01. Good Ole Blues - Johnny Otis & His Orchestra
02. Mean Ole Gal - Little Esther
03. I'm Telling You Baby - The Nic Nacs
04. Gonna Have A Merry Christmas - The Nic Nacs
05. You Didn't Want My Love - The Nic Nacs
06. I Found Me A Sugar Daddy - The Nic Nacs
07. I Gotta Guy - Little Esther
01. That's What The Good Book Says - Bobby Nunn & The Robins
02. Rockin' - Bobby Nunn & The Robins
03. Thursday Night Blues - Johnny Otis & His Orchestra
04. Double Crossin' Baby - The Robins
05. I Made A Vow - The Robins
06. All I Do Is Rock - The Robins
07. Key To My Heart - The Robins
This LP was originally posted on Be Bop Wino back in 2007 and now makes a reappearance with new cover scans and a volume boost on the mp3s.
The tracks credited to Johnny Otis and His Orchestra and to Little Esther are a "prequel" to the previous post "All Nite Long" which was a collection of mainly instrumental band tracks recorded by Johnny Otis for Savoy from November 1949 to March 1951. Before signing for Savoy, Johnny recorded a session for the Bihari brothers' Modern label in LA in August 1949. Only four tracks were recorded, two band instrumentals and two vocal tracks which marked the recording debut of Esther Mae Jones (still a few months shy of her 14th birthday), soon to become Little Esther, the R&B sensation of 1950.
Johnny had spotted Little Esther at a talent show at a theatre in Watts and had recruited her to sing in his own club The Barrelhouse. Two other acts featured on this collection, Pete "Guitar" Lewis and The Robins were also featured acts and talent show winners at the club, indeed it is Otis who is credited with being behind the formation of The Robins when he combined a vocal trio, the A-Sharp Trio (Ty Terrell, Billy Richard, Roy Richard) with bass singer Bobby Nunn.
The lineup of the Johnny Otis Orchestra on these four sides is probably similar to that on the November 1949 session for Savoy. Pete Lewis's guitar is prominent on both the instrumentals. The four sides were released on two singles. The first (Modern 20-715) had "Thursday Night Blues" on the A-Side and "I Gotta Gal" on the B-Side which was credited to Johnny Otis and His Orchestra, vocal Esther Jones. The disc was reviewed in Billboard on the 3rd December 1949 as follows -
"Thursday Night Blues - Deep blues mood is achieved in this instrumental which spots a mess of guitar work and some orking which reminds of the Basie band."
"I Gotta Gal - Thrush Esther Jones leaves hardly a note unbent as she weaves her way appealingly thru a bluesy ballad."
In January 1950 "Double Crossing Blues" was released on Savoy 731, credited to "Johnny Otis Quintette, vocals by The Robins and Little Esther." By February the disc was racing up the R&B charts and Little Esther was a big name in the music business. Modern reissued 20-715, still with "Thursday Night Blues" as the A-Side, but with the B-Side now given the correct title "I Gotta Guy" and credited to "Little" Esther with Johnny Otis and His Orchestra.
In April 1950 Modern 20-748 was released with "Mean Ole Gal" on the A Side, credited to "Little" Esther with Johnny Otis and His Orchestra while the Otis instrumental "Good Old Blues" was on the B-Side. The A-Side was reviewed in the April 29th issue of Billboard as follows - "The talented young thrush registers with salty blues job that builds in mood all the way." The B-Side review was brief, to say the least - "Jump instrumental on a jazz kick."
The Modern releases didn't sell much. The Billboard annual survey of top selling R&B artists in July 1950 had Johnny Otis in top spot, Little Esther in second top spot and The Robins in fourth spot. This was almost solely due to sales of Savoy discs with "Mean Ole Gal" way, way behind the big hits like "Double Crossing Blues" and "Mistrusting Blues" (vocals- Little Esther and Mel Walker.) In fact the Robins' high placing was almost entirely due to "Double Crossing Blues." Other artists in the survey included Ivory Joe Hunter in third place ("I Almost Lost My Mind"), Larry Darnell ("For You My Love"), Joe Liggins ("Pink Champagne") and Louis Jordan ("Saturday Night Fish Fry".)
Above: Mel Walker, Johnny Otis and Little Esther. For two out of three it will end in tragedy.
The four tracks credited to The Nic Nacs are in fact by The Robins. They were recorded for the Bihari's RPM label in November 1950. The reason for the subterfuge? The guys were actually under contract to John Dolphin's Recorded In Hollywood label at the time of recording. On "Found Me A Sugar Daddy," "Gonna Have A Merry Christmas" and "I'm Telling You Baby" the group were accompanied by Mickey Champion who sounded remarkably like Little Esther. Indeed "Found Me a Sugar Daddy" was written as an answer record to "Double Crossing Blues."
RPM 313 - "Gonna Have A Merry Xmas" / "Found Me A Sugar Daddy" was released in December 1950. A second RPM disc, RPM 316 - "You Didn't Want My Love" / "Found Me A Sugar Daddy" (again!) was issued in January 1951. The fourth RPM side, "I'm Telling You Baby," remained unissued.
In March 1951 a disc was issued on RPM's parent label, Modern, credited to Bobby Nunn (with the "Robbins") in what appears to have been an attempt to forestall legal action by Recorded In Hollywood while at the same time signalling to fans that here indeed was a big time act! The A-Side of Modern 807 was "Rockin'" while the B-Side, "That's What The Good Book Says," was the first commercial composition by songwriting team Leiber and Stoller. The backing band sounds suspiciously like the Johnny Otis band.
During a large part of 1951/52 The Robins were inactive, although Bobby Nunn had releases on Dootone and Recorded In Hollywood and also recorded several duets with Little Esther for Federal. In late 1952 the group reformed with the addition of new member Grady Chapman. The quintet started recording for RCA in January 1953.
Their last RCA session was in September 1953, with their next session being another for the Biharis in December 1953. Four of the six tracks recorded are featured on this LP. They were originally issued as singles on the Crown subsidiary of Modern - "I Made A Vow" / "Double Crossin Baby (Crown 106) came out in February 1954, while "Key To My Heart" / "All I Do Is Rock" (Crown 120) appeared in August 1954. The session was produced and arranged by Maxwell Davis.
By the time "Key To My Heart" appeared the group, which now had Carl Gardner as a replacement for the temporarily indisposed Grady Chapman, had signed up to Leiber & Stoller's new Spark label and had recorded and released "Riot In Cell Block #9." This was the beginning of the process which would see the group split in September 1955 when Leiber & Stoller joined Atlantic taking their Spark masters with them, along with Bobby Nunn and Carl Gardner who became one half of a new group, The Coasters, while Ty Terrell, Grady Chapman and the Richard brothers continued as The Robins.
But that may well be the subject of a future post!
Above: The Robins in 1953. Back row (L to R): Bobby Nunn and Billy Richard; Middle Row (L to R): Grady Chapman and Roy Richard; Front: Ty Terrell.
For the full lowdown on The Robins (aka The Robbins, aka The Nic Nacs) see this article by Marv Goldberg and Todd Baptista:
Plenty of pics! Who sued who! How many labels can you record for at the same time! The danger of signing any contract! The draft or prison - you decide!