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KING 4448; MARCH 1951



The “problem” of finding appropriate material for Wynonie Harris continues.

With his reputation as an oversexed hell-raiser firmly established, his penchant for hard-charging vocals serving as his stylistic trademark, and his need to celebrate his notoriety in song being his most successful musical approach, King Records had seemingly run out of those kinds of songs awhile ago, so in attempt to diversify his output they began reaching into the country realm to find songs that might be adapted to fit his style.

Sometimes though that was easier said than done.


If I’d Only Known
With all of the versions of this song available at the time it’s more appropriate to start our look at it with the songwriter rather than a specific rendition.

Joe Greene was a black man who came up under white songwriter Hoagy Carmichael and was maybe most well known for his work writing for white jazz legend Stan Kenton. Along the way he’d written for Nat Cole and had hits with Louis Jordan as well as The Mills Brothers, but throughout his career his songs tended to be somewhat racially ambiguous… “universal” might be a more polite way to say it.

But that may have never been more the case than on Just Like Two Drops Of Water which seemed perfectly suited for country music, and indeed most of the renditions were either straight country – female vocalist Bucky Tibbs and Decca’s Les “Carrot Top” Anderson – or country inflicted, such as jazz trumpeter/vocalist Red Mack’s version on Mercury.

June Barton seems to have got hers out first on Modern but they all were released in a flurry over about a six to eight week span, one of which was Wynonie Harris’s unlikely rendition which finds him sometimes effectively, and sometimes awkwardly, trying to make it suit both him and rock ‘n’ roll in general.

Whoever’s idea this was either had great confidence in Harris’s ability to make virtually any song his own through sheer willpower alone… or they had a great sense of humor.


A Foggy Window Pane
Like most country rooted songs the story is paramount in this, trying to get the listener to put themselves in the place of the narrator as the plot unfolds. The credo of country music might just as well be that by identifying with the position an artist is taking the emotional payoff for the audience will have more resonance.

But that’s a tough thing to ask of Wynonie Harris because if there’s anything he’s spent most of his waking hours doing in his life – aside from prodigious drinking and carnal activities of course – it’s acting bulletproof when it comes to his feelings. He’s loathe to reveal insecurity, especially in romantic situations which is the entire point of Just Like Two Drops Of Water, a lament over a doomed relationship.

Its lyrics lean heavily into the allegorical with water – be it rain, condensation or apparently pools of it – taking on great importance in the narrative. Harris could sell all sorts of symbolic meanings well, provided they had a biting undertone, but here they have to take on a more remorseful quality that he’s largely steamrolling with his delivery. They aren’t obscured by it altogether, but the reflective nature of the lines is greatly diminished because of the gung-ho way he’s singing them.

The images themselves are fairly good, as Greene chooses some obvious themes but presents them in unexpected ways. He clearly takes pride in inventive wordplay and with the slower mournful country versions you get the opportunity to let them sink in more, but Harris is barreling along without embodying the mindset behind the words. He doesn’t sound sad, doesn’t seem consumed with regret, if anything it appears that he just wants to get through this in a hurry so he can find somebody else to hook up with, which of course is perfectly in character for him.

For the most part though his voice and his delivery are at least making the record somewhat enjoyable, provided you don’t listen much to what he’s saying. The tempo allows him to bring more rhythmic qualities to the table than were indicated on paper and while he does have trouble finding the proper cadence on the title line throughout this, he’s making up for it with his scorched vocals that add a much different texture to the song.

But is that enough to win over rock fans?

Maybe not, but then again that’s why he’s got Henry Glover producing, to try and tip the scales back in his favor with an appropriate arrangement.

What A Storm Life Could Be
It’s entirely possible that Glover wasn’t a stranger to this song, as he’d presumably also overseen a concurrent release on King’s red label, which was for their country line, as Shorty Long released his version around this time with a much more traditional string band accompaniment.

Whether or not Glover, who DID in fact supervise country sessions despite his own background in jazz and rock, was responsible for that one, he is definitely bringing a much different approach to THIS one, and as it start off it sounds suspiciously like something he might’ve conceived a few years back… a full horn section playing a bouncy refrain followed by a slightly elegant piano passage.

It’s catchy, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also a little anachronistic for rock ‘n’ roll circa 1951. But because rhythm is emphasized throughout the record it suits Harris’s delivery and noticeably changes the mood of the composition itself, as already stated.

That’s a double-edged sword of course, upending the song to placate the singer and if that’s all that was done here then Just Like Two Drops of Water would largely fail, even if it never was so bad as to have you rushing to turn it off.

But what redeems it, even though conceptually it drags it even further away from the source, is the instrumental break where our old pal Big John Greer, who has yet to really distinguish himself as a rock vocalist on RCA, shows that he’s more than up to the task as a saxophonist when given the green light to let things rip.

His solo here starting a little before the one minute mark has such great tone, a gritty stroll around and about the melody line, that you almost don’t care what elegiac sentiments are supposed to be highlighted in the song, you just want to go along for the ride Greer’s taking you on, especially once he starts increasing the intensity of his playing the more it goes on.

In the process his solo winds up almost overruling the impression the rest of the arrangement was making and though it can’t bring this up to the level of a solid rock record, it ensures that it won’t be completely dismissed either.


I Wasted My Years
Though cover records proliferated the early 1950’s in most genres, the continuing difficulty rock ‘n’ roll has when attempting to cover a hot tune is when they approach it with the same mindset as a pop or jazz or country artist would, where it’s the budding reputation of the song within the industry that informs their decision rather than looking for only songs which have an appropriate thematic or musical connection that rock can tap into.

In that regard Just Like Two Drops Of Water would surely be viewed as a failure. Not only was it expressing thoughts that sounded altogether alien coming from the lips of Wynonie Harris, it left them with a choice between making him subservient to the written song’s downcast perspective, which didn’t suit him at all, or allowing him to run roughshod over those notions even though it’d render the meaning of the song all but irrelevant.

They chose the latter and got away with it to a degree because of the performances, but in doing so they actually obscured what was a well-written song. Though the appeal of country music is far beyond my ability to comprehend, the best versions of this are those which are most authentic.

This is not authentic and as such probably was a mistake to try it, but because of the talents of those involved it’s not a fatal mistake, just an unfortunate one.


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