The Late Movies: Jump Blues
Jump blues is a type of up-tempo blues that first gained popularity in the 1940s and experienced a renewal in interest during the (dreaded) 1990s swing revival. Billboard has described jump tunes as having a “bright bounce in the medium tempo and a steady drive maintained.” I usually think of it as Big Band pared down to a few horns and a rhythm section, rolled around in the dirt a little bit and then given some uppers.
Shake, Rattle and Roll
You’re probably more familiar with the Bill Haley & His Comets version of this song, and for that I’ll forgive you, but Big Joe Turner's original is the real deal. Recorded the day after Valentine’s Day in 1954, the original featured Turner, songwriter Jesse Stone, and record-company execs Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegün doing the shout chorus, as well as a number of double entendres and sexual innuendos (some of which aren’t in this video). “I've been holdin' it in, way down underneath / You make me roll my eyes, baby, make me grit my teeth,” and “I'm like a one-eyed cat peepin' in a seafood store,” are both sort of self-explanatory, but subtle enough that you might not have noticed them on the first listen.
Jackie Brenston was learned to play saxophone after coming home from the army in 1947, and hooked up with Ike Turner’s band a few years later. B.B. King liked the band and recommended them to Sam Phillips, who owned a studio in Memphis. There, the band recorded a few songs, including this one, on which Brenston sang lead and was credited with writing. The recordings found their way to Chess Records which released the song under "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats", rather than Turner's name. The song went to #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and Philips used the success of the tune to jumpstart Sun Records.
Little Johnny Jones mantra may as well have been “have instrument, will travel.” Beginning in 1945, he played piano in Tampa Red's band, harmonica in Muddy Waters’ band, and played and recorded piano and vocals for Elmore James, Howling Wolf, Billy Boy Arnold and Magic Sam. among others. This one-off release, put out under his own name, features a role reversal for Jones and James, with sideman Jones taking over vocals and usual band leader James handling slide guitar.
Delores LaVern Baker had the blues in her blood. She was related to both Merline Johnson and Memphis Minnie. She also had a great sense of humor. When Georgia Gibbs had the bigger hit with her cover of Baker’s “Tweedle Dee” Baker took out flight insurance at the airport and sent it to Gibbs with a note reading “You need this more than I do because if anything happens to me, you're out of business.”
Jump Jive and Wail
Louis Prima was, like David Bowie, a musical chameleon. He led, at one time or another in his career, a New Orleans style jazz band, a swing combo, a big band a Vegas lounge act and a pop-rock band. You’re likely familiar with Brian Setzer’s version of this song, which gets points for a flashier video but lacks the late Prima’s legendary exuberance.
Good Rockin’ Tonight
Written by Roy Brown in the late 40’s, this song was originally offered to Wynonie Harris, who turned it down and only decided to cover it later after the Brown had some success with his own recording of it. Brown's original recording hit #13 on the the Billboard R&B chart, but Harris' went all the way to #1.
Rudolph Spencer Greene was neither prolific nor famous, and today most people, myself included, only find out about him from compilations of blues, R&B and early rock songs and there is only one known photo of him (which depicts him playing the guitar behind his head). He is, in fact, so un-famous that I can’t find any sort of video for this song. Even though this is “The Late Movies,” I can’t pass up the chance to share Greene’s fantastic, surreal “Juicy Fruit,” wherein he brags about his $50 flattop, cashmere clothes and a car so long that he is forced to park it in the air. Listen to it here.