Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Louis Jordan

Happy birthday, Louis Jordan!  Cooler and hipper than Cab Calloway, who covered a number of Jordan’s many hits, Louis Jordan was one of the biggest black musical stars of the 20th century.  Those of you who don’t know about Jordan obviously don’t know about jump blues, either, in that case.  Jump blues, aka Jump Jive, was a genre of blues that led directly to rock ‘n’ roll.  Wikipedia’s bio of Jordan describes jump blues as “a swinging, up-tempo, dance-oriented hybrid of jazz, blues and boogie-woogie” that often involved fast-talking, hip lyrics about black urban life.  It’s true, as Muddy Waters claimed, that blues begat rock, but it wasn’t Muddy’s style of blues, nor Bessie Smith’s, nor even that of B.B. King – it was jump blues, which makes Louis Jordan, as jump blues’ most successful exponent and innovator, at least the granddaddy of rock ‘n’ roll if not the actual father.  Even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized him as such in 1987.

Louis Jordan, circa July 1946  (photo courtesy of William P. Gottlieb via Wikimedia Commons)

Louis Jordan and his alto sax, circa July 1946  (photo courtesy of William P. Gottlieb via Wikimedia Commons)

However, Jordan’s music crossed musical lines, from blues and jazz to swing, big band, R&B and even comic ‘novelty’ songs.  He also crossed color lines:  Jordan was one of the first black entertainers whose records did well on the pop charts, and he did duets with several of his Decca Records label mates, including Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.  A gifted instrumentalist as well as a vocalist – who could sing a ballad as well as he could jive lyrics – he played piano, clarinet, and alto, tenor and baritone sax, though his instrument of choice was the alto.  He was also a bandleader and a clever songwriter, though he didn’t get credit or royalties for some of his songs (that was his own doing:  in an attempt to get around an existing publishing contract, he credited some songs, including the famous “Caldonia,” to his third wife, childhood sweetheart Fleecie Moore; but as that marriage was tempestuous and, thankfully, short lived – Fleecie stabbed Jordan on two occasions during domestic disputes, once near fatally – they soon divorced, but she retained ownership of songs she’d never written, much to his dismay).

Some performers come to music by accident or by desire, but not Jordan – he was born into it on July 8, 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas, to Adell and James Aaron Jordan.  His mother died when he was young; his father, however, was a musician, music teacher and bandleader for two local groups, the Brinkley Brass Band and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and young Louis was surrounded by music before he could walk.  His father taught him music, starting with the clarinet, and as a youth he played in his father’s bands whenever school was out.  Jordan briefly attended Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, where he majored in music.  He also played piano professionally early in his career and played with other local bands, including Bob Alexander’s Harmony Kings.  When he moved with his family to Philadelphia in 1932, he played clarinet in the Charlie Gaines band and also did gigs with pianist Clarence Williams.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week, bonus edition:  Nat ‘King’ Cole

Hello again, fellow roadies!  Welcome to the holiday bonus edition of the Route 66 Song Of The Week.  Only a few days ago, we treated you to Natalie Cole’s take on her daddy’s big hit and our favorite road anthem.  But no sooner had we posted it than a hue and cry went up for Daddy Dearest.  Well!  This being the ultimate All-American Weekend, what with The Fourth, and it being the height of the road-trip season as well, how could we refuse? After all, who could beat the guy who held the title of King long before Elvis?

So:  by popular demand, we give you the definitive Nat King Cole and King Cole Trio’s YouTube version of “Route 66,” as uploaded by Gene Vincent’s Official Nat King Cole Fan Club.  This is clearly a filmed/videotaped version meant to look like a club date but is most likely a performance the group did for television.  It may even be from Nat Cole’s own brief TV show, which ran in 1956 and 1957.  It seems Cole was much more popular as a guest on other people’s TV shows and specials, at least where TV sponsors were concerned.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Natalie Cole

Howdy, road music lovers!  We’re overdue for an installment of our favorite road anthem, and this week it’s Natalie Cole’s turn.  Given that her dad, Nat ‘King’ Cole, made this tune a big hit only a few weeks after Bobby Troup and his first wife Cynthia wrote it while driving down said route on the way to L.A. (Cynthia suggested the title), it seems only appropriate to feature the lovely Ms. Natalie right before the July 4th holiday.  Nat and his King Cole Trio were playing in L.A. at the time (yes, now you know how he got his nickname); before that, he and the trio spent a while making music in Chicago, a city to which Nat and his family had moved when he was four years old and to which he often returned.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Glenn Frey swings western style, Teri Thornton sings Nelson Riddle

Hello again, fellow roadies!  It’s shaping up to be a really nice 4-day Memorial Day holiday here in Chicagoland — low 70s predicted for Friday and Saturday, low 80s Sunday and maybe that’ll hold for Monday instead of going hot.  To yours truly, that justifies a double-header for our Song Of The Long Weekend.

Mention The Eagles, and most people think of “Hotel California,” which was supposedly inspired by some motel from hell along old U.S. Route 66.  Me?  I think of Glenn Frey doing a little Western swing, Mother-Road style.  And that’s just what we have for you this week.  You’d think Frey was channeling Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, the way he digs the tune with some zip in this video (now there’s a guy I wish would record our favorite song.  Hint!).

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Route 66 Song Of The Week:  Nat King Cole’s new double album is coming out June 3rd

Kudos to Ron Warnick over at Route 66 News for spotting this announcement last week on Yahoo! Finance (riiiight; where else would Universal Music put a new album announcement?  Not like you’d be thinking Billboard magazine or anything …).  It seems Universal Music Enterprises, which owns the old Capitol Records archive, found some unreleased tracks recorded by Nat Cole at a Chicago session circa 1955.  Or rather, Alex Luke, former EVP of A&R at Capitol Records and a big Nat King Cole fan, spent two years working in the Capitol vaults trying to locate missing master tapes, combing through photos, union records, paperwork and tapes to find this material, which evidently got misplaced at about the time Capitol ws moving into its (then) brand new Capitol Tower at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles.

The search paid off:  the targeted session tapes are still missing, but the unreleased tracks and alternate takes that Luke found were golden.  The standard edition of the new release will hav 22 classic Cole performances, whereas the two-CD deluxe edition — that’s the one you want, folks — features 14 rare or previously unreleased tracks, including four never-before-heard vintage songs and previously unissued alternate takes of Nat Cole standards.  They’ll all be downloadable, of course.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week, Mother’s Day edition: Patti Page & The Mother Road

Hello again, fellow roadies! What, oh what, we pondered, should we present to all the roadie-moms and roadie-grandmas out there for Mother’s Day? The day definitely requires Music Your Mama Would Like. Of course, that depends on which generation your mama is from.

When thinking of music my own mother’s generation might like, I immediately have visions of Doris Day films and other goodie-two-shoes, oversimplified visions of 1950s Americana. Which is strange, when you think of it, because my mama was from the old country in Eastern Europe and not at all sentimental, though she did arrive here at the beginning of that stereotyped decade … and she did have a thing sometimes for Doris Day and Rock Hudson films, as did my grandmother (boy, was she surprised when she finally discovered which way he swung). Mama and Baba liked musicals in general and The Sound Of Music in particular (as did my dad), which just makes my teeth ache to remember (too saccharine-sweet for me, thanks; that was just about the only Rodgers & Hammerstein musical I couldn’t abide, and I still wince whenever I see an ad for a rerun or stage revival).

Me, I was always getting Doris Day and Patti Page confused. I knew that Peggy Lee was way cool, but I was never sure about which one of the other two was hip until I heard them sing. The moment Ms. Day opened her mouth, I quickly recalled that she was the ‘square’ one. Which left me kind of fuzzy about Patti Page, who didn’t really go in for making films; she just sang. But she left a definite impression, and during her career had several recordings that were Top 10 hits, including four that made the No. 1 spot. Page also recorded a swinging version of our favorite tune on a 1955 Mercury album that for some crazy reason was designated for radio broadcast only, titled Blue Dream Street. Here’s a clip:

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Route 66 Song Of The Week: The Replacements, via Minneapolis

Hello again, fellow roadies!  IT’s that time of the week again, and here in Chicago, it’s a nippy evening after a sunny but cool day.  Looking forward to Easter Sunday, belatedly sending my Jewish friends Passover greetings (I always get that either too early or too late, darn it), and generally hoping that the tulips and daffodils start popping up soon.  Must need a few more April showers, I guess.

Anyway, our musical tribute this weekend comes in a roundabout way.  Some of you may know that Andrew Evans of NatGeo Traveler has just begun traveling down Route 66 form Chicago this week.  His Twitter feed (@WheresAndrew) has lots of entries for the last two days.  We’re glad he made it to Springfield, IL by evening for dinner at Saputo’s — but, like most non-Chicagoans, he figured there really wasn’t much to see between downtown Chicago (Noooooo!  Not again!!) and the city limits of Joliet, and so he skipped over most of what yours truly has been researching for almost three years.  Sigh … we knew there was a reason we’re writing this book, but honestly: you’d think more people would have caught on by now that they’re missing a lot in the metro area.

So, in honor of Andrew Evans, who may have missed a lot in metro Chicago even while he was techinically on the Route, this week’s rendition of our theme song comes from The Replacements, a garage-punk-alt-rock band that originated in Minneapolis, MN … which is way off the track of Route 66, but we applaud their hearty take anyway.  Listen in:

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