No tags :(

Share it

KING 4469; AUGUST 1951



While waiting for his deal with Sensation Records to run out Todd Rhodes had brought in some local vocal talent to showcase on his remaining sides with that company, the feeling being that he didn’t want to waste his own material for a label that he was going to be soon departing.

It might’ve been a little self-serving but it was still a nice gesture to let singers get their first taste of studio time, maybe get a slightly higher fee for their nightclub act in the bargain and perhaps even parlay that into a recording career of their own.

But now that Rhodes has finally made it to his preferred destination you’d think he’d have no time for such altruistic gestures. He had his OWN career to think of after all and at 51 years old in a field as youthful as rock ‘n’ roll there wasn’t a moment to waste.

Yet Rhodes had certainly learned a thing or two in a professional career spanning more than twenty-five years and the number one lesson was recognizing talent. That’s what enabled him to have one of the most skilled bands in all of rock and – thankfully – it’s why when he made the move to King Records he took the most talented of those local Detroit singers with him to bolster his own chances to make an impression.


I Just Can’t Help Myself
We’ve seen a bunch of these bandleaders with a vocal “guest” records over the last few years and that’s what they always are… guest vocalists, even if they’re not technically billed that way on the label.

It’s doubtful any of them had an artist’s contract with the record company of their own, but rather they were in the employ of the bandleader and even that probably wasn’t drawn up on paper.

We just saw a Paul Williams record fronted by Danny Cobbs… we’ve had LaVern Baker appearing on Maurice King’s records and Jesse Belvin making his debut on sides coming out under Big Jay McNeely’s name… all of which were ways for instrumentalists to offer something different while the singers got some exposure and experience.

Now in some cases, like Cobbs, he wouldn’t be able to really take advantage of his opportunity, but both Baker and Belvin would soon go on to cut records under their own name, scoring hits and becoming entrenched as two of the greatest stars of the era.

Kitty Stevenson had the talent to match those feats… she just didn’t have the time. This was her final session before cancer took her at 28, but while she got no hits out of her work with Rhodes there was never any doubting her talent which is why he took her with him to King Records and why they saw fit to kick off his career with them, officially anyway, with I Shouldn’t Cry (But I Do) as one half of his initial single on the label.

While it too wasn’t a hit, it’s not hard to see its influence on some future sounds coming from the studio.


Give And Take Should’ve Been The Rule
This has all of the trappings of a classy record – the high pitched alto intro by Halley Dismukes, the other horns playing against it to fatten the arrangement and Todd Rhodes’ piano falling like raindrops – and you could envision it being a jazz-pop outing for someone as they surely intended.

Instead as Dismukes’ lead-in goes on there’s a yearning quality to his playing that pulls it into another direction, something achingly soulful yet a little bit tentative rather than pouring its heart out which in turn leads perfectly into Kitty Stevenson who nails the mood he establishes with her drawn out reading of the title line I Shouldn’t Cry (But I Do) which manages to show both sadness and resiliency without either one invalidating the other feeling.

Of course already, just one line in, you SHOULD realize where this performance of hers would show up next… as this song’s writer and producer, Henry Glover, “re-wrote” it for another King Records artist and piano playing bandleader Sonny Thompson and his female vocalist, Lula Reed, next year on the original I’ll Drown In My Tears. Going one step further it’s fairly obvious Glover played this record for Reed before cutting it as she uses the exact same halting vocal style (and same pitch even!) as Stevenson.

Four years after that Ray Charles would claim that song for his own… and altered the title slightly in the process… so that few casual listeners know where it began. Even those who are aware of Thompson and Reed probably never heard this record by Rhodes and Stevenson, but the line from one to the other is far too obvious to miss once you have heard them.

Unfortunately for Kitty it was an arrangement that would get better with each successive version as the backing here does her no favors, becoming ever more conservative as the song goes on, but Stevenson’s performance never wavers in its subtle intensity, keeping you off balance throughout. Will she try and suppress her pain or gradually let it come to the surface? If she does will she break down altogether and let her emotions go, or does she build up an icy wall around her to protect her feelings?

The answer is none of the above. Instead Stevenson seems to be navigating this in real time, dealing with each hurt in a different way as she pulls these thoughts from her memory. The breathy, almost fractured, staccato delivery she uses at one point stands in marked contrast to the way she let her voice cling to the notes on the last line of the previous stanza, the contrast designed to show how difficult it is for her to hold it together. Then as she becomes more determined to brush these tears aside when admitting “Now that it’s over” you think she’s turned the corner before suddenly coming close to cracking on the very next line.

Her “acting” here is so real that it’s a shame she wasn’t given a more powerful performance by the band to match her, as they choose instead to merely adhere to the melody in an excessively polite fashion, something we’ll try to equate to a stage play using intentionally drab scenery to force the audience to focus on the leads, but is more likely a concession to the supper club crowd that they figured might go for this more than the rock fans who were getting drunk off Gin, Gin, Gin on the other side.

Too bad they didn’t realize that rock, far more than polite supper club performances, lay heavily into the emotions of their vocalists and that in Kitty Stevenson they had someone who, with better support, might rip your heart out with a song like this.

Instead it’s the heart of the song itself that gets ripped out by the band and you wonder if someone at King Records momentarily wondered if they’d signed the wrong person in the studio that day, because it sure sounds like like she’s the star and Rhodes is the anonymous sideman.


Couldn’t Love No One But You
Having a misguided arrangement foisted on her certainly isn’t as tragic in the big scheme of things as the downturn of her health, but it IS a shame that once again she is really good on a song that had a lot of promise yet is let down by the guy who was, in some ways, doing her a favor by giving her these opportunities to sing on record in the first place.

Obviously Glover knew he wrote a good song, otherwise he wouldn’t have revisited it, but he hadn’t yet figured out how to best frame it and so he – or he and Rhodes in tandem – built an arrangement that dragged that song down, aiming more for jazzy elegance than the soulful hurt it needed to match Stevenson’s performance.

As such it’s not difficult to re-imagine I Shouldn’t Cry (But I Do) being highlighted with a more dramatic arrangement because of how both Thompson (and Reed) and Ray Charles emphasized the right elements with their dramatic stop-time patterns which are just hinted at here.

I’m sure the thinking was that Rhodes was the star, the guy Syd Nathan had lost a court case trying to steal two years ago and waited to have in his stable ever since, and so practically by default the focal point of the record should be him and his band.

But one listen to Kitty Stevenson and you’d have no choice but to alter those plans if you were making the decision purely on musical merit rather than business considerations. As torch songs go, she makes this one burn much brighter than it had any right to otherwise.

So once again, with far too little time left to build a legacy that will live on, those around her… some of the biggest names of their time no less… have let her down once again.


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