“Rock and roll was a form of music older than modern jazz and has been with us for a long time. Louis Jordan had been playing it as long as I remember, long before Elvis.”
“Route 66” features jump blues – that raucous child of country blues and swing jazz that burst onto late 1940’s America squalling and jiving to a hard-driving backbeat, boogie woogie piano triplets and bootin’ and honkin’ muscular tenor sax blasts. The simple lyrics were earthy, sometimes downright raunchy, and spoke primarily of love, loss and drinking, sung by big voiced shouters, both male and female, who managed to be heard over the din. Its energy and enthusiasm were infectious, filling dance halls, ballrooms and tobacco barns to the rafters with euphoric black and white fans and the impact it made on segregation in Jim Crow American cannot be overstated. For one glorious decade the big beat reigned supreme and changed the direction of American popular music soon to be known as rock ‘n’ roll.
There was an enormous number of jump blues records cut between 1945 and 1955 with new independent labels cropping up – Specialty, Modern, Aladdin, Swingtime – filling the niche for Black popular music that was being ignored by the majors. Each geographic area of the country had its own unique style of music and you are likely to hear a bit of each on “Route 66.” The Midwestern cities of Kansas City and St. Louis, with their rich heritage of hot swing bands and leather lunged vocalists, produced Big Joe Turner, Little Jimmy Rushing, Jimmy Witherspoon, Count Basie and the Jay McShann Orchestra. Texas was home to some fine Boogie Woogie piano with Amos Milburn, Floyd Dixon and Ivory Joe Hunter. The West Coast favored an urbane brand of jump blues that owed much to jazz. The bands of Johnny Otis, Joe Liggins, Roy Milton and the suave cocktail blues of Nat Cole and Charles Brown were in sharp contrast to the frenetic sax blasts from L.A.’s Big Jay McNeely, Joe Houston and Chuck Higgins. New Orleans infused its R&B with a cheerful piano and horn-driven style with a distinctive second-line, Dixieland strut that was identifiable with Dave Bartholomew, Fats Domino and Paul Gayten’s band.
As the host of “Route 66” I feature Tampa’s undervalued blues and R&B contributions, much as I did with Atlanta’s history during the 12 years the show aired on WRFG. Central Avenue certainly saw its share of entertainers before it faded. At the Apollo Ballroom on any given night you might find a young James Brown with his Famous Flames, Cab Calloway or even the late, great genius of the blues, Ray Charles. I am very interested in learning the heritage of my Tampa home and sharing it with others through music and information.
Listen to “Route 66” on WMNF, 88.5 FM, now on Friday nights from 7 to 8 pm. It’s history you can dance to!
“They thought all these guys, the Elvis Presley’s, were original with that stuff. They weren’t original, we’d been doing that stuff for years.”
For more about the show, check out the Route 66 webpage!