I Got Loaded

Time for a drink. Since swilling spirits is a favorite pastime of many, particularly musicians, feel free to grab a corkscrew, or church key, or whatever you need to open another cold one! I've got a slew of recorded songs to encourage your soon-to-be inebriated state; pick your period from any time in the last 130 years. Let's go dead-center, late '40s-early '50s. "Stick" McGhee and his Buddies whiled away the hours "Drinkin' Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee," no hesitation, no guilt, just good times in '49. The following year, Joe Liggins experienced the highs and lows of "Pink Champagne." Later, Joe's younger brother Jimmy Liggins just got so "Drunk" he passed out trying to turn the doorknob. Amos Milburn chronicled his love/hate relationship with 80 proof refreshment, from hitting rock bottom ("Bad, Bad Whiskey") in '50, to wallowing in memories ("Thinking and Drinking") in '52, to shirking responsibility ("Let Me Go Home, Whiskey") in '53, and so on until a real-life stroke at age 43 settled the score.

The general consensus has been that drinking is a bad idea, but it didn't stop all those singers from selling hundreds of thousands of 78s and 45s revealing the outcome of their various thirst-quenching adventures. According to the lyrics of "I Got Loaded" by "Peppermint" Harris, he simply enjoyed himself: 'Dropped into a tavern, saw some friends o' mine...party was gettin' under way and the juice was really flyin'...' Born in Texarkana, Texas in 1925, Harrison Nelson, Jr. was interested in sports and studied speech in school, played a little guitar and ended up embarking on a music career while in his teens, though it took a detour rather quickly. After high school graduation in 1943, he joined the Navy and spent the last two years of World War II as a Seabee, proudly working, building and fighting for his country. After the war he performed in blues clubs part time while attending Texas State University for Negroes in Houston; he earned a Bachelor's degree in English a few years later and married his childhood sweetheart. Harrison had grown up in a churchgoing family unsupportive of his type of music career. If he participated in taking '...a sip on every trip that bottle went around,' he at least kept a tight lip about it.

He became friends with Lightnin' Hopkins, who in 1947 had just made his first of several recordings for Bill Quinn's Gold Star Records. Harrison recorded his only Gold Star disc, "Peppermint Boogie," using the name Peppermint Nelson as a gimmick. In late 1949 an opportunity to make a record for Bob Shad's New York-based Sittin' In With label resulted in "Raining in My Heart," a blues lament that was distributed under the name Peppermint Harris after Shad got the singer's first and last names confused. Before the error could be corrected, the single hit Billboard's R&B top ten, spending a few weeks there in February '50. Nelson's professional name had undergone a permanent change.

Peppermint Harris

Follow-up singles used standard relationship themes: "Texarkana Bound" ('...coming home to you!') and "Reckless Lover" ('you are no good, mean and evil...'), as well as commentary: "I'm Telling You People" ('...times are gettin' hard'). But Harris couldn't come up with another strong seller among several Sittin' In With releases. He moved to Los Angeles and joined Aladdin Records, laying down his first sessions in June of 1951. Amos Milburn, the label's top star, had struck a gusher with "Bad, Bad Whiskey," a depressing wake-up call for heavy booze users written by Maxwell Davis, who then supplied the musical backing for the Harris-penned approval of social drinking, "I Got Loaded," which hit number one on the R&B chart in December (though it was tied with The Clovers' second consecutive chart-topper, "Fool, Fool, Fool").

Davis was a well-seasoned musician, songwriter and producer, having gotten his start with Fletcher Henderson's band in 1937; the talented tenor saxophonist worked his way around the music biz in the '40s and found his niche in the studio, playing a key role in the success of acts like Charles Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon, Milburn and many others. His numerous accomplishments at Aladdin and, later, the Modern/RPM labels, earned him an impressive nickname among his peers: "The Father of West Coast R&B." Davis and Peppermint Harris put together some top-notch tunes, including the sprightly "Have Another Drink and Talk to Me" and somber "P.H. Blues," with "Pep" at his vocal peak. His career was at its strongest the next few years with regular nightclub bookings; he left Aladdin in '54, put together a band for touring and recorded sporadically for the next decade, appearing on at least eight different record labels. Highlights include the jumpin' "Bye, Bye, Fare Thee Well" on Modern in '54, "Treat Me Like I Treat You" on Cash in '55 and "Angel Child" on Duke in '60.

Thanks to Stan Lewis, owner of Shreveport, Louisiana's Jewel Records, Harris had a career resurgence in the 1960s; Shreveport's "Susie-Q" celeb Dale Hawkins produced "Markin' Time," his debut single for the label in 1965. During his three years with Jewel, Harris remade "Raining in My Heart" and revived his hooch-guzzling image with a rocking version of Milburn's "Bad Bad Whiskey." He continued recording into the 1980s and performed for audiences, mainly in the Houston area, for years afterwards. "Peppermint" Harris passed away in 1999. His greatest hit, "I Got Loaded," avoided criticizing pass-the-bottle partiers, instead offering an excuse some guys might try to get away with: 'If you see ma' baby, tell her this for me...I didn't mean to stay so long, but the juice down there was free!' Nice try, but it probably won't work.

- Michael Jack Kirby


I Got Loaded