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SAVOY 851; JUNE 1952



Desperation is never an admirable quality.

Even when what you’re after is understandable and, in some circumstances anyway, worth pursuing, such as hit records and financial solvency in this case, the means with which you scramble to get it will often make you look weak and pathetic.

Never was that more the case than in 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll when record companies callously disregarded their prime constituency and sought to toss them aside in the quest for older, more affluent and whiter patrons who were never going to give them the time of day no matter how desperate Savoy Records acted to win their affection.

We could care less about Herman Lubinsky losing his shirt, his business and his mind over such ill-conceived attempts, but we have an affinity for Varetta Dillard, the real victim in this affair… unless you want to include yourself, the faithful rock fan, who once again had to come to grips with the fact that yet another company has told you that your tastes and your money don’t matter to them.


A Victim Of Your Charms
This is a release we could’ve skipped, and maybe should’ve skipped, because of its obvious intent has little to do with us or our brand of music.

But in order to truly understand history, you need study the bad parts of history every bit as much as the widely celebrated parts. Maybe even more so because only then can you see the true greatness of those who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles thrown in their faces at every turn and realize that they are far more worthy of respect and honor than the ones who benefited from placing those obstacles there in the first place to give themselves a better chance at success.

In rock ‘n’ roll we know full well that the record companies could care less about what types of music sold, only that they were the ones selling it. With the major labels controlling the pop and jazz markets in the 1940’s, it left the independent labels to try and make due with the discarded styles or, like rock ‘n’ roll, the up and coming styles that the majors didn’t notice or care to dirty their hands in.

Once the indie labels had established a strong footing however with these styles, their eyes invariably turned to an even larger, more respected market – pop music. But while most of them couldn’t sign the types of (white) artists that would compete in that field, that didn’t mean they wouldn’t get their homegrown acts to sing the same songs with similar cultured arrangements in an attempt to possibly claw their way into view of a broader audience.

That’s why just a few weeks after issuing Easy Easy Baby, which would become her first hit, Savoy Records had Varetta Dillard come in to cut two rising pop numbers. Here In My Heart, which Al Martino was making his name on, was well sung on a technical level by Dillard, but Leroy Kirkland is tying himself into knots trying to reconcile the pop mindset with a cabaret style without completely forgetting to throw in a few rock touches in the process.

Despite a yeoman effort by Dillard the record itself is predictably dreadful.

Much better however is their attempt to turn Don Cornell’s I’m Yours into a rocker.

They’re faced with the same problems of course with the material and the conflicting aims of the arrangement, but here at least Kirkland is more sympathetic to Dillard’s interesting dilemma… she’s got to keep the original (or the competing pop versions by The Four Aces or Eddie Fisher) in sight, yet at the same time she needs to remember that she’s s rock singer with equally demanding fans of her own that need to be placated.

Obviously this isn’t going to be the easiest of tasks for any of them.


My Heart In Your Hand
Though the musicians are the same the approach they use here is noticeably different than on the flip side where they were as confused as we were as to what their goals were.

Thankfully Leroy Kirkland, a figure who began in the blues and jazz of the past before becoming a valued rock arranger and producer in the near future, has given the band a little more rope to play with here, letting the horns produce a much more vibrant introduction than the violins used by the pop versions which are reeking with the kind of obnoxious nose-in-the-air faux class that is easily remedied with a kick to the crotch.

The horns aren’t quite a swift kick that will bring the pretentious to their knees, but at least it gets them to stagger around a bit which gives Varetta Dillard all the time she needs to change the complexion of I’m Yours to suit her and the rock audience a little better.

It’s still not a raunchy enough horn sound, they’re leaning on the trombone and the alto sax for the melody with the tenor just adding rejoinders to give it more depth, but it definitely can be said to add a noticeable bounce and rhythm to the song which it hadn’t shown either of those qualities in the pop versions.

When Dillard comes in she doubles down on this image and sings with a spry confidence, utterly transforming the song from the sappy renditions heard elsewhere. Not a single one of them – not Cornell, Fisher or Al Alberts of The Four Aces – sound in the least bit assured they’ll wind up with the one they long for. Dillard on the other hand makes it seem like it’s a forgone conclusion that she’ll get the guy she wants in the end.

Of course that’s one of the main differences between pop and rock, and for that matter their respective audiences as well. The rockers know they have their own fate in their hands and are determined to beat the odds and succeed on their own terms in everything they do. Meanwhile the older gentry have been so busy conforming to outdated ideals and striving to present themselves as respectable, industrious breadwinners that they’ve stifled their desires and given up on their dreams.

Dillard has done no such thing and remarkably she comes close to transforming this ode to emotional repression into a celebration of urgent expression. If Kirkland hadn’t undercut her by giving the sax solo to the damn alto, dropped the weak piano and turned Mickey Baker’s guitar loose instead and maybe lit a firecracker under drummer Bobby Donaldson’s seat, you might’ve actually gotten a better than average rocker out of this hackneyed composition.

As it is though she still did far more with it than we ever would’ve imagined possible, which makes you wonder what she’d be capable of with more suitable material on a label that wasn’t desperately trying to be something they weren’t.


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