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OKEH 6883; MAY 1952



It’s always a good sign when the questions we ask are positive in nature.

Here we’re wondering which is more surprising… the fact that OKeh Records are pushing the envelope on their arrangements to incorporate a harsher, rawer sound than anything we’d expect to hear out of a major label subsidiary… or are we more shocked to find that Titus Turner, who seemed almost incompetent as a singer when we first met him a few years back, is coming into his own with more confident vocals?

Whichever side you fall on the results, or at least most of them, have to leave you feeling a little optimistic.


Making Time
So far – and yes, praise for record companies is always conditional – we can’t say enough good things about OKeh’s Danny Kessler.

He may have lucked into his position running the Columbia subsidiary because the parent label knew nothing about rock ‘n’ roll and had no idea of where to look for somebody who did, but they stumbled over a good candidate right under their noses and he hasn’t let them down.

Well, maybe he DID let them down for all we know if they expected something more genteel out of him, but he hasn’t let US down which is far more important.

In other words, he wasn’t catering to Columbia’s idea of what this music should entail, he was listening to the artists, musicians and the rock fan and as a result OKeh had far exceeded anybody’s expectations as to what they could be.

Of course he had some help, notably the fact that OKeh had swooped in and purchased the contracts of a phalanx of viable rock artists at the Going Out Of Business sale of Regal Records which included Titus Turner, who had hardly seemed like the glittering jewel of that roster.

But Turner, who would go on to gain much more acclaim as a songwriter than a singer, has gradually improved his delivery to the point where most of Got So Much Trouble sounds pretty good.

Most, but not all, which means that he’s going to need Kessler’s help to come up with a way to mitigate the bad parts by some other means.


Tell Me What Am I Gonna Do
Right away we get the problem and the answer hurled in our collective faces.

The problem is Titus Turner’s reaction to eating shellfish right before recording, not knowing he was allergic to it… or perhaps he had a kidney stone he just passed and was still in some agony as the tapes started to roll. Whatever the cause though, his drunken moaning that’s meant to imply internal anguish is only causing the listener external anguish as it reaches our unfortunate ears.

The salve to this pain comes in the form of the harsh electric guitar that attempts to drown him out and while it can’t quite do that, at least it’s distracting us enough from Turner’s bellowing to allow us to not give up on what is otherwise a decent record.

Turner deserves some credit for this obviously, since he wrote Got So Much Trouble, but the real star here is the arrangement, something that’s obvious even before the reverb from the guitar dies down completely as the horns respond to it in a somewhat taunting manner, setting the stage for what is to follow.

They get even better after the intro gives way to the main thrust of the song and they drop in tone and volume to create an ominous – yet melodic – mood leading into Turner’s vocals.

When he sings straight, Turner isn’t bad. His voice has deepened and he’s trying to create the same foreboding atmosphere as the guitar provided with how he delivers his lines. It’s a bluesy song, full of world-weary sorrow with no rays of light shining through, and there’s a good chance the moaning idea came to him listening to pure blues records – maybe Howlin’ Wolf or John Lee Hooker of late, or going back in years, Blind Willie Johnson’s classic Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.

But whereas it works well in blues, a music that is known for being stark in nature, when you’re in a rock setting it requires some adjustment, namely a better voice and more melody. It’s in both of those areas where Turner falls short each time he tries moaning… which is a bit too frequent besides. Each time he employs it he throws the song out of whack, sounding like some hack stage actor hired to play a ghost in a Haunted House for kids.

Ultimately that’s what does the record in, even though the parts that work are memorable enough where we can essentially separate the good from the bad when discussing this. If Turner had confined those infernal sounds to just the opening and closing, we’d be inclined to sort of overlook them and say this was even slightly above average thanks to his normal vocals (particularly worthy is the bridge where he sings as powerfully as can be) and the musicians who turn in an effective performance at every turn.

But Turner can’t keep from breaking out that caterwauling routine at the end of every single line and that in turn means we’re focusing even more on what he’s saying leading up to it and the grave images he presents gives us the feeling this has one foot in the blues with the other foot about to join it at any moment.

Even if it did though and we judged it as a record in THAT genre, using all of the standards unique to milieu, it would only help his case incrementally because no matter what style you call it, your moaning shouldn’t cause an unsuspecting listener to call for a doctor for you… or for themselves to relieve the suffering you’re putting them through.


Almost Out Of My Mind
Considering this record isn’t getting a hearty recommendation by any means, you might think we intentionally misled you leading into the review, but the praise for what we singled out still stands.

The arrangement used here is impressive, not just because the individual parts – guitar and horns – interact so well, but also because of how aggressive it sounds which shows that OKeh Records was not averse to pushing the envelope when it came to their image.

As for Titus Turner himself, we can see why he’s claiming he’s Got So Much Trouble, a feeling that anybody with a hernia in desperate need of an operation would share, but when he doesn’t groan like an old furnace, his singing continues to show signs of improvement.

He still may not shape up as being a rising star in anybody’s estimate, but he’s at least giving signs that he’s going to have a long steady career ahead of him, which is far more than we would’ve predicted hearing him his first time around.

Who knows, maybe it was the memory of that which caused him the intestinal issues that seem to be plaguing him during this recording session but that’s nothing a little antacid and a good night’s sleep won’t fix.


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