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KING 4415; DECEMBER 1950



For somebody who always commanded – and demanded – the spotlight, one of rock’s biggest stars over its first few years and its most attention grabbing figure was suddenly at risk for being overlooked.

It’s not for the usual reason either… bad records or a failure to keep up with the changes in the music scene… but rather his own record company were wreaking havoc on his catalog, rush-releasing opportunistic cover songs they had him do, assigning his former boss, Lucky Millinder, co-lead artist credit on those, and now sending out a record that seemed to have been all but forgotten by the label, even if it was only a case of the company getting a bit ahead of itself this past fall.

But try telling that to an indignant Wynonie Harris.


Just Like I’ve Done Before
One of the more frustrating things about this project is trying to pinpoint release dates… or release months as it were.

As stated numerous times before it’s hardly an exact science and it goes without saying that your indulgence for the occasional error is appreciated. Historians have used a variety of methods to try and pinpoint a record’s release date but often have failed to realize the inherent flaws in those systems which sometimes adds to an already sizable problem with accuracy.

Yesterday for instance we reviewed Maxwell Davis’s Boogie Cocktails, a single that virtually everybody has being released in January 1951 because that’s when it was reviewed in Billboard and when ads for it were seen in the same January 23rd issue.

But actually it was a review of another record in on that convinced us to put that record in December 1950 instead.

Jimmy Witherspoon’s Once There Lived A Fool on Modern 793 was being advertised in Cash Box the week before Christmas which meant Davis’s record on Modern 791 was available too even though it took weeks for it to be reviewed.

So what does this have to do with Wynonie Harris’s Triflin’ Woman you ask? Well, astute readers will have already noticed we’ve reviewed TWO other Harris records whose numbers fall after this one (King 4415), and those came out the last week of October.

Thus the knee jerk assumption would be this one came out before it.

Except it didn’t.

Come Home This Morning
When King Records paired up new signing Lucky Millinder, one of the top black bandleaders of the pre-rock 1940’s, with his one-time singer Wynonie Harris for Millinder’s first releases on King it was a smart business move.

Aside from older fans being aware of their shared history together, Harris’s popularity would conceivably propel the records to better sales than anything Millinder did on his own. To ensure they had good compositions and effective arrangements though they were taking no chances and had them cover two rising hits, Teardrops From My Eyes and Oh! Babe on October 18th.

Five days later Harris went back in the studio with the usual session band and recorded Triflin’ Woman which apparently was pegged as the next single and given the number King 4415 and printed up for a release before the end of the year.

Except that’s when they realized it was dumb to hold back cover records of songs whose originals were still on the upswing and so they slid those in between his “regularly scheduled” releases.

I think.

It’s the only thing that makes sense. King didn’t release the two Harris-Millinder collaborations on the same single, probably not wanting to bury one of them, as well as hoping to get Millinder strong sales for two different releases to start off their association together.

Having just put out another Harris record weeks earlier it’s highly doubtful they’d try and pour even MORE water into a market that was already flooded with Wynonie Harris singles by issuing this one too. Four singles in a month for their biggest star would be insane, even in an industry where insanity was not an uncommon affliction.

This one is usually referred to as being released sometime in January of 1951 but it appears in the new releases listed in Billboard‘s last issue of 1950 and so that’s where it’s getting slotted.


You Know You Ain’t Living Right
At first glance this is something that should’ve been right up Harris’s alley even though it’s song that originated with country singer Moon Mullican. But even this information and the dates involved are confusing, adding to our problems in analyzing all of this.

On the Harris release Mullican shares a writing credit for it with producer Henry Glover (using his middle named Bernard, while the third name, Lois Mann, was just Syd Nathan’s way of cutting in for some of the royalties). Yet on Mullican’s version he’s not listed as a writer, but rather someone named Burns is along with Mann. The flip side of that however has the same Mullican-Mann-Glover credits so they might’ve just been applied to the wrong song on that release.

Yet Mullican’s version – as Triflin’ Woman Blues – came out in the spring of 1952 – and is copywritten that year. There’s some indication that he cut it years before it got issued, as early as 1947 in fact, but at this point who the hell knows. Making things worse is the fact that Harris also cut two versions of this, one back in 1949 which clocks in at 2:46 without the prominent guitar and is actually the better version but of course that went unreleased. All I know is with too many more records like this to cover the job is yours if you want it!

Anyway, the story finds Wynonie dealing with a woman who has apparently turned the tables on him and taken a page from his book when it comes to philandering, and rather than see this as turnabout is fair play, Harris is a little perturbed by her actions.

To be fair he’s mostly going on suspicions, not actual proof, and admits as much saying in the song’s best line, “Well if you ain’t triflin’, you sure got triflin’ on your mind”. The word “triflin’” itself brings a smile to your face because it’s probably pretty low on the list of synonyms for cheating that most people would think of and it’s got a nice sound to it when he sings it.

Unfortunately though that’s the extent of the really inventive attributes of this record, as not only doesn’t the story progress past that initial scenario, but it doesn’t have much to distract you from that fact as this is an arrangement that sounds at times a little closer to what Millinder might’ve come up with. In fact Mullican’s version is livelier than Harris’s in some ways.

To be fair Triflin’ Woman is not an easy song to frame. It’s just got a prancing rhythm and there’s a natural ebb and flow to Harris’s vocals that would be thrown off course with something more explosive, but this being a Wynonie Harris record we always expect an explosion somewhere.

The closest we get is a decent tenor solo by Reuben Phillips that ramps up the intensity but because it can’t accelerate much it’s almost spinning its wheels. The rest of the track is pretty discreet as even Sonny Thompson’s presence on keyboards is mostly innocuous.

There’s nothing wrong with it, but hardly anything really compelling either.

Slippin’ Out My Back Door
When analyzing King Records’ decisions in the fall of 1950 when it came to Wynonie Harris you might begin to actually sympathize with the usually unsympathetic Syd Nathan. After scoring some well deserved hits earlier in the year, Harris had released a pair of really good records that drew little interest and so the bandwagon jumping with the cover records made sense on a number of fronts.

They got a hit out of Oh Babe that also served to make Millinder grateful for their efforts and it’s not like issuing those delayed the release of Triflin’ Woman anyway, so this record’s failure to connect was probably unaffected by the additional releases in the preceding months.

It’s too early to say that they were reaching a creative dead end with Harris, for while his brash style and racy subject matter tended to define him to the public, he shows here that he can tweak that approach enough to remain fresh. It’s just that nothing about this one was exceptional and so it probably deserved to be overlooked.

But at the same time nothing about it is bad and any time you have a halfway decent Wynonie Harris record on the market – if not three or four – it’s certainly not the worst thing in the world for a rock fan.

Better too many options than not enough.


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