2020-03-02 14:02:26 UTC
In the midst of a long cold winter – that is in the days before global warming made winters merely a rumor for most people – this release marks the welcome return after a ninth month absence of the voluptuous Velma “Chubby” Newsom, the first female to score a hit in rock ‘n’ roll and the first to inspire many a male fantasy for those fortunate enough to see her shake her notorious hips on stage.
Come to think of it, she just might be the reasons the polar ice caps began melting in the first place.
Mess Around With Me
The reason for the long delay between releases had to do with the struggle over ownership of DeLuxe Records, something we’ve delved into multiple times here already. But to briefly recap, the founders of that label, David and Jules Braun, had allowed Syd Nathan of King Records to buy a controlling share in their company a year ago to get some much needed cash and then were promptly pushed out the door by the scavenging Nathan who wanted to get his hands on the contracts of the New Orleans rockers the Brauns had in their stable.
In the end the only one of note Nathan managed to secure was Roy Brown, admittedly the biggest fish of them all, while the rest of the artists slipped out through various loopholes to follow the Brauns when they began their new label Regal in the ensuing months. No doubt Chubby, who’d been signed to DeLuxe later than the others, had to wait for her contract to be up and so she sat cooling her heels until the new year rung in.
Maybe with nothing else to do during that time she decided to resume spelling her name the way it appeared on her birth certificate – Newsome – as someone (either the Brauns or Chubby herself) had initially decided to drop the “e” from her name for reasons lost to time – not that it made any sense IN its time either.
But whether Newsom or Newsome, her allure was easy to discern as her knockout figure with hips that didn’t quit and the suggestive way she thrust those hips to and fro on stage had the effect of making male patrons lightheaded when all the blood flowed three feet further south any time she appeared before them.
Naturally her songs accentuated this image starting with that aforementioned first national hit by a female rock artist – Hip Shakin’ Mama – and which was followed by a succession of records largely cut from the same thematic cloth. Yet rather than simply be attempts at curing erectile dysfunction without a prescription these records were all very well performed and showed that Chubby knew how to effectively use her voice to suggest the same impure thoughts that were elicited by watching her hips sway in person.
So, when faced with the task of re-establishing her on their new label, the Brauns were taking no chances and rightly assuming that men don’t ever seem to really tire of being seduced by attractive females they had their new studio bandleader, Howard Biggs (formerly the musical director for The Ravens), come up with a blatant copy of her hit and telegraphed their intent as plainly as possible by naming it Hard Lovin’ Mama.
When it failed to connect the high expectations they still had for Newsome seemed to rapidly diminish even though her heated performance here all but ensured there’d be an earlier spring thaw than usual.
You Better Be In Shape
Any time a record label returns to the same creative well that gave them their first taste of success it’s a bad sign for all involved, as they’re clearly indicating they had little faith in the artist’s ability to do anything else of note and would rather wring a little more life out of their past glories.
Biggs, a pianist who was taking on the job that Paul Gayten had done so well for both DeLuxe and Regal initially before his own success required him to do more extensive tours rather than hole up in the studio, was similarly being put in a box by asking him to recreate a record and dress it up to appear fresh. Then again, Biggs doesn’t seem to put too much effort into making it noticeably different by barely altering the title – Hard Lovin’ Mama – and keeping the same basic melody requiring the same vocal cadences to deliver the same… or at least a very similar – story regarding Newsome’s power over men’s libidos.
But transparent though its intent surely is – and as frustrating as it must’ve been for her to be asked to revisit the same ground she already covered – Newsome works admirably to make it distinctive all the same, starting with the very first notes she sings after a perfunctory horn intro. It’s just one word, one letter in fact, “I”, yet she holds it for an eternity, stretching that one syllable out to the point of breaking, holding it more than three full seconds before she lets it go, wavering her pitch ever so slightly during it to give it even more character and keep you hanging to see how it resolves itself. When she finally releases it and launches into the meat of the line “I want you men to listen…” you realize she’s achieved that effect perfectly… you ARE listening intently because of that held note.
Yet from there she’s given mostly secondhand materials to try and sell to a public that is far more astute about these matters than record companies ever give them credit for. In spite of this she does far better with what she has to work with than you have any reason to expect, pouring on the innuendo with a coy glint in her eye, a smirk on her face and the nonchalant confidence of someone who knows the effect her physical attributes – “healthy, firm and fine” as she herself puts it – will have to carry the day once again.
It does at that too. She’s terrific in a thankless role, maybe reinforcing the idea that this was the best way to utilize her after all. But the better she carried out these derivative songs the more she was at risk for being viewed as a notorious hootchy-coo live act rather than a serious recording artist.
Just as Hard Lovin’ Mama was released she made her first appearance at the Apollo Theater, sharing the bill with someone who could be called her male counterpart in the naughtiness department, Wynonie Harris (ten bucks says at least one of them got things heated enough on stage to set the sprinklers off during their performance) but at least Harris – while certainly being steered towards songs whose main attributes were sexual suggestiveness – still was allowed some variance in the construction of those songs.
Chubby Newsome was not so fortunate and so with such little trust put in her ability to explore other avenues you start wondering if maybe it’d have been better had Syd Nathan got his hands on her as well… contractually I mean.
If You Play Around With Me
Considering her own role here is carried out with the utmost professional skill, Newsome could theoretically still overcome the lack of creativity in the song itself provided those crafting that song see the benefit in shaking up the arrangement to give it a different vibe.
Since her slinky stroll through the story at such a deliberate pace doesn’t provide many opportunities for instrumental flourishes it’s left to the musical interlude after the halfway point to give this familiar appearance a face-lift and since the hit this is modeled on didn’t actually HAVE a spot for a solo it bodes well for them here if they can just take advantage of it with something creative.
Their choices are plentiful. You could speed up the tempo with a rolling piano boogie that rises, peaks and then falls back into place so she can resume telling us about her womanly charms down the stretch. Or you could add immeasurable tension by letting the guitarist slice and dice his way through the proverbial minefield she’s laying out involving jealous wives, competing men and a litany of morals statutes still on the books in Mid-Century America.
Then again maybe it’d be best for someone with her type of reputation to practice “safe-sex” as it were, or rather play it safe musically by giving us just your standard steamy tenor sax solo, you know something that hints at all sorts of he-ing and she-ing going on behind closed doors.
So naturally the astute musical minds at Regal Records chose… a trombone solo instead.
No more really needs to be said than that. Obviously they made the wrong choice and as a result the musical side of the equation for Hard Lovin’ Mama can be summed up by saying it renders the record rather… ahh… “limp”.
Instead of revving the song up it lets it down. Rather than providing Chubby Newsome with the proper “visual” ambiance for her vocal striptease act, it shuts the lights off completely. In place of excitement it substitutes sluggish boredom. Apparently not up to advancing her career, they decided to try and kill it instead.
They didn’t quite do so, thanks to Newsome’s own gifts – vocal and otherwise – but no longer was she on the upswing professionally, from here it was all downhill.
I Ain’t Been Mistreated, I Ain’t Been Double Crossed… Think Again!
No doubt detractors will say that Chubby Newsome was a one-note performer who relied on a gimmick to achieve her initial fame and that she didn’t have much to offer beyond her sex-appeal.
But that’s not being fair to her, nor is it holding the men surrounding her accountable for their own shortcomings. Newsome had developed her stage persona based on rather obvious advantages she held over other women thanks to her knockout figure yet keep in mind it was Chubby herself who wrote both sides of her initial record, meaning that one big hit. But since then others have taken the reins of her output and while they’ve delivered some decent songs they were mostly playing off what she had already done.
It’s as if they couldn’t conceive of anything ELSE she had going for her that they might want to explore and on Hard Lovin’ Mama that shortsightedness reaches its nadir.
Though the song contains some suggestive lines that can still draw a smile and while Newsome can imply even more with her delivery to make it plenty enjoyable to hear, it’s not hard to envision the powers-that-be writing her off by this point when in fact their OWN lack of creativity is far more responsible for her declining fortunes than anything she did or didn’t do.
SPONTANEOUS LUNACY VERDICT:6/10