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REGAL 3322; MAY 1951



Well, well, well, look who’s back in town!

We knew we’d run into him again eventually but based on his first sides we weren’t exactly looking forward to it, for while Titus Turner the songwriter might not be at risk of being completely forgotten thanks to a few enduring chestnuts in his catalog that became hits for other artists, his singing left a lot to be desired.

So we’re dismayed to report that he hasn’t improved on the latter even incrementally since last time out, but ironically while he got credit for writing this song he had little to do with it other than perhaps renaming it in an effort to elude the songwriting police for stealing it from someone who more than likely stole it from someone else in the first place.

Another tangled web to unravel…


Livin’ All By Yourself
The song under whatever title you want to affix to it is one of the cornerstones of the blues over the years. Arguably if you were to distill the entire genre over a hundred years of recorded output to just a dozen or so songs the basic composition used here would be all but guaranteed to be one of the twelve chosen.

Most of you know it by the title Mean Old World and whether it’s T-Bone Walker from the 1940’s or Little Walter from the 1950’s or a whole host of others in the years since it’s as familiar as any song in any style. Though individual lines may change from one version to the next but the opening stanza and the musical structure remain carved in granite for each generation to unearth.

Titus Turner was the first rock act to tackle it but would be far from the last. Sam Cooke did it twice, once while still singing gospel with The Soul Stirrers, then again on his immortal Night Beat album. Chuck Berry took a swing at it, as did blues-rockers Canned Heat and Derek And The Dominos. Songwriting credits for it seemed to shift just as often and while Walker is generally seen as the composer there were earlier precedents for some of the most indelible lines starting with Bill Gaither in the late 1930’s on Decca.

Whoever did it first and wherever it came from though, the basic story is an enduring one as it details the struggles to make it through life alone and generally speaking the singer tries to wring as much pathos out of the song as they can.

Turner though takes a slightly different tact vocally, not just changing the title to the incomprehensible Stop Trying To Make A Fool Of Me, but also much of the story after the familiar opening – thereby I guess earning the writing credit in his own mind – presenting it in a theatrical fashion that typically destroys any compassion you might have for his predicament.

It’s hardly a pretty sight but with Turner’s severely compromised ability as a singer that is hardly surprising.

My Heart Was In A Twirl?
If you want to deconstruct this before we get into the performance itself, basically what Turner did was lift the melodic structure and the first section intact from Walker and use that as the foundation for his own song detailing similar, but admittedly unique, situations about living with misery.

Though he may have legitimately composed a few of the ensuing lines, he also swiped a few ideas from others, including one about “eating grass like a hog” from Cousin Joe’s brilliant Boxcar Shorty And Peter Blue, one of the first records we reviewed just as rock was getting started. Of course he changes it a little (he’s eating slop instead of grass) but the way it’s delivered is the same and for all we know that line might’ve been floating around the barrooms for years before Cuz got a hold of it too.

But that’s the point of the blues – and blues derived songs and structures – in most cases as lyrics were traded like stocks on Wall Street all the time so maybe we can’t get on him for the act itself. As for what he changes though… that’s another story altogether.

Turner’s additions, or more obscure thefts, don’t really add much of note. He elaborates on his dejection some and what he’s doing to combat it – drinking and smiling, hardly a surefire cure for depression – and then he complains about the way his girl is treating him. Now if you’re paying attention to this carefully (though why you WOULD be is beyond my ability to comprehend) you might wonder if this is the same girl whom he just said was gone right before that and he had no idea where she was.

Later on he apparently left her, or she left him, and he’s on the prowl for another girl to break his heart, leave him or steal his money… or if we’re lucky, all three of those things. Titus is a glutton for punishment apparently.

But that’s only fair because considering anyone who is forced to listen to him “sing” (and I’m stretching the definition of that term as far as humanly possible to describe what he’s doing) Turner absolutely deserves all the punishment he has coming to him.


I Drink To Keep From Worryin’
Some people can’t carry a tune in a bucket as they say. Turner can not even FIND a bucket to try and carry one in, that’s how excruciating he sounds here. Forget about melody – he certainly did – and just focus on technique.

Because he has no ability in this area but needs to fill time somehow, he adds syllables to words where none are needed. In fact he adds syllables from OTHER words I’m pretty sure, as a lot of what he’s saying is unintelligible with what he’s throwing in.

It’s sort of a… I dunno, let’s call it a scared stutter, something you’d see in a 1970’s Scooby Doo cartoon… “ah-ah-ah-ah” while Shaggy is as white as a sheet after seeing a ghost… or after hearing Turner sing Stop Trying To Make A Fool Of Me.

It’s so bad that when he does it a second time… and a third and a fourth, you’re ready to take bets on whether the engineer had to hide his face to keep from being seen laughing at Turner’s pathetic attempts at singing, or if he just stuck his head in the trash can to throw up. It’s surely a fifty-fifty proposition.

When he’s not pulling this pointless routine of his he sounds ever so slightly better, but only because he couldn’t sound worse unless he started coughing up a lung and other vital organs. If it was his voice box being coughed up however he’d be given Humanitarian Of The Year award for sparing civilization the ordeal of having to hear this.

We’re not so fortunate. But we can’t place all the blame on Turner because the band backing him is almost equally abysmal, their outdated horns with a squawking trumpet out front on the intro are woefully out of place and while they get slightly less offensive playing a simple riff behind him much of the time, once the trumpet comes back it goes off the rails.

If it’s any consolation the guitar, piano and drums are okay, but I doubt all the praise in the world would be consolation for what they had to endure in the studio while this was being cut.

They’re not the only ones…

Gimme Back All My Money
With all we’ve seen and heard in rock over its first three and a half years the one thing that jumps out is how so many talented artists could see their recording opportunities dry up completely while Titus freakin’ Turner got another chance to sing on record.

He can’t sing. At least not yet. Out of tune, out of his element or out of his mind, take your pick. The fact that this song had a solid foundation means that if he merely followed the standard delivery he should be able to pull it off with a minimum of trouble.

If he’d done so it still might not sound great, but it couldn’t sound too bad when the song’s formula is so tried and true.

Instead he mangles it beyond recognition and when he croaks Stop Trying To Make A Fool Of Me midway through his painful rendition, you want to say to him, “Titus, you’re making a fool of yourself just fine on your own, don’t try blaming it on someone else”.

If we could hand out zeroes, Titus Turner would have another to his name. That makes him two for two in that department so if nothing else he’s perfect in one regard at least!


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