[Photo: Louis Jordan at the Paramount Theater in 1946. By William P. Gottlieb]
by Marlon West (FB: marlon.west1 Twitter: @marlonw IG: stlmarlonwest Spotify: marlonwest)
Since the 1960s, especially when it came to emerging British rockers, the roots of Rock ’n Roll were a direct line to “authentic” Blues players. (Mainly men, but that’s the subject for another playlist.)
It’s mainly true, but it leaves out Country music, and in what Bullseye with Jesse Thorn host Jesse Thorn called “the race to find the most hard-scrabble weathered bluesman from the fields of Alabama or Mississippi or wherever” also ignores Jazz dance music.
Hugely popular in its day, it followed the big band era and was the springboard for Rhythm & Blues. Particularly the genre of “Jam Blues” and its trail-blazing, funny, and brash master of the game: Louis Jordan.
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When it became too expensive for big bands to tour in the 1940s, Jordan led a revolution by cutting his band in half. The Tympany Five was a horn section, drums, guitar, bass, and piano. Jordan played saxophone and sang lead vocals himself, which was a rare move at the time.
“Five Guys Named Moe” was the song that changed the game. Some combo of drums, guitar, bass, and piano are the make-up of nearly every pop band since. From 1946 and 47 he had five straight #1 R&B hits. Ultimately 18 of his records topped the charts.
It wasn’t just the hits though, Jordan was the whole package: musician, songwriter, frontman, jokester. Raw enough to influence James Brown and Little Richard, and uptown enough to inspire Bill Haley and Chuck Berry. Ray Charles even covered “Let The Good Times Roll.”
In the 1960s, twenty years past his heyday and likely a little bitter, Jordan would describe Rock ’n Roll as “R&B played by white people.” Truth is he wasn’t all wrong. It’s too easy to believe the narrative that Rock springs from almost mythical figures, dirt poor sharecroppers, and men that made deals with the devil and the crossroads, it makes the anointment of these men by rich rockstars music critics quite easy.
Louis Jordan though, and folks like him, fly in the face of that narrative. He was sophisticated and raw and funny and made music, and short films for an equally smart and sophisticated, mostly Black audience. Those ”soundies” were the forerunners of music videos, too. Louis Jordan is a guy that doesn’t need saving from on high and still sounds great 70 years later.
Dig. And I’ll “see” ya next week.
Stay safe sane, and kind
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