BIG JOE TURNER / “Big Joe Turner Mixtape”
Before B.B. became King of the blues, Big Joe Turner was the “Boss of the Blues.” Joseph Vernon Turner Jr. was born in Kansas City, Missouri on May 18, 1911. During his long career he successfully mastered various styles of the blues, including Boogie-Woogie, jump blues, R&B, Rock and Roll, and jazz in a blues vein. Although not well known today, Big Joe Turner is one of the seminal purveyors of the blues. While in his early teens, he started singing professionally. When he grew up, Kansas City was a wide open, balling town that ignored the strictures of prohibition. While working in the bars, Joe earned the sobriquet “The Singing Barman.” During this period Turner partnered with pianist Pete Johnson and eventually the duo appeared on the famous 1938 “From Spiritual to Swing” Carnegie Hall concerts sponsored by impresario and record producer John H. Hammond. During the forties Big Joe recorded for a number of small labels. He had a huge voice and a seemingly endless repertoire of blues verses garnered from years working in Kansas City bars. As the first part of the Mixtape demonstrates, Big Joe was comfortable in a wide variety of settings, from Boogie-Woogie piano bands to small jazz combos and the then new field of R&B, which grew out of what used to be called Jump Blues. Take note of one track, “Rocks In My Bed.” That’s from the pen of Duke Ellington and was part of the 1941 Jump For Joy program produced out in Los Angeles. Also note the track “TV Mama,” that is memorable for a number of reasons not the least of which is the slide guitar work from Mississippi’s own, Mr. Elmo James. But then again that’s T-Bone Walker on “I’ve Got A Pocket Full Of Pencil.” Of course, Big Joe’s big record was the April 1954 mega-hit “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.” Not only did that song lead to a long string of R&B hits for Atlantic Records, “Shake” was an even bigger July 1954 hit for Bill Haley & The Comets. Although the song is tame by today’s standards, back in the fifties it was considered too risqué for “regular” audiences and thus even though Bill Haley was supposed to be a “wild” cat, Haley “cleaned” up the lyrics for his version. To understand the explosive impact of “Shake” consider all (actually only a partial listing of) the cover versions in addition to Bill Haley: Elvis Presley – August 1956, Carl Perkins – November 1958, Conway Twitty – 1960, Sam Cooke – 1963, Jerry Lee Lewis – 1975, Chuck Berry – 1975, and so forth and so on. “Shake” was written by Jess Stone, the relatively unknown secret weapon in Atlantic Records’ arsenal of producers, arrangers and song writers. The music was faster, louder and employed a heavy backbeat that became the standard for pop music. You can also hear the honking saxophone, another fixture of Rock and Roll. Big Joe was responsible for some of the more memorable of the early Rock and Roll hits such as “Honey Hush,” “Flip, Flop and Fly,” “Corrine Corrina,” and the humorous “The Chicken And The Hawk,” a take off from Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up And Fly Right.” Improbably as it probably seemed, during the fifties when he was in his forties, Big (six-foot-two, 300+ pounds) Joe Turner became a teenage idol. A big, burly blues shouter from Kansas City was now featured on television as one of the founders of Rock and Roll. But then in the sixties public tastes changed again and throughout the seventies and eighties Big Joe Turner returned to his jazz roots including a 1973 stellar turn in partnership with Kansas City icon Count Basie. The last four songs on the Mixtape, “Rebecca,” “The Honeydripper,” “Flip, Flop And Fly,” and “Cherry Red” are beautiful examples of the “territory” style of blues-based jazz. Coleman Hawkins is on “Rebecca” and Count Basie on the last three tracks. Taken as a whole the tracks on this Mixtape are an encyclopedia of the urbanization of the blues. Just listen to the different rhythms from the boogie-woogie and the shuffle, to the heavy backbeat of Rock and Roll and the propulsive swing of jazz combos. Notice that the opening song “Cherry Red” is also the closing song but they are very, very different versions. Equaling engrossing and simultaneously diverse are the three versions of “Flip, Flop and Fly.” Joe doesn’t just change the tempo, instead he offers completely different interpretations and is equally effective. Turner died in 1985 but he should never be forgotten. Big Joe Turner profoundly influenced over three decades of blues singers and one of the foundations of Rock and Roll. Enjoy one of the greatest blues shouters of all time. —Kalamu ya Salaam Big Joe Turner Mixtape Playlist 01 “Cherry Red” - The Boss Of The Blues 02 “In The Evenin' When The Sun Goes Down” - Big, Bad & Blue: Anthology 03 “Flip Flop and Fly” - Boss Man's Blues 04 “How Long, How Long Blues” - Bosses Of The Blues vol.1 05 “Summertime” - In The Evening 06 “In The Evening” - In The Evening 07 “Sweet Lorraine” - In The Evening 08 “Kick The Front Door In” - Life Ain't Easy 09 “I've Got A Pocket Full Of Pencil” - Texas Style (Cd 1) 10 “Crawdad Hole” - Big, Bad & Blue: Anthology 11 “TV Mama” - Big, Bad & Blue: Anthology 12 “Honey Hush” - Boss Man's Blues 13 “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” - Big, Bad & Blue: Anthology 14 “Flip Flop and Fly” - Big, Bad & Blue: Anthology 15 “Rock A While” - Big, Bad & Blue: Anthology 16 “The Chicken And The Hawk” - Big, Bad & Blue: Anthology 17 “Corrine Corrina” - Big, Bad & Blue: Anthology 18 “When I Was Young” - Big Joe Rides Again 19 “Until The Real Thing Comes Along” - Big Joe Rides Again 20 “I Want A Little Girl” - The Boss Of The Blues 21 “Rocks In My Bed” - Big, Bad & Blue: Anthology 22 “Rebecca” - Big Joe Rides Again 23 “The Honeydripper” - The Bosses - Count Basie/Joe Turner 24 “Flip, Flop And Fly” - The Bosses - Count Basie/Joe Turner 25 “Cherry Red” - The Bosses - Count Basie/Joe Turner
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