Boogie Fever no. 7-10

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Bea Booze: "See See Rider Blues" [January 16, 1943]
I don't suppose when the singer was in her prime that she was advertised as "The Temptress Whose Name Looks Like a Typo," but she could have been--when I started bearing down on the songs for this project, I'd assumed it was one, but lo, there she is on AMG as "Beatrice Booze." (A pseudonym, obviously, but so was "Rick James," so um yay. I have no idea whether she was a temptress, either, for that matter.) No bio, though, and almost no discography--she was a singer with Andy Kirk's band, which would make him the first repeat winner of the then-Harlem Hit Parade top-dog sweepstakes. That's the most notable thing about this pleasant number; Booze isn't much of a presence, the backing isn't, either, and at this point the title trope probably has more value for historians than actual listeners. 6

Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five: “What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)” [January 23, 1943]
Our second repeat winner . . . if you count the fact that the last song was sung by Bea Booze and that this song is about booze. (Rimshot!) (Sorry.)

This was Louis Jordan's first number one single; it occupied the spot for a single week. Before the end of 1950, there would be 17 more that, together, would top the R&B charts for, deep breath, 106 weeks. (And that's just the number ones. Indeed, the B-side of "Sober," "The Chicks I Pick Are Slender, Tender and Tall," went to number 10.) There's a simple reason for this: Almost nobody--black or white, pop or blues, jazz or hillbilly, old or young, male or female--grasped basic recordmaking--intro, hooks, tempo, delivery, solo placement, sound effects, call-and-response, the works--better than Jordan in the '40s. (Please note the ambiguity of that sentence's phrasing. I actually meant that almost nobody in the '40s was as good at it as Jordan, but there are lots of times I don't think anyone has ever done it better, seriously.) Last year, after feeling a bit burned by a 2CD MCA anthology whose programming sounded lumpy to me when I tried to play it whole, I decided to just pick up the 20-song best-of the label had issued in 1975 to go along with my 18-song Original Decca Recordings Vol. 2. Instead, I walked out of the Union Square Virgin Megastore with Jivin' with Jordan, a 4CD box on the great British reissue label Proper. I rationalized my decision by telling myself I'd make myself a CD-R of the 20-tracker from it if I wasn't satisfied. Once home, I opened it up and put in disc one--I figured I'd just stop listening as soon as I got bored--something that, for four straight discs, didn't happen once.

This is in large part because Jordan was, no two ways about it, funny. "What's the Use of Gettin' Sober" starts out as a barely post-vaudeville (hell, barely post-minstrelsy, if David Wondrich's amazing Stomp and Swerve is accurate) spoken back-and-forth between husky-voiced Jordan and . . . someone (one of the Tympani Five, obviously, but the notes of the box don't say whom) answering Jordan's bullying ("Stop drinking so much . . . shut up, boy") in full-on high-scratchy-clowning voice ("Y-y-yes, pappy!"), but he disappears after the first refrain--after Jordan turns to the lyric and starts singing about himself. After a relatively straight verse and refrain, he turns the comedy back on, slyer this time--you can practically hear him smacking his lips on the lines, "I got me a pint 'bout half past four/Felt so good I went out and got me some more," and the way he slightly slurs the whole thing (along with Eddie Roane's trumpet comping) gives it a perfect closing-time feel. 8

King Cole Trio: “That Ain’t Right” [January 30, 1943]
Partly because of his daughter's posthumous ministrations and partly because of television, which made him even more popular than his records already had (which was plenty--without double-checking it seems safe to say Cole was the most popular black performer of the '40s after Louises Armstrong and Jordan), and which kept him in late-night advertisement rotation well into the '80s (the first I heard of Cole was through spots for 1-800-number comps), not to mention his being the semi-official Voice of Christmas and all (who wasn't Bing, I mean), Cole is the best-remembered black musician of his era--by which I mean both the one whose work is best known into the present day and whose work has been the least transformed into a caricature. That's mostly his '50s stuff, though, when he really was, for the most part, as creamy-smooth and dreamily romantic as the late-night ads remind us. His '40s stuff was different. He was primarily a pianist who became a singer, rather than a vocalist who tickled the ivories, as he was later known for; and though he could jump, even then his touch was more sexily light than rock-you-all-night-long driving. He was an urbane blues singer, not a shouter, not even really a hollerer--a crooner who could turn on the raw edge in his voice at will. On "That Ain't Right," he works some rasp into his pleas, but he never sounds hoarse. He's in control. If anything, on this song he sounds like a parlor-friendlier predecessor of Chuck Berry; compare the way Cole enunciates the opening "Baby, baby, baby/What is the matter with you?" or the long A he uses on the line "Taking all my money, having yourself a ball." He's a bit mannered, which is part of the charm. 7

Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra: “Apollo Jump” [February 13, 1943]
Kind of drags for a "jump," but it's busy enough for the Apollo, I suppose. Nice enough head/riff, though I suspect more was made of it when it was played out and/or quoted by others (or by Millinder's men themselves) in other contexts. Pay close attention and the structure builds and builds in a nice way, but sometimes an instrumental's just an instrumental. 6