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Saturday, 24 March 2012

Jesse Allen, Blues Singer

In May 2010 I posted an LP issued by Pathe Marconi in the 1980s, “Rockin’ and Rollin’” by Jesse Allen. The disc which had been donated to the blog by regular contributor Big Al consisted of 12 tracks recorded in New Orleans for Aladdin and Imperial between 1951 and 1954. Although none of the tracks had been hits back in the 1950s, there was some very good blues / R&B material in the compilation.

Pathe Marconi LP from the 1980s
According to the sleeve notes, very little was known about Jesse Allen. There were conflicting stories about where he came from, with Dave Bartholomew being sure that he came from Jacksonville, Florida, while Tommy Ridgley thought that he hailed from either Georgia or Alabama and Bobby Mitchell was under the impression that he was from Mississippi. The author of the sleeve notes, Jeff Hannusch, didn’t know what happened to Jesse after he cut his last record around 1960.

Since posting that LP I have heard from Jesse Allen’s daughter and I can now add some background to his story. So let’s take a closer look at the life and music of a bluesman who may not have achieved stardom but who has left us a small legacy of fine recordings.

Jesse Leroy Allen was born on the 25th of September, 1925, in Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida. He was the seventh of eight children. He joined the Navy at a young age and also from a young age developed a love for music and singing. As you can hear from the sound samples in this article he had a strong singing voice suited to both slow blues and rocking numbers. He never learned to read music but was a self taught guitarist, playing by ear and learning licks from fellow musicians as he picked up work in small time clubs and bars starting in Dade and Broward counties, Florida. Over the years his club work would take him and his family to Amarillo, Texas, to New Mexico and even to White Plains, New York.

His first recording session was for Aladdin Records in New Orleans on October 13th, 1951. This was in fact the first New Orleans session held by the LA based label. The “Rockin’ and Rollin’” LP includes all four tracks from this session. Two of the tracks, “Gonna Move away From Town,” and “Rock This Morning” were released on Aladdin single 3129 in late April, 1952.

The record was reviewed in Billboard on the 26th April. “Gonna Move Away From Town – strong blues vocal by Allen is given added excitement by very effective instrumental backing. Guitar is especially fine.” There was rather fainter praise for “Rock This Morning” as Billboard opined: “Standard blues fare lacks real excitement tho the lyrics help. Should catch some coin.”

The two other sides recorded at the session, “Shake ‘em up Baby” and “Boogie Woogie Mama,” were not released. Jesse Allen’s daughter is adamant that he is not the vocalist on these sides and indeed they just don’t sound like him at all. I don’t know who the singer is, but he is obviously trying to emulate Roy Brown. You can hear these sides on the “Rockin’ and Rollin’” download.

Listen to Aladdin 3129 here:

“Gonna Move Away From Town” / “Rock This Morning” was not the first Jesse Allen single to be released. On December 8th, 1951 he recorded two sides for the Coral label: “My Suffering” and “Let’s Party” which were released on Coral 65078 at the beginning of February 1952.

They were reviewed in Billboard on the 9th of February 1952: “My Suffering – Blues ditty gets a solid chant from Allen with a neat assist from the combo backing him. Let’s Party – Routine re-write of “Hey-Baba-Re-Ba” makes for nothing more than an okay handclapper.”

Listen to Coral 65078 here:

Jesse’s next recording session was for Bayou, a subsidiary of Lew Chudd’s Imperial label. Supervised by Dave Bartholomew in New Orleans, the session (probably held in 1952 or early 1953) yielded the single “Dragnet” / “Take It Easy” (Bayou 011). “Dragnet” with its dramatic opening chords and Joe Friday style voiceover, was an attempt to cash in on the popular TV series of the same name. Unfortunately such blatant “borrowing” led to legal problems.

Under the heading “TV Themes Stir Indie Diskings” the Billboard edition of the 11th of July 1953 reported: “Meanwhile attorneys for the TV program ‘Dragnet’ forced Lew Chudd’s Bayou label to withdraw from circulation the Jesse Allen satirical waxing of the show’s theme. The attorneys, Pacht, Tannenbaum and Ross also said they are checking Modern Records’ ‘Dragnet Blues.’”

Listen to Bayou 011 here:

In August 1953, Jesse Allen had his first recording session for Imperial. He recorded four duets with Audrey Walker, two of which were released on Imperial 5256 – “Gonna Tell My Mama” and “Gotta Call That Number.” Two numbers, “Dumb Bunny” and “You Can Believe That” were not released.

Imperial 5256 was reviewed in the Billboard edition of October the 10th, 1953. “Gonna Tell My Mama” received a lukewarm review – “The boy-girl team sounds good here, but the material is just a bit too ordinary.” The review of “Gotta Call That Number” was also less than enthusiastic – “Again the material is only fair. Moreover, the gal is far less effective on this side.”

Listen to Imperial 5256 here:

Although the disc with Audrey Walker failed to sell, Imperial had enough faith in Jesse Allen to call him back to the studio for a solo recording session in early 1954. Backed by a line up of New Orleans’ finest session musicians, Jesse cut four sides. “Sittin’ and Wonderin’” and “I Wonder What’s the Matter” were released in June 1954 on Imperial 5285. With Lee Allen and Alvin “Red” Tyler on saxophones and underpinned by a rhythm section of Edward Frank (piano), Frank Fields (bass) and Earl Palmer (drums), these sides were fine examples of Crescent City R&B.

“Sittin’ and Wonderin’” was an answer record to Lloyd Price’s 1952 hit “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” while “I Wonder What’s The Matter” was a slow burning blues with Jesse in particularly good voice.

The other two sides from the session were released in September 1954 on Imperial 5303.The A side, “The Things I’m Gonna Do,” was another answer record, this time to Guitar Slim’s big hit “The Things I Used To Do.” The B side, “What A Party” was a great rocker which borrowed the tune of Clyde McPhatter’s “Money Honey.”

The record received a good review in Billboard on the 4th September. Of “The Things I’m Gonna Do” the reviewer said: “Allen promises to reform and look for a true love in a good chant job above a familiar instrumental riff. The mood of the blues is set effectively.” And “What A Party” had another positive review: “Rhythm blues about a wild shindig manages to work in the titles of a number of past disk clicks in the lyrics. Should do okay in the coin boxes.”

Unfortunately neither of Jesse’s releases did okay in the coin boxes or anywhere else. However, despite the lack of sales Imperial persevered with Jesse. He was back in the New Orleans recording studio on September 18th 1954 to cut “Rockin’ and Rollin’” and “I Love You So.”

“Rockin’ and Rollin’” was an excellent cover version of Lil' Son Jackson’s 1951 hit while “I Love You So” was an appealing pleader. Released on Imperial 5315, the sides suffered a similar fate to Jesse’s previous discs and failed to chart despite their musical excellence. It may be that the lack of originality in releasing answer discs and a cover version of a recent hit prevented the Imperial releases from garnering enough sales to chart.

You can listen to the 3 Imperial releases here:

Jesse didn't record again until 1958. This time round he cut two sides for Johnny Vincent's Vin label, backed again by Lee Allen and Red Tyler on saxes with James Booker on piano and Roland Cook on bass.

“Goodbye Blues” is an excellent catchy rocker which lopes along merrily. Jesse’s voice is extremely effective against a background of riffing horns. “Baby Say You Will” is a slow pleader with Jesse providing another appealing vocal. The sides were released on Vin 1002 but again there was no chart action.

Listen to Vin 1002 here:

Jesse’s last recordings were made for the Jimmy Liggins owned Duplex label which released occasional R&B and soul records between 1958 and 1978. He cut two sides in Fayetteville, Tennessee in 1959. Released on Duplex 9003, “Love You Baby” (aka “Love Me Baby”) and “After A While” were memorably unruly wild blues rockers with screaming vocals and clanging guitar soaring over a muddy chaotic mix of horns, piano and drums. It was marvellously uninhibited stuff and a great end to an intermittent recording career.

Listen to Duplex 9003 here:

Although Jesse’s recording career was over, he continued to play the bars, clubs and juke joints. He and his family moved around to wherever his music career took him. In the early 1960s he was in Amarillo, Texas, then in 1964 he was back in Tallahassee. In 1965 he was in White Plains, New York before moving to Miami in 1966 or 1967 where he stayed for the rest of his life.

He developed heart complications and passed away in Miami on the 14th of September, 1976. Almost up until his death he was still working in clubs in Florida, in Perrine, in Midway (the Club 40) and in Tallahassee (the Red Bird Café).

The Red Bird Cafe, Tallahassee. Photograph - Florida Memory
The recorded legacy of Jesse Allen may be considered to be scant when compared to that of the many R&B stars who achieved greater fame, yet some of his recordings were deemed to be good enough to be re-released on an LP as part of the French Pathe Marconi’s reissue programme back in the 1980s. A few of his recordings continued to resurface occasionally on obscure LPs and CDs in the Savage Kick and Stompin’ series and more recently all of his records were rounded up on the Official CD “Little Walkin’ Willie Meets Jesse Allen.”

Official CD - hard to find nowadays
However, music was not his most important or most lasting legacy. He is survived by one daughter, eight grandchildren, twenty-three great grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter (at the time of writing). His daughter describes him as “a great guy with lots of love and compassion for everyone. He was ‘everyday people!’”

With thanks to Joanne.

Other information sources – Billboard magazine (available on Google books); Florida Memory website; sleevenotes to “Rockin’ and Rollin’” by Jeff Hannusch; Bruyninckx Discography.


jim said...

What a great, informative post.
Thank you. And thanks to Jesses' daughter for sharing her fathers' story.

Anonymous said...

Great job! Lots of history here.

Anonymous said...

Rock n roll.

Cheers and thanks to Ms. Allen.


Dave Penny said...

Wonderful post, BW!
The "other" vocalist heard on the first session is James Gilchrist, who had a release on the Bay'ou subsidiary in 1953 as Jimmie Gil.

Jordan H said...

I've actually read around that Jesse Allen also recorded under the name Sly Williams, responsible for these killer electric blues:

boogiewoody said...

Thanks for the info on the "other vocalist", Dave. Jordan - I've listened to the Youtube links and I don't think it's Jesse. Has anyone else followed the links and what do you think?


boogiewoody said...

Jimmie Gil - Gather Round / North Wind on Bayou 006, 1953 -

VERY Roy Brown influenced! Both sides posted by "9thWardJukebox" who obviously loves New Orleans R&B.


joanne said...

To my knowledge, my dad only used his official name on all of his recordings,as well as that same name on a small wkly radio slot he "deejayed" in amarillo, tx. His official name was always used. Probably because he always wanted his "15 min. of fame"(smile)

Anonymous said...

He actually had 8 grandchildren. Five from Aunt Joanne and 3 from my mom Dorothy Lee.

boogiewoody said...

Thank you very much for the info - I've changed the post tosay 8 grandchildren.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this I never heard any of my grandfather's music so this amazing. My mom Dorothy shared a lot about him being a musician but to hear his voice is amazing I never had the chance to meet him.