In 1956 I was living in Suffolk; I had subscriptions to both the MM and the NME and one of them reviewed an LP by Joe Turner, it was titled ‘The Boss of the Blues’ on the Atlantic label. It was such a rave review that I immediately bought a copy and it was indeed as good/great as the reviewer said it was. If I had to choose a top 10 from my entire collection of records this one would definitely be in there.
A little background: When the ban on American musicians performing in England was lifted in the early 50’s the Count Basie band was a regular visitor, they probably came at least once a year, sometimes twice. I loved the Basie band and went to see them whenever possible, consequently I was familiar with all of the musicians. It turned out that the backing band on the Joe Turner album were almost all Basie-ites so for me that was a double treat, the king of Kansas City blues plus all those guys I’d come to love.
Just a word re. Kansas City; when the US Navy shut down the brothels in Storyville in New Orleans in 1917 they eliminated the places where all the jazz musicians worked, hence they all hit the road, highway 61 heading north for NY, Chicago, LA and Kansas City. Each city absorbed them and there they evolved different styles of jazz in each, Kansas City being perhaps the most unique. Kansas City jazz is more blues based and more swing oriented than any of the others and it has the longest list of superstar musicians who started life there; they include, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Count Basie, Jimmy Lunceford, Pete Johnson, Ben Webster and dozens more, it was the most fertile jazz source in the country and in 1936 Columbia record producer John H. Hammond launched his career by discovering Kansas City talent starting with Count Basie who he heard on a radio broadcast from a KC club.
Another side note, Robert Altman was a fierce Kansas City jazz fan, in 1996 he produced and directed a great film which is totally based on the KC jazz scene of the 30’s, well worth seeing, it’s title, ‘Kansas City’. It was nominated for a Palme d’Or. Plus In 1979 there was a documentary film starring Basie and Big Joe Turner, and featuring many performers from the original era. It’s titled ‘The Last of the Blue Devils’. If you haven’t guessed by now, Kansas City jazz is the style I’m most addicted to and what much of my vinyl jazz is comprised of.
So when I departed England for Los Angeles in 1958 I packed just a few personal belongings, my LP’s and about a dozen books on the subject of jazz plus whatever clothes I had. Boss of the Blues was absolutely included and it’s still played fairly regularly and the books are still on my bookshelf. Many years later, possibly in the early 80’s, I met Joe Turner and I asked him to autograph my album, he did so with a black felt tip, right across the cover BIG JOE TURNER FROM KC. He died in LA in 1985 and I went to his funeral as did several thousand others.
It came as a huge surprise to recently find several cuts from the album on youtube, though as the poster commented it is very rare and almost impossible to find so rather than my usual post of one cut I’ll post three.
Here’s Joe Turner, The Boss of the Blues and here he sings Kansas City Jazz.
The personnel are:
- Lawrence Brown – trombone
- Pete Brown – alto saxophone
- Freddie Green – guitar
- Pete Johnson – piano
- Cliff Leeman – drums
- Joe Newman – trumpet
- Jimmy Nottingham – trumpet
- Walter Page – double bass
- Seldon Powell – tenor saxophone
- Big Joe Turner – vocals
- Frank Wess – tenor saxophone