Blues Brief - May 5th
“Caldonia! Caldonia! What makes your big head” - spin? So there they were, two covers and the original all charting around the same time in 1945. Oddly enough, the original was the last to be commercially released, but it “topped” them all, spending 7 weeks at the #1 position on Billboard’s Race Records chart. One cover featured Ace Harris, piano player for the original Ink Spots, who sang the version recorded for Columbia in February 1945 for clarinetist and bandleader Woody Herman. Herman’s “Herd” took it to number two on Billboard’s pop chart. Their interpretation was arranged by Neal Hefti, who later wrote theme music for movies and television, including ‘The Odd Couple’ (movie and series) and the opening theme for the Batman series. An Alabama jazz trumpet player and bandleader recorded a more “modern” version, actually described by Billboard as “rock and roll,” a very early if not first use of the term. Recorded for RCA Victor, the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra cover made it to #12 on the pop charts and the second position on the R&B listing. They had an instrumental single, “Tippin In,” charting at the same time.
Louis Jordan was an innovator, perhaps THE innovator of jump blues. He and his Tympany Five had already topped Billboard’s R&B charts four times (known as the Harlem Hit Parade then Juke Box Race Records) - “What’s The Use of Getting Sober (1942), “Ration Blues”(1943), “GI Jive” (1944) and “Mop!Mop” (1945). His hits had crossover success - in the charts and with all American Audiences, black and white. “Ration Blues” and “Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby” topped the country charts and “Is You Is…” topped out in the second spot of Billboard’s pop chart. Success leads to controversy. His original “Caldonia Boogie” was at the center of a lawsuit, with Sippie Wallace suing for infringement on her “Caldonia Blues.” But the later song’s credited composer was cleared. Jordan? No-his wife at the time Fleecie Moore. He had given her writing credit for several of his songs in a publishing scheme. Well this one bit him - after his wife stabbed him. She took half of all those royalties and some blood when they divorced.
Why was Jordan’s original the last released? Decca, who had the original commercial record from January 1945, waited to send the song out, but rushed it to stores and jukeboxes after the other two charted. Promotion was good, though. It spent months on the charts and was at the center of a “soundie” or short musical in 1945/46. But there was an even earlier version of “Caldonia”. With World War II raging, the Armed Forces Radio Service recorded and broadcast all the popular acts of the day. AFRS’s Jubilee series was produced specifically for African-American troops serving around the world. Jordan’s first cut was heard by those troops in a pre-recorded broadcasts in 1944, #112 of the Jubilee series. The recording date of “Caldonia” for AFRS Jubilee #112, you ask? Why, it was on this day in 1944 that Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five served their country by recording that great American song, since recorded by Jordan again (twice), Hawkins and Herman, Van Morrison, BB King, James Brown, and a host of others!