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Jimmie Gordon Vol. 2 (1936-1938)

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Album Review

Volume 2 in Document's threefold complete reissued recordings of Jimmie Gordon covers the years 1936-1938. After four slow and at times crusty-sounding blues recordings, tracks five-22 are by Jimmie Gordon and His Vip Vop Band, a swinging little group that included members of a Chicago-based jazz band known as the Harlem Hamfats. These were clarinetist Odell Rand, pianist Horace Malcolm, guitarist Joe McCoy, and bassist John Lindsay. (Note that Charlie McCoy, who appeared on earlier Gordon recordings, played a lot of guitar and mandolin with the Hamfats). Other "vip voppers" on this album are a flugelhorn player by the name of Joe Bishop, pianists Peetie Wheatstraw and Sam Price, guitarists Teddy Bunn and Lonnie Johnson, bassist Richard Fullbright, and drummer Fred Flynn. What was the origin of the term "vip vop"? In the liner notes to this CD, David Evans of the University of Memphis compares "vip vop" with the "be bop" of the 1940s as well as the "hip-hop" that arose in the 1980s. These musical genres, wrote Evans, "...are [each] associated with an aggressive, rhythmic, and 'in your face' approach to performance, full of humor, multiple layers of meaning and in-group references...with an entire lifestyle in the vanguard of fashion, centered in musical expression and consciously existing in opposition or as an alternative to the lifestyle of conventional society." Solidly in place as an example of the "dirty dozens," that grand old African-American tradition of the artful and often mercilessly exaggerated putdown, "You're Bound to Look Like a Monkey When You Get Old" was written by Clarence Williams and Alex Hill, was recorded several times by Williams and was covered (in what today seem like uncomfortably inappropriate contexts) by white musicians like Western swing bandleaders Hank Penny and Milton Brown and the Bob Cats, a Dixieland swing band led by Bing Crosby's little brother Bob. "Plenty Trouble on Your Hand" is equipped with all the trademarks of classic Chicago blues, most conspicuously the slaughterhouse worker's existence on the killing floor and the transferal of that violence into the domestic sphere. It was during this period that Gordon made inroads into the field of herpetology with "Rattlesnake Bite" (closely based upon his hit "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water") and "She Wants to Rattle Me All the Time," which traces back to Blind Boy Fuller's "I'm a Rattlesnakin' Daddy," composed and originally recorded by North Carolina yodeler Homer Callahan. "Number Runner's Blues" and "Whip It to a Jelly" are credited to Lemuel Fowler while "Me and My Gin" (famously handled by Bessie Smith) was written by J.C. Johnson, born in Chicago but very much a part of Harlem's thriving jazz scene in the '30s through his work with Fats Waller.


Born: 1906

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '30s, '40s

As is the case with so many African-American musicians who were active during the first half of the 20th century, Chicago blues singer and pianist Jimmie Gordon languished in posthumous obscurity for years and was subsequently "rediscovered," which in his case meant having his legacy tangled up in erroneous and inconclusive information. He is believed to have been born in the year 1906, but the claim that he originated in St. Louis is almost certainly traceable to a fabricated reference stemming...
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