Buster Smith (saxophone) 1904-1991 :: Henry “Buster” Smith also known as Professor Smith, was an American jazz alto saxophonist and mentor to Charlie Parker.
Smith was instrumental in instituting the Texas Sax Sound with Count Basie and Lester Young in the 1930s. Smith played saxophone for a range of musicians including Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Earl Hines, though in his career only recorded one solo album in 1959. Despite intending to release a follow-up in the 1960s, Smith was injured in an accident leading to a follow-up never happening.
In 1919, Smith picked cotton for a week to earn himself the money to buy a $3.50 clarinet. Smith learned to play several instruments by the time he was eighteen years old. In 1922, Smith and his family moved to Dallas. He joined the Voodie White Trio, playing Alto saxophone and clarinet.
In 1923, he began his professional music career playing alto saxophone with the medicine shows, though he had to play very loudly to draw in more customers. This experience led to Smith defining his own musical style, known for being loud. The time with the medicine shows also led to Oran “Hot Lips” Page inviting Smith to join his group, the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, in 1925.
When Smith joined the Blue Devils, the line-up consisted of Walter Page, Oran Page, Lester Young, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, and Emir “Bucket” Coleman. They toured the Kansas City area and the Midwest, playing jazz for a year, bringing all of its members into prominence. Basie and Page both left the group; and Smith soon followed. .
After leaving the Blue Devils, Smith and Basie formed the Buster Smith-Count Basie Band of Rhythm, where the two innovated a louder style of Jazz. Buster’s contribution to the unique sound was by using a tenor saxophone reed in his alto saxophone to achieve a louder, “fatter” sound. Lester Young also joined the band and, to complement Smith’s louder sound, he also opted for a heavier reed, using a baritone saxophone reed on his tenor saxophone. This sound was later labelled the Texas Sax Sound. Smith gained a great amount of influence in the Texan music community and industry. Smith mentored legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker during the 1930s, developing a “father-son relationship” with him.
In 1941, Smith decided to return to Dallas and to cease touring, though he remained active in the local music scene. In the following years, he wrote for jazz and blues bands, played often, and taught many young Texan musicians, including Aaron “T-Bone” Walker and Red Garland among others. He also performed session work with artists such as Pete Johnson’s Boogie-Woogie Boys, Eddie Durham, Leo “Snub” Mosley, Bon and His Buddies, and the Don Redman Orchestra.
In 1959, Buster led his first, and only, solo recording session in Fort Worth, as prompted by Atlantic Records. From these sessions, released by Atlantic with the title The Legendary Buster Smith, Smith’s notable songs included “Kansas City Riffs,” “Buster’s Tune,” “E Flat Boogie,” and Kurt Weill’s “September Song.”.
Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (guitar) 1905-1974 :: Arthur Crudup was an American Delta blues singer, songwriter and guitarist. He is best known outside blues circles for writing songs such as “That’s All Right” (1946), “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine”, later covered by Elvis Presley and dozens of other artists.
He sang gospel, then began his career as a blues singer around Clarksdale, Mississippi. As a member of the Harmonizing Four, he visited Chicago in 1939. Crudup stayed in Chicago to work as a solo musician, but barely made a living as a street singer. Record producer Lester Melrose allegedly found him while he was living in a packing crate, introduced him to Tampa Red and signed him to a recording contract with RCA Victor’s Bluebird label.
He recorded with RCA in the late 1940s and with Ace Records, Checker Records and Trumpet Records in the early 1950s and toured throughout the country, specifically black establishments in the South, with Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James (around 1948). He also recorded under the names Elmer James and Percy Lee Crudup. He was popular in the South with records such as “Mean Old ‘Frisco Blues”, “Who’s Been Foolin’ You” and “That’s All Right”.
Crudup stopped recording in the 1950s, because of further battles over royalties. His last Chicago session was in 1951. His 1952-54 recording sessions for Victor were held at radio station WGST in Atlanta, Georgia. He returned to recording with Fire Records and Delmark Records and touring in 1965. Sometimes labeled as “The Father of Rock and Roll”, he accepted this title with some bemusement.
Un-gratified due to the loss of royalties, he would refer to his admirer Presley as ‘Elvin Preston’. Throughout this time Crudup worked as a laborer to augment the non-existent royalties and the small wages he received as a singer.
Crudup returned to Mississippi after a dispute with Melrose over royalties, then went into bootlegging, and later moved to Virginia where he had lived and worked as a musician and laborer. In the early 1970s, two local Virginia activists, Celia Santiago and Margaret Carter, assisted him in an attempt to gain royalties he felt he was due, with little success.
From the mid-1960s, Crudup returned to bootlegging and working as an agricultural laborer, chiefly in Virginia, where he lived with his family including three sons and several of his own siblings. On the Eastern Shore of Virginia, while he lived in relative poverty as a field laborer, he occasionally sang and supplied moonshine to a number of drinking establishments, including one called The Dew-Drop Inn, in Northampton County, for some time prior to his death from complications of heart disease and diabetes.
On a 1970 trip to the U.K., he recorded “Roebuck Man” with local musicians. His last professional engagements were with Bonnie Raitt.
Claude Hopkins (piano) 1903-1984 :: Claude Hopkins was an American jazz stride pianist and bandleader. A highly talented stride piano player and arranger, he left home at the age of only 21 as a sideman with the Wilbur Sweatman Orchestra but stayed less than a year. In 1925, he left for Europe as the musical director of The Revue Negre which starred Josephine Baker with Sidney Bechet in the band.
He returned to the USA in 1927 where, based in Washington, he toured the TOBA circuit with The Ginger Snaps Revue before heading once again for NYC where he took over the band of Charlie Skeets. At this time (1932–36), he led a fairly successful Harlem band employing many jazz musicians who were later to become famous in their own right such as Edmond Hall, Jabbo Smith and Vic Dickenson (although it’s worth noting that his records were arranged to feature his piano more than his band). This was his most successful period with long residencies at the Savoy and Roseland ballrooms and at the Cotton Club. In 1937 he took his band on the road with a great deal of success.
He broke up the band in 1940 and used his arranging talents working for several non-jazz band leaders and for CBS. In 1948/9 he led a “novelty” band briefly but took a jazz band into The Cafe Society in 1950. From 1951 up until his death, he remained in NYC working mostly as a sideman with other Dixieland bands playing at festivals and various New York clubs and recording.
Often under-rated in later years, he was one of jazz’s most important band leaders and has yet to be given full recognition for his achievements.
As popular as Hopkins’ band was, it never achieved the high level of musical brilliance that Ellington, Henderson, Hines, Basie, Webb or Lunceford achieved. Besides Hopkins’ piano being featured within the band, the high-pitched vocals of Orlando Roberson brought the band a good part of its popularity.
He died on 19 February 1984, a disillusioned and dispirited man.
Ron Holloway (sax, tenor) 1953 :: Jazziversary greetings to Ron Holloway. Ron is an American tenor saxophonist. He is listed in the Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz where veteran jazz critic Ira Gitler described Holloway as a “bear-down-hard-bopper who can blow authentic R&B and croon a ballad with warm, blue feeling.”
Holloway is the recipient of 42 Washington Area Music Awards, or Wammies, two of which he received as musician of the year. Holloway has worked with Susan Tedeschi, Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Scott-Heron and Root Boy Slim. He is currently a member of The Warren Haynes Band.
In 1974, Holloway went to see Freddie Hubbard in concert and brought an audio cassette tape he’d made while rehearsing to one of Hubbard’s recordings. During the intermission he introduced himself and played the tape for Hubbard. After hearing the tape, Hubbard invited Holloway to come back and play with him that Sunday night. He did so and at the end of the performance Hubbard extended an open invitation to sit in with him whenever Hubbard was in town.
In the summer of 1977 a new club opened and the performers included Sonny Rollins, Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie. Holloway approached Gillespie’s dressing room and as he had done with Rollins, brought a tape with him- this time of his performance with Rollins. After Gillespie listened to the tape, he asked Holloway if he had brought his horn, to which Holloway confessed he hadn’t because he was concerned about appearing presumptuous. Holloway found himself performing with Gillespie all week. Afterwards, he had a standing invitation to sit in with the band. In 1979 Holloway sat in with Dizzy Gillespie at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, England.
In the fall of 1993, Holloway recorded an album and sent the demo to his mentor, Sonny Rollins. Rollins, then forwarded the recording to Fantasy Records and Holloway was signed to Milestone Records, one of Fantasy’s subsidiary labels, within a week’s time. To date, Holloway has released four albums on Fantasy’s Milestone Records label and another on the Jazzmont label.
Wynonie Harris (vocal) 1915- 1969 :: Wynonie Harris born in Omaha, Nebraska, was an American blues shouter and rhythm and blues singer of upbeat songs, featuring humorous, often ribald lyrics. With fifteen Top 10 hits between 1946 and 1952, Harris is generally considered one of rock and roll’s forerunners, influencing Elvis Presley among others. He was the subject of a 1994 biography by Tony Collins.
With dance partner Velda Shannon, Harris formed a dance team in the early 1930s. The team performed around North Omaha’s flourishing entertainment community, and by 1934 they were a regular attraction at the Ritz Theatre. It was not until 1935, however, that Harris was able to earn his living as an entertainer. While performing at Jim Bell’s new Harlem nightclub with Velda Shannon, Harris began to sing the blues.
He also began traveling frequently to Kansas City, Kansas where he paid close attention to the blues shouters including Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Turner. Harris became a local celebrity in Omaha during the depths of the Great Depression in 1935. Harris’ break in Los Angeles was at a nightclub owned by Curtis Mosby. It was here that Harris became known as “Mr. Blues”.
Due to the 1942-44 musicians’ strike, Harris was unable to pursue a recording career. Instead, he relied on personal appearances. Performing almost continuously, in late 1943 he appeared at the Rhumboogie Club in Chicago. Harris was spotted by Lucky Millinder who asked him to join his band’s tour.
Harris joined on March 24, 1944, while the band was in the middle of a week-long residency at the Regal in Chicago. They moved on to New York, where on April 7 Harris took the stage with Millinder’s band for his debut at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. It was during this performance that Harris first publicly performed “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well” (a song recorded two years earlier by Doc Wheeler’s Sunset Orchestra).
Harris’ success and popularity grew as Millinder’s band toured the country. He and Millinder had a falling out over money. In September 1945 while playing in San Antonio, Texas, Harris quit Millinder’s band. In April 1945, a year after the song was recorded, Decca released “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well”. It became the group’s biggest hit; it went to number one on the Billboard R&B chart on July 14 and stayed there for eight weeks. The song remained on the charts for almost five months, also becoming popular with white audiences. an unusual feat for black musicians of that era.
n July 1945, Harris signed with Philo, a label owned by the brothers Leo and Edward Mesner. Harris’ band was assembled by Johnny Otis, and the group recorded the 78rpm record “Around the Clock”. Although not a chart-topper, the song became popular and was covered by many artists, including Willie Bryant, Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Turner.
Harris went on to record sessions for other labels, including Apollo, Bullet and Aladdin. His greatest success came when he signed for Syd Nathan’s King label, where he enjoyed a series of hits on the U.S. R&B chart in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These included a 1948 cover of Roy Brown’s “Good Rocking Tonight”, “Good Morning Judge” and “All She Wants to Do Is Rock”. In 1946, Harris recorded two singles with pianist Herman “Sonny” Blount, who later earned fame as the eclectic jazz composer and bandleader Sun Ra. In 1950, he released the double-sided hit, “Sittin’ On It All the Time” b/w “Baby, Shame On You” (King 4330) and in 1951, he covered Hank Penny’s “Bloodshot Eyes” (King 4461).
Harris transitioned between several recording contracts between 1954 and 1964. In 1960 he cut six sides for Roulette Records that included a remake of his hit “Bloodshot Eyes” as well as “Sweet Lucy Brown”, “Spread the News”, “Saturday Night”, “Josephine” and “Did You Get the Message”. He also became more indebted, and was forced to live in less glamorous surroundings.
In 1964 Harris resettled for the last time in Los Angeles. His final recordings were three sides which he did for the Chess Records label (in Chicago) in 1964: “The Comeback”, “Buzzard Luck” and “Conjured”.
His final large-scale performance was at the Apollo, New York in November 1967, where he performed with Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Witherspoon and T-Bone Walker.
If I was a betting man on which artists might be the next to eventually step out nationally or beyond from the Greater Baltimore/Washington area (like Emmylou Harris, Frank Zappa, Hot Tuna, Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), Ric Ocasek (The Cars), Cris Jacobs (The Bridge/solo), Roy Buchanan, The Seldom Scene, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Ron Holloway, David Byrne, Beach House, and so many more) I’d put some money on Josh Christina and his krewe - quite possibly “the” sleeper story in our market. (Check out his latest announcement in the video) Why? Because they are passionate about the music they make, they make smart business moves, they know how to market, and the talent and entertainment value is there. What makes his potential clearest to me (besides seeing him live) and makes him the big sleeper story is how he’s quietly building a potentially career-sustaining audience in a genre that few musicians today ever think to go, let alone actually go: old school piano-driven rock n’ roll (think Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, etc). While on the surface, trying to make a living in this might seem like a shot in the dark (it clearly isn’t a piece of cake), it has its advantages: 1) it’s music that’s particularly fun and addictive for the right listener - so casting it to the right people can land fans fairly easily. 2) He has relatively little competition. He’s not trying to stand out in pop, country, etc so this can help his music/story be heard, and sound “fresh” (ironically) in the market, (and a bonus: down the road, sparse competition might help him remain in the limelight longer if/when he scores a broad audience). He and his krewe also seem well aware that the “build it and they will come” strategy almost never works in the music business or any business, let alone in a small niche market. You can tell because they take proven business building steps- they’re super-focused on their goals, use methodical and smart approaches to marketing, get out and play gigs week after week- year after year, and push their music, story, and name out all over the country and even overseas to find and make connections with listeners and potential supporters. Business skills, passion, and talent all together = potentially great underdog story in the making. And to top it off, he’s a super friendly humble guy. If you like seein’ a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on, go check him out.