(Written by Dorsey Burnette and Joe Osborn)
(Released in the UK through EMI/Tamla Motown)
Less than a month after his Motown début 45 Little Acorn, rockabilly star Dorsey Burnette saw this hastily-arranged follow-up effort sent to DJs and record stores.
The out-of-sequence catalogue number suggests this was rush-released ahead of schedule, and Motown were keen on the record, even issuing it in Britain via the Tamla Motown imprint (the first time we’ve seen that here on Motown Junkies – quite a milestone!). The labels even proudly stated that Jimmy Brown came from “Dorsey Burnette Album Melody 501″, though such an album never actually materialised.
I’m guessing this confidence came about because Motown felt Jimmy Brown was more commercially acceptable than Little Acorn. It’s certainly more memorable, but the presence of two Dorsey Burnette singles released almost concurrently on an easy-to-ignore subsidiary label probably did him no favours; this made no impact at all in the marketplace.
Poor Dorsey; just like Little Acorn, this is far from awful. It’s sneakily likeable, in fact, and even though it’s by turns both weird and slightly annoying, it surely deserved a better fate.
It’s effectively a novelty riff on The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer, except that instead of a Stakhanovite industrial hero, the eponymous Jimmy is a musical visionary, a man who “could take anything and make music, anything that he found around the place”, and who was ultimately responsible for inventing the guitar.
Like Little Acorn, it’s got a definite pop flavour about it, with a dash of comedy and decidedly country instrumentation. Because of the story, here the instruments themselves become the stars of the show; after each Dorsey-narrated verse describing how Jimmy constructed a particular instrument out of bits of whatever was lying around, the “chorus” is a burst of a repeated (and very catchy!) instrumental passage, played on that instrument – penny-whistle, tea-chest bass, guitar. Jimmy Brown: father of skiffle.
Dorsey delivers the whole thing in a low, guttural Southern drawl, something that was entirely absent from Little Acorn, and which makes me wonder whether he’s just putting on for comic effect here. His little chortle in the penultimate verse -
Everybody thought ol’ Jim (CHORTLE!) was crazy
But that’s how the git-ar was born
- is the vocal highlight, but it’s another likeable performance from Dorsey, whose avuncular enthusiasm makes you want to like his records even if they’re somewhat odd, as this one is.
It’s a good, solid tune, eminently whistleable, and Dorsey’s having plenty of fun with it; I don’t really understand it and I can’t see myself going back to listen to it again all that often, but it’s far from terrible.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
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