Babs Gonzales

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Babs Gonzales and Salome Bey. Photo courtesy of the Fraser MacPherson estate

Babs Gonzales (October 27, 1919 – January 23, 1980), born Lee Brown, was an American jazz vocalist of the bebop era most notable for penning the song "Oop-Pop-A-Da", which was originally recorded and performed by his own band (Three Bips and a Bop) and was later made famous by Dizzy Gillespie. Gonzales was also once the chauffeur for Errol Flynn. In 1967, Gonzales published an autobiography entitled "I Paid My Dues: Good Times... No Bread" - A Story of Jazz, which was followed in 1975 by Movin' On Down De Line.

Biography[edit]

Gonzales was born Lee Brown in Newark, NJ; however, he and his brothers were all called Babs. He studied piano at an early age and learned to play drums. Looking for whatever money-making opportunities he could find, he made his way to Los Angeles, as he recalls in his memoir I Paid My Dues.... Wearing a turban in Hollywood in the 1940s, he called himself Ram Singh. His networking and hustling talents landed him the job as Errol Flynn's "foreign" chauffeur. He adopted the name Ricardo Gonzales to pass himself off as Mexican rather than black, in order to get a room in a good hotel. He tells of getting a break as a vocalist when he was asked to fill in for Mel Tormé.

Singing career[edit]

Gonzales worked with Charlie Barnet and Lionel Hampton's big bands before forming and leading his own group, Bab's Three Bips & a Bop (1946–49). They recorded for Blue Note, including the earliest version of "Oop-Pop-A-Da" and such songs as “Weird Lullaby” (a composition covered on Wynton Kelly's 1961 album Someday My Prince Will Come), “Real Crazy,” “Professor Bop”, “Prelude to a Nightmare”, and "Cool Whalin'". His sidemen on these dates included Tadd Dameron, Tony Scott, Roy Haynes, James Moody, J.J. Johnson, Julius Watkins, Sonny Rollins (making his recording debut), Art Pepper, Wynton Kelly, and Don Redman.[1] Cash Box Magazine January 29, 1955 The Alan Freed "Rock 'n Roll" Ball at St. Nicholas Arena, New York show composed of Babs Gonzales on January 14, 1955

He was an exponent and pioneer of vocalese, an example of which is his version of the Charlie Parker bop standard "Ornithology". From 1950 to 1953, Gonzales was road manager and vocalist for the James Moody band and later gigged and recorded with musicians such as Jimmy Smith, Bennie Green, Lenny Hambro, Johnny Griffin, and Bennie Green on the 1958 Blue Note album Soul Stirrin' (which took its name from and included Gonzales' eponymous composition). Spending time in Europe, Gonzales performed at Ronnie Scott's in London in 1962. He was also a Beat poet.

Books[edit]

  • 1967: I Paid My Dues: Good Times... No Bread: A Story of Jazz. East Orange, NJ: Expubidence Publishing Corporation.
  • 1975: Movin' On Down De Line.

References[edit]