Monday, May 8, 2017

Song of the Day: Jimmy Robins, "I Can't Please You"

MAY 8, 2017




“I Can’t Please You” (or, as it is sometimes known, “I Just Can’t Please You”) certainly has the emotional chips for high-stakes poker. Rip-roaring hard urban R&B, it’s the last cry of a man racked by frustration. It’s as if B.B. King found a higher gear while being backed by the hardest, tightest soul band in the world. Or if Otis Clay revved it up 50%.

Sounds like textbook southern-influenced electric Chicago soul. But its provenance is unusual; there’s more here than meets the ear.

The late Jimmy Robins was actually based on the west coast for much of his career. If he is known today, it is mostly for “deep soul” ballads, though of his records this is still the most craved. I hear aggressive guitar, blaring horns, a steady dance beat, and a shredding vocal full of righteous anger, desperation, and disappointment. The way he lists the things he’s done for his lover…it’s genius, and almost painful to listen to.

And while this is an authentically great group performance, Robins is the only true R&B performer on the record. According to Chris Bishop on the Garage Hangover website, three of the players on this record (drums, trumpet, and trombone) were white Los Angeles high school kids who later formed the soft pop aggregation The Peppermint Trolley Company!

Robins, a keyboardist by trade, hammered the piano and sang, while Sonny Jones—a co-owner of the Impression label with his brother Al—played guitar. The Jones brothers were older country music performers looking to make it big in mid-60s L.A.

Perhaps because it featured an odd mix of musicians, “I Can’t Please You” inhabits its own musical universe. And it turned heads. Shortly after the Jones brothers issued it on their tiny Impression label out of L.A., a man named Bob Lee saw its potential, bought the master, and reissued it on a new imprint, Jerhart, based in Chicago.

The 45 began to receive substantial airplay on R&B stations in Chicago and also broke out in Cleveland, St. Louis, Oakland, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. Eventually the record hit the R&B charts, but it was Robins’ only hit and Jerhart’s as well.

The writer credited on the Jerhart issue of the record is Jimmy Robins himself. No production credit is given. But on the first release, on Impression, the writer is listed as a “B. Horton” and the record produced by “Jones, Jones, and Fisher.”

Sonny and Al Jones are easy enough to figure out, while Dave Fisher was a singer and arranger who’d worked on Terry Stafford’s 1964 hit “Suspicion.” But nobody seems to know about “B. Horton.” Some have posited that “B. Horton” is either Brenda Lee Horton (widow of singers Johnny Horton and Hank Williams, who had her own music career) or a member of the Silhouettes.

It’s probable that when Lee purchased the master recording from Impression Records, the deal included buying the production and writing credits, which he then passed on to Jimmy Robins, more than likely keeping a cut of the publishing royalties. That’s the way the business was then (and it’s the way the business is now).

As is true for many other great records, the origins and details of “I Can’t Please You” are swamped in mystery. But the song can speak for its own self.

1 comment:

  1. Finally getting back to the beginning of your project! How do you find out all these details? You talk about the record being a mystery, but you've managed to unwrap more than a few.