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KING 4592; NOVEMBER 1952



We’re faced with another dreaded series of “Oh no’s!” courtesy of a record label focusing on the wrong things with one of their cornerstone artists.

That this artist appears to be on the downside of his career makes these misguided decisions more detrimental than had they done them to him a few years back, which only adds another “Oh no!” to our reaction.

Ultimately of course if the record is great than the “Oh no” can quickly become a “Oh yes”, but considering this is Wynonie Harris we’re talking about who is used to hearing a succession of “Oh yesses” from a variety of female companions in an entirely different context, maybe our “Oh no” has another, more self-preserving, meaning if we value our reputation.

All of this can be confusing of course, which means whether yes or no, we’re most likely to just wind up shaking our head in disbelief while muttering “Oh boy”.


Covered All The West
Let’s start with the less obvious of the warning bells going off here, even though it ties into the louder alarm we’ll get to in a minute.

You no doubt noticed this release is out of order… sequential order that is, as going by the release number King 4592.

We still have the high forty-five eighties to get through which didn’t come out until December. What this means is King Records pressed this record with the first available number (as most companies had their releases planned in advance) and then jumped the next batch of singles lined up for the future and quickly shoved it into the marketplace as soon as it came off the presses because…

Come on, why do you think?

Because Greyhound was a cover record they hoped would latch on to the buzz surrounding it and get them a few spins they felt they weren’t going to get anymore with Wynonie Harris’s original material.

Worse still, the song he was covering was by Amos Milburn, the man he vied with since rock’s birth to see which of them was the top dog on the scene. That battle had been won by Milburn who laid claim to being the Top Rock Artist Of The 1940’s, but it had been a somewhat close contest and Harris likely never stopped bitching about being edged out.

Both Milburn and Harris have been less impressive in the Fifties, and not surprisingly Aladdin also did their best to wreck Amos’s stature with a series of cover records themselves along the way. But as of late Milburn has rebounded somewhat and with Greyhound got a regional hit that got as much attention from the industry as a bigger smash… thanks to countless covers by pop acts who’ve begun to see the commercial potential of rock. In fact, Cash Box in their review of Harris’s release (below) mention the pop versions, not Milburn’s rock original!

Of course that might not be quite as bad as King Records getting Rudolph Toombs’ name wrong, apparently thinking he was German… but I digress.

The label’s biggest sin however wasn’t the misspelled name of one of rock’s best songwriters, but rather the mere fact they’re forcing an artist who’s lost his touch to try and put the touch on someone else’s big seller to revive his fortunes.


Took A Trip
For those who’ve forgotten the particulars of the song since we covered Amos Milburn’s rendition a few months back, this is what would be called a “tie-in” record in that it uses as its title and main story a well-known business… that of the bus company by that name.

In 1952 people still rode buses for long trips more than they do today, so it wouldn’t have to be explained to listeners, but maybe it should’ve been explained to Henry Glover who gives this the hint of a different kind of Greyhound… namely a dog, thanks to what is made to sound like rattling dog tags and Harris’s literal howling at the tail end of the intro.

It’s an interesting and creative twist, maybe even giving some indication that Glover was none too pleased with the directive of covering this song himself and was messing with Syd Nathan by intentionally confusing the issue being sung about about. But then again this is Wynonie Harris we’re talking about and we know he has no problems with tweaking people’s expectations either.

While we’ve seen him lose interest when forced to cut songs associated with someone else, he’s also turned in some of his best performances, and gotten some of his biggest hits, when doing so. In this case while it’s far from his crowning achievement, at least he manages to bring a much different element to the table that Milburn’s didn’t possess to distance it somewhat from the best version.

Both of them share the same belching horn pattern setting the rhythm, but whereas Amos was wistful much of the time leading into his fast paced itinerary, at which point the vocals became anxious, revealing the sense of eager anticipation that he’ll get back with his girl at the end of the line.

Harris on the other hand sounds impatient and a little perturbed that he had to hop on a Greyhound bus and undergo this arduous trip just to get his girl back. His more aggressive demeanor sets it apart, but doesn’t make it a better record even though his alterations make it slightly more suitable for his persona. By the end, even though he’s told by the same fortune teller that this girl he’s chasing is returning to him, chances are he’s slept with enough other girls on his cross country tour to not require her services anymore.

Which version you prefer – the more yearning soulfulness of Milburn or the more ragged exasperation of Harris – may just be a matter of personal taste. Milburn’s though has the advantage of being a highly original record – topically, but also in its arrangement – whereas all the cover versions are just passing the same scenery en route. While Harris throws in just enough quirks to make it more than a shallow rip off, it’s still a rip-off, just one done well enough to meet your fairly low expectations without exceeding them.

At this point however, we think it’d probably be better just to hop a plane… or look for a new girl… or better yet, new material.


As Far As I Could Go
The cold harsh truth of the matter, which King Records clearly didn’t take into account, is that it almost doesn’t matter how good Wynonie Harris sounded, nor how well done the arrangement was and whether the musicians were up to the task, because honestly, nobody but us is listening… and we’re three quarters of a century too late for it to pay off for them and are doing so strictly for research purposes anyway.

Even though he delivers this admirably, there’s no getting around the fact that Greyhound is somebody else’s song and he can’t pull out of his commercial doldrums that way… not any more.

In 1948 when he established himself as rock’s first star thanks to a pair of Roy Brown covers, there was a good bet that the majority of the listeners hadn’t heard those originals. After all, Brown was a newcomer with no name recognition whereas Harris was an established hitmaker. He was also on a bigger label with wider distribution than Brown had which didn’t hurt his cause, and when that initial cover became rock’s first chart topper, it established the genre as something to be reckoned with… to the benefit of all, Roy Brown included.

Similarly when Harris scored some of his last hits and greatest sides in the early 1950’s covering ribald country tunes, it’s almost certain that nobody from the rock market were aware those records even existed and so Harris’s reinterpretations served to bring them to their widest audience in a style of music far much more suited for their content.

But that’s not the case here. He and Milburn have the same constituency… even more so when you consider that their prime fan base is probably a few years older than those rock artists of a more recent vintage. As a result, this cover song does none of them, not Harris, not King Records, not Milburn and not the rock fan, any good.

Sure it sounds fine, but it also sounds like desperation and that’s never the image you want to project, which is why in the end, the sound you hear is Wynonie muttering “Oh fuck!” as he heads to the nearest bar to try and forget just how far he’s fallen.


(Visit the Artist page of Wynonie Harris for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Amos Milburn (September, 1952)