Hands Off : Priscilla Bowman©2006JCMarion


In the early fall of 1955, Vee-Jay Records president Jimmy Bracken was very enthusiastic about a new recording just out on his label. It was a jump blues tune by a band from Kansas City headed by long time K.C. pianist Jay McShann. McShann was part of the rich musical heritage that adopted that city , which included Count Basie, Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, and many others. Jay McShann at one time featured a young K.C. sax player named Charlie Parker who would revolutionize American jazz in the nineteen forties. At this time in the mid fifties, it wasn't a sax player that was raising eyebrows but a tough sounding female R & B singer named Priscilla Bowman. The new recording that got Bracken so impressed was an up tempo rocker called "Hands Off".

"Hands Off" / "Another Night" on Vee-Jay # 155 was moving up the best seller charts in a hurry during November of 1955. It was featured on broadcasts in New York by Alan Freed which gave the record impetus on the East Coast which gave it "push" throughout the rest of the country.By December as the record breaks out in the Midwest, the inevitable pop music covers emerge (including one by Donna Hightower) . In early 1956 as the record continues to sell Priscilla Bowman starts to get recognition for the vocal rather than as an afterthought. Early in the year the record registers as the number one seller in the rhythm & blues field in many of the major markets in the country and is soon recognized as a top seller.

By February Vee-Jay has a follow up on the street. The songs "I've Got News For You" and "My Darkest Night" are out on # 179. The band with Bowman on vocals are a big draw across the country and a satisfying rediscovery of Jay McShann and his piano styling. Late in the year "Really Don't Need Your Loving" is released on Vee-Jay # 213, along with the flip side "Hootie Blues" which was written by Charlie Parker for McShann (whose nickname is 'Hootie') back in 1939 and recorded the next year with a vocal byWalter Brown (released on Decca Records). This new version features a great vocal by Bowman. In March of 1957 Bowman with McShann appear for a week at the Regal Theater in Chicago along with Screamin Jay Hawkins, Gene & Eunice, The Spaniels, El Dorados, Joe Turner, Tab Smith, and others. Huge box office for the show has music industry people amazed.

In August of the year Vee-Jay decides to issue records by Priscilla Bowman (without Jay McShann) on their new subsidiary Falcon Records. In September Falcon releases "Yes I'm Glad" and "A Spare Man" on # 1004. Backing up Bowman is the band of Al Smith featuring Lucious Washington and Marcus Johnson on tenors, McKinley Easton on baritone, Horace Palm on piano, Lefty bates on guitar, Quinn Wilson on bass, and Al Duncan on drums. In November Bowman appears in Chicago once again at the Regal Theater, this time with Al Benson. Big Maybelle, The Dells, Mello-Kings, Frankie Lee Sims, Titus Turner, and others. In February of 1958 "Sugar Daddy" and "Don't You Come In Here" is released on Falcon # 1008. Both Falcon releases were reportedly also issued on Abner Records with the same numbers. A final record for the year by Bowman is "A Rockin Good Way" and "I Ain't Giving Up Nothing" on Abner # 1018 noteworthy for the backing vocals by The Spaniels. .

In 1959 Bowman has another recording session for Abner Records, this time with the Riley Hampton Orchestra. The songs are "Like A Baby" and "Why Must I Cry" released on # 1033. This record like most of the others is a competent R & B recording but is not in the emerging "mainstream" of record buyers at the turn of the decade. Bowman continued to record and make personal appearances ( some reuniting with Jay McShann) through the mid seventies and then dropped out of music and is today relegated to virtual obscurity. Priscilla Bowman passed away in July of 1988.

There are no readily available cds devoted to her recordings, but she appears on many compilation albums mostly with the inclusion of "Hands Off" which remains one of the biggest R & B records of the nineteen fifties. For this alone, Bowman remains part of the story of the music that changed everything.

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