Rock The Joint - Rock 'n Roll's Starting Point©2004JCMarion


In 1949 a jump tune called "Rock The Joint" was recorded by two Philadelphia based R & B combos. It was originally recorded by Jimmy Preston & The Prestonians on Philly's own Gotham label, and then covered by Chris Powell & The Five Blue Flames for Columbia. These recordings were undoubtably heard by a fledgling country artist also based in the Philadelphia area named Bill Haley. Soon enough Haley combined the White C & W sound with the Black R & B feel and the result was something new, different, and certainly exciting (see the article "Stranger In A Strange Land : Bill Haley And the R & B Years" in JammUpp issue # 23). Here is the history of those two R & B combos who started the revolution.

Jimmy Preston & His Prestonians

Jimmy Preston was born in rural Pennsylvania in August of 1919. By the late thirties he had become an accomplished sax player, and into the forties was heavily influenced by Louis Jordan. Some tunes recorded by the combo included "Credit Blues", "They Call Me The Champ", "Potato Salad", "Bells Of St. Mary's", and "Drinking Woman". In 1949 alto sax man and vocalist Jimmy Preston and his Prestonians had regional hits in the Northeast with "Rock The Joint" "Girl Town Blues" and "Hucklebuck Daddy" / "Sugar Baby" on the Gotham label, and "Going Away" on Gotham # 206. The band had built a reputation for hard driving sax led jump tunes, and blues ballads which made them a dance club favorite in the Philadelphia area in the late forties. Songs such as "Messing With Preston", "Numbers Blues", "Chop Suey Louie" "Do The Bump" and "Hey Everybody" were some of the band's favorites. Jimmy Preston starts out the year of 1950 with a new lineup of his small combo. The group features Benny Golson (who would in later years become a modern jazz star) on tenor sax, Billy Gaines on piano (replacing Ken King), and Skeets March (replacing Eddie Winters) on drums. In the spring The Prestonians are a weekend standby at Dreamland in Lawnside, New Jersey. In April "Early Morning Blues" and "Hayride" are released by Gotham Records on # 228. In September Preston moves to the Derby record label based in New York. The next month the band's first release for Derby is out. It features vocals by Preston and Burnetta Evans on the tunes "Oh Babe" (a cover of the pop hit for Louis Prima) and "Stop That, Baby " on # 748. Preston continues to be a good draw in the Philadelphia area into 1952 where his combo has an extended engagement at that city's Club Bill & Lou. It was in 1952 that Jimmy Preston left the music business and entered the ministry, leaving behind a recording that became one of the founding moments in the history of rock 'n roll. The musical legacy of Jimmy Preston & His Prestonians is preserved in the CDs "Rock The Joint - vols. 1 and 2" on Collectables, self titled CDs for Collectables and Krazy Kat (from England), and "Jimmy Preston 1948 - 1950" on Flying Records CD. Tracks on these CDs should be checked for duplication.

Chris Powell & The Five Blue Flames

During the late nineteen forties, Chris Powell & The Five Blue Flames were a well known jump blues band in the Philadelphia area. They were fortunate enough to be signed to a recording contract with one of the major record labels of the time Columbia Records. The lineup of the band was Powell - leader and drums; Duke Wells on piano; Eddie Lambert on guitar; Danny Turner and Red Spencer on saxes; and James Johnson on bass. In the spring of 1949 the band recorded "Hot Dog" and "Last Saturday Night" on Columbia # 30162. This was followed by "I Made A Big Mistake" and "Sunday" on # 30169. In September of the year "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" and "Rock The Joint" was recorded for Columbia on # 30175. During the first week of January of 1950 Columbia Records released "Swinging In The Groove" and "I'm Still In Love With You" by Chris Powell & The Five Blue Flames on # 30180. In the spring Columbia follows with "Blues In My Heart" and "Dance Till The Break Of Dawn" on # 30216. In June of the year "Down In The Bottom" and "Hauntin' Pinochle Blues" is issued by Columbia on # 30205. In July Vance Wilson replaces tenor sax man Red Spencer with the combo. Spencer's new band is called The Five Red Flames, and both are in clubs during the summer a block apart in Atlantic City.

After a shakeup of R & B direction of Columbia, Chris Powell and his band remain and by the Spring of 1951 "Man With A Horn" and "Country Girl Blues" are released by the label on # 39272. They follow that with "In The Cool Of The Evening" and "My Love Has Gone" with vocal by Johnny Echo on # 39407. The real identity of Echo is supposedly that of Joe Van Loan lead singer of The Ravens vocal group. In July Columbia reactivates its Okeh label to concentrate on the R & B market, and Powell is shifted to that label. In October "Talking" and "The Masquerade Is Over" are released on Okeh # 6818. Late in 1951 "That's Right" and "October Twilight" are issued by Okeh on # 6850. During the early months of 1952 Powell and his band do an extended tour of the Midwest and Pennsylvania and do a two week engagement at Philadelphia's Showboat Lounge. That spring a young trumpet player joins the Blue Flames. His name is Clifford Brown and he remains with the combo for a little over a year. He would go on to great fame in the modern jazz field as a most inventive and original musician until he was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1956 at the age of twenty five. In May billed as just Chris Powell, Okeh releases "Ida Red" and "Darn That Dream" on # 6875. Powell and his combo spend the summer on the bandstand at the Wildwood Hofbrau on the South New Jersey shore. In September, Okeh # 6900 features "Blue Boy" and "I Come From Jamaica". In October after an engagement at The Sportsman's Club in Newport Kentucky, he and his band return to Philadelphia at Pep's Musical Bar. In November Powell & The Blue Flames hit the road with a stop at Bucknell University. Late in the year Arnelda Monroe joins the Blue Flames as they continue to appear in the Philly area.

In March of 1953, Powell and his band do another two weeks at The Showboat, to be followed by an extended stay at Bill & Lou. In May the combo does a week at New York's Cafe Society which is followed by a long engagement at Moore's Inlet Cafe in Wildwood, along with the Three Peppers. In 1954 Chris Powell continues to do a number of club dates such as the Red Rooster in Philadelphia, Club Mucho in Penn's Grove New Jersey, and Cadillac Club in Trenton. In 1954 Chris Powell signs on to record for Philadelphia's own Grand Records. His version of "Sweet Sue Mambo" on # 108 is a good seller in the Philly area. In October he hits the mambo style again with "Song Of The Vagabonds" on Grand # 116. The flip side of the record is "Dinah". In February of 1955 Powell rides the mambo train again with "Mr. Sandman Mambo" on Grand # 120 which is again a good seller. By April of the year, Powell is now on RCA's subsidiary label Groove. His first for the label is "Break It Up" and "Love Ya Like Crazy" on # 0105. In June once again billed as Chris Powell & The Blue Flames, Groove # 0111 features "Somethings Gotta Give" and their version of "Unchained Melody". In August Grand Records releases two takes from off the shelf by Powell of the mambo tunes "Mandolino" and "The Whiffenpoof Song" on # 127. In November "Chinatown" and "Good Bye Little Girl" are released on Groove # 0128. In the closing weeks of the year, Powell and his band play a number of dates on the West Coast. In March of 1956 Powell and his combo record "The Poor People Of Paris" and "Theme From Three Penny Opera" on Groove # 0144. In May Grand Records recycles "I Come From Jamaica" and "Billy Boy" on # 138.

By this time it was apparent that the Blue Flames time as a top musical attraction was about over. They had been part of the Philadelphia musical scene for close to a decade, and although they never had a solid hit record, they were a vital part of the ever changing music scene in America. They certainly had an effect on a struggling country artist named Bill Haley who covered "Rock The Joint" which sent him on his way to spread the news of the arrival of rock 'n roll as the sound of the times. There is an available CD that chronicles a great part of Powell and his music. The CD is entitled "The Chronological Chris Powell : 1949 - 1952" and contains the Columbia and Okeh recordings from those years. It is on Classics, a French label. Chris Powell & The Five Blue Flames were part of the great fabric of the musical history of America.

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