WYNONIE HARRIS-DON’T YOU WANT TO ROCK?- THE KING AND DELUXE ACETATE SERIES.
WYNONIE HARRIS-DON’T YOU WANT TO ROCK?- THE KING AND DELUXE ACETATE SERIES.
It’s been seven years since Ace Records released Good Rockin’ Brown: the King and Deluxe Acetate Series in 2008. It was the fifth instalment in the King and Deluxe Acetate series. Since then, there’s been no further instalments in the series. That’s…until recently.
On 25th May 2015, Ace Records released a two disc compilation of Wynonie Harris’ King and Deluxe recordings, Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series. This expansive compilation features twenty-seven tracks from the King Of The Blues Shouters. Disc One, entitled The Masters, features twenty-three tracks, including singles and album tracks. However, this is only half the story.
Then on Disc Two of Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series, there’s twenty-four alternate takes. None of these tracks have never been released before. Just like the tracks on Disc One, they’ve been transferred from the original masters. Mastering engineer Duncan Cowell has worked his magic. As a result, the sound quality is of the highest standard. The same goes for Tony Rounce’s sleeve-notes. They’re in-depth and informative. Tony’s enthusiasm shines through, and his sleeve-notes ensure that Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series, is a welcome addition to The King and Deluxe Series. It’s a fitting homage to the King Of The Blues Shouters, Wynonie Harris.
The future King Of The Blues Shouters was born in Omaha, Nebraska on August 24th 1915. At the time, Wynonie’s mother Mallie Hood Anderson, was only fifteen, and unmarried. Mallie later married Luther Harris, in 1920. She was twenty and Luther was thirty-five. Wynonie took Luther’s name. However, in 1931, when Wynonie was sixteen, he dropped out of school. He was soon a father.
In 1932, Wynonie became a father for the first time. His first child, Micky, was born to Naomi Henderson. Just ten months later, in 1933, Wynonie become a father for the second time. Wesley was born to Laura Devereaux. Just like Micky, Wesley was brought up by his mother. Wynonie was only eighteen.
By 1935, Wynonie was making a living as a singer. People came from neighbouring towns to hear this up-and-coming singer. This included Olive E. Goodlow. She lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa, but made the journey to Omaha to see Wynonie live. Not long after this, they began a relationship.
When their relationship began, Wynonie was twenty and Olive was only sixteen. The following year, on May 20th 1936, Olive gave birth to Pattie. This was Wynonie’s third child. He was only twenty-one. Later in 1936, on December 11th 1936, Wynonie and Olive were married. After the marriage, Olive worked as a barmaid and nurse, and Wynonie’s mother looked after Pattie. Meanwhile, By then, Wynonie was making a living as a singer.
In the early thirties, Wynonie and Velda Shannon formed a dance team. They were a popular throughout North Omaha. By 1934, they were starred at the Ritz Theatre. That however, wasn’t how Wynonie wanted to make a living. Wynonie wanted to be a singer, and was a regular in Omaha’s clubs. It wasn’t until 1935, that Wynonie was making a living as a singer. Previously he augmented his living doing various odd jobs. Not any more. Now was a popular singer.
By 1935, had recently started singing the blues. He quickly became a popular draw. In his home town of Omaha, Wynonie became a celebrity. He was the local boy made good. However, Wynonie was popular not just in Omaha, but further afield.
Already, Wynonie was making regular trips to Kansas City. That’s where he first saw blues shouters Big Joe Turner and Jimmy Rushing. Wynonie decided to model himself on the two blues shouters. This paid off. Before long, Wynonie was travelling to New York, to sing in Harlem with Velda Shannon. The pair were a popular draw in Jim Bell’s Harlem nightclub.
Quickly, Wynonie was earning a reputation as one of the best up-and-coming blues singers. However, it was in a West Coast nightclub that Wynonie got a break.
Curtis Crosby owned a nightclub in Los Angeles. He had heard about Wynonie Harris, so decided to bring him to L.A. This proved a masterstroke. Wynonie Harris was a hugely popular draw. West Coast music lovers were won over, and gave Wynonie Harris called him Mr. Blues. This stuck.
In 1940, Mr. Blues and his wife Ollie headed to New York. Four year old Pattie was left behind and was brought up be her grandmother Mallie. Things didn’t go to plan.
As soon as Wynonie Harris reached New York, he was playing live. His recording career was another matter. There was a musician’s strike between 1942 and 1944. So, Wynonie had to rely on his income from playing live. Night after night, Wynonie played live. By 1943, he was playing nearly every night. It was a punishing schedule, where Wynonie continually criss-crossed America. As 1943 drew to a close, Wynonie was spotted by bandleader Lucky Milliner in the Rhumboogie Café in Chicago.
So impressed was Lucky Milliner, that he asked Wynonie to join his band. Wynonie Harris made his debut with Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra on 24th March 1944. They had a week long residency in Chicago. During this first week, Wynonie quickly found his feet. Next stop was the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. This was Wynonie’s first appearance at the Apollo Theatre. However, he took it in his stride, debuting Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well, which later, would give Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra, their biggest hit.
Before that, Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra arrived at New York’s Savoy Ballroom, where they had a regular residency. It was at the Savoy Ballroom, that Wynonie’s old friend Preston Love replaced alto saxophonist Tab Smith. With Preston Love onboard, Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra headed to the recording studio on 25th May 1944.
For Wynonie, this was a first. He had never been near a recording studio before. That wasn’t surprising, given the two year musician’s strike. Despite his inexperience, Wynonie sang lead vocal on two of the five cuts, including Hurry, Hurry and Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well. With five songs recorded, Wynonie must have thought his first recording was about to hit the shops. It wasn’t.
There was still an embargo on the use of shellac for records. This meant that Decca couldn’t release any of the five sides that Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra had recorded. Despite the delay of the release, Wynonie’s popularity was growing.
Eventually, Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well was released in April 1945. The single reached number one on the US R&B charts, where it spent eight weeks. This surpassed Hurry, Hurry which only released number twenty-four in the US Billboard 100. In total, Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well spent five months in the US R&B charts. This helped transform not just Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra’s fortunes, but that of Wynonie Harris.
As Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra toured America, word spread about their vocalist Wynonie Harris. He was one of the biggest names in American music. This should’ve been one of the happiest times of his life. Although outwardly things looked fine, behind the scenes, it was another matter.
Problems were surfacing. At their heart was money. Wynonie saw himself as the star of Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra. He wanted a bigger slice of the pie. This came to a head in San Antonio. Lucky refused to give Wynonie more money. So Wynonie quit.
Three weeks later, and a promoter in Houston heard that Wynonie had quit the Orchestra. So, the promoter cancelled the concert. As far as the promoter was concerned, Wynonie played an important part in the Orchestra’s success. Without Wynonie, he didn’t want the Orchestra to play in Houston. This left Lucky with a problem. He had to back down, and pay Wynonie what he wanted, $100 a night. Wynonie accepted the offer, but that night in Houston was Wynonie’s swan-song with Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra.
After leaving the Orchestra, Wynonie Harris decided to embark upon a solo career. In July 1945, Wynonie Harris signed to Leo and Edward Mesner’s Philo label. Wynonie and his band recorded Around The Clock, the first of two singles Wynonie recorded for Philo. While neither replicated the success of Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well, they enjoyed a degree of success. However, Wynonie didn’t stay long at Philo. He was just passing through.
Wynonie recorded sessions for various labels, including Apollo, Bullet and Alladin. In 1946, Wynonie recorded Wynonie’s Blues with Illinois Jacquet and His All-Stars. It reached number three in the US R&B charts. Then Wynonie cut Playful Baby with Johnnie Alston and His All-Stars. Playful Baby reached number two in the US R&B charts. While Wynonie was enjoying some success, he was leading a nomadic existence, flitting from label to label. What he needed was a label he could call home. He found that in 1947, at Syd Nathan’s King Records.
On 13th December 1947, Wynonie Harris was set to make his King Records’ recording debut. Syd Nathan had put together a tight, talented band who made their way to the New York recording studio. Wynonie and his band recorded four songs that appear on Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series. This includes Love Is Like Rain, Rose Get Your Clothes and Wynonie’s Boogie. They all feature on disc one, and were mostly recorded in one take. Despite the undoubted quality of the music, Syd Nathan never released any of the tracks. They never even made it onto the flip side of a single.
The other track recorded at the session was Wynonie’s Unissued Boogie. It’s one of the alternate tracks on disc two of Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series. It too, oozes quality. Sadly, it’s lain in the King Records’ vaults for sixty-eight years. This wasn’t unusual.
Not when Wynonie Harris was recording so much music. Just three days later, he was back in the studio on 16th December 1947. With the upcoming musician’s strike, record companies were stockpiling music. King Records were no different.
For this session, Syd Nathan put together a bigger band. The lineup was totally different, and included none other than saxophonist Dexter Gordon. He played four tracks, including Baby, Shame On You and Your Money Don’t Mean A Thing, which feature on disc one. The other two tracks were Snake Hearted Woman Blues and Wild Women. Of these four tracks, only Your Money Don’t Mean A Thing was ever released by King Records. That was still to come. Before that, Wynonie had much more music to record.
With the ban looming ever closer, Syd Nathan decided to record more music. He feared that the ban was going to be a lengthy one. So, Wynonie was called to King Records’ Cincinnati headquarters, where another eight songs were recorded on 23rd December 1943.
Just like previous sessions, Syd Nathan hadn’t skimped on the quality of musicians who would accompany Wynonie. The bandleader was Oran “Lips” Page. With the ban in mind, it’s as if Syd’s fears were transferred to the band. It was a stop-start session. Recording of Blow Your Brains Out, Blowin’ To California, Crazy Love (Comes Love), Bite Again, Bite Again, which feature on disc one, passed without incident. Wynonie and his band storm through the tracks. They’re flawless performances. That wasn’t always the case.
On Good Mornin’ Mr Blues, From Bad To Good Blues, Love Is Crazy (Crazy Love) and Don’t You Want To Rock, the time constraints result in the odd mistake. There’s either a false starts or missed note. Despite these occasional flaws, Wynonie and his band release a series of captivating performances, especially on the defiant Don’t You Want To Rock? With another eight tracks recorded Wynonie must have thought he wouldn’t be back in a recording studio again in 1947. He was wrong.
As 1947 drew to a close, Syd Nathan wanted Wynonie to record three more tracks in Cincinnati. This included Good Rocking Toninght, Lollipop Mama and I Believe I’ll Fall In Love. These three tracks were recorded on 28th December 1947, feature on disc one of Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series. Two of these tracks would result in two top ten hits for Wynonie.
The ban began on 1st January 1948. Record label bosses forecast a long dispute. They were ready though. Just like Syd Nathan, many labels had their artists in the studio stockpiling music. This meant if the ban lasted a year or more, they were ready.
Syd’s decision to record three more tracks on 28th December 1947 proved a masterstroke. Wynonie released Good Rocking Tonight during 1948. On the flip side was Good Morning Mr Blues. Good Rocking Tonight reached number one on the US R&B charts. This was Wynonie’s first number one single as a solo artist. The followup, Lollipop Mama, with Blow Your Brains Out on the B-Side, reached number eight on the US R&B charts. These two hit singles transformed Wynonie Harris’ fortunes.
Wynonie was well on his way to becoming one of the biggest names in a new genre that was emerging, R&B. He was proving to be much more than a blues shouter. Ballads like I Believe I’ll Fall In Love and Good Morning Mr Blues showed another side to Wynonie Harris. This would become apparent once the ban was over.
At last, the ban was over. Nearly a years after he had last set foot in a recording studio, Wynonie entered the studio in Linden, New Jersey. That day, he and his band recorded four tracks, Grandma Plays The Numbers, She Just Won’t Sell No More, I Want My Fanny Brown and I Feel That Old Age Coming On. They all feature on disc one, would give Wynonie another two hit singles.
Grandma Plays the Numbers became Wynonie’s first single of 1949. It reached number seven in the US R&B charts. Then I Feel That Old Age Coming On reached number ten in the US R&B charts. Wynonie Harris was quickly becoming one of the biggest names in blues and R&B. So, Syd Nathan took Wynonie back into the studio.
On 7th April 1949, Wynonie was joined by what can only be described as an all-star band of jazz and R&B greats. They recorded another three tracks, Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-De-O-Dee, All She Wants To Do Is Rock and the despairing I Can’t Take It No More which all feature on disc one. Two of these tracks would be released as singles.
The first was Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-De-O-Dee, which reached number four in the US R&B charts. Then All She Wants To Do Is Rock gave Wynonie his second number one US R&B single. It seemed Wynonie Harris could do wrong. Syd Nathan’s decision to sign Wynonie to King Records was beginning to look like a masterstroke. So, another session was scheduled for 19th October 1949.
At the 19th October 1949 session, Wynonie and his band recorded four tracks. Sittin’ On It All The Time, I Like My Baby’s Pudding and Baby, Shame On You feature on disc one. The other track, Triflin’ Woman, is another of the alternate tracks. Wynonie just couldn’t quite nail Triflin’ Woman first time around. It’s a case of close, but no cigar. However, after a couple of takes, he soon makes the song his own. However, this session resulted in two more hits for Wynonie in 1949.
Before that, I Want My Fanny Brown became Wynonie’s last single of the forties. It was released later in 1949, and reached number ten in the US R&B charts. This meant that 1949 was the most successful year of Wynonie Harris’ career.
As a new decade began, Wynonie Harris still hugely popular. Sittin’ On It All The Time reached number three in the US R&B charts. Then I Like My Baby’s Pudding reached number five in the US R&B charts. Good Morning Judge then reached number six in the US R&B charts. He had enjoyed three hit singles during 1950. Soon, three would become four.
Syd Nathan decided to take Wynonie Harris into the studio again. He wanted to record another single. This time, accompanying Wynonie Harris was his old nemesis Lucky Millinder.
After the pair went their separate ways, Wynonie Harris enjoyed more success than Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra. Wynonie Harris had enjoyed nine consecutive top ten singles. So on the 18th October 1950, Wynonie Harris was determined to make this ten. He cut four tracks, including Oh Babe! and Teardrops From My Eyes which feature on disc one. These four tracks would be the last tracks Wynonie Harris cut to acetate.
Fittingly, one of the tracks recorded on the 18th Octiber 195o, gave Wynonie Harris a hit single. Oh Babe! reached number seven on the US R&B charts, and was a fitting end to acetate era. From 27th October 1950, all Wynonie Harris’ sessions were recorded to tape. It was the end of an era; one which just so happened to coincide with the most successful period in Wynonie Harris’ career. It’s documented on Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series, which was recently released by Ace Records.
It’s without doubt, the definitive Wynonie Harris compilation. Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series features forty-seven tracks, spread across two discs. Disc one features tracks from the eight acetate sessions. They took place between December 1947 and October 1949. During that period, Wynonie Harris enjoyed eleven consecutive top ten singles in the US R&B charts. Ten of these singles feature in Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series. The only omission is Good Morning Judge. Apart from that, all of Wynonie Harris’ biggest hits are featured. Then on disc two of Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series, there’s twenty-four alternate tracks.
The alternate tracks include many of the tracks on disc one. Many of the hits are here, including Good Rocking Tonight, Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-De-O-Dee, All She Wants To Do Is Rock, I Want My Fanny Brown, Sittin’ On It All The Time, I Like My Baby’s Pudding and Oh Babe! Sometimes, there’s two or three versions of a track. This allows you to hear how a track takes shape. It’s a fascinating insight into Wynonie Harris’ King Records’ sessions.
His time at King Records was the most successful period of Wynonie Harris career. He joined in 1947, and went from blues shouter to one of the most successful R&B artists of the late-forties and early fifties. King Records was the musical home Wynonie Harris had been looking for. Once he found it, Wynonie Harris went on to fulfil his potential.
When Wynonie Harris left King Records, he never again reached the same heights. His continued to record right up until his death on 19th June 1969. However, it was at King Records where Wynonie Harris recorded and released the best music of his career. This music is documented on Don’t You Want To Rock?-The King and Deluxe Series, Ace Records’ lovingly compiled retrospective of Wynonie Harris King Records recordings.
WYNONIE HARRIS-DON’T YOU WANT TO ROCK?- THE KING AND DELUXE ACETATE SERIES.