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Ollie Shepard

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Singer and pianist Ollie Shepard has sometimes been misidentified as a country blues artist, almost certainly because from October 1937 to April 1939 his bands were billed as Ollie Shepard & His Kentucky Boys. Generally speaking, his groups purveyed a pleasant, decidedly urban blend of blues with unusually uplifting lyrics, jump blues, jive, and swing. Shepard, whose vital statistics continue to elude researchers, began his recording career in Chicago and took himself to New York in 1938, achieving popularity as a Decca artist and switching to Okeh in 1941. While most of his bandmembers have yet to be identified, Shepard did start out with alto saxophonist Edgar Saucier and guitarist Lonnie Johnson, cut four sides with trumpeter Frankie Newton, tenor saxophonist Robert Carroll, and guitarist Teddy Bunn in May 1938 and was fortunate enough to have tenor saxophonist Chu Berry and pianist Sammy Price in the band in April 1939. Others who are known to have recorded with Shepard in New York during the years 1939-1941 are tenor saxophonists Walter Wheeler, Stafford "Pazzuza" Simon, and Theodore McCord, who also doubled on clarinet; Duke Ellington's longtime string bassist Wellman Braud, guitarist George Francis, and drummer Johnny Wells. A woman by the name of Ollie Potter also sang on a session that took place in 1940. In January 1942 Shepard cut eight sides for Okeh with a quartet that included tenor saxophonist Saxie Payne, and guitarist Carl Lynch, but these records were not released to the public. A sampling of Shepard's complete recorded works as reissued by Document in 1996 whets the appetite, but his professional life after 1942 is nearly impossible to piece together. A session for Columbia that took place in November 1950, for example, found him collaborating with singing trumpeter Hot Lips Page, but titles from that date, which include "Crazy with the Blues" and "Big Fine Automobile" do not appear to have made it onto any Hot Lips Page collections. The reported existence of other postwar recordings for the newly managed Okeh label, as well as Apollo, Coral, Gee, and Johnson would seem to justify either a third volume from Document or a truly comprehensive anthology of Shepard's complete recorded works as leader and sideman. Although he is known to have recorded as late as 1960, frustratingly little attention has been paid to this artist since his heyday during the years immediately preceding the Second World War. ~ arwulf arwulf

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Years Active:

'30s, '40s, '50s, '60s