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OKEH 6907; AUGUST 1952



Oh no… not another rushed cover song of a rising hit from an outside genre.

Haven’t they learned their lesson yet? This never works. It’s insulting to the rock fan to try and insist they listen to songs taken from a style of music they’ve consciously avoided and it’s disrespectful to the artist who is forced to sing something they don’t have any artistic investment in.

Just who do they expect is going to want to hear this crap? The country music fan who is infatuated with the original and is curious to hear how a rock act will interpret it… or desecrate it perhaps? Maybe the pop music audience who has heard so much about this title over the past few weeks but is oblivious as to where it originated and so will be grabbing whatever alien looking label they see in attempt to hear where it started without having the nerve to ask the clerk which was the original version and reveal their ignorance?

It certainly can’t be the rock fan who has yet to show any interest in Titus Turner singing his own material and surely don’t want to waste their time or money to hear him stumble his way through somebody else’s songs.

Do they???


Down The Bayou
Yeah, I said it. I called the song “crap”, get over it. Though it may be annoyingly catchy that doesn’t change the fact it’s got some serious issues no matter who is singing it. For that matter, since we’re on the topic, though I appreciate his place in music history, I’ve never quite understood the appeal of Hank Williams either.

He’s certainly the most revered figure in the history of country music, was massively popular and had the historical “benefit” of living a tragic life and dying early to keep his artistic flame alive, but considering his songwriting was a big part of his legacy, how can it not bother people that he bought many of his biggest songs from others?

Jambalaya wasn’t one of them – well, not exactly anyway – but then again it was hardly original either, as the song takes it melody from an earlier composition called Gran’ Prairie, then later Grand Texas and in another re-working just last year as Big Texas, so Williams was hardly alone in finding the appeal of this tune.

While he received sole credit for the lyrics, in truth he was only the co-author as he wrote them with fellow country star Moon Mullican who released an altered version almost simultaneously on King Records, though I’m not convinced the composer’s credit – whoever claimed it – is anything to be proud of exactly.

To be fair I’m pretty sure it wasn’t their intent but it almost can’t help but have a slightly demeaning feel to it, as the song presents a very distinct culture from the point of view of an outsider acting as though he’s in on the festivities, which is a no-win position to put yourself in.

Actors – and singers for that matter – do this all the time of course, but it helps if the specific culture they’re pretending to be a part of isn’t the sole focus of the work as it is here. Whether we’re talking about the original country audience, or in the pop community when Jo Stafford had a massive hit with it this summer, or now rock, the appeal of it is meant to be found in staking out the stark differences between this alien world they present and the one most listeners take for granted as being “normal”.

Which is why it’s so refreshing to find that Titus Turner winds up tackling it in an almost hostile fashion which either shows they weren’t happy about being ordered to cut it in the first place, or they felt that the song was in desperate need of a more interesting identity.


Son Of A Gun!
The biggest change found in Titus Turner’s version of the song isn’t contributed by Turner himself, but rather the band which features an alarmingly aggressive electric guitar that thankfully steers your attention towards something other than the lyrics.

The record sounds as if the engineer had a heart-attack at the controls, pushing all of the knobs into the red when he keeled over and nobody noticed. The drums are crackling in your ears like sheets of thunder while in the midst of this storm the guitarist sounds as if he’s being electrocuted as he slices off quick nasty licks in his death spasms.

In the midst of it all stands Turner, singing as if he’s breathing in the fumes of his incinerated accompanists which is searing his vocal chords as he presses on undaunted, all while being cheered on by a drunken crowd of reprobates too high on booze to care that they’re all going to perish in the flames.

Just like that they’ve managed to completely obliterate the previously accepted image of Jambalaya and replaced it with something that actually manages to convey the unbridled excitement of the scene being depicted on paper.

Damn, they made it a rocker after all!

Now that still doesn’t mean the lyrical content has been transformed into something decidedly less awkward, but here the words become mere gibberish with how Turner spits them out. As a result the first half of this record is absolutely great, a genuine hellraising effort by everyone involved which is a turn of events that nobody could’ve seen coming.

But here’s why you need to listen to the ENTIRE record before passing judgement, because after a very good sax solo the second half promptly lets you down in every way imaginable and hands back all of the goodwill they just engendered.

Me Gotta Go
Okay, so you knew they probably couldn’t keep this up, but you didn’t think they’d forget what worked so well in the span of a few seconds and try something new… or rather try something old that never worked in the past on any rock record.

That’s right, we’re talking about the sudden appearance of a trumpet summoned from the depths of Hades to torment humanity once again.

Admit it, you may have even missed the trumpeter before this, for although he was there from the start he was largely drowned out by the din everyone else was busy making. But now you can’t escape him as he steps to center stage and starts squawking up a storm, playing a completely unrelated and inappropriate counter melody that upends the familiar rolling rhythm that was always the saving grace of Jambalaya in any version, no matter how awkward the rest of the performance may have been by the rogue’s gallery of talent show rejects who took a whack at this over the years.

This in turn forces Turner to alter his vocal approach and start barking out the lines like a drill sergeant issuing orders in a staccato delivery that still maintains some of the admirable intensity from earlier, but shoehorns it into something largely unappealing, especially as the trumpeter ramps up his playing behind him rather than gracefully bows out.

Because the rest of the band is now reduced to making detached intermittent sounds it also allows us to notice that Turner is utterly clueless about the correct pronunciation of some of these unique words, mangling them beyond recognition and losing the melodic thread in the process.

It ends with a cacophony of noise that makes a shambles of things in a way that is hardly very satisfying considering where we began this journey and as much as Titus tries convincing you he’s wrapping up a set in front of a packed house of enthusiastic revelers, the whole façade crumbles before your very eyes and leaves you feeling as if you just got hoodwinked.


Me Oh My-Oh!
Though this remains one of the better renditions of the song due to the powerhouse first half and searing intensity shown early on which allows the overall score to rise above average, you can’t help but be let down by how it finishes.

Covering any song is a dicey proposition and when you try and swing for the fences, which is admirable, a lot of the time you’re going to strike out. They didn’t do that exactly on Jambalaya, but it still winds up being just a long fly ball caught at the warning track that only got your hopes up before forcing you to record another out in the playbook.

But maybe this is to be expected. Rock’s flirtation with country music thus far hasn’t been artistically or commercially profitable for the most part, save a few odd Ivory Joe Hunter sides.

Even in the future when the two genres occasionally found an uneasy middle ground and Williams in particular saw a good many of his songs revived by rock acts, the only one who seemed to bring something interesting to the table was Fats Domino, who on this song was helped by the fact he was singing about something he had first hand knowledge of, had the dialect down better than most and had a lightness of touch in his personality to make it more palatable.

Virtually everyone else on this tune though from all fields sound as if they’re embarrassed by it or treating it as a musical lark, unable to get comfortable enough with the culture that’s being gently lampooned in order to swing effortlessly with their delivery as the song requires.

Titus Turner at least didn’t fall prey to that fate and in the process came closer to winning me over than I’d have thought possible, but in the end, even with much to recommend, it’s still another cover record that failed to find its mark.


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