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Episode #734 – The Midnighters, Pt. 2 – 1954-56

Air Week: May 27-June 2, 2024

The Midnighters, Pt. 2 – 1954-56

This week, the “Juke In The Back” continues a 3 show look at The Midnighters, one of early R&B’s most successful groups. Before they topped the R&B charts with “Work With Me Annie” in 1954, The Midnighters were known as The Royals, a rough and ready group from the east side of Detroit. Charles Sutton, the Royal’s first great lead singer, shaped their early recordings (1952-53) in the style of The Orioles’ leader Sonny Til. As 1954 begins, Charles Sutton is out as lead singer and Hank Ballard (real name John Kendricks) is in. Ballard had been with the group since ’52 and he now takes the Royals into a more gospel/blues direction. Syd Nathan, head of King/Federal Records changes their name to The Midnighters and they score one of the biggest records of the year with “Work With Me Annie.” This week, we’ll focus on the Midnighters prime R&B period of 1954-56. They had non-Annie hits “Sexy Ways” and “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours A Day),” but the Annie’s sequels dominated. We won’t be spinning any of the Annie sequels during this program as next week will be the “Annie” installment, but what you will hear are some fantastic Rhythm & Blues presented by one of the finest groups of the era. Grab some nickels, because “Juke” will be jumpin’ with Detroit’s own Midnighters. 

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Episode #733 – The Midnighters, Pt. 1 – 1952-54 (The Royals)

Air Week: May 20-26, 2024

The Midnighters, Pt. 1 – 1952-54 (The Royals)

This week, the “Juke In The Back” begins a 3 show look at The Midnighters, one of early R&B’s most successful groups. Before they topped the R&B charts with “Work With Me Annie” in 1954, The Midnighters were known as The Royals, a rough and ready group from the east side of Detroit. Charles Sutton, the Royal’s first great lead singer, shaped their early recordings (1952-53) in the style of The Orioles’ leader Sonny Til. That influence resulted in the recording of some amazing vocal group records, including the immortal “Moonrise” from 1952. Matt The Cat explores the Royals great early sides, their lineup changes (Hank Ballard joined in 1953) and their legal battles. In part 2, we’ll fill the “Juke In The Back” with The Midnights prime, non-Annie records and then in part 3, it’s an Annie bonanza of answer records, prequels and sequels. So grab your nickel and get ready to jump, jive and wail! 

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Episode #732 – Lowell Fulson

Air Week: May 13-19, 2024

Lowell Fulson

This week, the “Juke In The Back” spotlights Lowell Fulson, one of the blues’ most versatile and vastly underrated talents. In the late 1940s, Fulson stormed the charts with his first hit “Three O’Clock Blues,” a song that B.B. King would take to the top of the charts in 1951. Fulson started the 1950s with a bang, scoring six charted hits for Swingtime Records in 1950 alone. By ’54, he was on Checker Records out of Chicago with a song that would be covered by Elvis in 1960, “Reconsider Baby.” Fulson wrote many of his own songs and was a major inspiration to both B.B. King and Ray Charles, who played in his touring band in 1950. Get the story behind the story on a true rhythm & blues legend, it’s Lowell Folsun, this week on the “Juke In The Back” with Matt The Cat.

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Episode #731 – Jesse Belvin

Air Week: May 6-12, 2024

Jesse Belvin

“Juke In The Back” is proud to dedicate an entire show to Jesse Belvin, one of greatest talents to come out of LA in the 1950s. Belvin was born in Texas, but raised near Central Avenue in Los Angeles, where he soaked up the local R&B scene. After transferring to Jefferson High School, he fell in with Richard Berry, Gaynel Hodge and other budding vocal talents. After meeting Marvin Phillips, whom he would collaborate with on and off for years, Belvin sang his first lead on record for Big Jay McNeely in 1951. From there, he recorded for Specialty Records with Marvin as Jesse & Marvin and scored a #2 hit with “Dream Girl.” He would cut sides for Recorded in Hollywood, Modern, Cash, Money, Tender, RCA and many other labels. Jesse Belvin was respected by his contemporaries and always showed a sophistication in his singing that was far beyond his years. His musical phrasing was impeccable. This week, Matt The Cat will focus on Jesse Belvin’s greatest sides, released between 1951-56, so don’t miss a single minute of the “Juke In The Back.” 

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Episode #730 – Elmore James: 1951-55

Air Week: April 29-May 5, 2024

Elmore James: 1951-55

Elmore James never tried to have crossover success. He was a bluesman through and through; an ambassador of the Mississippi Delta Blues with a modern, 1950s electric twist. Elmore’s blues was as pure as his ambitions when starting out as a sideman for now legendary blues harpist Sonny Boy Williamson II. James played on several Williamson sessions held in 1951 at Trumpet Records in Jackson, MS, until he was coaxed into playing the Robert Johnson tune, “Dust My Broom” in August. Trumpet gave James one side of the original 78 RPM release and in early 1952, “Dust My Broom” became a national R&B hit! Ike Turner, who was scouting for the Bihari Brothers of LA’s Modern Records, found Elmore and got him signed to a four year deal with the Biharis. They issued his first record on their Meteor subsidiary and “I Believe,” a reworking of “Dust My Broom,” also became a top 10 national hit. Elmore James wouldn’t score another hit record until 1960, but in those years in-between, James issued some incredible and highly influential blues sides, featuring his legendary slide guitar style. James would go on to inspire The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, early Fleetwood Mac and others, but would not live to see it. This week, Matt The Cat dusts off some prime Elmore James 78s from several labels and in many blues styles. Many of these records built off the original “Dust My Broom” guitar lick, but they are also good enough to stard firmly on their own.

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Episode #729 – The R&B of RCA

Air Week: April 22-28, 2024

The R&B of RCA

It is a popular belief that the seeds of Rhythm & Blues, Rock n’ Roll and even Jazz were planted by the small independent labels and that the major labels exhaustively played catch-up as the music grew in popularity. That is simply not true. The major labels were there from the beginning, often breaking important artists, many with mainstream leanings, while the indie labels promoted the more “grittier” aspects of the music, which we view today as the more “authentic” sound of R&B, Rock n’ Roll and Jazz. And so, like Columbia and Decca, RCA Victor released some stellar Rhythm & Blues during the late 1940s into the early 1950s, before the label signed Elvis in 1955. It’s hard to imagine Rock n’ Roll emerging from a world void of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup as Elvis and his contemporaries took so much inspiration from him, including covering his songs. Crudup was a star on RCA’s blues roster as was Jazz Gillum. John Greer, The Robins and even Jesse Belvin all spent time on RCA. This week, Matt The Cat shines the spotlight on some great Blues, Jump Blues, Rhythm & Blues and vocal group sounds from RCA Victor during the golden age of R&B. It’s the R&B of RCA on the “Juke In The Back.”

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Episode #728 – Groove Records

Air Week: April 15-21, 2024

Groove Records

In late 1953, RCA Victor launched a new subsidiary to focus on the Rhythm & Blues market, called Groove Records.  They intended for Groove to compete with the independent labels like Chess, Atlantic and Vee-Jay that were dominating the genre.  RCA treated Groove as an indie by setting up its own record distribution network, like an indie, ignoring the mighty distribution arm of RCA Victor.  That might have been the label’s downfall.  Groove ended up scoring only one major hit in its 3 year stint, but along the way, Groove issued some fantastic R&B recordings from the superstars of the day.  It’s hard to imagine, but Piano Red, King Curtis, Mickey “Guitar” Baker, Sonny Terry, Sam Butera, Big John Greer AND Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup were all on the same label for a time.  This week, Matt The Cat digs up the grooviest sides from Groove Label and gives them the spins they deserve on the “Juke In The Back.” 

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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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