Nellie Lutcher ©1999JCMarion
Nellie Lutcher was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana. As a teenager she learned piano and played in local bands along with her father who played bass. Soon she developed her vocal style as a member of the Southern Rhythm Boys. In 1947 she moved to Los Angeles and entered a local talent show there, and caught the ear of a representative of Capitol Records. She auditioned for the label and they liked what they heard and soon she was offered a recording contract and into the studio she went. Her first outing was Capitol #40002 - "Hurry On Down" and "The Lady's In Love With You". "Hurry" was an immediate hit being constantly played on area radio stations and was was a hard tune to corner, as it was a favorite in the jazz, R & B, and pop music fields. Nellie enjoyed huge success with her first record and it seemed to be a reward for all the years of hard work and scuffling that she had known. Now in her thirties with children of her own, Nellie Lutcher had arrived at last.
The second session for Capitol Records resulted in #40017 - "He's A Real Gone Guy" and "Let Me Love You Tonight". Lightening indeed did strike twice as "Guy" was a huge hit just as the first Capitol release had been. Besides both being hits on R & B stations, her first two records cracked the national pop charts top twenty best sellers. Her next outing for Capitol was her version of the pop standard "My Mother's Eyes" backed with a more contemporary tune "Watch Yourself Bub". In less than a year Nellie Lutcher had catapulted herself into the rarefied atmosphere of a successful crossover artist who had wide appeal to all segments of the listening public. Her stylistic piano playing based on jazz phrasings and boogie woogie and blues figures, coupled with her personalized vocal abilities combining elements of jazz scatting, syllable bending, and snappy asides, was her signature sound and made her a unique performer in the late forties.
In early 1948 her fourth record for Capitol was released. The tune "The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On)" on #40063, again jumped into the national pop charts. The song "Chi-Chi-Chicago" barely failed to dent the pop charts, and the flip side "The One I Love" was a favorite among the Rhythm & Blues crowd. "Fine Brown Frame" and "The Pig Latin Song" on #15032 also went pop nationally and now Nellie Lutcher was in big demand as an in person performer both in the smart supper clubs and jazz rooms across the country, but also in the R & B night spots that were opening up everywhere especially in the big cities. "I Thought About You" and "Imagine You Having Eyes For Me" on #15112 followed.
Besides Nellie on piano and vocals, the trio consisted of Earl Hyde on bass and Benny Booker on drums. The trio did much club work in the L.A. area, and then went to Canada and the Northeastern United States. In March Nellie Lutcher played the Apollo Theater in New York. "Only You" was released;eased on Capitol #798 that month. In late March Nellie Lutcher and her Trio is part of an interesting musical show heavy on the pop format that played the Oriental Theater in Chicago. Besides Nellie the show featured the Ames Brothers, organist Ken Griffin, and the Herbie Fields Orchestra. Capitol #847 is out in April pairing "Can I Come In For A Second" and "For You My Love", and also paired Nellie with Nat Cole for an interesting duo. Soon after, for the first time, Nellie Lutcher and her Trio embark on a tour of one nighters throughout the South. In June at the Club Oasis in Los Angeles, Nellie appears on a bill with her brother Joe and his combo the Joe Lutcher Jump Band.
The songs "That's A Plenty" and "I Never Get Tired" are released by Capitol Records during the summer. Soon after Labor Day, a European tour will commence and last eight weeks that will feature Nellie and Nat Cole and their respective trios. "Lovable" and "Kinda Blue And Low" is releases on Capitol #1026. Back in the U.S.A. Nellie closes the year with appearances in Philadelphia. As 1951 comes in the Nellie Lutcher Trio is in big demand for personal appearances across the country even though record sales have never regained the sweep of the first few releases back in the late forties. She makes a tour of big theaters such as the New York Paramount and the Boston State Theater before doing a number of club dates in Chicago and Detroit.
Nellie makes another European tour during the summer of 1951 and she is well received especially in London where she is a huge draw. Capitol now combines her trio with the Billy May Orchestra for "I Want To Be Near You" and "The Birth Of The Blues" on Capitol #1789 in September. During the fall she does more dates in big cities such as appearances at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia and the Howard in Washington D.C. "Mean To Me" and a delightful rhythm number "Let The Worrybird Worry For You" are on Capitol #1829. In a salute to her home town Nellie writes and records "Lake Charles Boogie". In early 1952 capitol releases "That's How It Goes" and "Keep Out Of Mischief Now" on #2038. In June of 1952 Nellie Lutcher ends her five year association with Capitol Records and signs with Columbia. They plan to feature Nellie on their R & B subsidiary label Okeh which they reactivated the year before. She records "Muchly, Verily" and "How many More" for Okeh #6935.
In January of the following year her life story is presented on a television special and this show creates a bit of a demand for an album of her early hits for Capitol, and they respond with an LP entitled "Real Gone-Nellie Lutcher". She hasn't had a record that has sold many copies in almost five years and Okeh loses interest quickly. She continues her club work where there is always a receptive audience for her music and a demand for her early hits. In late 1953 she appears at that bastion of Chicago R & B, the Crown Propeller Lounge. Soon she will quit performing entirely and devote herself to working for the Los Angeles branch of the musicians union for many years. She does however go into the recording studio from time to time. She decides to re-record her signature tune "Hurry On Down" for Imperial in 1957 and backs it with "I Never Got Tired". Late in 1959 Capitol Records releases "My Mother's Eyes" and "The Heart of a Clown" on #4319.
Nellie Lutcher remains in our memory as one of the founders of the sound of America, as it has been for the last fifty years. She was there at the beginning and although fame and recognition is not as widespread as it should be, there are enough of us around today that KNOW Nellie Lutcher-our real gone gal.
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