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SAVOY 813; AUGUST 1951

 
 

 

There are a lot of times when record companies cost themselves hits thanks to any number of self-inflicted wounds, from flooding the market with multiple releases on a single artist trying to capitalize on their recent success, to promoting the wrong side of a single, or oftentimes leaving the best songs sitting on the shelf.

But then there are other times when they seem to do everything right – or in this case lucked into a fortuitous chain of events – only to reap no reward for their efforts.

In this case though it wasn’t some great injustice, but rather it may have been further proof that rock audiences were maturing and weren’t as likely to taken in by the appearance of an up and coming name blessed with good timing.
 

 

I Hope It’s Worth Your While
Because his name recognition faded fast – and never reached the unwashed masses after the crossover era of the mid-1950’s – Tommy Brown’s brief flurry of commercial reliability doesn’t get much mention these days.

In fact Tommy Brown’s entire career doesn’t get many shout-outs nowadays.

But for two years, 1951-1952, Brown appeared to be a rising star thanks to his work as the male vocalist with The Griffin Brothers, both for Dot Records where they – and now Brown himself – were situated, but also Savoy where Brown had signed at the beginning of the year for a session and was backed by those same Griffin Brothers, moonlighting from Dot unbeknownst to the label’s owners.

His first release (on the Regent subsidiary), the solid Atlanta Boogie, was designed to get your attention with the loud aggressive playing topped by Brown’s frantic vocals. Even the flip side came with sweat pouring out of the grooves and The House Near The Railroad Track was in fact the one which stirred some regional interest on the charts.

Then, having jumped to Dot soon after (his Savoy pact called for one session and four songs), Brown covered a recent Dave Bartholomew song and wound up being the one who got the national hit with Tra La La, another good performance, this time easing back on the vocals, showing that he was more than a one trick pony.

So with that song riding the charts, Savoy wisely reached back for the final two sides he’d cut to issue as their second single on him while his star was still in ascent. Not only that, but they had the added benefit of having a song called V-8 Baby which conjured up yet another recent hit, that of Jackie Brenston’s Rocket 88, even though this song was recorded two months before that one had been.

That’s that kind of good fortune that rarely falls into a label’s lap… yet for Savoy it made no difference as this came and went without a trace… for the time being anyway.
 


 
 

They Go Hand In Hand
A few years from now we’ll come across a group called The Nite Riders who were put together by bassist Doc Starkes. Their most remembered song was called Women And Cadillacs – which is nothing but THIS song with a new title, something Starkes apparently figured deserved sole writing credit for coming up with even though that was taken from the song’s first line. The group featured such studio stalwarts as Harry Van Walls on piano and former Gotham Records guitar ace Harry Crafton, all of them wailing away and while the record didn’t become a hit at the time it is more widely known than the original by Tommy Brown.

Maybe the reason is the band on that is more aggressive while The Griffin Brothers, who took a back seat to no one in terms of arranging and playing skills, are curiously subdued behind Brown for much of this.

In fact listening to V-8 Baby you would never suspect it was cut at the same date as his energetic debut, as this one seems a year, maybe even two, behind the curve musically… at least to start with.

It’s still obviously a rock song, but it’s just that a rock song from 1949 had a different feel to it than one from 1951 (and certainly from 1954 when Starkes got a hold of it). The result is you’re impressed more by the potential of this composition than you are the final product, even though it’s hardly out of date enough to be alarming.

Brown, though he still may be channeling 1949’s top act Wynonie Harris some, brings his own panache to the table while making sure you never doubt his commitment as he’s using a dull roar modulated just enough to keep it from overwhelming you. The lyrics he came up with are fairly basic in their construction, yet reasonably effective all the same as he’s essentially ranting about what happens when women get get mobile and no longer need a man to take them around town.

For the record Brown never wanted to be her chauffeur, but rather he, like so many men, had come to count on the advantages of owning an automobile when it came to picking up female pedestrians which was apparently enough to overcome his poor looks, bad manners and lack of money and personality. It kinda makes you see why men are constantly trying to limit women’s choices in the world, knowing they’re too inept to get a girl without stacking the odds in their favor.

Brown though is at least up front about it, even vowing that he’ll do fine without her (although why is he recording a song about her if that’s the case) and trying to keep up his bravado for appearance sake… something you wish The Griffin Brothers would do on their end of this as the early horn arrangement is pretty stale, though the sax solo tries making up for it during its brief time in the spotlight.

Still, an energetic performance where an insecure guy has his self-important swagger punctured by a resourceful and self-sufficient woman is never going to be a chore to listen to and so while it could – and would – be done better, this is still good enough to hop in for a ride.
 

Don’t You Mess Around With Me
Though Savoy’s timing couldn’t have been better with this release, the rest of their decisions were decidedly lacking.

First off there’s no sign to be found that they pushed this much. Maybe they felt promoting an artist who was now on another label wasn’t to their long term benefit, but sales are sales and since they released the record it makes sense to try and get a hit out of it. Instead they chose to pour their resources into making sure Billy Wright’s Heh Little Girl was able to fend off the competition for spins on that song from the various cover versions, while the rest of their advertising dollars went into promoting the latest record by their longest tenured rock act, Paul Williams which came out this same month.

But while that undoubtedly hurt V-8 Baby’s prospects with distributors and jukebox operators, the public didn’t see trade paper ads so if they DID get a chance to hear this – and enough of them usually do to overcome skimpy promotion if a record is any good – they apparently weren’t as impressed despite Brown’s recent success and the timely topic with its focus on Caddys and women’s lib.

Still, Brown’s stock certainly doesn’t drop from having this on the market, and if nothing else has you curious to see if he’ll remain standing on the sidewalk or if he’ll jump behind the wheel of an even more powerful car and take it for a spin down the road.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Tommy Brown for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)