Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Flamingos # 9: Blues in a Letter & Jump Children

The Flamingos' penultimate session for Chance took place on Christmas Eve 1953 and consisted of four sides: Blues in a Letter, September Song, Jump Children (aka Vooit Vooit) and Listen to My Plea.

The first, "a stone solid blues" (Pruter), is primarily a vehicle for Johnny Carter, as the rest of the group don't have much to do beyond the requisite early 50s R&B vocal group moaning; unlike the similar Plan For Love there is no attempt by Sollie McElroy - or, indeed, Carter himself - to embellish the song with falsetto. Instead it's the band, or rather orchestra, which is effectively the costar of this recording. (Johnny Keyes says that six or more makes it an orchestra.) The Chance Records Discography website refers to:
An Al Smith aggregation that appears to have included Red Holloway (tenor sax), McKinley Easton (baritone), Horace Palm (piano), the great New Orleans-born drummer Vernel Fournier (1928 - 2000), and renowned lead trumpeter Hobart Dotson (1922 - 1971). 
 The Al Smith Discography Page adds Quinn Wilson on bass and points out that personnel were confirmed by Vernel Fournier.

These players pack a considerable collective wallop, though Carter, also credited with the song, is up to the challenge and never seems overwhelmed by the company he's keeping. Horace Palm's nervy piano adds welcome variety to a bottom-heavy sound - are those drums on loan from the Chicago Symphony? - but overall the backing is notable more for its power than its subtlety.

Which is not to say it isn't superbly executed. The band have obviously been well drilled (in Smith's candle-warmed basement?), with no trace of a false step detectable at any point, but for me a little of that near-bombastic style, standard fare for the time, goes a long way.

The band also grab the attention on Jump Children (aka Vooit Vooit), a wall-to-wall, unashamed, swingfest; there is even a spot of scatting from Sollie McElroy, emulating a trumpet or sax solo. For the most part, the rest of the group alternate between simulating a trumpet riff - the "Vooit Vooit" of the alternate title - and doubling the orchestra/aggregation's riffs to give even more oomph to proceedings, although Johnny Carter's falsetto occasionally breaks out and towards the end Jake Carey offers a brief counterpoint to McElroy's lead. With all hands on deck, the resulting sound puts one in mind of that misreading of a musical direction by one whose fame predated swing: "pound plenty".

Marv Goldberg observes:
The "vooit, vooit" riff ... had been used by Marion Abernathy ("The Blues Woman") in "Voo-it! Voo-it!," released back in 1946.
As can be heard below, the group also borrowed those untranscribable mouthings which immediately follow "voo-it, voo-it" on Abernathy's record - but I suppose you can't copyright a riff.

Jump Children is not a track I'm overly fond of personally, but Robert Pruter calls it "terrific" and it certainly seems highly regarded by rock'n'roll fans in the UK, to judge from its appearances on compilations.

Part of the problem for me is that, lyrically speaking - this is another song credited to Carter - stock phrases don't come much stockier, and the song doesn't add up to much more than an exhortation to forget your troubles - though I do appreciate that that's all a number such as this, as much instrumental as vocal, needs. Maybe it's just a case of overfamiliarity as it was on one of the earliest rock'n'roll LPs I ever bought.

The Flamingos kept it in their live act for many years, and a faster version, remade for End Records, can be heard in the Alan Freed film Go, Johnny, Go! accompanied by some dizzying choreography. At one point during the "Do you wanna jump, children?" section the enquiry is changed to "Do you wanna rock?" although it's about as convincing as Jerry Lee's Whole Lotta Twistin'.

No: if we must have Jump Children, give me the easy, agreeable swing of the Chance original. It may not be rock'n'roll, nor may I like it unreservedly, but it sure is a whole lot better - and a darned sight less exhuasting - than the reworked version.

September Song and Listen to My Plea will be the subject of later posts. The version of Listen to My Plea recorded at this session must have been deemed unsatisfactory as it was remade in February 1954. An alternate take of Jump Children from the December 1953 session has been bootlegged but I can't find it on youtube.

Other posts in this series here.

Doowop: the Chicago Scene by Robert Pruter
Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks page on the Flamingos
The Chance Label (website) - Robert Pruter, Armin Buttner and Robert L Campbell
Al Smith Discography Part 1 - Robert L Campbell, Armin Buttner, and Robert Pruter

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