Todd Rhodes - Motor City
Music Man ©1999JCMarion
Todd Rhodes was born in Kentucky in 1900. By the time he was twenty years old he was an accomplished pianist and arranger as well as a budding writing talent. In the early 1920s he became part of the famous syncopated jazz group McKinney's Cotton Pickers founded by fellow Kentuckian Bill McKinney. Some of the members of the band with Rhodes were Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, Rex Stuart, Doc Cheatham, and Don Redman. The band broke up in the mid thirties and Rhodes settled in Detroit where he played locally for many years. In the late forties he switched styles to become a top R & B pianist and arranger and founded his own group which eventually took the name Todd Rhodes and His Toddlers. The band began recording with a local record company Sensation Records in 1949.
The first year for Sensation produced three good sellers on the R & B charts. "Teardrops", "Pot Likker" and "Blues For The Red Boy" which quickly established Rhodes and his band as a featured attraction in the Midwest. At the end of 1949 Sensation #25 featured the great tune "Anitra's Jump" and "Lonely Echoes". Once again radio airplay in the Detroit area helped the tune sell. "Red Boy At The Mardi Gras" was another good seller for Rhodes and this was followed by Sensation #29 which was issued in April and paired "I'm Coming Home" and "I'm Just A Fool". The next Rhodes recording remains somewhat of an R & B classic. This was a two part R & B version of George Gerswin's "Rhapsody In Blue" on Sensation #32 that was an outstanding interpretation of the memorable melody. At this time Kitty Stevenson becomes a featured vocalist with the Toddlers and records "It Ain't Right" and "It Couldn't Be True" on #32 released in late June. Rhodes and his band have spent most of the year at Detroit's Club Juana, taking time off to do shows at the city's premiere R & B venue The Flame Show Bar. In the fall Sensation releases "Make It Good" and "That's The Guy For Me" on #37, which turns out to be the very last record for the company. Late in the year the band with vocalist Stevenson plans a one nighter tour of the East and Southern states to run through the new year.
1951 finds Todd Rhodes continuing to make many appearances throughout the Midwest, never seeming to stray far from his home base of Detroit. With the end of Sensation Records, Rhodes has been signed to King Records of Cinncinati. The first release by their new label is King #4469 - "Gin Gin Gin" and the flip side is "I Shouldn't Cry But I Do" with vocal by Kitty Stevenson. Late in the year King pairs blues shouter Wynonie "Mr. Blues" Harris with Rhodes and his band on #4485 - "Lovin' Machine" and "Luscious Woman". Early the next year Wynonie Harris returns to record with the Rhodes band on King #4507 - "Here Comes The Night" and "My Playful Baby's Gone". Todd Rhodes returns to a continuing theme with "The Red Boy Is Back" and "Daddy's Doggin' Around" for King #4509. Rhodes and the band are a big draw at Cinncinati's Cotton Club, the top R & B spot in that city. In May #4528 is released - "Rocket 69" and "Possessed" with Connee Allen on vocal. Rhodes returns to Detroit for another booking at the Flame Show Bar with vocalist Debbie Andrews. In the late summer Rhodes and his band are set for a tour of one nighters with H-Bomb Ferguson, Wini Brown, The Swallows, and Lil' Miss Sharecropper. Rhodes alerts King Records about the singing talent of Miss Sharecropper and the label records them in September on #4556 - "Snuff Dipper" / "Trying" vocal by Miss Sharecropper (LaVern Baker). In October #4566 "Blue Autumn" and "Pig Latin Blues" vocal by LaVern Baker is released. The vocal side gets good reaction and strong sales in the Midwest. At the end of the year "Hog Maw And Cabbage Slaw" is paired with a LaVern Baker vocal on "Must I Cry Again" for King #4583.
In February of 1953 Todd Rhodes plays the Showboat in Philadelphia. That spring King releases "Thunderbolt Boogie" and LaVern Baker's vocal on "Lost Child". By this time Atlantic Records has noticed the records featuring LaVern Baker and they sign her to that label depriving Rhodes of his best vocalist ever. That summer King#4648 is issued featuring a vocalist with the intriguing name of Pinnochio Feathers, doing a song with an equally intriguing title - "Your Mouth's Got A Hole In It". The Todd Rhodes band continues to be a good attraction especially in the Midwest. There are initial plans to shift the output of recorded material from Todd Rhodes to the Federal label but nothing comes of that idea. That September just as the rock and roll explosion is taking place, the band joins The Midnighters for a big show at the Los Angeles Savoy Ballroom. "Silver Sunset" and ""Specks" are paired on King #4736 that October. During that month Rhodes again teams with The Midnighters and is joined by Johnny Otis and his band for a huge draw at the Oakland Colisseum. The Rhodes band prepares for a tour of the Southwest with The Midnighters, Tab Smith, and The Five Royales. Todd finishes the year with an impromptu jam session with Louis Jordan at Chicago's Club DeLisa. At year's end King Records releases #4755 - "Chicken Street" and "Echoes".
The Todd Rhodes Band appears at a huge Rhythm & Blues revue in Cleveland in April. During the year a music survey names the Rhodes recording of "Blues For The Red Boy" one of the top ten R & B instrumentals of the decade, besides being a landmark record because of its status as the theme song for Alan Freed's original Moondog show from Cleveland, and its initial three months in New York. By mid 1955 Todd Rhodes in his mid fifties sees the end of his career as a top R & B attraction as a younger more widespread audience takes hold. He continues to play a few gigs in and around Detroit, but soon calls it quits as an active performer. He does a few turns as an arranger but for the most part he now slides into obscurity. His career was a two chaptered affair, coming out of the syncopated jazz years of the twenties and the riff based big band swing of the thirties, Rhodes had the talent and the foresight to re-invent himself as a big time exponent of the coming Rhythm & Blues force during the post war forties, and lasted into the rock and roll fifties. It was quite a career, and quite a talent for this Detroiter by way of Kentucky. We salute the memory of Todd Rhodes.
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