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IMPERIAL 5198; JULY 1952



Now the pieces are starting to fall back into place.

When the rift between Imperial Records and Dave Bartholomew that lasted over a year was settled in April once the company finally acknowledged their mistake and asked the producer to return to the label he wasted no time in beginning to rebuild the roster.

First he got Smiley Lewis back into the studio and immediately produced a Top Ten hit, now he turns his attention to Tommy Ridgley who had introduced a national hit, albeit for someone else, while he was with Bartholomew at Decca after the split.

Though this particular effort won’t match either of those feats, the mere fact that Imperial was rectifying past wrongs and taking steps to consolodate their grip on the best artists the Crescent City had to offer was good news for everybody.


You Said You Loved Me, But You Left Me
Though his work in the studio naturally takes precedence in recounting Dave Bartholomew’s story, let’s not forget that he was still a working bandleader who took pride in his live gigs featuring the best musicians New Orleans had to offer.

We know that at times Bartholomew was a somewhat reluctant singer however and so he had recruited guys like Tommy Ridgley to take much of the load off him.

That didn’t mean Ridgley became the frontman for every number, but he’d get a vocal set of his own in the course of the night which allowed Bartholomew to diversify his material with songs like Lavinia which he wouldn’t be comfortable tackling as a singer himself.

This was actually a Ridgley original which Bartholomew helped to shape in the studio and while it’s a very competent song with good vocals and tight playing, there’s not a whole lot that stands out about it.

But then again, as glad as we are to see Dave Bartholomew back where he belongs with singers like Ridgley in tow, we probably need to temper our expectations a bit. Not every singer is destined to be a star and not every record is bound to be a hit and to expect otherwise is patently unfair.

When looked at realistically, sometimes just churning out solid tracks that are emblematic of the time, style and place of origin at that juncture of rock is more than enough to be grateful for.

Wait And See
Continuing with these theme of competency, let’s start by giving credit to Tommy Ridgley who might not jump out at you with his performance here because it’s a relatively subdued vocal, but when you examine what he’s trying to get across you come to appreciate it a little more.

The song is Ridgley’s response to being dumped by his girl, which as we know can manifest itself with anger, despair, bitterness or sniveling as he pleads with her to come back. All of those vastly different reactions have been mined by countless singers over rock’s first half decade with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Sometimes we DO want to hear the knee-jerk emotional outburst full of vengeance, even though we realize that’s not healthy or productive, but at least it can be cathartic for him and entertaining for us. At other times we’d like to look in on somebody who is emotionally unable to come to grips with this breakup, who is pouring his heart out in vain to no effect. Though it’s voyeuristic on our part, it also allows us to experience this from a distance rather than have to wait until we’re faced with a similar circumstance in our own lives.

But what Ridgley does here – though far less riveting from an outsider’s perspective – might just be more instructive. He’s sad about these turn of events, hurt by it and a little spiteful as well. He’s telling her that she’ll be sorry, but he’s not putting it across with any rancor. Instead he’s trying to stay under control, keep his emotions in check and walk away with his head held high.

That’s a much more difficult thing to do, both in real life where your hurt feelings have a tendency to overwhelm your senses, but also on record where reining yourself in vocally isn’t as performative as letting loose with a more dramatic response that will get your record noticed.

You can argue that it was a mistake to keep things under wraps for that reason if you want, but it possibly reveals more talent than if he were to let things fly and purposefully try and draw attention to himself.

With the lightly churning horns and easy-flowing melody, it’s a record that sounds good going down. By way of explanation maybe the name Lavinia itself might have been a reason why it wasn’t slightly better received outside of his hometown where it cracked the Top Ten for a few weeks, peaking at #6. But because it’s not a very common name it can’t help but sound a little awkward being sung, or singing along to it, making it the one lyric that sticks out too much while everything else flows together much more naturally.

But that’s a minor quibble. The plot, such as it is, paints a pretty full picture of his confusion over her decision, while the melody has just enough twists in it to keep it from being too predictable. The really interesting part is something we can’t fully understand, as his spoken asides in the brief piano break seem designed merely to add character to his role, but they actually hint at what’s to follow in the fade as he’s cooing seductively in someone’s ear, whether a girl or perhaps complimenting Bartholomew for the arrangement… I’m guessing it’s a girl.

But is it the SAME girl? Have they gotten back together again, which it would seem to suggest, or could it be that he’s already found someone else, making the song the ultimate form of payback… keeping his dignity and coming out ahead in the end.


Won’t You Please Make Up Your Mind
Obviously a song like this wasn’t going to vault Tommy Ridgley to the top of the heap in rock ‘n’ roll… or even if just simply confining it to New Orleans rock… but it at least shows that his presence on the scene since his first arrival in late 1949 has been a little too sporadic for someone of his talents.

In the annals of rock history the big name stars are few and far between while the talentless artists rarely get a lot of opportunities after their lack of appeal becomes apparent. That means the bulk of artists entrusted with keeping the genre healthy are people like Ridgley who grind out a living in this field by consistently coming up with perfectly suitable material like Lavinia which fits well into any 1952 playlist ensuring you won’t skip over it, even if it’s also not something you’ll race to hit replay either.

Considering New Orleans was what put Imperial Records on the map in rock ‘n’ roll, the fact that that part of their stable all but dried up in Dave Bartholomew’s absence, so the return of many of the top name from this fertile land is a welcome sight and a sign that occasionally in the music biz a record label owner will take responsibility for their own stupid decisions.

Unfortunately that’s something that happens about once every dozen or so years, so check back here around 1964.


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