Monday, March 19, 2007


Titus Turner, We Told You Not To Marry.
Odea Matthews, Five Long Years For One Man.

All the girls on the block wondered: why did Johnny marry Bonnie? Johnny was popular enough at school, though maybe he laughed too loudly, but he went completely off his head for the first girl to really look at him. Bonnie was short and had slightly buck teeth--the line was that she had a "great personality." Still, one day in March, Bonnie and Johnny, their parents, their sullen younger siblings, a few bewildered friends and a minister stood together in an overheated room at the Knights of Columbus.

So it was no surprise that Bonnie had a baby seven months later. They were living in a one-room apartment two streets away from Bonnie's parents, and the new TV and the crib took up most of the living room. Johnny was working at the A&P, and at night he started bartending. No one really saw him any more--all you could hope for was to catch him on a break, and when you did, he just rattled on about the baby or how his car was doing. He was 19 years old and looked spent out.

One rainy morning, Johnny had the day off from work, and said he was going to get the tires changed on the Chevy. That was the last Bonnie ever saw of him.

Some of his friends got letters, his parents got cards. Johnny had gone out to California, and was doing all right there, at one point selling cars in San Bernardino. After a few years, Bonnie stopped thinking that he was coming back. She thought about telling the kid that his father was dead, and once thought about saying Johnny had died in Vietnam, but realized the times wouldn't match up.

But the kid never showed much interest, sensing that even the mere suggestion of Johnny made his mother flinch. He seemed content to let his father be a vague rumor. Bonnie got a divorce, using Johnny's embarrassed parents as intermediaries, and eventually married a guy who had graduated two years before her, and who had hired Johnny at the A&P back then.

One spring afternoon in 1985, at the Vince Lombardi rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, a young man in a jean jacket was kneeling to help steer his daughter, who had just started to walk, towards the Roy Rogers counter, when a man well into his forties, wearing a dumpy red sweatshirt that made him look older, nearly collided with them. Johnny apologized to his son, who had looked up at him annoyed, and then cut away, heading back to his car.

Titus Turner was best known as a songwriter--he had written "Leave My Kitten Alone" and "All Around the World"--but he had a sporadic career as a performer as well. In 1959, he signed with Glover Records, and his "We Told You Not to Marry" was Glover's rush-job answer record to Lloyd Price's "I'm Gonna Get Married." (Turner was evidently the go-to guy for answering Lloyd Price records--earlier in '59 Turner had made "Return of Stagger Lee" for King.) The Miller Sisters provided backing vocals, and at times seem ready to take over the record completely. Released as Glover 201; on Hy Weiss Presents Old Town Records.

Odea Matthews was a prison inmate whose crime no one remembers; this recording, in which Matthews is working on a sewing machine as she sings, was made in Angola, Louisiana's state prison, sometime in '59. On Angola Prison Worksongs. First heard this one on Tofu Hut ages ago.

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