Archive for the ‘Los Angeles blues’ Category

Huggy Boy and Dolphin’s of Hollywood

April 9, 2008

Billy Ward - Huggy Boy - John DolphinDisc jockey Huggy Boy (RN: Dick Hug, B: Canton, OH; June, 1928) arrived in L.A. in about 1945, signed on the air over KRKD radio out of the window of the Dolphin’s of Hollywood Record Shop on Vernon Ave., “20 magic steps west of Central Ave” in late 1951 or early 1952.

Quickly influential, Hugg maintained a six-decade r&b DJ career in Los Angeles, and became a particular favorite of Mexican fans by catering to their cruising scene with midnight broadcasts over both U.S. and Mexican border stations. He also had at least one record label, Caddy, and was invested in John Dolphin’s Cash label, sold mail order oldies over the air and operated a record shop in Hollywood with Wolfman Jack in the 1960s.

Competing with Hugg was Hunter Hancock on KFVD and various other DJs on mainly low power stations on the upper reaches of the AM dial. Being white and so visible in a Negro district, Huggy Boy caused some confusion and even resentment on the part of the city’s all-white power structure.

From Mike Davis, “City of Quartz,” “While ‘rumblin’’ (usually non-lethally) along this East-West socioeconomic divide, or sometimes in extension of intramural athletic rivalries, the Black gangs of the 1950s had to confront the implacable (often lethal) racism of Chief Parker’s LAPD. Under previous police chiefs, Central Avenue’s boisterous interracial night scene had simply been shaken down for tribute; under Parker – a puritanical crusader against ‘race mixing’ – nightclubs and juke joints were raided and shuttered.

In 1954, John Dolphin, owner of Los Angeles premier R&B record store near the corner of Vernon & Central, organized a protest of 150 Black business people against an ongoing ‘campaign of intimidation and terror’ directed at interracial trade.

According to Dolphin, Newton Division police had gone so far as to blockade his store, turning away all white customers and warning them ‘it was too dangerous to hang around Black neighborhoods.’”

Linda Hopkins first recordings

January 27, 2008

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Linda Hopkins (RN: Malinda Helen Mathews, B: New Orleans, 1925) was in San Francisco when she recorded “Doggin’ Blues” and “Warning Blues,” and at about the time Little Esther had left Johnny Otis for the Federal label. Hopkins had already filled in for Little Esther on club dates where underage Esther was not allowed to perform.
“Little Esther was 13-years-old and at the time, I was 26,” Hopkins recalled. “She heard me singing at Slim Jenkins’ Nightclub in Oakland. She was headlining with the Johnny Otis band and had a big name. She sneaked into the cocktail evening show and demanded that Herman Lubinsky that she had heard this lady sing, ‘I want you to put this lady on record’.”

“I was doing Bessie Smith songs and making up my own songs. I was just starting in show business. I used to do a lot of church work in Richmond and I was used to handling kids in church, teaching them how to sing gospel songs. The church didn’t want me to be over the kids, so it turned me out. The deacon claimed he saw me in a club. It wasn’t so.”

“This disc jockey, Jumpin’ George Oxford noticed on a Sunday morning that there wasn’t no kids there to sing in their time slot on the radio. He inquired about it and that’s when I told him they had a board meeting and told me I wasn’t fit to work with kids.”

“He was very happy, told me to go on an audition at a nightclub, he and his wife took me to Slim Jenkins, whoever won first prize could sing with Helen Humes. Slim Jenkins heard me sing and just hired me and I worked my opening night with Helen Humes. Little Esther decided I was going to be Linda Hopkins, Malinda Helen Mathews wasn’t going to be my stage name.

“I never toured with Johnny Otis. He was the nicest man. I really wanted to tour with him, he treated me like a daughter.”

Leaving Savoy, Hopkins recorded “Get Off My Wagon” on Forecast, a label associated with Crystalette.

Beginnings of John Dolphin

September 8, 2007

Dolphins Of Hollywoodimages.jpegDJ Forrest “War” Perkins, a partner in Roy Milton’s Miltone label, acquired the Mosby & Spikes record shop, perhaps L.A.’s oldest black-owned retail outlet, which had been at 4011 S. Central Ave. since 1929. Perkins also ran a pressing plant, and record dealer John Dolphin bought directly from him, instead of dealing with distributors. When Perkins moved to the Philippines in about 1948, he sold the shop to John Dolphin.In 1948, John Dolphin’s shop was located at 4105 S. Central Ave., across from the Elks on the east side of Central. Dolphin then moved to the old DWP building on Vernon west of Central, and the Muslims bought Dolphin’s old property there. Dolphin then opened his world famous Dolphin’s Of Hollywood Records at 1065 E. Vernon Ave., next door to the existing site of the Murray Record Shop at 1055 E. Vernon Ave., known to be just west of S. Central Ave. in 1947.At the time, War Perkins ran a pressing plant, which had pressed the Roy Milton/Miltone series of labels, and according to Andy Williamson, he and Dolphin would buy directly from Perkins, instead of dealing with distributors. There was also the Modern pressing plant at 37th near Main where Dolphin would buy 78s or 45s for a dime. After Dolphin moved in 1950, his Central Ave. site was acquired by the Nation Of Islam. Even later, a nearby property was occupied by the Black Panthers.

The Recorded In Hollywood (RIH) label was begun in 1950 by John Dolphin, owner of the Dolphin’s Of Hollywood record shop at Vernon (“20 magic steps west of Central Ave.”) to both promote his shop and to make money on the occasional hit, of which he had several. A few of these early RIH releases were by jazz cocktail-hour pianist Errol Garner, but most were of the rhythm and blues, blues and harder jazz genres. In two years (1950 and 1951), close to a total of 200 RIH 78s were issued.The first few RIH 78s (no 45s were issued in these earliest years), which were generally available only at the store, were credited to gospel groups like the Heavenly Bound Gospel Singers, the Roberta Martin Singers and the WMA Soul Stirrers Of Houston Texas. Though on a very early RIH pressing, Roberta Martin’s “Only A Look” was released in 1951.

The debut of Scat Man Crothers on RIH was in 1951 under the name Scat Man Carothers with Riff Charles. “Elaine” used deathless rhymes like “Elaine, get off that train” and sounding for all the world like “Brown Gal” the Brown Dots, later much better known as “Bad Boy” by the Jive Bombers. The flipside, ”Man, Have I Got Troubles” had much more prominent guitar, but with a novelty-style vocal. Scat Man’s next, “I Like Your Mother Better” b/w “I’d Rather Stay In The House With The Mouse” by the Jackson Trio. In 1953, he was Scat Man Caruthers on “Waiting For My Baby” b/w “Easy Money,” a pari-mutuel adventure with a racetrack fan fare opening.After “Easy Money,” things get confusing. On the earliest RIH release to be issued on 45 rpm at the point of release, Scat Man Crothers was spelled correctly. Backed by the Red Callender Sextet, “Papa (I Don’t Treat That Little Girl Mean)” was an “answer” record to Ruth Brown’s 1953 Atlantic label mega-hit, “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean,” even though the catalog issue number placed it immediately after “Elaine.” Trusting the issue number would have meant it was released in about 1951, or a year and a half prior to the record it answered.Most likely what happened was that the RIH label had label paper left-over from the Callender-backed Imogene Meyers 78rpm flop, “Tonight Of All Nights” b/w “How Come, Baby,” an earlier example of RIH 142 issued in 1951. Alternatively, was Dolphin deviously using old label paper in an ill-advised attempt to establish his version of the material as the original, about a year and a half before Brown’s release?As Callender was featured name on many sequential 78s, it’s not out of the question that Callender’s name would have been pre-printed on many labels with only the vocal artist and title remaining to be added, thus forever confusing discographers. The flipside of the Crothers’ disc was Red Callender’s “Till I Waltz Again With You,” probably on labels printed up at the same time as that rash of Callender issues from 1951. All of that indicates that another side like the Meyers was removed as the Crothers disc was considered a sure fire hit. Didn’t hit, mattered little to Dolphin. The pairing of Crothers and Callender moonlighted on the new Aladdin subsidiary, Intro on “A-Gruntin’ And A-Groanin’,” combining R&B with professional wrestling, which was just getting some high profile popularity on TV out of the Olympic Auditorium in L.A. After Crothers next, “King Berman’s Stomp” b/w “Just Like Two Drops Of Water,” the Intro label became an outlet for a weird mixture of mainly western and pop music. J

Red Callender also backed the first RIH artist to chart nationally. Jimmy Grissom (B: Leland, Ms ) hit with “Once There Lived A Fool” in late Feb. 1951, apparently selling more than twenty thousand copies during the first week of release. Though it wasn’t a chart burner, “Once There Lived A Fool” was covered by Dusty Brooks & His Tones on Columbia, Charles Brown on Aladdin, Big John Greer on RCA, Savannah Churchill & the Striders on Regal, Anita O’Day on London, Jimmy Witherspoon on Modern, Tommy Edwards on MGM and Tony Bennett on Columbia. Only Grissom’s original charted, at #7 R&B on the national level.Witherspoon recalled that Grissom original. He had a hit record and we covered it on Modern Records with the same instrumentation, Maxwell Davis on both of them. Modern had distribution, Dolphin didn’t. The Bihari brothers hired Maxwell Davis as musical director. He couldn’t record with John Lee Hooker, because John Lee made 36 bars or 8 bars or 4 bars.” Grissom’s next, “I Lost My Inspiration” b/w “Once In Love Blues” was twice issued on RIH, then the b-side came out on the Federal label, b/w “I’ll Still Keep Loving You,” originally the b-side of Grissom’s only “Once There Lived A Fool,” Grissom’s only RIH hit, one of about 40 recordings King/Federal acquired from RIH. However King/Federal issued only a handful.Grissom’s recorded “The Hole In The Wall” b/w “Walkin’ Blues” and “So Help Me I Love You” before going to a more major role with the Duke Ellington Orch., In April 1955 Grissom returned to Dolphin’s newly formed Cash label with “I Had To Find Out For Myself,” a Leon Rene composition and a remake of the Drifters release from 1950 b/w “Listen Pretty Baby.”

“Homesick Blues” was the first record by Alvin Smith (B: Monroe, La., Aug. 1926) & His Clouds Of Rhythm with Que Martyn, tenor sax. Martyn was the credited artist on the flipside, “Calypso Jump.” Smith went on to record for Music City out of Berkeley in 1954 and with the Angels on Irma out of Oakland in 1957, Gedinson’s and Art-Tone in 1962. Smith returned to L.A. in the late 1960s to record for Modern and Kent labels.

Gene Forrest with the Eddie Beale Fourtet Gene Forrest (b: San Antonio, TX; Sept. 3, 1931) arrived in L.A. in early 1940s, went to school at St. Patrick’s. First recorded.with the Eddie Beale Fourtet on “It Was You” b/w “Everybody’s Got Money,” a rather ordinary urban blues.“That was the thing for singers at the time,” said Forrest. “I started as a single. I was just walking down the street one day and I went in John Dolphin’s office. I asked him if he’d record me. He cut me. I was scouting around at the time. I didn’t know the business too much. First record I did pretty well. That was the only songs, just whatever came to mind.” The session was conducted by pianist Monroe Tucker, who Forrest described as “a cripple, very deformed. He couldn’t walk, you had to carry him when you’d go.” According to Forrest, Tucker played the introduction, but Forrest backed himself on piano.Other artists would wait their turn during sessions. “A lot of us were in line. I didn’t have no business with them.” Forrest recalled that Dolphin “took advantage of you. He wouldn’t want to do business. He would outtalk the devil, if the devil would listen. He was fast-talking before you could tie your shoes. He was so arrogant, he would treat you like dirt, try to ride you in the background, stick that cigar in your face for emphasis. He usually worked out of any back alley he could find. I did my session at Jefferson and Main, right over an iron company.”Forrest was also the first local act to perform at the brand new 5/4 Ballroom at 54th and Broadway in South L.A. Forrest next recorded with the Freddy Simmons Quintet on the slightly more riveting “Thrill Your Soul” b/w a Freddy Simon instrumental, “Hollywood Bound.” As the Gene Forrest Combo, he recorded “Picture On The Wall” b/w “Little Children,” about Forrest’s children. “They were little enough to have me sing, ‘come to your mama and papa.’”After Dolphin, Forrest left RIH “Aching and Crying” at RPM. “It was a random thing. You go to one company, they’ll cut something. No special contract. They liked the song, I’ll cut it, a hustle and bustle thing. I played at that time with Chuck Higgins, so he was probably on it, blowing tenor sax.Higgins backed Forrest with the Four Feathers on Aladdin, then Forrest hooked up with Eunice Levy as half of Gene & Eunice, whose “Ko Ko Mo” went straight to the top in 1955.

The Robins “Double Crossin’ Blues” 1950

August 8, 2007

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The duet between Little Esther & the Robins set the R&B style for the first half of the 1950s with female vocalists dueting with R&B groups.  The breakthrough release, ”Double Crossing Blues,” credited to Little Esther (RN: Esther Mae Jones, b: TX, December, 23, 1935) & the Robins zoomed to the top of the r&b charts in March 1950. It was known to record buyers of the day as “Lady Bears,” because of the following lyrics between Little Esther and Bobby Nunn.

Esther: You belong out in the forest fighting a big old grizzly bear.
Bobby: How come you ain’t out in the forest?
Esther: I’m a lady!
Bobby: They got lady bears out there!

In black parlance of the day, as “lady bears” was a reference to an ugly and sexually aggressive women, the song became a subject of controversy, which certainly didn’t hurt its sales. Written by L.A. songwriter Jessie Mae Robinson, Johnny Otis added the lady bears dialog taken from Apus and Estrelita, a black comedy act. At first, Savoy owner Herman Lubinsky didn’t like the dub, but when WAAT DJ Bill Cook (who recorded for Savoy in 1951) out of Newark heard it, he played it on his show that evening, and the response was positive. As Lubinsky only had that song, he had to find an instrumental filler for the b-side. The first pressings used an instrumental credited to the Beale Street Gang, one of several flip sides over the years. ”Double Crossing Blues” became the first 45 rpm record pressed by Savoy.“When they released that stuff, it sold 300,000 copies in New York City alone in several days,” said Terrell.According to a lawsuit filed after the song hit, “Johnny Otis had asked her to write a song for a recording session,” said Jessie Mae Robinson’s daughter June Lynch. “Some of the stuff about the bear out in the jungle was added in the studio. The song was ‘Double Crossin’ Blues’.”

When the record listed Otis as composer, Robinson sued. According to the L.A. Sentinal of Mar. 30 1950, she was awarded an out-of-court settlement, because her song had been appropriated and recorded by “a local drummer.”Asked about this, Otis told Bill Millar in “The Coasters,” “Jessie Mae Robinson had submitted a song to me called ‘What’s A Matter Baby,’ a little blues song without about four verses. I’d also written an untitled song, which was based on an old comedy act, Apus and Estralita, which I’d seen years ago in vaudeville. In the middle of their act, she’d say to him, ‘you should be out in the forest fightin’ a grizzly bear,’ and he’d say, ‘how come you ain’t out…’ and she’d butt in with ‘I’m a lady,’ and he’d say, ‘Hell, they got lady bears out there.’ And the audience would crack up, see. So I started to write a song. I forgot how it went, but I had two verse, including that catch-phrase. My eyes fell on Jessie Mae’s song lying on my bed and I though, Jeez, if I took those two verses and tagged them on, we’d have a great song. I called Jessie and she said, ‘go ahead. We’ll be collaborators’.”

“When we made ‘Lady Bears’ with Johnny Otis, we learned four songs, put the music to it, got a date from Ralph Bass, went to the studio for four hours,” said Terrell. “We always had some time left over, you could tell they liked the way we did it, put a bottle of wine, ‘Double Crossin’ Blues’ was the tag record to four we did.”

Lil Greenwood “My Last Hour” 1952

August 8, 2007

lilgreen.jpeg4-jacks-federal-12082.jpg Lil Greenwood & Four Jacks

On Apr. 28 1952, the Four Jacks were paired with Lil Greenwood (RN: Lillian B. Greenwood; b: Mobile, AL; 1923) who had been discovered by Roy Milton in Oakland in about 1950 and who backed her on several singles for the Modern label as Lillie Greenwood. In 1951, Greenwood signed to Specialty. “I wasn’t under contract to any label,” Greenwood told Todd Baptista for the book, “Last Of the Good Rockin’ Men.”

“I think Ralph Bass wanted to try to have me record for Federal Records, like he had Little Esther. She was popular and they wanted to do the same thing,” matching her with the Four Jacks as Little Esther had been with both the Robins and with the Dominoes.

On “Grandpa Can Boogie Too,” Greenwood stated it was very much like “Grandma Plays the Numbers” by Wynonie Harris, both songs being on the sister King and Federal labels. “I remember that song by Wynonie Harris. What they did was just rewrite it to fit a female lead. They gave us the songs and maybe I was rehearsing my part on my own and they were rehearsing their part. Then, we’d get together in the studio. Sometimes they would overdub a group and you wouldn’t even know who they were.”On “Monday Morning Blues,” Greenwood sang with Little Willie Littlefield and the Four Jacks, while on “My Last Hour,” she was backed by the Four Jacks only.Several of these records died on the vine when Hunter Hancock, citing racy lyrics, said he couldn’t play “The Last Of the Good Rockin’ Men” or “Sure Cure For the Blues.” After these sides by the Four Jacks failed, Bass turned his attention to the Lamplighters, whom he paired with Greenwood and who later recorded close approximations of songs by fellow Federal artists, the Midnighters, replicating the Wynonie Harris/Four Jacks sound-a-like pattern.

All of these Four Jacks efforts were bootlegged on 45 rpm in about 1970 with a host of other Federal label vocal groups.