Mojo Boogie : J.B. Lenoir©2008 JCMarion


J.B. Lenoir (sometimes spelled Lenore) was born near Monticello, Mississippi, in May of 1929. Both his parents were musically inclined as guitarists and singers. His early blues influences were Blind Lemon Jefferson and Son House. As a teenager he left farm work in the Southern Delta and gravitated to New Orleans where he would pick up jobs as a backup to various blues artists playing the clubs of that city. Then in 1949 he followed the trail of so many others and found his way to Chicago where under the tutelage of Big Bill (Broonzy), he became part of that city's large blues scene. He soon found the Chess Record company and had his first session in 1951.

A topical tune "Korea Blues" b/w "My Baby Told Me" was released on Chess # 1449. Pushed in the trade press of that time, the record got a bit of airplay and soon turned into a decent seller outside of Chicago. It was especially strong in Dallas and Oklahoma City. The label listed the songs as by J.B. Lenore & His Bayou Boys. The backing players on the session were Sunnyland Slim on piano, Leroy Foster on 2nd guitar, and Alfred Wallace on drums. A follow up was out later in the spring with "Deep In Debt Blues" and "Carrie Lee-Ooh" on # 1463. During the summer of 1952 J.B. recorded for another Chicago based independent label, JOB Records. JOB released the tunes "People Are Meddlin In Our Affairs" and "Let's Roll" on # 112. Lenoir's boogie based rhythm and high pitched bluesy vocals struck a chord with blues fans and "Let's Roll" was a decent seller in the R & B market. Later on that summer "The Mountain" and "How Much More" was released as by J.B. & His Bayou Boys on JOB # 1008 through Chance Records also of Chicago.

In May of 1953 "The Mojo" and "How Can I Live?" as by J.B. Lenore & His Combo on JOB #1012 with J.T. Brown added on tenor sax was issued. In the fall "I'll Die Trying" and "I Want My Baby" on JOB # 1016 is out and Lenoir's high pitched vocals have some trade ads as identifying the vocalist as "she". In April of 1954 J.B.'s last recording for JOB is "Play A Little While" and "Louise" on # 1102 is released. Soon after he moves to still another Chicago independent R & B record label, Parrot, owned by Chicago radio personality Al (Ol Swingmaster) Benson. Lenoir with a new combo that features Lorenzo Smith on tenor sax, Joe Montgomery on piano, and Al Galvin on drums records "I'm In Korea" and "Eisenhower Blues" on Parrot # 802. The topical content of "Eisenhower Blues", and in naming the president of the United States caused Parrot Records to back pedal and they had Lenoir re-record the tune as "Tax Paying Blues" taking out the personal element. The original is a collector's item of the highest standard and was a decent hit especially in St. Louis and Kansas City. "Mama Talk To Your Daughter" and "Man Watch Your Woman" was next on Parrot # 809. "Mama" was J.B.'s biggest seller, a top ten on the R & B charts and wound up being a much covered tune.

In early 1955, "Mama Talk To Your Daughter" continues to sell in the national R & B markets. Memphis and New Orleans are hot areas for the song. When the tune has finally run its course, the inevitable sequel is released and "Mama Your Daughter Is Going To Miss Me" paired with "What Have I Done" on Parrot # 814 hits the streets in July. During Labor Day week, J.B. Lenoir plays at the Regal Theater in Chicago as part of a big R & B show presented by Al Benson. Also on the bill is the Buddy Johnson band with Ella Johnson and Floyd Ryland, The Orchids, Spaniels, Four Fellows, and Al Savage. This is an unusual venue for Lenoir who is often booked at small clubs throughout the Chicago area. In November "Fine Girls" and "I Love My Baby" is released on Parrot # 821 with Ernest Cotton and Alex Atkins on tenor saxes, Joe Montgomery on piano, and Al Galvin on drums.

In 1956 J.B. spends the early part of the year playing dates in and around Chicago and then on to a bunch of one nighters in South Carolina and Georgia. Parrot Records ceases as a recording company and Lenoir is without a label for a while. By the summer he has been signed to Chicago's big independent label Chess Records. Back in that city in July his usual combo from his days at Parrot is joined by Willie Dixon on bass as "Let Me Die With The One I Love" and "If I Give My Love To You" is issued on Checker # 844. Late in the year "Don't Touch My Head" and "I've Down So Long"is out on # 856 as by J.B. Lenore. In March J.B. plays the Grand Ballroom for Herb Kent along with The Spaniels and Willie Dixon's band. Late in the year "Five Years" and "What About Your Daughter" are released on Checker # 874. In 1958 Leonard Caston on organ joins the combo for "She Don't Know" and reversing his earlier hit "Daddy Talk To Your Son" on Checker # 901. That was the end of the line for Lenoir on Checker and in September of 1959, he recorded one side for Shad Records with Junior Wells on harmonica and Jesse Fowler on drums with the tunes "Back Door" and "Louella".

In 1960 J.B. moved from one label to another. First on Vee-Jay "Oh baby" and "Do What I Say" on # 352; "Movin To Kansas City" and "I've Been Down So Long" on Decca # 4664; and Blue Horizon # 1004 with "Mojo Boogie" and "I Don't Care What Nobody Say". In 1963 a record with an emphasis on African rhythms recorded on the USA label as by J.B. Lenoir & His African Hunch Rhythm with Jarrett Gibson on tenor sax, Lafayette Leake on piano, Milton Rector on bass, and Willie Smith on drums performing the songs "I Sing 'Um The Way I Feel" and "I Feel So Good" on # 744. Soon after he left music and took janitorial jobs at the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. Willie Dixon found him there and soon had him booked for the American Folk Blues Festival in England where he was an influence on some of the British blues bands. He recorded two acoustic blues albums for a German record company that contained much topical songs of the time. They were "Alabama Blues" and "Down In Mississippi".

J.B. Lenoir was now living in Champaign, Illinois, near the university. It was here in early April of 1967 that he was involved in an auto accident that severely injured him. While on the road to recovery he died of heart failure on April 29,most likely as a result of that accident. Death claimed the life of an American blues original-he of the high wailing voice, signature guitar strokes, and startling zebra striped jackets. The style and influence was noted by top British blues pioneer John Mayall with his tribute tune "The Death Of J.B. Lenoir".

To recapture the power and message of J.B. Lenoir and his blues there are a number of cd recordings that feature his artistry. Watch for duplication of tunes on different albums. There is no definitive over view of his work on a single cd but the best of those available is probably "Mojo Boogie" for Varese Sarabande from' 02 with 20 tracks including some alternate takes. For his label specific work there is "The JOB Recordings : 1951-1954" from '01 on Paula with 21 tracks; "The Parrot Sessions" from Empire Musicwerks in '03 with 13 tracks; and "Mojo : The JOB, Vee-Jay, and USA Recordings" from Pony Canyon Japan in '02 featuring some alternate takes. Then there is the chronological recordings of J.B. on Classics R & B - "1951-1954" with 19 tracks and "1955-1956" with 23 tracks both issued in 2005. There are two other cds of interest : "Viet Nam : The Complete L & R Recordings" which was the two acoustic blues albums made for German promoters which includes 24 tracks, many on topical issues such as racism in the U.S. The final cd is "Live In 1963" from Varese Sarabande recorded at Nina's in Chicago one July night. It is a live acoustic set with Sunnyland Slim and guest appearances by St. Louis Jimmy (Oden) and Mike Bloomfield. With 18 tracks it is a unique audio document of a great performer.

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