No tags :(

Share it

SAVOY 847; MAY 1952



In many ways 1952 was the make or break year for Savoy Records, the senior member of the independent label fraternity that ushered in rock ‘n’ roll, but which gradually saw their standing drop off with the public thanks to their failure to keep their hitmakers – both artists and producers – due to cheapness and dishonesty… or at least being more blatant about it than their equally no-account competitors.

They were also struggling mightily to replenish their roster with newer stars, which meant talented recent signee Varetta Dillard represented their best shot at remaining relevant going forward.

Give Savoy credit though, after two commercial misfires on her initial efforts they went all out for this one, bringing in one of the best songwriters around, bolstering it with a top notch arrangement and then pushing it heavily in the trades.

They got their hit, but in the end all may have accomplished was to drag out their slow fall from the mountaintop.


You Got The Bees Buzzin’ ‘Round In My Head
Were Savoy Records and Varetta Dillard simply unfortunate when it came to their timing in that Dillard began her career after Ruth Brown became a star, thereby being seen as – at best – a top flight Brown imitator, or was it likely that Dillard consciously modeled herself after Brown and thus if she had appeared on the scene first she’d have sounded totally different and might not have hit upon a commercial sound?

It’s a vexing question because Dillard’s primary appeal was her uncanny similarity to Miss. Rhythm, right down to the squeal in her voice, yet down the road she’d be able to conjure up the vocal attributes of other stars , meaning she was more or less a great imitator by nature rather than an originator.

But as imitators go, Dillard was at the top of her game on Easy Easy Baby in large part because it was written by Rudolph Toombs, the same guy who had penned some of Brown’s biggest hits.

For all we know this was written with Ruth in mind, though it’s hard to believe that Atlantic would’ve turned down a song of this caliber. Then again it’s just as unlikely that Herman Lubinsky would’ve forked over more cash than Ahmet Ertegun for the composition if Toombs had offered it up to the highest bidder.

Maybe he was just enlisted – at regular, if not discount, prices – to come up with something for Dillard during his off-hours and was on such a hot streak himself he delivered another winner.

It’s too bad that Lubinsky’s wallet was welded shut most of the time, otherwise he might’ve stolen the full time services of Toombs and perhaps staved off Savoy’s commercial decline with a few more of these gems.


Slow And Easy
The formula Toombs had come up with, for whichever smart and sassy female singer he was contracted to at the moment, was relatively simple but surprisingly durable considering how many likeminded hits Brown herself got out of the concept, and how Varetta Dillard was able to duplicate that approach here – with help from arranger Leroy Kirkland – and be rewarded for it as well.

The first point of order is to lay down an insistent churning rhythm that seems a little quicker paced than it really is, thereby allowing listeners to fall effortlessly into a groove without it wearing them out in the process.

it’s not hard to do if you start with some emphatic drumming that establishes a steady beat, add a throbbing bass line to get your shoulders and hips moving, throw in some charged electric guitar parts to add subtle shock value to the arrangement and cap it off with piano fills to add color. Bring in a tenor sax at the right moments in order to jolt you out of your seat and you can’t go wrong.

On top of that however you also need a saucy story, one that’s got some suggestive qualities without the implied raciness being the only basis of its appeal. Toombs certainly provides that on Easy Easy Baby, as if the title itself didn’t tip you off before even dropping the needle.

This is a song of sexual liberation as told by a female who has seemingly no problem getting what she wants, when she wants it from who she wants to give it to her. Yet while the lines conjure up everything your imagination requires, from the look on Dillard’s face as she beckons her man to join her to the types of activities they’re going to be enjoying when the lights go out, there’s nothing here that can’t be played in public… the images are all simply a product of your own dirty mind, neatly balanced between allusion and illusion as Toombs would probably say in his own defense.

Then there’s Dillard herself, employing her best Ruth Brown impersonation without being hindered by it. That’s a harder feat to pull off than it sounds simply because most singers are bound to be self-conscious trying to replicate somebody else, from their vocal tone to the quirks in their delivery, yet Dillard nails them all without it feeling forced.

Chances are she’s been working on this since before she ever had a contract, just because that’s what amateur singers tend to do – take somebody they like and mimic them until they find their own voice. Usually though they only do so up to the point they appear on a record, unless the company is shallow and manipulative and is looking at the artist as merely a way to score a quick hit with subterfuge almost before audiences fully realize it’s an imposter to the bigger star they’re channeling and are quickly discarded.

Not that Savoy wouldn’t be brazen enough to do that, but Dillard’s commitment to the role allows this to almost transcend the doppelgänger accusations, as she’s fully invested in the story, draining every ounce of meaning from each line with a mixture of coy flirtation and confident feistiness.

To put it another way, Ruth Brown herself couldn’t have improved upon this in the least and audiences knew it.


I Know It’s Gonna Please Ya When I Tell You How I Love You So
As good as the record sounds, as impressive as each component is – every instrument, each note of the arrangement, every inflection of Dillard’s voice – there still HAS to be the realization from all involved, meaning the listener as well as the participants, that this is the high water mark for a song of this nature.

Music fans are funny in a way. They can absolutely love an artist and never get enough of them, but when someone comes along and copies them down to the last detail, they may lap it up once… maybe even twice… but then they cast it aside. The Elvis Presley clones – Ral Donner or Terry Stafford. The Beatles knockoffs like The Knickerbockers, or America trying to steal the musical soul of Neil Young from Canada.

Varetta Dillard arguably did her masquerading as Ruth Brown on Easy Easy Baby better than any of them… and yes, it helped that she had a ringer in Rudy Toombs conspiring with “the enemy”.

But while Dillard would get more hits, they were spread out and she was never viewed as anything more than a second tier act as a result of her vocal similarities to others. After all, why accept imitators when the real deal is still on top of her game?

Most of the time that’s an easy question to answer… we don’t accept them, at least not warmly embrace them even if our curiosity is piqued enough by the comparison to check them out and get some brief enjoyment from it. But here we do accept the facsimile, not just because it’s so expertly rendered, but because the song they pull it off with would be more than enough to stand on its own no matter who Varetta Dillard sounded like.


(Visit the Artist page of Varetta Dillard for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)