Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Underground Legends"

Louis Jordan (July 8, 1908-February 4, 1975)

"The King of the Jukebox," "The Father of Rhythm and Blues," and "The Grandfather of Rock & Roll," Louis Jordan, with his band Tympany Five, create most of the building blocks for several popular music genres, including R&B, Soul, Rock & Roll and Hip-hop. His jump blues stylehas influenced many artists from James Brown to Little Richard to Chuck Berry to Ray Charles. The alto saxophonist and comical lyricist combined Jazz and Blues to create swinging shuffle rhythms.

Born in Brinkley, Arkansas, Jordan grew up in a musical family. His father was James Aaron Jordan, a local music teacher and bandleader for the Brinkley Brass Band and Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Jordan studied music with his father and learned the clarinet. He also learned the piano, but the alto saxophone became his main instrument. After attending Baptist College in which he majored in music, he went to Philadephia and then New York. Performing with swing bands, including drummer Chick Webb's band at the Savoy Ballroom, Jordan went solo in 1938 after gaining confidence that he could be a bandleader because of his lively showmanship.

Louis Jordan's first band, which was compromised from members of the Jesse Stone band, was originally made up of nine members but later reduced to a six member band. The original lineup was Jordan (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, vocals), Courtney Williams (trumpet), Lem Johnson (tenor saxophone), Clarence Johnson (piano), Charlie Drayton (bass) and Walter Martin (drums). Since Martin used timpani drums often, the group was named the Tympany Five. Other performers who came into the lineup included Bill Jennings (guitar), Carl Hogan (guitar), Wild Bill Davis (piano), Bill Doggett (piano), Chris Columbus (drums), and Dallas Bartley (bass). They signed to Decca Records, which began a decade and half successful music career.

"I'm Gonna Leave You on the Outskirts of Town" was Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five's first major hit on #2 on Billboard's Harlem Hit Parade (precursor to R&B charts). It was an "answer record" to his earlier song "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town." "What's The Use of Gettin' Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)" became Jordan's first #1 hit in 1942. However, "Five Guys Named Moe," which reached # # on race charts, standardized the fast tempo, swinging style and became his trademark music. In 1942, he moved to Los Angeles, where he began making "soundies" (precursor to music videos).

In the 1940s, Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five had several other hits, such as "Saturday Night Fish Fry," "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens," "Jack, You Dead," "Buzz Me," and "Choo Choo Ch'boogie" (a multi-million dollar seller). Two of his biggest hits was "Caldonia" with the famous shouting hook, "Caldonia, Caldonia, What makes your big head so hard," and "G.I. Jive"/"Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" (was in the Tom & Jerry cartoon, Solid Serenade) also helped him to crossover into mainstream market. In all, Louis Jordan had 18 number 1 hits and 54 top ten singles. "Saturday Night Fish Fry" is considered to be one of the first Rock & Roll songs because it uses the word "rocking" and has a focus on the distorted electric guitar.

By the 1950s, Jordan's popularity began to decline as other styles of music, like Rock & Roll, began to popularize an big bands were declining, too. He switched to Mercury Records and tried to make his sound full Rock & Roll with singles like "Let the Good Times Roll," which did not chart. His last hit was "Weak Minded Blues" in 1951. Still his popularity further diminished and he barely recorded after the early 1960s. Louis Jordan died in Los Angeles from complications from his heart attack in February 1975.


His song "Beans and Corn Bread" was used as the theme song for the TBS show Dinner and a Movie.

Many of his biggest hits were put in the name of his then wife Fleecie Moore as a means of avoiding an existing publishing contract. After their tulmutuous marriage (a domestic dispute resulted in her stabbing him from which he almost died) and divorce, she retained ownership of the songs.

He is the top black recording artist of all time.

Popularized the use of the electric guitar (used in Rock & Roll) and the electric piano and organ (used in R&B and Soul).

Louis Jordan is one of the several artists whose songs are hard to imitate that there has been no hit cover versions.

He popularized many slang words used in Rock& Roll and R&B, such as "chick."

Jordan made a controversial statement that Rock & Roll was R&B played by white musicians, which contradicted artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard who said they were Rock musicians.

In songs like "Beware," "Look Out Sister," and "You Gotta Have Beat," Jordan uses a rapid-fire, semi-spoken vocal style, which was influenced by his experience as a saxophone soloist. He minimizes the importance of the vocal melody for a highly syncopated phrasing that emphasizes alliteration and assonance. It is one of the earliest examples of vocal styling that eventually evolved into rap. (Check later for my Music Note on "The Origins of Rap.")

Recorded the song "Keep a Knocking" before Little Richard made it a hit.

He performed with a young Ella Fitzgerald while in Chick Webb's band.

Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

A Broadway musical named Five Guys Named Moe, based on his songs and persona, opened in 1992.


Choo Choo Ch'Boogie

Buzz Me Baby

Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby (Loius Jordan and Tom & Jerry versions)

Beans and Cornbread

Jack, You Dead (Funny!)

Let the Good Times Roll

Saturday Night Fish Fry (one of the first Rock & Roll songs)\

Five Guys Named Moe


Look Out Sister

You Gotta Have Beat

How Long Must I Wait For You

There Aint Nobody Here But Us Chickens

Deacon Jones (Funny!)

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