Tags

No tags :(

Share it

BULLET 312; SEPTEMBER 1949

 
 

 

Undoubtedly it’s the nature of most rock historians to champion songs about boozing and carousing which fulfills an image of reckless masculinity they long to project that accounts for the fact that records which feature those qualities are going to be hyped more than those which focus on love and loss.

But on this, the debut record of the best Memphis bandleader of his day, the side which celebrates those more hedonistic traits falls short in comparison to the one which takes a more measured look at the concerns of a wrecked love affair that presumably comes in the aftermath of those drunken nights of debauchery.
 

 

Midnights I Lay Awake Grieving
If you could make a far better living playing live with far fewer contractual hassles and broken promises than pursuing the kind of stardom that can only be obtained through hit records, which would choice would you make?

Most would go for the stardom and the hits, but not Tuff Green, for he knew how transient that fame and glory was, for after their records stopped selling their bookings grew slim, their tour bus was repossessed and they were often forced to take menial jobs to make ends meet.

By comparison a respected club band could build their reputation over time and become such an local institution that they’d either hold court in one room for years on end, or be in constant demand to make the rounds of a broad circuit of nightclubs where they’d get top dollar and decent working conditions while still being able to live at home rather than out of a suitcase and tend to their vegetable gardens during the day before jamming in front of enthusiastic audiences each night.

So at the time it seemed to be a smart decision. Go for the long term security and leave chasing hits to others.

But years later we can’t hear those cheers that sustained Green’s band, just as we can’t sit front and center in a club that have long since been torn down, a drink in one hand and an arm around a pretty girl, and groove to their music that eventually faded into silence when the band stopped playing.

For that we need records. Tuff Green made so few that it was inevitable that he’d be all but forgotten even as those who were nowhere near as polished and professional had a hit song or two that has them still being recalled seven decades down the road.

So any chance to hear them in a studio is a bonus for us and on I Love My Baby a fairly unimaginative song that they pull off with class, we get to hear them not being fronted by a hell bent for destruction fella like on the flip side, but rather we get a woman who is attempting to get back on her feet after her man left… maybe for all we know to go on tour after cutting some hit records.
 

My Top Is About To Blow
The star of this side is female vocalist Sammie Jett, a trombonist who would go on to play with B.B. King, whose expressive voice hits the right emotional tone from start to finish, giving the recycled sentiments – which she also wrote – a good deal of veracity just by her delivery alone.

The song gets off to a really solid start thanks to the assertive piano intro by Phineas Newborne Jr., future jazz star who shows he can play a much simpler, but by no means simplistic, riff that sets the right mood… one that’s frustrated more than pissed off at the fact this woman’s man walked out on her, never to return.

At times Jett’s voice seems to be on the verge of becoming shrill yet she never loses control of it, never overreaches in her choices, always sticking firmly to the underlying feelings that allow I Love My Baby to overcome its limited aims.

We know the story by now even though we’ve never met her or her ex, as he’s off gallivanting around leaving Sammie with no outlet for her own needs. She’s reduced to praying for relief to come her way in the form of a man, but she doesn’t sound desperate or relinquishes her self-respect in the process. It’s a mature performance but one with a hint of youthful naivety embedded in her vocals, as if letting us know she just wasn’t experienced enough to see this coming.

We, on the other hand, could’ve predicted it, as could Tuff Green and his band of poker-faced musical cynics.
 


 

There’s Bound To Be Happiness For Me
Though Newborne Jr. is the standout on the track, despite having only regular fills to show off his talents after that introduction, he’s joined by others with the same focus and attention to detail which despite the very basic components they’re working with come off looking good.

Newborne’s father, that would be Phineas Newborn Sr., is steady as a rock on drums while Tuff Green is anchoring the song on bass. The horn section is smaller than their usual lineup on stage, but they too are locked in.

Ben Branch’s tenor sax handles the break and if it appears to be rather underwhelming you have to cut him some slack because he’s sort of locked in to a slow meditative solo to not upset the thematic balance of the record.

It’s a very precise arrangement, yet one that retains the illusion of looseness in the playing. The soft riffing horns, the more hyperactive piano and the sluggish rhythm are all working together to establish sort of a trance behind Jett and even the solo keeps that mood alive.

You wouldn’t necessarily peg these guys as bandstand titans of the first order, yet you’d fail to find a single element that was out of place either, showing they were suitably beholden to the material itself. Since I Love My Baby has to let Jett exorcise her heartache in public, their job is to see to it that she can’t wriggle free of it, even though they aren’t going to add to her misery with a harsher more accusatory backing.

The reason why this works is because it is so comfortable in what it’s being asked to deliver rather than trying to do more for the sake of showing off and that’s the hallmark of a band you can rely on night after night in whatever club was fortunate enough to employ them. It’s just a pity nobody though to record them in their element while they were at it so we’d have more than just a few stray sides to serve as their legacy down the road.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUANCY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
(Visit the Artist page of Tuff Green for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)