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.”