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Correlations between unrelated walks of life are a common device when it comes to explaining certain things such as using sports analogies when discussing business for example.

Another frequently used example regards the military when somebody says there are generals and their foot soldiers referring to the types of personalities and responsibilities in another field of endeavor… like say music.

In 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll Dave Bartholomew was definitely a general, the most skilled writer, producer, bandleader in the industry, while those like Tommy Ridgley, never a star but always willing to wade into the fray, was the epitome of a foot soldier.

Where monkeys fit in this war however, at least outside of Planet Of The Apes, I fail to understand.


You’re Certainly Gonna Miss Me
The loyalty of Dave Bartholomew was admirable, but had limits imposed on it by Imperial Records when it came to the bottom line.

Upon his return to the company earlier this year Bartholomew made sure that the likes of Smiley Lewis and Tommy Ridgley were alongside him after being cast aside more or less by the label when he left at the dawn of 1951.

But while Lewis earned that reprieve right away with a national hit under Dave’s production, the same can’t be said for the more limited talents of Ridgley, who will soon move on to Atlantic.

Now Ridgley wasn’t just some hanger-on whose main qualification for a recording career was he had an impressive name in his rolodex. He could sing pretty well, he could write an occasionally interesting song, he was a good enough pianist and bandleader in his own right to be a popular draw around New Orleans, but he wasn’t quite star material, something which is all too apparent on Monkey Man.

After all, what does it say about an artist who desperately needs a hit and so he steals someone else’s song but changes the title – and the associated lyric – from something that makes perfect sense, and chooses as it’s replace a repugnant term which at any point in this country’s blood stained history is going to mean something far more insidious… without seeming to be aware of this at all.

Say it ain’t so, guys.


I Don’t Care What You Say
“Adapting” other songs is no longer prevalent as it once was when itinerant musicians were commonplace but in the 1950’s there were still remnants of this practice that would allow for a certain degree of latitude if done properly.

Here it’s done with shady intentions however as Big Joe Turner’s Low Down Dog gets lifted intact by Tommy Ridgley who merely changes the animal in question and gets writing credit along with Dave Bartholomew for this change. Otherwise everything stays more or less intact.

So a big zero for creativity and ethics, but at least Turner’s song was a good one – which he himself cut three different times, the last of which was one of his better early rock sides from way back in 1948 – giving them a solid foundation to base their record on.

Bartholomew’s arrangement – piano and drums leading it off and then the expected horns falling in behind it at a engagingly rolling pace – is fair, but hardly stands out, especially with his own trumpet squawks in the background sounding out of place. The overall rhythmic flow is fine, but it could’ve used something more emphatic, especially the sax solo which is not quite muscular enough to give this much punch. That said, it’s not a detriment to Ridgley’s delivery which is somewhat easy-going by nature even though he’s criticizing the girl who has made a Monkey Man out of him… don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a sec.

He’s not very angry in making these accusations, nor does he come off as hurt. Instead he’s wearily resigned to it, as if he knew she was no good all along and this is just the proof he was waiting for to tell her off and leave. A far cry from Big Joe whose wounded pride resulted in an almost joyous sense of freedom once he became unshackled.

…Which leads nicely into the main topic of conversation here, the use of the word “monkey” to describe Ridgley’s predicament, one which is fraught with racial connotations that are unavoidable, yet which Tommy himself seems oblivious to. It’s not as if he were using it intentionally as a mocking substitute for the word slave, even though that too would have its own issues, as a voluntarily romantic relationship can’t be compared to forced servitude. Instead it just seems as if he was seeking a derogatory image and landed on that, unaware of what ELSE it conveys.

But this is what happens when your motives are suspect and your main concern are to avoid paying royalties to Turner who used a perfectly acceptable phrase in his song. Though canines probably don’t like being used as a stand-in for all sorts of behavior – roll over like a dog… dogging it… dog days… doggie-style… bird-dogging… dog eat dog – the list goes on, at least those are common usage terms.

But monkey? It’s a word without reference and thus makes no sense and when you add in the far more disturbing implications you can’t help but wonder what the hell they were thinking… or if they were thinking at all.


If You Don’t Want Me, Down The Road I’ll Go
We can condemn this record on so many fronts that it might obscure the fact that the singing and playing of it are decent enough to pass muster on their own.

But nothing ever exists in a vacuum and so between the outright theft of someone else’s song and the alteration of the title and the questionable choice of a word to take its place that was something that everyone involved should’ve steered clear of makes Monkey Man something all too easy to dismiss.

Thankfully rock fans dismissed this too and it wouldn’t be long before not even Dave Bartholomew’s support would keep Tommy Ridgley on the label.

When you’re the kind of artist who is good enough to draw interest from record companies, but not great enough to be scoring hits, you have to make every single count and with this you could imagine the only thing Imperial Records were counting were the days left before his contract expired.


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

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Big Joe Turner (October, 1948)