More than Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, or Elvis, Louis Jordan (1908-1975) is responsible for rock and roll.
Back in the 1940s, he fused boogie woogie and big band sounds to create “jump blues,” an up-beat kind of bebop that he crafted with both alto sax and his outrageous lyrics.
In a time of barbaric racial divide, Jordan demolished segregation on the charts by hitting the Top 10 on both the white and “colored” lists, selling about four million records. With help from his band, The Tympany Five, he had 54 singles on the charts in the 40s alone. Eighteen of them his number one.
I’m a child of the 80s, and far removed from those old rock-jazz roots. The first I stumbled on Louis Jordan was on hearing a cover of Knock Me a Kiss in 1996’s Swingers (one of the few times I’ve liked Vince Vaughn).
As soon as I heard it, I had to have the song. It took a long time to find it, mainly because YouTube — not even MP3s — didn’t exist at the time. When user-submitted video content started hitting the web, very few Jordan videos were among them, and authentic vids of many of my favorites (Saturday Night Fish Fry, Beans and Corn Bread, Knock Me a Kiss) still can’t be found.
Here are a few that are definitely worth watching:
Jordan was reportedly married five times, so he purported to know all about the vices of manipulative women. Sure, the song is a little misogynistic. But take it from another married guy — that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.
And if you go for a walk, and she listens while you talk / She’s tryin’ to hook you.
If she grabs your hand and says, “darling, you’re such a nice man” / Beware, I’m telling you.
Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby
I put this in Jordan’s three best songs. It’s simple. It’s short. But it’s got a very catchy melody and a smoky trumpet hook that’s impossible to resist.
Of course, the grammar is loathsome, but if you can forgive Horse with No Name, you can forgive Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby.
This song is arguably more about Jordan’s personality than musical merit. It’s wrapped around what we consider today to be a very elementary bass line, but where it shines is in its indictment of the title woman’s faults, and Jordan’s insistence on loving her anyway.
I mentioned he was a little sexist, right? To prove I can be just as bad, I’m going to say the cheesecake on the piano sure had some nice gams.
Knock Me a Kiss
This song is terrific, but I had to cheat to find a version worth posting. This isn’t Louis Jordan’s rendition, but Ina Ray Hutton’s 1943 performance tour to US military installations.