July 8, 2009
For a good chunk of the 1940s, the R&B chart (or the “race records” chart, as Billboard called it then) might just as well have been called the LOUIS JORDAN (1908-75) chart: he scored hit after hit after hit, and “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” was stapled to the top of the chart for 18 weeks. Jordan was a great entertainer: a vocalist, saxophonist and bandleader who basically invented rhythm and blues as it was known for the next couple of decades. Watch any of the “soundies” he filmed to promote his songs, and you’ll see a performer who will do whatever it takes to keep the audience’s eyes on him. The same went for their ears: the Tympany Five’s arrangements rarely let more than a few seconds pass without some smart little instrumental gesture. And he might have been the funniest pop singer of a century that wasn’t short of funny pop singers, because he was drawn to jokes that cut deep. “(You Dyed Your Hair) Chartreuse” is still a rib-tickler now, but “Jack, You’re Dead” and “That Chick’s Too Young to Fry” tickle ribs on the way to breaking them.
READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).