Jumptime : Tab
Talmadge (Tab) Smith was born in Kingston,North Carolina in 1909. By the early 1930s he had decided on music as a profession and joined the Eddie Johnson Orchestra as a tenor sax player.Soon he switched to alto sax as his instrument of choice. He made his way to St.Louis and played with Fate Marable and soon was a part of the Mills Blue Rhythm Band. For a short time in the early forties he was in the Count Basie band and then went to the orchestra of Lucky Millinder. He began fronting his own small combo in 1946. He suffered what was a common tragedy among the traveling R & B crowd when a serious auto accident in 1947 injured him and killed vocalist Trevor Bacon. He quit music for a time and did not resume until late in 1950. At that time he led a small combo and had an extended engagement at the 20th Century Club in St.Louis.
In March of 1951, Tab Smith signed a recording contract with the Premium Records label of Chicago. There were two releases by Tab on the label - #874 - "Spider Rock" and "Messing Around", and #876 - "Jimmy's Blues" and"Anytime For You" voc- Chuck Young. In June "Spider Rock"is a good seller in the South. In July of the year Lew Simpkins leaves Premium Records and forms his own label in Chicago to be called United Records. He immediately signs Tab Smith to the new label. In September United #104 is released pairing "Because Of You" (the R & B instrumental version of Tony Bennett's big pop hit), and "Dee-Jay Special". United Records in the push for publicity for the record tout Smith in trade ads as "the world's greatest altoist". By November "Because Of You" has become the most successful of sax instrumentals and is also making inroads into the pop market. Soon it is the number one seller in the city of Chicago. United follows this successful formula with their next Smith release, "Sin" (a big pop hit for Eddie Howard first and then the Four Aces) and "Can't We Take A Chance" on #107. By the end of the year "Sin" is selling well on the West coast, and rival Chicago label Chess Records takes notice and purchases four masters by Tab Smith previously recorded for the Premium label.
In 1952 Smith starts to get many personal appearance jobs including the Ebony Lounge in Cleveland, Philadelphia's Club Harlem, and soon the Apollo Theater in New York. Soon Chess releases #1501 from their Premium masters - "Love" and "Easy Mr.Benson" (as in Al ,Chicago's d.j. "Ol Swingmaster"). United releases #113 "Milk Train" in February. In March a big show hits the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. - Tab with B.B. King and Tiny Bradshaw. Chess tries again with #1510 with "Love"and a new flip side "Slow And Easy". Complicating matters is a new release on Atlantic of a previous recording by Smith - "Echo Blues" and "Moon Dream"on #961. In April the current record on United #115 - "Blanket Of Blue" / "Down Beat"is issued. Smith goes to the West coast and appears at San Diego's Creole Palace. In July Tab Smith joins Edna McGriff and Lynn Hope for a number of one nighters. Now King Records gets into the act with #4546 - "Tab's Purple Heart". United counters with #124 - "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" and "Bit Of Blues", and in late October - #131 - "You Belong To Me" and "Auf Wiedersehn".
In early 1953 Tab joins Jimmy Witherspoon, Willie Mae Thornton, and the Johnny Otis band on an extensive tour of one nighters. In May United releases #147 - "My Mother's Eyes" and "Cuban Boogie". Other United releases during the year are #153 - "Cherry" / "I've Had The Blues All Day" voc-Johnny Harper; and #162 - "All My Life" / "Seven Up". Tab fills out the latter part of the year with long stays at Pep's in Philadelphia and the Capitol Lounge in Chicago. In early 1954 United #171 is out. It features "Jumptime" and "Strange" with Tab Smith doing the vocal. Tab and The Five Royales go out on tour throughout the South and Midwest lasting into June. Two more United Records releases are out in the spring and summer of 1954. They are #174 - "Rock City" and "My Baby" voc-by Tab; and #178 - "Ace High" and "How Long Has It Been?". The Tab Smith and the Five Royales show moves to the West coast, and as the tour dates go into Oklahoma, they are joined by the Todd Rhodes band and The Midnighters. In late October United releases #184 - "IN A Little Spanish Town" and "Mr. Gee".
In 1955 Tab Smith and The Five Royales continue on tour doing a number of dates in California as United Records continues to release instrumental stylings by the altoist. #187 - "Tabolino" and "Cottage For Sale" sells well initially and is followed by 190 - "Top 'n Bottom" and "For Only You". In October #195 is released and features "Mean To Me" and "Spider's Web". In 1956 time is running out for the independent United label. However the label issues a Tab Smith LP album called "Red, Hot, And Cool Moods". They release #203 - "Yo-Yo Blues" and I Feel Like I Wanna Die" voc-Ray King, and late in the year United tries again with Tab Smith's version of "Pretend" and the flip side "Crazy Walk" on #205. In February of 1957 Tab Smith & his band back up a huge lineup of talent including The Spaniels, ElDorados, Joe Turner, Bobby Charles, Gene & Eunice and many others at the Regal Theater in Chicago in an Al Benson production. "Pretend" is a big seller in Chicago and Milwaukee. In April Smith and his band and the Five Royales appear in Denver. United #209 is released featuring "Soft Breeze" and "Someone To Watch Over Me".
United is still at it in 1958 issuing a Tab Smith cover of Earl Bostic's "Mambolino" on #217. The flip is "Just One More Time". By July United Records is reportedly being merged with J.O.B. Records, and Tab Smith's contract is now in the hands of the Chess Brothers. Chess records Smith on their new subsidiary label Argo with #5304 - "Try A Little Tenderness" and "Don't Play With Love". At year's end Argo releases "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" (a new version) and "My Happiness Cha Cha"on #5323. In 1959 Tab is recorded with a full complement of strings for Chess records at a studio session in Nashville. In August two cuts from that session are released by Chess - the pop standards "The Nearness Of You" and "Because Of You" on #933. This side was the last record by Tab Smith that made any headway among music listeners.
Tab Smith by now was a mostly forgotten player in the musical sweepstakes as the audience had changed by the late 1950s. Certainly not a part of the American Bandstand generation, and not happy with the situation with Chess, he hung around for a short time until he made the decision in late 1960 to retire from the music business altogether. He became a real estate agent in the city of St.Louis ending a thirty year career. He was United Records answer to Earl Bostic, and their careers certainly had many parallels. Smith had fleeting success, even less than Bostic, but his longevity as a sax stylist made him a musician to remember. He was a name to recall as the foundation of rock' n roll was being built, and his connection with United Records was part of that history in which the independent record labels were so much an important part. We remember Tab Smith, altoist.
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