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KING 4202; JANUARY, 1948

 
 

 

Certain people are attention getters in life, the kind for whom the spotlight is never bright enough, the stage never big enough, the acclaim never rewarding enough to satisfy them.

I’m sure there’s plenty of psychological reasons behind it but this is a rock history blog, not a therapy session so we can leave that topic for others to discuss.

Regardless of the reasons though a lot of these people are reasonably successful in their aims, doing whatever necessary to be the center of attention, even if the scale for which they succeed at it varies greatly. Go out on a Friday night and it won’t take long to find a girl with low self-esteem who dresses provocatively and hits the bars, getting men to buy her drinks in the (unspoken) hope that they might score, something she does little to discourage… In the end she gets the attention she craves but with nothing to show for it the next morning but hangovers, a string of shallow relationships and a wide array of STD’s.

In today’s world you can find many of those who are afflicted with this unusual desire for widespread notoriety on reality television shows, desperately hawking their wares (whatever they are), usually embarrassing themselves at every turn, yet finding it all somehow rewarding because their names and faces are widely known even though a lifetime of increasingly embarrassing tabloid headlines await them in their inevitable descent back into irrelevancy.

You would think that those in rock ‘n’ roll would be somehow immune from such fates. After all for those in the music biz, at least the ones who rise to the top of it, are in fact being celebrated for something legitimate, namely their ability to connect with a song. When they score hits it’s their musical skills that are validated which should be enough to placate their need for attention otherwise. But of course in a lot of cases we know that’s not true.

As time goes on their narcissism can’t be satiated by musical acclaim alone, only tempered slightly. When the hits dry up, or during lulls in their popularity, the artists are just as determined as ever to be noticed, maybe even more so.

Arguably no one in rock history ever craved attention more than Wynonie Harris.
 

 
There Goes My Baby
What must’ve been going on in Harris’s mind as he saw his commercial fortunes decline over the past two years as he careened from one independent label to another, none of which seemed to have any idea how to put his career back on course, isn’t known. Harris acted as though he was still on top of the world, as he had been ever so briefly back in 1945 with a #1 record to his name, but as his fortunes declined it was becoming increasingly obvious that his continued outward display of brash egotism was largely for show.

Maybe he truly believed he was still a star, and surely for someone like Harris any sign of recognition – by an audience, a female admirer after the show or a new record label seeking his services – was something to be blown out of proportion to maintain his self-important image, but deep down – unless he was completely delusional – he HAD to be cognizant that the late afternoon shadows in his career were creeping ever closer and the sunset might not be too far behind.

Though still a headliner in clubs, the size and enthusiasm of the audiences were surely dwindling without any recent hits to bring in new fans. While he still had recording contracts being offered him, once he cut a few sides for them and they sank without a trace he wasn’t being asked to renew those contracts and thus he was perpetually on the move looking for yet another label to entice into giving him yet another shot.

Eventually he’d run out of shots, out of record labels and out of girls he hadn’t already defiled and then what?

King Records therefore represented perhaps his last best chance, though he wouldn’t let on that this was in fact the case. His initial sessions for them in December were utter train wrecks (we’ll get into that in future reviews – stay tuned, kids!), with almost half of the final cuts shelved altogether. But for his first release they managed to exhume the two most lucid takes and pair those with the hopes that their investment in him wouldn’t be completely wasted.

Wynonie’s Boogie was designated as the B-side, a remake of a song from his past, re-titled and re-fitted a bit for the modern trends, but it nevertheless showed he was grasping at creative straws.

For the A-side, Rose, Get Your Clothes, a title that was right up his alley and promised all sorts of tawdry details, he seemed to be saying, “Here’s what you want, isn’t it?” and hoped that his reputation alone would sell it to the masses.

Needless to say, it did not.
 

Just Listening To The Way That He Talks
So just who is to blame for its failure, both commercially and creatively, intertwined as they surely were? Not that it’s dreadful or anything, but it’s certainly not a record that was going to resuscitate his career any.

Let’s start with the fact that Wynonie Harris himself wrote it and so he’s got to bear the brunt of the responsibility for packing all of the appeal in the title itself without supplying a suitably alluring storyline to accompany it.

When envisioning the type of plot details that any song by Harris entitled Rose, Get Your Clothes, you surely were thinking more along the lines of an illicit nocturnal liason that leads to some sort of explosive fireworks. Maybe her husband comes home while they’re in the midst of using the hubby’s bed for their carnal pleasure and they both have to hastily grab their clothing to make a getaway before gunfire erupts.

Or perhaps she lied to him about herself (forgetting to tell him she was underage, married or the preacher’s daughter) and HE’S the one who orders her out of his bedroom, telling her to not forget her clothing on her way out the door (unlikely that any of those things would deter Harris… maybe not even all THREE of them would stop him from carrying out his manly duties… but it’d make for a reasonably appropriate plot twist in a song at least).

I suppose it could also be that the girl’s mother was the one who found Wynonie in bed with her daughter and SHE was the one ordering the young lass to get dressed and get out of there before the girl was a witness to carnage or before the law came to lock Wynonie up (or perhaps so she could have him for herself!).

In other words the possibilities are endless and with Harris they almost always center around three letters E, S and X, though usually not arranged alphabetically like that, but we’re striving to be a family-friendly blog… (On second thought, the family probably should just skip over each of the Wynonie Harris reviews altogether just to be safe).

But Rose Get Your Clothes isn’t about that at all. It’s merely a drunken proposal made by a love-struck suitor after staggering out of the bar (or a gutter for that matter), flies buzzing around his head, cross-eyed and unsteady on his feet, looking for companionship – though by the sounds of it not for sex, just someone to guzzle more wine with – and so he typically makes a grander gesture than need be extended for such an offer.

This isn’t speculation really because we know from first-hand accounts that Harris was drinking heavily in the studio that night and with his penchant for giving the band orders to merely play a suitable melody behind him while he ad-libbed, or at the very least took a pre-existing theme and merely embellished it on the spot, we can see that the song’s sentiments match that description of him as his eyes droop, his pace becomes sluggish and his focus wanes.

He never completely loses his way, there’s no garbled lyrics as he was known to do in such circumstances at other times, and the song does progress along without becoming incomprehensible, but whether it leads anyplace worthwhile is another thing entirely.
 

Go Through Strife
The studio band manage to keep Harris on course, but to do so they travel at such safe speeds that there’s no thrills to be found anywhere on their ride. After a spry, if outdated, horn intro that nevertheless marks the most musical vitality offered up anywhere within, the bulk of the song is carried along by a plodding bass-line while the pianist dutifully employs every possible trick he can conjure up on the treble keys just to keep you from dozing off.

Meanwhile the horns come back in after each refrain, lurching along with a droning riff that doesn’t add any excitement whatsoever, nor does it spur Harris into ramping up his delivery. Though I suppose it’s admirable that the musicians and singer are on the same page through all this, that page remains tough to slog through when there’s absolutely no action, no interesting plot and no scintillating dialogue to keep you reading (the song that is, not this review!).

Because of all this Rose Get Your Clothes is decidedly lethargic if never quite an outright mess. It’s serviceable maybe, mildly competent even, but totally unmemorable. As a recording it has no ambitions other than to get another song in the can before Harris passes out for the night. As a finished record it has no hope to entice an audience into playing it more than once and you’d better hope the listeners don’t ask for their money back after hearing it.

When the best you can say is that Harris and company at least don’t leave you cursing them for wasting two and a half minutes of your life it shows just how low expectations have sunk when it comes to Wynonie Harris’s output.
 

 

Take A Little Trip With Me
Yet the way Harris himself was acting during the recording session – boozing, bragging and belittling those around him – either points to the fact he was completely out of touch with reality and had no idea his career was grinding to a halt, or that he was using those actions to cover up his own insecurities as he realized he was slipping farther and farther down into complete irrelevancy.

For someone who was as reliant on stardom as Harris had always been just to validate his existence, who used his fame as a calling card designed to bypass all of life’s unpleasantries and everyday drudgery, the prospect of having the spotlight suddenly shut off from him must’ve been a frightening thought (I’d have said “sobering thought” but c’mon, we know Harris wasn’t sober for more than fifteen minutes since 1942!).

I suppose human compassion requires us to feel sympathy for his plight, even if it was Harris who had put himself in this position to begin with by not taking his artistic advancement as seriously as his drinking, his screwing and his penchant for soaking up every second in the limelight.

Now as we move into 1948 it’s hard to envision how Harris could pull himself out of this artistic morass, and I think it’s fairly obvious by his desultory efforts in that cause so far that he too had no idea how he might salvage his sinking prospects. But if there’s one thing that history has shown us it’s that we can’t ever underestimate someone’s all-encompassing compulsion for attention.

Too often those who are beset with this need will embarrass themselves in their quest as the payoff gets ever smaller, but occasionally someone will stumble upon an avenue that seems tailor-made for their requirements and for Harris – someone with more than enough genuine talent to go with his ego-driven aspirations – rock ‘n’ roll was exactly the prescription he was looking for.

In the end it simply took a little more time in the pharmacy to come up with the right combination of musical drugs that would enable him to hit those highs again.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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