Friday, July 24, 2009

Low Down R&B Instrumentals

The big bands that fronted Jump Blues artists like Lucky Millinder, Louis Jordan and Wynonie Harris set the table for the later emergence of rock n' roll combos, jazz as a genre also laid the groundwork for the R&B instrumental that became quite popular in the 1950's. Some of instrumentals that peppered the R&B charts throughout the decade featured some excellent musicians, some of whom worked as session players for other groups. The convergence of genres and attempts at "crossing over" coupled with the fact many players were able to move with fluidity between jazz, blues, R&B and pop related material made for a fascinating mix.

Here I have compiled a few of my favorite instrumentals from the decade that represent the rather broad range of styles that were charting in R&B. The "low down" funkiness of some of these recordings speaks to the hybridity of musical exchanges at the time. Enjoy, and thanks again to all the collectors on youtube.

Tiny Bradshaw: "Soft" is a 1953 classic by the master Bradshaw, a big band arrangement that opens the way for the smaller combo R&B preferences that followed. Charted on R&B.

Sonny Thompson: "Mellow Blues" from 1951 is a deliberate arrangement that features some outstanding R&B sax work from Eddie Chamblee. Sonny's small combo is the prototype for the R&B groups that followed.

Lloyd Glenn: West Coast blues piano ace Glenn showcases his talent on the early 1950's recording "Southbound Special." Lloyd was an "instrumental" player in the Los Angeles blues scene, teaming up with west coast guitar greats T Bone Walker and Lowell Fulson on different recordings.

Lee Allen: "Walking with Mister Lee" from 1958 is a genuine rocker with great sax work by Lee whose career was resurrected during the second wave of rockabilly in the early 1980's, principally by Dave Alvin.

Hank Marr: "Tonk Game" on King Records is from 1961 and is one of my real favorites. Hank's organ skills never got the ink that Jimmy Smith's did but this song is about as dirty as R&B gets. Superb.

Jimmy Forrest: "Night Train" from 1951 charted high on the R&B lists even though Jimmy is really rooted in jazz. Very nice example of jazz merging with R&B in the early 1950s.

Ernie Freeman: Ernie's cover of this Bill Justis tune "Raunchy" was a commercial success that crossed over into the Billboard top ten about the time Bill Dogget's "Honky Tonk" did. Nice sound, nice guitar work, the sax is under-miked it would seem.

Bill Doggett: "Hold It" is classic R&B with great musicians, I assume it's the same aggregation that played on his 1956 crossover hit "Honky Tonk," a tune that was discussed in one of the early posts on this blog. "Hold It" is a tune many musicians might have used before the break of a set. At any rate, it's some pretty nasty R&B.

Wild Jimmy Spruill:
"Kansas City March" by consummate session guitarist Spruill is top notch guitar based R&B. Spruill played with a host of talented players, including The Shirelles, King Curtis and with Bobby Lewis on the 1961 hit "Tossin and Turnin."

Tab Smith: "Mr Gee" is a jazzier rendition of a straight blues that features Tab's velvety smooth alto playing. Exceptionally tight arrangement.


  1. Wow! That's a box car load of great stuff there!

  2. Thanks Jack. Hope you are doing well, I enjoy your site very much too. Will be posting on Missouri rockabilly in the next week or so.