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Episode #727 – Lil Greenwood

Air Week: April 8-14, 2024

Lil Greenwood

This week, the “Juke In The Back” pays tribute to a very dynamic, soulful and often passed over R&B female vocalist: Lil Greenwood. Today, Lil Greenwood is best remembered as a vocalist for Duke Ellington during the late ’50s and early ’60s, but it’s her R&B recordings from 1950-1954 that are the real standouts. She recorded for the Modern, Specialty and Federal labels and often had vocal groups like The Four Jacks and The Lamplighters backing her up. Hear Lil’s story and some of her greatest records on the “Juke In The Back” with Matt The Cat.

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Episode #726 – Percy Mayfield: 1949-60

Air Week: April 1-7, 2024

Percy Mayfield: 1949-60

Some songwriters and singers just know how to tap into deepest regions of sadness, passion and truth. Such is the musical prowess of Percy Mayfield, the “Poet Laureate Of The Blues.” Mayfield was born in rural Louisiana in 1920 and found he had a knack for writing poetry early on in life. By high school, he was putting his poems to music and finding local encouragement. By the early 1940s, he was settled in Los Angeles doing odd jobs, trying to make it as a songwriter and a singer. In ’49, he took his song, “Two Years Of Torture” to Supreme Records in LA, hoping that their artist, Jimmy Witherspoon would record it, but they were so impressed with Mayfield, that they had him wax it instead. “Two Years Of Torture” sold well enough around California to peak the interest of record man, Art Rupe of Specialty Records. He signed Mayfield in 1950 and they struck gold right out of the gate with his composition, “Please Send Me Someone To Love,” his only #1 record. What followed was six consecutive charging singles and a jukebox full of songs about pain, suffering and lonliness.This week, Matt The Cat digs through the musical treasure trove of fantastic 78s by the one and only Percy Mayfield.

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Episode #725 – Guitar Slim

Air Week: March 25-31, 2024

Guitar Slim

Eddie Jones grew up in Hollandale, MS, pickin’ cotton and dreaming of a better life when ambition and musical talent plucked him from his situation, christened him Guitar Slim and made him a star. After moving to New Orleans and befriending Huey “Piano” Smith, the two became a sensation at the hep Tiajuana Club, landing them a deal with Imperial Records. The two singles released by the label failed to chart and they were dropped, but then serendipitously found themselves in Nashville cutting a record for Jim Bulleit’s J-B Records. “Feelin’ Sad” b/w “Certainly All” got some airplay in major cities and hit #1 on the local New Orleans chart, but failed to hit nationally. That was enough to get bookings at NOLA’s premier club, The Dew Drop Inn, where Slim drove crowds into a frenzy with his stage antics. Johnny Vincent at Specialty Records hounded Guitar Slim until he signed with the label, initially beating out Atlantic Records. Right out of the gate, Guitar Slim scored a monster hit with “The Things That I Used To Do,” which topped the national R&B lists and became the biggest R&B hit of 1954. That success would never be topped or matched, but Guitar Slim tried and this week, Matt The Cat fills the “Juke In The Back” with Slim’s fantastic recordings for Imperial, J-B, Specialty and Atco. 

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Episode #724 – The Cleftones

Air Week: March 18-24, 2024

The Cleftones

This week, Matt The Cat looks at one of the greatest Doo Wop groups, The Cleftones, through an archival interview with the late Herbie Cox. Cox was a founding member of this unique sounding vocal group from Queens, NY. Started in 1955, The Cleftones enjoyed two national top 10 R&B records with “Little Girl Of Mine” in 1956 and “Heart & Soul” in 1961 and were one of the few vocal groups to score hits in two decades. Matt The Cat was fortunate enough to have interviewed Herb Cox and this week he shares that wonderful interview, packed with Herbie’s remembrances of the early days of The Cleftones from the first records to the first package tours. This sprawling interview is littered with The Cleftones’ greatest sides jumpin’ out of the ol’ Rockola on this week’s “Juke In The Back.” 

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Episode #723 – Slim Gaillard

Air Week: March 11-17, 2024

Slim Gaillard

This week, we honor the “Prince Of Vout,” Mr. McVouty himself, Slim Gaillard. He was a one-of-a-kind-o-reenee as he spoke 7 languages including his own language of Vout, played guitar, piano, drums and several other instruments, wrote off-beat tunes that were always drenched in rhythm and jive and appeared on TV and in several motion pictures. Slim Gaillard’s beginnings are shrouded in mystery, but we know he burst on the scene with Slam Stewart in 1938 with the classic “Flat Feet Floogee,” which was an international hit. In the ’40s, he worked with bop cats, Dodo Marmarosa, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. He sang songs about Armenian menus, groove juice cocktails, cement mixers and poodles, jumping back and forth from English to Vout. There is only one Slim Gaillard and you’ve got to dig his amazing story, this week on the “Juke In The Back” with Matt The Cat-o-roonee. 

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Episode #722 – Duke & Peacock Records

Air Week: March 4-10, 2024

Duke & Peacock Records

This week, the entire “Juke In The Back” is loaded with records from the catalog of Duke/Peacock Records.  Don Robey started Peacock in 1949 in order to record Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, whom he also managed.  In 1953, Robey took over Duke Records (which was owned by David J. Mattis and Bill Fitzgerald) and a R&B empire was born.  Matt The Cat shares the history and music, which features some of the greatest R&B talents of all-time, including: Bobby “Blue” Bland, Johnny Ace, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Big Mama Thornton, Junior Parker and more.

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Episode #721 – Lucky Millinder

Air Week: February 26-March 3, 2024

Lucky Millinder

The “Juke In The Back” is loaded this week with records by one of R&B’s greatest and most underrated bandleaders, Lucky Millinder.  He worked with vocalists as varied as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Wynonie Harris, Annisteen Allen, Bull Moose Jackson and Big John Greer, but Lucky Millinder is mostly forgotten by today’s audiences.  Dizzy Gillespie actually played trumpet in Millinder’s Band in the early 1940s for a brief time.  Even though Lucky Millinder is not remembered well today, his records certainly helped lay the foundation that would soon become Rock n’ Roll.  Dig on some of greatest records, this week on the “Juke In The Back” with Matt The Cat.

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Episode #720 – The Ray-O-Vacs

Air Week: February 19-25, 2024

The Ray-O-Vacs

It’s staggering, the number of R&B groups that have been left out of the history books and off radio station playlists just because they don’t fit into an accepted category of “cool.” The Ray-O-Vacs is one of those groups. Though they made the R&B charts 3 times, that didn’t guarantee them inclusion. They were more “middle-of-the-road” than the gospel-tinged groups that were gaining popularity in the early 1950s and they weren’t a vocal group, so they can’t be classified with the emerging doo wop scene of the day. That’s probably why the Ray-O-Vacs are just a footnote in the history of Rhythm & Blues, but this week Matt The Cat brings them into the spotlight on the “Juke In The Back.” Formed in Newark, New Jersey in the late 1940s, The Ray-O-Vacs did produce a unique and light jive sound with Lester Harris (real name Harry Lester) on vocals and tubs, “Flap” McQueen on bass, Joe Crump on piano and a smooth and ever-present saxophone played by “Chink” Kinney. They had a hit right out of the gate with “I’ll Always Be In Love With You” for the tiny Coleman label in early ’49 and then scored again with a double-sider for Decca in 1950. The hits stopped coming and Lester Harris left the group for a solo deal with RCA Victor in ’52, but his replacement, Herb Milliner continued voicing some solid singles. They hung it up after one more shot in ’55 with vocalist Bill Walker for the small Kaiser label and their reputation was sealed for those in the know, especially in Pittsburgh. Dig out those jukebox nickels and get ready to dig on the sound of the Ray-O-Vacs on this week’s R&B spectacular, better known as the “Juke In The Back.” 

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Episode #719 – The Hollywood Flames

Air Week: February 12-18, 2024

The Hollywood Flames

The Hollywood Flames recorded for nearly 20 different record labels and had numerous personnel changes over their 18 year history, but they always remained popular in their native Southern California. Formed in 1949 at a local talent show, David Ford was the only member of the group to remain for its entire existence. Bobby Byrd, who was there from the beginning, remained until he began to have solo hits as Bobby Day. Other notable R&B names, Curtis Williams, Earl Nelson and Gaynel Hodge, passed through the Hollywood Flames revolving door of vocalists and helped round out their sound. The name of the group changed almost as many times as the record labels and personnel, but there was a constant quality to the records they made. Though they only touched the national chart in a big way with “Buzz-Buzz-Buzz” in 1957 for Ebb records, the Hollywood Flames cut some fantastic sides for Specialty (as the Four Flames), 7-11 (as the Jets), Money (as The Turks) and Class (as Bob & Earl and Bobby Day & The Satellites). This week, Matt The Cat tries to make sense of this group’s very confusing and convoluted history and along the way, discovers some of the best West Coast R&B Vocal Group records every made.

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Episode #718 – R&B Influences: Lionel Hampton

Air Week: February 5-11, 2024

R&B Influences: Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton’s big band was a training ground for so many of the all-time great musicians: Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Joe Morris, Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery, Little Jimmy Scott and Clifford Brown. His musical education began on drums and piano while attending the Holy Rosary Academy, near Kenosha, Wisconsin, but it was his exploration of the xylophone that would prove the most fruitful. For when Hamp jumped from the xylophone to the vibraphone, the course of modern jazz was forever enriched. He became the first to use the vibes on a jazz record with Louis Armstrong in 1930, thus paving the way for future vibe virtuosos: Johnny Otis, Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. Benny Goodman selected Hampton to join his Goodman Trio, making it an interracial quartet, which was ground-breaking in 1936. Hamp and pianist Teddy Wilson helped break the color barrier in popular music. Forming his own big band in 1940, with the help of his business partner and wife, Gladys Hampton, Hamp would score a hugely influential hit in ’42 with “Flying Home,” featuring the honking sax of Illinois Jacquet. That record would open the door to the R&B sax honkers of the Rock n’ Roll era and would forever be Hamp’s theme song. His biggest hit came in early 1946 when “Hey! Ba Ba Re Bop” topped the Harlem Hit Parade for 16 solid weeks! He followed that up with the #5 smash, “Blow Top Blues,” featuring Dinah Washington on vocals. Beyond the hits and musical influence, Lionel Hampton was a humanitarian and supported many charities that brought low income housing projects to Harlem and elsewhere. President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts in 1996 and the University of Idaho named their annual jazz festival after him. There is a lot to be said about the hugely influential Lionel Hampton and this week, Matt The Cat does his best to present a full picture of this renaissance man. So grab some nickels and some jive and meet us at the “Juke In The Back.” 

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