Louis Jordan

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Louis Jordan
Jordan in New York City, 1946
Jordan in New York City, 1946
Background information
Birth nameLouis Thomas Jordan
Born(1908-07-08)July 8, 1908
Brinkley, Arkansas, U.S.
DiedFebruary 4, 1975(1975-02-04) (aged 66)
Los Angeles, California
  • Musician
  • bandleader
  • songwriter
  • singer
  • actor
  • Saxophones
  • vocals
Years active1932–1974
Associated actsTympany Five

Louis Thomas Jordan[a] (July 8, 1908 – February 4, 1975)[1] was an American saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and bandleader who was popular from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. Known as "The King of the Jukebox", he earned his highest profile towards the end of the swing era.

Jordan was a talented singer with great comedic flair, and he fronted his own band for more than twenty years. He duetted with some of the biggest solo singing stars of his time, including Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Jordan was also an actor and a film personality—he appeared in dozens of "soundies" (promotional film clips), made numerous cameos in mainstream features and short films, and starred in two musical feature films made especially for him. He was an instrumentalist who played all forms of the saxophone but specialized in the alto. He also played the piano and clarinet. A productive songwriter, he wrote or co-wrote many songs that were influential classics of 20th-century popular music.

Jordan began his career in big-band swing jazz in the 1930s, but he became known as one of the leading practitioners, innovators and popularizers of jump blues, a swinging, up-tempo, dance-oriented hybrid of jazz, blues and boogie-woogie. Typically performed by smaller bands consisting of five or six players, jump music featured shouted, highly syncopated vocals and earthy, comedic lyrics on contemporary urban themes. It strongly emphasized the rhythm section of piano, bass and drums; after the mid-1940s, this mix was often augmented by electric guitar. Jordan's band also pioneered the use of the electronic organ.

With his dynamic Tympany Five bands, Jordan mapped out the main parameters of the classic R&B, urban blues and early rock-and-roll genres with a series of highly influential 78-rpm discs released by Decca Records. These recordings presaged many of the styles of black popular music of the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and exerted a strong influence on many leading performers in these genres. Many of his records were produced by Milt Gabler, who went on to refine and develop the qualities of Jordan's recordings in his later production work with Bill Haley, including "Rock Around the Clock".

Jordan ranks fifth in the list of the most successful African-American recording artists according to Joel Whitburn's analysis of Billboard magazine's R&B chart, and was the most popular rhythm and blues artist of the pre-Rock n' Roll era. Though comprehensive sales figures are not available, he had at least four million-selling hits during his career. Jordan regularly topped the R&B "race" charts and was one of the first black recording artists to achieve significant crossover in popularity with the mainstream (predominantly white) American audience, having simultaneous Top Ten hits on the pop charts on several occasions.

Life and career[edit]

Jordan was born on July 8, 1908, in Brinkley, Arkansas. His father, James Aaron Jordan, was a music teacher and bandleader for the Brinkley Brass Band and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. His mother, Adell, died when Louis was young. He was raised by his grandmother Maggie Jordan and his aunt Lizzie Reid.[2] At an early age he studied clarinet and saxophone with his father.[3] In his teens he was a member of the Rabbit Foot Minstrels[4] and was playing professionally in the late 1920s.[5] In the early 1930s he played in Philadelphia and New York City with Charlie Gaines.[3][5] He recorded with Clarence Williams and briefly was a member of the Stuff Smith orchestra.[3][5] With the Chick Webb orchestra he sang and played alto saxophone.[3] In 1938 he started a band that recorded a year later as the Tympany Five.[5] During the 1940s Jordan and the band became popular with such hits as "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie", "Knock Me a Kiss", "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby", and "Five Guys Named Moe".[3][5] He recorded with Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, and Louis Armstrong and appeared in films.[3][5]

Jordan's first band, drawn mainly from members of the Jesse Stone band, was a nine-piece group that he reduced to a sextet after being hired for a residency at the Elks Rendezvous club at 464 Lenox Avenue in Harlem. The band consisted of Jordan (saxes, vocals), Courtney Williams (trumpet), Lem Johnson (tenor sax), Clarence Johnson (piano), Charlie Drayton (bass), and Walter Martin (drums). In his first billing as the Elks Rendez-vous Band, his name was spelled "Louie" so people could avoid pronouncing it "Lewis".[6]

In 1942, Jordan and his band moved to Los Angeles, where he began making soundies, the precursors of music video. He appeared on many Jubilee radio shows and a series of programs for the Armed Forces Radio for distribution to American troops overseas. Jordan's career was uninterrupted by the draft except for a four-week Army camp tour. Because of a "hernia condition" he was classified "4F".[7]

Within a year of his breakthrough, the Tympany Five's appearance fee rose from $350 to $2,000 per night. But the breadth of Jordan's success and the size of his combo had larger implications for the music industry. The blues singer Gatemouth Moore said, "He was playing...with five pieces. That ruined the big bands ... He could play just as good and just as loud with five as 17. And it was cheaper."[8]

Jordan in New York, July 1946, shortly after getting second billing to Glen Gray at the Paramount

Jordan's raucous recordings were notable for the use of fantastical narrative. This is perhaps best exemplified on "Saturday Night Fish Fry", a two-part 1950 hit that was split across both sides of a 78-rpm record. It was one of the first popular songs to use the word "rocking" in the chorus and to feature a distorted electric guitar.[9]

During this period Jordan again placed more than a dozen songs on the national charts. However, Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five dominated the 1940s R&B charts, or (as they were known at the time) the "race" charts. In this period Jordan had eighteen number 1 singles and fifty-four in the Top Ten. According to Joel Whitburn's analysis of the Billboard magazine charts, Jordan ranks fifth among the most successful musicians of the period 1942–1995.[10] From July 1946 through May 1947, Jordan had five consecutive number one songs, holding the top slot for 44 consecutive weeks.[10]

Jordan's popularity was boosted not only by his hit Decca records but also by his prolific recordings for Armed Forces Radio and the V-Disc transcription program, which helped to make him popular with whites and blacks. He starred in short musical films and made "soundies" for his hit songs.[11]

Stepping away from his rhythm and blues style, Jordan started a big band in the early 1950s that was unsuccessful.[3][5] Illness kept him near home in Arizona thougout the 1950s.[3]

In 1952, Jordan performed on June 1 at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles for the eighth Cavalcade of Jazz concert produced by Leon Hefflin, Sr.[12] Jordan and His Tympany Five returned for the tenth Cavalcade of Jazz concert on June 20, 1954.[13]

Jordan signed with Aladdin for which he recorded 21 songs in early 1954. Nine singles were released from these sessions; three of the songs were not released.[14] In 1955, he recorded with "X" Records, a subsidiary of RCA which changed its name to Vik Records while Jordan was with them.[15] Three singles were by released by "X" and one by Vik; four tracks were not released.[14] In these sessions Jordan intensified his sound to compete with rock and roll.[14] In 1956, Mercury signed Jordan and released two albums and a handful of singles.[14] His first album for Mercury, Somebody Up There Digs Me (1956), showcased updated rock-and-roll versions of previous hits such as "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens", "Caldonia", "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie", "Salt Pork, West Virginia", and "Beware!"[14] Mercury intended this to be a comeback for Jordan, but it was not commercially successful, and the label let him go in 1958.[14] He recorded sporadically in the 1960s for Warwick (1960), Black Lion (1962), Tangerine (1962–1965), and Pzazz (1968) and in the early 1970s for Black & Blue (1973), Blues Spectrum (1973), and JSP (1974).[16]

In the early 1960s he toured in England with Chris Barber.[3] Speaking in 2012, Barber recalled seeing Jordan at the Apollo Theater in New York:

playing with him was just frightening. It's a bit like an amateur guitar player from a back street who has just bought a Spanish guitar, working with Segovia. He didn't make you feel small, but he was just so perfect in what he did. ... I still remember watching him singing, but he would accompany himself on the alto, and you were convinced he was playing the alto while he was singing. ... the breath hadn't gone from his last word before he was playing his alto and it seemed to be simultaneous. ... He got a very raw deal from history ... In the Chick Webb band there were two regular singers – Ella and Louis Jordan. And yet really history has consigned him to just being a comedy vocal thing with a bit of rock and roll, and the first alto ... but he was such a consummately good singer that it's sad that he wasn't known more for it.[17]


The release of the 1945 musical short film Caldonia boosted Jordan's career due to roadshow screenings in support of his live performance.[18] In addition to singing in many films and appearing in mainstream films such as Meet Miss Bobby Socks (1944) and Follow the Boys (1944). The success of Caldonia (1945) led to other race film roles for Jordan with Astor Pictures: Beware! (1946), Reet, Petite, and Gone (1947), and Look-Out Sister (1947).[18]

His prolific use of film as a promotional vehicle broke new ground, garnering praise from Billboard, which wrote, "The movies have helped the one-nighters, which have also been helped by recordings, which have also helped the movies, which in turn have become more profitable. It's a delicious circle, and other bands are now exploring the possibilities."[19]

Personal life[edit]


Jordan was married five times. His first wife Julia (also called Julie) was from Arkadelphia. Soon after their wedding Julia gave birth to a daughter, Patty, who turned out not be Jordan's child.[2] In 1932, Jordan met Ida Fields, a Texas-born singer and dancer, in Hot Springs. They married that year. Ida was six years his senior and a member of a traveling dance troupe called the Florida Orange Blossoms. Ida sued Jordan for bigamy in 1943. He claimed she was aware that he was still married. Ida was awarded a $70,000 judgement, later reduced to $30,000.[20] She began billing herself as "Mrs. Louis Jordan, Queen of the Blues, and her Orchestra" before Jordan stopped it by stalling payments. In another court case, Ida was awarded a settlement of $50,000.[2] In 1942, Jordan married his childhood sweetheart, Fleecie Moore; they were later divorced. In 1947, Fleecie discovered Jordan was having an affair with dancer Florence "Vicky" Hayes and attacked him with a knife. She was arrested and charged with assault.[20] Jordan married Vicky on November 14, 1951 in Providence, Rhode Island;[2] they separated in 1960. He married Martha Weaver, a singer and dancer from St. Louis, in 1966.[4]

Financial problems[edit]

In 1961, the Internal Revenue Service filed an income tax lien against Jordan. As a result, he sold property well below their worth to pay off debts.[21] Musician Ike Turner stated in his autobiography, Takin' Back My Name, that he heard about his tax problems and contacted Jordan's booking agency in Chicago. Turner convinced the president of the company to send Jordan a check for $20,000. Jordan was unaware of this deed.[22]

Jordan wrote or co-wrote many of the songs he performed, but he did not benefit financially from them. Many of the hit songs he wrote, including "Caldonia", were credited to his wife Fleecie Moore to avoid an existing publishing arrangement. Their marriage was acrimonious and short-lived. On two occasions, Moore stabbed Jordan after domestic disputes, almost killing him the second time. After their divorce she retained ownership of the songs. However, Jordan may have taken credit for some songs written by others—he is credited as the co-writer of "Saturday Night Fish Fry", but the Tympany Five pianist Bill Doggett claimed he wrote it.[23]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Louis Jordan among hundreds of musicians whose material was destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[24]


Jordan died of a heart attack on February 4, 1975, in Los Angeles.[25] He is buried at Mt. Olive Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, the hometown of his wife Martha.[26]

Awards and honors[edit]

On June 23, 2008 the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution introduced by Arkansas Representative Vic Snyder honoring Jordan on the centenary of his birth.[27]

The United States Postal Service featured Jordan and his film for Caldonia in 2008 as part of its tribute to Vintage Black Cinema. "Vivid reminders of a bygone era will be celebrated in June through Vintage Black Cinema stamps based on five vintage movie posters. Whether spotlighting the talents of entertainment icons or documenting changing social attitudes and expectations, these posters now serve a greater purpose than publicity and promotion. They are invaluable pieces of history, preserving memories of cultural phenomena that otherwise might have been forgotten. The stamp pane was designed by Carl Herrman of Carlsbad, California."[28]

Jordan is described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as "The Father of Rhythm & Blues" and "The Grandfather of Rock 'n' Roll".[29]

Some have suggested that Chuck Berry modeled his musical approach on Jordan's, changing the lyric content from black life to teenage life, and substituting cars and girls for Jordan's primary motifs of food, drink, money and girls. Berry's iconic opening riff on "Johnny B. Goode" bears a striking similarity to the intro played by the guitarist Carl Hogan on the 1946 hit "Ain't That Just Like a Woman"; Berry has acknowledged the debt in interviews.[30][31][32]

B.B. King recorded an album called Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan. The band included Earl Palmer, drums, Dr. John, piano, Hank Crawford, alto sax, David "Fathead" Newman, tenor sax, and Marcus Belgrave, trumpet.[33]


Charting singles[edit]

Title Chart positions Additional notes
US R&B/Race charts US Pop chart US Country chart
1942 "I'm Gonna Leave You on the Outskirts of Town" 3
1942 "What's the Use of Getting Sober (When You Gonna Get Drunk Again)" 1
1943 "The Chicks I Pick Are Slender and Tender and Tall" 10
1943 "Five Guys Named Moe" 3
1943 "That'll Just 'Bout Knock Me Out" 8
1943 "Ration Blues" 1 11 1 First "crossover" hit
1944 "Deacon Jones" 7
1944 "G.I. Jive" 1 1
1944 "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" 3 2 1
1945 "Mop! Mop!" 1
1945 "You Can't Get That No More" 2 11
1945 "Caldonia" 1 6 Retitled "Caldonia Boogie" for national chart
1945 "Somebody Done Changed the Lock on My Door" 3
1945 "My Baby Said Yes" 14 Duet with Bing Crosby
1946 "Buzz Me" 1 9
1946 "Don't Worry 'Bout That Mule" 1
1946 "Salt Pork, West Virginia" 2
1946 "Reconversion Blues" 2
1946 "Beware (Brother, Beware)" 2 20
1946 "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'" 3
1946 "Stone Cold Dead in the Market (He Had It Coming)" 1 7 Duet with Ella Fitzgerald
1946 "Petootie Pie" 3 Duet with Ella Fitzgerald
1946 "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" 1 7
1946 "That Chick's Too Young to Fry" 3
1946 "Ain't That Just Like a Woman (They'll Do It Every Time)" 1 17
1946 "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens" 1 6
1946 "Let the Good Times Roll" 2
1947 "Texas and Pacific" 1 20
1947 "I Like 'Em Fat Like That" 5
1947 "Open the Door, Richard!" 2 6
1947 "Jack, You're Dead" 1 21
1947 "I Know What You're Puttin' Down" 3
1947 "Boogie Woogie Blue Plate" 1 21
1947 "Early in the Mornin'" 3
1947 "Look Out" 5
1948 "Barnyard Boogie" 2
1948 "How Long Must I Wait for You" 9
1948 "Reet, Petite and Gone" 4
1948 "Run Joe" 1 23
1948 "All for the Love of Lil" 13
1948 "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" 14
1948 "Don't Burn the Candle at Both Ends" 4
1948 "We Can't Agree" 14
1948 "Daddy-O" 7 Duet with Martha Davis
1948 "Pettin' and Pokin'" 5
1949 "Roamin' Blues" 10
1949 "You Broke Your Promise" 3
1949 "Cole Slaw (Sorghum Switch)" 7
1949 "Every Man to His Own Profession" 10
1949 "Baby, It's Cold Outside" 6 9 Duet with Ella Fitzgerald
1949 "Beans and Corn Bread" 1
1949 "Saturday Night Fish Fry", Parts 1 & 2 1 21
1950 "School Days" 5
1950 "Blue Light Boogie", Parts 1 & 2 1
1950 "I'll Never Be Free" 7 Duet with Ella Fitzgerald
1950 "Tamburitza Boogie" 10
1951 "Lemonade" 5
1951 "Tear Drops from My Eyes" 4
1951 "Weak Minded Blues" 5


  1. ^ Jordan favoured the French pronunciation of his name (/ˈli/), commonly found in the southern United States


  1. ^ "Louis Jordan". LouisJordan.com. Archived from the original on July 21, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Chilton, John (1997). Let the Good Times roll: The Story of Louis Jordan and His Music (1st paperback ed.). University of Michigan Press. ISBN 047208478X.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Feather, Leonard; Gitler, Ira (2007). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford University Press. pp. 373–374. ISBN 0-19-507418-1.
  4. ^ a b "Louis Thomas Jordan (1908–1975)". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Yanow, Scott (2001). Classic Jazz. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. pp. 374–377. ISBN 0-87930-659-9.
  6. ^ "Louis Jordan Solid Sender". BigBandLibrary.com. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  7. ^ "Louis Jordan in 4F". Billboard/Nielsen. May 1, 1943. pp. 17–. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  8. ^ Lauterbach, Preston (2011). The Chitlin' Circuit and the Road to Rock 'n' Roll. Norton. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-393-34294-9.
  9. ^ Dawson, Jim; Propes, Steve (1992). What Was the First Rock 'N' Roll Record?. Boston & London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-12939-0.
  10. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–1995. Record Research. pp. 621, 235.
  11. ^ "Louis Jordan's Soundies". Weirdwildrealm.com. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  12. ^ "Louis Jordan Booked for Eighth Cavalcade of Jazz". The California Eagle. May 15, 1952.
  13. ^ "Basie, Jordan, Prado Top Jazz Cavalcade". Los Angeles Sentinel. June 3, 1954.
  14. ^ a b c d e f "Louis Jordan Discography 1954–1958 (Aladdin, X, Vik, and Mercury Sessions)". Thisisvintagenow.com. Archived from the original on October 16, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  15. ^ "45 Discography for "X"/Vik Records". globaldogproductions.info. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  16. ^ Thomas, Alain. Liner notes for the album Rock 'n' Roll. p. 5.
  17. ^ Peters, Clarke (June 16, 2017). "BBC Radio 6 Music - Choo Choo Ch'Boogie, Episode 4". BBC. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  18. ^ a b "Louis Jordan's 'Caledonia', 'Beware' Pix a 3-Way Payoff". Billboard/Nielsen. June 8, 1946. pp. 34–. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  19. ^ Westphal, Kyle (April 15, 2011). "Excavating Beware". chicagofilmsociety.org. Retrieved March 14, 2020.
  20. ^ a b Koch, Stephen (2014). Louis Jordan: Son of Arkansas, Father of R&B. ISBN 9781626194359.
  21. ^ "Louis Jordan to Sell $71,000 Home for $30,000". Jet/Johnson Publishing Company. June 29, 1961. pp. 59–. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  22. ^ Turner, Ike; Cawthorne, Nigel (1999). Takin' Back My Name: The Confessions of Ike Turner. London: Virgin. ISBN 1852278501.
  23. ^ Visser, Joop. Liner notes for the boxed set Jivin' with Jordan, p. 30.
  24. ^ Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  25. ^ Doc Rock. "The 1970s". TheDeadRockStarsClub.com. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  26. ^ Ali Welky; Mike Keckhaver (September 2013). Encyclopedia of Arkansas Music. University of Arkansas Press. pp. 120–. ISBN 978-1-935106-60-9. Retrieved March 13, 2020.
  27. ^ Snyder, Vic (June 23, 2008). "Text - H.Res.1242 - 110th Congress (2007-2008): Honoring the life, musical accomplishments, and contributions of Louis Jordan on the 100th anniversary of his birth". www.congress.gov. Retrieved March 14, 2020.
  28. ^ [1] Archived January 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ "Louis Jordan: Inducted in 1987". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Rockhall.com. Retrieved December 30, 2011.
  30. ^ Flanagan, Bill (1987). Written in My Soul: Conversations with Rock's Great Songwriters. RosettaBooks.
  31. ^ Miller, James (1999). Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947–1977. Simon & Schuster. p. 104. ISBN 0-684-80873-0.
  32. ^ Decca Personality Series 23669, 78RPM
  33. ^ B.B. King (1999). Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan (CD). MCA Records.

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