Revision note.We have added (after 20 years) another session from 1949, by ill-fated ballad singer Lou Blackwell (who got one released single, for another label in 1952, out of four recording sessions). We have adjusted the release schedule for the early months of 1950, to reflect the company's decision to rush out Aristocrat 412 by Muddy Waters and the second Aristocrat 410 by Penny Smith, both of which came out in March 1950. Also Aristocrat 407 by the Blues Rockers was first advertised in December 1949. We have updated our entry on pop bandleader Sherman Hayes. We have updated our entries on the Blues Bockers, and slightly updated our entry on Country guitarist and singer Dick Hiorns.
The Aristocrat label was the forerunner to Chess Records, the mighty Chicago independent. But it was different from the label it evolved into, and should not be assimilated to it.
Aristocrat was officially formed on April 10, 1947 by Charles Aron (who was born in Romania in 1907, and died in Miami, Florida in 1974) and his wife Evelyn (formerly Evelyn Marks, she was born in Chicago in 1919 and died in Boulder, Colorado in 1997). Initially, their partners were Fred and Mildred Brount and Art Spiegel, none of whom took a leadership role in the business. In June, the company became more interested in signing rhythm and blues artists, and took the crucial step of hiring talent scout Sammy Goldberg.
By September 1947, Leonard Chess, the proprietor of a neighborhood bar and after-hours joint called the Macomba Lounge (3905 South Cottage Grove), had invested in the company and become involved in the sales end of Aristocrat's operations. Leonard Chess's name was first associated with the company in an item that appeared in Billboard on October 11, 1947; he was identified as a new addition to "the sales staff." By then he was already wholesaling Aristocrat product out of the trunk of his Buick. Aristocrat had first drawn Leonard Chess's attention in June when Sammy Goldberg recruited Tom Archia, the tenor saxophonist who was working in the house trio at the Macomba, for a session led by drummer Jump Jackson. The company liked Archia's work and promptly brought him back for two more sessions as a leader. In late August or early September, Goldberg was responsible for signing Andrew Tibbs, who sang around the corner from the Macomba at Jimmy's Palm Garden, and became accustomed to dropping into the Macomba at intermission. Leonard Chess was also interested in recording an artist he believed would be a big success. As it turned out, Sunnyland Slim, who had been recruited by Sammy Goldberg, and Muddy Waters, who had gotten a call from Sunnyland Slim, were recording the same day.
Sammy Goldberg's tenure at the company lasted only a few months; he moved on after the flurry of recording in the final quarter of 1947. Over time, Leonard Chess increased his share in the firm by buying the Brounts out. As he became more involved in the record business, he increasingly left the day-to-day operation of the Macomba to his brother Phil. After the Arons separated in 1948, Leonard Chess and Evelyn Aron ran the firm. In December 1949, Evelyn Aron married Art Sheridan and left to form American Distributing. The Chess brothers bought out her remaining share and became the sole owners; only at this point did Phil Chess become involved in the record company's operations. On June 3, 1950, the brothers changed the name of the company to Chess, and adopted a new numbering system starting at 1425, the address of their childhood home on South Karlov Street in Chicago. (In 1957, they would also begin the Chess LP series at 1425.)
Aristocrat thus survived in its original form a little over three years. For a small, undercapitalized company it was quite prolific. It appears that 264 titles were recorded by Aristocrat for release, and another 28 tracks recorded by others were purchased and released during the lifetime of the label, for a total of 292. In all, 92 releases are known (which adds up to 183 sides, since "Dedicated to You" by the 5 Blazes was used twice). 18 more sides recorded during the Aristocrat era got their initial release on Chess singles during the first year after the name change.
Further Aristocrat releases may lie undocumented: continuing suspects for this shadowy honor are Aristocrat 507, 1002, 1502, 1601, 1602, and 417. We've developed a highly conjectural list of possible Aristocrats, which are indicated in square brackets in the appropriate locations in the discographical tables. Some of these bracketed items may have been scheduled for release, then withheld; some may never have made it to the planning stage. We really really doubt that any bracketed 1300 series items—this means Muddy Waters recordings—were actually released; collectors have been too vigilant to let anything of the sort slip by. But other items could still turn up. In earlier editions of this discography, Aristocrat 503 was listed as a conjectural item; so was Aristocrat 416.
Had it behaved like most companies, and numbered its releases consecutively, the mysteries might have been dispelled years ago. But Aristocrat had, well, its own way of doing things.
Another reason Aristocrat has resisted the efforts of discographers is that discographers prefer to work with record company files, if they can get access to them. Up to now, discographies of Aristocrat have been based on the work of Michel Ruppli, a Swiss researcher whose string of discographical publications (The Aladdin/Imperial Discography, The Blue Note Discography, The Chess Discography, etc.) have all used this modus operandi. Company files are easier to work with than scratchy bits of shellac and vinyl long since dispersed or lost. If properly kept, they hold out the prospect of reliable recording dates and personnel information.
If properly kept... Problem is, Aristocrat's business practices were strictly seat-of-the-pants. Leonard Chess was hired to wholesale records; he spent weeks on the road distributing 78s out of the trunk of his Buick. The company made written contracts with its artists, but it is doubtful that most of these were preserved. There was no organized effort to copyright every tune. The company had no in-house music publisher (in fact, the Chess brothers would not open a publishing arm, Arc Music, until August 1953). And some of the composer credits on Aristocrat labels are demonstrably bogus. For instance, "Bilbo Is Dead" was co-written by Andrew Tibbs and Tom Archia. But the label claimed credit for Chess-Aleta-Archia—whoever Aleta was. Meanwhile the copyright records at the Library of Congress give Evelyn Aron and Mildred Brount as the copyright owners! "Dawn Mist," a number that Sonny Blount wrote for Eugene Wright and the Dukes of Swing, was credited on the label to one "Crawfish."
The only documentation that Aristocrat kept of its recording sessions was a master book. This listed matrix numbers, artists, and titles. No dates were included on surviving recording sheets before October 12, 1948—by which time Aristocrat had cut over 130 sides! Because the "recording ban" ordered by American Federation of Musicians President James C. Petrillo was not officially lifted until December 13, only the mastering dates were documented for the rest of 1948. Michel Ruppli obtained the information for his Chess Discography from Bob Porter, who worked for Westbound Records (distributed by Chess) in 1972 and 1973. In his spare time, Porter copied the master books for Ruppli; all that remained out of the Aristocrat years were a few typed pages (loaded with errors and misspellings) specifying the tapes on which copies of the Aristocrat material could be found. There were matrix numbers and artists' names, but no dates, no information about issues, no personnel. In fact, it was impossible to tell from these pages what had been released and what hadn't. Some tracks that the company had released (for instance, Aristocrat 3301, 7001, and 8001) were left out entirely.
No serious vault research had ever taken place at Chess Records until shortly before Leonard and Phil Chess sold the company to GRT in 1969, at which point Ralph Bass was faced with the task of sorting and identifying piles of unlabeled tapes that Chess had been storing at Universal Recording. Porter's verdict: "I've been around tape vaults at Prestige, Savoy, Verve, and Atlantic as well as Chess (I was hired to work with Bass to set up the Chess vault in Nashville when the Chicago office was closed) and Chess was far and away the worst organized in terms of data. Just a mess." In his notes to a 1975 2-LP set that collected all of Gene Ammons' known work for Aristocrat and Chess from 1948 to 1951 (despite his efforts to make it complete, the set skipped five released sides on which Ammons played), Porter complained that most of the session sheets were missing.
Matrix numbers were sometimes assigned well after the sessions were recorded, and some sessions were entered out of chronological order. Benny Cotton and Cornell Wiley of the Dozier Boys recall making U7160-U7163 with Andrew Tibbs before U7156-U7159 with Sax Mallard. Adding insult, the master books left out their next session (UB9545-UB9548 with Gene Wright and Dukes of Swing) altogether.
Nearly everything that is known about the personnel on Aristocrat dates has had to come from other sources: contemporary writeups of the combos and interviews with musicians. Just three Aristocrat 78s (201, 202, and AR-711) name all of the musicians on the label. See our Tom Archia, Sax Mallard, and Dozier Boys discographies for examples of what's been required to identify personnel.
We do have have reliable release dates for most Aristocrats, thanks primarily to the work of Bill Daniels and Galen Gart. Most of the release dates included here were presented in George R. White, The Aristocrat of Records, Blues and Rhythm, no. 124 (November 1997), pp. 4-8. (The reader should be aware, however, that the Aristocrat artist and title list included in the article is not by White, and was compiled from inadequate, out-of-date sources.)
We can also take advantage of our knowledge of the studios that Aristocrat used, and their matrix series.
Aristocrat did most of its sessions at Universal Recording Corp. in Chicago. In early April 1947 the very first sesssion, by Sherman Hayes, was given numbers starting at U675-V, in a common series that went back just a few months to the founding of the studio. The V suffix points to Vitacoustic, a distinct record company that was founded around the same time and that operated right out of Universal Recording. In fact, Vitacoustic 5, by Mel Henke, has matrix numbers U668-V and U669-V.
Once it become clear that Aristocrat planned to be around for a while, Universal assigned the label a separate U7000 matrix series. The Sherman Hayes sides were renumbered (though we have seen the U7000 series numbers only on Aristocrat 104), so U675 became U7001. The V suffix was attached to a few more Aristocrat masters; the last case we know of is U7017V. The U7000 series—often shorn of its U in later years, when the recording was often done at other studios—would be the main matrix series over the entire lifetime of Chess Records.
It needs to be kept in mind that the matrix numbers were assigned by Aristocrat, not by the studio and that sometimes the assignments were made well after the sessions were recorded. Occasionally U7000 series numbers were attached to material that Aristocrat had purchased (later on, the Chess brothers would get bolder, and stick U7000 numbers onto such things as Howlin' Wolf sides recorded in Memphis...). There were lapses: after giving U7001-7007 to Sherman Hayes & his Orchestra, and U7008-7011 to The Five Blazes, Aristocrat had to allot U7012 to the last of the Sherman Hayes sides. You can almost hear the "Oops!" Items from a live session recorded in the first half of 1948, when the recording ban was being enforced, were deliberately given misleading numbers like U7048S and U7128A to keep the Musicians Union off the trail.
Despite their assorted faults, the U7000 numbers are the best indication we have of when the material was recorded. In 1947 at least, artist series were assigned in alignment with the U numbers: 1301 had a higher U numbers than 1201, which had higher U numbers than 1101, etc.; the only apparent exception is 1601, but we still don't know whether it was actually released.
Aristocrat also made a few recordings at United Broadcasting Studios. Located at 301 East Erie Street on the near North Side, United Broadcasting was the former World Broadcasting Studio, which had been bought in early 1946 by radio station owner Egmont Sonderling (1906 - 1997).
Fortunately for those with a discographical bent, United Broadcasting normally assigned its own matrix numbers to material recorded there, instead of dedicating special series to different labels. The system was a little quirky, but it appears that all material recorded in 1946-1947 was in a UB 2000 series (this series turned over from UB2999 to UB 21000 [i.e., 2-1000] around the beginning of 1947 and would overshoot UB22500 during the recording frenzy at year's end). Material recorded in 1948 and 1949 went into the UB 9000 series (when the meter turned over at UB 9999, they continued with UB9-1000 through approximately UB9-1500). However, the UB 9000 series has some irregularities in it, perhaps the result of a policy of preassigning blocks of matrix numbers to the different small companies that used the studio. Material recorded in 1950 was in the UB50-000 series. For many more examples, see our Miracle discography, and the Old Swing-Master discography—Sonderling was the principal owner of that label. Smaller outfits like Sunbeam and Hy-Tone also used Sonderling's studio. So we can attach approximate dates to most of material that Aristocrat laid down at United Broadcasting. Further help comes from the Board minutes for Musicians Union Local 208, which document a complaint Floyd Smith brought against United Broadcasting Studio for not paying him for a session that was subsequently sold to Aristocrat.
Aristocrat has also frustrated music historians because it is hard to pigeonhole stylistically. The company took only a mild interest in downhome blues until the second half of 1948, when strong sales of Aristocrat 1305 ("I Can't Be Satisfied" by Muddy Waters) told Evelyn Aron and Leonard Chess that they ought to be paying more attention. Well into 1949, the company's flagship artist was not Muddy Waters but the uptown blues singer Andrew Tibbs. A lot of what went on 1947 was frankly experimental. The proprietors of Aristocrat tried their hands at: nightclub R&B, jazz, country and western, piano trios in the manner of Nat King Cole, lounge ballads, gospel, pop crooning in the manner of Bing Crosby, and polkas. And the polka band was the one that laid down the most tracks.
The very first sides to appear on the new label were made by Sherman Hayes. Originally from California, Hayes had recorded in 1939 and 1940 with Del Courtney's "sweet" band. He subsequently started his own orchestra, which first recorded (in Chicago) for the New York-based Cosmo label in July 1946, after several months in the Walnut Room of the Bismarck Hotel (Billboard, July 27, 1946, p. 22). After it had released just one single on Hayes—the company saw more commercial potential in Hal McIntyre and Tony Pastor—the lights dimmed at Cosmo in January 1947, leaving him without a record deal (the company filed for bankruptcy in July, after several months of inactivity; see Cash Box, July 7, 1947, p. 13). When Aristocrat picked Hayes up, he was leading one of the most popular "Mickey Mouse" bands in Chicago.
For a time, the band got good publicity in Billboard and Cash Box. In 1946 and 1947, with big bands shutting down left and right, Hayes' outfit was continuously booked at Chicago-area rooms like the Martinique and the Blackhawk. In the summer of 1949 Hayes was still working regularly in town (Down Beat's "Chicago Band Briefs" for July 15, 1949, p. 4, remarks that his band was coming off "10 days at the Martinique"). Sherman Hayes played the tenor sax, soloing with vibrato as wide as a barn door. His band included a steel guitar. While the Hayes sax section often sounds Lombardo-worthy, the baritone sax lines on his records are light and fleet, obviously the work of a virtuoso. And when the sax section goes over to clarinets and bass clarinet, as they often do in Hayes' arrangements, they lose their Lombardo quiver and play tastily. Only one of the the Hayes sides is an instrumental. One features a girl singer who went as Wyoma (who got a separate mention in Cash Box, May 5, 1947, p. 11), and the rest include crooning vocals by the leader. Her full name, it appears, was Wyoma Winters.
Phil Chess, who was not really involved with Aristocrat until the end of 1949, described the outfit as a "White label" that recorded only White musicians before his brother Leonard got involved. In later years, he cast particular derision on one of Sherman Hayes' tunes, "Get on the Ball Paul." (Perhaps he remembered the big ad that Aristocrat put in Cash Box for 104.) But despite Hayes' slick vocalizing, this was actually the band's heppest number, and its composer, Cliff Parman, would enjoy a long career in pop music. It's the ballads that inflict real pain on today's ears.
The first Sherman Hayes release was advertised (in Cash Box, May 5, 1947; then in Billboard, May 10, 1947) as belonging to a 1000 series. But the Hayes 78s were actually numbered Aristocrat 101 through 104 (and in the fall, a 1000 series would be created for Clarence Samuels). To confuse matters further, Ruppli has claimed alternative couplings for Aristocrat 101 ("Chi Baba Chi Baba" b/w "The Better to Love You") and for 102 ("Say No More" b/w "You Don't Learn That in School"). There is a test pressing of the second pairing, now in Robert Campbell's collection. We have yet to encounter the coupling on a released 78.
The first ad in the trade papers gives the coupling as "Chi Baba Chi Baba" and "Say No More," and that is what we have seen on copies of Aristocrat 101. "Chi Baba Chi Baba" is a novelty number that purports to be an Italian lullaby; besides Hayes' rather unctuous crooning, his version includes a pleasant clarinet ensemble, a dreadful sax ensemble, some switching from piano to celeste, and lots of opportunities for the steel guitar player. Although Aristocrat got its version out quicker, it was the RCA Victor release by Perry Como that hit number 1 on the pop charts in June. "Say No More," Wyoma's only number on the session, is a square, sentimental ballad.
On May 31, 1947, Billboard ran an ad for Aristocrat 101, with the same coupling, also mentioning Aristocrat 102: "The Better to Love You" ("great new ballad") b/w "You Don't Learn That in School." "You Don't Learn That in School" involves a lot of vocal exchanges between Hayes and the rest of the band. The ballad side was also a vocal vehicle for the leader. Han Enderman has identified two different label styles for Aristocrat 102 (with small differences in typeface and layout), suggesting that the release was pressed in non-trivial quantities.
Although we have not seen any ads for Aristocrat 103, we believe it also came out in May 1947, because 101 through 103 carry the original matrix numbers assigned by Universal Recording, U675-U680, instead of their counterparts in the new series that Universal soon assigned to the label, U7001-U7006. 103 included the Hayes band's theme song, "Cuddle Up a Little Closer" as well as a somewhat stiffly played instrumental, "12th Street Rag." The first advertisement for Aristocrat 104, which coupled the now-notorious "Get on the Ball Paul" with a schmaltzy rendition of a superior ballad, "There Is No Greater Love," appeared on June 28, 1947, and copies of this single show the new numbers, U7007 and U7012.
The Aristocrat releases didn't hurt Hayes' ballroom bookings. But assuming he was on a one-year contract, he was up for renewal in April 1948 while a Union recording ban was being enforced in Chicago. By the end of the year, when recording was safely resuming, Aristocrat had lost interest. Hayes got another shot in 1949 when James H. Martin, who had distributed his Aristocrats, started the Sharp label; he recorded one Sharp session in 1949 and another in around the beginning of May 1950. Among the other artists Martin signed were Lee Monti and the Tu-Tones, who had also been dropped by Aristocrat. But while Monti's group was one of Sharp's bread and butter ensembeles, releasing records throughout the label's existence, we know of just one Hayes single (Sharp S9, reviewed in Cash Box, November 19, 1949, p. 6).
Meanwhile, Wyoma Winters had moved off on her own. The singer got a release on Raymor 5007, a tiny label similar to Life, operated by a publisher who wanted to get his songs on record (Cash Box, December 24, 1949, p. 29). One of Raymor's business addresses was 54 West Randolph Street in the Loop. In 1953, Winters made a single for RCA Victor.
In March 1950, Sherman Hayes and band wete once again at the Blackhawk (4 weeks starting March 15; Cash Box, March 25, 1950, p. 11), though by this time Al Trace seemed to be leading the sweet band of choice at the Martinique. In May 1950, after recording for Sharp (with distribution via London), he was in the Blackhawk and booked at the Forest Park Hotel in Saint Louis, starting May 12 (Cash Box, May 6, 1950, p. 10). In August, the Hayes band moved into the Oriental Theater, where Hayes also served as the MC (Cash Box, August 26, 1950, p. 7). In January 1951, Hayes was working the Oriental again, now apparently without a recording contract (Cash Box, January 20, 1951, p. 9). In the early 1950s the Hayes band made broadcasts from the Hotel Roosevelt in New Orleans. Sherman Hayes died in 1969.
Belying Phil Chess's version of history, Chuck and Evelyn Aron next put together a session by the Five Blazes, a black vocal/string ensemble. The Blazes' involvement with Aristocrat was announced in Billboardon May 24, 1947 (as usual, this meant that they had already recorded). The brief item also announced the signing of "promising Swing chirp" Jackie Cain, who would be responsible for the label's next session. An agent named Joe Callan, of Frederick Brothers, was given credit for bringing both acts to the label.
The Five Blazes grew out of a quartet founded in 1940 by drummer Paul Lindsley "Jelly" Holt, who had previously played in other hot string groups. William "Shorty" Hill (guitar, tipple, ukulele, mandolin) and Prentice Butler (bass) were also charter members. In 1941, Floyd McDaniel, already a veteran musician on the Swing scene, switched from acoustic to electric guitar and replaced lead guitarist Jimmy Bennett. According to the Chicago Defender for December 20, 1941, the 4 Blazes were holding down a gig at Martin's Corner, 1900 West Lake. The ad notes that the group was "formerly the Four Dusty Demons." The Blazes also used Duke Groner on bass at some point between 1943 and 1946, though Butler was back when they got their opportunity to record.
The Four Blazes expanded to Five in 1945, when they picked up Ernie Harper, a piano player and vocalist from Pittsburgh. Harper is, in fact, responsible for three of the vocal leads on the group's Aristocrat session. The ebullient "Chicago Boogie" and "All My Geets Are Gone" are deftly handled uptempo numbers. The boogie, on which Harper's piano dominates, was successfully featured on The Aristocrat of the Blues CD in 1997. The other three sides have so far been reissued only on Document.
The first Blazes single, on Aristocrat 201, was reviewed in Billboard on July 26, 1947 (our thanks to Dan Kochakian for locating this item).
This Negro quintet is technically poorly presented in its debut with the instrumental offering sounding like it has been cut in a big barn with the instruments miles from the pick-up mike. Group shows plenty of fire in their 'Boogie,' which boasts good lyrics and some standout piano work. Flipover is the pretty oldie, which merits re-discovery. Both sides show versatile voice of Ernie Palmer [sic], who turns it torrid for the 'Boogie,' while his tonsils go soft and mellow for the reverse.
Added note to vendors: 'Chicago Boogie' will grab jazz fans' ears while 'Dedicated' is good for all locations.'
Complaints of poor sound quality showed up in more than one review of the early Aristocrats. The sides had been recorded at Universal; reissues from the masters have always sounded good. The fault must have lain with some of the pressings, which in those days were all being done on old-fashioned shellac and ground limestone.
We haven't found any reviews of the follow-up single on Aristocrat 202.
Ernie Harper left the group in 1948 to work as a single; by July of that year the Blazes were back to being Four (using the group name instead of their usual practice of rotating the leadership, the Four Blazes filed a contract on July 15 for 10 nights at Club Silhouette).
Although the group's contract was long expired by this time, a strange delayed reissue of "Dedicated to You" appeared in February 1949 on the B side of Aristocrat 2003 (with a previously unissued number by Sax Mallard for an A side). On the reissue Ernie Harper got top billing; could the company have been trying to get something out of his visibility around town as a solo performer? Harper would get regular work in Chicago as a pianist and singer through the mid-1950s—for instance, in 1951 he was garnering admiring reviews in Down Beat while working the Streamliner with organist Les Strand and singers Lucy Reed and Lurlean Hunter. But the favorable ink got nothing shaking in the record biz. The only session we know he appeared on was with a later edition of the vocal/instrumental group, the Four Shades of Rhythm, done for Chance in 1952. (We still don't know whether Harper had anything to do with the Four Shades' session for Mad in 1957.)
The next session was cut by jazz singer Jackie Cain with the George Davis quartet. William H. Korst, who was an active jazz fan in Chicago at that time, says:
The George Davis quartet with Jackie Cain worked at a place on South Western Avenue in Chicago called 'Jump Town' with her then boy-friend Roy Kral on piano. I am sure the gig was at the same time they made the Aristocrat titles...and shortly afterwards Jackie and Roy joined the Charlie Ventura group at the Sherman Hotel in the Loop (just west of the Garrick Show Lounge).
Cain was born Jacqueline Ruth Cain in Milwaukee, on May 22, 1928, and arrived in Chicago in late 1946. Roy Kral, a native Chicagoan, was born October 10, 1921. Although Cain and Kral have said they began working together as Jackie & Roy in 1946, that is definitely too early. She had recorded for Aristocrat by June 30, when Cash Box's "Around the Wax Circle" (p. 15) described her as "a potential paleface Billie Holiday" with a first release imminent. An article by Don C. Haynes on "gal singers" in Chicago (Down Beat,August 27, 1947) covers Cain as a solo act. Just 19, she showed a "wonderful conception" at times but had been rather erratic in performance. In Haynes' opinion, she was "off form" at the Panther Room in the Sherman Hotel compared to her earlier performances at Jump Town, and "four poor sides on Aristocrat just released will do her no good." She does sound rather thin on "Jubilee," which sports the already renowned Universal Recording studio echo; besides Roy Kral on piano, the group included guitar and bass and a bebopper (we're assuming this was George Davis himself) on alto sax. Amazingly, her Aristocrat sides went unlisted in jazz discographies for many years.
Whatever difficulties Jackie Cain was having at the time she soon transcended; she would go on to fame as a jazz vocalist. From 1948 through April 1949, Jackie Cain and Roy Kral were billed as a duo with the Charlie Ventura Orchestra. They were married in June 1949, whereupon they formed a sextet and began a long career on their own. According to Leonard Feather they were "best known for light, humorous bop unison vocals."
In the early 1950s, Jackie & Roy had their own television show in Chicago. During 1957-60 the pair worked in Las Vegas, and in 1963 they moved to New York. They made many albums for a variety of labels, and performed together until Kral's death in August 2002.
Most like in June 1947, Sammy Goldberg brought R&B bandleaderJump Jackson to the fledging label. A studio band called the Chicago All Stars, also an expanded version of Jackson's combo but with somewhat different players, recorded for Columbia on June 27. On August 25 "Around the Wax Circle," the record industry gossip column in Cash Box, cited a letter from Evelyn Aron announcing that Aristocrat had signed Jump Jackson and his band, along with "Melrose Colbert, sepia torch." According to the letter, "The enthusiastic reception given The Five Blazes had decided Aristocrat to expand their race line" (p. 14). It wasn't all "Get on the Ball, Paul."
The complete lineup at this session was Johnny Morton (trumpet), Sax Mallard (alto sax), Eddie "Sugarman" Penigar (tenor), Tom Archia (tenor), Bill Owens (piano), Hurley Ramey (electric guitar), Dallas Bartley (bass), and Jackson on drums. Female vocalist Melrose Colbert, who had previously worked with Earl Hines, sang the two ballad tracks, "My Greatest Mistake" and "Sweet Thing." Benny Kelly was entrusted with the jump numbers. Perhaps because of the variety of styles represented, Aristocrat was willing to pay for 6 sides instead of the usual 4.
Drummer Armand "Jump" Jackson was born 25 March 1917, in New Orleans. He was playing in Chicago as early as 1941, when his band was booked at the 308 Club (his contract was filed with Musicians Union Local 208 on July 31, 1941). In 1942, Jackson was performing at the Sky Club (contract filed May 7, 1942). He led the house band for Martin's Corner from the latter part of 1943 on through much of 1944 and 1945. He also played at the Circle Inn in July 1944 (contract filed July 6, 1944). In January 1946, he put together a quartet with Johnny Morton (trumpet), Oett "Sax" Mallard (alto sax) and an unidentified pianist and went into the Garrick Theater Lounge in the Loop, for what turned out to be an 8-month stay. In February 1946, Jackson and members of his band started showing up on blues sessions that the Melrose brothers were organizing for RCA Victor and Columbia. And in March 1946, Bill Owens came on board as the band's pianist.
Jackson first recorded as a leader on 13 September 1946 for Columbia, cutting four sides. St. Louis Jimmy Oden was the vocalist on three of them. On that session Bill Casimir (tenor sax) and Ransom Knowling (bass) joined Jackson's quartet, which around this time begain a 6-month residency at the Blue Heaven Lounge (742 East 63rd). On September 26 and October 4, 1946, Jackson laid down ten tracks for the West Coast label, Specialty, which was making a rare foray into Chicago. Between March and June 1947, Jackson divided his efforts between the Blue Heaven and the Argyle Lounge or the Zanzibar Lounge. By the middle of June 1947, when he got the call from Aristocrat, Jackson's band was being featured at the Morocco Lounge, in the same neighborhood as Leonard Chess's Macomba Lounge, where Tom Archia led the house trio. Jackson had not been on a recording session since he finished his work for Specialty, so he must have welcomed the opportunity.
In the end, 5 of the 6 sides recorded at this session saw release. Aristocrat 401 and 402 each paired a Melrose Colbert ballad with a Benny Kelly blues; they were released in September and November 1947. One of the two Benny Kelly numbers remaining, "Choo Choo Blues," was somewhat oddly paired on Aristocrat 403 with a track left over from Clarence Samuel's September session. Our previous information on 403 has suggested a December 1947 release date, but this can't be right: the only copy we have seen has the green label that Aristocrat didn't start using till March 1949. It appears that the much-delayed 403 appeared at some point during 1949, when it served as a bridge to the final Aristocrat release series, 404 through 418. Aristocrat released just one other 78 with sides by two different artists. This was Aristocrat 2003, which came out in February 1949 and consisted of a Sax Mallard track on one side and one by the Four Blazes on the other; both sides were actually recorded in 1947. And 2003 also emphasized the names of the singers on the labels, in a way that earlier releases by the same groups had not. Our guess is that 403 probably didn't wait too long to go on sale after the new label design was adopted.
Jackson would do just one session as a leader for Aristocrat, though he appears to be the drummer on the first session under Tom Archia's name as well. His combo worked the Brown Derby (July) and the Bee Hive (August 1947); the group broke up in October when Sax Mallard went out on his own and Bill Owens temporarily became the new bandleader at the Macomba Lounge. Jackson seems to have joined a new combo led by tenor saxophonist Epp James; by June 1948 he had resurfaced as a leader, filing an indefinite contract on June 3 for a gig at the Old Rock Cellar. In 1949, Jackson was again leading the house band at the West Side establishment Martin's Corner (temporarily known then as The Corner). During the 1950s, Jackson both toured and continued to play in Chicago clubs, and cut a single for the Gateway label. Beginning in 1949, when he undertook to do booking and promotion for a new tenor player on the scene named Lucius Washington, Jackson also did considerable business as a booking agent. In 1958 Jackson opened the LaSalle label, recording such artists as Eddie Clearwater, Eddie Boyd, Sunnyland Slim, and Little Mack Simmons. He also recorded himself on a single. Jump Jackson continued to perform until his death in Chicago on 31 January 1985.
Small record labels were pretty cagey when it came to letting competitors know who they had signed. Aristocrat's custom was to refrain from announcing names until the recording was done and something was ready to release. So on August 16, 1947, Billboard got around to announcing that Aristocrat was "expanding in the race field adding two blues singers and Jump Jackson's negro combo." An announcement about Jackson next appeared in Cash Box, on August 25. Most likely the blues singers included Jo Jo Adams (who we think recorded a little before the announcement came out), and Melrose Colbert, who sang on the Jackson session, may have been lumped in. We don't know whether any reference was intended to Sunnyland Slim, Andrew Tibbs, or Clarence Samuels, all of whom would be recording for the label within the next month.
Although Sammy Goldberg was in charge of finding rhythm and blues artists for the label, he wasn't the only person in the company out looking for talent. In June, Aristocrat decided to sign Lee Monti. Monti led a band called the Tu Tones that featured two accordions, and performed polkas, country tunes, and standards. The other members of his band played guitar and string bass. Besides the fact that Monti played lead accordion, we know from vocal credits on the records that two of the other guys were named Jimmy Adams and Mario Lozer—but we don't know which instruments they played. Whoever made the decision—perhaps it was Evelyn Aron—correctly estimated that Monti would sell some records for the company. All four sides from the first session were released: Aristocrat 501, which came out in September, is easy to find today; Aristocrat 502, which probably followed in November, is much less common.
According to the August 2, 1947 issue of Billboard, Aristocrat had recently signed Don Moreland. Identified via his radio network affiliation as an "MBS vocalist," Moreland was a white pop singer. His signing was also mentioned in Cash Box, but no Moreland release would ever emerge on Aristocrat. Moreland ended up appearing as the vocalist on a session that Ralph Marterie, the society band leader, did for the Universal label. This was no doubt recorded during the pre-ban rush in the last quarter of 1947, though the release was held till early in the new year. Bill Putnam, co-owner of Universal Recording, launched his label of the same name in September 1947, after falling out with the principals at Vitacoustic. Moreland sang "I Love You" on Universal U-20, which has to have been one of Marterie's first releases (in fact, the bandleader's name is misspelled on the label). The timing suggests that Aristocrat let Putnam take over Moreland's contract.
Tom Archia had distinguished himself as a soloist on the Jump Jackson session (on "Not Now Baby" he was the only horn player). Aristocrat promptly brought him back to make a session of his own.
For their first outing, Tom Archia and his All Stars appear to have used the same rhythm section of Bill Owens on piano, Hurley Ramey on guitar, Dallas Bartley on bass, and Jump Jackson on drums. Archia was playing 6 nights a week at the Macomba Lounge with Wendell Owens on piano and Glenn Brooks at the drums, but while this session was being recorded, Leonard Chess was in the midst of a battle with the Local 208 leadership— on account of his desire to get rid of the pianist and the drummer and hire new musicians to play with Archia. So it is unlikely that either of them would be on a recording session for Aristocrat. On August 10, the Local 208 Board finally allowed Archia to remain at the Macomba after a new pianist and drummer were hired, but only under the condition that someone else be the leader. Archia, who had been on the outs with Local 208 President Harry Gray since 1944, did not officially become the leader at the Macomba until the spring of 1949. Because Archia was known for participating in tenor battles, Buster Bennett, then a big draw in the South Side clubs, was brought in as his dueling partner. But because Bennett was under contract to Columbia, he was credited with vocals only. Both saxophonists were maximally inspired that day, and Tom's throaty tenor sound with the strong Lester Young influence contrasted perfectly with Buster's rasp and his all-around gutbucket attitude.
Tom Archia was born Ernest Alvin Archia Jr. in Groveton, Texas, on November 26, 1919. (His father had decided to respell the family name, which is usually rendered "Archie"; it continued to be spelled that way by his relatives, and by many of the people Tom Archia came into contact with.) His childhood was spent in Baytown, Texas, and he graduated in 1935 from Phyllis Wheatley High School in Houston, where Percy McDavid (Houston's counterpart to Captain Walter Dyett) taught band, and his classmates included Illinois Jacquet, Calvin Boze, and Arnett Cobb. Archia graduated from Prairie View A and M in 1939 and taught school for a year in a small town before joining Milt Larkin's Swing band. On joining the band he adopted "Texas Tom" as a marquee name. Archia arrived in Chicago in August 1942, when the Larkin band was hired to back T-Bone Walker in a high-profile engagement at the Rhumboogie Café. After Larkin was drafted and his band broke up in the fall of 1943, Tom Archia was briefly a member of Roy Eldridge's band, with which he made his first recording session for World Transcriptions. He then took a spot in the "Dream Band" that owner Charlie Glenn was assembling at the Rhumboogie. The Dream Band included some of the best young musicians in Chicago, but many of them were chafing at big-band discipline, and Tom Archia and an alto saxophonist from Kansas City named Charlie Parker were the worst offenders. In June 1944, the band was reorganized under the direction of Marl Young, whose first official act was to fire Archia and Parker. In the summer of 1945, Tom Archia moved to Los Angeles, where his sister Richie Dell was living, and joined Howard McGhee's combo. He did not record with McGhee but did get onto a session for ARA led by Illinois and Russell Jacquet, and a session for Philo (later Aladdin) accompanying Helen Humes. Returning to Chicago in the spring of 1946, he hooked up with Roy Eldridge and recorded with Little Jazz's big band for Decca. At some point later in the year, he served as music director for an up and coming singer named Dinah Washington.
In February 1947, Tom Archia joined the house trio at the Macomba Lounge, which was nominally led by pianist Wendell Owens. (He may have been in the house band for a time in the Fall of 1946, but this is not confirmed.) Except for a brief period on the road in April, when Archia performed at a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert in Detroit, he would remain at the Macomba for 8 months that year. Although Union politics prevented him from being the leader (see above), he was the main draw at the Macomba from Leonard Chess's point of view.
At the time of this session, Buster Bennett was one of the most sought-after entertainers on the South Side of Chicago. He was born James Joseph Bennett in Pensacola, Florida, on March 19, 1914. We know nothing of his early days, but he obviously began early as a musician; even in the mid-1940s his rough-hewn saxophone playing was still reminiscent of the 1920s. Around 1930 Duke Groner encountered Bennett on the road in Texas; after that we lose sight of him until he arrived in Chicago in August 1938. Bennett immediately found work in the clubs. He also accompanied blues singers in the studio, appearing on sessions by Big Bill Broonzy, Washboard Sam (he is on Sam's big hit, "Digging My Potatoes"), and the Yas Yas Girl, as well as others less famous today. His gutbucket alto and soprano saxophone stylings were a good fit musically, and his skill at extracting advances out of Lester Melrose meant that Buster would have to participate in further sessions or Melrose wouldn't get his money back. In 1941, Buster Bennett began leading his own band at the Manchester Grill, though he had to leave the gig in October because he was suffering from tuberculosis (when respiratory problems were plaguing him, Bennett would take engagements playing the piano or the string bass). After a more serious bout of ill health at the end of 1942, Buster Bennett resurfaced in February 1943, leading a popular trio at a series of South Side night spots: Millie's Cocktail Lounge, Square's Steak House, the Circle Inn, and the Cabin in the Sky. With the added publicity he got from recording, Buster worked steadily at such establishments as the Tradesmen's Lounge, the Circle Inn, the Hurricane Show Lounge.
In February 1945, Buster landed a recording contract with Columbia. Lester Melrose saw Buster as a blues singer, and Buster obliged with midtempo blues enunciated in a gruff, sardonic manner. Although Bennett also sang standards in the clubs, only one of his Columbia sides included any. Columbia always added a drummer to Buster's working trio, and some of the sessions included other horn players; depending on Buster's mood and the other personnel, the musical content varied from boogie-woogie to Swing to incipient bebop. Known for years as an alto (and soprano) saxophonist, Buster began recording on the tenor sax in 1946. On the strength of his recordings, Buster was able to appear in Loop nightspots as well as his usual haunts on the South Side. Other record labels also sought his services; before appearing on Aristocrat he had recorded a session for Rhumboogie under the name of his trumpet player, Charles Gray, and made an uncredited appearance on a Red Saunders session for Sultan.
On "Mean and Evil Baby," a blues sung in the Helen Humes manner by Sheba Griffin, the tenor saxes jump and surge over the rhythm section as though defying the studio to keep them contained. "Ice Man Blues" features some sly double entendres by George Kirby, a comedian who was a regular participant in the shows at the Club DeLisa. Best known for doing impressions, Kirby was a gifted vocalist who could have been commercially successful as a blues singer, had he chosen to go that route. Sheba Griffin's second blues, "Cherry," has lyrics too labored to be effectively salacious, and the band gets a little sloppy. But they're back on their best form on the phallocentric "Fishin' Pole," gruffly delivered in Buster Bennett's customary manner (the number is almost certainly a remake of "Let's Go Fishin'," cut for Columbia in September 1946 but never issued). Aristocrat 601, "Mean and Evil Baby" b/w "Fishin' Pole," was released in November 1947, and 602, "Ice Man Blues" b/w "Cherry" followed probably in 1948. They left no doubt about Tom Archia's ability to deliver in a rhythm and blues context.
Tom Archia would continue with Aristocrat; Buster Bennett would not. And while Bennett was riding high at the time of this session, his fortunes would diminish as soon as his contract with Columbia ran out at the end of 1947. In 1948, Bennett was owing more people money, having more trouble finding gigs, and having to spend more time on the road. He would not make his final departure from the Chicago scene until 1954, but heavy drinking and chronic health problems were taking their toll, and for longer and longer periods he was either sidelined by illness or working out of town. In 1956, he was permanently "erased" from the rolls of Local 208; by then he had probably moved to Texas and dropped out of music entirely. He died in complete obscurity in Houston, Texas, on July 3, 1980.
The Hollywood Tri Tones, whose signing was announced in a Billboard item on October 11 (p. 39), were White musicians from Southern California. Robert G. Wirtshafter, who was born on March 25, 1923, was the younger brother of Joe Wirtshafter (1912-2002), a songwriter who changed his name to Bobby Worth. With "Bobby" already taken, Robert Wirtshafter became Buddy Worth. Buddy Worth played piano and sang. When the Tri-Tones recorded, Worth was married to singer and drummer Carol Mitchum, the sister of actor Robert Mitchum. Hal Wetherwax played bass and sang, which was typical in such groups; a musician we have yet to identify played clarinet, which wasn't.
The Tri Tones' one record (Aristocrat 701) appears to have been recorded in Los Angeles and dealt to Aristocrat, whose principals made an awkward retroactive effort to slot it into the U7000 matrix series, It was held for release till November (on account of the title "Christmas Kiss") but then sold almost nothing. Test pressings of Aristocrat 701 (one spotted at an auction by Dan Kochakian, the other in the collection of Steve Powers) attach U7024 to "Exactly like You" on the label and U7029 in the vinyl; "Christmas Kiss" is U7024 [again] on the label but U7026 in the vinyl. On the 78 as released, the numbers are U7029 and U7026. All of these matrix numbers are bogus: U7024-U7027 were assigned to the first Lee Monti session, released on Aristocrat 501 and 502; U7028-U7031 ended up attached to the first Tom Archia session, which was released on Aristocrat 601 and 602.
There is an Aristocrat test pressing of two more titles by the Tri-Tones. These were never released, so far as we know.
Aristocrat 701 was reportedly reissued, probably in the 1950s, as Derby 701.
The Tri Tones broke up in the summer of 1948. A nightclub review in Billboard (September 10, 1949, p. 44) covered a performance at the Oasis in Los Angeles by Buddy Worth's new trio, with the more conventional guitar and bass lineup (Milt Morring and Dick "Bunky" Jones, respectively), and Carol Mitchum handling many of the vocals. Hal Wetherwax continued to play the bass professionally, most notably in Red Norvo's groups, and to teach music for many years. Buddy Worth would enjoy an extremely long career working the piano bars in the San Fernando Valley. He also played Tuesday nights for many years at Leon's Steak House in North Hollywood. Worth died in Newhall, California, on December 10, 2011.
The signing of standup blues singer Doctor Jo Jo Adams was announced in Billboard well after the fact, in the October 11 issue. In fact, Sammy Goldberg brought Adams to Universal Recording in July or August. Tom Archia was in charge of the accompaniment, this time with a different band whose personnel isn't fully known to us. The front line includes a trumpet player and an alto saxophonist who sound to us like Johnny Morton and Goon Gardner from Dave Young's Ritz Lounge band. There is a loudly amplified guitarist, who treads heavily in the rhythm section, but we don't know who he was; the same goes for the piano, bass, and drums.
Born in Alabama on August 18 of an unknown year (Dave Penny has estimated it was around 1918), Jo Jo Adams was among the most flamboyant denizens of the South Side. Having once sung in a gospel quartet, and more recently in a manner strongly influenced by Cab Calloway, Adams by this point in his career typified the more urbane style of blues singing that prevailed in the 1940s. He also danced, told dirty jokes, and showed off his wardrobe of loudly colored formal wear with extra-long coattails. More often than not he doubled as MC at the clubs he played. He headed a revue at the Hurricane Lounge in December of 1945, and in 1946 was appearing at the Ritz Lounge and the Club DeLisa. Adams made his first recordings in January or February 1946 for Freddie Williams' Melody Lane Record Shop, with a studio band led by Williams. When Williams took on jukebox distributor Nathan Rothner as a partner, the company's name was changed to Hy-Tone and both of Adams's 78s were promptly reissued on the new label. Adams spent the summer of 1946 in Los Angeles, where he performed at Club Hideaway and recorded 6 excellent sides for Aladdin in June (because recording companies usually wanted Adams to shout the blues, "When I'm in My Tea" is his only recording to show his roots in Cab Calloway). In December he returned to Hy-Tone, singing on 5 of the 6 sides made by guitarist Floyd Smith's group. Smith had just put together a trio with Bill Huff on piano and Booker Collins on bass; they would remain at the DuSable Lounge until well into 1950. They were joined on the second Hy-Tone session by altoist Nat Jones and drummer Curtis "Geronimo" Walker. From March 14 through May 18, 1947, Adams sang at the Club DeLisa with Fletcther Henderson's last big band.
All four songs from the July/August session are medium-tempo blues of the sort Adams favored. Jointly responsible for "Drinkin' Blues" was Senabelle Richie Fenner, later mentioned in the Chicago Defender on February 23, 1952 as a "writer, poet, and song-stylist, whose compositions have been recorded by numerous artists." The song frankly describes how much whiskey, cocaine, and reefer the singer has been putting away since his girlfriend left him. Tom Archia aptly launches his solo by quoting "I Got Plenty o' Nothin'."
The same October 11 item that announced Adams' arrival went on to claim that R&B singer Annie Laurie, who was a regular with Paul Gayten's New Orleans-based combo, had been signed by Aristocrat. We know that Sammy Goldberg made a trip to New Orleans, where he signed Clarence Samuels (see below), so there's nothing anomalous in the reference to another New Orleans-based performer. But Aristocrat never released anything on Annie Laurie, and we have no evidence of any recordings. She remained with Gayten and continued to record with him for DeLuxe; in the early 1950s she would also record with him for OKeh. Either Sammy Goldberg failed to close the deal, or he thought he had signed Annie Laurie but then discovered that she was actually a party to Gayten's contract with DeLuxe. A small possibility remains that her sides once occupied the gap in Aristocrat's matrix series, from U7066 through 7069, that we have thought might belong to Billy Orr.
Unmentioned in the trade papers, but added to the roster around the same time, was a gospel group that Aristocrat billed as the Seven Melody Men. They recorded four sides for the label (all of which were released).
There's been a lot of confusion about them because when it performed live the ensemble was always called the Four-A Melody Men—not an indication of the number of personnel. Only on recordings were different names employed. The Four-A's were based in Saint Louis, where they had been active since at least 1935.
Their first recordings were made in Chicago for Decca, on February 25, 1935; Mayo Williams brought them to the company. On this occasion, the Four-A's were a quartet (Rudolph Allen, Frank Bass, Ernest Golden, and James Taylor), singing a capella. They cut four sides, which Decca released—but under the name of the Mound City Jubilee Quartette, a different group that recorded the same day (Robert M. Marovich, A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015, p. 121).
The Four-A's were also doing radio work. The earliest reference we have found to them is for a 15-minute broadcast on WEW, from July 1935 (St. Louis Daily Dispatch, July 10, 1935, p. 5D). The advertisements that we have found for their appearances in the 1930s do not give the size of the group. For example, across the Mississippi in Alton, Illinois, "The Four-A Melody Men, St. Louis organization of negroes, will give a musical program at the Tabernacle Church on Amelia street" (Alton Evening Telegraph, November 11, 1937, p. 9). This was also the case for their first appearance in Indianapolis, which took place in 1945.
When they were picked up by Aristocrat, there were definitely seven of them, and the lineup was probably what we see in an undated photo, unfortunately damaged but with names written in, that Armin Büttner found on ebay in 2014. Aristocrat decided to call them the Seven Melody Men.
The Four A name would, however, be used on the Chess reissue of their second Aristocrat single, and it was retrospectively applied to some copies of their Aristocrat 78s with a red rubber stamp. Just when the stamping was done, we have no way to know (Aristocrat 78s were distributed until January 1951).
The Four A's may not have been in much demand for recordings, but they were on radio through at least 1950 and continued to perform in the same style, with no or minimal accompaniment, for many more years. The latest advertisement we've seen for one of their appearances is from 1967.
Before their first single had even hit the racks, Lee Monti and the Tu Tones were called right back for a second session in August. Four more sides were cut—all instrumentals this time—and all four were released, on Aristocrat 503 and 504. Both 78s are fairly scarce today.
In late August or early September, the company sprang for a series of sessions that took most of a day at Universal Recording. Blues singers Clarence Samuels and Andrew Tibbs each made their debut on record, and after Prince Cooper's piano trio a long day was apparently closed out by down-home pianist Sunnyland Slim and a guitarist named Muddy Waters who had been recurited to accompany him. We know the approximate date because the formidable racist politician Theodore Bilbo, who was so ironically commemorated on the Andrew Tibbs number "Bilbo Is Dead," died on August 21, 1947. There was no great hurry with the music publishing side of the operation; Clarence Samuels didn't get around to copyrighting "Boogie Woogie Blues" and "Lolly Pop Mama" until November.
Clarence Samuels was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 30 October 1923. He began his career singing in his father's band in Baton Rouge. In 1943, he moved to New Orleans, and began singing in local bands. By 1947, he was the manager and house singer at the Down Beat club. At this time, Sammy Goldberg, who described himself as a "black Jew," was working as a talent scout for Aristocrat. He discovered Samuels at the Down Beat, and lured him to Chicago, where Samuels began performing at the Macomba Lounge and made his first recordings for Aristocrat.
Two sides by Samuels were released on Aristocrat 1001 in December 1947; "Boogie Woogie Blues" and "Lolly Pop Mama" both feature his declamatory basso profondo to advantage. Another side, "I Don't Love You Mamie," didn't appear until well into 1949, long after Samuels had left the label; it was oddly paired on Aristocrat 403 with a previously unreleased Benny Kelly vocal from the Jump Jackson session back in June. Both sides of Aristocrat 1001, as well as the still unreleased "Special Lesson Number 1" (could the lyrics have been deemed too salacious?) illustrate Samuels' obvious debt to Roy Brown, who was recording the same tunes for Deluxe that year. When Samuels returned for his second session, the repertoire was more original.
Andrew Tibbs was born Melvin Andrew Grayson on 2 February 1929 in Columbus, Ohio. His father was the prominent Chicago Baptist minister, Reverend S. A. Grayson, and Tibbs got his start singing in church choirs. His brother Robert for a time was married to Dinah Washington. When he surreptitiously began singing blues in clubs, he used his middle name and his mother's maiden name, becoming "Andrew Tibbs." His route to Aristocrat began when in 1947 he was singing at Jimmy's Palm Garden. At intermission, he would go around the corner to the Macomba Lounge and sing during that club's intermissions. Sammy Goldberg saw him at the club and signed him to Aristocrat; Leonard Chess saw commercial potential in recording Tibbs, and decided to invest in the company, which was already recording Tom Archia. Tibbs' debut session has always been said to be the first one that Leonard Chess attended.
When interviewed by Jim O'Neal in Living Blues (1982), Tibbs explained how he just got up and sang traditional blues verses in the clubs, so he had never needed to come up with any compositions. Two numbers were hastily concocted for the recording date: Tibbs and Tom Archia worked out "Bilbo Is Dead" in the back seat of a cab on the way to the session, and Tibbs brought the lyrics into the session inscribed on a paper bag. Tibbs and his mother put together "Union Man Blues." "Toothless Woman Blues" was provided by John E. Coppage, a Chicago-based songwriter and occasional freelance producer. Finally, "Drinking Ink Splink" was purloined from Buddy Banks, a bandleader in Los Angeles. Banks and his sextet had released the number as "Ink Splink" on the Melodisc label the year before, with Marion "Blues Woman" Abernathy as their lead vocalist. Quite possibly Tom Archia had heard Banks perform the number live while he was working in California during 1945 and 1946.
Aristocrat 1101 was not played on the radio in some parts of the South because of its A side, a Black man's crocodilic lamentation on the death of a notorious White racist. Russian artists who were compelled to praise Josef Stalin would fully understand lines like "Since Mr. Bilbo is dead, I feel like a fatherless child." Nadine Cohodas has shown that Marshall Chess's old story about the 78 being destroyed in quantity by union truckers on account of Side B is completely apocryphal. Aristocrat didn't use trucking companies to ship its product, because it couldn't afford them; and if anyone came after Leonard Chess with a crowbar as he was wholesaling the record out of the trunk of his Buick, the incident remains undocumented. Besides, there is nothing that would annoy Teamsters on the record: the number talks about how an unnamed union is really powerful, so no one should mess with Tibbs now that he is a member. Apocryphal dramatics aside, the single seems to have sold well locally upon its release in November. The followup, Aristocrat 1102, hit the racks around March 1948; surviving copies are a good deal harder to find.
Both singers were accompanied by a band led by tenor saxophonist Dave Young, whose band was enjoying a long residency at the Ritz Lounge. Young's contract with the Ritz had been accepted and filed by Local 208 back on September 5, 1946. Working steadily 6 nights a week with few changes of personnel, Young's band had become an extremely polished unit with three good jazz soloists in the front line. Less than a month earlier, on August 5, Mercury had used the Young band to back Dinah Washington, who was headlining at the club. The same sextet appeared here: Harry "Pee Wee" Jackson (trumpet), Andrew "Goon" Gardner (alto saxophone), Young (tenor sax), Rudy Martin (piano), Bill Settles (bass), and Curtis D. "Geronimo" Walker (drums). Pee Wee Jackson's rasping attack can be heard on "Drinking Ink Splink." Goon Gardner, who was Charlie Parker's bandmate in a King Kolax combo back in 1939, had long since converted to Ornithology, as can be heard from his solos on "Bilbo Is Dead" and "Toothless Woman Blues" as well as "Ink Splink."
To complicate matters, two musicians who did not belong to Young's band—Tom Archia and Sax Mallard—were present at one of the sessions. After Aristocrat hid Tibbs out in a hotel under the Mallard's wise guidance, so other labels couldn't steal him, Archia and Tibbs worked out "Bilbo Is Dead" in the back seat of a cab on the way to the session, and Tibbs brought the lyrics into the session inscribed on a paper bag. So it is distinctly possible that Tom Archia is lending a little thickness to the ensemble on Andrew Tibbs' numbers. But the rather courtly tenor sax solos on "Union Man Blues" and "Drinking Ink Splink" were taken by Young.
David A. Young was born on January 14, 1912 in Nashville, Tennessee. His family moved to Chicago when he was a boy; he was a member of the Chicago Defender Newsboy Band under the direction of Major N. Clark-Smith. He began working professionally in 1932. Among the bands he played in were Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon's, with which he made his first recordings (1933), and Carroll Dickerson's (1936). From 1936 to 1938 he was a member of Roy Eldridge's combo, moving on to the big bands of Fletcher Henderson (1938-1939) and Horace Henderson (1939-1940). Subsequently he worked with Walter Fuller, returned to Eldridge for a time, and recorded in 1942 with Lucky Millinder and Sammy Price. During the first half of 1942 he also spent some time in King Kolax's band. In 1943 he got a significant gig as a leader, taking charge of the off-night band at the Rhumboogie Café on August 2 (the contract was filed on August 19). His contract was renewed on October 21. In November, however, he went back on the road with King Kolax, while Charles Stewart took over the Monday night slot at the Rhumboogie (contract filed November 18).
Young served in the Navy in 1944 and 1945; on returning to Chicago he vowed never to go on the road again (not even to Gary, Indiana, or so he told Charles Walton). He found work as a leader at the Entertainers Cafe (indefinite contract filed on March 21, 1946; another indefinite contract for 4 days a week followed on April 18) before landing the Ritz Lounge gig; in an interview with Dempsey Travis, Young aslso mentioned working at the Cabin in the Sky during that period. He may have appeared on a January 1946 session backing Dinah Washington under Gus Chappelle's direction; the personnel is still not known with certainty. Young was definitely on two sessions that trumpeter and singer Bill Martin did with a studio band for Hy-Tone; these were recorded around May and September of 1946.
The October 5, 1947, issue of the Defender indicated that Rudy Martin had been replaced at the piano bench by Prentice McCarey; otherwise the Ritz Lounge band was carrying on with the same personnel. In late November Young's band (with Sax Mallard, who was now leading the off-night band at the Ritz, sitting in for Goon Gardner) accompanied Dinah Washington on a session for Mercury. (Members of Young's rhythm section accompanied her in sessions in September and on November 13.) On December 2, Young led a studio quintet, with Settles on bass and Walker on drums, that backed Lil Green on her last session for RCA Victor.
Dave Young continued in the music business for another four years, but as a Swing saxophonist who neither made the transition to bebop nor adopted the honk, he must have found the changing musical environment less and less congenial. His gig at the Ritz ended in January 1949 (the last Defender ad mentioning his band ran on January 15); his sextet gave way to a quintet led by King Kolax. According to Young's interview with Charles Walton (unfortunately not available online at the present time), by 1950 he was working primarily in the strip joints of Calumet City. Young made a couple of appearances on Al Benson's TV show (which ran from April through July 1950; see our Sax Mallard page for details), but quit after Benson got into a fistfight with Stuff Smith. In November 1951 Young became an advertising salesman for the Chicago Defender; he was promoted to assistant advertising manager in February 1970, and retired from his job with the newspaper in May 1990. Dave Young died in Chicago on December 25, 1992. (He should not be confused with a much younger musician who played trumpet in Sun Ra's Arkestra in 1955 and 1956, and is said to have left music to become a car salesman.)
One of the most common combo lineups on the South Side was the piano-guitar-bass trio with a lead vocalist, which had been popularized in the late 1930s by Chicago native Nat "King" Cole. During the late 1940s, nightclub goers could take in the sounds of trios led by Prince Cooper, Duke Groner, Jimmie Bell, Bob Carter, Jimmy Binkley, Ernest Ashley, Floyd Smith, Loumell Morgan, and Calvin Bostick, as well as the cooperative unit called the Big Three. When Aristocrat began to take notice of these groups, the first to be signed was Prince Cooper's. Later in the year the company would pick up Groner and Bell's ensembles.
Prince Cooper was born Robert L. Cooper on October 14, 1921. He attended Tilden Tech high school in Chicago. In his youth he took up concert violin, but his interests eventually drifted toward jazz, and he began playing the piano in 1937. He served in the Army in World War II. On returning to Chicago in 1944, he found work first in the the stockyards and then at International Harvester. He got his first professional job in February 1946, as the pianist for Marvin Cates and His Earls of Rhythm, who were performing at Jack's Club Showboat (6109 South Parkway). Another up-and-comer in that band was tenor saxophonist Eddie Chamblee.
With the Cates band Cooper developed a knack for singing. Jack Ellis, the owner of the club and former band columnist for the Chicago Defender, was particularly impressed with Cooper, and had him form a trio to replace the Cates band. Cooper recruited Hurley Ramey on guitar and Jimmy Cosby on bass, and the Robert "Prince" Cooper Trio started a long residency at the club in June 1946 (Cooper posted a 5-month contract with Jack's Showboat on May 16 and extended it for 8 months on September 16). When Aristocrat signed him, he was still going strong at Jack's Showboat, posting an extension for another 6 weeks on June 19, 1947, 6 more months on July 17, and 6 months on October 2. The engagement didn't come to an end until January of 1948, when Prince Cooper moved to the Music Box (408 East 63rd Street; indefinite contract posted on January 22).
The Prince Cooper Trio patterned its sound very closely after the Nat King Cole Trio; Jack's Club Showboat advertised Cooper as "King Cole's Double." The group cut its first sides for Exclusive in Los Angeles in 1946 (two were released). On the Exclusive session, the bassist was probably Jimmy Cosby. But by the time the trio recorded for Aristocrat, Charles "Truck" Parham was responsible for the bass work. Both "Night Fall" and "It's a Hit Baby," which came out on Aristocrat 1201, show just how close to King Cole Cooper could get at the time. The remaining two sides from this session, "My Fate" and Throw It Out Your Mind," were released on Aristocrat 1202 in January 1948 (Billboard announced that they would be out around January 13).
The first public mention of Andrew Tibbs' employment by the label appeared in Billboard on October 11, 1947. Billboard got around to three of the participants in this block of sessions on November 29, 1947, when it cited Clarence Samuels, Andrew Tibbs (redundantly), and Prince Cooper as newly "inked" by Aristocrat. The real point of the item: they were all about to return to the studio for their second sessions.
During the same marathon, Sunnyland Slim and "Muddy Water" (as he was billed on his first release) made their debut for Aristocrat.
Blues pianist and singer Sunnyland Slim was born Albert Luandrew in Vance, Mississippi, September 5, 1906 (most sources say 1907, but the Social Security Death Index and 1920 census data give the date as 1906). He was the son of Tom and Mary Luandrew (spelled "Loeandrew" by the census taker, but not in other documents that we have seen). We do not know exactly when Slim arrived in Chicago. He was playing semi-regularly at the Flame Lounge on 39th Street in the summer of 1947. He first recorded as a leader for the Hy-Tone label, probably just before this session for Aristocrat.
Either Slim did not sign long-term contracts with record companies, or did not believe he had, because after obtaining this session for Aristocrat in September, and even getting called back for a followup in December, he would do a second one for Hy-Tone and a session for RCA Victor that same month. In any event, Slim needed accompaniment on his outing for Aristocrat, so he phoned a guitarist that he knew. Muddy Waters was driving a delivery truck for a Venetian blind company; after coming up with a creative excuse to leave work, he headed straight to Universal Recording and cut his first sides for Aristocrat.
Muddy Waters was born McKinley A. Morganfield, on 4 April 1913, in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. He was raised on Stovall's Plantation, just outside of Clarksdale. His voice and guitar were first heard on Library of Congress field recordings, cut in 1941 and 1942 by folk music researcher Alan Lomax. In 1943 Waters moved up to Chicago, working mainly at house parties, as there was virtually no market at this time for country blues in the clubs. In 1944 he switched from acoustic guitar to electric. As the migration of southern blacks increased after World War II, a market for his style of blues began to develop. To be able to play in the clubs, Waters joined Musicians Union Local 208 in September 1945; in November of that year he filed his first contracts (with the West Side Chicken Shack on November 1, and the Cotton Club on November 15).
But after the Cotton Club engagement Waters had a lot of trouble finding work, and his first commercial recordings went absolutely nowhere. Early in 1946, he cut "Mean Red Spider" for J. Mayo Williams. Williams had been a talent scout for Paramount and Decca, and while he still knew talent when he saw it, he had lost his sense of what the record-buying public might want. Because his tiny Harlem and Chicago labels lacked distribution, he dealt this side to 20th Century, a Philadelphia-based outfit. Unfortunately for Waters, who split a 20th Century 78 with James "Sweet Lucy" Carter, Carter's name ended up appearing on both sides. On September 27, 1946, Waters got what looked like a much better opportunity when he recorded a session for Columbia records under the aegis of veteran producer Lester Melrose. But the company was unimpressed and left everything in the can; none of the sides would see issue for 20 years, when they finally appeared on a Testament LP. So Waters continued to make his rounds of the clubs—picking up occasional gigs as a sideman—while working a day job full-time.
Feelings about the September session appear to have been mixed at the company. The two sides featuring Sunnyland Slim (good but not great examples of his work) were held until early March 1948, when Aristocrat 1301 was released to no great effect (Billboard placed its release date around March 7). Muddy's two numbers, which came out on Aristocrat 1302 that same month, drew even less interest. And legend has it that Leonard Chess complained about not understanding a word that Muddy was singing. Of course, he was attending his first recording sessions that day, and Sunnyland Slim and Muddy Waters were simply not part of the world of the Macomba Lounge.
The first session after the September marathon once again involved Lee Monti's Tu Tones. Probably in October, they cut six sides. We know of two releases from the session, on Aristocrat 505 and 506; we suspect that the remaining two were intended for release on Aristocrat 507, but we have yet to see a copy of that disk.
Next, the company called on someone whose music Leonard Chess did understand. Tom Archia was called back in October for a straightahead jazz session. It consisted of four sides done with what we think is a working rhythm section from the Macomba: Bill Searcy (piano), Lowell Pointer (bass), and Robert "Hendu" Henderson (drums), with Leo Blevins (a frequent guest) added on guitar. The little that we know about the Milt Larkin Orchestra suggests that it often took Count Basie as its model, and Tom Archia was definitely attentive to Lester Young's role in that band. It didn't hurt that Bill Searcy was originally from Kansas City. So "Jam for Sam" has a definite Basie small-group feel to it. "Macomba Jump" is a bopper's jubilant romp over "I Got Rhythm" changes. "Slumber," a minor blues, could be Tom Archia's masterpiece; "Downfall Blues" is the only one of Archia's records to preserve his rowdy vocalizing. Compare what Tom Archia laid down on this session with the sides that Dexter Gordon was making at the time—or for that matter, with recordings from the same period by Lester himself—and we don't think Tom Archia will come out on the short end.
Aristocrat was obviously high on Andrew Tibbs, because in October, the singer was called back into the studio even though his first single hadn't been released yet. This time Tibbs was accompanied by with a band led by his erstwhile songwriting partner, Tom Archia. Archia added a trumpet player (probably Johnny Morton) and an altoist (definitely Sax Mallard) to the quartet that he had just recorded with. Now more used to composing, Tibbs contributed "I Feel like Crying" and "Same Old Story" to the date, while Sax Mallard wrote "Going Down Fast" and "Married Man Blues." Mallard also contributed his arranging skills. "Married Woman Blues," released on Aristocrat 1103, would become Tibbs' most famous number. Junior Parker much later recorded a version called "Driving Me Mad," and Johnny Copeland did it as "I Wish I Was Single."
Toward the end of October, Tom Archia went on the road with an 8-piece band led by trumpeter Hot Lips Page (he spent a good chunk of December recording with the band in Cincinnati, on a series of sessions for King); he would not return until early January. So he was unavailable for the December madness, when Aristocrat, like so many other labels, stockpiled sides in anticipation of the recording ban. However, Sax Mallard remained in town.
Aristocrat made a unique venture into boogie-woogie when it signed pulverizing piano soloist Forrest C. Sykes and recorded him in October. Here is a pianist who passed so thoroughly into oblivion that the compilers of the 1997 reissue package, The Aristocrat of the Blues, had no idea who he was.
Forrest Sykes (not related to Roosevelt Sykes) was originally from Kansas City. As the late Roy Searcy told Jim O'Neal:
I knew some fantastic Kansas City musicians. The greatest boogie and blues piano man who ever lived was Forrest Sykes. Forrest Sykes was a radical son of a bitch. He outplayed Pete [Johnson]. He could put "Stardust" into a boogie woogie and make it good. Forrest Sykes, yeah, I knew him well. From Kansas. He'd get up on the bandstand and Charlie Parker and everybody'd leave! Shit. Even the damn drummer quit and that son of bitch keep on playin'! He'd come in and drink a half pint of gin. Just turn it up and drink it down. He said he was ready to play then. When he got done, they didn't have to tune the piano, they had to rebuild it—that dude would break strings, knock off keys and leave the piano a mess. Oh, a key would out and jump over his shoulder any minute. Forrest died, I think. And he was makin' it big, he'd go to New York and different places, but he couldn't stay because of his attitude. It wasn't because he couldn't play! He'd walk around with a tuxedo on, tan shoes, all that kinda shit. Goin' to work like that at night, drunk.
Other Kansas City musicians told O'Neal that Sykes was gay; some added that he was flamboyantly so. At 6 feet 1 inch, occasionially billed as "Madcap," he might be considered a forerunner to Esquerita.
On August 15, 1943, Forrest Sykes appeared at a boogie-woogie concert, "A Midsummer Night's Jam," that was put on at the Saddle and Cycle Club in Chicago to raise money for Poetry magazine. He claimed he had only been playing for 3 years. He nonetheless led off the event, wearing white shoes and plaing "Sykes Boogie." He was followed by Meade "Lux" Lewis, Roosevelt Sykes, Robert Crum, and Dorothy Donegan. Commentary was provided by classical pianist Rudolph Ganz, the president of Chicago Musical College (Edward Ellis, "Boogie-Woogie Goes Highbrow but Bach Wins by an Eyebrow: Dour Dowagers Jump with Joy," Louisville Courier Journal, August 16, 1943, section 2, p. 21).
In 1944 and 1945, Sykes was busy on the nightclub circuit, frequently on the East Coast. In May 1944, he was featured at The Moose in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania (The Express, May 20, 1944, p. 2). In January 1945, he was at Chez Cherie Musical Lounge in Philadelphia (Billboard, January 6, 1945, p. 24). In August, he was playing intermission piano at the Harlem Club in Atlantic City, New Jersey (Billboard, August 11, 1945, p. 23). In November 1945, he was at Betty's Musical Bar in Gloucester Heights, New Jersey, sharing the bill with the Three Queens of Rhythm (Billboard, November 10, 1945, p. 32).
Sykes enjoyed a brief run as an added attraction in Lionel Hampton's band—playing the piano while standing, he is pictured in Hamp's 1946 Swing Book. In September 1946, his "pianology" was featured at the Swan Club in Philadelphia (Billboard, September 9, 1946, p. 22), and a couple of weeks later he was back at Orsatti's, a Philadelphia club he had played several times in the past (Billboard, September 21, 1946, p. 34). From 1947 through 1952 he worked frequently in Chicago and may have been based there. On January 16, 1947, Sykes' contract for 30 weeks at the Bar o' Music (a joint that featured solo pianists or trios) was accepted and filed by Musicians Union Local 208. In April 1950, he landed a two-week gig at the Bee Hive Lounge, when it was still emphasizing blues and traditional jazz (contract accepted and filed with Musicians Union Local 208 on April 20). He also got into trouble with Local 208 for joining Claude McLin in a jam session with Tom Archia's combo at the Macomba Lounge on April 11, 1950; obviously he was still on good terms with Leonard and Phil Chess, or he wouldn't have been welcome on that occasion. If he was showing up for his nightly work loaded, as Roy Searcy claimed, it's surprising that Sykes hadn't already been in trouble with Harry Gray and his deputies.
An advertisement from Critelli's Stage Sho and Restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa, compares Forrest Sykes with Robert Crum (Des Moines Register, October 14, 1947, p. 16). Of course, Critelli's had booked Crum before, probably on more than one occasion, and it appears Sykes was new to the establishment. Sykes was more commonly compared to Maurice Rockhold (name later changed to Maurice Rocco, 1915-1976), who played flashy boogies while standing up. We see this in a blurb ("Styling his playing in Maurice Rocco manner") for a Sykes appearance at the Flame Show Bar in Detroit ("After Dark," Detroit Free Press, December 9, 1949, p. 34). For his gig at Club Flamingo in La Crosse, Wisconsin, which opened on November 12, 1951, Sykes was billed as "The Junior Maurice Rocco" (La Crosse Tribune, November 10, 1951, p. 8). The classically trained Rocco, who appeared in two short films, getting chances to record for Decca in 1940 and 1941 and for Guild and Musicraft in 1946, was sometimes criticized for lacking boogie-woogie tone coloring. That was a charge no one would level at Forrest Sykes.
The compilers of the 1997 collection did see fit to include an unreleased item from this session, "Forrest Sykes Plays the Boogie," a 5-minute unaccompanied tour de force that would have had to be split between two sides of a 78. The sides originally released on Aristocrat 1401 include accompaniment by an unidentified guitarist and bassist. As for the two titles that remain unreleased, we've been told that Forrest Sykes and "Blue Danube" didn't go together—but if the cat could make a credible boogie out of "Stardust," we'd like to be able to to judge that for ourselves. And how can anyone pass up on a title like "Blitzkrieg Blues"?
The last advertisement we have found for Forrest Sykes included him in a special event (with singer Johnny Hartman and others) on September 6, 1953 at Wells Musical Bar and Restaurant in Harlem (New York Age, September 5, 1953, p. 6).
According to the Chicago Defender's ad for the Club DeLisa on November 8, 1947, Knight was performing there along with the comedy ensemble the 3 Chocolateers, Bessie Jackson, and others. Obviously Aristocrat recorded him during his stand at the club, because the DeLisa house band is on his records; accompaniment was provided by the " Red Saunders Orch."
While Red picked up a lot of work backing vocalists in the studio, he was nearly always asked to bring a smaller unit. Here his entire band is indeed present, though the arrangements on the two sides thsat we have heard unfortunately leave no room for instrumental solos. The company sat on Danny Knight's sides for a long time. Aristocrat 1501 is very rare, and its exact release date is still unknown, but the copies we have seen have the green label with a script Aristocrat logo in black that the company adopted in March 1949. Whether there was an Aristocrat 1502 remains unsettled.
In 1949, Danny Knight was singing with George Hudson's band out of Saint Louis. When Hudson and his "Modern Music" recorded for King, Danny Knight was responsible for a ballad side, "No One No Sweeter than You," credited to house songwriter Henry Glover and released on King 4285. We lose track of Knight's movements after that.
Also unsettled is the mystery posed by Billy Orr, who definitely recorded four sides for Aristocrat, with a 1600 release series supposedly reserved for him. Billboard announced back on May 17, 1947 that "Negro organist Billy Orr" had been "inked by Aristocrat." But a release on Aristocrat 1601 would suggest a recording date in the fall of the year, and there is just one unexplained gap in the U7000 matrix series, from U7066 to U7069. (The master books list the titles that Orr recorded, but not the matrix numbers.) Other possibilities: Orr recorded at Universal in the early going, before the U7000 series was adopted; Orr had to record elsewhere because Universal didn't have the right instrument for him to play. Actually finding a copy of Aristocrat 1601—even 1602, if there ever was such a thing—would definitely help!
Billy Orr came on the scene as a gospel organist. He first appears in the Board minutes of Musicians Union Local 208 on January 18, 1945, when his contract to work a Sunday gospel show with the Reverend C. F. Kyle on radio station WSBC was accepted and filed. On April 19, 1945, Local 208 accepted and filed his indefinite-period contract with the Evangelical Temple. On July 5, he posted a new contract with Reverend Kyle; on July 19, he filed another contract with Reverend Reed. On May 2, 1946, he posted an indefinite contract with Reverend O. W. Williams, and on May 16, his indefinite contract for Sundays and Wednesdays at the Evangelist Temple was accepted and filed. On July 18, he posted two indefinite contracts with Reverend Kyle.
Toward the end of 1946, Orr made a move to secular employment: on December 5, he posted a 2 week contract with Club Laurel and another for 3 months with options. On March 6, 1947, he posted another "indefinite" contract with the same establishment. He was almost certainly spotted at the Club Laurel by someone connected with Aristocrat. He probably remained there until he moved to the Savoy Ballroom (indefinite contract posted October 2). Local 208 documents continue to put Orr on the Chicago scene into 1949. We don't know what happened to him after that.
As the pace of recording activity picked up (because of the looming recording ban, which James C. Petrillo had announced would hit on January 1), Aristocrat showed it hadn't lost interest in White pop music just yet; the company picked up crooner Jerry Abbott, whose signing was duly announced in Billboard on November 15, 1947. Abbott seems to have been strictly a local artist. John Sippel, Billboard's regular Chicago night club reviewer, was none too impressed with him when he appeared at the Rio Cobana along with headliners Frances Faye and Lenny Kent: "Singer Jerry Abbott, who looks and sings quite a bit like The Groaner [i.e., Bing Crosby], gets just a mild hand for his crooning. Guy should evince more sparkle to warm up the customers" (May 19, 1945, p. 30).
Abbott cut four sides in fervent emulation of The Groaner, complete with strings led by conductor Bob Trendler and a girl chorus. We know that two were released on Aristocrat 1701; both are creditable pop performances of standards, with nice work by some of the accompanying musicians (notably the clarinet soloist). Abbott apparently stayed on the Chicago scene, as a singer and a director of hotel bands, well into the 1960s.
By the time his piano trio recorded for Aristocrat, Duke Groner was a veteran of the music scene. He was born Edward Groner in Ardmore, Oklahoma, on March 24, 1908. In the earlier part of his career he was a vocalist who sang ballads in a high tenor voice, though he also played a little piano. From 1935 to 1940 he sang with the Nat Towles band, staying on after that particular edition of the band was taken over by Horace Henderson. He subsequently worked as the house singer at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem and replaced Jimmy Grissom for a few months in the Jimmie Lunceford band. In 1943, he married and settled in Chicago, where he learned how to play the string bass so he would have another way to get work. From early 1944 through the end of 1945, Groner spent most of his time in the trio led by saxophonist Buster Bennett. Groner's first appearances on record were with Columbia as a member of Buster's band, in February and October 1945.
In December 1945 Groner left Bennett and went out on his own with a piano trio. The initial lineup included Ernest Ashby on guitar and Robert Montgomery on piano; after a while, Jimmy Bowman replaced Montgomery. In the early fall of 1947, the trio made its first sides for J. Mayo Williams, who dealt two of them ("I Love You, Yes I Do" and "New Blowtop Blues") to the Philadelphia-based 20th Century label; there may have been others, but if so we don't know what happened to them. By this time Groner was working with Emmett Spicer on guitar and Horace Palm on piano.
The same trio recorded for Aristocrat around November 1947. We presume four sides were cut, but only the two released on Aristocrat 1801 are documented. "Dragging My Heart Around," with Horace Palm's vocal lead, seems typical of the material that the trio was performing in the clubs. "Dizzy the Bebop Man" is a novelty number written by the ubiquitous Sax Mallard and sung in unison by the trio; bop rhythms are merely hinted at, but, hey, the leader was born in 1908, and the composer was a Swing musician himself. Put alongside some more substantial contributions (like the Red Saunders' band's solid performance of Charlie Ventura's "Synthesis"), the number reminds us that many of the older Chicago-based musicians were perfectly content to try bebop the same way they would be trying mambos and cha-chas a few years later. It was the latest thing their audience might like to hear.
Boogie-woogie pianist and singer Jimmie Bell led one of the many piano trios which were so popular in South Side clubs. (Aristocrat hedged its bets by calling him Jimmy and Jimmie on the same label, but he spelled his name with the "ie.") At the time of his lone session for Aristocrat, in December 1947, his trio partners were Leo Blevins on electric guitar and Andrew Harris on bass. (Our source for the personnel is Bell's 1978 interview in Living Blues.) Bell's wry vocalizing on "Just about Easter Time" (a song written by Tom Archia)) may have missed its seasonal window in 1948. Aristocrat 1901 was apparently released in March 1949. (It was probably the first Aristocrat 78 to carry the new green label; however, a copy with the older white label has turned up.) The other two sides from this session were finally released on the new Chess label, in June 1950.
Bell was born on 29 August 1910, in Peoria, Illinois. After graduating from high school in St. Louis in 1928, he pursued a career in music. Starting out with a carnival band, he spent the 1930s in local Swing bands like Earl Van Dyke's Plantation Cotton Pickers, Al Williams' St. Louis Syncopators, and Cecil Scott's Salt and Pepper Shakers. Near the end of the decade he headed his own band, before joining the great Jeter-Pillars band in 1940 (where he played trumpet!). During the 1940s, leading his own bands, he worked out of St. Louis, Detroit, and New York. He was discovered by Leonard Chess working with his trio. After Aristocrat, Bell did a session in Shreveport in 1949 that remained unreleased until JSP put out an LP of his work in 1979. In 1950, he recorded two sides for the Texas-based Royalty label and another two for Premium in Chicago; a final session on Chance in 1954 led to one obscure release that the company put in its pop series. During his last decades, Bell worked in Peoria playing piano bars. He died on 31 December 1987 in Peoria.
Sources Used: Mike Foster, "Swing, Boogie & Blues: Jimmie Bell, Peoria Piano Man," Living Blues 41 (November-December 1978): 12-17; Jean Budd Wright, "Jimmie Bell’ [obit], Living Blues 79 (March/April 1988): 50-51.
Sax Mallard had already recorded twice for Aristocrat (on the Jump Jackson session and the second Andrew Tibbs session) before he got a chance to record as a leader.
Oett M. Mallard was born in Chicago on September 2, 1915. He got his first saxophone when he was 16, studying band at Wendell Phillips High School under the redoubtable Captain Walter Dyett. Before graduating he had already landed a gig accompanying singer Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon on the radio. From 1935 to 1937 he toured the US and Canada for two and a half years with one of his classmates, Nat "King" Cole, in a show called "Shuffle Along." After returning to Chicago in August 1937 he worked extensively as a sideman with Fats Waller, the Deep River Boys, the Original Ink Spots, the Andy Kirk Band, the Mary Lou Williams Quartet, and many others. In 1942, he was a member of a 12-piece band led by drummer Floyd Campbell. In April and May 1943, Sax Mallard was called to New York City as a temporary replacement for Otto Hardwick in the Duke Ellington band; he appeared on 5 broadcasts that have been preserved. From mid-1943 to the beginning of 1946, Sax Mallard served in the Navy, where he finished up his Bachelor's degree in Music.
On returning home in January 1946, Mallard joined Jump Jackson's longstanding quartet with Johnny Morton and Bill Owens (see above), and was soon in demand for alto sax and clarinet work on blues sessions. He also wrote Ellingtonian arrangements when these were needed. Mallard composed and arranged a ballad, "The Greatest Mistake," for Jump Jackson's June 1947 session for Aristocrat, and arranged "Sweet Thing," the other ballad number. In the fall of 1947, as Columbia and RCA Victor were stockpiling sides in anticipation of the record ban, he appeared on sessions with Big Bill Broonzy, Eddie Boyd, Arbee Stidham, Roosevelt Sykes, Washboard Sam, and Tampa Red. At the end of October, he left Jump Jackson's combo and opened at the New Harlem Cafe as a leader; by mid-November, he was dividing his time between the New Harlem and the Ritz Lounge, where he led the off-night band. On a late November session for Mercury he was called to substitute in Dave Young's Ritz Lounge band when it backed Dinah Washington.
In December, Aristocrat offered the busy musician a six-tune session as a leader. Mallard assembled a band with a trumpet player, a second alto saxophonist who doubled on clarinet and tenor sax, a tenor player, and a rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass, and drums. We are hampered because we don't know the personnel of his working group at the time, but we know that Jimmy Bowman was the pianist on the date, and Mallard's regular drummer "Sleepy" Nelson may have been on hand. Likely candidates Johnny Morton on trumpet and Bill Casimir on tenor sax had been doing a lot of session work with Mallard. The Mallard session was done in the same kind of variety-show format as Jump Jackson's had been: Jimmy Bowman crooned two ballads and shouter Clarence "Pro" McClam was on hand for a couple of blues.
Aristocrat 2001, released in March 1948, coupled a Bowman ballad number ("Let's Love Again") with a Latin-flavored instrumental featuring the leader's alto sax. "The Mojo" was heard on a lot of jukeboxes in Los Angeles; in April and May, it spent five weeks on "Hot on Central Avenue," a regional chart published in Cash Box. Aristocrat 2002 followed in October 1948; it coupled a slow blues number for Pro McClam ("Rolling Tears") with Mallard's clarinet showcase, an excellent rendition of the Artie Shaw number "Summit Ridge Drive." The last release, Aristocrat 2003, was held till February 1949 and from this session only "Evelyn," a ballad feature for Jimmy Bowman featuring Mallard's alto sax and dedicated to you-know-who, was included. Apparently the company was unhappy with McClam's "Insurance Man Blues" (which remains unissued to this day) so it reused "Dedicated to You" by the 5 Blazes! ("Dedicated to You" has the distinction, if you want to call it that, of being the only side that Aristocrat issued twice. On Aristocrat 2003, top billing goes to pianist Ernie Harper, who also handled the lead vocal.)
As the year wound up, Sax Mallard moved his combo to George's Cocktail Lounge and finished out a rather frantic December with three more sessions for Columbia: one by Big Bill Broonzy, one by Rosetta Howard, and a reunion of the Chicago All Stars. Pro McClam sang two blues on the All Stars session. He would resurface a few years later, making two sessions under his own name for the fledgling Vee-Jay label in 1953 and 1954.
Prince Cooper and his trio-mates Hurley Ramey and Truck Parham returned Universal to cut four more sides. This time the company released two of them, on Aristocrat 1203. An Aristocrat 1204 may have been planned but we have no confirmation of this. Toward the end of 1948 the company began to lose interest in piano trios, and Cooper was dropped from the roster.
Not that this made a dent in his trio's busy schedule. In June 1948 they were working Kennedy's Honeydripper Lounge at 5910 South State (indefinite contract accepted and filed on June 3). In April 1950 they made a stop at Don's Den (461 East 61st; 10 week contract accepted and filed on April 20) and in November 1950 they were working Fuller's Lounge at 4700 South Wentworth (according to an "indefinite" contract filed with Musicians Union Local 208 on November 16, 1950).
In October 1951 Cooper formed a new trio with Wilbur Wynne and Jimmy Cosby and played for two years at the Avenue Lounge (64th and Parkway), owned by Joseph De Johnette. (Cooper's contract with the Avenue Lounge, another "indefinite," was accepted and filed by Musicians Union Local 208 on October 4.) When Wynne dropped out to work with Ahmad Jamal's trio, Cooper used Emmett Spicer, formerly with Duke Groner's trio, on guitar instead; when the trio played the Luther Rawlings Cocktail Lounge (4711 South Cottage Grove), the Defender for May 9, 1953 gave the lineup as Cooper, Cosby, and Spicer. The trio subsequently returned to the Avenue Lounge, where their indefinite contract was accepted and filed on July 16, 1953, and in October 1953 Wynne rejoined the group. DeJohnette planned to start "new recording company" that would record them (we're getting this from the Chicago Defender of October 1, 1953), but nothing happened on the recording front and the group's run at the Avenue soon came to an end. De Johnette did start a small company called Haven in February 1954 (Cash Box, February 20, 1954, p. 27) but Haven featured harpist/pianist Orlando Murden and didn't release anytthing on Cooper.
In the mid-1950s Cooper could be found playing such nightspots as the 411 Lounge, the Strand Lounge, and the Kitty Kat Club. His trio was working on the North Side at the Club Laurel (1733 West Lawrence) in March 1955 when he made one more session as a leader, for Jimmie Davis's Club 51 label. Added in the studio were Harold Ashby on tenor sax and James Slaughter on drums. Cooper's pianistics had changed by this time, but his vocals were still firmly modeled after King Cole. Cooper then accompanied blues singer and guitarist Rudy Greene, singer Bobbie James, and the vocal group The Four Buddies on two more 1955 sessions for Club 51; these would be his last known recordings. In later years he moved to Elgin, Illinois, about 30 miles west of Chicago, and played regularly in the lounges in Elgin and other towns along the Fox River. Prince Cooper died in Elgin on January 4, 1998.
It appears that three of the December sessions (Prince Cooper, Sunnyland Slim-Muddy Waters, and Clarence Samuels) also took place back-to-back.
Like Prince Cooper and Clarence Samuels, Sunnyland Slim and Muddy Waters were back for a second session in December, which would be Muddy's breakthrough. Sunnyland Slim, on the other hand, became expendable. He would appear on the Nighthawks and St. Louis Jimmy sessions from 1948, but would not be invited back as a leader.
Many sources have placed this session in April 1948, after Muddy's first single had been released on Aristocrat 1302. Some haven't even noticed a link between Slim's sides and Muddy's. In fact, the evidence of the matrix numbers puts the session firmly in December 1947. That in turn means that Sammy Goldberg (who was with the company through the end of year) actually thought pretty well of Muddy, and persuaded the Aristocrat management to take another chance on him, because they recorded him for a second time before they had released anything on him. But it also makes clear once again that they weren't rushing anything out; in fact, the company would release Slim's single, on Aristocrat 1304, a month before Muddy's, on Aristocrat 1305.
The full band on the session included bassist Big Crawford and alto saxophonist Alex Atkins. (At the time Atkins was a regular member of Memphis Slim's House Rockers, recording multiple sessions with them for Miracle). The first two numbers were sung by Sunnyland Slim with the full band. Then Muddy took over for two of his own with the full band, "Good Lookin' Woman" and "Mean Disposition." All indications are that these sides were originally intended to hit the stores on Aristocrat 1303. But in a bid for a more down-home sound, Muddy cut two more at the end of the session, with just his vocals and guitar and Crawford's string-popping bass. "I Can't Be Satisfied" was actually a remake of one of his 1941 recordings for the Library of Congress (the first version was titled "I Be's Troubled"). We don't know whether Muddy suggested this, or somebody in the recording booth did. What we do know is that in June 1948, the company decided to release "I Can't Be Satisfied" and "I Feel like Going Home" on Aristocrat 1305, and the 78 was an immediate hit on the South Side. The full-band sides were a lot closer to the way Muddy sounded in a club back then, but they were put away, not to be unearthed for another 30 years.
As so often happens, the real story is more interesting than the legends that grew up to encrust the event.
After leaving Aristocrat, Sunnyland Slim would record prolifically for many years. That same December as record labels were stocking up for the recording ban, Slim did a second session for Hy-Tone and a session for RCA Victor, using the pseudonym Doctor Clayton's Buddy. Later he recorded for such labels as Opera (later reissued on Chance), Mercury Tempo-Tone, Apollo, JOB, his own Sunny label, Regal, Mercury again, Blue Lake, Club 51, Cobra, LaSalle, and Miss. In 1960, he made an LP for Prestige; he appeared on many revivalist blues labels thereafter. In his later years, he was revered as an elder statesman of the Chicago blues. Sunnyland Slim died in Chicago on 17 March 1995.
During its first year of operation, Aristocrat was a long way from being a "Chicago blues" label. The only music to fit that description came out of the two Sunnyland Slim/Muddy Waters sessions, in September and December. Between them, they were responsible for just 10 sides out of the 135 that the label recorded or acquired.
Lee Monti came back in December for a fourth session. Obviously, someone kept buying his records, because no one else on the company roster rated more than 3 sessions as a leader in 1947. And the Tu Tones cut another 6 sides this time. Indeed, when the company rolled out the first release from this session, "Pin Up Polka," Aristocrat 508, it was considered worthy of a full-page ad in Cash Box (March 6, 1948). Besides a studio photo of the band, the ad included a shot of "Myra Keck, A Thornton Pin-Up," and endorsements from 6 disc jockeys—all, of course, from radio stations with White audiences.
Not long after the ad, Monti was working a high-profile gig at the State-Lake Theater. As it was described in the Chicago Daily Tribune (March 21, 1948, p. F13), the show was headlined by Chicago native Mel Tormé, already known as the "velvet fog." Several prominent DJs appeared in the show, along with Ella Fitzgerald, saxophonist Herbie Fields and his jazz quintet, and "Lee Monti's accordian [sic] quartet," as well as the house orchestra under Henry Brandon's direction.
In all, Lee Monti enjoyed 9 releases on Aristocrat (10 if 507 ever saw the light of day, as we think is likely). But he was finished recording for the company, and his releases ended with Aristocrat 510, which came out in November 1948. We suspect his market was seen as regional rather than national, and he no longer fit the direction that Leonard Chess wanted to take. However, James Martin, who had been Aristocrat's Chicago distributor for white record buyers, knew how much demand there was for Monti and the Tu Tones. When he started a new company called Sharp to cater to regional demand (it officially opened on May 1, 1949), the Tu-Tones were one of the first four acts he signed (Billboard, April 30, 1949, p. 17). A few months later, Sharp made a deal with London, a label with far wider distribution, so many of Monti's sides appeared on it, and in 1953 Sharp made a comparable deal with MGM. Monti's last known record was a 45-rpm single done in 1959 for the Wedgwood label.
Clarence Samuels returned to Aristocrat for a second session in December. We are sure of this because the session by country guitarist Dick Hiorns, which obviously took place before the end of 1947, carries even higher matrix numbers in the U7000 series. (We will also see how Aristocrat went to tremendous lengths to hide the origins of 6 masters that really were recorded while the ban was still being strictly enforced in Chicago.) By this time, Aristocrat was no longer using Dave Young's Ritz Lounge band, and Tom Archia was out of town, so Samuels was accompanied by a band led by alto saxophonist Porter Kilbert. Kilbert's name was occasionally mangled by record companies; on this occasion it came out as "Kilmer."
Porter Kilbert almost certainly knew Clarence Samuels from back home. After all, he was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on June 10, 1921. He attended Southern University in his home town, but was lured away in September 1942, when he replaced Preston Love as lead alto saxophonist in the celebrated Nat Towles band. From 1943 to 1945, he was a member of Benny Carter's band; in 1945 he was briefly a member of Roy Eldridge's band. He joined Red Saunders' combo in September 1946 while that ensemble was (very unusually) working in New York City; at the time of these recordings, he was the lead alto in Saunders' big show band at the Club DeLisa. His band sounds to us like Red's celebrated saxophone section accompanied by his rhythm section. At the time Red was carrying four saxes (Kilbert on alto; McKinley Easton on alto and baritone; Everett Gaines on tenor sax; and Leon Washington on tenor) and the section work sounds like those four with Easton restricted to alto. As a Benny Carter alumnus, Kilbert might have been drawn to the ensemble sound of two altos and two tenors... Unfortunately, the drums are not well recorded, but the safest guess is that Red was present, along with his regular pianist and bassist, Earl Washington and Jimmy Richardson.
Porter Kilbert would remain with the Saunders band until January 1952, when he left the Club DeLisa to form his own combo. His Hodges-style alto sax can be heard on many of the recordings that Saunders made during the period. In the summer of 1954, Kilbert worked in a Horace Henderson big band that had the good fortune to be recorded. In November 1954, he recorded four sides for Vee-Jay in a bop quintet led by bassist Dave Shipp; on these Kilbert played a much more modern sounding tenor sax. In 1955 and 1956, he could often be found at the C&C Lounge where a "battle of the saxes" format prevailed; Tom Archia was his regular dueling partner. During 1956 and 1957, he served as the house bandleader at Roberts Show Lounge for several stretches; after being displaced by his old employer Red Saunders' band in 1958, Kilbert's crew played weekends at Cadillac Bob's Budland during the latter part of 1958 and the beginning of 1959. Kilbert's only other recording as a leader would be a single done for Ping in 1957 featuring an excellent mid-size ensemble playing arrangements by Hobart Dotson; by now his alto work showed a pronounced Charlie Parker influence. Kilbert picked up a few opportunities to record on blues sessions (he played tenor sax on these), then in the summer of 1960 he went on a tour of Europe in a big band led by Quincy Jones (he played alto in the Jones band, getting little solo space because he was sitting next to Phil Woods). Porter Kilbert suffered a stroke and died in Chicago on October 23, 1960.
When interviewed by Dan Kochakian in Blues & Rhythm in 2002, Samuels claimed that Howard McGhee and Charlie Parker were on his session with the Kilbert band, but their names could not be used for contractual reasons. While Howard McGhee was in Chicago in the second half of December 1947, recording for Vitacoustic, no trumpet is audible on Samuels' two released sides with the Kilbert band. And if Charlie Parker was on hand, why wasn't he asked to solo? Samuels also said the session took place in 1948, a lesser inaccuracy.
What Samuels actually did in 1948 was rejoin Sammy Goldberg and move to the West Coast to cut two singles for Down Beat (which later became Swing Time). The recordings he made for Down Beat in Los Angeles were "black market," because the Musicians Union ban was still in effect at the time. Subsequently Samuels made sessions for Freedom (1949), DeLuxe (1949), Lamp (1954), Excello (1956), Apt (1958), and Sharon (1966). His biggest seller was "Chicken Hearted Woman" for Excello, which featured Johnny Copeland's "chicken sounds" on the guitar. Samuels retired from the music business during the 1970s and 1980s, but resumed his career in New Orleans in the mid-1990s. He died in New Orleans on 20 May 2002.
Sources on Clarence Samuels: Dan Kochakian, "The Legend Returns to New Orleans: The Clarence Samuels Story," Blues & Rhythm: The Gospel Truth 166 (February 2002): 4-9; Jeff Hannusch, "Clarence Samuels" [obit], Juke Blues 51 (Summer 2002): 57-58.
The addition of Dick Hiorns' "Western Combo" was reported in Billboard on January 17, 1948, though the leader's name was misspelled "Hirons". A copy of Aristocrat 2101, on which the artist's name is spelled correctly, turned up in Tom Kelly's collection, and several others have since been located. Aristocrat 2101 is an important discovery, discographically, because it proves that items as high in the matrix numbers series as 7126 were recorded before the end of 1947. A lineup of steel guitar, accordion, guitar, and string bass, and titles like "They're Burning Down the House I Was Brung Up In" leave no doubt as to the orientation of the music, though Hiorns' guitar work tells us that he'd been listening to his Django records. An even more recent discovery is Hiorns' second and less common release, on Aristocrat 2102, which contains the other two titles from his session; this was brought to our attention by Dave Sax.
Richard E. Hiorns was born in Chicago (some sources say Mount Greenwood, Illinois) on January 29, 1922. He played guitar and mandolin. In the early 1950s, Hiorns moved to Wausau, Wisconsin, where he owned a bar and continued to work as a musician. According to Gary Myers, author of Do You Hear That Beat — Wisconsin Pop/Rock in the 50's and 60's,, Hiorns released several other records after making his two 78s for Aristocrat. In 1954 he cut a single for a tiny Wisconsin-based label called Potter; Potter 1006 was credited to Dick Hiorns (vocal) and Bob Martins [sic] Blue Bonnet Buckaroos.
Following the trend as rockabilly broke out, Hiorns made a rockabilly single with a band called Jimmy Sun and the Radiants. In 1961 they recorded an excellent version of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On," which appeared on Cuca J. 1047 (Cuca was based in Sauk City, Wisconsin). Hiorns also worked at various times worked with Spade Cooley and Larry Lee Phillipson. In his later years, Hiorns often worked in California and was billed as a Nashville recording artist. Dick Hiorns died in Yucaipa, California on February 28, 2002. (We got our information on his birth and death from the Social Security Death Index and a published obituary.)
The most prolific artists for the label in number of releases, were Lee Monti, Tom Archia, and Andrew Tibbs. Archia kept pulling them in nightly at the Macomba; Tibbs was expected to do great things, and was the best seller for the label before Muddy Waters began to hit.
It is worth noting that in a thank-you to distributors that ran in Cash Box on December 25, 1948, Aristocrat listed two in Chicago: James H. Martin ("white records only") and Aristocrat Distributing Company ("race only"). Their distributors in other cities did not adhere to such a segregated arrangement. But then, maybe Sherman Hayes and Lee Monti were not expected to sell outside the immediate vicinity of Chicago.
There was lots of R&B of the sort then popular at the Macomba and other small clubs (Jump Jackson, Tom Archia, Dr. Jo Jo Adams, Clarence Samuels, Andrew Tibbs, and Jimmy Bell). But lounge ballads were also on offer (Jump Jackson again, Duke Groner, Sax Mallard), a little gospel was to be had (the Seven Melody Men) and Prince Cooper did a pretty fair Nat King Cole emulation. Finally, Tom Archia and Sax Mallard both played some unadulterated jazz.
Aristocrat in its first year is best described as an eclectic label. Maybe they didn't record classical, or Cajun fiddling, or corridas. But they tried nearly everything else. No fewer than twenty-one artist series in their peculiar numbering system (101 through 2101) were launched with recordings made in 1947.
Given Aristocrat's finances, 1947 must have been a nail-biter. Had the recordings made that year not sold well enough to cover expenses, the label would have sunk like a stone. Assuming that there was a track for each matrix number in the series, just 27 sides out of 136—or 20% of the total recorded—were left unissued.
The U7000 series is used as the framework for this discography; UB 9000 items are inserted in their approximate chronological locations. Therefore, sessions for Aristocrat appear roughly in order by recording date. Matrix numbers that have been verified from actual Aristocrat 78s (or from later Chess singles) are indicated in bold. Many Aristocrat matrix numbers are followed by an R in the wax (some even show a 1R or 2R). These seem to indicate a remastering job (or,specifically, a first or second remastering) and, being rather common and not otherwise informative, are not included here.
The purchased material was sometimes acquired by Aristocrat well after it was recorded (and, in one case, after it had been issued on another label). Since purchased material does not always bear U matrix numbers, we have slotted it in around the estimated date of the purchase (which we presume was not too long before its first release). The source for each purchased session is indicated, where known, in square brackets after the matrix number.
For items not initially released on Aristocrat, first releases are shown in parentheses. The Chess numbering series began in June 1950 with Chess 1425; Chess releases from June through September 1950, immediately after the transition, are given dates in parentheses.
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|Sherman Hayes and Orchestra | Vocal by Sherman Hayes||Chi Baba Chi Baba||Aristocrat 101B||early April 1947||May 1947|
|Sherman Hayes and His Orchestra | Vocal by Sherman Hayes||The Better to Love You||Aristocrat 102A||early April 1947||May 1947|
|Sherman Hayes and His Orchestra | Vocal by Sherman Hayes||You Don't Learn That in School<||Aristocrat 102B||early April 1947||May 1947|
|Sherman Hayes and Orchestra | Vocal by Wyoma||Say No More||Aristocrat 101A||early April 1947||May 1947|
|Sherman Hayes and His Orchestra | Vocal by Sherman Hayes||Cuddle Up a Little Closer||Aristocrat 103A||early April 1947||May 1947|
|Sherman Hayes and His Orchestra||12th Street Rag||Aristocrat 103B||early April 1947||May 1947|
|U7007||Sherman Hayes and his Orchestra | Vocal by Sherman Hayes||No Greater Love||Aristocrat 104B||early April 1947||June 1947|
|U7012||Sherman Hayes and his Orchestra | Vocal by Sherman Hayes||Get on the Ball Paul||Aristocrat 104A||early April 1947||June 1947|
|U 7008-V||5 Blazes | Vocal: Floyd McDaniels [sic]||All My Geets Are Gone||Aristocrat 202A||April 1947||June 1947|
|U7009-V||5 Blazes | Vocal: Ernie Harper||Chicago Boogie||Aristocrat 201A||April 1947||June 1947|
|5 Blazes | Vocal: Ernie Harper
Ernie Harper and the Five Blazes*
|Dedicated to You||Aristocrat 201B
|April 1947||June 1947
|U-7011-V||5 Blazes | Vocal: Ernie Harper)||Every Little Dream||Aristocrat 202B||April 1947||June 1947|
|U7013||George Davis Quartet | Vocal: Jackie Cain||I Only Have Eyes for You||Aristocrat 301A||May 1947||July 1947|
|U7014||George Davis Quartet | Vocal: Jackie Cain||Jubilee||Aristocrat 301B||May 1947||July 1947|
|U7015||George Davis Quartet | Vocal: Jackie Cain||Too Marvelous for Words||unissued||May 1947|
|U7016V||George Davis Quartet | Vocal by Jackie Cain||What's the Use of Wondrin'||Aristocrat 302B||May 1947||August 1947|
|U7017V||George Davis Quartet | Vocal by Jackie Cain||I Cover the Water Front||Aristocrat 302A||May 1947||August 1947|
|U 7018||Jump Jackson and his Orchestra | Vocal by Melrose Colbert||Sweet Thing||Aristocrat 401A||June 1947||September 1947|
|U-7019||Vocal Benny Kelly | Jump Jackson Orchestra||Choo Choo Blues||Aristocrat 403-A||June 1947||after March 1949|
|U 7020||Jump Jackson and his Orchestra | Vocal by Melrose Colbert||The Greatest Mistake||Aristocrat 402B||June 1947||November 1947|
|U 7021||Jump Jackson and his Orchestra | Vocal by Benny Kelly||Not Now Baby||Aristocrat 401B||June 1947||September 1947|
|U 7022||Jump Jackson and his Orchestra | Vocal by Benny Kelly||Hey Pretty Mama||Aristocrat 402A||June 1947||November 1947|
|U 7023||Jump Jackson and his Orchestra | Vocal probably: Benny Kelly||I'm Cutting Out on You||unissued||June 1947|
|U7024||Lee Monti's Tu Tones with rhythm accompaniment||Mickey||Aristocrat 501A||June 1947||September 1947|
|U7025||Lee Monti's Tu Tones with rhythm accompaniment | Vocal by Jimmy Adams and Trio||My Little Girl||Aristocrat 501B||June 1947||September 1947|
|U7026||Lee Monti's Tu Tones with rhythm accompaniment | Vocal by Jimmy Adams and Trio||Don't Take Me Home||Aristocrat 502A||June 1947||November 1947|
|U7027||Lee Monti's Tu Tones with rhythm accompaniment||Hindustan||Aristocrat 502B||June 1947||November 1947|
|U 7026 [sic]
|Hollywood Tri Tones | Vocal by Buddy Worth||Christmas Kiss||Aristocrat 701A||June 1947 (?)||November 1947|
|U 7029 [sic]
|Hollywood Tri Tones | Vocal by Hal Wetherwax||Exactly like You||Aristocrat 701B||June 1947 (?)||November 1947|
|U 7028||Tom Archia and his All Stars | Vocal: Sheba Griffin||Mean and Evil Baby||Aristocrat 601A
|July 1947||November 1947
|U 7029||Tom Archia and his All Stars | Vocal: George Kirby||Ice Man Blues||Aristocrat 602A||July 1947||February 1948|
|U 7030||Tom Archia and his All Stars | Vocal: Sheba Griffin||Cherry||Aristocrat 602B||July 1947||February 1948|
|U 7031||Tom Archia and his All Stars | Vocal: Buster Bennett||Fishin' Pole||Aristocrat 601B||July 1947||November1947|
|U 7032||Tom Archia and His All Stars | Vocal by Doctor Jo Jo Adams||Love Me||Aristocrat 801-A||July 1947||November 1947|
|U 7033||Tom Archia and His All Stars | Vocal by Doctor Jo Jo Adams||Drinkin' Blues||Aristocrat 801-B||July 1947||November 1947|
|U 7034||Tom Archia and His All Stars | Vocal by Doctor Jo Jo Adams||If I Feel like This Tomorrow||Aristocrat 802-A||July 1947||March 1948 (?)|
|U 7035||Tom Archia and His All Stars | Vocal by Doctor Jo Jo Adams||Cryin' by My Window||Aristocrat 802B||July 1947||March 1948 (?)|
|U 7036||Seven Melody Men||Rockin' Lord||Aristocrat 901-A||August 1947||December 1947|
|U 7037||Seven Melody Men||Nobody Knows - Nobody Cares||Aristocrat 901-B||August 1947||December 1947|
|U 7038||Seven Melody Men
|I'm on My Way||Aristocrat 902-A
|August 1947||July 1948|
|U 7039||Seven Melody Men
|Mother Pray for Me||Aristocrat 902-B
|August 1947||July 1948|
|U 7040||Lee Monti's Tu Tones||Tinker Polka||Aristocrat 503-A||August 1947||Dec 1947|
|U 7041||Lee Monti's Tu Tones||Pennsylvania Polka||Aristocrat 503-B||August 1947||December 1947|
|U 7042||Lee Monti's Tu Tones||Clarinet Polka||Aristocrat 504-A||August 1947||prob. December 1947|
|U 7043||Lee Monti's Tu Tones||Helena Polka||Aristocrat 504-B||August 1947||prob. December 1947|
|U 7044||Clarence Samuels with Dave Young's Orchestra||Boogie Woogie Blues||Aristocrat 1001A||September 1947||December 1947|
|U 7045||Clarence Samuels with Dave Young's Orchestra||Lolly Pop Mama||Aristocrat 1001B||September 1947||December 1947|
|U7046||Clarence Samuels with Dave Young's Orchestra||Special Lesson No. 1||unissued||September 1947|
|U-7047||Clarence Samuels | Dave Young's Orchestra||I Don't Love You Mamie||Aristocrat 403-B||September 1947||after March 1949|
|U 7048||Andrew Tibbs with Dave Young's Orchestra||Bilbo Is Dead||Aristocrat 1101A||September 1947||December 1947|
|U7049||Andrew Tibbs with Dave Young's Orchestra||Union Man Blues||Aristocrat 1101B||September 1947||December 1947|
|U 7050||Andrew Tibbs with Dave Young's Orchestra||Toothless Woman Blues||Aristocrat 1102A||September 1947||March 1948|
|U 7051||Andrew Tibbs with Dave Young's Orchestra||Drinking Ink Splink||Aristocrat 1102B||September 1947||March 1948|
|U 7052||Prince Cooper Trio | Vocal: Prince Cooper||Night Fall||Aristocrat 1201A||September 1947||December 1947|
|U7053||Prince Cooper Trio | Vocal: Prince Cooper||It's a Hit Baby||Aristocrat 1201B||September 1947||December 1947|
|U7054||Prince Cooper Trio||My Fate||Aristocrat 1202||September 1947||January 1948|
|U7055||Prince Cooper Trio||Throw It Out Your Mind||Aristocrat 1202||September 1947||January 1948|
|U-7056||Sunny Land Slim with Muddy Water [sic]||Johnson Machine Gun||Aristocrat 1301A||September 1947||March 1948|
|U-7057||Sunny Land Slim with Muddy Water||Fly Right Little Girl||Aristocrat 1301B||September 1947||March 1948|
|U7058||Muddy Water with Sunny Land Slim||Gypsy Woman||Aristocrat 1302A||September 1947||March 1948|
|U7059||Muddy Water with Sunny Land Slim||Little Anna Mae||Aristocrat 1302B||September 1947||March 1948|
|U 7060||Lee Monti's Tu Tones||Wabash Blues||Aristocrat 505A||October 1947||January 1948|
|U 7061||Lee Monti's Tu Tones | Vocal by Mario Lozer||Have You Ever Been Lonely?||Aristocrat 505B||October 1947||January 1948|
|U 7062||Lee Monti's Tu Tones | Vocal by Mario Lozer||I Still Get a Thrill (Thinking of You)||Aristocrat 506A||October 1947||January 1948|
|U 7063||Lee Monti's Tu Tones||Tico-Tico||Aristocrat 506B||October 1947||January 1948|
|U7064||Lee Monti's Tu Tones||If I Never Cry||[Aristocrat 507?]||October 1947|
|U7065||Lee Monti's Tu Tones||Gay Ranchero||[Aristocrat 507?]||October 1947|
|U7066?||Billy Orr||That's All Right Baby||[Aristocrat 1601?]||1947||[March 1948?]|
|U7067?||Billy Orr||African Jump||[Aristocrat 1601?]||1947||[March 1948?]|
|U7068?||Billy Orr||It's All Over||[Aristocrat 1602?]||1947||[March 1948?]|
|U7069?||Billy Orr||Music Maestro Please||[Aristocrat 1602?]||1947||[March 1948?]|
|U 7070||Tom Archia and his All Stars||Jam for Sam||Aristocrat 603B||October 1947||May 1948|
|U7071||Tom Archia and his All Stars||Macomba Jump||Aristocrat 604B||October 1947||August 1948|
|U-7072||Tom Archia and his All Stars||Downfall Blues||Aristocrat 605||October 1947||October 1948|
|U 7073||Tom Archia and his All Stars||Slumber||Aristocrat 603A||October 1947||May 1948|
|Tom Archia and his All Stars||Blues at Twilight
|(Chess 1448)||October 1947||(January 1951)|
|U-7074||Andrew Tibbs with Tom Archia & his All Stars||I Feel like Crying||Aristocrat 1103B||October 1947||Jun 1948|
|U-7075||Andy Tibbs | Tom Archia's All Stars||Going Down Fast||Aristocrat 1104||October 1947||Oct 1948|
|U-7076||Andy Tibbs | Tom Archia's All Stars||Same Old Story||Aristocrat 1104||October 1947||October 1948|
|U-7077||Andrew Tibbs with Tom Archia & his All Stars||Married Man Blues||Aristocrat 1103A||October 1947||June 1948|
|U-7078||Forrest C. Sykes—Piano With Rhythm Accompaniment||Tonky Boogie||Aristocrat 1401A||October 1947||March 1948|
|U-7079||Forrest C. Sykes—Piano With Rhythm Accompaniment||Forrest's Got the Blues||Aristocrat 1401B||October 1947||March 1948|
|U7080||Forrest Sykes||Blue Danube||unissued||October 1947|
|U7081||Forrest Sykes||Blitzkrieg Blues||unissued||October 1947|
|?||Forrest Sykes||Forrest Sykes Plays the Boogie||(Chess CHD2-9387)||October 1947|
|U-7082||Danny Knight with Red Saunders Orch.||Until Eternity||Aristocrat 1501A||November 1947||March or April 1949|
|U7083||Danny Knight||Say You Love Me Baby||[Aristocrat 1502?]||November 1947|
|U-7084||Danny Knight with Red Saunders Orch.||It Happened a Year Ago Today||Aristocrat 1501B||November 1947||March or April 1949|
|U7085||Danny Knight||Time to Part||[Aristocrat 1502?]||November 1947|
|U7086||Jerry Abbott||I Just Couldn't Take It Baby||[Aristocrat 1702?]||November 1947|
|U7087||Jerry Abbott||My Curley Headed Baby||[Aristocrat 1702?]||November 1947|
|U-7088||Jerry Abbott accompanied by Bob Trendler's Orch.||Just Friends||Aristocrat 1701A||November 1947||March 1948|
|U-7089||Jerry Abbott accompanied by Bob Trendler's Orch.||My Sweetie Went Away||Aristocrat 1701B||November 1947||March 1948|
|U-7090||Duke Groner Trio | Vocal by Duke Groner Trio||Dizzy the Be Bop Man||Aristocrat 1801B||November 1947||April 1948|
|U7091||Duke Groner?||unidentified title||November 1947|
|U-7092||Duke Groner Trio | Vocal by Horace Palm||Dragging My Heart Around||Aristocrat 1801A||November 1947||April 1948|
|U7093||Duke Groner?||unidentified title||November 1947|
|U-7094||Jimmy Bell's Trio | Vocal by Jimmie Bell||Just about Easter Time||Aristocrat 1901A||December 1947||March 1949|
|U-7095||Jimmy Bell's Trio | Vocal by Jimmie Bell||Jimmy's Swing Boogie||Aristocrat 1901B||December 1947||March 1949|
|UB 7096 [sic]||Jimmy Bell's Trio | Vocal by Jimmy [sic] Bell||Me and My Baby||(Chess 1427)||December 1947||(June 1950)|
|UB-7097 [sic]||Jimmy Bell's Trio | Vocal by Jimmy Bell||If You Believe in Me||(Chess 1427)||December 1947||(June 1950)|
|U7098||Sax Mallard & Orchestra||Insurance Man Blues||unissued||December 1947|
|U-7099||Sax Mallard and his Orchestra | Vocal by Pro McCram [sic]||Rolling Tears||Aristocrat 2002B||December 1947||October 1948|
|U-7100||Jimmy Bowman & Sax Mallard's Orchestra||Evelyn||Aristocrat 2003A||December 1947||February 1949|
|U-7101||Sax Mallard & Orch. | Vocal by Jimmy Bowman||Lets Love Again||Aristocrat 2001A||December 1947||March 1948|
|U-7102||Sax Mallard & Orch.||The Mojo||Aristocrat 2001B||December 1947||March 1948|
|U-7103||Sax Mallard and his Orchestra||Summit Ridge Drive||Aristocrat 2002A||December 1947||October 1948|
|U7104||Prince Cooper Trio | Vocal: Prince Cooper||Let's Give Love a Start||Aristocrat 1203||December 1947||February 1948|
|U7105||Prince Cooper Trio| Vocal: Prince Cooper||Because of You||Aristocrat 1203||December 1947||February 1948|
|U7106||Prince Cooper Trio||Got to Know What You're Doing||[Aristocrat 1204?]||December 1947|
|U7107||Prince Cooper Trio||Jacqueline||[Aristocrat 1204?]||December 1947|
|U7108||Muddy Waters||Good Lookin' Woman||[Aristocrat 1303?]
(Chess LP 80002)
|U7109||Muddy Waters||Mean Disposition||[Aristocrat 1303?]
(Chess LP 9180)
|U-7110||Sunnyland Slim with Muddy Waters||She Ain't Nowhere||Aristocrat 1304A||December 1947||May 1948|
|U-7111||Sunnyland Slim with Muddy Waters||My Baby, My Baby||Aristocrat 1304B||December 1947||May 1948|
|U7112||Muddy Waters with rythm [sic] accompaniment||I Can't Be Satisfied||Aristocrat 1305A||December 1947||June 1948|
|U7113||Muddy Waters with rythm [sic] accompaniment||I Feel like Going Home||Aristocrat 1305B||December 1947||June 1948|
|U-7114||Lee Monti's Tu Tones | Vocal by Mario Lozer||Chinatown My Chinatown||Aristocrat 509A||December 1947||April 1948|
|U-7115||Lee Monti's Tu Tones | Vocal Mario Lozer||They Go Wild over Me||Aristocrat 510||December 1947||November 1948|
|U-7116||Lee Monti's Tu Tones||Dreamy Melody||Aristocrat 509B||December 1947||April 1948|
|U-7117||Lee Monti's Tu Tones with Rythm [sic] Accompaniment||What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?||Aristocrat 508B||December 1947||February 1948|
|U-7118||Lee Monti's Tu Tones| Vocal Mario Lozer||My Anina||Aristocrat 510B||December 1947||November 1948|
|U-7119||Lee Monti's Tu Tones with Rythm [sic] Accompaniment| Vocal Mario Lozer||Pin Up Polka||Aristocrat 508A||December 1947||February 1948|
|U7120||Clarence Samuels with Porter Kilbert's Orchestra||Get Hep to Yourself||[Aristocrat 1002?]||December 1947|
|U-7121||Clarence Samuels with Porter Kilmer's [sic] Orch.||Coming Home Baby||Aristocrat 1003A||December 1947||February 1948|
|U-7122||Clarence Samuels with Porter Kilbert's Orch.||Baseball Blues||Aristocrat 1003B||December 1947||February 1948|
|U7123||Clarence Samuels with Porter Kilmer's Orchestra||Juana||[Aristocrat 1002?]||December 1947|
|U-7124||Dick Hiorns with Instrumental acc.||Teardrops in My Heart||Aristocrat 2101A||December 1947||c. April 1948|
|U-7125||Dick Hiorns with Instrumental acc.||Cool Water||Aristocrat 2102A||December 1947||1948|
|U-7126||Dick Hiorns with Instrumental acc.||They're Burning Down the House I Was Brung Up In||Aristocrat 2101B||December 1947||c. April 1948|
|U-7127||Dick Hiorns with Instrumental acc.||Tomorrow Never Comes||Aristocrat 2102B||December 1947||1948|
The label's second year was forced to start quietly. The rationale for the frantic activity during the last quarter of 1947 had been the impending "recording ban" announced by the American Federation of Musicians. The ban hit on January 1. In Chicago, it appears that the Union locals enforced it strictly for at least six months (in some other cities, such as Detroit, it was flouted rather openly within three). During the second half of the year the Union locals seem to have chosen not to inquire into contracts and paperwork that were being submitted well after the work was actually done. The ban did not end officially until December 13, but only the major labels had held off from recording that long. Judging from the way Aristocrat kept its books, recording was tacitly allowed in Chicago by October. Sessions done earlier had their mastering dates entered into the ledger instead of the actual recording date—in fact, this practice extended up to the end of the year. Our best estimate puts the resumption of studio recording in July or August 1948.
One session, however, really was done during the first half of the year, while the ban was in force. Six sides from it were eventually released, and Aristocrat went to great lengths to hide their origins. Two were issued under the name of a bogus bandleader; four more were credited to artists already under contract to the company but made to look as though they came from studio sessions at an earlier or later date. All sported deliberately misleading matrix numbers. They were unusual in other ways: no other Aristocrat session was recorded live, and they were recorded on tape, when tape machines were still rare commodities, not yet in use at any of the studios that the company frequented.
Let's begin with Skeetz Van and his Orchestra. At least, that's how the label had it. The aggregation was called Skeets Van Orn and his Orchestra in the company files, and Skeets Van Orchestra or Skeetz Van in Cash Box adverts. The Skeetz Van single was released as Aristocrat 3301 in February 1949.
Skeets Van Orn was a real person. He just didn't have a band. He hung out at the Macomba Lounge and did go-fer jobs for DJ Al Benson, also appearing from time to time on Benson's radio show. In the 1950s, Skeets Van, as he was known on the air, became a DJ under Benson's sponsorship, playing mostly jazz on his shows. Carl Davis, who put out a newsletter for Benson between 1956 and 1960 and later became a soul music producer, recalled that
Skeets was like a son to Al. Skeets and Al were comical because when Christmas came, Al would fire Skeets and then rehire him after the New Year so that he wouldn't have to pay him a Christmas bonus or give him anything for Christmas. I liked Al in that he always made anybody on the outside respect whatever position you had on the inside. As a result of that, all your manufacturers and people in the business gave me and Skeets the kind of respect that we wanted.
(From his interview with Charles Walton in "Al Benson-The Godfather of Black Radio in Chicago," which is no longer available online.)
There are further clues on this enigmatic release. "Bronzeville Swing" (on Side B) is "Dedicated to the 1949 Mayor of Bronzeville," who just happened to be Al Benson. Both sides feature the same tenor saxophone soloist and a rhythm section, though a couple of trumpets, a trombone, and another tenor sax contribute an occasional riff. And the matrix numbers, U7172 and 7173, were deliberately placed right before Gene Ammons' studio session of February 28, 1949 (U7174 through U7181).
Indeed, tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons was making his debut for Aristocrat on the Skeetz Van sides (he is also on a side attributed to Tom Archia that we will get to below). Born in Chicago on April 14, 1925, Eugene Ammons was the son of boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons. Like so many other young musicians in his generation, he graduated from DuSable High School and took band under the legendary Captain Walter Dyett. In 1941, he was already a soloist in the big band led by King Kolax, and from the middle of 1943 through early 1944, he was on the road with a later edition of that outfit. In 1944, he joined Billy Eckstine's big band, where he was showcased as a soloist. He made his first recordings with the band for DeLuxe on September 5, 1944; one of the sides made that day was "Blowing the Blues Away," which featured his tenor battle with Dexter Gordon. Ammons remained until Eckstine gave up leading his own band in October 1946. During 1947, Ammons was in Chicago working with smaller combos. He backed female impersonator blues singer Petite Swanson on an obscure session for Sunbeam. During this period, the audiences liked "Red Top," which he had been playing with the Jimmy Dale band. In June 1947 Ammons went into the studios to record it for Mercury. On the strength of that record he landed a long-running gig at the Congo Lounge. He recorded three more sessions for Mercury before the end of the year, and also appeared on a session led by his father. In October 1947, he also jumped his contract to record a session for Aladdin, and was a sideman on a Leo Parker session for Savoy. Although Mercury wasn't recording him in the first half of 1948, because of the ban, Ammons was still under contract when the live sides were taped—another motive for misdirection.
According to Charles Walton, who identified the tenor sax soloist on both sides as Gene Ammons, the recordings originated from one of the Sunday dances that McKie Fitzhugh and Al Benson used to put on in the Pershing Ballroom. These typically included multiple horn players, lots of jamming, and tenor battles that were advertised in the Chicago Defender. The subterfuge was necessary because the concert was recorded during the first half of 1948, when the Union interdict was still in force; one also doubts whether the musicians were paid Union scale for recording.
The rest of the lineup on the Skeetz Van sides includes Gail Brockman on trumpet and Tom Archia on tenor sax; the rhythm section appears to consist of George Freeman on guitar and Junior Mance on piano. The bassist remains unidentified; the drummer is the legendary Ike Day.
Skeets had session mates. Two of these featured Tom Archia and credited him as the leader. U7048S, "Hey Tom Archia" was released in August 1948 as the A side of Aristocrat 604. The number is really "Flying Home," which Tom's one-time bandmate Illinois Jacquet had made famous in his 1942 recording with Lionel Hampton. The acknowledged leader swaps choruses with Gene Ammons, and another tenor sax (possibly Claude McLin, who was regularly featured in publicity for these events) is prominent in the background. The matrix number was assigned so it would appear to be from the Andrew Tibbs/Dave Young session of September 1947, at which Tom Archia was present. U7139, "McKie's Jam for Boppers," which was released on Aristocrat 605 in October, refers directly to McKie Fitzhugh, but was numbered so it seemed to be from the next Tom Archia studio session, which took place in October 1948—and also involved Gene Ammons. "McKie's Jam for Boppers" includes a guitar solo probably by George Freeman, a trumpet solo by Gail Brockman, and a piano solo that may be by Junior Mance, then solos by an alto saxophonist (either Andrew "Goon" Gardner or Chicago's other major Bird emulator, John "Flaps" Dungee) and Tom Archia. It also has a tape splice in the middle and an abrupt ending that seems to have resulted from lopping off announcer patter.
The last two sides were attributed to Jo Jo Adams and Tom Archia's All Stars, and were given matrix numbers (U7128A and U7128B) indicating a session around the time that studio recording was resuming; Aristocrat 803 was also released in August 1948. But Adams is right on top of the mike, popping his plosives, and no studio in town would have put the band that far behind him. Not to mention the presence of other odd sonic qualities that a live concert caught with early tape recording might exhibit. So we can add a number called "Cabbage Head" that, in typical Jo Jo Adams fashion, took up both sides of the 78, to Al Benson's clandestine batch. ("Cabbage Head" was later recorded by Aleck Miller [Sonny Boy Williamson #2] in a one-sided, far less risqué version.) For this number, the ensemble was cut back to a quintet of Archia, Gail Brockman, possibly Junior Mance, the unidentified bassist, and Ike Day. Archia and Brockman both got to solo.
"Cabbage Head" turned out to be Jo Jo Adams' last recording for Aristocrat. He continued to work the clubs regularly, eventually settling into a long residency as the Master of Ceremonies at the Flame Lounge. He subsequently recorded for Chance in 1952, using the Flame's house band, and for Parrot in 1953, with a Red Saunders ensemble and wild arrangements by Sun Ra. Though he continued to find work well into the 1960s, he did not record again. Jo Jo Adams died in Chicago on February 27, 1988.
A word seems called for about Ike Day, the drummer on the Al Benson sides. Isaac Day, Jr., was born in Harvey, Illinois, probably in 1927. He was playing professionally in 1943, at the age of 16. Alvin Fielder has described Day as an advanced Swing drummer who developed polyrhythms independently of Max Roach and over a decade before Elvin Jones. The late Charles Walton characterized Day as a "show drummer" who was not the strongest on technical skill. Ike Day can be heard to advantage on "McKie's Jam for Boppers" and "Hey Tom Archia." Although most musicians from that period have referred to Day in awestruck tones, he lived an extremely disorganized life, becoming a heroin addict and moving around so often that according to Fournier he never owned a complete set of drums. He kept just a snare drum that he could put next to his bed at the next place he crashed.
Day joined the Musicians Union in 1943 and was in trouble almost immediately. On April 15, he filed a contract for 12 weeks at the Bar o' Music, probably as leader of a piano trio. But he lasted less than a month on the gig. On May 20, 1943, he was called on the carpet by the Board of Local 208:
It was reported to the Board that Day had been given every consideration because of his youth and ability, but that he had failed to live up to his obligation to the local, and as a musician on his engagement at the Bar o' Music. After 4 weeks he was removed from his engagement by order of Commissioner Allman because of his conduct.
Member Lonnie Simmons appeared before the Board in behalf of Day, stating that he had shown an interest in the boy and was willing to engage him in his trio and give him the proper clothing and tutorage [sic] on his instrument. However, having learned of his conduct and unappreciative attitude, Simmons advised that he had lost interest in the matter.
ON MOTION, THE BOARD RULED THAT JOINING MEMBER IKE DAY SHALL STAND SUSPENDED UNTIL THE NEXT BOARD MEETING (June 3, 1943) AT WHICH TIME IKE DAY AND HIS PARENTS SHALL APPEAR BEFORE THEM FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION. (p. 2)
Day also owed part of his fee for joining Local 208 and the 3% "Local tax" on what he had been paid for the gig.
On June 3, Ike Day and his father appeared before the Board:
It was explained to Mr. Day that his son's deportment on his first engagement (Bar O' Music) was so obnoxious that the Commissioner of Police ordered him withdrawn. It was further explained that unless Mr. Day would be fully responsible for his son's actions that his reinstatement could not be considered.
Mr. Day advised that he knew nothing of his son's activity, as he worked hard, and left the affairs of his home to his wife. He stated that he did not know that his son had signed a management contract with Mr. Gervis, or how much salary he earned at the Bar O' Music. Mr. Day did not approve of his son drinking or staying away from home, and advised that he would collect all furture monies due his son and see to it that he did not make a nuisance of himself.
ON MOTION, THE BOARD RULED THAT IKE DAY SHALL BE REINSTATED AND THAT ALL WAGES EARNED BY HIM SHALL BE PAID THROUGH THE OFFICE OF LOCAL 208 AND TURNED OVER TO HIS FATHER. ALL MATTERS PERTAINING TO IKE DAY SHALL BE HANDLED THROUGH THE PRESIDENT'S OFFICE. (pp. 1-2)
With Harry Gray personally in charge of his pay, Ike Day stayed out of trouble with the Union for 10 months. But he ended up being expelled before he had turned 18, on account of a scrape he had gotten into while working in Jesse Miller's band. On April 6, 1944, the entire band from Joe's Deluxe Club, consisting of Miller (trumpet), Albert Atkinson (prob. alto sax), Kermit Scott (tenor sax), Argonne Thornton (piano), Walter Buchanan (bass), and Day (drums), was summoned in front of the Board.
Assistant Cohn informed the Board that Mr. Hughes had called at his office and complained about Jesse Miller walking off the bandstand while a show was in progress because of an argument with one of the performers. In addition to this, Mr. Hughes complained of Ike Day getting drunk and other members reporting for work late.
Member Miller admitted walking off the stand because he was angry, but stated that he realized he did wrong. He explained that there was no set routine for the show and no music. He stated that Ike Day did get drunk and that he had no show experience, which was the root of all the trouble that they were having.
Miller was fined $25 and Ike Day and Walter Buchanan were hit with $5 each for failing to appear before the Board. The usual ominous postscript was attached: "FINE TO BE PAID WITHIN TEN DAYS OR STAND ERASED."
It didn't end there. On May 12, Ike Day and Kermit Scott got into more trouble with Joe Hughes, the club's owner, and on May 18, the entire band was in front of the Board again. This time Day and Buchanan made sure they showed up.
Mr. Hughes stated that he engaged the services of Jesse Miller, knowing that he had no organized orchestra, and paid them overscale, because he knew that musicians were scarce. He further stated that he was not satisfied with the aggregation from the start, and laid particular stress on the fact that Ike Day insisted on drinking and coming to work late, even though he could not purchase whiskey in his place of business....
Scott drank on the job and took advantage of another gig he had, with Hot Lips Page at the Sherman Hotel, to show up extremely late.
Hughes was summoned to his club at 3:30 AM when his manager
informed him that Ike Day and Kermit Scott had been unruly all evening. The musicians were outside as well as some of the entertainers. Atkinson, who was in charge of the orchestra during Miller's illness, apparently had no control over Day and Scott, and could not make them play. When he talked to Day, he replied in vulgar and profane language that he didn't care anything about him or Local 208. Scott was drunk and replied in a like manner. (Minutes of the Board of Directors, Local 208, May 18, 1944, p. 1)
Day and Scott were both booted off the job by Assistant Dover. Before Scott finally left the premises, he showered Hughes with verbal abuse, whereupon Hughes punched him and prevented him from retrieving his horns from the bandstand.
Member Day did not deny Mr. Hughes' statements except that he claimed he didn't make any references to the local and its officers. He admitted drinking on the job, but stated that he had slowed up during the past three weeks. (pp. 1-2)
The fracas at Joe's Deluxe Club ended Kermit Scott's career in Chicago. As a member of Local 802, out of New York City, he was fined $100 and his transfer from Local 802 was revoked. Day was also fined $100 "FOR VIOLATION OF SECTION XI, C-1 OF THE LOCAL BY-LAWS, AND FOR CONDUCT UNBECOMING A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN. RULING TO BECOME EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY" (p. 2).
There is no further mention of Day in the Local 208 Board minutes until January 4, 1945, when
Expelled member Isaac (Ike) Day, Jr. appeared before the Board requesting permission to reaffiliate himself with Local 208 and make weekly payments on his joining fee and his $100.00 fine. He stated that his father was not working, and badly in need of his help.
The Board instructed the Secretary to contact Day's parents by letter to ascertain if it was their desire for their son to continue in the musical profession, and if so why they did not straighten out his indebtedness to Local 208, or if they preferred their son to seek employment in another field. (p. 1)
Although Lonnie Simmons had decided not to get involved with Ike Day in 1943, he would change his mind and hire Day later on.
Leonard Chess, who knew Day from frequent guest appearances at the Macomba Lounge, deserves credit for seeing that a musician with an advanced reputation for undependability got recorded on Aristocrat. The Al Benson sessions (where Day is audibly present) and Gene Ammons' session of February 1949 (where Day is listed on the label) are the sum total of his discography.
Day was sought out by jazz musicians from out of town—Max Roach and Kenny Dorham can be seen digging his performance in one of the surviving photos from the Macomba, and during the last quarter of 1949 or the beginning of 1950, Sonny Rollins rehearsed with him. (Our source for the Rollins-Day connection is Ira Gitler's liner notes to a Prestige LP that groups together the sides that Rollins cut as a leader from 1951 and 1953. According to Eric Nisenson's book Open Sky, Rollins' sojourn in Chicago started at some point after he recorded with Bud Powell, in August 1949, and ended before he was arrested in New York City for attempting a hold-up to get money for drugs, in February or March 1950.)
The last mention we could find of Ike Day in the Local 208 files is dated 1950. After that, the drummer's life and career spiraled downward. According to Fournier, he only lived to the age of 27; Walton recalled that Day died in a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1954 or 1955. We have yet to find any obituary or death notice on Ike Day; the Local 208 files do not mention his passing because he had long since been "erased" from membership.
Some excellent music got onto the Al Benson sides, but after all this skullduggery and jiggery-pokery, it's a relief to encounter a studio session that was merely backdated, though Aristocrat did end up using matrix number 7127 twice. The Nighthawks were led by Robert Nighthawk, an extraordinary slide guitarist and singer of Delta-style blues. He was born Robert Lee McCollum on 30 November 1909, in Helena, Arkansas. In 1931 he was taught guitar by his cousin Houston Stackhouse, and afterwards began a nomadic career playing house parties and juke joints in the South, playing both harmonica and guitar. In 1935, McCollum (sometimes spelled McCullum) moved to St. Louis, making that city his home base. He began recording as Robert Lee McCoy for Bluebird in 1937; the following year he did another session for Bluebird under the name of Rambling Bob. He moved to Chicago and switched to the Decca label in 1940, recording under the name Peetie's Boy. Robert did some rambling during the 1940s, and took the name Robert Nighthawk after discovering that his 1937 song "Prowling Night Hawk" was still remembered. Aristocrat was the first label to catch up with him after the war.
Aristocrat apparently was seeking to improve its coverage of down-home blues by bringing Nighthawk into the studio, probably in August 1948. Other participants on the session were Nighthawk's girlfriend, Ethel Mae (alternate lead vocals), Sunnyland Slim (piano), and Willie Dixon (bass). The results of this session were not deemed satisfactory. We assume that the company decided to pass on them because Ethel Mae sang on two of the sides. One side finally appeared on a Chess single in December 1951, when the company wanted something to compete with his new release on rival label United. The other number that Robert Nighthawk sang on was remade at the next Nighthawks session in June 1949.
Note. Several items by The Nighthawks first appeared on an LP identified here as Chess [E] 6499 433. This was an individual disc in a 4-LP boxed set titled Genesis Volume 2: The Beginnings of Rock—Memphis to Chicago. The boxed set was issued by UK Phonogram in the early 1970s; the number for the entire set was Chess 6641 125.
An obvious priority, in light of the sales that Aristocrat 1305 was racking up, was to get Muddy Waters back into the studio as soon as could be managed without incurring the wrath of the Musicians Union. Aristocrat had already issued 4 of the 6 sides they had on him. The other two, with piano and alto sax accompaniment, were deemed unsuitable; the company preferred to stay with the successful formula, in which Muddy's voice and guitar were accompanied solely by Big Crawford's slap bass. So Waters and Crawford cut four new tunes, probably in August. Aristocrat 1306 was released in October, after a much shorter delay than either of Muddy's first two 78s. Another single looks to have been planned but scrapped; consequently, the remaining two sides (one of them a homage to Robert Johnson's "Kind Hearted Woman," complete with a falsetto passage that was part of Johnson's repertoire, but not normally part of Muddy's) had to wait nearly 20 years before they were released on a Chess LP.
We don't know how many copies Aristocrat 1801 sold after it was released in April 1948, but Leonard Chess and Evelyn Aron must have been pleased with the results, because they brought Duke Groner, Emmett Spicer, and Horace Palm back for a second session in August or September, and quickly released all four sides. Both sides of Aristocrat 1803, which turns up fairly often on the used market, are lounge ballads featuring Palm's schmaltzy baritone. (The little monologue in the middle of "Bluebird of Happiness" is pretty dire.) We haven't heard Aristocrat 1802, but we would be surprised if the leader, who earned his bread as a singer for over a decade, didn't rate a vocal feature somewhere.
Though Aristocrat chose not to record him again, Groner enjoyed steady work with his trio in Chicago for another decade. Meanwhile, Horace Palm moved to another long-running trio, with guitarist Lefty Bates and bassist Quinn Wilson; from 1954 to 1959 they recorded frequently as part of the Vee-Jay house band, under the direction of Al Smith. Meanwhile, in 1956, when his group had expanded temporarily to a quintet, Groner got to lead a session of his own for Vee-Jay; it offered substantially greater jazz content than the Aristocrats that we have heard. He disbanded the trio in 1961, working thereafter as a sideman. Duke Groner died in Chicago on November 7, 1992.
Tom Archia returned to the studio in October, for a serious jazz session with his working quartet of Willie Jones (piano), LeRoy Jackson (bass), and Wesley Landers (drums). On this occasion he was his rejoined by his dueling partner on "Hey Tom Archia," Gene Ammons. There was no mention of the other tenor player's presence on the label; he was still under contract to Mercury, though the rival company was getting close to major label status and was therefore taking no chances with the Union while the ban was still on. Two sides were released in November on Aristocrat 606 (Billboard, November 13, 1948, p. 37): "Swinging for Christmas" is a furiously fast medley of Christmas carols that trades back and forth between the tenor players; "Talk of the Town" also involves trading (first, a full chorus by Ammons, then a half-chorus by Archia, finally a coda by Ammons), but it is done so seamlessly that for years most listeners thought it was Ammons all the way. Two exciting bebop tenor battles (one of which would have required both sides of a 78) were left in the vault until 1960 ("Jam for Boppers") and 1972 ("The Battle").
Tom Archia remained in residency at the Macomba (except for a couple of stretches in 1949) until the club was destroyed in a fire in October of 1950. The Chess brothers would reissue four of his sides in November 1950 and January 1951, but did not record him again. Though steadily employed in the Chicago clubs during the 1950s, he would make just a handful of unheralded sideman appearances on record; his last session, which dates from 1960, was done for Jump Jackson's LaSalle label and has never been formally issued. In 1967, he returned to Houston, Texas, where his sister helped him recuperate from an injury that prevented him from playing. He was able to return to musical activity in Houston and spent the rest of his life there, dying of cancer on January 16, 1977.
As the recording ban eased up in the latter part of 1948, Andrew Tibbs reentered the recording studio in October or November, cutting a session with a Sax Mallard combo. This was Mallard's first opportunity to record since December 31, 1947. From January through May 1948 he divided his time between the New Harlem Cafe, the Ritz Lounge (still on off-nights, probably) and the Honeydripper Lounge. From June through August his combo was at the Tampico Lounge; at the beginnning of September, he settled in for four months at the Honeydripper. As he had done on his session of December 1947, Mallard put together a bigger ensemble with four horns and wrote special arrangements for the date. Besides the leader's alto sax, a trumpet player, a second alto player, and a tenor player were in the front line: the tenorist sounds like Eddie "Sugarman" Penigar. The rhythm section may have included Milton Ramey on piano and "Sleepy" Nelson on drums; we know they were in Mallard's combo a few months later. The bassist remains unidentified. Two blues from this session were isssued: "The Holidays Are Over" appeared on the B side of Aristocrat 1105 in December 1948, and "He's Got Her and Gone" appeared on the B side of 1106 in July 1949. Because the A sides were drawn from a somewhat later session on which Tibbs was accompanied (vocally and instrumentally) by The Dozier Boys, the label copy on both singles is a misleading mess. (It probably didn't help that "He's Got Her and Gone" had an ensemble vocal refrain, sung by Sugarman Penigar and other members of the Mallard band rather than by a vocal group.) The other two blues from this session remain unissued.
Leonard Chess and Evelyn Aron continued their focus on Muddy Waters, who made his second session of the year in October or November 1948. This time Muddy and his faithful bassist Big Crawford were joined by Baby Face Leroy Foster, who played rhythm guitar and sang on two titles of his own. Muddy laid down six sides (one of them a remake of "Mean Red Spider," which had been a complete commercial failure when he recorded it for Mayo Williams) and Baby Face Leroy took over for two more. Two singles by Muddy (Aristocrat 1307 and 1310) were released in February and June 1949, and a third looks to have been planned but abandoned. Foster's sides appeared in April 1949 on Aristocrat 1234.
The multitalented Baby Face Leroy Foster was born on 12 February 1923, in Algoma, Mississippi. He was one of the pioneers of the post-World War II southern blues resurgence in Chicago, arriving in the city in 1945 in the company of Little Walter Jacobs and pianist Johnny Jones. His vocals, drumming, and guitar picking can be found on some of the greatest Chicago bar-band blues. Before joining Muddy's band, he worked with Sunnyland Slim and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. In 1945 and 1946 he cut two sessions with pianist Lee Brown for J. Mayo Williams. Two sides came out on Wiiliams' Chicago label in 1945; another two with misleading label copy on Harlem in 1946; and two more in 1946 on Sid Nathan's Queen label (under a deal with Williams). Next he did a session backing James Clark for Columbia. He next appeared as the guitarist on two sides that Sunnyland Slim did for the Opera label, under the pseudonym Delta Joe; these could have been done in December 1947, although a 1948 date can't be ruled out. His Aristocrat sides were his first as a leader.
Foster led 2 sides for Tempo-Tone in May 1949, at a session that also included Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, Floyd Jones, Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, and Elga Edmonds. But neither saw release. He would appear (playing guitar, plus drums with his feet) on one more of Muddy's sessions for Aristocrat, in September 1949. But he got no opportunity to sing on that occasion, since Muddy was sharing the lead vocals with pianist Johnny Jones. The last time Foster would record with Muddy was on an extraordinary outing for Parkway in January 1950. The band at the session consisted of Muddy Waters and Little Walter, while Foster took the drum chair or played guitar with his hands and bass drum and hi-hat with his feet. Foster was given credit on four sides, two of which made up a remarkable performance of "Rollin' and Tumblin'." After leaving Muddy's group for good, Foster backed Mildred Richards on her JOB session and cut three of his own for JOB—in 1950, 1951, and 1952. He also backed J. B. Lenoir on his debut session (made in 1950 for JOB but dealt to Chess), and Sunnyland Slim on the only single to appear on the Sunny label. His 1952 sides remained unreleased for decades, and Foster never recorded again, dissipating his career in alcoholism. He died in Chicago, on 26 May 1958.
Within less than a month after his session with Sax Mallard, Andrew Tibbs was back in the studio with the vocal/instrumental group, The Dozier Boys. By this time, Tibbs was being booked by Universal Attractions, and appearing regularly in the city's top black and tans and theaters: the Ritz Show Lounge, the Club DeLisa, the Pershing Lounge, Martin's Corner, the Regal Theater, and the Indiana Theater. He was Aristocrat's biggest artist during 1948-49, which makes the label's turn towards the Southern-style blues of Muddy Waters all the more dramatic.
The Dozier Boys originated in 1946, at Waller High School on the near North Side of Chicago. Initially they sang gospel and were called the Four Tunes: the charter members of the group were Lucius Teague (lead vocals); Eugene Teague (baritone, guitar, arranger); Cornell Wiley (first tenor, string bass); and Benny Cotton (bass vocals). In 1947 Lucius Teague left (he was replaced by Bill Minor, who sang lead tenor and played drums); the group was also renamed in honor of Cornell Wiley's stepfather, Cyrus Dozier, who gave them a lot of financial support and encouragement. In early October 1948, they were performing at the West Side club Martin's Corner, on a bill with Jump Jackson's combo and Andrew Tibbs' older brother Kenneth. By the end of the month, they were working the Beige Room (in the basement of the Pershing Hotel) along with Gene Wright's Dukes of Swing; they would remain there until late December. According to Cornell Wiley, fellow bassist Willie Dixon (then a member of the Big Three) introduced them to Leonard Chess.
The Dozier Boys came out of the same string-band tradition as the original Four Blazes; none of them played piano. When they played their own instruments, record companies would add a piano in the studio to fill out the sound. The session pianist on this occasion was Sonny Blount, the music director for the Dukes of Swing. Two tracks from this session were released: "In a Traveling Mood" on the A side of Aristocrat 1105, and "In Every Man's Life" on the A side of Aristocrat 1106. On both, the lead effectively switched back and forth between Tibbs' high tenor and Benny Cotton's bass. The other two sides remain unissued after all these years.
The company obviously expected a lot out of the Dozier Boys, but remained unsure whether to let them play their own instruments in the studio, or entrust the accompaniment to others. So on their first session "on their own" the Dozier Boys were accompanied by Sax Mallard's combo. To confuse matters further, Mallard didn't play on either of the two sides that were released; they include just piano (probably Jimmy Bowman this time), bass, and drums (probably "Sleepy" Nelson). Eugene Teague did bring his guitar along, though. Two sides appeared in April 1949 on Aristocrat 3001, one of the company's scarcest releases. The venerable standard, "St. Louis Blues," featured a tenor lead by Bill Minor alternating with a bass lead by Benny Cotton. "She Only Fools with Me" (the Boys actually sang "fooled with me") used Minor's lead all the way. The other two numbers were never released, but one of them ("Big Time Baby," a jump composed by Sax Mallard) was remade in early December when the Dozier Boys teamed up with Gene Wright and the Dukes of Swing. Because of Aristocrat's dreadful record keeping, the two versions of "Big Time Baby" have often been confused by discographers.
Sax Mallard spent a couple of weeks at Club Sky Box in February 1949, then moved over to Club Maramba, a West Side spot that went for barwalking tenor men like T. S. Mims and Tommy "Mad Man" Jones. Pretty clearly, he was now playing tenor sax on the gig. though we rather doubt that he walked the bar. (Jimmy Bowman took his own gig as a leader in February, at the Pershing Lounge, so by this time he was definitely out of Mallard's combo.) In February and March, Sax Mallard recorded behind Sugarman Penigar and Arbee Stidham for RCA Victor (the Penigar session was also LaVern Baker's recording debut), and behind blues shouter Grant Jones for Decca. But the old Melrose machine was falling apart, and another studio outing with Arbee Stidham in July would be his last. From mid-April through the end of October 1949, Mallard was in residency at the Wonder Bar, in a trio with Milton Ramey and Sleepy Nelson; Harry Rozelle was the full-time vocalist. Ads for this gig were the first to mention his tenor sax playing, which would grow in importance as R&B kept moving away from the old Johnny Hodges jump-band sound.
Though Aristocrat didn't call him back in 1949, Leonard Chess kept Sax Mallard in mind; he would record for Chess in July 1950, backing Andrew Tibbs once more. In January 1951, he made a session as a leader that was later used to launch the Chess brothers' new Checker subsidiary. Mallard would make a memorable appearance on Roosevelt Sykes' first session for the new United label (July 1951) and did three sessions for Mercury (1951-1952) before returning to Checker for a session in 1952 and three in 1953. Although his band was still working regularly, he would make no further recordings as a leader. In 1957, as rock and roll bit sharply into the demand for his kind of music, Sax Mallard took a day job tuning pianos for the Chicago park system. He still got occasional club engagements, most of them far removed from the South Side, and received a call once in a while to record with a blues performer, most often his old friend Roosevelt Sykes. In his last years, he took no paying gigs because he was an official of the Chicago Federation of Musicians. Sax Mallard died of cancer in Chicago on August 29, 1986.
From October through December 1948, the Dozier Boys were working the Beige Room. The house band during that period was a mid-sized ensemble called the Dukes of Swing, which was led by bassist Eugene Wright. The Dukes were brought into the studio probably on account of their working relationship with the Doziers; they cut two instrumentals and two numbers featuring the vocal group.
Eugene Joseph Wright was born in Chicago on May 29, 1923. His first instrument was cornet, but he later switched to string bass. After graduating from high school, he started a group called the Dukes of Swing, which in its first incarnation lasted from 1943 to 1944. On returning from military service, Wright started a second Dukes of Swing unit that lasted for several months in 1946. In 1947 he was a regular member of Gene Ammons' combo, recording with Jug for Mercury. In 1948 he put together the third and final Dukes of Swing aggregation with pianist Sonny Blount as his music director. For a little while Wright was leading both the Dukes in the Beige Room and a full-sized big band upstairs in the Pershing Ballroom. The 1948 edition of the Dukes included some of the best young jazzmen in Chicago. The first trumpet was Hobart Dotson, and the second was Gail Brockman (who had been in the 1946 edition as well); Johnny Avant (who had recently defected from Red Saunders' band) was the trombonist; and the sax section consisted of Frank Robinson and Roy Grant (altos), Bill Evans and Melvin Scott (tenors), and Van Kelly (baritone). The drummer, temporarily lured away from the Macomba Lounge, was "Hendu" Henderson. However, for the recording session the ensemble was reduced to Hobart Dotson, Johnny Avant (who is heard only on one number), Frank Robinson, Melvin Scott, Van Kelly, and the rhythm section.
The 1948 edition of the Dukes had an ambitious book entirely written by Sonny Blount, including his arrangement of the theme from Spellbound. The instrumentals they ended up recording were a honking jump (Leonard Chess may have requested a number like "Pork 'n Beans," but he didn't write it) and an Ellingtonian blues ("Dawn Mist"). Melvin Scott on tenor saxophone is the most prominent soloist, playing in a muscular R&B style on "Big Time Baby," "Music Goes Round and Round" and "Pork 'n Beans," and lyrically Lestorian at the end of "Dawn Mist." Since this was his only known appearance on record, it's good to have this much. There is one solo for Van Kelly, in the bar-walking manner, on "Music." The theme statement on "Dawn Mist" isthe work of Frank Robinson. Hobart Dotson was the trumpet soloist on "Pork 'n Beans," on "Dawn Mist"; he got a brief statement on "Music," which is only fitting as the lyrics refer to his instrument.
The Dozier Boys are restricted to a single-chorus band vocal on "Music," while "Big Time Baby" is primarily their vehicle. Just one item from this session has ever been reissued: "Big Time Baby," when it was included by mistake on the Classics Andrew Tibbs compilation. The other sides are long overdue, as they are only legacy of one of the best working jazz bands in Chicago during the late 1940s. The Dukes were doing too many things for a jukebox-oriented independent to be able to do them justice. What they needed was a company with the resources to record jazz on LPs—but in Chicago, not even Mercury was using the emerging medium yet.
The Dukes broke up just before Christmas 1948 when Wright was hired away for a longer period by Count Basie. Returning in 1949 from several months on the road with the Basie band, Wright rejoined the Gene Ammons combo, playing various gigs around town with him and appearing on Jug's final session for Aristocrat in May 1950. In the early 1950s, Wright moved to West Coast, where he worked with Buddy DeFranco, Red Norvo, and Cal Tjader. He reached the height of his fame as a member of Dave Brubeck's quartet from 1957 to 1967, acquring the nickname "Senator" along the way. In his later years Wright has been active as a musician, a teacher, and a composer.
During the 1950s, most of the former Dukes remained active musically. Sonny Blount changed his name to Sun Ra in 1952, organized his first Arkestra in 1955, and recorded his "far out" music in Chicago from 1956 to 1960, before moving New York in 1961. Hobart Dotson worked regularly in Chicago, including a memorable stint in Sun Ra's Arkestra (1958 - 1959), then moved to New York City himself, where he worked with the bands of Charles Mingus, Slide Hampton, and Lionel Hampton. Melvin Scott led the band at the Flame Lounge in the early 1950s; Johnny Avant was constantly in demand for recording sessions; and Robinson and Henderson continued to work around town.
Blues singer and harmonica player Forest City Joe was born Joe Bennie Pugh, in Hughes, Arkansas, on 10 July 1926. These were his first recordings. Obviously they were done to exploit the death of the great John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, who was murdered on the streets of Chicago on 1 June 1948. The delayed release of topical material ("Memory of Sonny Boy" didn't come out until January 1949) lends credence to the story that Forest City Joe recorded for someone else who sold his sides to Aristocrat. Plus it would have been a departure from Aristocrat's business model to record a double session (8 sides) on an untried performer in place of the usual 4.
Forest City Joe began his career in the 1940s as a hobo musician, working his way up from Arkansas, to St. Louis (where he teamed up with Big Joe Williams), and then to Chicago in 1947. Leadbitter and Slaven's book gives Chicago as the location for his session and 2 December 1948 as the recording date, but we believe the recording was done in June or July, then the mastering was done in early December. Forest City Joe is quietly accompanied on the session by jazz guitarist J. C. Cole, an odd pairing given his country sound. Perhaps this was the reason that Aristocrat released just 2 sides out of the 8 cut at this session.
Pugh worked the clubs in Chicago until 1955, and then returned to Arkansas. He was ignored by record companies until 1959, when Alan Lomax on a field trip to Hughes, Arkansas, recorded him on eight sides as part of the Southern Roots LP series for Atlantic Records. He died in a car accident at Horseshoe Lake, Arkansas, on 3 April 1960.
Mastering (not recording) dates finally appear in the books toward the end of the year. October 12 for the last Tom Archia session (U7140-U7143) seems close enough to the recording date, and we have nothing better to go on. But while U7127-U7130 by the Nighthawks was entered into the books on November 10—the date given in the liners to the Aristocrat of the Blues and in the Leadbitter discographies—it cannot have been recorded then. Using mastering dates for the end of November and the beginning of December bunches sessions too tightly together. There is further confusion because Aristocrat entered one session by The Dozier Boys (U7156-7159 with Sax Mallard) into the books but left out another that took place a little later with Eugene Wright and his Dukes of Swing (UB9545-9548). Maybe this happened because one title ("Big Time Baby") was remade at the second session? In any event it led to plenty of confusion.
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|"Doc" Jo Jo Adams with Tom Archia's All Stars||Cabbage Head Part I||Aristocrat 803A||early 1948||August 1948|
|"Doc" Jo Jo Adams with Tom Archia's All Stars||Cabbage Head Part II||Aristocrat 803B||early 1948||August 1948|
|Tom Archia and his All Stars||Hey Tom Archia||Aristocrat 604A||early 1948||August 1948|
|Tom Archia and his All Stars||McKie's Jam for Boppers||Aristocrat 605||early 1948||October 1948|
|Skeetz Van and Orchestra [Gene Ammons]||Come Back to Sorrento||Aristocrat 3301A||early 1948||February 1949|
|Skeetz Van and His Orchestra [Gene Ammons]||Bronzeville Swing||Aristocrat 3301B||early 1948||February 1949|
|U7127||Nighthawks (vocal: Ethel Mae)||Down the Line||(Chess [E] 6499 433)||July or August 1948
(mastered November 10, 1948)
|U7128||Nighthawks (vocal: Ethel Mae)||Handsome Lover||(Chess [E] 6499 433)||July or August 1948|
|U7129||Nighthawks (vocal: Robert McCullum)||Return Mail Blues||unissued||July or August 1948|
|U-7130||Robert Nighthawk||My Sweet Lovin' Woman||(Chess 1484)||July or August 1948||(December 1951)|
|U7131||Muddy Waters guitar and rythm [sic] accompaniment||Train Fare Home||Aristocrat 1306A||August 1948||October 1948|
|U7132||Muddy Waters||Down South Blues||[Aristocrat 1308?]
(Chess LP 1511)
|U7133||Muddy Waters||Kind Hearted Woman||[Aristocrat 1308?]
(Chess LP 1511)
|U7134||Muddy Waters guitar and rythm [sic] accompaniment||Sittin' Here and Drinkin'||Aristocrat 1306B||August 1948||October 1948|
|U-7135||Vocal by Horace Palm | Duke Groner Trio||Bluebird of Happiness||Aristocrat 1803||August or September 1948||September 1948|
|U7136||Duke Groner||I'm Glad for Your Sake||Aristocrat 1802||August or September 1948||September 1948|
|U7137||Duke Groner||You Can't Be Mine||Aristocrat 1802||August or September 1948||September 1948|
|U-7138||Vocal by Horace Palm | Duke Groner Trio||Lilacs in the Rain||Aristocrat 1803||August or September 1948||September 1948|
|U7140?||Tom Archia and his All Stars||Jam for Boppers||(Chess LP 1445)||early October, 1948|
[U-7140 on label]
|Tom Archia and His All Stars||Swinging for Christmas
(Boppin' for Santa)
|early October, 1948
(mastered October 12, 1948)
|U-7142||Tom Archia and His All Stars||Talk of the Town||Aristocrat 606
|early October, 1948
(mastered October 12, 1948)
|U7143?||Tom Archia and his All Stars||The Battle||(Chess CHV 414)||early October, 1948|
|U-7144||Andy Tibbs and The Dozier Boys
[actually Sax Mallard's Combo!]
|He's Got Her and Gone||Aristocrat 1106-B||October 1948||July 1949|
|U7145||Andrew Tibbs with Sax Mallard's Combo||Telephone Blues||unissued||October 1948|
|U-7146||Andrew Tibbs with Sax Mallard's Combo||The Holidays Are Over||Aristocrat 1105B||October 1948||December 1948|
|U7147||Andrew Tibbs with Sax Mallard's Combo||One Sided Affair||unissued||October 1948|
|U7148||Muddy Waters with rythm [sic] accompaniment||You're Gonna' Miss Me (When I'm Dead and Gone)||Aristocrat 1307A||October or November 1948
(mastered November 30, 1948)
|U7149||Muddy Waters with rhythm accompaniment||Mean Red Spider||Aristocrat 1307B||October or November 1948||February 1949|
|U7150||Muddy Waters||Standin' Here Tremblin'||[Aristocrat 1309?]
(Chess LP 9180)
|October or November 1948|
|U7151||Muddy Waters with rhythm accompaniment||Streamlined Woman||Aristocrat 1310A||October or November 1948||June 1949|
|U7152||Muddy Waters||Hard Days||[Aristocrat 1309?]
(Chess [E] LP 6499 433)
|October or November 1948|
|U7153||Muddy Waters with rhythm accompaniment||Muddy Jumps One||Aristocrat 1310B||October or November 1948||June 1949|
|U7154||Leroy Foster and Muddy Waters||Locked Out Boogie||Aristocrat 1234A||October or November 1948||April 1949|
|U7155||Leroy Foster and Muddy Waters||Shady Grove Blues||Aristocrat 1234B||October or November 1948||April 1949|
|U-7160||Andrew Tibbs and The Dozier Boys with Sax Mallard's Combo
[Sax Mallard's Combo not really present]
|In a Traveling Mood||Aristocrat 1105A||late November 1948||December 1948|
|U-7161||Andy Tibbs and The Dozier Boys||In Every Man's Life||Aristocrat 1106-A||late November 1948||July 1949|
|U7162||Andrew Tibbs and The Dozier Boys||I Want to Be Loved||unissued||late November 1948|
|U7163||Andrew Tibbs and The Dozier Boys||This Is Always||unissued||late November 1948|
|U7156||The Dozier Boys with Sax Mallard's Combo||She Only Fools with Me||Aristocrat 3001B||late November 1948
(mastered in early December, 1948)
|U7157||The Dozier Boys with Sax Mallard's Combo||Saint Louis Blues||Aristocrat 3001A||late November 1948
(mastered in early December, 1948)
|U7158||The Dozier Boys with Sax Mallard's Combo||Invitation to the Blues||unissued||late November 1948|
|U7159||The Dozier Boys with Sax Mallard's Combo||Big Time Baby||unissued||late November 1948|
|UB-9545||The Dozier Boys and Eugene Wright||Big Time Baby||Aristocrat 3002-A||early December 1948||September 1949|
|UB-9546||Eugene Wright and his Dukes of Swing||Pork'n Beans||Aristocrat 11001A||early December 1948||June 1949|
|UB-9547||Eugene Wright and his Dukes of Swing||Dawn Mist||Aristocrat 11001B||early December 1948||June 1949|
|UB-9548||The Dozier Boys and Eugene Wright||Music Goes Round and Round||Aristocrat 3002-B||early December 1948||September 1949|
|U-7164 [purchased]||Forest City Joe with Rythm [sic] Accompaniment||Memory of Sonny Boy||Aristocrat 3101A||June or July 1948
(mastered December 2, 1948)
|U7165 [purchased]||Forest City Joe||Special Delivery Man||(Chess [J] LP 6032)||June or July 1948|
|U7166 [purchased]||Forest City Joe||Shady Lane Woman||(Chess [J] LP 6032)||June or July 1948|
|U7167 [purchased]||Forest City Joe with Rhythm Accompaniment||A Woman on Every Street||Aristocrat 3101B||June or July 1948||January 1949|
|U7168 [purchased]||Forest City Joe||Sawdust Bottom||(Chess [E] 6641 047)||June or July 1948|
|U7169 [purchased]||Forest City Joe||Ash Street Boogie||(Negro Rhythm LP 107)||June or July 1948|
|U7170 [purchased]||Forest City Joe||Mean and Mistreatin' Woman||(Chess [E] 6499 433)||June or July 1948|
|U7171 [purchased]||Forest City Joe||Lonesome Day Blues||(Chess [E] 6499 433)||June or July 1948|
By the end of 1948, Aristocrat could boast of three "Great Hits" (which the label celebrated in a Christmas Day advertisement in Cash Box). These were Aristocrat 1305, by Muddy Waters; Aristocrat 1103, "I Feel like Crying" by Andrew Tibbs; "And the Outstanding HIT of This Season," Aristocrat 606, "Swinging for Christmas" by Tom Archia. OK, the last was more wish than reality—but the first two were genuine.
As the year opened, the label wanted it known who was on its roster. A brief item in the Chicago Defender threw together acts long associated with the company (Muddy Waters, Andrew Tibbs, Tom Archia, Dr. Jo Jo Adams, Sax Mallard, and Prince Cooper), with those who had recorded in 1948 and were just now being mentioned (Forest City Joe, Skeets Van, and the Dozier Boys). Aspirationally, the blurb mentioned Claude McLin, who was indeed about to record for Aristocrat, and Tiny Davis and the Kats on the Kick, who so far as we know never did ("Aristocrt [sic] Signs Stars," January 22, 1949, p. 16).
Among the jazz contingent, Gene Ammons made as many as 8 tracks, on his own and backing singers. There is no longer any doubt of the central role that Leonard Chess was playing at Aristocrat. He had arranged for Ammons to headline at the Macomba Lounge during the month of February, while Tom Archia worked Ammons' usual precinct over at the Congo Club—and the session was cut on February 28. Although Jug was still under contract to Mercury—in fact, had just done a session for Mercury on February 5—Aristocrat took the risk of mentioning him on the label, albeit as a sideman and not the leader. He is credited as a featured player on the Christine Chatman single, Aristocrat 8001. The two instrumentals, which came out on Aristocrat AR-711, were packaged as the "Three O'Clock Jam Session," with all of the participants named on the label (though guitarist Leo Blevins' name was misspelled "Blivers"). This would be the third and last Aristocrat to list all of the musicians on the label (the other two were by the Five Blazes, way back at the beginning of the company's history). Two more vocal sides would eventually be issued under Ammons' name, but only after the company's name changed in June 1950.
The Ammons/Chatman session is the only studio outing by the legendary Chicago drummer Ike Day, who had previously appeared on the live sessions that Al Benson recorded during the first half of 1948. "Once in a While" and "Stuffy" are straightahead jazz (the latter an uptempo bop number that gives Day the most exposure). "Hey Mr. Freddy" is peppy R&B, while "Do You Really Mean It" approximates a lounge trio, with tenor, piano, and guitar; the bass and drums are nearly inaudible. Day lays out completely on the similarly lounge-oriented "Bless You."
"Bless You" was the work of Mary Frances Graham, who may have been from Jackson, Tennesse. In a brief piece (datelined to that Tennessee town), the Chicago Defender announced that the label had signed "the little girl who made critics rave when she played a limited engagement at Club Harlem, Alantic City, last summer" ("Aristocrat Signs Graham," February 19, 1949, p. 15). At some point, the company lost its enthusiasm for the singer. Her only released side came out after it changed its name.
The session is also the only Aristocrat recording to feature Christine Chatman, a pianist and singer who came from Indiana. (She also played accordion, an instrument that doesn't show up on any of her recordings so far as we know). For a time, she led a 7-piece band out of Indianapolis (two trumpets, two saxes, piano/accordion, bass, and drums); it was heavily promoted by the Ferguson brothers, on an early version of what became known as the chitlin' circuit. She recorded four numbers with a 6-piece ensemble for Decca in New York City in April 1944. On the first release, one side was titled "Naptown Boogie"; the other, "Hurry Hurry," was the recording debut of Big Maybelle, who had been singing in her band. Decca held back the other two sides for more than 5 years. Chatman spent a couple of months in Chicago later in the year, playing the DuSable Lounge (her contract for 2 weeks there, with options, was filed by Local 208 on November 2, 1944), then moving on in December to Club El Fay (indefinite contract filed December 21). But she promptly got into some kind of beef with Local 208 (probably involving failure to pay members of her band) and on January 4, 1945, she was booted out:
Member Christine Chatman failed to appear as notified to show cause why she should not be penalized for violation of Sec. XI, C-1 of the Local By-Laws. Accordingly, she lost her case by default.
ON MOTION, THE BOARD RULED THAT MEMBER CHRISTINE CHATMAN'S PARTIAL MEMBERSHIP SHALL BE TERMINATED, AND HER ENTIRE INDEBTEDNESS TO LOCAL 208 AND ITS MEMBERS SHALL BE HELD AGAINST HER. (Local 25, A. F. of M. to be so notified)
Local 25 was based in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Christine Chatman is the vocalist on "Hey Mr. Freddy," "When Your Hair Has Turned to Silver" and "Do You Really Mean It." Because she was mentioned on the labels to Aristocrat AR-711, discographers have often put her on other sessions that Gene Ammons did for the label—even on some of Tom Archia's. These were all the work of other pianists. In fact, there is no reason to think that Christine Chatman was in Chicago when they were done. After getting kicked out of Local 208, she had little reason to spend time there.
At some point in the early 1950s, Christine Chatman moved to Los Angeles. She cut a single for (Recorded in) Hollywood in 1954, as the featured vocalist with Peppy Prince and his Orchestra (Cash Box, April 28, 1954, p. 28). When Prince moved over to the Million Dollar label that same year, she was featured again ("Run Gal Run" b/w "Wino's Lament"). In 1955, she played piano and organ on an Oscar McLollie single ("Convicted" b/w "Roll Hot Rod Roll") for the Modern label. And around this time, she recorded "All by Myself" (her composition) and "Who Put the Lights Out" with the Peppy Prince Orchestra for A Personality Pre-Release; Little Willie Jackson also sang on the record. She is also said to have played on a studio session by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters for King. We lose track of Christine Chatman after that. (Our thanks to Bob Eagle for information about this woefully underdocumented artist.)
Because the Aristocrat and Chess masters were so poorly organized, no one realized for years that the Christine Chatman sides came from the same session as "Stuffy" and "Once in a While"—or even that they had been released. They were first included in a reissue package in 2003, when Classics put them on the second volume of its chronological Gene Ammons series.
Shortly after completing this session, Gene Ammons joined Woody Herman's big band as a featured soloist, spending most of the period between March and September on the road. On returning to Chicago, he did his last 4 sides for Mercury on October 4, 1949. He would return to Aristocrat in January 1950 after his Mercury contract expired.
Leonard Chess continued his tenor saxophonist exchange program for another round, bringing Claude McLin in to headline at the Macomba in the second half of March. McLin would have been well known to him because he had enjoyed a long run at Ciro's Theater Lounge and made frequent appearances at the Macomba's jam sessions. A session was scheduled for March 22, on which McLin backed singer and pianist Laura Rucker; the group was rounded out with McLin's regular sidemen: guitarist Rudy Mason, bassist Walter Spratley and drummer James King. (McLin would return to record as a leader for the Chess label, cutting three more sessions in 1950 and 1951.)
Born at a date unknown to us (our guess is just before 1910), Laura Rucker may have been from Kansas City originally; reportedly she worked there with trumpet player Big Ed Lewis in 1926. Her first recordings were made for Paramount in Grafton, Wisconsin, in 1931; she sang "St. Louis Blues" and "Little Joe" while pianist Cassino Simpson accompanied her (both of these sides were reissued on John Steiner's S D label in the mid-1940s). She cut three more blues for Paramount around the same time: a duet with Emmet Mathews, a duet with Blind Blake, and a duet with "George Ramsey" (generally though to be Georgia Tom Dorsey). By this time, she appears to have been based in Chicago.
She next recorded in Chicago as a leader for Vocalion (1935) and Decca (1936). These were small-group jazz sides on which she played piano. In fact her 1935 version of "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" went unreleased at the time, probably because she was emulating Fats Waller too fervently. One of her specialties during the mid-1930s, a perky number called "Something's Wrong"—"If there's too much tenor in his talk, something's wrong"—would not sit well with gay activists today. In 1939 Laura Rucker also made an appearance on Bluebird as a vocalist with the Earl Hines band.
In 1934, Rucker played the 65 Club (65 East Garfield). From 1935 to 1940 she was a regular at Warren Larue's New Deal Tavern (located at Garfield and the "L"), getting frequent exposure in the Defender. The March 18, 1939 issue, for example, ran a photo (she was a rather regal looking lady) and reported on her engagement at LaRue's, saying she was known for her renditions of "I Can Get along Very Well without You" and "Deep Purple." Many of the items advertised her willingness to play and sing requests of the popular songs of the day. In 1940-41 she performed at the New Harlem Café (350 East 51st).
During the war years, Rucker often got work in Loop nighteries. On January 15, 1942, her contract with Tin Pan Alley was accepted and filed by Musicians Union Local 208. On February 5, her contract was posted with entrepreneur Sam Beer (we're not sure which club he operated). On July 2, 1942 she filed another "indefinite" contract with Tin Pan Alley. On September 16, 1943, her "indefinite" contract with the 2530 Club was accepted and filed. On October 21, 1943, her contract with Tin Pan Alley was posted by Local 208. On June 1, 1944, her contract with the Three Deuces (407 South Wabash) was accepted and filed. This Week in Chicago, an entertainment guide aimed at White audiences and focused on entertainment in the Loop, mentions Laura Rucker ("Decca's Sensational Recording Artist") in its December 9, 1944 issue; she was still resident at the Three Deuces. Peggy Lee said she used to go listen to Rucker sing with drummer Baby Dodds on Rush Street, claiming she got her style for Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" from Rucker. On January 3, 1946, Rucker filed an indefinite contract with Tin Pan Alley under a married name, Laura Rucker Wills.
From 1946 through 1949 Rucker continued to work Chicago nighteries regularly. Not too long after her Aristocrat session she was playing the No. 10 at Madison and Crawford ("Chicago Band Briefs," Down Beat, July 1, 1949, p. 4). The numbers she sang for Aristocrat—two ballads (one of them her own composition) and two blues—-we assume were typical of her repertoire during the period. She was in good form vocally on her own composition, "I Need You When," but the song is of indifferent quality, and Claude McLin did not play on it. "Again" is a better-written sentimental ballad on which McLin's sensitive accompaniment complements her singing. "Cryin' the Blues" is suavely sung and well played by the entire band, inlcuding Rucker herself; Aristocrat may have passed on releasing it because it was deemed old-fashioned in style.
Laura Rucker did not record again for Aristocrat—or for any other label, so far as we know. She continued to be active on the Chicago scene during the first half of the 1950s; we don't know what happened to her after that.
Claude McLin was born Claude Johnson McLin Jr. in Chicago, on December 27, 1925; he attended DuSable High School, gradating in August 1944. In April 1944, he played in a Chicago-area "baby band," led by Levi Sayles and probably sponsored by Captain Walter Dyett; he sat next to an even younger tenor saxophonist named Johnny Griffin. On graduating from high school, he was inducted into the Army. On returning to Chicago in late July 1946, he picked up occasional work in the clubs and a regular spot on the Sunday matinee dances that McKie Fitzhugh was promoting at the Pershing Ballroom. On several occasions, these would put him on the same bill as his idol Lester Young. He also got regular publicity in the Defender for his tenor battles with Gene Ammons, Von Freeman, Tom Archia, Johnny Griffin, Jay Peters, and others. Beginning in February 1947, he also picked up regular club gigs, at places like Jimmy's Palm Garden and the Hollywood Lounge. From June through December 1947, Claude McLin and his 2 Kings and a Queen, with Wanda Chevonry, piano, Walter Spratley, bass, and James King, drums, were in residence at Ciro's Theater Bar, 820 East 39th Street. McLin sat in frequently at the Macomba Lounge during this period, which is probably when he came to the attention of Leonard Chess.
In January 1948, McLin's combo worked the New Savoy Ballroom, moving to George's Cocktail Loung and then back to Ciro's in February. At some point during the spring, he was probably included in some of the live tracks from the Pershing Ballroom that Al Benson taped and later sold to Aristocrat—but the tenor soloing on these was all by Tom Archia and Gene Ammons. During the remainder of the year, he worked at El Casino, the Quality Lounge, the Q Lounge, the H&A Lounge, and Leo's Lounge. When Wanda Shevonry left town to attend college, her replacement was Wild Bill Davis.
In March 1949, Leonard Chess brought Claude McLin into the Macomba for two weeks before Tom Archia returned from working the Congo Club. The recording session took place not long after McLin started at the Macomba (his last day there was April 3). In May, McLin's combo was at the Boulevard Lounge, and from June through November 1949 his quartet (with Clarence "Sleepy" Anderson on piano and Gene Wright on bass for part of the run) was in residence at El Morocco Lounge, another establishment in the immediate neighborhood of the Macomba.
McLin would run into trouble finding work in 1950 (outside of the ongoing Sunday matinees at the Pershing Ballroom), and a Parkway session that he did behind trombonist Bennie Green was shelved. But Leonard Chess remembered him and brought him back for three sessions as a leader on the new Chess label. The July 1950 session produced a hit version of "Mona Lisa"; it was followed up in November 1950 and August 1951. Claude McLin was also caught on a fan's tape recorder when he and members of Von Freeman's combo accompanied Charlie Parker at a Pershing Ballroom concert in October 1950; the tracks were later issued on Savoy.
But work in the clubs dried up in 1951, and around the beginning of 1952, Claude McLin and his wife Jacqueline (who was expecting their first child) packed up the family car and drove to Los Angeles. In LA, he became quite prosperous as a working musician, adopting a growl on his instrument that was useful for R&B work, and taking up the organ trio format in 1956 or 1957; he also made eight 45 rpm singles as a leader for small labels, including a couple that he owned a share in. But after 1965, his musical career evaporated and he went to work for Avis Rent-a-Car, driving a bus at the Los Angeles Airport. Suffering from heart disease, he retired from Avis in 1993 or 1994 and died in Los Angeles on July 21, 1995.
Working with an extremely tight advertising budget, Aristocrat nonetheless placed an advertisement in the Pittsburgh Courier for March 26, 1949. Perhaps expanded distribution was in the offing. The ad gives a fair sense of what the company deemed important at this point in its development—except it mentions Sunnyland Slim but not Muddy Waters. Sherman Hayes is nowhere to be seen, nor are any gospel acts.
Not long after his Aristocrat sides were released, St. Louis Jimmy became Joe Brown's business partner in launching the new JOB label. He recorded a session in August 1949 with another Sunnyland Slim-led combo (this time, Sam Casimir was the guitarist); after one JOB release that got no distribution, most of the session was unloaded to Apollo. St. Louis Jimmy apparently dumped his share in JOB in 1950 and did not share in that operation's subsequent ups and downs. Mercury, Regal, and Savoy also put out material that he had recorded in 1948 and 1949. St. Louis Jimmy recorded for Duke around 1953. His last commercial single was done for Parrot in 1956, with a Red Saunders unit. But as the blues revival picked up he recorded for Bluesville, Delmark, and Spivey, also making a memorable guest appearance on a 1960 Otis Spann album for Candid. During his declining years, St. Louis Jimmy lived in the basement of Muddy Waters' house; he died in 1977.
In the spring of 1949, Leonard Chess and Evelyn Aron decided to get back into gospel music (which up to now had been represented only by the Seven Melody Men). They acquired two sides by the Blue Jay Singers, then followed with new sessions by the Reverend Gatemouth Moore and the Norfolk Singers.
Gospel historian Doug Seroff has described the six 1946 recordings by the Famous Blue Jay Singers—featuring the switch-off leads of Silas Steele and Charles Bridges—as the work of "the most powerful quartet that ever recorded." The sides were recorded in Chicago under the auspices of J. Mayo Williams, who had been a legendary talent scout for Paramount and later for Decca. In the mid-40s, Williams was still finding and recording talented singers and musicians, but he had no longer had a sense of what would appeal to most record buyers, and his tiny boutique labels lacked publicity and distribution. Four of the Blue Jay Singers' sides were released on Williams' Harlem label and two on Ivan Ballin's 20th Century label, which was headquartered in Philadelphia. In March 1949, Aristocrat picked up and reissued two of the most compelling sides that had been released on Harlem: "I'm Bound For Canaan Land" and "In the Upper Room." Aristocrat 3500 would be the last 78 to be issued with the original white label.
The Famous Blue Jay Singers of Birmingham, Alabama—to use their full name—had a long history. They were formed in 1926 and recorded a multi-day session for the Paramount label in January 1932. At that time the group consisted of Silas Steele (lead), Charles Beal (baritone), Jimmie Hollingsworth (tenor), and Clarence Parnell (bass). They cut twelve sides, but Paramount would shut down a few months later, and the Depression put a serious crimp on recording everywhere. After World War II, Silas Steele augmented his powerful voice by bringing into the group another great veteran lead, commanding baritone Charles Bridges. He was a Birmingham native who had earlier achieved fame as founder and lead of the Birmingham Jubilee Singers, who recorded from 1926 to 1930. After the 1946 session, Steele left the Famous Blue Jay Singers, and Bridges took over. The group subsequently recorded for Sittin' in With (1949), Bluebonnet (1949), Decca (1950), and Trumpet (1952).
Originally a blues shouter, Reverend Gatemouth Moore was born Arnold Dwight Moore, on 8 November 1913, in Topeka, Kansas. When he was in his teens, he moved to Kansas City and sang with the bands of Bennie Moten, Tommy Douglas, and Walter Barnes. He was one of the survivors of the Rhythm Club fire that took place in Natchez, Mississippi, in April 1940 and claimed the lives of more than 150 people, including Barnes and most of his band. He made his first recordings for Kansas City-based Gilmore's Chez Paree label in 1945, which included his signature song, "I Ain't Mad at You Pretty Baby." He then recorded four sessions for National during 1946 1947, three in New York City and one in Chicago. Moore joined King in 1947, and recorded three sessions, the third a marathon done in Chicago at the end of the year to stock up before the recording ban. He performed extensively in Chicago during the late 1940s, with engagements at the Club DeLisa in 1946 and 1947, at the Ritz Show Lounge in 1947, and at the Club DeLisa again in 1948 and 1949.
Moore brought his blues career to a dramatic end on stage at the Club DeLisa in January 1949, when he switched from "I Ain't Mad at You Pretty Baby" right into a gospel song. (The last Defender ad including him on the bill there appeared on January 8.) A few months later, there was a notice in the May 14 Chicago Defender to the effect that he was now a minister and that week had signed with Aristocrat to record "his favorite gospel songs." By that time he was working as a religious DJ in Memphis. Moore would not record blues again until 1972, when he made an LP for Al Smith on ABC Bluesway. In 1977, he followed up with an LP on Blues Spectrum, done with Johnny Otis. Moore died on 19 May 2004, in Yazoo City, Mississippi.
Moore's four sides for Aristocrat bear UB numbers adjacent to those the company used for the Eugene Wright session, which we know was done in December 1948 (it can't have been any later, because the Wright band broke up just before Christmas of that year). But the most plausible date for this session is April 1949. In any event, Rev. Moore would have needed some time to find a church and train a choir. Apparently some of United Broadcasting Studio's UB9000 series numbers were assigned to material recorded in 1948, in such a way as to throw off anyone from the Union who might be looking for sessions conducted while the ban was still on.
There is an anomaly in the latter-day 400 series: two records, both released in February 1950, and both purporting to be Aristocrat 409. One is by guitarist Floyd Smith from a session of June 8, 1949, done by John Coppage at United Broadcasting Studios and later sold to Leonard Chess; the other is by the Dozier Boys, recorded for Aristocrat in December. Meanwhile, there is no Aristocrat 408. So which release was originally intended to bear this number?
Floyd Smith was born in St. Louis, on January 25, 1917. Originally a banjoist, he became one of the earliest adopters of the electric guitar and was influenced by Django Reinhardt. He first recorded with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra in 1937. In 1937 the first electric guitar, the Gibson ES-150, became widely available; Eddie Durham took up the instrument and in turn converted Smith and Charlie Christian. Smith's reputation was made by his debut session with Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy, on March 16, 1939. This produced his Decca recording of "Floyd's Guitar Blues", which exhibited slide playing on the Gibson ES-150 electric guitar. Smith continued to work and record regularly with Andy Kirk until the recording ban hit in July 1942. He served in the army during World War II, participating in the D-Day landings and, under less harrowing circumstances, jamming with Django Reinhardt in Paris. On finishing his military service in 1945 he returned to Kirk's band, cutting four more sessions with them between November 27, 1945 and December 2, 1946. He arrived in Chicago with Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy in August 1946 (ads ran in the Chicago Defender for Kirk at the Pershing Ballroom on August 29, and for Kirk's "2nd Smash week" at the Band Box. Both prominently mentioned Smith).
On December 7, 1946, Floyd Smith opened at the DuSable Circular Bar and Lounge (764 Oakwood Boulevard). The other members of his trio were Bill Huff at the piano and Booker Collins on bass. Hy-Tone took an immediate interest, recording six sides that same month with an expanded unit that included Nat Jones on alto sax and Curtis "Geronimo" Walker on drums. One side was a remake of "Floyd's Guitar Blues" and the other 5 featured vocals by Jo Jo Adams. The trio would continue at the DuSable until July 1950. Smith guested on sessions by Earl Hines for MGM (1948) and Dizzy Gillespie for Capitol (1950); he also recorded for Lyric in 1949 (nothing was released) and appeared on two freelance sessions organized by John Coppage (we don't know what happened to the sides recorded on May 20).
In any event, the Floyd Smith 409—two blues by his regular trio (they are said on the label to include vocals by Floyd himself)—didn't circulate much. Even though he held down steady gigs in Chicago in 1949 and 1950, Floyd Smith didn't realize that his sides had been released until somebody told him, in November 1950, that the Chess reissue was being played on the radio. And finding out that his record had been released twice when Coppage had never paid him for doing the session didn't leave him well disposed toward future work with the Chess brothers.
Smith's trio held together through the end of the DuSable engagement, and probably beyond; on August 3, 1950, Floyd Smith posted a contract for an indefinite period at Strode's Lounge, and on December 7 he posted a contract for a week at Harry's Lounge. After his trio broke up, Smith recorded in Chicago for Decca (October 1951 and February and April 1952) as a member of a combo led by Horace Henderson; his vocals were featured on some of the sides. He left town in 1952 and toured until 1957 as a member of Wild Bill Davis's highly successful organ trio. After an obscure session for Mark in 1956, he made an valedictory LP in France for Black & Blue in 1972, with Will Bill Davis on organ. Smith died in Indianapolis on March 29, 1982.
An addition to the company's nightclub R&B roster was a combo called the Duke Jenkins Aristocrats. We have never found a reference to this group in the Chicago Defender—for the excellent reason that they were from out of town, and never performed on the South or West Side. It looks as though they worked in Chicago for a total of 5 or 6 months in 1949. On June 2, 1949, Musicians Union Local 208 accepted and filed Duke Jenkins' contract for 2 weeks at the Argyle Show Lounge. His band was first mentioned in Pat Harris's "Chicago Band Briefs" column on July 1, 1949: "Duke Jenkins' six making the Argyle jump" (Down Beat, July 1, 1949, p. 4). Two weeks later they rated more detail from Harris, who was not terribly fond of R&B (Down Beat, July 15, 1949, p. 4):
Duke Jenkins' six-piecer from Canton, Ohio, recently stirring things at the Argyle. Lots of sound and movement, not much meaning. Canton cats are Leroy Clark, trumpet; Waymon Atkinson, tenor; Freddie Jenkins, alto; William Evans, drums; Wallick Dean, bass; and Jenkins, piano. Made their first records, for Aristocrat, in Chicago.
Some sources add that Duke Jenkins' given name was Earl, and that Duke and Freddie were brothers.
The one Aristocrat side that we have heard, "Baby I'm Sick of You," is a slick, snarky parody of King Cole, sung by the leader. Freddie Jenkins takes a well-groomed alto sax solo in the Louis Jordan manner. The flip was a "Jenkins adaption" [sic] of "Berceuse." In any event, nightclub patrons liked what Duke Jenkins was up to, because on July 7, he posted a 4-week contract with the Brass Rail, a prominent spot in the Loop, and on September 1, the same club held him over with an "indefinite" contract. On November 3, 1949, he posted a contract for 4 weeks "with mutual options" with a joint called the Midnight Sun. After that, Jenkins drops off the Local 208 contract lists, never to return. He worked regularly in Cleveland, which yielded few recording opportunities, but did record in Chicago on one further occasion: Duke Jenkins would be responsible for two releases on the Cobra label that were recorded in 1956.
We formerly placed the Duke Jenkins session in April 1949, but there is no evidence that his group was in town before the end of May. And the next items with matrix numbers in the U7000 series and a firm recording date come from the Nighthawks' session of July 12, 1949. What's more, the group was mentioned in Down Beat on July 1, 1949 but its session for Aristocrat didn't get covered until the next issue, two weeks later. Late June or early July 1949 is our best current estimate. Evelyn Aron had a least a test pressing of Aristocrat 811 ready in early August, when she was promoting "Berceuse" to Cash Box's Chicago writer (August 6, 1949, p. 9). The single was listed as a new release in Billboard on August 13 (p. 28) and was reviewed on August 20 (p. 107).
Mike Rowe's Chicago Breakdown and Leadbitter and Slaven's second edition (Blues Records 1943-1970 A-K,1987) mention a session by guitarist and vocalist Elijah C. Jones (aka Kid Slim), which were "originally recorded" for Aristocrat but were not released until they appeared on an LP years later. The date given by LS is "c. 1949." However, George Paulus, who owns the acetates from the Kid Slim session and released them on his St. George label, says that they carry no matrix numbers. Most likely, the Kid Slim material was obtained from another source.
The company sought to solidify its commitment to gospel music by recording an ensemble called the Norfolk Singers, about whom we unfortunately know nothing. Two sides of theirs, cut at United Broadcasting Studios in July, appeared on Aristocrat 906.
Although disappointed in the results of their first session, Leonard Chess and Evelyn Aron knew there was a market for downhome blues. So they brought back the Nighthawks back for a session on July 12. Ernest Lane (piano) and Willie Dixon (bass) provided the accompaniment. When it was done, Robert McCollum (as Local 208 spelled his name) had just settled in at the H&T Tavern (contract for an indefinite period filed on July 7; he probably stayed till October, when he was replaced by John Brim). As far as we know, this was Willie Dixon's first appearance on a recording session for the company. By 1954, Dixon would be occupying an important role at Chess, but in 1949, he was still a member of the Big Three trio, which was under contract to Columbia.
One of the sides cut on July 12, "Return Mail Blues," was a remake of a number cut the previous year; so far as we can determine, all releases of the title have used the remake. The best of the five tracks were "Black Angel Blues" and "Anna Lee Blues," both blues classics that feature outstanding slide work; they were released in November on Aristocrat 2301. "Black Angel Blues" reportedly was a good seller. Meanwhile, "She Knows How to Love a Man" offers a sterling example of Robert Nighthawk's picking.
With Andy Tibbs, as he was now billed, Aristocrat decided to go for a lounge trio sound. But they no longer had any lounge trios under contract, so on two sides that the company cut in July at United Broadcasting, Tibbs sang with "Leo's Trio," which actually conisted of guitarist Leo Blevins, pianist Bill Searcy, bassist Lowell Pointer, and discreet drummer Andrew Duncan. Searcy and Pointer had been in Tom Archia's combo at the Macomba Lounge, and Leo Blevins, a frequent guest there, had been on the Jimmie Bell session and the Gene Ammons/Christine Chatman session.
Aristocrat 1107 was reviewed in Billboard on November 19, 1949 (p. 103). Tibbs turns in an elegantly haunting rendition of Leroy Carr's "How Long," almost making it into a Charles Brown number. And what's a lounge trio record without a lounge ballad? Although Tibbs had recorded nothing but blues up to this point, "I Know" demonstrated his skills with one of the better ballad performances that Aristocrat put on wax.
Up to now Tibbs had been Aristocrat's best selling artist nationwide, but Muddy Waters was moving up quickly on him. Tibbs would record a final session for the Chess brothers in July 1950, after Aristocrat had morphed into Chess records. He was accompanied by another band led by Sax Mallard.
Not long after that, Andrew Tibbs went to Lexington, Kentucky, to be treated for heroin addiction. When he emerged, he had kicked the needle, only to take up the bottle. In subsequent years, Tibbs' opportunities to record became increasingly infrequent. He cut sides for Peacock (1951), Savoy (1951—these are still unissued), Mercury (1951-1952; he was reunited with Sax Mallard on those), Atco (1956, with his older brother Kenneth), and m-Pac! (1965). He remained active in the clubs during the 1950s, usually being billed as the "Crown Prince of the Blues." By the mid-1960s he had moved into a day job in the computer industry, where he remained for the rest of his life, though he still sang at parties and occasional engagements. Tibbs died in Chicago on May 5, 1991.
Meanwhile Muddy Waters cut a session later in July, his first out of two on the year. At the time, he was working the Dew Drop Inn (10-week contract posted with Local 208 on July 7). Reverting to the formula employed on his July 1948 session, Leonard Chess recorded Muddy with just his slide guitar and Big Crawford's bass. (Meanwhile, Muddy had made a clandestine appearance in May on the short-lived Tempo-Tone label, on a session that included Little Walter, Jimmy Rogers, and Baby Face Leroy Foster from his working band. The sides were credited to Sunnyland Slim and Muddy did not sing lead on any of them.) Of the four sides, "Little Geneva" (named in honor of Muddy's wife) and "Canary Bird" (which had been in his repertoire since at least 1941) were released on Aristocrat 1311. The other two tracks may have been slotted for release on an Aristocrat 1312 but were held back; Chess redid both titles a year later, with a trio that included Little Walter's harmonica. The 1949 versions would lie unreleased for more than 40 years.
Here's one reason so little company documentation survives: a fire badly damaged the Aristocrat offices on August 1, 1949. One wonders whether the perpetrators were really burglars who committed arson out of spite because they couldn't crack the safe (the official story; see "Thugs Set 12G Fire at Aristocrat Hdqrs.," Billboard, August 13, 1949, p. 38) or people the company had gotten on the wrong side of. Chicago was, after all, a mobbed-up town. Leonard Chess could not have operated liquor stores or an after-hours club without having minor-league dealings with organized crime, though he worked hard to prevent them from growing into major-league dealings. And the Musicians Union, in keeping with the prevailing mores, was in the habit of sending armed "representatives" to close down non-Union sessions.
Unbeknownst to us, until old issues of Cash Box recently became widely available online, was a session featuring ballad singer Lou Blackwell. An item from August 27, 1949 ("Aristocrat Signs New Songstar," Cash Box, p. 13) "hypos" Blackwell as the performer who "made a sensation at the recent Billie Holiday concert." It identifies four titles that Blackwell cut for Aristocrat "this week" and even identifies his accompanists. Two of the pieces, "What Did I Do?" and "My Dreams," were said to be Blackewll originals. Obviously, the company had some expectations, but from the titles, all four sides were ballads, and from having heard Blackwell's smoot uptown baritone, we figure that Leonard and Phil Chess decided that the market wasn't there when Muddy Waters was moving nationally and the Blues Rockers (see below) were moving locally.
Aristocrat's fourth and final addition to the gospel roster was the Reverend Sammy Lewis. He was usually billed as Singing Sammy Lewis, though not on the records he made for the label (which misspelled his last name for good measure). Born in 1921, Lewis was a long-time star on Chicago's gospel circuit. As a boy he was a member of the Roberta Martin singers. In July 1949, he was on the undercard of a gospel tour organized by Billy Shaw of Shaw Artists Corporation ("Shaw Prepares Gospel Package," Billboard, July 9, 1949, p. 16): Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Reverend Gatemouth Moore were the headliners. The session Lewis did for Aristocrat around August 1949 (the fire did not disrupt the recording schedule) was the first under his own name. Four tracks were cut and two were released on Aristocrat 404, which is quite the rare record today. On two slow, rhapsodic performances, Lewis is accompanied by spare piano; on "God Shall Wipe All Tears" a wordless female background vocal is added. Ruppli's discography was unable to provide details of the other two sides, but an acetate from Universal Recording containing two previously unknown sides by Sammy "Louis" (the same misspelling that Aristocrat used on the label to 404) is now in the Big Joe Louis collection. In April and October 1954 Lewis appeared on two sessions for the growing Vee-Jay operation. In his liner notes to Working the Road: The Golden Age of Chicago Gospel (Delmark), Anthony Heibut points up the influence of Mahalia Jackson in Lewis's singing, with his "bluesy runs and impassioned interjections." His last session, shared with the Lucy Smith Singers, was done for United in June 1956. Sammy Lewis died in 1994.
Aristocrat made a truly inspired A&R decision when it decided to include Little Johnny Jones on Muddy Waters' second session of the year, which took place in September, around the time the Dew Drop Inn decided to hold him over (contract for 2 months posted on September 15). Baby Face Leroy Foster played guitar with his hands and bass drum and hi-hat with his feet; Muddy calls out to him on "Where's My Woman Been." Neither Jimmy Rogers nor Little Walter from Muddy's working group had been invited to record with him in the studio yet. Thanks to Jones' rolling piano, "Screaming and Crying" achieves a tone of gentle nostalgia that Muddy never quite matched on any of his other records. Listening to entire session straight through, as is now possible on The Aristocrat of the Blues, shows a lot of activity on the part of Leonard Chess and the engineer, as the balance among the instruments is shoved around from one number to the next.
Johnny Jones was born on November 1, 1924, in Jackson, Mississippi. He followed the Southern migration to Chicago in 1946, and quickly became ensconced in the blues scene. In the Tampa Red band, he replaced Big Maceo Merriweather, who had suffered a disabling stroke. Backing Tampa Red on all of his subsequent RCA sides, he soon found himself in high demand. His rock-solid piano accompaniment can also be heard on records by Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James (where his work is especially notable); Jones also played a significant role in the success of Big Joe Turner's "TV Mama" session, which was recorded in Chicago with Elmore James and members of the Red Saunders band. Of Jones' solos work, blues maven Bill Dahl has opined, "when he got the chance to sit behind a microphone, Jones' insinuating vocal delivery was equally enthralling." "Big Town Playboy" is the same song that Eddie Taylor later did for Vee-Jay. Jones would subsequently record extraordinary sides for Flair and Atlantic. He died in Chicago on 19 November 1964.
The Blues Rockers were an ensemble that consisted of James Watts (vocals), Willie Mabon (piano and vocals), Eddie El and a second electric guitarist, and Earl Dranes (bass). Watts appears to be the lead singer on "Trouble in My Home" while "Times Are Getting Hard" obviously features Willie Mabon. It should be added that "Trouble in My Home" is a legitimate candidate for the notional honor of "first rock-and-roll record." That's quite a feat, considering it was recorded without drums!
The Blues Rockers sides were recorded by DJ Al Benson as a free-lance production and later sold to Aristocrat, which assigned the matrix numbers after the fact. Since January 1949, Benson had been the front man for Egmont Sonderling's Old Swing-Master label, but that label's main release series sputtered out in the fall.
So the sides may originally have been intended for release on the other label. What's more, Willie Mabon's name appears regularly on the Local 208 contract lists during this period, but most of the time he was working as a single, or with his own trio, so we don't know just when the Blues Rockers were working together in the clubs. Mabon also appeared on a big session in August 1949 that was meant to launch the JOB label (with Sunnyland Slim, St. Louis Jimmy, Jimmy Rogers, and others), but nearly all of it was quickly dealt to Apollo, which didn't bother with Mabon's two sides till 1953, after he had scored a couple of big hits. ("Earley Drane" shows up on the contract list just once, on August 3, 1950, when he filed one for 6 weeks at the Ebony Lounge. But that was after the Blues Rockers already had a release out from their second session—and Willie Mabon had left the group.) Consequently, we can't date the session beyond saying that it took place before the end of 1949.
Aristocrat finished up for the year when the Dozier Boys returned to cut 3 tracks in December. They had been pretty successful with club bookings over the past year. They worked the Beige Room a couple of times after the Dukes of Swing left. In March 1949 they were at the Capitol Lounge in the Loop. In October they were back at The Corner Lounge (formerly Martin's Corner) on a bill with Jump Jackson and others. They were probably still working at The Corner when they went into the studio.
By this point, the company was no longer hesitant about letting Messrs. Teague, Wiley, Minor, and Cotton accompany themselves; just a session pianist was added, though no one seems to remember who. Two sides were issued on a second Aristocrat 409, which does not appear to have sold well, as copies are very rare today. The unissued side, "Hey Jack," was remade for OKeh when the Doziers made a stop there in 1951. But it did no better under its new title, "Suffer, No Better for You"; neither version would see release.
The Doziers were back at The New Martin's Corner in April 1950; later that month, Cornell Wiley also landed a job playing bass on Al Benson's TV show, which ran for about three months of Saturday nights on WBKB. In August, the group cut two titles for Chess; after that they were dropped from the roster. They were signed by OKeh when Columbia decided to revive that imprint, but the sides they recorded in 1951 were left in the vault, ironically because some executive thought they sounded "too White." In 1952, however, they were picked up by United. They ended up recording tracks in September 1952 and remaking some of them in January 1953, but in the end the company released two singles featuring overdubbed alto sax work by Tab Smith. The Dozier Boys went through a number of personnel changes, but continued to record for various companies until 1964 (when they issued a single on the WHAC label); the group finally broke up in 1970.
There have been two longstanding gaps in the 1949 matrix series, U7190 through U7193, and U7203 through U7208. It has taken a mere 20 years for us to fill them in, but at this point, we are reasonably sure that U7203 through U7208 included the unreleased session by ballad singer Lou Blackwell, and U7190 through U7193 make a good fit for sides never released on Aristocrat by blues singer Kid Slim.
In late November, Aristocrat made a foray into Saint Louis, attending a battle of the bands in search of talent to sign. An announcement in the Chicago Defender declared that the label was soon to record "Freddie Blott, local blues and jump sensation" with the Ditty Bo Hill combo (the inevitable title: "Aristocrat Inks Blott," December 3, 1949, p. 26). But nothing came of these plans; over the next year, the Chess brothers spent sparingly on trips to the studio. As Barrel House Blott, the vocalist did eventually make one session, for Chance in 1953; he was accompanied by a Tommy Dean combo.
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|U-7174||Christine Chatman's All Star Combo
With "Gene Ammons" On Tenor |
Vocal: Christine Chatman
|Hey Mr. Freddy||Aristocrat 8001 B||February 28, 1949||May 1949|
|U-7175||Vocal by Christine Chatman
with Gene Ammons and his Sextet
|Do You Really Mean It||(Chess 1428)||February 28, 1949||(July 1950)|
|U7176||Gene Ammons?||unissued?||February 28, 1949|
|U-7177||Christine Chatman's All Star Combo
With "Gene Ammons" On Tenor |
Vocal: Christine Chatman
|When Your Hair Has Turned to Silver||Aristocrat 8001 A||February 28, 1949||May 1949|
|U7178||Gene Ammons?||?||unissued?||February 28, 1949|
|U-7179||Gene Ammons and His Sextet |
Vocal: Mary F. Graham
|Bless You||(Chess 1425)||February 28, 1949||(June 1950)|
|U-7180||Three O'Clock Jam Session
Leo Blivers [sic] Guitar, Ike Day Drums,
Gene Ammons Tenor Sax, Christine Chatman Piano,
Lowell Pointer Bass
|Part 1 (Stuffy)||Aristocrat AR-711||February 28, 1949||May 1949|
|U-7181||Three O'Clock Jam Session
Leo Blivers [sic] Guitar, Ike Day Drums,
Gene Ammons Tenor Sax, Christine Chatman Piano,
Lowell Pointer Bass
|Part 2 (Once in a While)||Aristocrat AR-711||February 28, 1949||May 1949|
|Blue Jay Singers of Birmingham, Ala. | Gospel Singing||In the Upper Room||(Harlem 1027, Gotham G-600)
|January 1947||March 1949|
|Blue Jay Singers of Birmingham, Ala. | Gospel Singing||I'm Bound for Canan Land [sic]||(Harlem 1027, Gotham G-600)
|January 1947||March 1949|
|U-7182||Vocal Laura Rucker| Claude McLin Combo||I Need You When||Aristocrat 10001-A||March 22, 1949||May 1949|
|U-7183||Vocal Laura Rucker | Claude McLin Combo||Again||Aristocrat 10001-B||March 22, 1949||May 1949|
|U7184||Laura Rucker with Claude McLin Combo||Gulf Coast Blues||unissued||March 22, 1949|
|U7185||Laura Rucker with Claude McLin Combo||Cryin' the Blues||(Chess CHD-4 9340)||March 22, 1949|
|Vocal St. Louis Jimmy |
Muddy Waters and his Blues Combo with Sunnyland Slim
|Florida Hurricane||Aristocrat 7001 B||September or October 1948||May 1949|
|Vocal St. Louis Jimmy |
Muddy Waters and his Blues Combo with Sunnyland Slim
|So Nice and Kind||Aristocrat 7001 A||September or October 1948||May 1949|
|UB-9549||Rev. "Gatemouth" Moore and his Congregation||The Bible's Being Fulfilled Every Day||Aristocrat 905A||c. April 1949||July 1949|
|UB-9550||Rev. "Gatemouth" Moore and his Congregation||Glory, Glory, Hallelujah||Aristocrat 905B||c. April 1949||July 1949|
|UB-9551||Rev. Gatemouth Moore||I'm Going Through||[Aristocrat 904?]
|c. April 1949|
|UB-9552||Rev. Gatemouth Moore||Thank You Jesus||[Aristocrat 904?]
|c. April 1949|
|Floyd Smith||Blue Moods||Aristocrat 409
|June 8, 1949||February 1950|
|Floyd Smith||Saturday Nite Boogie||Aristocrat 409
|June 8, 1949||February 1950|
|U7186||Duke Jenkins Aristocrats||Laura||[Aristocrat 812?]||late June or early July 1949|
|U-7187||Duke Jenkins Aristocrats||Bercuese [sic]||Aristocrat 811-A||late June or early July 1949||August 1949|
|U7188||Duke Jenkins Aristocrats||Tomorrow [Before Dawn?]||[Aristocrat 812?]||late June or early July 1949|
|U-7189||Duke Jenkins Aristocrats | Vocal by Duke Jenkins||Baby I'm Sick of You||Aristocrat 811-B||late June or early July 1949||August 1949|
|? [purchased session]||Kid Slim and his guitar||Shake 'em on Down||(St. George LP 1003)||c. 1949|
|? [purchased session]||Kid Slim and his guitar||Sad Home Blues||(St. George LP 1003)||c. 1949|
|? [purchased session]||Kid Slim and his guitar||TNT Blues||(St. George LP 1003)||c. 1949|
|? [purchased session]||Kid Slim and his guitar||Race Horse Blues||(St. George LP 1003)||c. 1949|
|UB 9958||The Norfolk Singers||By and By||Aristocrat 906-B||July 1949||September 1949|
|UB 9559||The Norfolk Singers||Dig a Little Deeper||Aristocrat 906-A||July 1949||September 1949|
|U7194||The Nighthawks | Vocal Robert McCullum||She Knows How to Love a Man||(Blues Ball LP 2003)||July 12, 1949|
|U-7195||The Nighthawks | Vocal Robert McCullum||Black Angel Blues||Aristocrat 2301-B||July 12, 1949||November 1949|
|U-7196||The Nighthawks | Vocal Robert McCullum||Annie Lee Blues||Aristocrat 2301-A||July 12, 1949||November 1949|
|U-7197||Robert Nighthawk||Return Mail Blues||(Chess 1484)||July 12, 1949||(December 1951)|
|U7198||The Nighthawks (vocal: Ethel Mae)||Sugar Papa||(Chess [E] 6499 433)||July 12, 1949|
|UB9 1021||Andy Tibbs with Leo's Trio||How Long||Aristocrat 1107||July 1949||October 1949|
|UB9 1022||Andy Tibbs with Leo's Trio||I Know||Aristocrat 1107||July 1949||October 1949|
|U-7199||Muddy Waters||Little Geneva||Aristocrat 1311||late July 1949||November 1949|
|U-7200||Muddy Waters||Canary Bird||Aristocrat 1311||late July 1949||November 1949|
|U7201||Muddy Waters||Burying Ground||[Aristocrat 1312?]
|late July 1949|
|U7202||Muddy Waters||You Gonna Need My Help||[Aristocrat 1312?]
|late July 1949|
|U7203?||Louis Blackwell with Joe Kennedy and the Four Strings||I Don't See Me in Your Eyes Anymore||c. August 20, 1949|
|U7204?||Louis Blackwell with Joe Kennedy and the Four Strings||Stranger in Town||c. August 20, 1949|
|U7205?||Louis Blackwell with Joe Kennedy and the Four Strings||What Did I Do?||c. August 20, 1949|
|U7206?||Louis Blackwell with Joe Kennedy and the Four Strings||My Dreams||c. August 20, 1949|
|U7209||Sammy Louis [sic]||Something Within||Aristocrat 404||c. August 1949||January 1950|
|U7210?||Sammy Louis||Trust in Jesus||unissued||c. August 1949|
|U7211||Sammy Louis||God Shall Wipe All Tears||Aristocrat 404||c. August 1949||January 1950|
|U7212?||Sammy Louis||Sometimes Lord I Feel like Crying||unissued||c. August 1949|
|U7213||Vocal Little Johnny [Jones] | Muddy Waters||Big Town Play Boy||Aristocrat 405||September 1949||February 1950|
|U7214||Vocal Little Johnny | Muddy Waters||Shelby County Blues||Aristocrat 405||September 1949||February 1950|
|U7215||Muddy Waters and his guitar||Screaming and Crying||Aristocrat 406A||September 1949||February 1950|
|U7216||Muddy Waters and his guitar||Where's My Woman Been||Aristocrat 406B||September 1949||February 1950|
|U7217||Muddy Waters||Last Time I Fool around with You||(Chess LP 9180)||September 1949|
|Blues Rockers||Trouble in My Home||Aristocrat 407||1949||December 1949|
|Blues Rockers||Times Are Getting Hard||Aristocrat 407||1949||December 1949|
|Blues Rockers?||?||[Aristocrat 414?] unissued||1949|
|Blues Rockers?||?||[Aristocrat 414?] unissued||1949|
|U7222||The Dozier Boys||All I Need Is You||Aristocrat 409A [!]||December 12, 1949||February 1950|
|U7223||The Dozier Boys||She's Gone||Aristocrat 409B [!]||December 12, 1949||February 1950|
|U7224||The Dozier Boys||Hey Jack||(Chess CHD4-9352)||December 12, 1949|
1950 opened very quietly. Leonard and Phil Chess, who now owned Aristocrat outright, were extremely conservative about booking new recording sessions; just 7 took place during the first half of the year.
Although the label hadn't recorded any White pop artists since December 1947, the Chess brothers were sufficiently interested to record two sides by Penny Smith and release them on Aristocrat 410. This extremely rare 78 remained unknown to discography until Tom Kelly turned up a copy. The first Penny Smith session featured two sentimental songs, with syrupy accompaniment by accordion, guitar, and string bass. Who was in the band we do not know. Neither side featured the vocalist to advantage; "Somewhere in a Dream" made her sound girlish.
Now that we know who Penny Smith was, and how she may have gotten her opportunity to record for Aristocrat, we are able to make a little more sense of what happened next—the first Aristocrat 410 was withdrawn, and replaced a new Aristocrat 410 with two sides from a session done shortly before Aristocrat changed its name.Penny Smith was the third in a long series stage names employed by Reba Jeanette Smith, who was born on February 1, 1928, in Corbin, Kentucky. In 1948, using the name Reba Penny Smith, she was Miss Plug Horse Derby in Lexington, Kentucky, then placed second in the Miss Kentucky State Fair contest. Going as Debbie Smith, she moved to Nashville and tried to break in as a singer. While doing a radio show there, she met Jim Lounsbury (1923-2006), who had recently become a DJ on WIND in Chicago. She was headed to Chicago to get publicity photos made, and he was flying back in a rented plane, so she hitched a ride with him. Not long after her arrival in Chicago, they were married. It's a reasonable guess that Lounsbury talked the Chess brothers into recording her, but preferred to keep his role quiet.
The Chess brothers brought back the Nighthawks for a third and final session on January 5. Accompaniment was provided by Pinetop Perkins (piano) and again by Willie Dixon (bass); Ethel Mae sang on just one side. Aristocrat released two of the four tracks, "Jackson Town Gal" and "Six Three O," on Aristocrat 413, which featured Robert Nighthawk's outstanding singing and slide guitar work. But the single did not sell well enough to keep the Chess brothers interested.
During an extended stay in Chicago in 1951 Robert Nighthawk performed at the Quincy Club (Local 208 posted his indefinite contract on March 1) and the famous 708 Club (indefinite contract posted on March 15), then signed with Leonard Allen's brand-new United label. He was one of the participants in the company's opening day recording session on July 12, 1951. After a followup session for United's sister label States, in October 1952, Nighthawk returned to his nomadic ways, wandering the South and for a time hosting the King Biscuit radio show. He resumed recording in 1964, when he cut one single for the English Decca label, as well as live and studio recordings for Testament; the live recordings of his group that were made on the street at the Maxwell Street Market prove that he was still at the height of his powers. His last recording opportunity came just months prior to his death, playing bass on four Houston Stackhouse sides for Arhoolie, in August 1967. Nighthawk died of heart disease on 5 November 1967, in Helena, Arkansas.
On January 8, the Chess brothers got another opportunity to record Gene Ammons— legally this time. His contract with Mercury had expired after a session in the fall. Ammons brought a working band into the studio: Bill Massey (trumpet); Matthew Gee (trombone); Julian "Junior" Mance (piano); LeRoy Jackson (bass); and Wes Landers (drums). Ammons liked the support he got from Jackson and Landers (who had been his session mates on the Tom Archia session of October 1948) so much that in the fall of 1949 he pried them away from the Macomba Lounge.
Because Ammons had been working with Woody Herman, the January date took up where his last Mercury date (arranged by Jimmy Mundy) left off. It featured a lot of arrangements. "Pennies from Heaven" was his spotlight with Herman, though it was not recorded commercially while he was in the band. "More Moon" (another bopper's paraphrase of "How High the Moon," due in this case to composer/arranger Shorty Rogers) had been recorded. (For some reason, Aristocrat changed the title to "Full Moon," but still credited Rogers for writing it.) The arrangement stays pretty close to the Herman version, but Bob Porter notes significant differences in the solo. The session was rounded out with two jumps, "Chabootie" and "The Last Mile," which make further prominent use of the horn ensemble. "Chabootie" was composed by Jimmy Mundy, who was responsible for most of the Ammons band's arrangements during this period. Ammons would record it again for Prestige, in a New York session on April 26; on that occasion, the band's manager, Richard Carpenter, would filch the composer credit. Oddly, "The Last Mile" was advertised in Billboard (April 1950) as "Rockin' Rocker." A change of mind obviously took place before the single was released, as we have never seen a label with that title.
Muddy Waters entered the studio in February 1950 to clean up after some moonlighting. He had been involved as a sideman for a session recorded in late January by Monroe Passis and George and Ernie Leaner for their Parkway label. The sessions used his working band with Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Little Walter on harmonica, and Baby Face Leroy Foster on drums; Walter had not recorded with him before. (At the time the band was working the Dew Drop Inn; Muddy filed another indefinite contract with the establishment on January 19). The eight sides released under Baby Face Leroy Foster and Little Walter's names included the extraordinary blues classic, "Rollin' and Tumblin'," which took up both sides of a 78. Though the piece was credited to the Baby Face Leroy Trio, Muddy Waters' guitar could be heard prominently, he was given composer credit, and his voice jumped right out of the primally moaning ensemble. Leonard Chess was not pleased, resolving to kill sales on the Parkway single by releasing a rival vesion. Whatever the motive behind it, the Aristocrat session, which would be the last to use only Big Crawford's bass for accompaniment, was superb. It produced a new two-part "Rollin' and Tumblin'," released on Aristocrat 1412. For the second part, Muddy recycled lyrics from two 1948 sides that Aristocrat had left in the vault: "Kind Hearted Woman" and "Down South Blues." "Rollin' Stone" (on which Muddy starkly performed solo; it would later be the inspiration for a certain English rock group) and "Walkin' Blues" (which harks back to Robert Johnson and Son House) would be paired for Waters' first release on Chess.
Muddy Waters stayed with the company after Aristocrat changed its name to Chess in June. In fact, he would become the company's longest-running artist. He outlasted the Chess brothers, who sold their operation to GRT in 1969; outlasted Leonard Chess, who died later that same year; and would still be on the roster when the Chess label quit making new recordings in 1975. The following year he signed with CBS, recording for that corporation's Blue Sky imprint, where Texas blues musician Johnny Winter produced his last four albums. By now the audience for his music had changed decisively: Waters' last gig at a black club took place in 1971. Muddy Waters died on 30 April 1983, in Westmont, Illinois.
Until November 2010, there was an unexplained gap in the Aristocrat matrix series for 1950: U7243-U7246, suspciously the right size for a regular recording session. A clue to the missing sides, first pointed out by Dan Kochakian, was contained in a brief item from Billboard (March 4, 1950, p. 22): "Bill Walker and his Swingcats cut four sides for Aristocrat. Walker is the WIND, Chicago, pianist who penned 'Half a Heart.'" Cash Box took a while to catch up, running virtually the same announcement on March 25 (p. 11).
Bill Walker led a quartet, with a guitarist, a bassist, and a trumpet player (who kept his mute in on the two sides we that were released). Walker was fleet and slick at the piano and his bandmates were solid instrumentalists. The combo's main fault was a tendency toward the herky at brigher tempos.
It turns out that Aristocrat did release two of their sides. It's just that Walker and combo were accompanying Penny Smith, and the record was given the same catalog number as her previous effort. "Here I Am" is a much better than average lounge ballad, and her performance on "Lover Come Back to Me" is pretty hip. We learn from Cash Box, March 25, 1950, of "Deejays Sir Oliver Edwards, Jim Lundsbury [sic] and Eddie Hubbard giving a grand ride to Penny Smith's first disk on Aristocrat label, 'Here I Am'" (p. 11). Despite the large display ad Aristocrat took out for the record in the same issue, whoever jotted this down for the trade paper didn't realize that Penny Smith was backed by Bill Walker's group (mentioned in a different note on the same page), or that there had been a previous Aristocrat 410 (which Penny Smith, Jim Lounsbury, and the Chess brothers had all agreed to forget). In all, the new record is considerably stronger than the one it replaced, and "Come Back to Me" sounds like the Penny Smith we hear on many of her later recordings. But Aristocrat, even with three DJs giving the single a grand ride, and "Sir" Oliver Edwards endorsing it in an ad, couldn't find any more of a market for the second 410 than for the first one.
When Aristocrat signed him, Walker was working for WIND (he soon moved to WGN, where he was the staff pianist until 1954). Jim Lounsbury, who worked at WIND from 1949 to 1952 as a DJ, was in a good position to put Penny Smith, who most likely had already sung with Walker on the air, on this session.
After that, their careers diverged.
Bill Walker was born William Stearns Walker, in River Forest, Illinois, in 1917. He graduated from Oak Park-River Forest High School and Amherst College, and served 4 years in the military during World War II, meeting his wife June, who was from Australia. He studied at the Chicago Conservatory of Music from 1945 to 1948, working on the side as a pianist and arranger for Wayne King and Ted Weems. In 1948, his band began appearing at the Pump Room at the Ambassador East Hotel; despite the venue's high profile there are probably no display advertisements, because David Le Winter was the usual headliner during this period and Walker's was the relief band (playing Monday or Monday and Tuesday nights). Walker's bands also did country club dances for a number of years. "Half a Heart" was not his only venture into songwriting; he composed around 50 pop and Country numbers during this phase of his career. Walker made a few other commercial recordings after his fleeting appearance on Aristocrat—we know of a 1951 session for Rondo—but they would never be an important source of income for him. In 1953, he started Bill Walker Musical Productions, Inc., which did jingles, music for commercials, and music for films. His music could be heard in spots for Green Giant frozen vegetables, Chevrolet, HFC finance, Commonwealth Edison, and A&W root beer. Continental Airlines put an extended version of his "Proud Bird with the Golden Tail" on a limited-edition 33 rpm record in 1966, and in 1969, a rendition of it was being played on the air. A suite of music that he wrote for Bergstrom Paper Company, Impressions of Color, was released on an LP in 1967. A trade paper article noted that Walker operated his own recording studio with a full-time engineer (though final versions were generally done at Universal Recording), did a lot of unusual scoring for his commercial sound tracks, had recently employed a Moog synthesizer for a children's feature, and had 88 half-hour programs of fully orchestrated recorded original music on file (Earl Paige, "Walker Scores Double Notes in Continental's 'Bird' Spot," Billboard, August 2, 1969, p. 21). In the mid-1950s, he bought a Frank Lloyd Wright house in River Forest and lived in it for the rest of his life. Bill Walker died in River Forest on March 27, 1994 (see https://www.discogs.com/artist/3910574-William-S-Walker and Kenan Heise, "William Walker: Wrote Music for Jingles," Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1994, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-03-30/news/9403300187_1_william-walker-jingles-and-commercials-river-forest.
Penny Smith continued to perform on the radio and in public while raising two young children, Steve and Debbie, who were born in 1951 and 1952. For a few weeks in 1953, she worked on the air with her husband, who was subbing for another DJ on WGN; he then worked a little longer at WJJD before landing a long-term gig at WGN. In 1954, Jim Lounsbury started his Bandstand Matinee show on WGN-TV. By the time she got another chance to record, with the KaHill label out of Des Plaines, Illinois, it was the summer of 1955, her husband was featuring rock and roll on his shows, and she wanted to try her hand at it. From late August through the end of October 1955, while she waited for her first KaHill to come out, she sang with Joe Daley's jazz trio at Geno's Dance Lounge (formerly Ziggy's Gridiron Lounge, on East 83rd Street). She got two KaHill releases, one in October 1955 and one in December 1956. Both were done with studio bands directed by one Carmen Dello, featuring big-band orchestration along with the guitar soloing, but each had one side that could fairly be described as rock and roll. In November or December 1957, she cut a doo-wop record for Argo (the Chess brothers remembered her), the last time she went as Penny Smith on a record label. Argo 5295, released in January 1958, was credited to "Penny and the Eko's." Berry Gordy wrote both of the songs with Roquel Davis, and was present for the session.She went professionally as Debbie Stevens for the next year and a half. (While making appearances with her husband at local venues, she was still "pretty Penny Smith.") She sang uncredited but widely recognized leads on Roulette 4081, with a white Chicago doowop group called the Deltones; it was released in June 1958, with "Smith" as the fifth composer credited on one side, and Colo Music as the publisher (Jim Lounsbury was born in Colo, Iowa). She then signed with ABC-Paramount, getting one single on the parent label, and one on the APT subsidiary. "If You Can't Rock Me," on APT, was 100% rock and roll. With some rock and roll records to her name and prior experience with a rock and roll package tour in the summer of 1958, she was tapped for the Winter Dance Tour, a package show now mostly remembered because Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper got tired of the long bus rides and took a private plane that crashed in Iowa. "If You Can't Rock Me" was released during the tour. And photos are extant of her with Jim Lounsbury, the Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on January 24, 1959, not long before the fatal event.
In 1960, she signed with Motown, where she would be known (supposedly with Berry Gordy's encouragement) as Debbie Dean. A 33-year-old white woman did not fit the image that Motown soon decided it wanted to project. Her first release, in August 1961, was quickly pulled back in September in favor of her second, an answer record to "Shop Around." This was her best seller for the label, reaching number 92 in the Hot 100. Her third release, in March 1962, went nowhere. Motown cut her from the roster in 1963, after 3 singles and no albums, and that same year she and Jim Lounsbury divorced. She moved to Los Angeles, where, in 1964, possibly after Ike and Tina Turner put in a word, she put a single out on Sue, as Debra Dion. In 1965, she met Dennis Lussier (aka Deke Richards, 1944-2013), whose band was opening for Ike and Tina Turner at the time; he became her boyfriend and her songwriting partner. In late 1966, Motown hired Deke Richards, and rehired her, to write songs; she also got one last Debbie Dean single released on the Berry Gordy's V. I. P. label, produced by Deke Richards, while a followup was planned but scrapped.
By 1969, Debbie Dean had sung pop, jazz, doowop, rock and roll, and soul on records, written or cowritten a bunch of songs, gotten bit parts in several movies, and used six different names. But her ability to reinvent herself was failing her. Her health broke down, she experienced episodes of frank psychosis, she was too depressed to write songs, she and Richards broke up, and she was out of money. Returning to Nashville, she wrote a Country song about her life, titled "Cumberland Gap" (Cumberland Falls isn't far from Corbin) or "My Soul Is Free," but the recording she made, for a small indie, was lost when the company folded before it could be released. During one of her stays in Nashville, in 1976, she took a seventh name, Krisha Electra Rigel, and published a book titled New Names for the Age of Aquarius. (The copyright entry for the book states that the name was an alias for Debbie Dean.) She told a reporter that she had been born in Louisville and was 27 years old, which made it imprudent to mention her records—but the movie and songwriting credits that she gave were accurate. "I started looking for a new name when I was about 8 years old." Returning to California, she dropped out of music entirely, becoming a strict vegan, then undergoing several further health crises. The former Penny Smith died in Ojai, California, on February 17, 2001. When she had last visited Corbin, Kentucky, we have no idea, but a memorial service was held for her there in April of that year.
We are indebted to the Debbie Dean website at https://debbdean.wordpress.com/debbie-dean-soul-free/ as well as a Billboard capsule bio (http://www.billboard.com/artist/300619/debbie-dean/biography) and a discographical sketch at Soulful Kinda Music: Debbie Dean. It should be noted that the Billboard bio and the Soulful Kinda Music entry add a 1966 release by one "Debbie Deane" on a Southern California label called Treva—we would like confirmation it was by the same person. The Billboard sketch also does not mention the Penny Smith KaHills or the Argo, and none of these sources have recognized the two Aristocrat 410s as her work. But then they are by far the most obscure records by a singer who mostly specialized in obscure records.
Now signed directly to the label, the Blues Rockers, returned for a four-tune session in March. Retaining James Watts, Willie Mabon, Eddie El, and Earl Dranes, the group had shed its second guitarist and added a drummer (either Dizzy Pitts or Duke Tide). The first release from the session was advertised as being on Aristocrat 415, but one copy that we know of (in the collection of Tom Ball) shows Aristocrat 413 on the label, whereas George Paulus's copy shows the intended 415. The sides were advertised as "When Times Get Better" and "Blues Rocker's Hop," but each title came out somewhat differently on the labels. We have not yet heard Aristocrat 415, which must have been expected to do something, after the repsonse to Aristocrat 407, but by all indications sold very poorly. The second release from this session may have been on Aristocrat 417, but there is still no confirmation. Later on, the same two sides were advertised as being on Chess 1483, but the Chess single was apparently cancelled after being advertised and the actual first release must have been in a reissue package. On "Little Boy," the vocals are handled by Willie Mabon (as the little boy) and James Watts, or someone else, singing falsetto (as the little girl). In all, very few sales were generated off this outing, which still awaits a comprehensive reissue after all these years.
Not long after the second session, the Blues Rockers apparently signed with Monroe Passis' Parkway label—there was some publicity about i in the trade papers, in which the group was referred to as the "Rhythm Rockers." But any recording Parkway did after April 1950 was strictly as a feeder to Regal, the East Coast label with which Passis had multiple business connections, and so far as we know the Blues Rockers were not included in it.
The Chicago Defender ran a photo of the Blues Rockers in August 1950, when the group was performing at Sam Evans' Ebony Lounge (444 West Chicago). No sign of Willie Mabon in the photo; the pianist had apparently resumed his solo career. In October 1952, Al Benson would record Mabon's "I Don't Know," which was far too big a hit for his fledgling Parrot label to handle; a month or so later, he sold the single to the Chess brothers, for whom Willie Mabon would record regularly through 1956. Meanwhile, Earl Dranes was responsible for a release on J. Mayo Williams' Ebony label, a much lower-circulation affair. A later edition of the Blues Rockers—in which only "Earley" Dranes remained from 1949-1950—recorded in Nashville in 1955, for the Excello label. The 1955 Blues Rockers were responsible for one single ("Calling All Cows" b/w "Johnny Mae"), which was released as Excello 2062.
Country bluesman Big Charley Bradix, whose release on Aristocrat 418 was the label's very last and one of its rarest, was born in Texas, on 31 March 1911. Leadbitter and Slaven list his first session as taking place in Dallas in 1948, for the Blue Bonnet label. The company released two sides ("Dollar Digging Woman" b/w "Boogie like You Wanna") on its own imprint, then leased or sold them to Modern, which put them out on its Colonial subsidiary. The other two sides were leased or sold to Aristocrat. This wouldn't have been too hard to arrange, as Blue Bonnet was Aristocrat's distributor in Dallas. In 1966, Mike Leadbitter said, "aurally these tracks are from the same session and all are good crude blues...."Wee Wee" is an excellent slow blues, though an imitation of Leroy Carr. A good singer, a limited pianist, he uses the piano for emphasis leaving the rhythm to the guitarist." However, Leadbitter and Slaven (1987) split the Colonial and Aristocrat items into separate sessions, giving the exact date of 17 October 1948 to the Aristocrats. Bradix was subsequently signed by Modern, which did a four-song session in 1951 in Dallas, but left it unreleased, unimpressed with his newly acquired Charles Brown stylings. Charles Bradix died in Dallas on 21 August 1981.
Bradix source: Jim O’Neal [liner notes essay] The Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Volume 4: Southern Country Blues Guitarists 1948-1952, Ace CD 1057 [UK], May 2005.
The Chess brothers continued to record Gene Ammons when he came through town. Ammons was spending a lot of time in New York during this period, usually including alto and tenor saxophonist Sonny Stitt in his ensemble. But Stitt was not along for his session on May 2, which employed the lineup, scarcely changed from January, of Bill Massey (trumpet); Matthew Gee (trombone); Junior Mance (piano); Gene Wright (bass); and Wes Landers (drums). By now Ammons had recorded for the short-lived Birdland Records, then begun recording for a more durable New York-based label called Prestige, though he was probably not yet signed to a long-term contract. The May session proved to be a classic. "Tenor Eleven" is an amiable swinger with a nice burry solo from Matthew Gee as well as excellent work by the leader. The other three items are all ballads, recorded with a lot of the famous Universal Recording reverb. "Goodbye" is rendered with tremendous pathos, and "My Foolish Heart" remains to this day the best-known jazz performance of a superior ballad. "You Go to My Head," with the "Country Gardens" tag that Jug borrowed from Charlie Parker, is just as good, but was held back from release so it wouldn't compete with the other two.
As it turned out, this was the last session for Aristocrat, coming so late in the game that nothing from it ever appeared on that label. "My Foolish Heart," was featured on the very first Chess single; the Chess brothers' business strategy proved sound when the record became a big hit. "Goodbye" would follow very quickly on Chess 1428; in fact, 4 of the first 7 Chess singles would be by Gene Ammons.
Ammons would keep recording for Chess, in August 1950 (with Sonny Stitt on baritone sax this time) and May 1951 (with a rhythm section only). Why he quit recording for the Chess brothers is not entirely clear. He recorded for Prestige again in November 1951, but was apparently under no contractual obligation after that.
Ammons and Stitt cut one session for Decca in 1952. Shortly afterward, they broke up their combo (though the duels would continue for years, whenever both saxophonists were working the same town). Ammons moved back to Chicago, where in 1952 and 1953 he would cut some sides for United using his touring group plus baritonist Mac Easton from the Red Saunders band. Gene Ammons returned to Prestige in November 1954; he remained under contract to the label and retained a wide popular following for the rest of his life. The Chess brothers recorded two quick Ammons LPs for their Argo subsidiary in 1961 and 1962. Prestige sued them, however, and took over the rights to the masters along with a monetary award.
Heroin addiction and anti-drug laws led to many wasted years in jail, from 1958 to 1960 and then (incredibly) from 1962 to 1969. Despite it all, Ammons was able to become a standard-bearer for soul jazz. The combo that he led after being released from prison for the second time (1969-1970) included his one-time employer King Kolax. Gene Ammons died of cancer in Chicago on August 6, 1974.
The mix remained roughly the same during the first half of 1950: sessions by Muddy Waters, the Nighthawks, and the Blues Rockers, counterbalanced by two more Gene Ammons sessions and a quickly abandoned effort at pop that involved Penny Smith and Bill Walker. In addition, cuts by blues singer Big Charley Bradix were bought from Blue Bonnet Records, which was Aristocrat's distributor in Dallas. For some reason, however, the Chess brothers did no gospel recording in 1950, even though they would return to gospel in future years.
The Chess brothers kept selling Aristocrat singles until January 1951. Several from the first half of 1950 were quickly reissued on Chess. Other tracks recorded during the first half of the year saw their first release on the new label. Consequently we are still not sure that we have documented every Aristocrat release in the final 400 series. In a previous version of this discography, we speculated that the missing Aristocrat 416 would be the second release from the Gene Ammons session of January 8, 1950. A copy of 416 turned up for sale on ebay in January 2004. We have no confirmation of a second Blues Rockers release on Aristocrat 417, but we continue to encourage collectors to look for it. By the time the Chess brothers were ready to change the company name, the Aristocrat 400 series had become completely dysfunctiona. There was no 408, no 414, no 415, no 417 (so far as we know), but there were two 409s, two 410s, and two 413s!
|Matrix||Artist||Title||Release Number||Recording Date||Release Date|
|U7225||Penny Smith||You'll Never Know||Aristocrat 410||January 1950||February 1950|
|U7226||Penny Smith||Somewhere in a Dream||Aristocrat 410||January 1950||February 1950|
|U-7227||Nighthawks (vocal: Robert McCollum)||Six Three O||Aristocrat 413||January 5, 1950||April 1950|
|U-7228||Nighthawks (vocal: Robert McCollum)||Prison Bound||(Chess [E] 6499 433)||January 5, 1950|
|U-7229||Nighthawks (vocal: Robert McCullum)||Jackson Town Gal||Aristocrat 413||January 5, 1950||April 1950|
|U-7230||Nighthawks (vocal: Ethel Mae)||Good News||(Chess [E] 6499 433)||January 5, 1950|
|U7231||Gene Ammons and His Orchestra||Pennies from Heaven||Aristocrat 411
|January 8, 1950||March 1950|
|U7232||Gene Ammons and His Orchestra||The Last Mile||Aristocrat 411
|January 8, 1950||March 1950|
|U-7233||Gene Ammons and His Sextet||Chabootie||Aristocrat 416
|January 8, 1950||prob. May 1950
|U-7234||Gene Ammons and His Sextet||Full Moon
[correct title: More Moon]
|January 8, 1950||prob. May 1950
|U7235||Muddy Waters||Rollin' and Tumblin' (Part 1)||Aristocrat 412||February 1950||March1950|
|U7236||Muddy Waters||Rollin' and Tumblin' (Part 2)||Aristocrat 412||February 1950||March 1950|
|U-7237||Muddy Waters and his guitar||Rollin' Stone||(Chess 1426)||February 1950||(June 1950)|
|U-7237 [alt.]||Muddy Waters and his guitar||Rollin' Stone [alt.]||(Chess LP 8202)||February 1950|
|U-7238||Muddy Waters and his guitar||Walkin' Blues||(Chess 1426)||February 1950||(June 1950)|
|U-7239||Blues Rockers||When Times Are Getting Better*
When Times Get Better
|Aristocrat 413 [sic]*
|March 5, 1950||May 1950|
|U-7240||Blues Rockers||Blues Rockers' Bop||Aristocrat 413 [sic]
|March 5, 1950||May 1950|
|U7241||The Blues Rockers||Little Boy, Little Boy||[Aristocrat 417?]
|March 5, 1950||(December 1951)|
|U7242||The Blues Rockers||My Mama's Baby Child||[Aristocrat 417?]
|March 5, 1950||(December 1951)|
|U-7243||Vocal by Penny Smith |
accompanied by Bill Walker & Combo
|Here I Am||Aristocrat 410 [!]||late February 1950||March 1950|
|U-7244||Vocal by Penny Smith |
accompanied by Bill Walker & Combo
|Lover Come Back to Me||Aristocrat 410 [!]||late February 1950||March 1950|
|U7245||unidentified title||Bill Walker & Combo||late February 1950||late February 1950|
|U7246||unidentified title||Bill Walker & Combo||unissued||late February 1950|
[Blue Bonnet Records]
|Chas. Bradix||Numbered Days||Aristocrat 418||October 17, 1948||May 1950|
[Blue Bonnet Records]
|Chas. Bradix||Wee Wee Hours||Aristocrat 418||October 17, 1948||May 1950|
|7247||Gene Ammons and His Orchestra||Tenor Eleven||(Chess 1525)||May 2, 1950||(September 1952)|
|U-7248||Gene Ammons and His Sextet||Good Bye||(Chess 1428)||May 2, 1950||(July 1950)|
|U7249||Gene Ammons and His Sextet||You Go to My Head||(Chess LP 1442)||May 2, 1950|
|U-7250||Gene Ammons and His Sextet||My Foolish Heart||(Chess 1425)||May 2, 1950||(June 1950)|
In its early days, then, Aristocrat was eclectic to the point of lacking focus, but Lee Monti's polkas and country tunes, Sherman Hayes' "sweet" arrangements, and Jerry Abbott's crooning never defined it. It presented jazz, R&B, gospel, and a wide variety of other kinds of music, while down-home blues was a minor presence at first. Though what we now call Chicago blues grew in importance in 1948 and 1949, jazz was never squeezed out ("My Foolish Heart" by Gene Ammons was also a big hit in 1950), and nightclub R&B continued to hold on for a while longer.
It is interesting to note how Aristocrat's production in the studios slowed during the label's lifespan: 129 tracks recorded and 6 purchased in 1947, totaling 135; 38 recorded and 12 purchased in 1948, for a total of 50; 52 newly recorded and 8 purchased in 1949, totaling 60; and just 31 more recorded and 6 purchased through our cutoff date of June 3, 1950 (the Aristocrat/Chess total for the entire year was up a little bit from 1949). Perhaps heuristically guided search was replacing trial and error? Or maybe the company just couldn't afford to pay for more recording sessions.
Aristocrat has been well served over the years by Blues reissues. Everything Muddy cut for the label, along with generous helpings of Robert Nighthawk, can be found on the recent 2-CD set, The Aristocrat of the Blues. The label's other holdings, particularly jazz and R&B, have never gotten comparable treatment. The gospel work by Dwight "Gatemouth" Moore (a popular R&B singer in Chicago who got born again and publicly renounced the blues from the stage of the Club DeLisa), the Norfolk Singers, the Seven Melody Men, and others has been ignored by everyone, even the R&B discographers.
Despite the immense popularity that Gene Ammons enjoyed in the 1950s and afterward (Chess was eager to record him whenever they could lure him away from Prestige), some of his Aristocrat titles had to wait more than 50 years. The "Skeetz Van" sides were reissued for the first time in 2001 on Classics 5006, a Tom Archia compilation. The Christine Chatman sides finally appeared in 2003 on another Classics CD.
Until the appearance of a Tom Archia CD on Classics 5006, just 5 tracks made under his leadership had appeared in the medium, plus one of the Jump Jacksons that appeared on a 15-CD set in 1999. Four more tracks featuring Archia were recently included in the Andrew Tibbs CD on Classics 5028. Now most of the 26 solos that Tom Archia cut while under contract to Aristocrat can be heard; the rest await a reissue of the Jump Jackson material.
Another estimable Lester Young disciple was Claude McLin, whose work for Aristocrat is completely unknown (just one side from his session with Laura Rucker has appeared on CD). Oett "Sax" Mallard is invisible on CD reissues; who has heard his clarinet rendition of the Artie Shaw number, "Summit Ridge Drive," or his Latin-flavored alto sax feature, "The Mojo"? Eugene Wright and the Dukes of Swing included some of the best jazz musicians in Chicago and recorded two compositions by Sonny Blount (aka Sun Ra). One of their tracks was just reissued, by mistake, on the Andrew Tibbs CD.
Excellent R&B by The Five Blazes (just one track on a Chess CD, complete reissue only on Document), Jimmy Bell's Trio (no reissues on CD), Clarence Samuels (two tracks on Chess CDs), and the Dozier Boys (two cuts on Chess CDs, one of them reproduced on a bootleg), has gone unrecognized.
The purchased material remains ineluctably obscure. We'd love to hear from anyone who owns an issued copy of the Hollywood Tri-Tones. Other material points in the direction of the Chess Records we know, though only the St. Louis Jimmy session is well represented on CD at present. Two Forrest Sykes items ("Tonky Boogie" and "Forrest Sykes Plays the Boogie") have re-emerged in the CD era. Everything by Forest City Joe was available at one time or another on LP, but only "Memory of Sonny Boy" and "A Woman on Every Street" are in print today; nothing from the first Blues Rockers session has appeared on CD, and neither has Big Charley Bradix.
Interestingly, Billboardnoted on December 6, 1947 that Universal Recording had backed up all of Aristocrat's masters by transferring all of them to 30-minute spools of wire (wire recording was the immediate predecessor of tape recording). Do these wire-recorded versions of the early Aristocrat masters still exist?
We are indebted to everyone who has wrestled with the Aristocrat and Chess labels in the past: Ralph Bass, Bob Porter, Peter Guralnick, Mike Rowe, Mike Leadbitter, Neal Slaven, Leslie Fancourt, Galen Gart, William R. Daniels, Michel Ruppli, Phil Wright, Fred Rothwell, Andy McKaie, Mary Katherine Aldin, and others we have no doubt overlooked. A handwritten list of Aristocrats from 1966 (obviously the source used by Mike Rowe in his 1973 book) has no 100 series, no 300s, a confused rendering of the 400s with 403 and 404 attributed to the Dozier Boys, no 1000s, no 1500s, no 1700s, no 1900s, no 2100s, plus a number of omissions within the series that were known. And everything past 3101 was terra incognita. So there has been gradual progress in the past 40 years.
Our current efforts owe a great deal to Dan Kochakian, Armin Büttner, Kurt Mohr, Robert Pruter, Leonard J. Bukowski, Otto Flückiger, Marv Goldberg, Daniel Gugolz, Charles Walton, Vernel Fournier, Art Zimmerman, and Bill Korst, who corrected our speculations and verified the information that we derived from secondary sources against the physical artifacts (in the process, often showing that the secondary sources were wrong). George Paulus of St. George Records corrected an error regarding the Blues Rockers and identified the Kid Slim numbers as a purchased session without known matrix numbers. George Paulus and Yvan Fournier both own copies of the Aristocrat 409 by Floyd "Guitar" Smith (an entirely different release from the Aristocrat 409 by the Dozier Boys!); Tom Ball revealed the existence of Aristocrat 413 by the Blues Rockerss (not to be confused with 413 by thee Nighthawks). Tom Kelly (who discovered the Penny Smith record, Aristocrat 410) provided splendid documentation for the Danny Knight and and one of the Dick Hiorns releases (he has been the source, over the years, of many corrections that we took over from previous efforts), finally revealed the identity of the male vocalists on Aristocrat 601 and 602, and generously furnished label scans and detailed notes on the label copy and the matrix numbers for every Aristocrat in his extensive collection. We learned about the second Dick Hiorns from Dave Sax. Mike Kredinac furnished label images and CD dubs of the first Duke Groner Trio release (Aristocrat 1801), enabling us to provide correct matrix numbers for the first time. Joel Slotnikoff turned up the matrix numbers for Aristocrat 3500 (which are derived from those on the original Harlem issue; in the wax these are followed by a 14 suffix). Bob Laughton helped with the gospel releases by the Seven Melody Men and the Norfolk Singers. A recent ad on eBay showed us that Lee Monti's "Tinker Polka" and "Pennsylvania Polka" were issued as Aristocrat 503, not 504; another such ad demonstrated that "Helena Polka" was in fact issued, as Aristocrat 504; and a review in Cash Box (March 26, 1949) provided by Nadine Cohodas confirmed the oddly delayed March 1949 release date for Aristocrat 1901. Thanks also to Colin Talcroft and Bob Porter for their comments, and to Eric LeBlanc for more information on Charles and Evelyn Aron.
Special thanks go to Nadine Cohodas, whose groundbreaking research on the Chess brothers and the Aristocrat/Chess label is now available in her book Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records, published in May 2000. (For more about the book see http://www.bluestogold.com.) This is not just one of the best books ever written about the Chicago scene, it may be the best book ever written about the record business. Nadine Cohodas is our source for the identity of the fifth founding partner in Aristocrat, for many details about the Macomba Lounge and the Chess brothers, for background about the mysterious Skeets Van Orn, and a number of other things. And her research on the 1947 and 1948 issues of Billboard and Cash Boxhas brought to light much additional information about the earliest days of the label, some of it not used in her book.
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