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. big joe turner 10.jpg 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.” big joe turner 06.jpg 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. big joe turner 02.jpg 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 joe turner boss of the blues cover.jpg 01 “Cherry Red” - The Boss Of The Blues joe turner anthology cover.jpg 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 joe turner in the evening cover.jpg 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 joe turner again cover.jpg 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 joe turner the bosses cover.jpg 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

This entry was posted on Monday, November 30th, 2009 at 2:51 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “BIG JOE TURNER / “Big Joe Turner Mixtape””

cruzcontrol Says:
November 30th, 2009 at 3:26 pm

How fitting to have Big Joe Turner today. My Daddy was also known as Big Joe, he would have been 82 today and he LOVED the blues.
And you too!
Thanks so much.

lebo Says:
December 18th, 2009 at 3:03 pm

I like what you say here:

“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”.

Because The Blues is where it all started. I only started listening to the Blues in the last 2 years and it has been an eye-opening experience. You’ll be listening to a “blues” track and say hey, wait a minute, that’s rock&roll. Then the next track, you got to ask is this blues, ragtime, or jazz I’m listening to. It’s amazing how we got all these distinct genres of music coming out of one source. Hey man, the blues is alright!

Crown Propeller Says:
February 14th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

The man with the cigar on the first black and white photo above is not Big Joe Turner – although he resembles him a little. It is Reverend Clarence Cobbs. See also:

kalamu Says:
February 14th, 2012 at 5:49 pm

kalamu sez:

you are right. the photo has been exchanged. thanks for the heads up correction. Says:
March 9th, 2015 at 4:00 pm

Very shortly this web page will be famous among all blog people, due to
it’s nice content

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