Texas has a rich musical history. That’s been the case for over a hundred years. Country legends Gene Aubry,  Boxcar Willie and George Jones were from Texas. So were blues men Albert Collins, Freddie King and T-Bone Walker. Then there’s Buddy Holly, jazz drummer Buddy Miles, Janis Joplin, Sly Stone, former Eagle Don Henley, Boz Scaggs, Christopher Cross, Steve Earl, Stephen Stills and Z.Z. Top. These are just a few of the artists that called, or call, Texas home. Another artist that calls Texas home is Young Jessie. He is the nephew of another Texan musical legend, Blind Lemon Jefferson.

The name Young Jessie came later. He was born Obediah Donnell “Obie” Jessie, in  Lincoln Manor, Texas on December 28th 1936. His father was a cook, while his mother enjoyed a brief musical career as Plunky Harris. She made a name playing piano, but was something of a a multi-instrumentalist. Her cousin was singer Blind Lemon Jefferson. With such a musical background, it’s no surprise that Obediah would eventually embark upon a musical career. Before that, Obie and his family left Texas behind.

From Texas, Obie and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1946. This was where Obie began studying music. Not long after this, Obie decided to form his first vocal group, The Debonaires. 

Joining Obie in The Debonaires, was Richard Berry, who later, would write and record Louie Louie in 1957. Before that, Richard sung on The Debonaires’ debut single, I Had A Love. It was penned by Obie, and released in 1953. When I Had A Love was released, The Debonaires’ name was missing. Instead, the single was credited to The Hollywood Blue Jays. Despite the change of name, I Had A Love wasn’t a commercial success. So, The Hollywood Blue Jays changed their name.

Having just changed their name, The Hollywood Blue Jays became The Flairs. This change of name just happened to coincide with a change in fortune for The Flairs. They won a recording contract with Modern Records. However, The Flairs never got the chance to fulfil their potential. In 1954, Obie decided to embark upon a solo career.

Obie had been spotted by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. They thought that Obie had potential, so offered him a recording contract…as a solo artist. There was a problem though…his name.

By 1954, Obie was just eighteen. However, his name Obediah Donnell Jessie made him sound much older. So it was suggested that he adopt a stage name. This was when Young Jessie was born. 

Young Jessie’s music is remembered on the recent Ace Records compilation It takes its title from Young Jessie’s 1955 single. It’s one Young Jessie’s finest and hippest cuts. There’s fourteen in total on Hit, Git and Split, including I Smell A Rat, Mary Lou, Nothing Seems Right, Oochie Coochie, Hot Dog and Rabbit On A Log. Most are penned by Young Jessie. The others were written by the legendary songwriting team. Hit, Git and Split which is available on 180 gram heavyweight vinyl or digital download, is a reminder of Young Jessie at the peak of his powers. This period began in 1954.

Just like his friend and former member of The Flairs, Richard Berry, Young Jessie was about to embark upon a solo career. He was signed a recording contract with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

With Leiber and Stoller guiding his career, Young Jessie’s solo career began in earnest. They were already well versed in the ways of the music industry. They knew what was needed to make a hit record. So they began their mission to transforming the eighteen year old  Young Jessie into a star. This meant finding the write song for him.

Already, Young Jessie had written a number of songs. He had penned The Hollywood Blue Jays I Had A Love. Good as Young Jessie’s songs were, Leiber and Stoller wanted their latest signing to have every chance of a hit single. So, they chose a song they had written, I Smell A Rat.

The Leiber and Stoller I Smell A Rat was destined to become Young Jessie’s debut single. On the flip side, was a Young Jessie composition Lonesome Desert. These two songs were recorded in late 1953, and were ready for release as a new year dawned.

With I Smell A Rat recorded, it was released on Modern Records. Young Jessie had previously won a recording contract with the Bihari brothers’ Modern Records. They too, were well versed in the vagaries of the music industry. Jules especially, knew how things worked. So, Young Jessie couldn’t have hoped for a better addition to his “team,” as his career began in earnest

Young Jessie’s recording career began in January 1954. That was when the Leiber and Stoller penned I Smell A Rat Was released on the Bihari brothers’ Modern Records. The Biharis thought that Young Jessie had the potential to break into the nascent rock ’n’ roll market. With his deep, baritone voice there was every possibility. Not this time though. Despite its undeniable quality, I Smell A Rat passed most people by. For Young Jessie, his management team and record company, it was a disappointing start to his career. 

It wasn’t a case of getting back on the horse for Young Jessie. Far from it. There was a lengthy gap between his debut and sophomore single Mary Lou. 

Seventeen months later, and Young Jessie was back with Mary Lou, a song he had written himself. However, Mary Lou wasn’t billed as a Young Jessie solo single. Instead, it was credited to Young Jessie and The Cadets. The B-Side, Don’t Think I Will, was credited to Young Jessie. He cowrote the single with Maxwell Davis, Joe Josea, Sam Ling and Johnny Watson. These two tracks became Young Jessie’s sophomore single.

Mary Lou was released on Modern Records in June 1955. Young Jessie had come a long way as a singer and songwriter. With his street smart lyrics, including:  “clipped the judge just to pay her bail,” this captivated a generation. It still does. From the driving piano, hypnotic drums and waves of harmonies, it’s glorious fusion of rock ’n’ roll and R&B. Even sixty years after its release, it’s a timeless track from Young Jessie. He had plenty more in the tank.

Five months after the release of Modern 961, came the release of Young Jessie’s third single Nothing Seems Right. This was another Young Jessie composition. Modern Records were keen to build on Mary Lou. There was no way the Biharis were going to let the grass grow under their feet. So they sent Young Jessie into the studio. Along with Nothing Seems Right, Young Jessie cut Do You Love Me? These two tracks became Modern 963, Young Jessie’s third single. 

Nothing Seems Right was released in November 1955. This ballad was very different to Young Jessie’s two previous singles. It features a soul-baring vocal full of heartbreak, and allows record buyer to hear another side to the twenty-seven year old Texan. He was maturing as a singer and songwriter. However, later in 1955 he missed out on an opportunity that could’ve transformed his career and fortune.

Following the release of Nothing Seems Right, Young Jessie recorded a cover of Leiber and Stoller’s Hot Dog in 1955. For some reason, a decision was made not to release Hot Dog as a single. It was later recorded by Elvis Presley, whose version many believe is the definitive version. However, would they still say that if Young Jessie’s version had been released? It had the potential to give Young Jessie a mainstream hit. For Young Jessie, a hit wasn’t far away. 

1956 was a quiet year for Young Jessie. It wasn’t until September 1956, that he released his first single November 1955. Hit Git and Split, another Young Jessie composition was chosen. On the flip side was another Young Jessie composition, It Don’t Happen No More. These two tracks became Young Jessie’s comeback single.

After ten months away, Young Jessie made a welcome return with Hit Git and Split. It was released on Modern Records in September 1956. To say it was well worth the wait is almost an underestimate. Hit Git and Split was a career defining track. It’s an irresistible hip swaying fusion of rock ’n’ roll and R&B. Some might say it’s Elvis for grownups. Just like Mary Lou, Hit Git and Split is a timeless track from Young Jessie. His stock was rising after Hit Git and Split.

Just three months after the release of Hit Git and Split, Young Jessie released his final single on Modern Records, Oochie Coochie. It was a Tony Williams composition. For the flip side, Leiber and Stoller’s Here Comes Henry was chosen. It was released in December 1956.

When Oochie Coochie was released in December 1956, it seemed to reference Little Richards and Jerry Lee Lewis. Especially with the piano driving the arrangement along, and the braying saxophone interjecting. Young Jessie’s vocal was a mixture of exuberance, enthusiasm and sass. It seemed a fitting finale to his two years at Modern Records.

As a new year dawned, so did a new chapter in Young Jessie’s career. During 1957, he added harmonies on The Searchers’ singles Searchin’ and Young Blood. Young Jessie also made guest appearances on singles by The Crescendos and Johnny Morisette. He even penned tracks for various tracks. However, what mattered was his solo career, and Young Jessie was about to make his major debut.

This came courtesy of a single produced by Leiber and Stoller, Shuffle In the Gravel. It’s another track from the pen of Young Jessie. Shuffle In the Gravel was released on Atco Records in 1957. At last, Young Jessie had made his major label debut. Sadly, it doesn’t feature on Hit, Git and Split. Neither does the followup, That’s Enough For Me, which was released in 1958. These two tracks comprise Young Jessie’s Atco Records’ years. After this, Young Jessie signed to another major, Capitol Records.

Young Jessie’s time at Capitol Records was even shorter than the Atco years. He released just one single Lulu Belle. That was the last single Young Jessie released for two years.

When Young Jessie returned, he was signed to Mercury Records. He released a quartet of singles. This started with 1961s Teacher, Gimme Back. A year later, Young Jessie released Be Bop Country Boy. Then in 1963, he released I’m A Lovin’ Man and a recut of Mary Lou. That wasn’t all.

Later in 1963, Young Jessie released Make Me Feel A Little Good on the Vanessa label. He also recorded an album with Chuck Jackson. Chuck Jackson and Young Jessie was released on Crown Records, in 1963. One of the tracks from Chuck Jackson and Young Jessie, the swinging, bluesy, Well Baby, features on Hit, Git and Split. It shows how Young Jessie’s music had evolved since he left Modern Records. That was only five years earlier, and ten years since his career began.

Indeed, the two other tracks from Hit, Git and Split are from early in Young Jessie’s career. They were cut in 1953, and billed as The Hunters featuring Young Jessie. Down At Hayden’s was a Young Jessie composition. Richard Berry wrote, which closes Hit, Git and Split. They showcase Young Jessie as his career was about to unfold. 

That’s quite fitting. Hit, Git and Split documents a ten year period in the career of Young Jessie. It just so happens to be the most successful period of Young Jessie’s career. During this period, he cut some of his most memorable music, Mary Lou, Hit, Git and Split, Nothing Seems Right and Oochie Coochie. Then there’s the unreleased hidden gem Hot Dog. Way before that, The Hunters featuring Young Jessie had released Down At Hayden’s and Rabbit On A Log. They’re welcome additions, and are part of this important musical document, Hit, Git and Split.

Originally, Hit, Git and Split was released by Ace Records back in 1982. Since then, interest in Young Jessie’s career has continued to grow. No wonder. For over fifty years, Young Jessie was a prolific live performer. He has won over many music lovers in Britain. Even in his seventies, Young Jessie was capable of putting on a show that put artists half his age to shame. Now aged seventy-nine, Young Jessie still been performing live for eight decades. Ace Records reissue of Hit, Git and Split on  180 gram heavyweight vinyl, is a fitting tribute to veteran rock ’n’ roller Young Jessie.









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