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KING 4448; MARCH 1951



A single where both sides could reasonably be called atypical for the artist for the lyrical perspective alone, yet while neither side makes for a top shelf Wynonie Harris record, when paired together they do manage to give us something intriguingly different.

Of course when you only have a handful of releases in a year with which to keep an artist’s star burning brightly in the ever more crowded rock sky that may not be the best move, but at least you can’t say they were merely repeating a formula as is often the case.

While it may not have been a successful record commercially, if nothing else it was at least an interesting one.


Turned The Lights Down Low
The session held in New York City for Wynonie Harris on February 27, 1951 produced the standard four songs with the first two sides laid down comprising the initial single to come from it which was released just a few weeks later.

This was one of those sides.

Yet in doing so they held back the best side from that session presumably to ensure that Just Like Two Drops Of Water, a country song that seemingly everybody under the sun was rushing to cover throughout the month of February, was released while the buzz for it was at its peak.

Okay that’s hardly unusual and while the song itself was somewhat inappropriate for Harris’s style, he and producer Henry Glover overhauled its structure, increasing the tempo, adding a stronger rhythmic element and giving Big John Greer a tasty sax solo in order to have it fit more comfortably in Harris’s musical orbit.

Since that side was going to be the one they hoped would catch on, it meant pairing it with something decidedly different so it wouldn’t be confused with, or overshadow, the plug side.

Again, nothing unusual about that, it’s actually a smart game plan in most cases.

But what WAS a little odd with Tremblin’, a song written for Harris specifically by Glover himself, is that once again the perspective he gives Harris, not to mention the arrangement he saddles him with, fall outside of Wynonie’s usual motif.

Is that a bad thing? Well, to sell records it probably is, but in doing so it gives us a chance to contemplate what might’ve become of him had rock ‘n’ roll been a stillborn infant rather than the screaming rambunctious full-of-life tyke it became.


Know This Love Must Be Real
To hear Wynonie Harris of all people presented as a love struck male ingénue is a little disconcerting the first time through, as the usually blustery ladies man with more notches on his bedpost than any guy in town is reduced here to sheepishly admitting he’s overwhelmed by a particular lady’s affection.

As turnarounds go circa 1951, this would rank right up there with Josef Stalin embracing Capitalism, Billy Wilder giving up filmmaking for pottery and Charles Atlas abandoning pitching his body building programs in favor of one telling you how to be a happier 300 pound couch potato.

Unlike on the top side where Wynonie ignored most of the vocal inflections required to make the lyrics about dealing with romantic disillusionment credible, on Tremblin’ he makes every effort to comply with the mindset that Glover wrote for him, that of a man who is almost starstruck when it comes to the girl he likes and can’t believe his good fortune that she likes him too.

Yes, in case you were going scan back up to the top of the page to check the name, this IS Wynonie Harris we’re talking about, and no, I can’t believe it either.

Though the scenario is as far-fetched for him as possible, the lyrics are really good and the conviction with which he sells it is sincere, showing that Harris was in fact a good actor when he needed to be. His usual vocal tics are also used to good effect here, specifically the periodic surges in power and the subsequent easing off the throttle which leave a different impression because the song itself is so out of character for him.

It also helps that his vocals here sound so good thanks to the unusual echo on them, especially on that intro where it sounds as if the microphone is attached right to his larynx giving it a remarkable presence. Whoever engineered it deserved a gold star for this one.

But what stands out more than the content, more than the studio effects, more than his vocal dexterity is the arrangement, which seems imported from another place, another time, another style of music altogether.

All I Think I Heard
Henry Glover of course had known Wynonie Harris from way back, the mid-1940’s to be precise, a time when Harris sang briefly fronting Lucky Millinder’s group in which Glover played trumpet.

In many ways Tremblin’ sounds like Glover was intent on returning Harris to Millinder’s era, something which may in fact have been foremost on his mind since his last hit was actually cut WITH Millinder in the fall when their version of Oh Babe rode the wave of that song’s popularity onto the charts.

Whether that was due to Millinder’s arrangement is up for debate – our view here was “absolutely not” – but while Glover’s arrangements since arriving at King Records were for the most part looking forward, it’s hardly surprising that in certain instances his old-school upbringing would creep into a production.

Here it doesn’t just creep in, it takes over completely, particularly with the way the horn section plays – sudden bursts of sound, the squalling tones, the overlapping melodies, one of which suggests a public elegance which Glover has serve as the underlying mood, while the other played on top of it suggests a sauciness behind closed doors.

It’s a good arrangement, very tight, very well played, and everything fits with how Harris is tasked with singing this… but it doesn’t quite fit with the rock landscape of 1951 and that, after all, is what we’re concerned with when charting rock history.

There are moments where he makes some concessions to the present day, the sax solo by Big John Greer being the primary one, and Greer does his job well, but even while he’s playing the other horns are beckoning to him, reminding Big John not to stray too far from the bandstand setting they already established.

As a result, while the playing on the record works well as a cohesive performance and it all sounds relatively good in isolation, within the broader rock scene of the time it’s a little too conspicuous to really be enthusiastically embraced.


I Don’t Think I Answered
Good performances, atypical though they may be, are never a bad thing to have available to hear and while something like this had no chance to advance Wynonie Harris’s career any, it wasn’t exactly a major set back either.

The best way to think of Tremblin’ is as a nice change of pace, a throwback record in some ways without being so out of date that it’s completely unrelatable.

That’s always the danger in looking backwards of course, the likelihood that the participants resent the changing standards of the day and are seeking to almost refute the current tastes which is bound for failure because it’s not yesterday’s fans who are going to have the final say in these matters.

But Henry Glover was not denigrating the rock crowd with this as much as he was hoping to just pique their curiosity for something that had fallen out of favor. We know, and surely he did too deep down, that it wasn’t going to have much effect, but as long as you did it well enough it also wasn’t going to make anybody mad that they tried.

Just don’t try it again.


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