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KING 4486; NOVEMBER 1951

 
 

 

It’s never easy delivering a eulegy for someone who died far too young and unfortunately that’s the role this review is going to have to play as this will be the final single in Kitty Stevenson’s brief career before her death from cancer in June of next year at the tender age of twenty-eight.

There were a lot of great acts in rock’s first half decade who failed to click with the public, but of all of them Stevenson was the one who never was less than stellar on every side she released even those where she was let down by the band.

But it’s fitting that Todd Rhodes and company pulled it together to send her off in style, not on a mournful dirge foreshadowing the inevitable, but rather on a frantic rave-up where even with everybody living it up in the studio behind her, Stevenson comes across as the most vibrant and alive of anybody in the room.
 

 

A Real Cool Mama With My Damper Down
Life is not fair. That much we know going in and while not happy about it, we grimly accept it as the price we pay for being born.

Along the way though we crave fairness in our day to day existence. We don’t want to be done wrong by those around us. Don’t lie or cheat us, be nice, give us our due when we have it coming.

The record industry is not always the best place to look for these things however, as Kitty Stevenson found out early and often starting when her first side, cut in 1947, didn’t get released for two whole years, thereby potentially closing doors in her face just as her career should’ve been taking off as the torch bearer for women rockers.

Of all of the female rock singers who cut sides in the 1940’s, Stevenson best understood the rhythmic drive of the music and rode it with effortless control. She was fortunate in a way that she’d hooked up with the veteran Todd Rhodes, a bandleader with vast experience in a wide array of styles dating back twenty years and who himself was moving into rock ‘n’ roll with a fair amount of grace and class. But on the other hand she’d be limited in what she could do as merely a featured vocalist with his band, especially on record where she had to acquiesce to his sometimes stale arrangements and where more often than not she was sharing singles with instrumentals or vocal tunes sung by the band.

The flip side of this, Evening Breeze, was one such case that virtually ensured any rock fan who had the misfortune of hearing that side in a jukebox wouldn’t bother playing the other side, nor plunking down eighty cents for the single, since forty of those cents would be contributing to the dissolution of rock ‘n’ roll with this antiquated classy pop filtered through a small club jazz lens.

But if you HAD taken the chance – or had eighty cents of disposable income ready to toss around – then with Good Man, a song she herself wrote, Kitty Stevenson was bound and determined to make sure she earned every penny of that full purchase price herself.

When it stops playing you might just dig into your pocket and reach for the folding money to offer her a gratuity, because she damn well earns it.
 


 
 

All You Crave
On the surface this is a generic holy-roller type of song that simply substitutes men and sexual fulfillment for the Lord and spirtitual fulfillment that you’d find in gospel. The hallmarks of the latter are still mostly present – the spirited accapella opening that shows what an immense voice she had, the supporting handclaps to establish the beat and the call and response vocals during the chorus.

Though a standard structure in both gospel and rock, it’s a very effective one provided the singer and band are on the same page as they are here for the most part. It’s meant to be energetic, enthusiastic and – if they pull it off right – euphoric and those boxes are all checked off here with precision as Rhodes puts aside any attempts at sweetening this up and lets the band cook with some booting sax solos thrown in for good measure.

If some of the lines Stevenson comes up with are rather crude – linguistically, not sexually, though they are that too – you’ll excuse her because she’s merely using them to drive the point home, for at the juncture in which we come in on the record it actually sounds as if she’s just finished with two or three men and has come stumbling out the bedroom door in search of men four, five and six to extend this marathon session.

A Good Man is hard to find apparently, so she’ll keep testing them all out until she finds one!

What makes this work however, beyond whatever fantasies you fellas have for being one of the chosen few (dozen), or for that matter the fantasies of the ladies out there who envy her lack of inhibitions, is the irrepresible desire she has that isn’t centered in her crotch necessarily, but in her soul. What she seems to want… what she’s lusting for really… is some indefinable spark that goes beyond the bedroom walls.

The swagger in his walk as he enters the room, the cool steely eyed look he has as he calmly surveys the scene, the slight smirk he flashes when she catches his eye, the nonchalant cockiness he has in approaching her, the brief verbal flirtation they engage in before he gently teases her and pulls back leaving her wondering if he’s interested… basically the way he makes her feel long before the clothes come off.

It’s all conveyed here by Stevenson without drawing attention to it lyrically. That fluttering in her stomach brought about by a combination of nervous excitement, giddy optimism, a twinge of uncertainty and even disappointment if the hoped for outcome seems to be disappating before it gets anywhere, but finally the release of ecstacy brought about when they DO connect.

Only then do they progress to the next stage.

None of this is stated, she’s singing about his appraisal of her (big legs is all he craves) and how she doesn’t care if he’s rich but just wants him to do the best he can financially. Basic stuff maybe, but when she’s singing about “chicken in the kitchen” it’s not a sexual euphamism, nor is it about either of their culinary skills, it’s more or less nonsensical blathering because she’s beyond coherent description as she’s envisioning someone being her soulmate in life and she can’t even put that wish into words.

With all true deep-seated love it’s the unstated things, the little details that seem insigificant to outsiders, which will keep her satisfied in the long run and how can you possibly describe that to strangers listening on a record? So she doesn’t even try, knowing that the right guy will know exactly what she wants and what she needs and the hell with everybody else.
 


 

Sure Is Mighty Fine
We’ve dealt with premature deaths before in rock ‘n’ roll but tragic though they may have been they didn’t quite seem as if they were robbing US of life – musical life anyway – in the process.

The way he lived Cecil Gant was lucky to make it to 38 years old. Tommy Gaither was a beloved member of The Orioles, but hardly noticeable on record playing muted guitar behind the others.

We’ve seen other artists leave recording behind while they were still artistical vital, either of their own volition (Laurie Tate, Jimmy Preston, Joe Lutcher), or because they could no longer interest companies in their services (Chubby Newsom, Joe Swift, Erline Harris, Frank Culley, The Falcons), or in the case of Albennie Jones due to industry indifference combined with a major injury that kept her out of action too long. All were good… sometimes very good… but hardly poised to lead the next charge in rock’s ongoing evolution.

But Kitty Stevenson is an altogether different story. As Good Man shows she was on the top of her game right to the very end, even throwing in lines like “take me to my grave”, almost as if to defiantly taunt the dire prognosis staring her in the face.

This was someone who by all rights should have been a star. Her talents were immense even if her stardom was merely regional as the act no national star wanted to try and follow on stage at Detroit’s notorious Flame Show Bar, but her records with Todd Rhodes sometimes failed to present her in a way that let that talent shine brightest.

Here, in what proves to be her musical epitaph, they manage to step up their game but still can only hang on for dear life as Kitty Stevenson shines brighter than ever.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist pages of Todd Rhodes as well as Kitty Stevenson for the complete archives of their respective records reviewed to date)