Louis Jordan’s “Rockin’ Period”
(1954-1958) Discography

compiled by David Gasten

Louis Jordan "The Rock 'n' Roll Years 1955-58" (2011)

Collecting Louis Jordan's rockin' period just got incredibly easy, thanks to the release of Jasmine Records' The Rock 'N' Roll Years 1955-58 (2011). This compilation brings Louis Jordan's X, Vik and Mercury Records sessions together for the first time. Read more about this important reissue in our Collecting Louis Jordan page.

Louis Jordan is to this day one of the most influential black performers in recording history.  Jordan had no less than eighteen #1 hits on the R&B charts in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, a feat that to this day has only been topped by Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin (who both have 20 #1 hits each to their name on the R&B charts).  Jordan also ties for the longest-running R&B #1 of all time (“Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”, 18 weeks in 1946) and is second only to James Brown in the number of top ten singles he has had on the R&B charts (JB had 51, LJ had 50).  Louis Jordan was very instrumental in pushing the sound of pop music from big bands to smaller bands, thereby helping to create jump blues, and then helping increase the intensity of jump blues which eventually was mixed with white culture elements and became rock and roll.  Louis Jordan’s appeal with the black community in the 1940’s was universal to the point that you couldn’t get away from him.  His music was distinctively black, but was also relatively clean lyrically and fun as hey, which allowed him to cross over into the pop market as well, which he did 20 times between 1943 and 1949. 

Although Louis Jordan had helped stoke the fires of intensity in black music, he himself never went over-the-top in the intensity department while with Decca, preferring to keep the music fun and enjoyable for the wide range of audiences that had grown accustomed to his music.  Up to that point in Jordan’s career as bandleader and frontman, he had been exclusively with Decca Records.  Jordan’s final major hit for them was a #5 single from 1951 called “Weak Minded Blues”; three years later, in 1953, the hits had dried up and Decca let him go. 

The intensity bug and the white-culture invasion on jump blues/R&B music was in full swing when Jordan left Decca.  But Jordan’s departure from Decca signaled the end of an era for Jordan.  Unfortunately, like many of the jump blues performers of the late 1940's and early 1950's, Jordan was sadly overlooked as the market for intense black culture jump blues and vocal groups made its way to white teenage audiences.  When the successful R&B indie label Aladdin Records opted to sign Jordan on, Jordan agreed to pull out the big guns and start playing hardball in the intensity department himself. This really started to kick into gear the following year when RCA Records' "indie" subsidiary "X" Records signed Jordan on; they would change their name to Vik Records while Jordan was with them. Sadly, it didn't sell records, and both labels let him go after a handful of sessions.  In 1956, Mercury Records went over-the-top in giving Jordan a large recording budget and staging a "comeback" for Jordan. This too failed, and Mercury let Jordan go in 1958. But regardless, the music he would create for Aladdin, “X”, Vik, and Mercury Records from 1954 to 1958 is incredibly solid and intense, and just as fun as ever. 

It is this “rockin’” period of Jordan’s career that has been the most influential to us and to other swing and jump blues revivalists worldwide, and because of that, we are publishing Louis Jordan’s “Rockin’ Period” Discography in its entirety here.

Most of the tracks in this discography are available on the following CD's:

RR - Rock 'n' Roll (Mercury/Polygram [France], 1989)
CA - One Guy Named Louis: The Complete Aladdin Sessions (Capitol Jazz [USA], 1992)
RC - Rock 'n Roll Call (Bluebird Records/RCA [USA], 1993)
AX - The Aladdin, X & Vik Recordings 1953-55 (Rev-Ola Records [UK], 2006)
RD - Rock Doc! Louis Jordan on Mercury 1956-1957 (Rev-Ola Records [UK], 2008)
RY - The Rock 'N' Roll Years 1955-58 (Jasmine Rercords [UK], 2011)


—Louis Jordan on Aladdin Records—

Title

Label

Serial No.

Recorded
(Month/Day/Year)

Available on:

 “Whiskey Do Your Stuff” b/w “Dad Gum Ya Hide, Boy”

Aladdin

3223

1-?-1954

CA, AX

“I’ll Die Happy” b/w “Ooo-Wee”

"

3227

2-?-1954/1-?-1954

"

“A Dollar Down” b/w “Hurry Home”

"

3243

2-?-1954/4-?-1954

"

“I Seen Watcha Done” b/w “Messy Bessy”

"

3246

1-?-1954/2-?-1954

"

“Louie’s Blues” b/w “If I Had Any Sense, I’d Go Back Home”

"

3249

2-?-1954/4-?-1954

"

“Yeah, Yeah Baby!” b/w “Put Some Money in the Pot, Boy (‘Cause the Juice is Running Low)”

"

3264

2-?-1954

"

“Fat Back and Corn Liquor” b/w “The Dripper”

"

3270

2-?-1954/1-?-1954

"

“Gal, You Need a Whippin’” b/w “Time is a Passin’”

"

3279

1-?-1954

"

“Gotta Go” b/w “It’s Hard to be Good Without You”

"

3295

2-?-1954/1-?-1954

"

“’Til We Two Are One”

"

Initially unreleased

1-?-1954

"

“Private Property (No Trespassing)”, “For You”

"

Initially unreleased

2-?-1954

"

Louis Jordan’s Aladdin contract consisted of three sessions (or series of sessions) in January, February, and April of 1954.  The exact dates of the recordings are unknown.  The result was nine singles and three unreleased tracks, or 21 songs in all.  All of these recordings (including the initially unreleased songs) are available on two different compilations: One Guy Named Louis: The Complete Aladdin Sessions (Capitol Jazz [USA], 1992) and The Aladdin, X, and Vik Recordings 1953-1955 (Rev-Ola Records [UK], 2006). 

Something of interest: the liner notes of One Guy Named Louis, music critic Billy Vera discusses the lost opportunity of the LJ Aladdin period’s potential teenage appeal.  He concludes his thoughts with the statement, “I suspect that those of us who are interested in this music in the 1990’s will only ever see adolescence again as parents of teens.”  Little did he know that the 1990’s would conclude with a revival of interest in swing with that very audience, and that a dozen years after that, the interest would revive yet again with young people in the form of The Vintage Movement.  I should also mention that I have DJ’ed for teenagers using the One Guy Named Louis disc and they have absolutely loved it.  It goes to show that you never know.



—Louis Jordan on “X”/Vik Records—
(RCA subsidiary)

Title

Label

Serial No.

Recorded
(Month/Day/Year)

Available on:

“Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)” b/w “It’s Been Said”

“X”

0116

3-18-1955

RC, AX, RY

“Bananas” b/w “Baby Let’s Do It Up”

"

0148

3-18-1955

"

“Slow, Smooth, and Easy”

"

Initially unreleased

3-18-1955

"

“Slow, Smooth, and Easy” an unreleased song?!  That’s a crime; it's one of the best in the LJ catalog.  These three songs from the March 18, 1955, are all great, but “Slow, Smooth and Easy” was not released in any form until Bear Family trawled the vaults and released two comprehensive compilations of the “X”, Vik and Mercury material on vinyl in the mid-1980’s.  Better late than never, I guess, but good grief!  That is too long of a wait for such a great tune.

“Chicken Back” b/w “Where Can I Go?”

"

0182

10-18-1955

"

“Chicken Back” is a bopping, bouncy tune about how all parts of the chicken are good to eat, so it would count as a classic “soul food” song ala the standard “Frim Fram Sauce” or LJ’s own “Beans and Corn Bread” and "Fatback and Corn Liquor".

“Rock N’ Roll Call” b/w “Baby, You’re Just too Much”

Vik

0192

10-18-1955

"

On September 10, 1955, RCA announced that they would rechristen their new “indie” subsidiary “X” Records under the name of Vik Records.  The name change commenced with single # 184 (“Turn the Light On” b/w ”Boom-De-De-Boom” by Eddie Fontaine; which was released as both an “X” and a Vic single, fyi). This makes the “Rock N’ Roll Call” 45 LJ’s only single on the Vik label, even though both “Chicken Back” b/w “Where Can I Go?” and “Rock N’ Roll Call” b/w “Baby, You’re Just too Much” were recorded during the same session.

“Rock N’ Roll Call” b/w “Baby, You’re Just too Much” is one hard-jumpin' single that announces in no uncertain terms that LJ is in the intensity game for real now, and doing it with the best of ‘em!  “Rock N’ Roll Call” is a list song that names off a bunch of random names of people who are invited to come rock and roll with Louis the Jordan; it ends with LJ singing “If I haven’t called your name, you’re invited just the same; come on one and all, let’s rock and roll and have a ball!”  

“Baby, You’re Just too Much” is the song that originally alerted me to the fact that there was a later, harder rockin’ period of LJ’s music that I needed to gravitate to. I discovered this tune on a 1990’s swing revival-period compilation called Lovers’ Swing (BMG/RCA Victor, 1999). “Baby, You’re Just too Much” and “Slow Smooth and Easy” are in my mind the best two songs of the “X”/Vik period and two of the best he ever recorded.

“A Man Ain’t a Man”, “Texas Stew”, “Hard Head”

Vik

Initially unreleased

4-17-1956

RC, RY

The “X”/Vik recordings consisted of four singles plus four unreleased tracks, so twelve tracks in all.  And what a line up of tunes it is!  The “X”/Vik tracks catch LJ finishing the transition toward a harder jumpin' sound that he began making during the Aladdin period, but it’s on the sessions that he finally pulls out all the stops and pours in the whole can of boss sauce.

The final three tracks LJ recorded for Vik were not released initially and, like “Slow, Smooth, and Easy”, were not released until Bear Family uncovered them in the mid-1980’s.  All three of the songs were written by Eddie Curtis and have a spacious, large-band feel.  “Hard Head” and “A Man Ain’t A Man” would become late-career concert staples for LJ, and we would record them both twice more.  Both “Hard Head” and “A Man Ain’t A Man” are awash with harp (not harmonica, mind you, but celestial-sounding harp!) of all things.  Frankly, the sound of the harp doesn’t fit these jump blues tracks well at all, although the performances are quite good otherwise.  “Texas Stew” and “A Man Ain’t A Man” both feature lady vocalist Dorothy Smith, who would be featured prominently in LJ’s second Mercury LP Man, We’re Wailin’ (1957).

An important caveat: if you purchase Cherry Red subsidiary Rev-Ola’s The Aladdin, X, and Vik Recordings 1953-1955 (2006), you will have everything except for the songs from this 4-17-1956 session (“A Man Ain’t a Man”, “Texas Stew”, “Hard Head”).  I am assuming that these were omitted due to space constraints on the CD.

 


—Louis Jordan on Mercury Records—

 Louis Jordan "Somebody Up There Digs Me

12” LP: Somebody Up There Digs Me

(Mercury MG 20242, 1956)

Track List:
1. Caldonia*
2. Is You Is Or Is You Ain't (Ma’ Baby)*
3. Run Joe †
4. Early In The Morning †
5. Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie*
6. Knock Me A Kiss*
_____

7. Let The Good Times Roll* 
8. Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying**
9. Beware, Brother, Beware *
10. I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts of Town ** 
11. Salt Pork, West Virginia †
12. Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens*

 

* Recorded 10-22-1956
** Recorded 10-23-1956
† Recorded 10-29-1956

All tracks arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones


This album as available in its entirely on the following reissues and compilations:

Rock ‘N’ Roll (Mercury/Polygram [France], 1989)
No Moe!  The Greatest Hits (Polygram [USA], 1992)
Somebody Up There Digs Me (Universal [Japan], 2005)
Rock Doc! Louis Jordan on Mercury 1956-57 (Rev-Ola [UK], 2008)
The Rock 'N' Roll Years 1955-58 (Jasmine Rercords [UK], 2011)

 

“Caldonia,” “Let the Good Times Roll”, and “Salt Pork West Virginia” are on Various Artists: Mercury Rhythm and Blues 1949-1962 (1990).

 

From the liner notes of the Rock ‘N’ Roll (1989) compilation:

 

"Louis Jordan moved to Mercury [Records] in 1956…In the hope of obtaining a hit, the Mercury company put all its resources into the recordings.  The results of the first session [featured on this LP] weer excellent.  With the complicity of a luxury orchestra…brought together by Quincy Jones, who officiated as arranger, Louis Jordan came up with good new versions of his old hits, using a more contemporary vein (“Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie” and “Caldonia” with a superb contribution from guitarist Mickey Baker) that unfortunately made no impact on the charts." (p. 5)

 

Somebody Up There Digs Me was LJ’s attempt to revive his career with scorching, high-octane rock and roll versions of his hits from the 1940’s.  In my opinion, this one album is probably the best way to get into Louis Jordan for the novice, and is probably the one essential album every fan of swing and jump blues music should have on their iPod.  This album gives you a good sampling of the songs LJ is still famous for today, at intensity levels comparable to what we are used to today, and all in excellent sound quality.   Not to mention, it has the classic stamp of fun that makes LJ some of the happiest and best music you can possibly get into.  It really doesn’t get much better than this. The No Moe! The Greatest Hits compilation is cheap and features the entire album plus four tracks from the follow-up LP Man, We’re Wailin’ (1957) as well, so it’s a great way to get this album.

7” non-LP singles and initially unreleased tracks:

Title

Label

Serial No.

Recorded
(Month/Day/
Year)

Available on:

“Big Bess” b/w “Cat Scratchin’”

Mercury

70993

10-23-1956

RR, RD, RY;
both tracks are also on
Various Artists: Mercury Rhythm and Blues 1949-1962(Polygram, 1990)

These are two new (at the time) songs recorded during the Somebody Up There Digs Me sessions (the same session as “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” and “I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts of Town" were recorded in, to be exact) and also feature the arranging and conducting efforts of the great Quincy Jones.  This single is another scorcher that is not to be missed. 

“Big Bess” tears it up with honkin’ saxophone and handclaps propelling the proceedings, and runs at about the same tempo as Somebody Up There Digs Me’s high-octane version of “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”.  “Cat Scratchin’” is a little more mid-tempo but still intense, and is a story about Louis and his friends painting the town red and getting into trouble with the law.  One verse has one of Louis’ friends landing in jail, and it contains these great lines: “I ran to the judge and said, ‘What did he do?’, and he said, ‘He was crawling around Main Street like a tiger in a zoo.’”  These two songs are definitely worth the search.

“Rock Doc” b/w “Morning Light”

Mercury

70152

1-25-1957

Both sides on RR and RY; "Rock Doc" on RD

“Rock Doc” is a fun tune about gloriously failing sanity tests in a psychoanalyst’s office.  The b-side, “Morning Light”, was left off of Rev-Ola’s Rock Doc!  Louis Jordan on Mercury 1956-57, probably for space reasons.  Rev-Ola’s compilations are rather infamous for leaving off stuff and not telling you what they left out.  However, it is on Rock ‘N’ Roll, the previous CD compilation of this material, and on the Jasmine Records compilaiton The Rock 'n' Roll Years 1955-58.

“Fire” b/w “Ella Mae”

Mercury

71106

1-25-1957

RR, RD, RY;
both tracks are also on
Various Artists: Mercury Rhythm and Blues 1949-1962(Polygram, 1990)

“Fire” (Take 4, without overdubs)

Mercury

Initially unreleased

1-25-1957

NOT AVAILABLE ON CD;currently only available on Rockin' And Jivin' Vol. 1 (Bear Family [Germany], 1986; LP ONLY)

The final release version is overdubbed with sirens and Louis Jordan yelling, “Help! Help!” to get the idea that he’s on fire and needs a woman to quench the fire.  It also has some handclap overdubs.  This unreleased, non-overdubbed version has to date only been released on a now out of print vinyl album released by Bear Family in the 1986. 

“I Want to Know”, “I’ve Found My Peace of Mind”

Mercury

Initially unreleased

c. early summer 1957

RY

“I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”, “A Day Away From You”

Mercury

Initially unreleased

c. early summer 1957

RY

Here’s a complete session that went unreleased until Bear Family got to them and released them on their two Rockin' And Jivin' LP’s in the 1980’s. They've since seen a CD reissue on Jasmine Records' The Rock 'N' Roll Years 1955-58 (2011). “I’ve Found My Peace of Mind” was rerecorded and released on the second LJ Mercury LP, Man, We’re Wailin’ (1957), which we will discuss next.

Louis Jordan "Man We're Wailin'" (1957)

12” LP: Man, We’re Wailin’

(Mercury MG 20331, 1957)

Track List:
1. Saturday Night Fish Fry*§
2. Sunday**
3. The Nearness of You (instrumental)†
4. I’ve Found My Peace of Mind†§
5. I Never Had a Chance*
6. I Got My Mo-jo Working**§
_____

7. A Man Ain’t a Man**§
8. The Slop (instrumental)**
9. Sweet Lorraine**
10. Route 66 (Dorothy Smith, lead vocal)*
11. The Jamf (instrumental)*
12. I Hadn’t Anyone Till You (instrumental)**

 

* Recorded 8-28-1957
** Recorded Late August 1957
† Recorded Early September 1957

§Featuring Dorothy Smith on background vocals



This album as available in its entirely on the following releases:

Man, We’re Wailin’ (Universal [Japan], 2005)  

The Rock 'N' Roll Years 1955-58 (Jasmine Rercords [UK], 2011)

 

Other CD compilations which contain portions of Man, We’re Wailin’:

 

Rock ‘N’ Roll (Polygram [France], 1989) (“Saturday Night Fish Fry”, “I Got My Mojo Working”, “The Jamf”)

No Moe!  The Greatest Hits (Polygram [USA], 1992) (“Saturday Night Fish Fry”, “Sunday”, “The Slop”, “Sweet Lorraine”)

Rock Doc!  Louis Jordan on Mercury 1956-57 (Rev-Ola [UK], 2008)  (all tracks except “I Never Had the Chance”)

 

_____

 

The original liner notes bill Man, We’re Wailin’ as:

 

“Louis Jordan And His Brilliant Tympany 5 In A Typical Late, Late, Late Night Club Performance.”

 

You pretty much can’t ask for a more apt and succinct description of this album.  The size of the band is cut down significantly, with the entire horn section replaced by a Hammond-style organ.  The organ and smaller band give the album a definite “after hours” mood that has its jumping moments (e.g. “Saturday Night Fish Fry” and the instrumentals “The Slop” and “The Jamf”), but definitely gravitates toward smoky, sexy late-night music.  In that regard you could say it’s the closest LJ came to making a bachelor pad album.

 

“I’ve Found My Peace of Mind” has a slight gospel feel to it, and “I Got My Mo-jo Working” and “A Man Ain’t a Man” swing gently and are great for the cool-down part of a swing dance.  “I Never Had a Chance” and the instrumentals “The Nearness of You” and “I Hadn’t Anyone ‘Till You” are all classic end-of-the-night slow dance tracks that make you want to grab a girl that you really like and gaze lovingly and caringly into her eyes as the two of you hold each other and sway softly back and forth.  Yes, the vibe is quite different from the hard-rocking Somebody Up There Digs Me, even though the rockin’ portions of the album jump with the best of ‘em.  But everybody I know that post pubescent loves slow music of some kind, and this atmospheric LP transcends time, space, and age range in its appeal to the night-owl and romantic in all of us.

 

Man, We’re Wailin’ is to my knowledge the LJ album that features lady vocalist Dorothy Smith the most prominently.  Dorothy provides prominent backing vocals on several of the tracks, and even takes over on lead vocals on their unique rendition of “Route 66”.  I have no idea what became of Dorothy Smith or who else she sang for but she did a great job on the material she sings here and on the aforementioned Vik sessions, namely “Texas Stew”.

“Because of You” (Lead vocal by Austin Powell), “I Cried for You” (lead vocal by Dorothy Smith)

Mercury

Initially unreleased

8-28-1957

RY

These are two more songs from the Man, We’re Wailin’ sessions recorded alongside Dorothy Smith’s “Route 66” that didn’t make it to the album.  Both feature lead vocals by singers other than Louis Jordan. 

“Sweet Hunk of Junk”, “Wish I Could Make Some Money”

Mercury

71319

6-9-1958

Both tracks on RY; “Sweet Hunk of Junk” ONLY on Various Artists: Mercury Rhythm and Blues 1949-1962(Polygram, 1990)

“I Love You So”, “That’s What True Love Can Do”

Mercury

Initially unreleased

6-9-1958

RY

 

SPECIAL MENTION:

Posthumous 1980's releases of Bear family's vinyl-only Rockin' and Jivin' LP's, which contain the complete LJ Mercury Sessions; these are currently out-of-print

Louis JOrdan "ROckin' and Jivin' Vol. 1" (1986)

12” LP: Rockin' And Jivin' Vol. 1

(Bear Family Records [Germany],  BFX 15201, 1986)

Track List:
1. Big Bess**
2. Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens*
3. Choo Choo Ch'boogie*
4. Knock Me A Kiss*
5. Caldonia*
6. Let The Good Times Roll*
7. Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby*
8. Beware Brother Beware*
9. Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying*
10. I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town*
______

11. Salt Pork, West Virginia*
12. Run Joe*
13. Early In The Morning*
14. Cat Scratchin'**
15. Morning Light**
16. Fire Take 4 (no overdubs)†
17. Rock Doc**
18. Ella Mae**
19. I Want To Know†
20. I've Found My Peace Of Mind (earlier version)†

21. Fire Take 8**

* From Somebody Up There Digs Me (Mercury, 1956)
** Non-LP single
† Unreleased track

Italics Denotes Otherwise Unavailable Tracks

Louis Jordan "Rockin' and Jivin' Vol. 2"

12” LP: Rockin' And Jivin' Vol. 2

(Bear Family Records [Germany],  BFX 15201, 198?)

Track List:
1. The Jamf*
2. Saturday Night Fish Fry*
3. I Never Had A Chance*
4. Got My Mojo Working*
5. Sunday*
6. Sweet Lorraine*
7. The Slop*
8. I Hadn't Anyone Till You*
9. The Nearness Of You*
10. Because Of You†
______

11. A Man Ain't A Man*
12. I've Found My Peace Of Mind*
13. Sweet Hunk Of Junk**
14. I Love You So†
15. Wish I Could Make Some Money**
16. That's What True Love Can Do†
17. I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire†
18. A Day Away From You†

19. Route 66*
20. I Cried For You†

* From Man, We’re Wailin’ (Mercury, 1957)
** Non-LP single
† Unreleased track

Italics Denotes Otherwise Unavailable Tracks