as there’s never too may good records to listen to and so when we can pull someone like Titus Turner off the discard pile and champion a record like Don’t Take Everybody To Be Your Friend it should make you feel good that you stuck with him until he got his footing and learned his trade.

No, he’s not going to go on to become an all-time great by any means and we probably would’ve realized that even then, but at least now we have proof that he can be competitive from this point forward and instead of dreading his next appearance on these pages, we now have something else to look forward to.

Surprise, surprise.


(Visit the Artist page of Titus Turner for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)