The Hollywood Flames

The Hollywood Flames was a vocal group, from Los Angeles, which specialised in rhythm and blues. Although its origin can be traced back to the late 1940s, its lineage featured many changes in both name and membership.

It was in 1957, when recording as The Hollywood Flames, that the group achieved its only major hit, “Buzz, Buzz, Buzz”. The single reached No.5 on the rhythm and blues chart and No.11 on the national pop chart.

“Buzz, Buzz, Buzz” was played in the film, ‘Blow’, in 2001. Johnny Depp, Ray Liotta, Rachel Griffiths and Penelope Cruz are among the stars of the film, which is centred upon the life of George Jung, an American who is a smuggler of cocaine.

Faye Adams

Faye Tuell was born in Newark, New Jersey, in May of 1923. Her father, David Tuell, was a singer of gospel music and, from the age of five, Faye joined two of her older sisters in the singing of spirituals.

Faye married Tommy Scruggs, in 1942, and under her married name performed in nightclubs in New York. In 1952, she became the vocalist in a band led by Joe Morris. It was to be her recording of the song, “Shake A Hand”, under the name of Faye Adams, that was to give her her initial and largest hit. “Shake A Hand”, Joe’s own composition, spent ten weeks atop the rhythm and blues chart, in the latter half of 1953.

Before the year had ended, “I’ll Be True” had followed it; also bound for No.1. Almost a year later, “Hurts Me To My Heart” spent five weeks at No.1. In 1955, Faye Adams appeared in the film, ‘Rhythm And Blues Revue’.

At the time of writing Faye is ninety-four years of age.

Bill Doggett

The era that was rock and roll did not have to wait for long before the emergence of its first truly outstanding instrumental. It arrived in the form of “Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)”.

William Ballard Doggett was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in February of 1916. His mother was a pianist and it was she who introduced him to the piano.

Bill Doggett’s career included stints with Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra, The Ink Spots and the 1940s’ most popular exponent of rhythm and blues, Louis Jordan. It was whilst playing with Louis’ backing group, The Tympany Five, that Bill was introduced to playing the Hammond organ.

Bill formed his own trio, in 1951, and was signed to record for King Records. Nevertheless, it took him until 1956 to find gold. “Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)” had been co-written by Bill and guitarist, Billy Butler. The recording, which features saxophonist, Clifford Scott, rightfully created such an impression that it topped Billboard’s rhythm and blues chart for thirteen consecutive weeks, while on the pop chart it spent three weeks at its peak of No.2.

“Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)” has since been revived by the likes of The Ventures and George Thorogood and The Destroyers. Among Bill’s other successful recordings are “Slow Walk” (1956), “Ram-Bunk-Shush” (1957), “Soft” (1957) and “Hold It” (1958).

Bill Doggett left us in November of 1996.

Needless to say, I have added “Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)” to my list of favourite recordings. This can be found in the suggested playlists.

Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton

Until a decade or so ago I had believed that Elvis Presley’s incredibly successful recording of “Hound Dog” was the original. It was then that I came across Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton’s recording of this number, and realised that it was not!

Willie Mae, a rhythm and blues singer and songwriter, was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in December of 1926. Her mother sang in the Baptist Church where her father was the minister.

Following the death of her mother, Willie Mae moved to live in Houston, Texas, in 1948. It was there, three years later, that she began her career as a recording artist when she was signed to Peacock Records.

The prolific composers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, afforded Willie Mae the opportunity to record “Hound Dog”. The single spent seven weeks atop the rhythm and blues charts, in 1953, although she was reportedly to see little of the royalties from its success.

Among Willie Mae’s other recordings was the self-penned “Ball N’ Chain”. It was revived by Janis Joplin, in the 1960s.

Willie Mae witnessed the self-inflicted death of blues singer, Johnny Ace, in 1954. Johnny had been playing Russian roulette, with the revolver’s cylinder containing just a single bullet.

Her career began to wane from the late 1950s and she moved to live in San Francisco. Willie Mae’s recordings became intermittent and she earned a living from touring, singing in clubs and at blues festivals. She remained active until her death, from a heart attack, in Los Angeles, in July of 1984, at the age of fifty-seven.

Jerry Leiber died last month (August of 2011) at the age of seventy-eight.


Jackie Wilson

Thirty years after it had firstly entered the charts, Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite” was brought to the listening pleasure of a new generation, in countries such as Great Britain and Australia, in 1986. As it was, indeed, a posthumous hit, the video clip featured rubbery figures ‘singing’ to Jackie’s original recording.

Jack Leroy Wilson was born, in Detroit, in June of 1934. His father, an alcoholic, introduced him to alcohol when he was still a boy. “Jackie” was to spend two periods in juvenile detention and it was during his second stint that he was introduced to the sport of boxing.

Nonetheless, his first love was singing. Jackie, although he was not particularly religious, began attending church for it gave him the opportunity to sing gospel. He became a member in a succession of groups before, in 1953, Billy Ward sought to recruit him into The Dominoes. This group had already spent fourteen weeks atop the rhythm and blues charts, in 1951, with what was to prove to be by far its largest and most controversial success, “Sixty Minute Man”, and so Jackie viewed the opportunity to join it with relish.

This vacancy had been created because Clyde McPhatter was leaving the group to form his own: The Drifters. Prior to his departure, Clyde schooled Jackie on becoming the vocalist that Billy wanted him to be.

Jackie Wilson was blessed with one of the most versatile voices in popular music and, therefore, it came as no surprise when, in 1957, he embarked upon a career as a solo performer. It is almost unbelievable that this same person is singing “Reet Petite” and “Lonely Teardrops”, as is also singing “Night”. “Night”, is a quasi-operatic ballad based upon a classical piece by the French composer and pianist, Saint-Saens.

His dynamism and athleticism on stage endeared his performances to many of those who were fortunate enough to witness them and it was little wonder when these led him to be dubbed ‘Mr. Excitement’. Jackie enjoyed a long association with Brunswick Records and was equally at home singing a wide variety of material, at varying tempos.

In 1959, he appeared in the film, ‘Go Johnny, Go’. Jackie was cast alongside a plethora of musical stars of rock and roll. These included Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Jimmy Clanton, and The Cadillacs.

During 1966, Jackie moved from New York to record in Chicago. It was here that he became exposed to some refreshingly different songwriters. Pop hits, such as “Whispers (Gettin’ Louder)”, “I Get The Sweetest Feeling” and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher”, emanated from this move.

In September of 1975, Jackie suffered a heart attack whilst performing on stage in Camden, New Jersey. As he collapsed, he struck his head so severely that he was to remain in a virtual coma until his by then merciful death, at the age of just forty-nine, in January of 1984.

In 1977, Rita Coolidge released a cover, titled “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher And Higher” and although it recorded sales in excess of Jackie’s original, music by then had mellowed and , to me, it lacks the vitality expected from one describing the ecstasy of another’s love. Therefore, it is Jackie’s original that is named in the list of my favourite recordings, located in the suggested playlists.

Australian rocker, Jimmy Barnes, also revived “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher”. It is contained on his album, ‘Soul Deep’, which was released in 1991.

Welsh rocker, Shakin’ Stevens, a performer who built a career upon his revival of hits, took “I’ll Be Satisfied” into the British Top Ten, in 1982.

The Drifters

Clyde McPhatter had been the leading singer in The Dominoes. When he was no longer wanted by that group, a new male group was formed around his voice: that of tenor. The Drifters, as this new quartet was called, created a driving vocal style as depicted in its first hit, “Money Honey”, in 1953.

Other classic rhythm and blues numbers followed as the musical revolution that was to become known as rock and roll unfolded. “Such A Night”, which was covered by Johnnie Ray, “Honey Love” and “What’Cha Gonna Do” were all prime examples of this new style.

Clyde McPhatter left The Drifters, to pursue a solo career, in 1955, and, over the years, there followed a succession of leading singers that included Johnny Moore, Johnny Lee Williams, Ben E. King — famed for his solo recordings of “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand By Me” — and Rudy Lewis.

The Drifters struggled to make an impression on the charts in 1957 and 1958 before experiencing a golden period that began with “There Goes My Baby”, in 1959, and virtually ended with “Under The Boardwalk” and “Saturday Night At The Movies”, in 1964. These five years also included such hits as “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “On Broadway” — revived by George Benson in 1978 — and “Up On The Roof”.

Although The Drifters’ run of hits ended in its native America in 1966, for whatever reason, the group’s popularity was unexpectedly reborn in Britain between 1972 and 1976. A series of eight entries to the Top 10 on the British singles’ charts during these five years included “Come On Over To My Place”, “Like Sister And Brother”, “Down On The Beach Tonight”, “Kissin’ In The Back Row Of The Movies”, “Can I Take You Home Little Girl”, “There Goes My First Love” and “You’re More Than A Number In My Book”; with “Hello Happiness” just falling short of joining these aforementioned seven hits. The eighth entry was a double-sided single that reissued the mid-Sixties’ recordings, “At The Club” and “Saturday Night At The Movies”.

The names of additional tracks by The Drifters can be found in the suggested playlists.

Shirley and Lee

Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee were both born in 1936. In 1952, they recorded their first record, “I’m Gone”, in New Orleans.

Shirley had a unique voice, that possessed a high pitch. This makes recordings by Shirley and Lee, unmistakeable to the ear. Personally, I find it somewhat grating, which says much for, “Feel So Good”, as I place this classic rhythm and blues number in my top three on my list of favourite recordings. It was written by Leonard Lee and released in 1955.

The duo’s most successful recording was also written by Leonard. “Let The Good Times Roll”, was released in 1956 and performed well on both the rhythm and blues and pop charts.

Shirley and Lee moved to New York, in 1960, but the recordings they made there proved to be relatively unsuccessful and by 1962 the pair had returned to New Orleans. When this, too, proved to be a struggle the two went their separate ways.

For Shirley, this meant moving to California, where she worked mainly as a session singer. However, more or less by chance, she was once again to achieve success when she, backed by a group of studio musicians, recorded “Shame, Shame, Shame”, in 1974, under the name of Shirley and Company.

The talented Leonard Lee died in 1976. Shirley retired from recording and returned to New Orleans.

For the names of more tracks by Shirley and Lee, please, refer to the suggested playlists.

‘Big’ Joe Turner

“Shake Rattle And Roll”, by ‘Big’ Joe Turner, is my favourite recording. I know this because a couple of decades ago — when I used to listen to the radio to hear its music — over the period of a long weekend, a countdown of ‘The Top 1,000 Hits Of All Time’ would invariably be played; with such playlists being published in the newspaper, leading up to that particular long weekend. One day, years later, I sat down to write out my own list of just 100 top recordings. To my surprise I ended up with the names of more than 120 which I, just as surprisingly, could not cull further. There, at the top of this list was “Shake, Rattle And Roll” by ‘Big’ Joe Turner.

Joseph Vernon Turner was born in Kansas City. While he had sufficient work singing in the clubs of his home town, when he moved to New York, in 1935, he found such work hard to obtain. Gradually, the opportunities did come his way and he was able to perform alongside some of the greatest names in jazz.

After the War his recordings gravitated towards the characteristics of rhythm and blues. These can be identified in such recordings as “My Gal’s A Jockey” (which doesn’t have anything to do with being a jockey) and “Sally Zu-Zazz”, both from 1946.

In 1951, ‘Big’ Joe was signed to the fledgling Atlantic label and under this livery he was to reap a string of hits. Initially, these consisted of blues ballads like “The Chill Is On” and “Chains Of Love” — which was to be revived by Pat Boone, in 1956 — before such up-tempo numbers as the self-penned classic “Honey Hush” (1953), “Shake, Rattle And Roll” (1954), “Flip, Flop And Fly” (1955) and “The Chicken And The Hawk” (1956), raised his popularity to new heights.

‘Big’ Joe Turner died in November of 1985, at the age of seventy-four.

The names of more tracks by Joe Turner can be found in the suggested playlists.

Joe Tex

Joseph Arrington Jr. was born in Texas, in August of 1933. He sang in gospel groups in his formative years, before the winning of a local talent quest led to him being signed to a recording contract, in 1955. Nevertheless, the by now Joe Tex had to deal with a succession of recording companies, over the period of a decade, before he was to experience his first hit of any significance.

“Hold What You’ve Got” was recorded by the soulful Tex, in the famed studios of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in November, 1964. It was to be the title track for Joe’s first album.

Incongruously, most of Joe’s recordings were made in the ‘capital’ of country music, Nashville, Tennessee, although he also recorded in nearby Memphis, and, on one occasion, in New York.

In 1965, Joe Tex achieved his first No.1 on the rhythm and blues charts with “I Want To (Do Everything For You)” and followed it, almost immediately, with another, “A Sweet Woman Like You”. Joe’s biggest hit came in 1972, when “I Gotcha” sold in excess of a million copies.

Joe’s talents extended into that period of music known as disco, when, in 1977, “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)” was also sell more than a million records. A convert to the religion of Islam, Joe Tex had changed his name to Joseph Hazziez, in July of 1972. He died of a heart attack in August, 1982 at the age of forty-nine.

The names of more tracks by Joe Tex can be located in the suggested playlists.

LaVern Baker

LaVern Baker is one of my three favourite female singers. Dusty Springfield and Brenda Lee are the others. LaVern was born as Delores Williams, in Chicago, on the 11th of November in 1929; into the Great Depression. She was to sing under a number of different names and record for a number of labels before finally being signed to Atlantic Records, in 1953.

However, LaVern had to wait until 1955 to have her first hit, “Tweedle Dee”, but, even then, this was promptly covered by Georgia Gibbs who was to enjoy, by far, the greater number of sales.

Still, LaVern persevered and was to become a regular entrant to the rhythm and blues charts from then until 1966. Her record, “I Cried A Tear”, even entered Billboard’s Top 10 on the pop charts, in 1958.

I particularly like her smouldering cover of Lonnie Johnson’s classic, of 1948, “Tomorrow Night”.

For more tracks from LaVern Baker refer to the suggested playlists page.