“Chew Tobacco Rag” Done R&B

Celebration of King Records Month 2018 Getting an Early Start in August!

Lucky Millinder‘s version of the classic country hit “Chew Tobacco Rag” could easily have been included on my Gusto cassette King compilation, Country Tunes Done R&B:

Billboard‘s review in the April 21, 1951 edition was very optimistic about the single’s sales prospects:

The expectorating special from the country serves a worthy cause for Millinder as his crew sets up a big rocking beat for the fine John Carol and ensemble shouts.  First big band item in some time that could bust out for big returns.

“Chew Tobacco Rag”     Lucky Millinder     1951

That big rocking beat, by the way, courtesy of Ed Shaughnessy, future long-time drummer for Doc Severinson’s ‘Tonight Show’ Orchestra who developed his jazz chops drumming for such artists as Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Oliver Nelson, Gene Ammons, and Cal Tjader, among many others.

WFMU’s Beware of the Blog points out that Zeb Turner’s version of this popular tune released on King made it to the Top Ten:

What was 1951’s loopiest and most contagious hillbilly novelty song?  Judging by the number of cover versions it spawned, it had to be Chew Tobacco Rag, written and originally recorded by Texan Billy Briggs for the Imperial label.  Briggs’ version never managed to chart, but Zeb Turner’s version, released on King, made it all the way to within spitting distance of topping the charts, finally losing momentum at #8.

Check out the 25 or so cover versions that you can preview here in one place.

Not uncommon for Columbia to acquire regional hits and then re-market them

One music enthusiast would cough up $119 in 2015 for this 1954 King EP.

Meanwhile, someone would throw down $200 in 2011 for an original King 45.

Gatemouth: Refuses to Be Fenced In

Artists who steadfastly resist to be pidgeonholed – ClarenceGatemouthBrown being one such notable example – always pique my curiosity.  Music writer, Michael Perry, in his article about Gatemouth Brown from the November-December 2001 issue of “alt-country” magazine, No Depression, describes an independence of spirit so fierce that it immediately commanded my attention:

For 72 of his 77 years, Brown’s career has unfolded over a shifting geography of place and sound, yielding a body of work nearly impossible to categorize.  Read the bios and press clippings, and you’ll find references to blues, roots, jazz, Cajun, calypso, zydeco, bluegrass, country, funk, and swing.  Ask Gatemouth, and he’ll call it bayou swamp rock.  Or border-type country.  Or American and world music.  Or American music, Texas-style.  He plays and leaves the sorting to others.  Someone once said his country licks didn’t sound country.  ‘What country you talkin’ about?’ asked Gate.

GatemouthDo the math, and you quickly see that Gatemouth was a musician when most kids were just entering Kindergarten.  According to Perry, “His father fiddled for friends on the weekends, and at the age of 5, Clarence began backing him on guitar.  They played a little bit of everything — regional tunes, French traditionals, German polkas.  When Gate was 10, his father started him on the fiddle.  During World War II, he got work as a drummer.”

Reading between the lines, one quickly gets the sense that a musician and songwriter with such wide-ranging interests was not really cut out to be a “singles” artist.  Sure enough, a simple scan of the 45Cat database for Gatemouth Brown’s recordings reveals this his “singles era” essentially began in the early 1950s (1949, actually) and ended in 1975 — with his cover of Lowell George’s “Dixie Chicken” — even though he released albums practically right up until his death in 2005.  Check out Gatemouth’s guitar chops on blazing instrumental, “Boogie Uproar” from 1953:

“Boogie Uproar”     Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown    1953

Bill Dahl, in his biography of Gatemouth on AllMusic.com, tells us that famed music entrepreneur, Don Robey, “inaugurated his Peacock label in 1949 to showcase Brown’s blistering riffs.”  Those blistering riffs were on full display in 1966 when Gatemouth served as the lead guitarist for the house band on the television show, The !!!! Beat, hosted by veteran Nashville disc jockey, Bill “Hoss” Allen — a syndicated music program notable for its stellar roster of musical performers, as well as for being filmed in color.

How unbelievably sad to learn that Gatemouth passed in September of 2005 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, his death almost certainly hastened as a result of having to flee New Orleans on August 28 from the storm, which destroyed his home in Slidell, Louisiana, on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain.

“Barnyard Boogie”: Jump Blues + Lap Steel Guitar

I have to confess – I’ve been listening pretty closely for several decades now, and I still can’t tell what makes [insert name of “first rock & roll record” here] the first recording with the rock & roll beat, whether it be 1951’s “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston (backed by Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm) or Fats Domino’s “Fat Man” (his 1949 debut single) or Jimmy Preston’s “Rock the Joint” (also from 1949) or Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith’s, er, “Guitar Boogie” (from 1948) or Louis Jordan’s rollicking “Saturday Night Fish Fry” (1949).

Speaking of Louis Jordan, belated thanks to the music programmer at Annapolis, Maryland’s once mighty (get this) free-form, progressive commercial radio station (WRNR) who once quietly blew my mind years ago when he played a Louis Jordan boogie from 1947 — “Barnyard Boogie” — that unexpectedly featured a steel guitar solo:

“Barnyard Boogie”     Louis Jordan & His Tympani Five     1947

Could this be the earliest boogie tune (or “fox trot”) to feature country-style steel guitar?

Endless gratitude to Old School Music Lover for hipping me to The Muppets’ own charmingly idiosyncratic take on this barnyard classic: