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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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Episode #717 – James Brown: 1956-58

Air Week: January 29-February 4, 2024

James Brown: 1956-58

This week, the Juke In The Back features one of R&B and Rock n’ Roll’s greatest acts, James Brown. Born into a poor community in South Carolina, James Brown worked his way to the very top in the entertainment business, but it wasn’t without a struggle. As we’ll hear on this week’s program, Brown had to suffer through a mess of unsuccessful records, in order to find his “sound.” His first single for Federal Records, “Please, Please, Please” caught fire and shot into the R&B top 5 in 1956, but it was a blessing and a curse. He wouldn’t make the charts again for almost 3 years. But once “Try Me” topped the R&B lists in early 1959, Brown was on a roll that would extend over the next 20 plus years. Matt The Cat highlights James Brown and the Famous Flame’s string of early singles for Federal as we bear witness to an artist trying to find himself. Along the way, we discover some pretty great and almost forgotten songs and performances. The early recordings of the “Godfather of Soul” are featured on this week’s “Juke In The Back.”

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Episode #716 – R&B Influences: Delta Rhythm Boys

Air Week: January 22-28, 2024

R&B Influences: Delta Rhythm Boys

The “Juke In The Back” takes a deep look at The Delta Rhythm Boys, one of R&B’s early influences. Bass singer Lee Gaines assembled the original quartet while at Langston University in Oklahoma. After they all transferred to Dillard in New Orleans, things started to really happen. Dillard’s new music program was headed by Professor Fredrick Hall, who worked with the group, writing arrangements for them. Calling themselves the Fredrick Hall Quartet, they met a Buenos Aries DJ and toured South America before moving to New York City and establishing themselves on Broadway. Now calling themselves the Delta Rhythm Boys, they got a recording contract with Decca Records, a daily national radio program with CBS, a motion picture deal with Universal and occasional performances on the Amos and Andy radio program. The Delta Rhythm Boys had more exposure than virtually any other singing group. They never scored the hits like the Mills Brothers or the Ink Spots, but the Deltas were everywhere. They only had one huge national hit on their own with 1947’s “Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’,” but sang on hits by Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Lunceford and Ruth Brown. Matt The Cat also presents the Delta Rhythm Boys singing stellar R&B for Atlantic Records, both as themselves and under a pseudonym. So get ready for some superb vocal harmonies with the Delta Rhythm Boys on this week’s “Juke In The Back.”

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Episode #715 – The “5” Royales

Air Week: January 15-21, 2024

The “5” Royales

This week, the “Juke In The Back” features a rhythm & blues vocal group from Winston-Salem, NC that not only influenced James Brown, but quite possibly the entire soul movement of the late ’50s into the 1960s; The “5” Royales. They began their career as a six man gospel group called The Royal Sons Quintet. They kept their six member lineup even after they changed their name to the “5” Royales. They had legal battles with Hank Ballard’s Royals and their own label, Apollo Records, but managed to score two #1 smashes during 1953. Their sound was unique, their harmonies air-tight and their chief songwriter was also their guitarist, Lowman Pauling. His guitar playing influenced Eric Clapton, Steve Cropper and countless other guitar legends. The “5” Royales were much more than just a ’50s R&B vocal group and this week, Matt The Cat & the “Juke In The Back” are going to tell their story.

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Episode #714 – 1954: Jukebox Rhythm Review, Pt. 2

Air Week: January 8-14, 2024

1954: Jukebox Rhythm Review, Pt. 2

This week, the “Juke In The Back” transports you back 70 years. 1954 was a pivotal year for American Music. The lines between Rhythm & Blues and Pop were getting blurred as more and more R&B records crossed over into the Pop Chart, causing a brand new “youth market” to open up. American teens of all colors were diggin’ that jump blues sound that had been a staple on Black Radio for years. This would lead to racial integration and eventually, the Civil Rights Movement. There is no doubt that music played an important role in the early days of Civil Rights and those roots can be traced back to the Black Music of 1954. In fact, this was the year that a young, white kid from Memphis named Elvis began recording at 706 Union Avenue. It was also a year of unlikely musical heroes as 43 year old Joe Turner, who had been making records since 1938, topped the R&B Chart twice, helping to propel Rock n’ Roll Music to the forefront. Vocal groups like the Chords, The Charms, The Five Keys and The Drifters were forging a new sub-genre that would come to be called Doo Wop. This week in part 2, Matt The Cat focuses on the biggest jukebox hits of the second half of 1954.  So grab a handful of nickels, ’cause you’re gonna need ‘em to keep the “Juke In The Back” jumping as we highlight the momentous year of 1954.  

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Episode #713 – 1954: Jukebox Rhythm Review, Pt. 1

Air Week: January 1-7, 2024

1954: Jukebox Rhythm Review, Pt. 1

This week, the “Juke In The Back” transports you back 70 years. 1954 was a pivotal year for American Music. The lines between Rhythm & Blues and Pop were getting blurred as more and more R&B records crossed over into the Pop Chart, causing a brand new “youth market” to open up. American teens of all colors were diggin’ that jump blues sound that had been a staple on Black Radio for years. This would lead to racial integration and eventually, the Civil Rights Movement. There is no doubt that music played an important role in the early days of Civil Rights and those roots can be traced back to the Black Music of 1954. In fact, this was the year that a young, white kid from Memphis named Elvis began recording at 706 Union Avenue. It was also a year of unlikely musical heroes as 43 year old Joe Turner, who had been making records since 1938, topped the R&B Chart twice, helping to propel Rock n’ Roll Music to the forefront. Vocal groups like The Crows, The Spiders, The Spaniels and The Drifters were forging a new sub-genre that would come to be called Doo Wop. This week in part 1, Matt The Cat focuses on the biggest jukebox hits of the first half of 1954 and next week, we’ll close out the year. So grab a handful of nickels, ’cause you’re gonna need ’em to keep the “Juke In The Back” jumping as we highlight the momentous year of 1954.

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Episode #712 – Mabel Scott

Air Week: December 25-31, 2023

Mabel Scott

Mabel Scott was an incredibly versatile artist. She was a pianist, pop vocalist, R&B chanteuse and could shout the blues with the best of ’em. But like many of her peers, Scott never received the royalties or recognition that she deserved, even on songs that she wrote. Many others made money off her, especially on her two charting tunes, 1948’s “Elevator Boogie” and “Boogie Woogie Santa Clause,” which returns every Christmas Season. Mabel began recording in 1946 with a one-off single for the Hub Label, which should be remembered today as the prototype for her 1950 recording of “Baseball Boogie.” In 1948, she started having hits for Leon Rene’s Exclusive Label, but when that label folded in 1950, she moved to King Records, Coral, Brunswick, Parrot and finally Australia’s Festival Records. This week, Matt The Cat presents the seldom told story of a great heroine of Rhythm & Blues, Mabel Scott on the “Juke In The Back” and the “soul that came before rock n’ roll.”

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