Jimmy Liggins: Boogie King ©1999JCMarion


Jimmy Liggins entry into the world of Rhythm & Blues music is directly attributable to his older brother Joe's success. Jimmy saw the world of post war R & B first hand while he was his brother's chauffeur and right hand man for over a year, and soon developed a desire to try his hand at the music scene. He was the son of a San Diego minister, and by his teens had taken up the sport of boxing, but dropped that idea to work for his brother. He began to learn the rudiments of music as a guitarist and before long he was ready for the jump into the R & B fire. He patterned his small band after Joe's Honeydrippers naming them the Drops Of Joy. Featured on many of the group's recordings were sax men such as Charlie "Little Jazz" Ferguson, Maxwell Davis, and future modern jazz star Harold Land (his mid 50s LP "Harold In The Land Of Jazz" remains a artifact from the so-called West Coast Jazz movement). In 1947 Jimmy Liggins was signed to a recording contract by one of the L.A. "big four", Specialty Records by the boss man Art Rupe. Soon the first record by Jimmy was out - #520 : "I Can't Stop It" and "Troubles". This initial offering did not do much, but the second release #521 made a lot of noise early in 1948 - "Teardrop Blues" and "Cadillac Boogie". The blues side made the R & B top ten charts and immediately gave notice to the world that there was another member of the Liggins family that could really rock the house.

"Rough Weather Blues" and "Move Out Baby" were issued on #523, and then in late 1948 Specialty Records went to a 300 series. #319 for the label was "Homecoming Blues" / "Careful Love" and #322 - "Looking For My Baby" and "I Can't Forget You". By now with each succeeding release and at in person appearances, Jimmy Liggins guitar playing ability improved, and his hard driving band made the joint jump. He had a rougher and more tempo conscious sound than his brother even though Joe was more established and had greater recognition. Specialty #339 - "Night Life Boogie" and "Don't Put Me Down" did well especially in Liggins home base of Southern California. "Don't Put Me Down" was an especially good seller. Ads in trade papers by the label claim ten consecutive weeks on the top ten R & B lists for the tune. The next record was #353 - "Mississippi Boogie" and "Misery Blues". In June Jimmy tries a sequel to his first hit "Answer To Tear Drop Blues" and the flip side - "That Song Is Gone" on #362. At this time Jimmy Liggins comes across a cruel fact of life for many R & B performers on the road - he was involved in a serious car accident which took him off the circuit for a while.

In September Specialty # 374 is out - "Sincere Love's Blues" and "Saturday Night Boogie Woogie Man". By year's end, the unit was recording as Jimmy Liggins & His Drops Of Joy. They recorded the seasonal tune "I Want My Baby For Christmas" and a good jump tune called "Shuffle Shack". The recording of "Shuffle Shack" carried into 1951 as a hit R & B tune and further enhanced Jimmy's stature as a top notch R & B performer. In April of 1952, Jimmy recorded "Down And Out Blues" and "Lonely Nights Blues". "The Washboard Special" and "Lover's Prayer" followed on #406 in mid summer. Late in the year Specialty releases "Going Down With The Sun" and "That's What's Knocking Me Out" on #418. Jimmy Liggins and his band continue to tour being well received in Texas and Oklahoma as well as their home base in Los Angeles.

In 1952 the output for Specialty continues with "Stolen Love" and "Low Down Blues" on #427. Specialty #434 paired "Brown Skin Baby" and "Dark Hour Blues". The record sales had slowed down considerably for Jimmy at this time after a good five year run, and the music was starting to change as many of the R & B performers into mid 1953 were sensing something new on the horizon as some of the top sellers of the day had experienced forays into the world of mainstream pop music that until recently seemed out of the question. Into all of this uncertainty, Jimmy Liggins found one more go round for Specialty in the late summer of 1953 with an up tempo workout on a tune called "Drunk" on #470. The flip side of this record also got a bit of residual airplay and sales. It was called "I'll Never Let You Go". However, the effects of this R & B hit did not carry over, as the followup record "Come Back Home" and "I'm Going Away" on #484, did not generate much success with the public. The band continued to hit the road, this time with The Flairs appearing in the Southwest and Colorado through June.

By now in mid 1954, most of Specialty's emphasis was on Guitar Slim who was carrying the label's banner with a number one record at that time ("The Things I Used To Do"), and so Jimmy Liggins' seven year association with Specialty Records was at an end. He moved over to L.A. rival Aladdin's camp in July and immediately put time in the recording studio. His first outing for the label was soon forthcoming. It was an answer record of a kind to his last hit for Specialty called "I Ain't Drunk" on Aladdin #3250. The other side was the tune "Talkin' That Talk". The 'A' side did fairly well, showing that there was still a bit of the tiger in Jimmy Liggin's tank. An October tour of Texas by Jimmy and the band coincides with the release of Aladdin #3251 "Boogie Woogie King" and continuing the theme, "No More Alcohol". Although "King" did well in Los Angeles, it did not fare well in most other parts of the country which has always been something of a mystery. It is a rock solid jump tune, one that certainly leads into the rock and roll era as a beacon of light to show the way, but the public seemed to see it as a dated style as the first days of 1955 were at hand. The Aladdin label dismissed Jimmy Liggins after that and continued on with Charles Brown, Amos Milburn, Lloyd Glenn, and other stars of the 40s with no apparent success. The only consistent sellers during these years for the label were Shirley & Lee. A handful of sides by Jimmy Liggins were done for the small Duplex label, and among them are #580 - "Working Man's Blues", #9010 - "Knocked Out", and #9011 - "Tell Me So".

So historically, "Boogie Woogie King" may be called Jimmy Liggins' swan song. He kept at it for a while but he realized that his time had passed. He had moved out from under the shadow of his more famous brother Joe, and carved out a spot for himself as a true pioneer of the music of the last half of the twentieth century. Jimmy Liggins & His Drops Of Joy were a unit of the great transition in American music, and for that their remembrance is justified.

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