Great songs really do take on a life of their own and very often, unbeknownst to their creators, they’re discovered and interpreted by a wide range of different artists. One of the unexpected pleasures that Ace’s Songwriters series affords is underlining just how many styles and directions key compositions of yesteryear have taken. This collection of songs by New Orleans’ very own Dave Bartholomew is no exception as it weaves its way through 25 tracks of varied origins and labels.
Two of Dave’s own recordings provide essential listening, led off by his original of the double-entendre-filled ‘My Ding-A-Ling’, which he later re-cut several times with different lyrics and which provided the template for Chuck Berry’s revival two decades later. Then you’ll find the much-revered parable ‘The Monkey’, which Elvis Costello memorably reworked some years back. Dave’s rich-toned narrative reigns supreme and is a cornerstone of his Imperial Records output.
The set opens with ‘The Fat Man’ by Fats Domino and, although the technical limitations of that 1949 session are still obvious, the vibrancy of the performance is undeniable. Fats once told me that after Imperial-owner, Lew Chudd, received the master, he called and asked him to re-cut it, but a couple of days later he rang again to say he’d changed his mind and it was OK! Was that an understatement or what?!
Other milestone Bartholomew productions featured here include Roy Brown’s hard-hitting version of ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’ (which Dave had first cut himself) and the gloriously prophetic ‘I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday’ as styled by Bobby Mitchell and co-authored by hillbilly singer Roy Hayes.
As much as the multi-talented Bartholomew was writing, recording and producing in the Crescent City throughout the 1950s and beyond, his influence was being felt all over the musical world. This was clearly evident on the Johnny Burnette Trio’s rockabilly workout of Fats Domino’s 1955 charter ‘All By Myself’. Similarly, listen how effortlessly Jerry Lee Lewis slides into ‘Hello Josephine’ and how ‘I’m In Love Again’ fits Tom Rush like a well-worn rhythmic glove. Bartholomew was not aware at the time how influential and popular his music was in Jamaica. Neville Grant’s take on Chris Kenner’s ‘Sick And Tired’ provides ultimate proof that Dave’s big beat was perfectly adaptable to the reggae style.
Another standout delight is the previously unissued cover by Annie Laurie of ‘3 x 7 = 21’, which Dave originally wrote and produced for Jewel King. The song became a benchmark in the Bartholomew catalogue and was successfully reworked as ‘21’ in 1954 by the Spiders, the group that cut the first version of ‘Witchcraft’, which Elvis Presley turned into a 1963 chart success, also included here.
I must mention two other standouts: ‘Every Night About This Time’ by the World Famous Upsetters, which offers undeniable proof of Little Richard’s ability as a first-class blues wailer, and Dave Edmunds’ 1971 hit remake of “I Hear You Knocking’, which perfectly contemporised the song without diluting the memory of Smiley Lewis’ unbeatable original.
By Alan Warner