As this is my fourth post, I think it’s time I spoke about Louis Jordan. I mentioned his “Saturday Night Fish Fry” in my last post as an example of humor in songs. The Eclectic Vinyl Orchestra plays about three or four songs that he popularized in the 1940s. In Ken Burns’ documentary on Jazz, Louis Jordan and his music is almost a footnote but to early Rock and Roll and R & B artists, his music was extremely significant.
“I had jazz records in high school…Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Oscar Brown Jr., and Billie Holiday. I had race records when nobody in Saskatchewan had race records. This DJ in Edmonton cleared out the radio station library, so I ended up with all these Louis Jordan records, and they were great, ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’ and all that. So when rock ’n’ roll came along, I went, ‘That’s nothing new; that’s Louis Jordan.’
– Joni Mitchell in JazzTimes
Louis Jordan was a pioneer in what was called “Jump Blues”. I won’t get into a full discussion here but, to be brief, it was urban jazz-based music popular with both jazz and blues players. Examples of jump blues artists include Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker and Wynonie Harris. Jump Blues combined boogie-woogie with swing-era saxophone. It also incorporated humorous lyrics and verbal asides. The bands were generally five to seven players, smaller and lower cost than the Big Bands of the “Swing Era”. The smaller size of the bands was also a result of the Second World War when many of the men were overseas.
As an aside, during the war some women did take the place of men and there were “All Girl” bands. I highly recommend the recent documentary, “The Girls in the Band”. It’s a great exploration of the problems women musicians faced throughout the twentieth century and in particular, during the war. As one interviewee in the movie says, ‘a lot of girls had to go back to the kitchen’ when the veterans reclaimed their jobs”.)
But I digress. Back to Louis Jordan.
I had some friends growing up in London, Ontario in the early 70 who were real blues fans. I will call them Al and Frank. My memory of that time is a little hazy but I am pretty sure they were responsible for me seeing Muddy Waters whenever he came to town and I’m also pretty sure they introduced me to the Toronto based blues band Whisky Howl. Whiskey Howl used to come and play in London and I still haul out their CD. Our version and specifically the groove we play in “Early in the Morning” (a Louis Jordan song) is taken from their album although I think their drummer on their version used a pop can as part of the percussion.
Whiskey Howl introduced me to Louis Jordan, Ray Charles, Mose Allison, Leadbelly and Memphis Slim. I will say more about the band and some of those artists in a future blog. As always, I traced these great songs back to their source. I went out and bought “Louis Jordan’s Greatest Hits” (shown below). I remember that it had the songs: “Caldonia”, “Let the Good Times Roll”, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”, “Ain’t Nobody Here but us Chickens”, “Blue Light Boogie”, and “Saturday Night Fish Fry”. The songs, his humour and his horn blew me away.
As well as being a fine musician and singer, Louis Jordan was also an actor and performer as you can see in this version of “Early in the Morning”.
As I mentioned earlier, Jordan had a string of hits in the 1940s but by the 50s his popularity had waned. However, his influence continued. Many of his early records were produced by Milt Gabler who went on to produce Bill Haley and the Comets and in particular “Rock Around the Clock”. Their first album also included “Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie”.
Jordan died in 1975 of a heart attack. I found this video from a year before his death. He was still quite a singer and performer.
My exposure to Louis Jordan in the 70s was mainly through that one album I mentioned earlier. In the 1980s Brian Seltzer and Joe Jackson revived the jump blues era and introduced me to a bunch of new songs. That’s another blog for another time.