Louis Jordan, Louis Jordan And His Tympani Five, Volume 1

Michaelangelo Matos

By Michaelangelo Matos

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

If any figure can be claimed as the sole godfather of rock & roll, it's saxophonist, bandleader, songwriter and vocalist Louis Jordan. One of the most phenomenally popular performers of the 20th century, Jordan virtually owned the R&B charts between 1943's "What's the Use of Getting Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)" and 1950's "Blue Light Boogie," racking up 17 number one R&B hits and topping the charts for a staggering 106 weeks. (During the whole of 1946 and 1947, only 16 weeks total passed with Jordan not on top.) Even now, one listen to his vast catalogue will tell you why: few artists from any era grasped basic record-making as thoroughly as Jordan. His intros grab, his casual, good-humored delivery holds, his band cracks like a whip and his songs have more hooks than an anglers 'convention. Like that other famous Louis, Armstrong, Jordan was equally adept at humor and heartache, and frequently offered pithy social commentary, from the early "You Run Your Mouth and I'll Run My Business" to the later "Saturday Night Fish Fry." Five discs (these cover his Decca years, 1938-1950) are a lot from anyone, but Jordan is so consistently joyful it's worth the shot.

Simmering songs full of hooks, humor and heartache

Early on, Jordan was a nimble swinger, demonstrated amply by cuts on Disc One like "Doug the Jitterbug," "You're My Meat" and "Penthouse in the Basement" ("I keep washing windows/To get a better outlook on life"). He's also plenty sardonic: see "A Chicken Ain't Nothin 'But a Bird" and "You Run Your Mouth and I'll Run My Business."

On Disc Two, Jordan hits his stride, equally comfortable hamming it up on "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town" and its sequel, "I'm Gonna Leave You on the Outskirts of Town," and pleading on "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby." "G.I. Jive" is a definitive WWII snapshot; "Five Guys Named Moe" later provided the title for a Broadway production based on Jordan's songs.

In the years covered on Disc Three, Jordan had stopped swinging and started jumping; his rhythms on "Caldonia Boogie," "Ain't That Just Like a Woman" and "Jack, You're Dead" are all locomotive-driven; so are the actual railroad songs "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" and "Texas and Pacific." "Stone Cold Dead in the Market," meanwhile, takes on a deep Latin tinge.

One of Jordan's great subjects was food, and it's all over Disc Four: "Boogie Woogie Blue Plate," "Cole Slaw," the masterful racial allegory "Beans and Corn Bread," even "You're Much Too Fat (And That's That)." "Barnyard Boogie" and "Push-Ka-Pee She Pie (The Saga Of Saga Boy)" demonstrate that silly records don't have to be stupid.