Tommy Ridgley was a singer from New Orleans who worked with Dave Bartholomew at Imperial Records before moving over to Atlantic. He recorded Jam Up at Cosimo Matassa’s legendary J&M studio in 1953. It’s a raucous R&B instrumental driven by Lee Allen’s exuberant tenor sax. Red Tyler also honks up a storm. Earl Palmer is probably on the drums, Frank Fields on bass. This bunch were known as The Clique, studio geniuses of equal measure to the Funk Brothers, Wrecking Crew, Swampers at Muscle Shoals, or Booker T & The MGs at Stax. I won’t try and list all the amazing tunes they played on, I’ve posted many here over the years, but Little Richard’s hits on Specialty are a good place to start. Ridgley himself apparently played piano and I’m guessing the voice you occasionally hear hyping up the musicians is his. Atlantic reissued Jam Up as Jam Up Twist with overdubbed exclamations such as “twist”, “twist awhile” and “double twist” in 1962 in an attempt to appeal to the totally twist-crazed record buying public. I’m sure it worked as this still sounds as joyful and upbeat as ever so many years after it was recorded.
This is a superb version of an old gospel song, Saints Go Marching In, that was picked up by the jazz crowd and became a standard, one that’s particularly associated with New Orleans. The Gospel Believers, however, came from the other side of the country. In fact, the record states that they were The Gospel Believers of Detroit, Michigan. Which makes me think that there may have been other Gospel Believer groups elsewhere in the US in 1950 when this Detroit group laid down today’s selection for Fortune Records. It’s a short song, but it finds the time to move up a gear about halfway through. I played this along with a whole congregation of other gospel and gospel inspired records during my most recent radio show, which you can listen to here in case you missed it.
Cow Cow Blues is a song written by piano blues pioneer Charles “Cow Cow” Davenport. His 1928 recording is one of the earliest examples of Boogie-Woogie piano playing. Paul Gayten was a pianist from Louisiana who led one New Orleans’ hottest R&B bands in the 1940s. Gayten’s version was released on Okeh in ’52. It doesn’t take too many listens to realise it was the musical inspiration for Ray Charles’ hit from a year later, the mighty Mess Around.
Speaking of Johnny Vincent’s Ace Records, Baby You Can Get Your Gun was the flip of Earl King’s first single on the label. It was released in 1955 and King shared the writing credits with Vincent on both sides. The yellow Ace label also states that both tunes feature Fats on piano, but this was just Vincent’s dodgy attempt to cash in on New Orleans legend Fats Domino’s huge success, even though it was actually Huey Smith twinkling those keys. The a-side, Those Lonely, Lonely Nights, was a top-ten R&B hit, but Baby You Can Get Your Gun is the cut that really cooks. From what I can gather from the lyrics, King’s been out the whole night having fun. He’s truly sorry, but he’s coming home now and he doesn’t mind if his girl gives him a bit of a serve, possibly involving a firearm, because that’s how much fun he’s been having. Sounds like a lot of fun.
Frankie Lee Sims was an influencial blues guitarist. He was born in New Orleans but brought up in East Texas. His cousin was none other than Lightnin’ Hopkins. In 1957 he cut today’s two selections for the Ace subsidiary Vin, owned by Johnny Vincent, who Sims recorded with when Vincent was working A&R for Specialty. Thanks to The Hound, I’ve just found out that She Likes To Boogie Real Low is a dirty electric blues version of Louis Jordan’s Blue Light Boogie. This is party music of a certain kind. The perfect sound to get down to while drinking moonshine in a juke joint. Well Goodbye Baby is Sims’ version of the traditional Worried Life Blues. While a little more downbeat, it’s more of the same and has a splendid piano interlude from Willie Taylor.
Jessie Hill – Whip It On Me
And now for some 1960 vintage New Orleans heat from the man who brought us Ooh Poo Pah Doo earlier that very same year. Jessie Hill was born in the Crescent City and became a drummer. Before stepping out in front on vocals, he played with Professor Longhair and Huey “Piano” Smith, to name just two. Ooh Poo Pah Doo was a big hit and still sounds fresh today. The follow up, Whip It On Me, is just as great a feel-good party stomper, but didn’t quite capture the record buying public’s imagination in the same way. Unfortunately, it kind of went downhill for Hill from here.
Fats Domino – Let The Four Winds Blow
After mentioning New Orleans legend Fats Domino in the previous post, I figured it was about time to offer up some of his own fine work. Let The Four Winds Blow is a fave DJ spin of mine. Its opening was sampled in 1997 by American indie rock group Eels on their top ten UK hit, Novocaine For The Soul. This might have something to do with the instant reaction today’s selection gets when I play it for certain crowds. Then again, it might not. Domino wrote Let The Four Winds Blow along with producer Dave Bartholomew, but it was Roy Brown who released it first in 1957. Domino’s version came out four years later and I much prefer it.
The phrase ‘let the four winds blow’ intrigues me. It’s not part of my vernacular, so I started looking into it — an endeavor that found me lost in a cavalcade of websites about religion. It refers to a part of the bible called Revelation. The expression ‘the four winds’, like ‘the four corners of earth’, is based on the idea that our world is flat and square (or rectangular, I suppose). These winds, which are evil, are currently being held back by four angels. At some point, quite soon according to most sources, the angels will stop saving us; the winds will blow and there will be trouble. However, I don’t think Domino’s use of this phrase is intended to be quite so serious. Not when the rest of the lyrics concern him having a crush on a girl. More likely, it’s an expression of willingly adopting a devil may care attitude. Because of how he feels about this girl, nothing else matters. He’s in love. I’m with Fats, bring it on, let the four winds blow!
Huey ‘Piano’ Smith – Don’t You Know Yockomo
Don’t You Know Yocomo was the 1959 follow up to Huey ‘Piano’ Smith And His Clown’s best known tune and biggest hit, the rollicking Don’t You Just Know It. Smith was New Orleans born and bred. His piano playing style help define the rockin’ R&B sound that emanated from that great city in the 1950s. Many of the lyrics in today’s selection refer to the cultures and traditions of Mardi Gras Indians. There’s some linguistic debate about the meaning of the word Yockomo, but it’s a term which also appeared, as Jockomo, in Sugar Boy Crawford’s 1953 song of the same name. Jockomo was reinterpreted and renamed in 1965 by The Dixie Cups as Iko Iko. The high voice heard on this and Smith’s previous hit is that of cross-dressing singer Bobby Marchan. You can read more about Marchan in an excellent post on The Hound Blog from a few years back.
Shirley & Lee – The Flirt
I’ve bought a bunch of Shirley & Lee records recently. I’m not entirely sure why. I mean, I like them, no doubt, but once I’ve got Let The Good Times Roll, I Feel Good and Feel So Good do I really need any more? They sound kind of similar. What is it about this straightforward mid-50s New Orleans R&B with slightly off-key vocals that keeps me coming back? Is it the influence that it had on Jamaican ska music? With The Flirt, perhaps it’s because the writing credits include one of my current favourite musicians, the drummer Earl Palmer. Maybe today’s selection’s use in John Waters’ Cry-Baby film has something to do with it. Doesn’t quite explain why I’ve bought the others, which might pop up here at some point, but it’s a good start. The Flirt was release in ’57 and, despite all that’s written above, is a fine tune, one of Shirley & Lee’s best.
Big Boy Myles – New Orleans
Big Boy Myles – Gray Bonnet
Edgar ‘Big Boy’ Myles is a musician with a strong New Orleans history. He played trombone and sang with many of the 1950s Crescent City greats. He cut records at Cosimo Matassa’s legendary J&M studios to be released on labels such as Aladdin and Specialty. Because of this NOLA pedigree, I had thought that Myles’ recording offered today must be the original version of the Gary U.S. Bonds smash hit named, New Orleans. It turns out this isn’t the case. Even though the records were both released in 1960, Bonds was first. Mac Rebennack’s Orchestra backs Myles on both sides and he wrote Gray Bonnet. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that Rebennack had to switch from guitar to piano after a bullet wounded his finger and then, as the hoodoo really took hold in the trippy late ’60s, went on to become better known as Dr. John.