It's difficult to overestimate Louis Jordan's significance in the history of American pop. The Arkansas-born singer and sax man, who had a ton of number ones on the rhythm-and-blues charts in the forties, was a seminal influence on Chuck Berry and Ray Charles, two pillars of American rock 'n' soul. His songs continue to be performed today by bluesmen like B.B. King.
Jordan's recorded output also provided the basis for a musical revue (Five Guys Named Moe) back in the early nineties, and if the show in question couldn't completely measure up to its source, it happily provided the impetus for a slew of CD reissues in this country. I have three different discs released from that period, and though much of the material is different on each, they all contain his high-speed recording of "Moe." To have left it off would've been like keeping "Louie Louie" off a collection of sixties garage band music.
I love Jordan (not to be confused with the actor who once starred in a soporific TV adaptation of Dracula, by the way) and not just for his role in the formulation of rock 'n' roll music. He's smooth, funny and his Tympany Five could play like a sumbitch. In an era still dominated by the big band sound, Jordan and his combo showed just how much ebullient noise could be generated by a smaller unit: it was not a lesson lost on bandleaders like Bill Haley.
Unlike a lot of jump blues shouters (Wynonie Harris, Big Joe Turner, to name two), Jordan was equally accomplished as a jazz vocalist, which gave him the range to do a rueful lament like "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?" (a lyric first heard by this Boomer as a punchline in a Bugs Bunny cartoon) or a tropically tinged bluesy monologue like "Early in the Mornin'" (later made their own by both Ray Charles and Harry Nilsson) alongside bacchanalian party invites like "Saturday Night Fish Fry." His sense of humor – well repped in comic monologues like "Open the Door, Richard" or "What's the Use of Getting Sober (When You're Gonna Get Drunk Again)?" – clearly tickled a young Chuck Berry, who took Jordan's comic tales of woe out of the city and transplanted 'em into the fifties teen world. Berry's "Maybelline" could be the teenage-aged daughter of Jordan's "Caldonia."