CLOSE

The Late Movies: Jump Blues

Jump blues is a type of up-tempo blues that first gained popularity in the 1940s and experienced a renewal in interest during the (dreaded) 1990s swing revival. Billboard has described jump tunes as having a “bright bounce in the medium tempo and a steady drive maintained.” I usually think of it as Big Band pared down to a few horns and a rhythm section, rolled around in the dirt a little bit and then given some uppers.

Shake, Rattle and Roll

You’re probably more familiar with the Bill Haley & His Comets version of this song, and for that I’ll forgive you, but Big Joe Turner's original is the real deal. Recorded the day after Valentine’s Day in 1954, the original featured Turner, songwriter Jesse Stone, and record-company execs Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegün doing the shout chorus, as well as a number of double entendres and sexual innuendos (some of which aren’t in this video). “I've been holdin' it in, way down underneath / You make me roll my eyes, baby, make me grit my teeth,” and “I'm like a one-eyed cat peepin' in a seafood store,” are both sort of self-explanatory, but subtle enough that you might not have noticed them on the first listen.

Rocket 88

Jackie Brenston was learned to play saxophone after coming home from the army in 1947, and hooked up with Ike Turner’s band a few years later. B.B. King liked the band and recommended them to Sam Phillips, who owned a studio in Memphis. There, the band recorded a few songs, including this one, on which Brenston sang lead and was credited with writing. The recordings found their way to Chess Records which released the song under "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats", rather than Turner's name. The song went to #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and Philips used the success of the tune to jumpstart Sun Records.

Hoy Hoy

Little Johnny Jones mantra may as well have been “have instrument, will travel.” Beginning in 1945, he played piano in Tampa Red's band, harmonica in Muddy Waters’ band, and played and recorded piano and vocals for Elmore James, Howling Wolf, Billy Boy Arnold and Magic Sam. among others. This one-off release, put out under his own name, features a role reversal for Jones and James, with sideman Jones taking over vocals and usual band leader James handling slide guitar.

Voo Doo

Delores LaVern Baker had the blues in her blood. She was related to both Merline Johnson and Memphis Minnie. She also had a great sense of humor. When Georgia Gibbs had the bigger hit with her cover of Baker’s “Tweedle Dee” Baker took out flight insurance at the airport and sent it to Gibbs with a note reading “You need this more than I do because if anything happens to me, you're out of business.”

Jump Jive and Wail

Louis Prima was, like David Bowie, a musical chameleon. He led, at one time or another in his career, a New Orleans style jazz band, a swing combo, a big band a Vegas lounge act and a pop-rock band. You’re likely familiar with Brian Setzer’s version of this song, which gets points for a flashier video but lacks the late Prima’s legendary exuberance.

Good Rockin’ Tonight

Written by Roy Brown in the late 40’s, this song was originally offered to Wynonie Harris, who turned it down and only decided to cover it later after the Brown had some success with his own recording of it. Brown's original recording hit #13 on the the Billboard R&B chart, but Harris' went all the way to #1.

Juicy Fruit

Rudolph Spencer Greene was neither prolific nor famous, and today most people, myself included, only find out about him from compilations of blues, R&B and early rock songs and there is only one known photo of him (which depicts him playing the guitar behind his head). He is, in fact, so un-famous that I can’t find any sort of video for this song. Even though this is “The Late Movies,” I can’t pass up the chance to share Greene’s fantastic, surreal “Juicy Fruit,” wherein he brags about his $50 flattop, cashmere clothes and a car so long that he is forced to park it in the air. Listen to it here.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


Getty Images

There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
arrow
Pop Culture
"Weird Al" Yankovic Is Getting the Funko Treatment
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Though the New York Toy Fair—the largest trade show for playthings in the western hemisphere—won't officially kick off until Saturday, February 17, kids and kids-at-heart are already finding much to get excited about as the world's biggest toy companies ready to unleash their newest wares on the world. One item that has gotten us—and fans of fine parody songs everywhere—excited is "Weird Al" Yankovic's induction into the Funko Pop! family. The accordion-loving songwriter behind hits like "Eat It," "White & Nerdy," "Amish Paradise," and "Smells Like Nirvana" shared the news via Twitter, and included what we can only hope is a final rendering of his miniaturized, blockheaded vinyl likeness:

In late December, Funko announced that a Weird Al toy would be coming in 2018 as part of the beloved brand's Pop Rocks series. Though we know he'll be joined by Alice Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, and the members of Mötley Crüe, there's no word yet on exactly when you’ll be able to get your hands on Pop! Al. But knowing that he's coming is enough … for now.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios