The Boss - of The Blues - Part Two

The talk of the music world in mid January of 1955 is the bombshell that rocked New York - the Alan Freed Jubilee Ball. Huge crowds jammed the hall both nights (more than six thousand each night) and the word went forth that the new music now termed "rock 'n roll" was the wave of the future. Joe Turner closed the show with a thirty minute version of "Shake Rattle & Roll" with Fats Domino at the piano and most of the cast joining in the wild finale. Joe took a short breather before getting ready for the "Top Ten R & B Show" tour of seven weeks starting in Norfolk, Virginia and ending in Buffalo, New York, in late March. In February Atlantic releases "Flip Flop & Fly" and "Ti-Ri-Lee" with the Blues Kings on #1053. In June Downbeat magazine gives the award for top personality in Rhythm & Blues to Joe Turner. "Flip" is another big seller nationally for Atlantic. Joe signs for another big national revue to tour the East and South for two months beginning in August. Called the "Top Ten Revue" it also features The Clovers, Bo Diddley, Charlie & Ray, The Five Keys, Gene & Eunice, Etta James & The Peaches, and the Paul Williams band. In late July Atlantic issues Turner's next recording of the tune "Hide And Seek" backed with "Midnight Cannon Ball" on #1069. In October Joe is featured in two films - "Rock 'n' Roll Revue" and "Rhythm & Blues Revue", both produced by Studio Films. In late October the "Top Ten Revue" plays Carnegie Hall in New York City, but the usual mob of teenagers is absent, and the less than sellout crowd was an older more sedate gathering. In December Atlantic releases "The Chicken And The Hawk" and "Morning Noon And Night" on #1080. Closing out the year Joe appears at a number of dates in California and does a television appearance with Hunter Hancock.

Early in the new year Joe Turner once again signs up for a big national touring company, this time with Bill Haley & The Comets, LaVern Baker, The Platters, Drifters, Five Keys, Shirley & Lee, Bo Diddley, Roy Hamilton, and The Turbans. After the tour Turner has an extended booking at Gleason's in Cleveland. Turner's "The Chicken & The Hawk" help Atlantic Records record the two most profitable months in the company's history. In march Atlantic Records sets up session time with some of Joe's old time music buddies in kansas City including pianist Pete Johnson. In March #1088 is released featuring "Boogie Woogie Country Girl" and "Corinne Corinna". Almost immediately throughout the South "Corrine" is a huge seller in both the R & B and pop music markets. In May Joe is part of still another big touring R & B revue, this one called the "Biggest Show of 1956" which stops up and down the east coast breaking attendance records in many of the venues. The show headlines Bill Haley & The Comets and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. Also on the bill are fellow Atlantic Records acts Clyde McPhatter, LaVern Baker, and The Drifters (without Clyde, although at a few stops he does an encore with the group). Also appearing are Bo Diddley, The Colts, Flamingos, and Red Prysock & his band. Decca Records tries to pull a fast one and releases an older version of "Corrine Corrina" on #29924 with "It's The Same Old Story" and is listed as by Big Joe Turner. Taking a surprising turn, Joe Turner signs on with Bill Haley's agent Jim Ferguson and sets up a Southern tour for the R & B veteran (maybe they can compare versions of "Shake Rattle & Roll"?). With "Corrine Corrina" nearing the end of its run as a pop smash in late July (and the biggest seller of Joe's career), Atlantic keeps Joe in a pop style with his newest - "Lipstick Powder And Paint" and "Rock A While" on #1100. In late August Joe is part of the attraction for Alan Freed's "Second Anniversary Stage Show" at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater over the Labor Day week. The show will feature Fats Domino, Mabel King, and be heavy on vocal groups with Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Cleftones, Harptones, Penguins, and Freed's big band. In late August Cleveland's Ebony Club closes its doors forever with Joe Turner ending the night club's run for R & B fans in that city. In December another film featuring Joe Turner opens. It is called "Shake rattle and Rock". At years end Atlantic releases "Midnight Special Train"and "Feelin' Happy" on #1122. Some older Joe Turner tunes appear on an LP from Modern Records called "Hollywood Rock 'n Roll Hop".

In January of 1957 Joe Turner joins LaVern baker and Bill haley & The Comets for a tour of The Phillipines and Australia. After his return from the South Pacific Joe shares the stage with Riff Ruffin for a weeklong engagement at Los Angeles 5-4 Ballroom. In February Joe plays Chicago's Regal Theater in an all star R & B show hosted by Al Benson. In March "After A While" and the pop standard "Red Sails In The Sunset" are released by Atlantic on #1131. In June Atlantic announces plans to release an LP of Joe Turner tunes for the label. "Red Sails" does well in New Orleans, Memphis, and Little Rock. In June Joe plays Washington D.C.'s Casino Royale for two weeks. In late June Turner's newest side for Atlantic pairs "Love Roller Coaster" and "World of Trouble" on #1146. That summer Joe does a turn at Denver's Rainbow Ballroom. Joe signs on for another all star traveling revue for six weeks beginning in October to tour the Southeast. Headlining will be Ray Charles & his orchestra and Mickey & Sylvia. Herman Lubinsky of Savoy Records acquires the catalog of National Records which includes some recordings made by Turner in 1949 and 1950. In September Atlantic releases "Trouble In Mind" and "I Need A Girl" on #1155. In November Savoy Records plans to issue an LP of Joe Turner recordings from the National catalog including the tunes "Twelve O'Clock Whistle" and "Cherry Red". At the end of the year Atlantic releases Turner's latest - "Teenage Letter" and "Wee Baby Blues" on #1167.

In early 1958 Atlantic announces an original LP by Joe Turner called "Joe Turner Sings Kansas City Jazz" will also be released on stereo reel tape. The label celebrates its tenth anniversary as "Teenage Letter" outsells Turner's previous three sides for the label. Joe joins long time label mate Ruth Brown and the Paul Williams band for a six week tour of California and the Pacific Coast in February. "Wee Baby Blues" starts to sell big in St. Louis and Kansas City. In late April Atlantic releases "Blues In The Night" and "Jump For Joy" on #1184. In May despite the Boston "incident" involving Alan Freed at the Boston Arena which led to the beginning of the end for Freed, the usually staid Newport Jazz Festival announced plans to include such stalwart R & B musicians as Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Big Maybelle, and Joe Turner reunited with pianist Pete Johnson at its big get together in July. In June the Joe Turner LP from Savoy Records consisting of previously recorded material for National Records is released. It is called "Careless Love" on Savoy LP #14016. Turner is backed by a combo of jazzmen at the Newport Jazz Festival, but instead of some K.C. jazz numbers Joe did his Atlantic hits from the rock 'n' roll era and was not as well received as he should have been. By late 1958 it is apparent that the rock 'n roll age has passed Joe by, that it was a good run for the veteran blues singer, but now his main audience is not the teenage girls from mainstream America who dominate the record buying public for single 45 rpms. He still performs live with Pete Johnson with a Jazz At The Philharmonic unit, and at the Brussels, Belgium World's Fair.

Joe Turner does not have a record released by Atlantic for almost a year. In the summer of 1959 "Love Oh Careless Love" and "Got You On My Mind" are issued on # 2034. In October the LP album called "Big Joe Is Here" is released on LP #8033. In November Atlantic re-releases Joe's breakthrough hit from 1953 "Honey Hush" coupled with "Tomorrow Night" on # 2044. The Boss of the Blues closes out the year and the decade with a sales spike for "Honey Hush". It still sells ! In 1960 the label tries the same move with a re-release of "Chains of Love" with "My Little Honey Dripper" on #2054. There is one last Joe Turner single for Atlantic that year - "Sweet Sue" and "My Reason For Living" on #2072. The pioneering East Coast R & B giant Atlantic Records now moves with Bobby Darin, the mini concertos of the Ben E. King and The Drifters, and the jocular tunes of The Coasters. For singers like Joe Turner, his day in the sun is over. Now he will appear in person mostly at blues and jazz festivals in America and Europe such as the Monterrey Jazz Festival, a tour throughout England with Humphrey Littleton's band, the American Folk Blues Festival, and a thirty year reunion concert called "Spirituals To Swing - 1967". In 1970 he was part of the troupe with the Johnny Otis Revue and the recording of this unit's in person appearance at the Monterrey Jazz Festival is hailed as one last go around for the R & B pioneers that invented the music. Throughout the seventies and early eighties, the many festival appearances kept up and a number of album recordings were released. An important documentary film called "The Last of the Blue Devils" about the all-Black Kansas City Musicians Union is produced. Prominent among the performers is Count Basie, Jay McShann, and of course Big Joe. Turner's classic aside to Basie as he enters the old hall with his trademark yachting cap on - "Hey Bill, you leave your ship outside?" is priceless.

Lucky for us there are a number of albums featuring the long career of Joe Turner that are available. Many of those duplicate the better known songs that Big Joe has recorded over the years. The logical starting point is the Rhino CD "The Very Best Of . . . " which contains all of the Atlantic hits. Another must have was recorded two years before his death in November of 1985. This was "Blues Train" recorded for Muse with Blues Traveler and Doctor John and produced by old Atlantic hand Doc Pomus. It won a Grammy Award in 1983. Other scattershot CDs (most are imports) from recent years are "Blues On Central Avenue"(Our World), "Blues In The Night" (Arpeggio Blues), "Cherry Red" (Indigo), "Watch That Jive" (President), "Shakin' The Blues" (Catfish), "Shake Rattle & Roll" (Tomato), "Flip Flop & Fly" (Original Jazz Classics), "Honey Hush" (Jewel) and "The Rhythm & Blues Years" for Rhino. For some more in depth perspectives of the career of The Boss of the Blues there are a number of reference point CDs that are around. There is "Atomic Boogie" for Savoy that consists of the 1947-49 recordings for the National label. Masters of Jazz has two volumes - Vol. 1 covers 1938 - 1940, and Vol.2 covers 1940-43. "Jumpin' With Joe" on EMI contains all the late 40s Imperial and Aladdin label sides including the famous "Battle of the Blues" with Wynonie Harris parts 1 and 2, with an alternate take of part 1. "Every Day In The Week" on Decca contains all of Joe's sides for that label including alternate takes and a couple with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. "Let's Boogie : The Freedom Records Story" has been released on Collectables. On France's Classics Jazz label are 4 volumes of Joe Turner in the nineteen forties. Vol. 1 - 1941-46; Vol.2 - 1946-47; Vol.3 - 1947-48 featuring "Rocks In My Bed", "B & O Blues", "Whistle Stop Blues" and others; and Vol. 4 - 1949-1950 featuring 22 tracks recorded with the Maxwell Davis combo with Pete Johnson and Fats Domino on piano including "Blues Jumped The Rabbit", "Story To Tell" and "Mardi Gras Boogie".

Many years before anyone ever heard of Bruce Springsteen, rock 'n' roll had the original "Boss" - the Boss of the Blues. Joe Turner was a giant talent that spanned six decades and three generations. I always wondered what he thought back then in 1956 when after twenty five years of paying dues as a blues singer in dim lit dives, beer soaked taverns, and the occasional concert stage before an adult blues and jazz audience, here he was in front of screaming, mostly White teenagers, generating the hysteria later reserved for Elvis or The Beatles. I can only guess what his reaction must have been in those first heady days of the rock revolution. In the words of the Grateful Dead - "What a long strange trip its been". The saving grace of it all is that Joe Turner is one of the very few of the original R & B pioneers that finally experienced national fame and recognition in his lifetime. As someone said at his passing - "he was singing rock 'n roll 25 years before there was rock 'n roll !" Joe Turner - the once, always, and forever, "Boss of the Blues"

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