Buddy Johnson And His Orchestra (Silver Star Swing Series)
The third post on Buddy Johnson and this guy was such an important figure in the development of R&B that he thoroughly deserves such exposure on the blog. The first two posts on Buddy looked at his mid-fifties Mercury output, when his band, which had previously survived the transition from swing to R&B, was managing just fine as rock and roll rose to prominence. In this post we jump back a decade and look at tracks he recorded for Decca for whom he signed in 1939. This 1976 LP (complete with surface noise, natch) compiles tracks recorded between 1944 and 1952 and provides us with an insight into why this band survived through the R&B years, long after most big bands had broken up.
Firstly, Buddy himself was a talented pianist, arranger, composer and vocalist. Every track on this LP, with the exception of “Fine Brown Frame”, is a Buddy Johnson composition. Then there was his sister Ella who joined the band in 1940 and was one of the outstanding blues and ballad vocalists of her day. If you want to hear her absolutely best performances such as “Please Mr Johnson”, “Since I Fell For You”, “When My Man Comes Home” and “That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch”, then you’re going to have to buy the great Ace CD recommended at the end of this post. In the meantime there’s enough of Ella on this selection to give you a taste of what a tremendous talent she was. The Bee Jays vocal group who accompany her on two of the tracks here was an in-house studio aggregation made up of band members Julius Watson, Steve Pulliam and Purvis Henson.
Balladeer Arthur Prysock was another formidable vocal talent who joined the band in 1943 and left for a successful solo career in 1952. His combination of suave good looks and Billy Eckstine influenced singing of lovelorn ballads was just what was needed to get the female members of the audience in a swoon. But most of all, this band was a dance band. Whether wowing the Harlem dancers at the huge Savoy Ballroom or blowing the roof off some chitlin’ circuit venue in the Midwest or the deep South, this was an outfit that guaranteed its audience a good time. “Walk ‘em”, with its heavy backbeat, was composed by Buddy when he noticed that many of the less proficient dancers couldn’t cope with the big band swing rhythms. There are some tremendous examples of Buddy’s stomping dance numbers on this collection.
Side two of this LP (tracks 9 – 16) has to be one of the best LP sides I’ve ever heard. There are five storming instros interspersed with some lovely blues by Ella. Tracks 11, 12 and 13 constitute a triple instrumental whammy, kicking off with the stomping “Down Yonder”, and then going into the real down-in-the-alley raunch of “Shake ‘em Up”, complete with “real gone” yells of “Stop me! Stop me!” and finishing up with the killer “Dr Jive Jives”. It’s just as well that Ella cools things down with a couple of slower numbers, because if we’d gone straight into the blasting finale of “Shufflin’ And Rollin’” I would have been an ambulance case for certain. DOA. “OD’d on Boogie, Doc.”
And there’s one more ingredient in this rhythm recipe – Buddy let those saxes wail. From the very first track, the decidedly swing era “South Main”, right through to the big band R&B of “Shufflin’ And Rollin’”, the saxes rarely let up. In the earlier line ups Frank Henderson and Jimmy Stanford provide the muscular tenor work and later Dave Van Dyke and Purvis Henson do the blastin’. And there’s also Geezil Minerve on alto and underpinning the reeds from first to last, the beefy baritone of Cherokee Conyers.
So there you have it folks - The People’s Band. And Buddy and his cohorts most certainly did play it pretty for the people.
1. South Main 2. Fine Brown Frame (vcl – Buddy Johnson) 3. Opus Two 4. Walk 'em (vcl – Buddy Johnson) 5. You'll Get Them Blues (vcl – Ella Johnson) 6. Hey, Sweet Potato (vcl – Buddy Johnson) 7. Far Cry 8. Serves Me Right (vcl – Arthur Prysock) 9. Li'l Dog 10. You Can't Tell Who's Lovin' Who (vcl – Ella Johnson) 11. Down Yonder 12. Shake 'em Up 13. Dr Jive Jives 14. I'm Gonna Jump In The River (vcl – Ella Johnson & The Bee Jays) 15. Baby You're Always On My Mind (vcl – Ella Johnson & The Bee Jays) 16. Shufflin' And Rollin'
My recommended purchase is this outstanding CD on the UK Ace label: “Walk ‘Em: The Decca Sessions” (CDCHD 623).
A compilation of 24 tracks in exemplary sound quality, this disc concentrates on the vocal recordings of Buddy Johnson’s band, so you get the best of Ella and a smattering of instrumentals. Times are tough for reissue companies like Ace, so please go out and buy this superlative compilation. This is definitely one of the best CDs Ace have issued.
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Dedicated to REAL R&B, Rock'n'Roll, Blues and Jazz
This is a site dedicated to rockin' 1940s and 1950s music, ripped from vinyl. Some cuts are a bit on the rough side. If you're looking for audio perfection you're on the wrong site baby! If you like what you hear on this site please buy this kind of music. There are many reasonably priced reissues available from web dealers or perhaps from your local record shop, if it still exists. These reissues will be in far better sound quality than the vinyl rips on this site and they will usually have more up to date liner notes and info, so go out and splash a little cash now and again. Help keep those reissue labels going in these difficult times.
No in-print CDs will be posted here. In fact no CDs will be posted here. I will occasionally list recommended purchases to help you hear more from artists featured on the blog.
"The night is the corridor of history, not the history of famous people or great events, but that of the marginal, the ignored, the supressed, the unacknowledged; the history of vice, of error, of confusion, of fear, of want; the history of intoxication, of vainglory, of delusion, of dissipation, of delirium." Luc Sante - Low Life