“Rhythm and blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll” Examining The Catalysts Of The Fabulous 1940s
By: Todd Baptista
“Rhythm and blues had a baby and they called it rock and roll”, Little Richard quipped at the Concert for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1995. In this article, we cast a spotlight on a baker’s dozen of Fabulous ’40s catalysts that facilitated the birth.
1. Louis Jordan (1908-1975)
In terms of national R&B chart success, the Brindley, Arkansas-born singer and alto saxophonist ranks #1 for the years 1942-1949, with an amazing 50 charted hits including 18 crossover smashes. His #18 #1s between 1942 and 1950 sat atop the charts for an astounding 113 weeks.
At the tail end of the big band era, Jordan excelled with a small combo of musicians, his Tympani Five, infusing his own blend of jazz, boogie woogie, and blues with unique comedic stylings and amusing lyrics. Jordan also made proficient use of promotional “soundies”, an early version of the music video which further enhanced his popularity. Ever wonder where Chuck Berry got his famous “Johnny B. Goode” riff? Listen to guitarist Carl Hogan’s intro on Jordan’s 1946 #1 hit, “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman”.
“Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie”, “Saturday Night Fish Fry”, “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”, “Caldonia”, “Buzz Me”.
Geffen’s Number Ones compiles Jordan’s 18 1942-50 R&B chart-toppers in one package and is a good starting point. The single disc overviews The Best Of Louis Jordan and Saturday Night Fish Fry offer a few more tracks for your buck and present a nice overview of Jordan’s output. If you really want a sense of the man and his music, pick up JSP’s 131-track 5-CD set spanning 1938-1950. With sound equal or superior to the MCA discs, it’s a steal at $25.
Idem has a DVD featuring 35 of Jordan’s classic soundies but disappointingly the audio and video are not in sync! Save your money until someone does this one right!
2. The Ink Spots (Bill Kenny, Deek Watson, Charlie Fuqua, Hoppy Jones, et. al.)
Between 1939 and 1950, this Indianapolis quartet placed 50 songs on the national pop and or R&B charts with 20 Top 5s and six #1s.
Despite a handful of personnel changes, the group’s signature sounds, the introductory four-bar chord progression from guitarist Charlie Fuqua (I - #idim - ii7 - V7), Kenny’s soaring tenor lead, Watson’s vaudeville-era comedic flairs and Jones’s “honey chile” bass recitations were wildly popular and influential.
“If I Didn’t Care”, “The Gypsy”, “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)”, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” (with Ella Fitzgerald).
MCA’s two-disc The Anthology, issued on CD in 1998, is the ideal starting point. Want more? Jasmine’s The Golden Age of The Ink Spots: The Best of Everything delivers 101 tracks on four full-length CDs for less than $30.
3.Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers/Charles Brown (1922-1999)
To the uninitiated, this may seem an odd choice, but between 1946 and 1949, the Los Angeles-based Three Blazers- guitarist Moore, bassist Eddie Williams, and singer-pianist Brown hit the best seller list 14 times. Striking out on his own in 1948, Brown amassed seven R&B Top 15 hits in the decade’s final year alone, including “Trouble Blues” which topped the charts for 15 weeks.
Influenced by the jazz piano styling and soft tones of Nat “King” Cole, the classically-trained Texas native offered listeners an alternative to the blues shouters and jumping combos of the era; slow, mellow, and precise. A young Ray Charles was one of Brown’s devotees.
“Driftin’ Blues”, “Merry Christmas Baby”, “Trouble Blues”, “Get Yourself Another Fool”, “Black Night”.
The Three Blazers’ 1940s hits were recorded for a handful of labels including Philo, Exclusive, Modern, and RCA Victor while Brown, who recorded prolifically into the late 1990s, waxed most of his classic solo sides for Aladdin and King. Translation- a lot of CDs! The Best of Charles Brown: Driftin’ Blues gathers the latter tunes, but also includes the signature title track from his Blazers days. One of the best Blazers-Brown cross-licensed efforts is still the 17-track Route 66 LP, Let’s Have A Ball, issued in 1999.