Jordan, Louis (Thomas)
Jordan, Louis (Thomas)
Jordan, Louis (Thomas), American singer, saxophonist, and bandleader; b. Brinkley, Ark., July 8, 1908; d. Los Angeles, Feb. 4, 1975. Jordan was the most successful R&B musician of the 1940s and had a tremendous influence on subsequent R&B and rock ’n’ roll performers, including Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Fats Domino, Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and James Brown. Himself influenced by Fats Waller and Cab Calloway, Jordan evolved a rhythmic small-group style with his Tympany Five that was initially dubbed “jump blues” Many of his songs were novelties, and his performances usually had a comic edge. His hits included “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (My Baby),” “Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie” and “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens.”
Jordan’s parents were James Aaron and Adell Jordan; his father was a music teacher, a bandleader, and a musician with touring minstrel shows. When Louis was seven, his father began to tutor him in music, and he joined the town brass band at nine. As a teenager he played clarinet and saxophone in minstrel shows. In 1927 he moved to Little Rock and began playing in local bands. He also married for the first time, to a woman named Julia. After playing around Ark. for a few years, he moved to the North in 1932 and played in bands in Philadelphia and N.Y. He married dancer Ida Fields before obtaining a divorce from his first wife.
Jordan joined Chick Webb’s Orch. in the summer of 1936. He stayed with Webb two years, then launched his own band at the Elks Rendezvous club in N.Y. in August 1938. He was signed to Decca Records and made his first recordings under his own name on Dec. 29, 1938, resulting in the 1939 single “Honey in the Bee Ball” (music and lyrics by Jordan)/“Barnacle Bill the Sailor” (music and lyrics by Carson Robinson and Frank Luther), credited to The Louie Jordan Elks Rendezvous Band. By the time of his second Decca release, he had adopted the billing Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five. Jordan spent four years building his name as a recording and touring attraction. He divorced his second wife and married Felice Ernestine “Fleecie” Moore on March 2, 1943. They divorced in 1951.
Jordan’s first hit on what were then called the race charts (the term rhythm and blues, or R&B, was coined later in the decade) came with the novelty tune “What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You Gonna Get Drunk Again)” (music and lyrics by B. Meyers), which went to #1 in January 1943. But his breakthrough success came with “Ration Blues” (music and lyrics by Jordan, An-thonio Cosey, and Collenane Clark), which topped the R&B charts in January 1944 and the country charts in February 1944, and became his first entry on the pop charts. “G. I. Jive” (music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer) topped the R&B charts in July and the pop charts in August, while its flip side, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (My Baby)” (music and lyrics by Billy Austin and Jordan) also reached the Top Ten of the R&B and pop charts and went to #1 on the country charts in July. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters released a cover version that also became a Top Ten pop hit, and the song was featured in several films over the next year, including the all-star Follow the Boys, in which Jordan performed it. As his fame increased, he also appeared in several low-budget movies during the 1940s, among them Meet Miss Bobby Socks (1944); Swing Parade of 1946 (1946); Beware (1946); Reet Petite and Gone (1947); and Look Out Sister (1949), as well as many shorts and “soundies,” which served as precursors to music videos.
Jordan dominated the R&B charts during the second half of the 1940s, scoring a series of #1 hits: “Mop! Mop!” (music and lyrics by Claude Demetrius and J. Mayo Williams; April 1945); “Caldonia” (music and lyrics credited to Jordan’s wife, Fleecie Moore, for contractual reasons, though, like other songs credited to her, he actually wrote it; June 1945), also a pop Top Ten; “Buzz Me” (music and lyrics by Danny Baxter, a pseudonym for Dave Dexter, and Fleecie Moore; January 1946), also a pop Top Ten; “Don’t Worry ’Bout That Mule” (music and lyrics by Jordan and Bill Davis; March 1946); with Ella Fitzgerald, “Stone Cold Dead in the Market (He Had It Coming)” (music and lyrics by Frederick Wilmoth Hendricks under his stage name, Wilmouth Houdini; July 1946), also a pop Top Ten; the two-million-selling “Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie” (music and lyrics by Denver Darling, Vaughan Horton, and Milt Gabler; August 1946), also a pop Top Ten; “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman (They’ll Do It Every Time)” (music and lyrics by Fleecie Moore and Claude Demetrius; November 1946; “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens” (music and lyrics by Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney; January 1947), also a pop Top Ten; “Texas and Pacific” (music and lyrics by Jack Wolf Fine and Joseph E. Hirsch; April 1947); ‘Jack, You’re Dead” (music and lyrics by Dick Miles and Walter Bishop; June 1947); “Boogie Woogie Blue Plate” (music by Joe Bushkin, lyrics by John De Vries; August 1947); “Run Joe” (music and lyrics by Dr. Walter Merrick, Joe Willoughby, and Jordan; July 1948); “Beans and Corn Bread” (music and lyrics by Freddie Clark and Fleecie Moore; October 1949); and “Saturday Night Fish Fry” (music and lyrics by Ellis Walsh and Jordan; October 1949). Jordan also peaked in the R&B and pop Top Ten with “Open the Door, Richard!” (music by Jack McVea and Don Ho well, lyrics by Clinton “Dusty” Fletcher and John Mason; March 1947) and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser; July 1949), a duet with Ella Fitzgerald.
After scoring a final R&B #1, “Blue Light Boogie” (music and lyrics by Jessie Mae Robinson and Jordan), in September 1950, Jordan declined rapidly as a record seller, last reaching the R&B charts in May 1951. In the summer of 1951 he organized a big band that played through the end of the year, after which he reverted to The Tympany Five. He married his long-time traveling companion Florence (Vicki) Hayes Johnson on Nov. 14.
Jordan left Decca in 1954 and recorded for several labels without commercial success. After 1957, he no longer maintained The Tympany Five as a permanent touring band, instead contracting musicians for specific tours or working as a solo artist. After divorcing his fourth wife, he married dancer and singer Martha Weaver on June 14, 1966; she often performed with him. He toured regularly until October 1974, when he suffered a heart attack. A second heart attack killed him at age 66 in 1975. A theatrical revue based on his hits, Five Guys Named Moe, was mounted in England in 1990, winning the Olivier Award for best musical; it opened on Broadway on April 8, 1992, where it played 445 performances.
Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five (1944); One Guy Named Louis (1954); Let the Good Times Roll (1963); Louis Jordan & His Orchestra (1976); The Best of Louis Jordan (1977); No Moe! Louis Jordan: The Greatest Hits (1992); Let The Good Times Roll: The Anthology 1938-1953 (1999); Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie (1999); Louis Jordan: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection (1999).
J. Lubin and D. Garçon, L. J. Discographie (Levallois-Perret, France, 1987); J. Chilton, Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of L. J. and His Music (London, 1992).