Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens
Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five
Song: Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens / Let the Good Times Roll
Artist: Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five
Record Label: Decca Records 23741
Recorded: June 26, 1946
Location: KTI Radio
You’ll hear this song come up on KTI Radio while driving around the streets of Los Angeles. It’s also featured on a soundtrack as a remix by DJ Premier.
It’s an amusing song about Farmer Brown coming across a rather dim-witted miscreant hiding out in the hen house. When the farmer asks, “Who’s there?”, he replies, “There ain’t nobody here but us chickens!”
This song was the No. 1 single of 1946 on Billboard R&B and peaked at No. 6 on the Pop chart.
Louis Jordan was one of the few African-American artists from the first-half of the twentieth century to have a successful crossover following among both black and white audiences. During the swing era, he earned the nickname “The King of the Jukebox” due to regularly topping the Rhythm & Blues “race” charts and having multiple simultaneous Top Ten hits on the Pop charts, ranking fifth on Billboard’s all-time most successful black recording artists. To this day, he still ranks as the top black recording artist with the most weeks at No. 1, earning eighteen No.1 singles and fifty-four Top Ten hits. Four of the singles were million-sellers and from July 1946 - May 1947, he held the No. 1 spot for 44 consecutive weeks with five separate songs.
Jordan was born in Brinkley, Arkansas to James Aaron Jordan, local music teacher and bandleader. His mother, Adell, died when he was young. He studied music under his father, eventually learning the clarinet, saxophone, and piano while playing in his father’s bands. He attended Arkansas Baptist College and majored in music. By 1932, he became playing with the Clarence Williams and Charlie Gaines bands.
In 1936, he was invited to join Chick Webb’s Savoy Ballroom Orchestra. Webb was a fine musician, but physically disabled, allowing Jordan to work on his showmanship introducing songs and singing lead. A young Ella Fitzgerald was also coming into prominence as the band’s lead female vocalist. They often sung duets on stage and would later reprise their partnership when both became major stars. However, in 1938, Webb fired Jordan for trying to convince band members, including Fitzgerald, to join his new band. Webb would pass away from tuberculosis in 1939 leaving Fitzgerald to take over the band.
His band band landed a recording contract with Decca Records in 1938 as The Elks Rendezvous Band. The original lineup was scaled down from a nine-piece to a sextet with Jordon on saxophone and vocals, Courtney Williams on trumpet, Lem Johnson on tenor sax, Clarence Johnson on piano, Charlie Dryaton on bass, and Walter Martin on drums. Martin’s use of tympany (or timpani) drums inspired a new name for the band, the “Tympany Five”.
Though the band had several hits, the first to reach the charts was “I’m Gonna Leave You on the Outskirts of Town”, a response to his earlier recording “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”. It hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Harlem Hit Parade which was followed his his first No. 1 hit “What’s the Use of Getting Sober” in 1942. In 1943, “Five Guys Named Moe” would exemplify Jordon’s fast-paced swinging R&B style that would become his trademark.
Jordon’s influence on music is credited to becoming one of the precursors of rock and roll with major artists, such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and James Brown citing him as a inspiration. His fast-spoken vocal delivery has also been likened to the beginnings on rap. His wide body of work even inspired a 1990 Broadway musical revue based on his songs with the title taken from one of his compositions, Five Guys Named Moe.