Sunday, 16 July 2017

Flamingos # 7: You Ain't Ready

Guitarist Lefty Bates can be heard to good effect on You Ain't Ready, another side from the same August 1953 session as Plan For Love. He may not get a solo, but after the whole band have set up the song he can be heard momentarily on his own before Sollie McElroy's vocal, and later his playing under Red Holloway's exuberant saxophone solo gives it even more bounce and interest; small wonder, according to his own testimony, that everyone wanted him on their sessions.

The whole band, in fact, is really firing on all cylinders throughout. I know that, in the UK at least, many doo wop fans have a strong attachment to Jump Children (aka Vooit Vooit), which has been released on many compilations, but for my money the playing here is more fluid, less brash, perhaps aided by the fact that the band is, I think, slightly smaller.

No surprise that McElroy is singing lead, as this is another of Charles Gonzales's jaunty numbers, not an impassioned blues better suited to Johnny Carter. The verse (or bridge?) is noteworthy:
I dressed you like a queen
Tried to make a lady out of you
I took you out the country
But I just couldn't take the country out of you ...
Not exactly an original coining - the phrase "It's easy to get the boy out of the country but much more difficult to get the country out of the boy" was already at least forty years old by then - but its adapted use here is interesting. The chorus, taken on its own, suggests a song of coded lustfullness along the lines of Louis Jordan's That Chick's Too Young to Fry (lyric by Tommy Edwards): "Some do, some don't ... you just ain't ready". The addition of that verse or bridge, however, transforms it into a sort of comedy of manners, as though the issue is her not being fit to be seen yet in polite society ... why, it's practically a Jane Austen novel.

Well, either that or a lascivious ditty with a little more obfuscation than usual. As I'm not a blues afficionado there may be sly - or even obvious - hints in the lyric which I have missed (Debra DeSalvo's entertaining and informative The Language of the Blues is, alas, of no help on this occasion).

Johnny Carter's falsetto helps stamp the Flamingos' identity on this track, and I am at a loss to think why I suggested earlier that it added "an unnecessary beauty" to Gonzales's similar Carried Away from the same session. (Listening again to Carried Away, in fact, it's clear that Carter isn't simply decorating the song at random but is being used to underline those moments of heightened passion where the hapless narrator is most beguiled by "the girl with the eyes of grey".)

It's also worth mentioning the sophistication of the sound balance or the musicians' sensitivity - or most likely both. What sounds like a combination of sax and trumpet riffing behind Sollie McElroy's vocal varies in volume (or perhaps just attack?), never coming to the foreground when he's actually singing.

This is another song which doesn't overstay its welcome. Unlike Carried Away, it doesn't really tell a story, just hints at one; the fact that the "dressed you like a queen" section is repeated suggests either Gonzales had run out of ideas or he loved his own appropriation of that saying. But who cares? It swings along, carrying you with it, and then - with no great crescendo, just an impudent stab of Red Holloway's saxophone - stops short, and the listener must perforce reluctantly unbuckle himself and place a shaky leg on the ground.

You can always listen to it again, of course.


In the mid-1970s, when I was only familiar with a few Flamingos sides, scattered across several ultra-cheapo compilations, I assumed that the rest of their output from that era would consist of unimaginable, but doubtless equally wonderful, variations on Golden Teardrops.

Having now been familiar with their entire Chance output for some years, any disappointment I may have once felt with the more complex reality is long gone. And listening closely to each recording once again for the purposes of this series has given me a greater appreciation of the contribution of musicians as well as singers, and the careful engineering or sound balance evident on these sides, not always heard to fullest advantage on public domain CDs or via streaming websites. These are sophisticated creations, and I urge the reader to search out the best sources.

Other posts in this series here.

Doowop: the Chicago Scene by Robert Pruter
Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks page on the Flamingos
The Chance Label (website) - Robert Pruter, Armin Buttner and Robert L Campbell
Lefty Bates Discography Part One - Dave Penny, Robert L Campbell, Daniel
Gugolz and Dan Kochakian
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange

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