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KING 4507; FEBRUARY 1952



How long is anyone truly “in their prime”?

A few years?… A full decade?… The entirety of adulthood?… Maybe from the time someone is first mobile until they become immobile again due to age or injury?

In music the answer for even the best artists tends to be about seven years in the singles era. There are exceptions of course but when considering an artist’s commercial and creative peak it’s all but assured they generally won’t have very long to enjoy it.

Though Wynonie Harris only truly found his métier in 1948 when rock ‘n’ roll exploded, he actually first hit the top of the charts back in 1945 and now, seven years later, his time on top is over.

He’s still got the roar in his voice but today’s rock fan was beginning to tune it out.


We Used To Play Everyday And Used To Play Every Night
Try as you might, when it comes to pursuing a career in popular music there’s not much you can do to stop the inevitable decline of your fortunes.

It’s a simple reality that with a style like rock ‘n’ roll where the target audience is relatively young it won’t be long before they’ll be replaced by the next generation who will seek their own icons, leaving you to try and convince them that you still should matter.

You can’t look to the constituency who made you stars in the first place because as they get older and take on the responsibilities of jobs and families they’re not going to have time to stay on top of the latest record releases and so their ability to control the direction of the music wanes over time.

In 1952 the rock audience in control of the market were getting ever younger… not just younger than the actual people who’d made Wynonie Harris the biggest star of the late 1940’s, but younger than those fans had been at the time they ruled the roost.

In other words, if the average rock fan in 1948 was say 23-25 years old then today’s rock fan was more like 17-20 years old and in a few years time that’d number go down even further.

So for Wynonie Harris, a man already 36 years old, it may not have mattered how many underaged girls he still brazenly hit on while walking down the street, or how many young vixens he defiled and then shamelessly sang about those conquests on record, he was rapidly becoming the dirty old man rather than the virile stud he always projected himself as being.

But it wasn’t ALL perception that was doing him in, it was the musical changes underway which he was powerless to stop.

My Playful Baby’s Gone was a very solid record with forceful vocals and a strong musical track – from a band led by someone born in 1900 no less! – but it was no longer cutting edge for rock ‘n’ roll.

Harris’s brand of volcanic singing, that full-throated bellow that had thrilled listeners a few years earlier and which had seemed to threaten the musical status quo that existed at the time, had already won the initial battle as he’d inflicted heavy damage on the defenses of the establishment with a string of heat-seeking records that defined early rock’s image. However the fight had now moved further inland and the territory rock was claiming these days was well beyond what he’d ever imagined.

But although he’d since been replaced on the front lines by younger more radical sounding artists and his records were no longer going to have the same cataclysmic impact, that didn’t mean that he shouldn’t keep launching missiles at the enemy just for the sheer fun of it.


The Same Bag Of Tricks But She’s Added Two Or Three More
With its razzing horns that open this you can see why the target they’re aiming for might be a little out of their range by this point. The fuse is still spitting out sparks but there’s less chance for a major explosion when it goes off.

Still, Todd Rhodes has managed to remain relevant throughout far more dramatic changes in the music landscape over the past quarter century and so we can be fairly certain that he for one is not going down without a fight here.

Sure enough the primary saxophone that fills in spaces has the right idea and by the time the solo rolls around it’s hitting on all cylinders. It’s got a gritty tone, plenty of volume and enough melodic elements to ensure your interest, all while the drummer never lets up on the beat in order to keep your shoulders moving.

Harris of course is his usual fire breathing self vocally. His full raspy tone may be a little weather beaten around the edges but he’s not taking things easy by any means. The rhythm sticks to the same familiar groove he’s most comfortable with, curtailing any chance of bringing something new to the table in that regard, but at least he’s fully locked in on it which helps put the record across.

The one concession to his advancing years is found in the lyrics, which Harris himself came up with and show an admirable acknowledgement of his position in the world as time goes on as he admits he can no longer “bring it” – whatever IT you want to imagine – both night and day.

In other words, he may still be willing to tear it up, but now e’s got to rest for awhile after whatever mayhem he took part in.

Even so his commitment to the cause is still pretty impressive, and not just for a guy in his advanced years. Harris never had a problem with vocal assertiveness, even here when he’s somewhat humbled in the story his projection remains confident while he and the band are trading off with a self-assured ease.

No, this is not what is going to shape the sounds of tomorrow. Both of these artists, Harris and Rhodes, had already altered the future when they were at their peak, but that future was now in the recent past and so at this point their more realistic goal was merely to remain relevant.

They accomplished that well enough with this record but both surely knew that with each ensuing release the sand in their respective hourglasses would be getting lower and lower.


If I Stay Around Much Longer I Know I May Do Something Wrong
Maybe it seems odd to some reading this for us to be talking about artists who are clearly still capable of delivering records that were very good as being past their prime, but it’s a reality that shapes rock ‘n’ roll more than any other genre of music you can find because of how connected it is with the constantly evolving culture.

It’s never difficult to see when an artist has become completely irrelevant (unless you’re a Grammy voter and then you only start rewarding artists when they are completely irrelevant), but the more interesting study to make is to try and spot the moment they lose their ability to get to the front of the pack again.

Maybe this record isn’t on par with his greatest efforts but it’s still Harris firmly in his element and you surely can’t complain about that. Yet even were My Playful Baby’s Gone another notch higher… even if it was the equal of almost anything he’d done over the past seven years… the form itself belongs to yesterday.

This may have been the kind of record that built the foundation of the structure of rock ‘n’ roll, but the building is now many stories higher and who spends time on the first floor when the elevator keeps going up?

On your way up to look at the view from the current observation deck you’ll just have to be content to grab this at the gift shop in the lobby as a souvenir of days gone by.


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