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KING 4592; NOVEMBER 1952



To kick off the review of the rush-released cover song found on the other side of this single, we let out an exasperated “Oh no!” or two, as much for the shameless commercial desperation King Records was exhibiting for the artist who once was the face of their label, as for the content itself.

But that pales in comparison to the travesty of THIS side, which may actually be a more suitable topic and even possibly a slightly more enthusiastic performance by Wynonie Harris.

Unfortunately it’s a song we’ve heard under a different title, with different lyrics by a different artist on their label, which shows how when faced with declining relevancy even once proud outfits like King Records always look backwards rather than forwards.


I Don’t Know Where To Go
Where you ultimately come down on this record tells a lot about you as a music fan.

There no doubt will be those who could care less where it originated, or how transparent it was in its attempts to resuscitate Wynonie Harris’s stagnant commercial prospects. If you’re one of those people you’ll likely say that the only thing that matters is the song itself, the performance and the sounds spewing from your speakers.

If so, more power to ya.

Obviously we don’t fall on that side of the equation.

Oh sure, Rot Gut is a promising title for a singer who first crawled inside a liquor bottle when he was nine years old, and you can’t deny the enthusiasm Wynonie Harris has when singing about his drunken escapades. To be fair there are also some humorous lines thrown into the mix and a pretty good sax solo to be found within… even a Greek chorus of sorts scolding him for his behavior.

All of that is fine and dandy. The problem is is the song is constructed out of the rotting corpse of Todd Rhodes’ 1949 hit, Pot Likker, meaning it’s a decomposing musical body that has been in the ground for almost four years and rather than try and perform some Dr. Frankenstein operation to give it new life, they saddle it with an arrangement that has worms crawling through the decaying bones.

Despite its new lyrics, it’s not a new song. Yet because of that new presentation it’s not altogether an old one either.

Instead this record is a ghost… a haunting memory of the past without flesh or bone or blood running through its veins, trying somehow to keep Wynonie Harris from joining them as a member of the walking dead.

I guess this is what they mean about that zombie apocalypse.


The Stuff That I Was Drinkin’
For those of you who’ve forgotten the last vestige of commercial rapture surrounding a Todd Rhodes release, let’s go back to late winter 1949 when the group was still recording for Sensation Records, but those singles were being more widely distributed by King Records, who already had their sights set on stealing Rhodes from the smaller Detroit based independent label.

To further that cause they brought the band to Cincinnati to record in better studios and with a better producer in Henry Glover and it was he who composed Pot Likker along with Rhodes himself, using a particularly potent form of homemade booze as the selling point and bolstered by the same kind of group chanting as is found here.

What’s NOT found here is any credit for Todd Rhodes as the original song’s co-writer. Instead Glover’s name appears along side the fictitious Sally Mann, which was the name King Records owner Syd Nathan used to steal writing credit whenever he felt like it.

Who knows, maybe he earned it by suggesting they swipe an out of date song for an increasingly out of date singer, but however it came about, Rot Gut is brazen in its theft, as everything here is basically the same but the lyrics.

We have Sonny Thompson’s band providing the backing (I suppose it’d be TOO audacious to ask Rhodes and company to recreate it themselves) and the high-pitched condensed riffs of the horns take you back to the late forties even if you don’t remember the source of this tune yourself.

Because of that there’s no firepower behind Harris’s vocals and so it’s left to Wynonie to supply that himself. He does his best here but you can’t shake that nagging feeling you’ve entered an alternate dimension of some kind.

The sad thing what Glover DID retool is pretty good. Harris starts off drunk and sick and expounds on what got him inebriated to begin with and how he’s dealing with the aftereffects, the best line being “Walked out the door on my hands, thought I was on my feet”.

But even as that’s worth a laugh, and a few later lines might get a chuckle, we can’t be cracking smiles over the lack of effort when it came to actually crafting a new song altogether to house these ideas in. How hard would it be for a musician like Glover to merely come up with a new melody and rhythm?

If you’re pressed for time (as this WAS a session to hastily get down the cover of Greyhound we looked at yesterday) why not just retool the song “as is” for this new era? You have three saxophones raring to go, a drummer with time on his hands and a singer more loaded for bear than anyone Todd Rhodes had in his act back then!

Start off with a drum solo to replicate Harris walking into the pantry rather than the bathroom and knocking over all the canned goods, the use the horns to give it the sense of the other members of the house yelling and screaming at him for waking them up. Recruit some actual singers (weren’t The Four Jacks still on your payroll?) rather than the band to deliver the taunting refrain in between lines and call it a day.

Instead they put a new suit on a dead body and propped him up, hoping nobody would remember how vital Harris and Rhodes were when they were still among the living.


Sure Made A Fool Out Of Me
This is not the first, nor will it be the last, time that people have “revived” an old song under a new name with new lyrics and surprisingly not all of them are without merit.

In fact some are actually really good. But the reason they’re good is because of what they change along the way. Sure, the basic structure remains more or less the same, but the instrumentation adapts for a new setting, maybe the pace picks up or slows down, the entire mood is overhauled to suit its new setting.

On Rot Gut the story changes, but the theme doesn’t, nor does the impression that it makes. Wynonie Harris might actually turn in a better performance than on the top side, so he isn’t to blame and as a result you feel bad penalizing him for the sins of others.

But it has to be done. Remember, each record reviewed is judged not just on the artist’s performance of the material, but the material itself, and just as importantly what that material means for the artist, the label and the state of rock ‘n’ roll in general going forward.

This signals that Wynonie Harris was spent and King Records were so clueless that they even re-issued this on him down the line, apparently thinking that despite more time having passed it somehow wouldn’t expose how out of date it all was. But it’s not 1949 anymore, it’s almost 1953 and unless King Records wants to admit that and take steps to bring things up to date in their releases, then their days atop the rock ‘n’ roll mountain are over.

Harris has already fallen from that perch long ago, but even when he was out carousing when he should’ve been taking his career more seriously, there was still the hope that one good record could turn things around.

With each subsequent release however that doesn’t seem feasible any longer. Sometimes the blame for the predicament you find yourself in falls to those around you for pouring you this swill and pretending it’s champagne.


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