Monday, 14 May 2012

Flying Home Parts 1 and 2 – Tiny Grimes’ Swingtet (Blue Note 524)




Recorded at WOR Studios, NYC on August 14th, 1946. Personnel: Trummy Young (tb); John Hardee (ts); Marlowe Morris (p); Tiny Grimes (g); Jimmy Butts (b); Eddie Nicholson (d)


With thanks to El Enmascarado for his rips and scans from this Blue Note 78 rpm disc.

Before guitarist Lloyd “Tiny” Grimes was issuing those great jump blues singles on the Atlantic label and before he had renamed his group “The Rocking Highlanders”, dressing them in kilts and Tam O’Shanters, and yea, well before he was recording even more jump blues and backing the likes of J.B. Summers, Haji Baba and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on Gotham, our hero was one cool dude on the New York jazz scene.

He was a late starter on the four string guitar, having commenced his musical career on the piano and as a tap dancer. In 1940, not long after taking up the guitar, he joined the already successful jive group The Cats & The Fiddle. From there he joined the illustrious pianist Art Tatum and bass player Slam Stewart to form the Art Tatum Trio. Inevitably his guitar playing improved greatly in such company and in 1944 Tiny formed his own group. While with the trio he had become a fixture on the New York jazz club scene and he was soon picking up recording work with Ike Quebec, Coleman Hawkins and Hot Lips Page.

Tiny’s first session as a leader (for Savoy in September 1944) has gone down in jazz history as Charlie Parker (who had been jamming with Tiny’s band at the Downbeat Club) was on alto sax. To round off the session the group recorded Parker’s “Red Cross”, an instrumental based on the chords of “I Got Rhythm” which is considered an important step in the development of be-bop.

After the Parker session, Tiny was on sessions on various labels with Ike Quebec, Coleman Hawkins, Hot Lips Page, Cozy Cole, Billie Holiday, Earl Bostic, John Hardee and Buck Clayton. In August 1946, Tiny finally got another session as a band leader with jazz label Blue Note. Two singles resulted from the session – the two-parter “Flying Home” and “’C’ Jam Blues” / “Tiny’s Boogie Woogie.”

Tiny Grimes circa 1948 - William Gottlieb collection
Tiny’s move towards R&B started 2 months later when his group backed blues shouter Gatemouth Moore on National, and the trend continued the following year when Tiny’s band backed Walter Brown on a cover of “Open The Door, Richard” on Signature. At the very end of 1947 Tiny’s group started recording for the new Atlantic label, but we shall leave that part of the story for another post!

Listen to “Red Cross” featuring Charlie Parker and “Nobody Knows The Way I Feel This Morning” by Gatemouth Moore with the Tiny Grimes Swingtet -




Red Cross (Savoy 532). Recorded NYC, September 15th, 1944. Personnel: Tiny Grimes (g); Charlie Parker (as); Clyde Hart (p); Jimmy Butts (b); Doc West (d)

Nobody Knows The Way I Feel This Morning (National 4015). Recorded NYC, October 25th, 1946. Personnel: Gatemouth Moore (vcl); Russell Royster (tpt); Herman Flintall (as); John Hardee (ts); Sam Benskin (p); Tiny Grimes (g); Al Raglin (b); Eddie Nicholson (d)

Tiny's tenor sax man - John Hardee c 1947 William Gottlieb collection
Sources:

Dan Kochakian & Dave Penny - Tiny Grimes Discography Part 1, Blues & Rhythm Magazine, No. 228, April 2008

Dan Morgenstern - sleeve notes to “The Changing Face of Harlem: The Savoy Sessions” Savoy Jazz 2LP set, SJL 2208, 1976

Claude Carrière - sleeve notes to “Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy Sessions Volume 1” Savoy LP, WL70520, 1984

Dapper Tiny - NYC c 1948 William Gottlieb collection 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Head Hunter / Cool And Easy – Johnny Otis Orchestra (Regent 1028)



“Head Hunter” was recorded in Los Angeles on the 23rd December, 1949. Probable personnel: Lee Graves, Don Johnson (trumpets); George Washington (trombone); Big Jay McNeely, Lorenzo Holden (tenor saxes); Walter Henry (baritone sax); Johnny Otis (vibes); Devonia Williams (piano); Pete Lewis (guitar); Mario Delagarde (bass); Leard Bell (drums)

“Cool And Easy” was recorded in Los Angeles on the 27th February, 1950. Personnel are as above except James Von Streeter replaces Big Jay McNeely on tenor sax and Redd Lyte is added on vocals.





Many thanks to El Enmascarado for this 78 rpm disc which was released in January 1951. Billboard reviewed “Head Hunter” favourably: “Walkin’ and honkin’ medium blues refers to ‘Pinetop’s BW’ for backdrop riffs. Striding tenor sax and heavy bottom, rocking beat set this lung buster up for at least moderate coin collection.”

The B side was reviewed thus: “Redd Lyte warbles a southern style blues chant with a strong ork backdrop. Fine beat helps throughout.”

Billboard, January 1951
Released initially on Herman Lubinsky’s secondary label Regent, rather than his Savoy label, “Head Hunter” failed to chart, possibly because the Otis band was still riding high in the charts with “Rockin’ Blues.” In 1950 the Johnny Otis Orchestra was the nation’s top selling R&B act mainly thanks to a series of hits featuring the vocal pairing of Little Esther and Mel Walker. “Cupid’s Boogie,” “Mistrustin’ Blues,” “Deceivin’ Blues,” and “Wedding Blues” were all big hits for the duo in 1950, along with “Dreamin’ Blues” and “Rockin’ Blues” (both featuring Mel Walker) and the biggest seller for the band, “Double Crossing Blues” (Little Esther and The Robins).

The band failed to maintain the same level of success in 1951, however, mainly due to disagreements with Herman Lubinsky, the notoriously tight-fisted honcho of Savoy and Regent. In late 1950, Ralph Bass, the Savoy A&R man on the West Coast was lured away by Syd Nathan of King Records who set him up with his own subsidiary label, Federal. One of the first signings made by Bass for the new label was Little Esther who began recording for Federal in late January 1951. Backing for her recordings through 1951 and 1952 was provided by a moonlighting Johnny Otis Orchestra which made their last recordings for Savoy in March 1951 and later signed for Mercury towards the end of the year.

Given such a background it was no surprise that the Johnny Otis Orchestra failed to reach the levels of success it had achieved in 1950. There were only three chart entries for the group in 1951: “Rockin’ Blues” (released in late 1950), “Gee Baby” / “Mambo Boogie” and “All Nite Long.”


“Head Hunter” (a tribute to deejay Hunter Hancock) may have failed to chart but as you can hear, it’s a tremendous instrumental featuring great guitar work from Pete Lewis followed by screeching sax by Big Jay McNeely and all underpinned by driving horns and brass. There is some doubt as to the personnel performing on the number. Both Bruyninckx and the jazzdisco.org website list the band as consisting of only one horn player, Big Jay McNeely, plus vibes, piano, guitar, bass and drums. As you can hear on this post, however, it’s pretty obvious that there is more than one sax plus brass present on the track.

Our benefactor, El Enmascarado, says: “There's certainly more than one saxophone playing on Head Hunter- in the opening seconds, the huge saxophone "power chord" couldn't be less than two, and could easily be three. The lower note of the "power chord" is below the range of the tenor, and is a baritone sax.”

For “probable personnel” on the track, I’ve stuck with the complete band which was present at this session according to jazzdisco.org and ignored their suggestion that only Big Jay plus rhythm played on “Head Hunter.” Of course there is always the possibility that it isn’t Big Jay but James Von Streeter or Lorenzo Holden on lead tenor sax here.

Big Jay McNeely
Big Jay had started his recording career with the Johnny Otis Orchestra on Excelsior in 1948 before going solo on Savoy in late 1948 and then Exclusive in the first half of 1949. However in late 1949 and early 1950 Big Jay is credited on sitting in with the Otis band on several sessions, perhaps because regular Otis honker Von Streeter was becoming unreliable due to “lifestyle issues.” Moreover at the time of this session Big Jay was “between” recording commitments as Exclusive was about to go out of business and he was about a month away from signing with Aladdin. So let’s stick with Big Jay. Judge for yourselves!

Redd Lyte
The B-side “Cool And Easy” is another excellent track with fine blues guitar from Pete Lewis and a fine vocal from shouter Redd Lyte. Both Lewis and Lyte had graduated to the Otis band via the talent show at The Barrelhouse Club where Otis had a long standing residency. All in all this is a first class record with two strong sides. Thanks again to El Enmascarado for his rips from shellac (in very good sound quality) and label scans.

We’re not quite finished yet! Here’s a little bonus streaming audio playlist of Big Jay McNeely’s other tribute to Hunter Hancock – “Hoppin’ With Hunter” recorded for Exclusive in April 1949. Also present is a track recorded by James Von Streeter & His Wig Poppers for the small Scoop label in August 1949. The similarity to Big Jay’s style is remarkable. Keep on honkin’ and bluesin’, Be Bop Winos!



Thursday, 3 May 2012

Blow Mr. Jackson / The Blues - Joe Liggins & His Honeydrippers (Exclusive 244)



Recorded in Los Angeles in the second half of 1946. Released in June 1947. Personnel: Joe Darensbourg (clarinet); Little Willie Jackson (alto sax, baritone sax); James Jackson (tenor sax); Joe Liggins (piano, vocal); Frank Pasley (guitar); Red Callender (bass); Peppy Prince (drums)

Thanks to El Enmascarado and his ever growing mountain of shellac, we can enjoy listening to this 78 rpm disc by Joe Liggins.





“Blow Mr Jackson” was Joe’s big hit of 1947, following in the wake of “The Honeydripper” in 1945 and “I’ve Got A Right To Cry” and “Tanya” in 1946. Exclusive Records was the top selling R&B independent label in 1947 thanks in part to Joe’s record sales but mainly thanks to Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers who had two bigger hits with “New Orleans Blues” and “Merry Christmas Baby.”

Billboard, 16th August 1947
Exclusive was the 5th biggest R&B selling label of 1947, with the top four places being taken by major labels Decca, Capitol, Mercury and RCA Victor. Decca’s domination was largely due to the enormous popularity of Louis Jordan whose “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” / “Let The Good Times Roll” was the year’s top selling R&B record. Other big sellers for Louis in 1947 were “Boogie Woogie Blue Plate,” “Jack, You’re Dead,” “Texas And Pacific,” “Open The Door, Richard!” and “Early In The Mornin’”. Lionel Hampton and The Mills Brothers were also successful for Decca.

Capitol’s big selling artists were Julia Lee, Nellie Lutcher and Nat “King” Cole. Mercury’s R&B success was mostly due to Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s “Old Maid Boogie” / “Kidney Stew Blues” while RCA Victor had the Count Basie version of “Open The Door, Richard!” and “Hawk’s Boogie” by Erskine Hawkins to thank for their position as 4th top selling R&B label.

Major label dominance of R&B sales would come to an end in 1948 when King became the top selling label thanks to big sales for Bull Moose Jackson, Lonnie Johnson and Wynonie Harris.

Thanks once more to El Enmascarado for providing the opportunity to post this snapshot from the rapidly developing R&B scene of the late 1940s.