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Every time a new artist appears on these pages we already know – or can easily find out – what will become of them over the course of their career… that’s the benefit of reviewing historical events rather than current events.

Yet the key is to try and put those historical events into a current context as if they were taking place in this moment without knowing what was to follow.

Which of them will become stars and which will become also-rans may be pretty easy to predict on first listen, but in between those two extremes are the many contenders who are always tough to predict due to the fluctuating nature of their output.

Of all the female acts in 1950’s rock maybe it was Varetta Dillard who defined that precarious position best.


I Can’t Forget
The stories of untested amateurs being “discovered” and signed to a contract and releasing records almost overnight may be mostly the stuff of fairy tales but it’d have to come true just often enough to make it believable. So it was with Varetta Dillard who at the age of 18 entered – and won – two Amateur Shows at Harlem’s Apollo Theater singing Ruth Brown’s rendition of I’ll Get Along Somehow which was witnessed by Savoy Record’s Lee Magid who signed her to a contract, had her in the studio in a matter of weeks, the first results of which were released the next month.

The record didn’t make her an overnight star by any means, but it did lead to a decade long career as a reliable singer with a few hits to her name.

But she never quite made a name for herself because she was too busy taking on the characteristics of other big names on the scene.

Her first model was the aforementioned Ruth Brown and she could sound uncannily like her but there was the original Ruth Brown on the market which made those records largely irrelevant, at least when it came to breaking new ground.

She also was able to effectively recreate the vocal stylings of Margie Day, Faye Adams and later on any number of generic late 1950’s acts seeking crossover acceptance with a more polished sound to attract white ears.

Dillard was genuinely skilled at each of those approaches, yet which of these was closest to her “natural” voice and delivery is more or less guess work at this stage.

Because of that Please Come Back To Me is vital in trying to figure out her own strengths and weaknesses before Magid or other equally hit chasing producers steered her into someone else’s wake hoping for hits under false pretenses.

Want You Too Much
In many ways this song is a microcosm of all that will come from Varetta Dillard, minus the vocal similarities to someone else.

In other words there are definite high points to be found within, yet the record is also hampered by some easily fixed low points which includes an arrangement that can’t make up its mind whether to seek work playing rock ‘n’ roll in dingy clubs or as a glitzy show band in the Catskills.

The melody is the other up and down proposition here with the most memorable parts of the song centered around the title line Please Come Back To Me having a very identifiable progression that is easy on the ears. At other times however the melody wanders off course and sounds unsure of where to go and in a song that is so reliant on conveying an effortless familiarity without any musical explosions to draw your attention, this winds up being a pretty big flaw even though it never gets so far off course that it can’t find its way back again.

Throughout it all however Dillard is remarkably self-assured, singing with a combination of power and control, grit and grace, showing a confidence in herself and a facility with the studio that is rare for someone making their recording debut.

But the problem is the aimless nature of the song itself, the confused arrangement, even tempo changes which don’t correspond to a thematic requirement but rather the whims of the songwriter or producer.

It may not ever get away from them entirely but each time a new instrument jumps to the forefront with no rhyme or reason, every time the story is conveyed with leaden lyrics and all the times that Dillard is essentially hung out to dry because of those problems, the song becomes harder and harder to stick in your memory.


I’ll Keep On Being Blue
When sending out your first musical missive into the world an artist – and their record label – has to hope that it’s reflective of their talents, fits comfortably within the current styles and shows room for growth.

On one hand you could make the argument that Please Come Back To Me definitely succeeds on the first and last of those while perhaps (albeit just barely) satisfying the second of them, leaving you with a reasonably good first impression.

But then again it’s also easy to see that this certainly didn’t live up to its potential in any of the three categories, shortchanging Dillard in the process and requiring her to carry the dead weight of some of those around her.

In the end, whichever view you take, the score is the same – an average record. The novice artist manages to suggest she’s got above average talent, while the veteran record label gives the sense they’d been lucky to make it this far.

Maybe that’s a little harsh, but when a teenager with no experience in a studio easily bests those who make their living in that studio, it’s hard to frame it any other way.


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