2020-05-14 13:04:38 UTC
Though it’s largely the recognizable names whose work made rock ‘n’ roll the most dominant form of music over the latter half of the Twentieth Century they tell only part of the story… the most glamorous and well-known parts for sure, but as important as they are for popularizing the music they don’t reveal the full unexpurgated narrative.
For that you need to go behind the scenes… into the studios and on the road with the musicians who rarely got the credit, and almost never got the glory (let alone the money), of the headliners, but without whom the music that you’ve come to admire wouldn’t have had anywhere near the same impact.
For a decade few musicians were as reliable as Edgar Blanchard, yet years later few names are as underappreciated by the masses as his.
Really Deserves The Best
As is befitting his story this might not be the first time we’ve encountered Edgar Blanchard on a rock record, then again it may be, but it’s the first time we’ve had cause to write about him at length because we’re not sure which sides he may have been found on.
The Louisiana native was already performing locally before he entered puberty and after serving in the Armed Forces in Europe during World War Two Blanchard returned to America and like so many local kids in Louisiana with an inclination to music he enrolled in the Grunwald School on the G.I. Bill to enhance his professional skills.
From there we know he cut some sides with our old friend Cousin Joe in 1947 before rock came along but his discography after that is a little hazy. Yet thanks to his club work by 1949 he was moving up in the city’s hierarchy of the city’s guitarists behind Jack Scott, who worked with Paul Gayten, and Edgar McLean, who was a centerpiece of Dave Bartholomew’s band.
Strangely though it was not in New Orleans where he got his first chance to record under his own name, but rather Houston where he’d been appearing with his band The Gondoliers – a name he liked since he was in Italy during the war and saw the famous boats in Venice – and as a result of his good showing there the club’s owner, Don Robey, signed him to a deal when he started his own label in late 1949.
Robey had missed out on another New Orleans bandleader, Dave Bartholomew, who slipped through his fingers to a rival label when Imperial Records’ Lew Chudd had signed Bartholomew after seeing him perform at the Bronze Peacock earlier in 1949.
Maybe not wanting to risk that happening a second time he snatched up Blanchard the first chance he got, but while on paper Blanchard and Bartholomew had similar skill-sets, notably the fact both were highly skilled arrangers, it would appear based on their ensuing careers that where they diverged was in their approach… Dave Bartholomew was ruthless in his ambition whereas Edgar Blanchard seemed to take things as they came, something you could have probably guessed just by listening to She’ll Be Mine After Awhile, a serviceable record for sure but not one that demanded he be heard.
Live In Lovin’ Style
Though primarily known as a guitarist, Blanchard could also sing. Not great mind you, but not bad either. So his first choice when writing and arranging a song is to determine how much of the responsibility of selling it is going to fall on his singing – and thus by extension the lyrics – and how much on the musical accompaniment led by his greatest skill, his guitar playing.
Remember though that guitar instrumentals in rock were still not very prominent as the 1940’s drew to a close as he cut this session, so understandably he decided that it was a better bet to at least give listeners something more to latch onto than merely his playing..
She’ll Be Mine After Awhile starts off with some good ideas, most notably in the title itself, which is interesting enough to be memorable and hints at some underlying mystery to the story – who is “she” and why does he have to wait to get her? – that compels you to listen closely to what follows in order to break down the plot lines.
Smartly though it’s still Blanchard’s guitar which kicks this off playing a slow, taut melodic run that is sounds more intriguing than captivating, as if you’re waiting for the payoff rather than being hit with the best he has to offer right out of the gate. Unfortunately though that payoff doesn’t come, at least not in the intro, as he’s sharing too much space with the Ed Blackwell’s excessively delicate piano which undercuts the edgy mood Blanchard was hinting at.
When Blanchard’s voice comes in it’s light and a little under-powered, slightly nasal too but modestly appealing all the same. Yet his arranging skills clearly haven’t flowered yet because by allowing the piano to tread too lightly on the notes while contributing only choppy and inconsistent melodic embellishment that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, it makes his vocals sound even less commanding.
If not for that hindrance there’s enough here to recommend, albeit moderately, as Blanchard is weaving a tale centered around stealing someone else’s woman. He’s making these claims – directly to the woman’s current suitor no less! – with a very subdued, almost nonchalant, approach, like he’s casually mentioning his trip to Florida last spring, or a sale on apples at the local market, all of which helps to take the onus of him for his openly lusting for someone else’s sweetheart.
Much of his game plan seems to be of the “dreaming big” school of thought, where he’s fantasizing about having lots of money, a nice car and a penthouse apartment so he can essentially buy her love for himself. Apparently he’s unaware that such transactions, while all too common in life, are hardly the avenue for lasting love. I believe the term he’s searching for is “gold-digger”, but then again if he’s the one advertising his willingness to put a high price on her heart then I suppose you can’t really blame the girl if she took him up on his offer.
But that seems unlikely to ever happen because by the sounds of it Blanchard has nothing in the way of cash or gaudy baubles to offer her at the moment. Maybe though if he simply broke out his guitar she’d be mesmerized enough to follow him without the need of a fat bankroll in his pocket.
We’ll Make Everything Alright
This is where Blanchard needs to make up for lost time and lost ground given away by Blackwell’s piano, which incidentally never really took the opportunity to establish a strong melody, and in doing so Edgar definitely gets his chance to win her – and us – over with an extended two-part solo that takes up more than a third of the entire record. But whether he goes far enough in that attempt is another story altogether.
By this point in the song, more than a minute in, you know that She’ll Be Mine After Awhile is laid back to the point of being horizontal, both in its musical aggression, or lack thereof, and Blanchard’s equally docile vocal declarations.
In other words, he’s got big dreams but is passive by nature – something which confirms our impression of him personally when it came to his career. Let’s face it, some guys, for whatever reason, just aren’t very assertive in life and there’s not much you can do to change that.
But if there WAS one aspect of his personality where he might show the type of controlled arrogance which this song desperately needs it’d be in his guitar playing. Few musicians were as skilled as he was and often times when someone is more introverted they have one outlet to express themselves free of inhibitions.
Yet Blanchard doesn’t take full advantage of that opportunity here, choosing to keep that same mellow tone rather than ramp up the intensity for effect. Both of his solos, interspersed with some connective tissue spun by the piano, feature excellent technical playing. His melodic choices are fairly beguiling, he has impeccable touch, a good sense of harmonics and even seems to fully understand the importance of giving each note room to breathe rather than assaulting the senses at once, but what’s lacking is urgency. In other words he’s failing to show the desire that his lyrics continually suggest are laying just under that all too placid surface.
If this girl really floats his boat enough for him to risk a punch in the snoot from whoever she’s seeing now by telling the guy he’s going to take her away from him, then he’s got to do more than just say it in passing like this. I don’t mean he’s got to fight him for her, but rather he’s got to show HER that he’s burning with desire for her somehow… and isn’t that precisely what guitar solos are for in the first place?!?!
Ahh, but apparently nobody told Edgar that, for had he just ramped this up, squeezing the life out of the strings in barely controlled lust, he might not win HER over, but he’d at least win US over (though admittedly that’s got fewer fringe benefits for him) and more importantly in the context of the song it’d allow him to change the dynamics enough to make a greater impression on listeners.
By using the solo to express his feelings more powerfully it’d also alter the perception of the lyrics, giving them more force even if he delivered them in the same tossed-off manner. Now he may be thinking that by remaining so calm he’s showing extreme confidence in his chances in the hopes that will have a greater effect, but unless the girl herself finds out about it rather than him just announcing his intentions in a blasé manner to her boyfriend, then chances are these two are never going to hook up.
I’m Sorry If I Hurt Your Feelings
It’s probably pretty rare for any record, particularly somebody’s very first release, to so effectively catalog their entire personality on and off-stage, but based on the evidence to follow over Blanchard’s life, this might be the exception.
There’s enough shown here to let anyone within earshot know that Edgar Blanchard had an abundance of musical skill, but there was also enough evidence to show he didn’t have the killer instinct to make sure those skills were known by one and all.
As a result while Blanchard would have plenty of opportunities to record over the years most of them came under the auspices of somebody else… artists with more drive and determination to make a name for themselves, even if many of them fell well short of Blanchard in the talent department.
She’ll Be Mine After Awhile is a fairly pleasant listening experience but doesn’t firmly state its case as to why Blanchard should be a star or give record labels an irrefutable argument as to why they should seek him out if they want to build their company.
Like the character he portrays in the song, Edgar Blanchard sits back quietly, dreaming of the day when everything will magically fall into place for him, seemingly unaware that in this business you sometimes need to tilt the odds in your favor by sheer force of will.
Those who don’t, no matter how good they are, wind up being the names in small print you squint to read on long forgotten session sheets for somebody else’s hit records.
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT: 4/10