I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a fan of the blues. And of course, that mean I was a fan of B.B. King. So one day, when I saw a CD in a bookstore titled Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan, I picked it up, and immediately added Jordan to my favorites.*
Jordan was born in Arkansas in 1908 and grew up to be a musician, performing in various local bands until he got his big break in 1936, when he was hired primarily as a saxophone player for the Savoy Ballroom Orchestra. He quickly showed off his talent for singing and showmanship, overshadowing the band’s nominal leader.** In 1938, he started out on his own.
He started recording songs in 1939, a combination of new songs and covers.In 1942, he had his first R&B chart hit, “I’m Gonna Leave You on the Outskirts of Town.” It was a breakthrough. The next year was a big one. His cover of “Ration Blues” was #1 on the R&B chart and crossed over to the pop chart (and C&W). The hits continued the next year with “G.I. Jive” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” and by 1946 he was a regular on the R&B and pop charts, with songs like “Caldonia,” “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” and “Jack, You’re Dead.”
In 1949, he recorded “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” which is often cited as one of the first rock ‘n roll records, partly because the chorus include the lines “And it was rockin’”
Over his career, Jordan had 18 Number one R&B hits, a record beaten only by Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin.
Jordan’s style is usually described as “jump blues,” and consisted of catchy tunes and tons of energy. At a time when music was segregated, he managed to cross over and sell to white audiences. He was often called “King of the Jukebox” during his time; you want wanted something to dance to, Jordan was the man you’d choose. Jordan also made short films of him performing as a way to boost his image.
By the mid-50s, Jordan suffered a loss in popularity, though he still continued to record, often reworking early songs to fit better into the modern styles. He stopped getting a chance to record in the 60s and died in 1974.
Jordan was recognized as a pioneer by musicians and was even honored with a Broadway Show. Five Guys Named Moe ran over a year and has spawned revivals over the years. And he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
*I had heard other songs by him, but hadn’t made the connection. I also was a bit confused at first, thinking they meant French actor Louis Jourdain.
**He often sang with Ella Fitzgerald.