Saturday, April 09, 2005

We're Gonna Roll [ the post war R&B era]

A brief, (but still pretty exhaustive) look at post war blues

The decade that followed the end of the Second World War brought about an explosive era in American cultural life, which besides television as a new influence, folks had a new sound emerging on the airwaves as well. As a mass rural negro migration towards the industrial centers of the north occured, so-called "race music" became a national commercial force. Along with BeBop & Modern Jazz , urban blues, swing and boogie woogie, were country blues music and gospel that all intertwined to become the roots of rock and roll. In the wake of these developments, many independent labels sprung up to capitalize on the trends from coast to coast.

With the end of the war freeing production resources, there was an abundance of little labels producing R&B around the country. One of the first acts to garner widespread attention for the "Harlem Hit Parade" sound in the 40's was Pvt. Cecil Grant ( i.e Gant ) who's tune "I Wonder" was on the "Gilt-Edge" label. An ex-soldier who first sprung up at an L.A War Bonds rally, toured as "The G.I. Sing-sation' dressed in Army khaki.

download I Wonder

His indie hit " I Wonder" was pressed under wartime rationing using hidden neighborhood pressing plants and reportedly black market supplies of shellac.

Cecil Gant's "Nashville Jumps" launched Bullet Records' "sepia" series in 1946.

Click To hear the rare track from Cecil called "Nashville Jumps" as well as a 29 minute history of Nashville R&B featuring Bobby Hebb - "Sunny", The Prisonaires - "Just Walkin' in the Rain", Christine Kittrell - "Sittin' Here Drinking", Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson - "Soul Shake", all in just 4 well compressed megabytes

Cecil was a lively performer & broke attendance records at major venues, and attracted both black and white audiences. His success was credited by many as an inspirational sign to start their own carreers and labels.

Cecil Gant recording session, WSM studio,
Nashville, c. late 1940s

Gant had later releases on L.A's Bronze & King, Nashville's Bullet in '48-9, Dot & Downbeat/Swingtime in '49, Imperial, 4 Star & Decca in '50 & 51; but no strong hits. He died of alcoholism & pneumonia in 1951, a 38 year old footnote in the path to R&B juke box glory and the fortunes it generated.

One of the earliest independents founded to cash in on R&B sounds was Apollo, named to capitalize on the famous theater nearby in upper Manhattan 1943. It was run by three jewish guys who ran a Harlem music shop & who's first hits featured Coleman Hawkins, The Five Royales and later in the 50's Doo Wop era The Larks .

( click to hear The Larks "My Reverie" a vocal group hit from 1951) .

NY based entrepeneur's like George Goldner (Tico, Roulette, Gee, Gone), Hy Weiss (Old Town), Al Silver (Herald), Bobby Robinson (Fury, Whirlin' Disc) all tried to cash in on the new street vocal group sound. NYC based R&B indies that also competed in the "race" market included Manor, Savoy, Jubilee, DeLuxe, National, and Dootune. In 1947 with money borrowed from a dentist, the Ertegun Bros. launched their newly devised Atlantic imprint.

George Leaner, owner of Chicago's Groove Record Shop once said " The Illinois Central Railroad brought the blues to Chicago". As the factories of Gary, and "killing floors" of the southside meat packing districts were filled with newly arrived southern blacks, a new music scene arose. As Leaner noted " The emergence of BMI and the rapid growth of Negro radio in the late forties accelerated the blues movement".

One of the first to capitalize on the new energy & scene was the Rhumboogie label in 1944. The label was affiliated with a popular nightclub operation co-owned by boxer Joe Louis. They had a relationship with guitar hero T- Bone Walker that put the club & label on the map, but the club had a fire on New Year's Eve 1946, and the operation never regained momentum.

In the midwest other labels arose like Leaner's own "One-Derful" as well as "Hy-Tone", "J.O.B", "Rhumboogie", "Miracle", "Old Swing-Master","Vee-Jay" & "Mercury" were all building momentum and releasing sides. Syd Nathan's "King Records" run out of a Cincinatti icehouse would also include "Federal" & later own it's own pressing plant. Two southside nightclub owning Jewish immigrants in Chicago posistioned themselves to reap the rewards of R&B. They owned a nightclub called the Mocambo and soon realized more moey could be made recording the acts that were playing every that ran in Chicago Bee 1947
This is reputed to be the only ad the Chess Bros ever ran for their club.

They eventually affiliated in 1950 with Aristocrat records (who had already recorded bluesmen Sunnyland Slim & Muddy Waters), and bought the label to become the big time blues breakthru boys, operating a storefront studio and two vital imprints: "Chess" & "Checker".

Arnold Shaw in his 1971 book "World of Soul", wrote of Leonard Chess & his southen talent searches. "Carrying a heavy two piece Magnatone tape recorder in his car, he would record on location, frequently running a long extension cord from a bean or cotton field into an electrical outlet in a farmhouse. Arthur "BigBoy" Crudup whom Leonard found in Forest Mississippi, was recorded in this fashion.

Big Boy Crudup
In Shreveport La, Chess was introduced to Ferdinand "Fats" Washington by Disk Jockey Stan the Record Man... Howlin' Wolf was a field-trip find in 1948 in West Memphis Ark. where Chess recorded two sides with a 5 piece combo including Ike Turner at the piano and James Cotton on harp."

On the west coast in Los Angeles in the 1940s saw Specialty, Imperial, Aladdin, and several labels operated by the Bihari brothers like Modern/Meteor/Kent/Flair/RPM & Crown being particularly notable. In Oakland, Bob Geddins operated numerous small labels like Down Town, Big Town, Irma, Elko & Calva Tone. Geddins recorded early sides by Lowell Fulson, Jimmy McCracklin, Jimmy Wilson, Sugar Pie DeSanto and many others. In the south, Freedom, Peacock, and Ace were R&B forces. In Tennessee, Sam Phillips opened his Memphis Recording Service in 1950, while new labels like Dot, Bulleit, Nashboro & Excello were based in Nashville and similar entrepreneurs were going at it in towns like Philedelphia, Houston & New Orleans and coast to coast.

In some cases artists, who were compensated with literally pennies on the dollar, recorded under different names for different labels for a variety of contractual reasons. One performer who cut many sides for various labels under various monikers was John Lee Hooker. Born in Mississippi, but this Delta raised bluesman worked as a janitor in Detroit factories before cutting records. Unhappy with his arrangements with Modern, John begat a spate of pseudononymous recordings for labels such as Savoy, Regent, Specialty, Staff, Acorn, Federal, Chance, Gotham, Deluxe, Gone and Time. These boogie-based numbers were seen credited from the likes of nom de blues like Delta John, John Lee Booker, Johnny Williams, Johnny Lee, Birmingham Sam, 'Boogie Man', Texas Slim, John Lee Cooker, 'Texas Slim' and even 'Little Pork Chops'. To the consternation of discographers, over the years he recorded under his own proper name on dozens of other labels as well.

John Lee Hooker - Boogie Chillen from 1948

On July 22, 1949 Capitol Recording Studios in Hollywood hosted a session that was released under the name "Shorty Muggins".

A psuedonym for an individual that had already had a fairly long career by this point as a vaudeville & film performer, and whom would soon become one of the world's most recognizable entertainers...

We're talking about Mr Yes-I-Can, Sammy Davis, Jr. who was joined on this session by members of The Woody Herman Orchestra (acc), Dave Cavanaugh (arr, con, ts), Gerald Wiggins (p).

Sammy Davis Jr a.k.a Shorty Muggins We're Gonna Roll - 02:07 (writer credited as Bobby Black) from Capitol 78: 70052 (1949)

Click to Dig this fairly hard to find Sammy aka Shorty Muggins track that is really a feisty Jump Blues era type cut.

original "Shorty Muggins" 78 label

Elmore Nixon's piano is to be heard on many more records than he made under his own name. By his early teens in Houston, he was already backing Peppermint Harris on his Gold Star debut, and first sang with the gospel group The Pilgrim Travelers . He recorded with many Texas artists as a backing band member but his debut record, "Foolish Love', wasn't made until 1949 for the "Sittin In With" label as Elmore Nix & The Hadacol Boys. His own music reflected the jump music of the time. Sessions followed for Big Town, Peacock, Mercury, Savoy and Imperial. This track was done for "Sittin In With" a NY label that had a 4 year run owned by two bros. Bob & Morty Shad. Elmore was a respected pianist, who recorded with his nephew Clifton Chenier until around 1966. The southern style blues track featured here from the early 50's has backing from Henry Hayes and his Rhythm Kings.

Elmore Nixon - I Went To See A Gypsy

Born Mabel Louise Smith in Jackson Tennesse in 1924, her first professional stage exposure came via the all female Sweethearts of Rhythm, and later on Decca sides as part of Christine Chatman's Orchestra. An appearance with Jimmy Witherspoon at The Flame Show Bar in Detroit circa 1952, won her solo acclalim and soon a deal with Okeh, Columbia's R&B subsidiary. Newly renamed "Big Maybelle", her first session produced "Gabbin Blues" which was a top ten R&B hit in 1952.

Big Maybelle - Gabbin' Blues

Jimmy Wilson was a West Coast guitarist with Texan roots who recorded for many labels, particularly those out of Oakland. Among the imprints his tunes graced were Cava Tone,Aladdin,Big Town,7-11,Irma, Elko, and Chart. On this track his voice & style are somewhat reminiscient of Otis Rush. Likely recorded in Lake Charles LA for the GoldBand label, this was a minor hit on the chitlin circuit. Other hits for him were 1953's "Tin Pan Alley", "Jumpin From 6 to 6", and "Blues at Sunrise", all mostly forgotten by his death in 1965.

Jimmy Wilson & His All Stars - Trouble In My Home

In 1948 Detroit's Joe Von Battle started a label called JVB. Among his productions was this great little track from circa 1953 that appeared on a JVB 78 featuring

Tye Tongue Hanley
- You Got My Nose Wide Open"...

A Detroit record store owner, Von Battle's portable recording equipment is also credited as making the 1st recordings of a Reverand's daughter fresh from the choir of her father's New Bethel Baptist Church, in Detroit's Paradise Valley, an ironically titled ghetto.

That girl, would make several acetates on a series of Sundays in 1956 with Von Battle that document the first steps on a path that would make Aretha Franklin one of the most sucessful & soulful singers of her time. We'll get to her some other time...

In the meantime I hope ya dig the post war R&B tunes featured here.

Thanx to all my wonderful source material, including websites like (the 4 mb .mp3 feature produced by WFPL, based on a new Nashville R&B exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame with songs taken from the 2CD set, "Night Train to Nashville") features a look at indie lables of the early rock era, pic of Shorty Muggins label, and many of the rare .mp3z for info on Big Maybelle

The Red Saunders Research Foundation for Chicago info on Chess & Aristocrat

Plus good ol' fashioned books from guys like Peter Guralnik, Arnold Shaw and others and I look forward to someday perusing a new massive 4 volume collection known as The R & B Indies. Here is what it contains : The R&B Indies encompasses the early post-war jump combos, the blues craze of the forties and fifties, the teaming vocal groups that led to the many subcategories of Soul music in the sixties and seventies and eighties, chronologically listed side-by-side to present a full and clear picture of all that has been marketed under the banner of R&B.


1 comment:

Will said...

great blog..

anyone know of anymore sources of good blues thats in the public domain?