Although his name is not widely remembered today, alto saxophonist and bandleader Louis Jordan was the most popular African-American artist of the 1940s. This guy was big – think Jay-Z or Kobe Bryant big and you’ll get the picture. Jordan placed an astounding 57 hits on the Billboard Jukebox charts during the ’40s, and was a major influence on future superstars like James Brown, Bill Haley, BB King, and Chuck Berry. Why? Because more than any other artist he was responsible for designing the model on which today’s rock and pop groups are based.
Louis Jordan got his start as a sideman in the legendary big band of drummer Chick Webb. With the decline of swing in the mid-’40s, he struck out on his own, determined to create a small combo that could still deliver the power and showmanship people had come to expect from the big bands.
Part of Jordan’s formula relied on a relatively new invention called the electric guitar (and later, electric bass when it was created in 1949). He also combined other concepts like boogie-woogie blues riffs and catchy chorus-like hooks to bolster his preacher-like rap style of vocal delivery.
While this was all groundbreaking stuff, the heart of Jordan’s sound came from the intense shuffle feels that he commanded from his drummers. Light yet powerful and pulsating, these jumping beats drove dancers nuts, and gave rise to a popular sound that by the end of the ’40s would be dubbed rhythm and blues. Jordan’s R&B-style combos set a new standard, one that would be used by every new generation of pop musician from rockers to hip-hoppers.
To learn more about the drummers and grooves of Louis Jordan, be sure to check out my latest book, The Commandments Of Early Rhythm And Blues Drumming.
Daniel Glass is the drummer for Royal Crown Revue and the coauthor (with Zoro) of the award-winning Commandments of Early Rhythm And Blues Drumming. To hear audio versions of “Moment In History,” please visit DanielGlass.com.