Ward Baker

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"If Things Don't Get Better, I'm Gonna Make a Change" has lost a bit of its glory as a blues classic, partially diluted by so many other somewhat similar songs springing from the same point of view. Two…
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"If Things Don't Get Better, I'm Gonna Make a Change" has lost a bit of its glory as a blues classic, partially diluted by so many other somewhat similar songs springing from the same point of view. Two generations out of the three performing Hank Williams, for example, have basically rewritten the song, Hank Williams calling it "You're Gonna Change Or I'm Gonna Leave," and chip off the old block Hank Williams Jr. modernizing it somewhat as an "Attitude Adjustment." The background of the former song might have some of the makings of the usual songwriting credit tussle, as the senior Williams sometimes got material from the same office of songwriters that came up with "If Things Don't Get Better, I'm Gonna Make a Change," which is where Ward Baker comes in, except he doesn't because he doesn't exist. Ward Baker is a pseudonym for Joe Davis, who owned the record company that the song was first released on, Beacon. It was one of several record labels Davis managed during a half a century in the music business. He was also involved with many great songwriters and performers, such as Otis Blackwell and Fats Waller, acting in the role of publisher, song plugger or co-writer, or all three depending on what the occasion demanded.

Davis, unlike some other characters in the music business such as Alan Freed or Alan Lomax, actually did write songs or was involved in writing songs for which he took credit. While many artists in the blues and rhythm & blues genres used pseudonyms to get around contract restrictions, Davis would hardly have had this problem since he owned the record company recording the song in question. His motivation was no doubt the same as many a film "auteur" who is embarrassed to admit writing the screenplay as well as directing, photographing, and editing. Baker, that is Davis, would not have been ashamed of such a solid blues number, only some possible public perception of unprofessionalism. And it is something of a mystery why Davis never bothered to take proper credit after the fact. "If Things Don't Get Better, I'm Gonna Make a Change" was a big hit in 1943 and while it seems to have established singer Beverly White only as a one-hit wonder, charts of the time show her ranking ahead of much more famous performers, including Lonnie Johnson, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, and the Golden Gate Quartet. Reissues of the song on British labels fueled nationalistic speculation that the song was written by British film director Roy Ward Baker, who often appears in credits as simply Ward Baker. Having created many a great horror film in his career, this namesake hardly needs the credit for other loaves of bread, but may have been making a side comment when he directed a film in 1961 entitled The Singer Not the Song.