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ALADDIN 208; FEBRUARY, 1948

 
 

 

The last stop of the Wynonie Harris musical merry-go-round before he’d switch rides and board the Tilt-A-Whirl and really start shaking things up in the rock ‘n’ roll carnival. But while this certainly wasn’t the record that was going to get him the type of acclaim he was seeking, it’s actually not a bad way to leave his more modest pursuits behind.
 

Find Some Kind Of Work To Do
As we covered in our review of Hard Ridin’ Mama, Aladdin Records had the right idea for Harris, presenting a risqué romp that let Wynonie drop all pretense of respectability, along with his trousers, and shamelessly brag about his latest roll in the hay. That it fell a bit short wasn’t his fault at all but rather the supporting cast which, surely unused to such debauchery (musical and carnal), needed a shot or two of Viagra to keep up with the notorious ladies man and since that was a half century or so away from being invented they really had no chance to contribute to the decadence.

As a result the two components, singer and band, were never on the same page and so while in the song he’s already breaking the bedsprings, the musicians are barely getting up the courage to approach the girl with the come hither glances they have their eye on at the end of the bar. By the time the record stops she’s grown tired of waiting and turned her attention to someone else, meaning they’re going home alone all while Wynonie has probably already ensured himself a paternity suit and a visit from some young lass’s shotgun-toting old man.


Here on the B-side, You Got To Get Yourself A Job, Girl, he and the band still don’t fully click either but because Harris takes a different approach, keeping his fly buttoned for starters, the rift between them isn’t as pronounced.

That’s not to say the musicians can be let off the hook though. Their intro in particular is so dainty and straitlaced that when Wynonie comes into the picture there’s a moment or two where, knowing his reputation, you are convinced he simply stormed into somebody else’s recording session, knocked over whatever startled pop crooner was stepping to the microphone to deliver a tepid ballad and started singing whatever came to mind. It wouldn’t be hard to envision the band, wide-eyed, hearts pounding, too afraid to stop playing lest he single one of them out and subjects them to either verbal reaming or a physical beat-down while the engineer suddenly remembers his dental appointment on the other side of town and makes a hasty retreat out the back door so as not to be a witness to the carnage that’s sure to ensue.

But no, Harris is definitely no interloper here as becomes obvious when he eases into the song rather smoothly. Then, and only then, do the musicians settle in themselves, still not quite matching his urgency but at least not holding him back too much either.

It helps of course that Wynonie himself is rather subdued here, though for him subdued his a relative term, certainly he’s never going to sound half-asleep like Bing Crosby no matter what he does (speaking of which, at the same session he cut this record he also tried his hand at a Crosby tune… about which the less said the better). But unlike the hard-charging A-side Harris’s role here is more of a bemused observer to the melodrama that’s unfolding in the song.

He’s not a bystander by any means – it’s his girl he’s chiding for her lack of work ethic after all – but he’s certainly not TOO worried about her perpetual unemployment because he’s got plenty of options, as he tells her repeatedly throughout, “There’s a little girl around the corner and she’s making it awful tough for you”.

Tell me you didn’t see that one coming!

Harris of course likely had other girls around EVERY corner, not to mention hiding in the closet, under the bed, stashed in every cupboard and perhaps stuffed up the chimney to boot, but maybe the one without the steady paycheck gets his motor racing fastest and so he’s taking one last shot at getting her to start kicking in to the household funds with some long green of her own before he gives up completely and tosses her into the streets.

As set-ups go this one has got some legs, so it’ll come down to the construction to see how it plays out.
 


 

Where Everything Is Good To Eat
Lyrically this is one of Harris’s better efforts we’ve seen thus far as well. Too often he was indifferent to the words, messing up the written lines with alarming regularity (indeed, like Otis Redding and Eddie Vedder down the road, Harris tripped over more lyrics than a blind man on a cobblestone street), but here he seems to take particular delight in detailing her litany of failed jobs and the reasons for her termination.

Though not side-splittingly funny, they’re clever and on point and Wynonie sells them with the right amount of incredulity and exasperation, capped off by the revelation that after paying for her to take classes to become a beautician “so you can learn to fry some hair/You said all the teachers taught you was how to curse and swear!”.

It’s obvious this girl is determined not to hold any job, intentionally sabotaging each opportunity presented her for gainful employment so she can lounge around instead, and is banking on her looks, her charm or her skills in the boudoir to keep Wynonie from kicking her lazy ass to the curb.

By the sounds of it that plan has worked thus far but his patience is growing thin. The fact we don’t get to hear about any of the attributes, whatever they may be, which is allowing her to remain his main squeeze despite her financial shortcomings is understandable – jukebox ops wanted songs under three minutes to keep more coin being deposited after all – but I’d like to think that it’s the same girl who starred in Hard Ridin’ Mama on the flip.

It’s doubtful anyone involved would’ve made the connection and seen the humor in pairing these two sides, let alone wrote them as a de facto two-part saga, but it would be entirely fitting if that were the case. It also makes perfect sense when you think about it. Once the post-coital haze of the A-side wears off he realizes that the cost of the rent, the meals and the prophylactics are all coming out of his paycheck and so he starts questioning if she’s worth it on the B-side.

She knows that these nightly grillings over her questionable intentions on the job-market are the price she has to pay to keep a roof over her head I’m sure, so she’s gotten quite adept at parrying them with rather flimsy, sometimes outlandish excuses meant to do little more than stave off the ultimate showdown until another day. For let’s face it, with his vaunted sex drive she surely knows that by the next night, when he’s horny again, he’ll grant her another reprieve as long as she remains a willing and enthusiastic partner between the sheets.

Sooner or later though this situation will become untenable, especially if the girl around the corner is more than just an idle threat, either exaggerated or made up entirely just to put more pressure on the gal he’s got. But until THAT one unlocks her chastity belt, or until he’s willing to do more than simply name-drop this potential rival and bring her in as a full-fledged replacement for the girl he’s with, it’s a game of chicken between them to see which one blinks first making this an amusing anecdote for the usually fully-in-control Wynonie to find himself in.
 

 

You Wanna See Some Meat
As solid as the storyline is however, musically this has been awfully sedate thus far. The excruciatingly bland intro gave way to a mild melodic support, certainly nothing to further the atmosphere but rather sort of blandly watching the back and forth banter between these two immoral characters while sitting off to the side, maybe on a bench outside the local barbershop quietly commenting about it out of earshot, cracking a joke or two along the way but offering nothing too racy. The horns grow in volume from time to time collectively but it’s the moldy outdated trumpet that gets the majority of the spotlight throughout the verses, which does the song no favors.

But then at the 1:34 mark, rather unexpectedly during all of this sleepy accompaniment, just as we’ve managed to focus our attention on Harris’s plight and take our minds off the ill-suited musicians whom he got saddled with here, suddenly there comes a sax solo which sounds as if it were transported from an entirely different record and it’s absolutely riveting!

It’s not the brand of honking squealing attention getter that was just beginning to set the pace for much of rock when this came out, nor is it the type of deep churning groove that would soon provide an addictive alternative, but rather this is a gritty, sensuous workout that implied all sorts of lurid details under the surface without delving into the particulars. It elevates the entire affair while it plays and yet leaves you cursing like the hair-dressing women in the song because whoever played it wasn’t utilized more (on both songs, A & B side, since they were cut at the same date), and because moments later the same trite backing returns for the last verses and coda which only makes their blandness all the more noticeable by comparison.

While it lasts though, wow! Good stuff.
 

 

The Hours Were Short And Sweet
The components that Harris requires are all here, disjointed though they were, which makes this definitely worth hearing, but the frustration that nobody involved could hear for themselves what worked so well and what so plainly did not ultimately makes this a mixed-bag offering from the singer who is still wandering about aimlessly in the wilderness.

Because it’s a bit behind the times musically, especially the accompaniment behind the verses, it certainly can’t be endorsed as an example of the best which rock ‘n’ roll had to offer at this point in time.

Yet it’s also hard not to admire certain aspects of it that elevate it past the dross he was cutting along with this, records such as Big City Blues which gave no indication that he had any viable future left at all and probably should join this girl here on the unemployment line and take whatever job as a fishmonger or elevator operator that happened to come along.

But You Got To Get Yourself A Job, Girl shows his skills were intact all along he simply needed better material with which to show it off.

This isn’t quite it but his delivery on some of the lines are spot on, his rakish humor shines through, and his vibrant personality, always such a key component of his classic sides, is given a neat twist as well. Throw in that brilliant sax solo, as ill-fitting as it is amidst the vanilla music which surrounds it, and it all adds up to making this record at least one of the more interesting early failures in rock if nothing else and still has enough going for it to be worth a few spins long after its relatively short shelf life would otherwise have rendered it completely irrelevant.
 
 
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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