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KING 4419; OCTOBER 1950



Weren’t we just here?

Haven’t we encountered these same cast of characters… just days ago was it?

Didn’t we just get done talking about this… this… this shady practice of hauling in your top star to prop up the sagging commercial interest of your newest signee – his former boss, no less – by covering a currently hot song as a way to give the bandleader some much needed sales on his back?

Yup, we sure did and now we’re stuck doing it yet again.

So despite what you may be thinking this review is not a re-run, but then again it’s hardly very original either.

Welcome to the duplicitous and creatively bankrupt world of record companies, circa 1950.

Every Single Cloud Would Disappear
It’s all but certain that in the entertainment field everybody’s star will eventually begin to fade. Each generation needs their own cultural icons to identify with and having already established yourself with a previous generation the younger set will begin to look elsewhere for their heroes.

Artistically it’s much the same, as what one person pioneered and spread to the masses will gradually evolve over time, with future acts re-writing those original blueprints until they’re all but unrecognizable.

By 1950 Lucky Millinder had discovered this was true even for him. Ten years earlier he’d helped to usher in a musical revolution when he and others like him slimmed down the big band structure dominant at the time, emphasizing the rhythm to compensate for the smaller group while also mirroring the needs of their audience who were becoming ever more socially restless and impatient for change.

The result was some huge records, four chart toppers among them, and widespread acclaim as the overseer of a musical family tree that contained some of the most impressive artists and sidemen to emerge over the past decade… Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bill Doggett, Bull Moose Jackson, Big John Greer, Sam “The Man” Taylor, Henry Glover, Panama Francis, Annisteen Allen and the man who’d soon become the enduring prototype for rock ‘n’ roll frontmen, Wynonie Harris.

Yet with each passing year – and each defection from that once mighty ensemble – Millinder’s prospects for continuing his reign in black music circles diminished, something the generational changes afoot only exacerbated. He was still a “name” artist, but that name wasn’t worth nearly as much when it came to commercial recordings.

So when King Records picked up his contract just after he’d turned forty years old this past August they had an idea to try and sort of introduce him to the audience he needed to appeal to by pairing him again with Harris who was their biggest rock act. Then to further increase their chances at striking gold they chose to cover two current hits – Oh Babe!, a novelty hybrid record which had countless versions vying for dominance already – and then followed that up with an instant rock anthem by Ruth Brown who with that record was well on her way to establishing herself as the First Queen Of Rock.

Teardrops From My Eyes was far from the ideal song for either Harris or Millinder however. Though an uptempo song its sad perspective and romantic desolation were alien topics for the always boastful cocksman Harris, while the romping musical framework that had helped make Brown’s record so irresistible is not what Millinder is comfortable with, making the entire concept of this record seriously compromised before either of them even stepped foot in a studio.


No Sun In The Sky
Let’s start off by reminding people that the artist whose original version of this song was on its way to Number One was the same Ruth Brown that Millinder hired – and then abruptly fired – two years earlier.

Irked that Brown had kindly brought drinks for the band as they relaxed after their set following her only performance with them on stage in Washington D.C., Millinder told her he’d hired a singer, not a waitress and left her stranded in the nation’s capital. It was that event which changed her fortunes, as she found a sympathetic soul in club owner Blanche Calloway who agreed to let her sing to earn money to head home, then seeing her talents became her manager, eventually getting her signed to Atlantic Records where she became the top selling female artist in rock over the next fifteen years.

It was arguably just as transformative a decision for Millinder who lost the one figure who may have staved off his commercial and creative decline, although that’s up for debate since Brown herself was only pushed into rock ‘n’ roll after her dreams of pop stardom singing lush ballads found no takers with Atlantic. Since Millinder – as evidenced here – clearly was uncomfortable heading into more aggressive rhythms needed to connect in rock it’s easy to see that had she remained she would’ve stuck to that older approach with ever-decreasing interest from the masses.

How do we know that? Because even when paired with Harris, someone who never wanted to do anything BUT rock no matter the circumstances, Millinder is unable to handle the job. Combine that with Harris’s discomfort with presenting himself as a forlorn loser in love and it’s hardly a surprise their rendition of Teardrops From My Eyes became a rather predictable failure.

The problems present themselves right as it pulls out of the station as after a perfectly acceptable seven notes from the baritone sax the rest of the horns come galloping into the picture sounding as if they were broken down horses trying to run down a modern steam engine.

What they’re playing has nothing whatsoever to do with rock ‘n’ roll of 1950 and everything to do with the music that Millinder helped make popular back in 1940. Yet it wasn’t 1940 and audiences of 1950 wanted records that sounded as if they were actually made in 1950 and this ain’t it.

But even with the totally outdated arrangement, brass section blaring away unaware of how ridiculous they sound, the underlying melody and rhythm, even scaled down as this is, remains identifiable and strong enough for a good vocalist to perhaps build it back up again into something workable.

That is… if the vocalist in question is happy about singing somebody else’s song that doesn’t suit the hard-earned image as a ladies man he’s spent the last half dozen years creating for himself.

That’s The Time I Feel So Blue
When rating singers on the technical aspects of their voices and deliveries Wynonie Harris wouldn’t be near the top of the list for any category other than power and projection. He did have a more supple voice than he was usually allowed to show and had a good sense of dynamics, but generally speaking he barreled his way through songs like a runaway freight train.

Because those songs, at least the best of them, were designed with this approach in mind he excelled and when you tossed in racy subject matter and a heavy dose of arrogance, charm and devilment few, if any, rock artists could touch him.

Yet on Teardrops From My Eyes most of those attributes are stripped away due to the subject matter of somebody facing life without the one they long for desperately. For Harris, someone who would find a replacement for that girl in less than five minutes in real life, this was something he was clearly reluctant to try and convey.

Further hurting him is the lack of cocky humor and suggestive allusions to deviant sex in the lyrics leaving him with only the infectious rhythm for him to fall back on. Truthfully that still should’ve been enough to keep this record upright at the very least, but here too he falters, choosing not to duplicate Brown’s delivery to the letter which is a fatal mistake because it was that specific rhythm she sang with and the cadences she used to match it with the band behind her which made it work so well.

Harris is already hampered by Millinder trying to dress up the rhythm with ill-chosen parts of his own invention and once Wynonie decides that he too is going to come at this from a different angle, emphasizing different words, holding off on delivering some lines until that train has passed him by then trying frantically to hop on the last car without falling face first on the tracks, he’s lost the song completely.

He tries his best to inject some passion into a few line readings and the song does end nicely with him lowering the volume and the intensity until it’s almost a whisper, but for the most part he sounds ill at ease with the entire affair and if not for the familiarity of the composition itself, something which allows us to know more or less where it’s going, this entire record would collapse under the weight of its own pretensions.

If You’d Come Back To Me
Despite most seasoned rock listeners (presumed) aversion to cover records as an unwelcome reminder of the dominant pop music practice of the era, the names involved with this record at least makes it something that will draw you in, if for no other reason than morbid curiosity.

Few rock singers of the day were more entertaining than Wynonie Harris and pairing him up with his former bandleader certainly had the potential to create sparks, if only so Harris could stick it to Millinder by shredding the song with his power and wholehearted conviction.

Throw in the fact that Ruth Brown was now shaping up to be the equal of Harris – albeit in a far different way – as the dominant artist on the female side of rock and Teardrops From My Eyes was the record which firmly established what would become her primary style and you have an intriguing combination of elements to sort through.

Which is why the end result is such a let-down.

Don’t let your familiarity of (and fondness for) Brown’s original lead you to think this rancid cover version isn’t worthy of scorn. If you’d gotten the same lackluster delivery and archaic musical arrangement on an original tune without the recognizable features of the composition itself to distract you from its flaws you’d think nothing of tossing it out with the garbage.

The only teardrops shed here are from those who expected something more interesting and exciting from these two after such a long sabbatical. Fortunately for us (and for them) they wouldn’t try this again.


(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:
Ruth Brown (September 1950)