February 28, 1976: Birth of the Jitterbug, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Andrews Sisters, Boswell Sisters, Eddie Drennon & BBS Unlimited

Birth of the Jitterbug

THE JITTERBUG — as it became known — was born in Harlem and nurtured there at the famous Savoy Ballroom, home of the great Swing big bands. Almost as if in a movie script, the dance was associated with street gangs, violence, Hollywood stars and dazzling fashions.

George “Shorty” Snowden was one of the winning dancers at an 18-day marathon in 1928, during which he won money from side bets by dancing with his partner in a more galvanised way than his exhausted competitors.

While doing this he amazed everyone by flinging out his partner in a break-away and dancing some flashy solo steps — which he shrugged off as merely being the Lindy. Named after Charles Lindbergh’s aeroplane “hop” across the Atlantic in 1927, the Lindy Hop dated back much earlier and in fact breakaways were an integral part of the Texas Tommy in 1913.

One of Shorty’s own breakaway steps was to be named after him — the Shorty George.

Shorty was a member of one of Harlem’s many secret gangs – known as “clubs” — the Jolly Fellows. Started in 1923 by Herbert “Whitey” White, who was older than the others and had an interest in dancing, it became the club for dancers and grew to over 669 members by the Thirties.

Although there was a violent and bloody relationship between the rival clubs, they all observed a strict code of formality and honour which they copied from gangster films. More disciplined than the other clubs, the Jolly Fellows unofficially but literally ran the Savoy Ballroom, with Whitey as head bouncer!

The Savoy, where Chick Webb’s band originated ‘Stomping At The Savoy’, would feature two bands competing in a “battle”, driving each other and the dancers so hard that the music became known as Swing.

Shorty and the regular dancers used to compete with each other in their carefully guarded “Cats’ Corner” of the dance floor, which was closed to all but the bravest of dancers from other clubs.

During the breakaways their self-expression and invention were put to the test, as convention forbade any dancer to copy another’s step. Celebrities and film stars came to watch and tip them, and all the big bands – white as well as black – were keen to play for them.

As big band jazz progressed into the Thirties, it spurred on the dancers and they, it. In 1932, Bennie Moten’s band re-energised the music and speeded up the dancing by making it flow to guitar and bass instead of jerky banjo and tuba. From there, things got even faster.

In 1936 the acrobatic style of slinging partners through the air began to appear, by chance at the same time as Benny Goodman emerged as a white bandleader capable of holding his own alongside the Savoy swingers.

In 1937 a team of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers were seen in the Marx Brothers’ ‘A Day At The Races’, and before long the exotically dressed Leon James, their star dancer, had joined his one-time rival from another club, Al Minns, to make the airborne style world famous by 1939.

Despite all this activity in Harlem and other black areas, the white public generally believed that the Jitterbug (as the Lindy became known) erupted out of nowhere when Benny Goodman invented Swing! During the latter Thirties his audiences were “jitterbugging in the aisles” and making headline news – as did Bill Haley’s later Rocking followers.

Soon, teams of Lindy Hoppers (many managed by Whitey) were guaranteeing success to stage shows and night club reviews, and the style of dancing spread into the War years amongst white big band fans. Typically, the white fans tended to prefer the white bands, leaving the black originators to split up and simplify their music into the roots of R&B when demand dried up.

The true Lindy-cum-Jitterbug could be called choreographed Swing, and while the airborne acrobatics helped make it a sensation the intricate footwork was more important to purists like Shorty Snowden. The Jive-like basic step of the Lindy was taught when Rock ‘n’ Roll evolved out of early R&B, and a slower modification is being taught now as the Swing-Hustle.

Thus, like the Twist, the Jitterbug has never died . . and that ain’t no Jive!

New Spins

BENNY GOODMAN: ‘Stompin’ At The Savoy’ (RCA 2657)
Adding further fuel to the jitterbug fire, Benny’s classic 1936 swinger gets a maxi coupling with the dreamy ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ and the jumpin’ jive ‘Swingtime In The Rockies‘, which cooks and cooks! A must for adventurous jocks.

GLENN MILLER: ‘Make Believe Ballroom Time’ (from LP ‘The Legendary Glenn Miller, Volume 10’, RCA LSA 3237)
Here’s the famous 1940 radio theme, long deleted, on one of the latest volumes in this great ever-growing series of all Miller’s studio recordings. Other goodies on this volume are ‘Five O’Clock Whistle’, ‘Yes My Darling Daughter’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’, while of course the theme itself makes the ideal intro to your Swing spot.

ANDREWS SISTERS: ‘Bounce Me Brother With A Solid Four’ (MCA 232)
Follow-up to their ‘Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar’, this 1941 boogie-woogie offshoot is full of precisely harmonized rhythm, while the ‘Booglie-Wooglie Piggy‘ flip is rather like ‘The Flat Foot Flogee’ (With The Floy Floy)!
JH PICK Continue reading “February 28, 1976: Birth of the Jitterbug, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Andrews Sisters, Boswell Sisters, Eddie Drennon & BBS Unlimited”

February 21, 1976: Eddie Kendricks, Woody Herman, Asleep At The Wheel, M. & O. Band, Archie Bell & The Drells

This week’s column includes the first mention of remixing, in the review of Tom Moulton’s ‘Disco-Trek’ compilation LP.

New Spins

EDDIE KENDRICKS: ‘He’s A Friend’ (Tamla Motown TMO 1021) (mentioned in Billboard column 1/3/76, Billboard chart debut 1/24/76)
Produced by Philly’s Norman Harris, Eddie seems set to continue Motown’s new hit streak with this unhurried thumper, which — with the faster ‘All Of My Love‘ flip — joins the NY disco hits ‘It’s Not What You Got‘ and ‘Chains‘ on his new LP (STML 12016). How long before he and David Ruffin make two ex-Tempts on the chart?

WOODY HERMAN: ‘Woodchopper’s Ball’ (MCA 230)
Woody’s jitterbugging swinger from ’39 is to be followed by many more big band singles, which can only establish the new craze even better than the twist.

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL: ‘Bump Bounce Boogie’ (Capitol CL 15854)
Great modern-made boogie woogie in the authentic ’40s style, Andrews Sisters vocal and all!
Continue reading “February 21, 1976: Eddie Kendricks, Woody Herman, Asleep At The Wheel, M. & O. Band, Archie Bell & The Drells”

February 14, 1976: New York Disco Forum special, part 3

This week’s column includes the first mention of the new 12-inch single format, in Hammy’s review of B.C.G. – Sweet Talk.

Exhibitors wary of Disco ’76

Disco ’76, the recent Billboard-organized Disco Forum in New York, failed to come up with any new ideas during its formal panel sessions thanks to poor stage management and bad PA equipment supplied by the Roosevelt Hotel — the sessions never ran to time and were usually all but inaudible.

British equipment manufacturers and suppliers would have benefited by attending or exhibiting at the Forum. Had Roger Squire turned up for the panel that he was due to sit on, he would have done an immense amount of business. This being only the first Forum to be held in the States, exhibitors were wary (as they were before our own NADJ events became established).

Of the 30 manufacturers’ exhibits on show, few items of equipment were as well designed as their UK counterparts although as part of the apparent “bigger is better” belief that is widespread amongst US disco operators, there were indeed some extremely powerful speaker horns and amplifiers on display.

One of the gimmicks of the New York DJ style is to use vast bass horns, separately amplified, to emphasize certain passages of music, and likewise to bring out the sizzling cymbals through clusters of radiating miniature tweeters suspended over the dance floor.

The most eye-catching exhibits were the three competing video projection systems, all of which transmit three invisible beams of red, blue and green onto screens of up to 15 feet in size, on which they superimpose to produce full colour giant TV pictures. Video cassettes available include packaged soul shows from TV, specially created disco music programmes, and star performances including David Bowie.

For more about the Forum, see my full report in this month’s Disco Mirror.

And to finish off, let’s hope that more disco names from Britain will be there next year.

New Spins

BILLY PAUL: ‘America (We Need The Light)’ / ‘People Power’ / ‘Let’s Make A Baby’ (from LP ‘When Love Is New’, Philadelphia Int’l. PIR 69207) (mentioned in Billboard column 12/20/75, Billboard chart debut 1/3/76)
Two straight disco tracks that are getting NY radio plays too, while the Chris Hill-tipped last track is more as you might expect from Billy, and embarrassingly near the knuckle for many.

LOVE SOUNDS: ‘Ebb Tide’ (Pye 7N 45487)
Out here a year ago, this dreamy ‘n creamy Tony Hatch disco treatment of Frank Chacksfield’s old US biggie is currently getting NY action as an import – a fact which might surprise Pye!

BATAAN: ‘The Bottle’ (Epic EPC 3818) (mentioned in Billboard column and chart debut 1/11/1975)
Huge a year ago, this Salsoul version of Gil Scott-Heron’s tune was a NY hit and still sounds great – if late! – today.  Bouncily hustling instrumental. Continue reading “February 14, 1976: New York Disco Forum special, part 3”

February 7, 1976: New York Disco Forum special, part 2


“Disco ’76”, the First International Disco Forum, organized by Billboard magazine’s Bill Wardlow at New York’s midtown Roosevelt Hotel on January 20-23, was a star-studded affair.

Speakers included Van McCoy, Bob Crewe, Norman Harris, LaBelle, and many record company heads.

Performers included Bimbo Jet, the Reflections, the Salsoul Orchestra, the Trammps, Crown Heights Affair and Gloria Gaynor.

Amongst the observers were Hamilton Bohannon, Jeanne Burton, Tamiko Jones, Jonathan King, Capitol Records’s Joe Maimone and a whole host of other record company executives.  And then there were several hundred disco DJs and assorted club owners, equipment manufacturers and record pluggers.

It’s doubtful whether the Forum spread as many ideas amongst all the participants as Bill Wardlow originally hoped it would.  Many panel sessions got bogged down with the recurrent (and predictable) pleas from DJs – especially from the Midwest – for free promotional demo records.

However, the Forum was immensely rewarding on a man-to-man basis – and it was through talking amongst their fellow kind outside the main assembly room that most DJs must have swapped ideas.

In fact widely acknowledged as one of the best Forum sessions was the mobile disco session.  Well-established mobile DJs seem to command much higher fees in America than here, $120 upwards being quite normal, although an Atlanta disco firm’s rate of $220 to $250 and more made everyone gasp.

There is a certain aggressive arrogance about many East and West Coast mobile jocks who refuse to bend to their audience’s tastes and supply only the current “disco” style of programming, but they do also teach their audiences the latest dances.

Having still only just scraped the surface, it looks like I’d better continue with more about Disco ’76 next week (when I promise the DJ Hot Line will return as well).  Continue reading “February 7, 1976: New York Disco Forum special, part 2”