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OKEH 6883; MAY 1952



Talk about night and day…

We get a rock artist trying to make commercial inroads first by releasing a blues-rock song on one side of his latest single and on the flip side letting loose with a jazz-rock arrangement.

Though the concept of aiming down the middle and discarding the outside genre influences and just sticking the pure rock part of those equations apparently didn’t occur to OKeh Records, the good thing is it did seem to dawn on Titus Turner himself in how he handles the song which makes this his best shot at gaining traction in the market in spite of unnecessarily casting its glance elsewhere.


If You See Something Pretty And Want It Bad
Although we might be critical of the slightly misguided attempts to rope in a wider audience – or perhaps two different audiences as it were – with both sides of this release, we’re not saying this out of any disdain for the artist.

As always we WANT every artist to succeed, or at least reach their full potential, whatever that may be, and so when they step wrong stylistically it’s our hope that they’ll see their mistakes which we so helpfully point out, and correct them next time around.

They don’t listen, possibly because they’re almost all long since dead and buried by the time we got around to writing these, but our hearts are in the right place I assure you.

Luckily on What’cha Gonna Do For Me Titus Turner also has his heart – and mind – in the right place, as despite some unfortunate disagreements with the brass early on, the performance he turns in knows exactly what this is and what he wants it to do in order to reach the intended audience.

Best of all, there’s absolutely no gawdawful moaning to be found anywhere on this side to ruin the effort for us.


You Give The Word And I’ll Put ‘Em Down
The way the horns blast you back in your seat right out of the gate, you get the unmistakable feeling that you’ve been transported back in time to about 1947, just as rock was emerging from loosely connected jazz roots.

It’s not jazz in a strict sense any more than early rock was, for there’s a solid beat behind the vocal swagger of Titus Turner as he comes in right on their heels with his eyes looking ahead rather than over his shoulder.

Yet try as he might he can’t shake the outdated horns which are loud and brassy rather than deep and soulful, or raw and gritty.

That duality – Turner on the modern side and the arrangement owing its allegiance more to yesterday’s reality – gives What’cha Gonna Do For Me an unsteady footing to kick off the record, one which will require all of his focus to try and compensate for.

Turner doesn’t let us down in that regard, keeping this grounded in the present as his vocals become increasingly forceful, almost spitting out lines with dramatic emphasis, a style that would help define much of 1950’s rock. Though he wasn’t the first to employ it, he does embody this confident attitude fully for much of this and comes away looking very good in the process.

How well does it work? Well, when you focus on the lyrics and find he’s subjecting himself to a woman’s desires and yet still comes away seeming cocky and entirely in control of the situation, that should answer your question.

The horns are doing their best… or their worst that is… to fight off his yeoman efforts and early on may be succeeding as the trumpet led brigade on What’cha Gonna Do For Me threatens to derail the record with a nostalgic tint that undercuts Turner’s attempts to keep it up to date, but eventually he overpowers them and they throw up the white flag of surrender.

The saxophones takes over in the instrumental break and shows they want to distance themselves from the rest of the horn section thanks to a dual attack where the tenor is riffing wildly while the baritone is holding the fort against the slings and arrows of the trumpets who can’t sustain their offensive and blend into the cacophony of sound in defeat.

Once that happens Turner is all but home free and his conceited grin down the stretch where he’s tossing off lines with the same kind of self-assurance that a boxer who has battered his opponent is showing in the final thirty seconds of the twelfth round, showboating for the crowd.

After such a determined performance how can we not stand and applaud the effort, as Turner didn’t let a bad first round discourage him, taking what might’ve been a bad matchup on paper and slugging it out on the inside and winning a unanimous decision in the end.


It Can Be Had
At every turn around here it seems we’ve underestimated Titus Turner or dismissed him outright and he’s admirably stuck it out, working hard at improving his deficiencies and come back stronger each time we meet him.

Not all of his attempts have met with success, but even most of those that conditionally failed did so because his reach exceeded his grasp, not because he was aiming too low, content to accept his shortcomings.

On What’cha Gonna Do For Me he was dealt a weaker hand and persevered until he shifted the focus away from the weak points and put it on himself, fully confident that he could win you over with a surprisingly appealing arrogance that places him in good stead as a rocker going forward.

This is his best vocal to date and he is so utterly convincing in the role that you almost wonder how we could’ve ever doubted his abilities in the first place.

It just goes to show what you’re capable of in life if you put your mind to it.


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