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!
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)!
BOSWELL SISTERS: ‘Making Faces At The Man In The Moon’ (Vocalion V 5001)
Forerunners of the Andrews Sisters, these New Orleans gals give out with a jaunty 1931 ditty that’s great fun though decidedly pre-Swing, as are this maxi’s couplings by Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.
EDDIE DRENNON & B.B.S. UNLIMITED: ‘Let’s Do The Latin Hustle’ (Pye 7N 25702) (Billboard chart debut 9/20/75)
If imports and the M&O Band haven’t creamed their sales, Pye may recoup some of the bread they’ve undoubtedly had to shell out for this monster disco smash, the asking price for which was reputedly 40,000 bucks plus a catalogue deal.
BARRY WHITE: ‘You See The Trouble With Me’ (20th Century BTC 2277) (Billboard chart debut 3/13/76)
Schlurping cymbals and a pretty melody make for typically effective disco bucks.
CHEQUERS: ‘Hey Miss Payne’ (Creole CR 116)
Commendably jazzy instrumentation pushes along this delightfully bubbling steady rhythm ticker, the subdued vocals of which are left off the backing-track disco flip.
CHRIS HILL: ‘Yakety Yak’ (Philips6006508)
The unexpected happens and Chris sings (?!?) in this El Coco-inspired bouncing funk beat version of the Coasters’ classic. Totally disco, it’ll need your support – so hopefully professional jealousy won’t bias DJs against it. On the ‘Ride On’ flip he pantingly reworks Man’s ‘Erotica‘ into a comical climax.
EARTH, WIND & FIRE: ‘Sing A Song’ (CBS 3859) (mentioned in Billboard column 11/22/75, Billboard chart debut 12/6/75)
Infectious War-like funk could make this happy chanter the elemental supergroup’s first UK biggie. Backing track flip.
THE WORLD COLUMN: ‘So Is The Sun’ (Capitol CL 15852)
Very like old-style Sly, but there’s no denying that the old-style excitement still works.
PIONEERS: ‘Feel The Rhythm (Of You And I)’ (Philips 6006499)
The reggae guys go the George McCrae way on this potential-filled Eddy Grant production the TK sound of which is emphasized by the backing track flip.
THE GLITTER BAND: ‘Makes You Blind’ (Bell 1471) (Billboard chart debut 8/21/76)
Just like on Gary’s last one, the big disco side is the flip – in this case an ace fast funking instrumental of surprising authenticity. Funnily enough, I was the first person to tell Bell that ‘Rock And Roll Part II’ was the hit side of that particular little opus. . .
SYLVERS: ‘Boogie Fever’ (Capitol CL 15850)
Graduating from teenage to disco appeal with its increasing acceptance, this spirited romper is propelled by bumping bass and flying feet.
SUPERCHARGE: ‘Get Down Boogie’ (Virgin VS 134)
Affectionately accurate ape of all that the title sums up, plus a frantic flip called ‘Don’t Let Go‘ that could be bigger in some areas.
20TH CENTURY STEEL BAND: ‘We’ve Got To Work To Stay Together’ (UA UP 36065) (mentioned in Billboard column 8/28/76)
Blurred vocal but a pleasant Pierre Tubbs melody and lazily effective thumping beat.
JOHNNY “GUITAR” WATSON: ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Lone Ranger’ (Fantasy FTC 124)
The original Gangster Of Love has had a huge soul hit with this staccato multi-tracked semi-slowie, which is strikingly different enough to be a disco – even a chart – hit.
BIDDU: ‘Do You Wanna Groove With Me’ (GTO GT 48)
Flip of his nice enough but plummily-intoned ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’, this self-penned smooth thumper is much better – and like Elvis singing Barry White!
CHANTELLES: ‘Sugar Dumpling’ (Black Magic BM 110)
Sam Cooke’s song gets an intriguingly different tootling and throbbing treatment with falsetto vocal and a 7:15 disco flip. Rather nice.
Don’t stop, Donna!
Good for a laugh, Johnnie Stuart (Queen Of Clubs, Hastings) uses the “Don’t stop, don’t stop. I’ll tell you when” bit from the Fatback Band’s ‘Bus Stop’ over the top of the more ludicrously panting parts of Donna Summer’s ‘Love To Love You Baby’ – similarly, I tend to cut the “Holy smoke, I never thought this could happen to me” intro from Elvis’s ‘I Got Stung’ into Serge & Jane’s ‘Je T’Aime’ immediately after the “maintenant – viens” bit. Chris Hill’s ‘Ride On!’ could be good, too!
James’ Top Ten
1 RADIO, Medium Wave Band (Spark)
2 BUMP BOUNCE BOOGIE, Asleep At The Wheel (Capitol)
3 BABY FACE, Wing & A Prayer Corps (Atlantic)
4 I’LL BE SEEING YOU, Jeff Evans (US Grandstand)
5 ANSWER ME, Barbara Dickson (RSO)
6 TWISTIN’ THE MOOD, Joe Loss (HMV)
7 ROCK YOUR BABY, Sunshine Band (Jay Boy)
8 DECEMBER ’63, Four Seasons (Warner Bros)
9 RAIN, Status Quo (Vertigo)
10 LET’S GROOVE, Archie Bell & Drells (Phila Int LP)
1 ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, Boxer (Virgin)
2 USE YOUR IMAGINATION, Kokomo (CBS)
3 WOW, Disco Sound Of Andre Gagnon (Decca)
DJ Hot Line
Louis Jordan: ‘Choo Choo Cha ‘Boogie’ (MCA) Surprise Sisters: ‘La Booga Rooga’ (Good Earth) and Sylvers: ‘Boogie Fever’ (Capitol) are this week’s top new add-ons – votes from Chris Hill (Lacey Lady, Ilford), Jon Taylor (Crockers, Norwich), Steve Day (Chingford), Doctor John (Disco-Tech, Telford), Colin King (Blue Room, Sale), Les Aron (Life Disco, Bognor Regis), Jay Davis (Sound Machine, Welwyn), Alan Gold (Brighton) and Steve Ingram (DJ Enterprises, Weybridge) . . . Steve Ingram’s gone Boogie crazy, with Jordan and Sylvers joined by Supercharge: ‘Get Down Boogie’ (Virgin), and then charts three different In The Mood’s —Ernie Fields (London), Sound 9418 (UK) and Joe Bob’s Nashville Sound Company (Capitol)!
Funky Malc (The Goodies, Rochester) and Chris Hill both bananas about Brass Construction: ‘Changin’/Movin” (US UA) ) — the top-selling import LP of all time? — and Hidden Strength: ‘Hustle On Up’ (US UA), while Chris opines Asleep At The Wheel: ‘Bump Bounce Boogie‘ (Capitol) is the best modern boogie-woogie ever, and further tips Johnny Guitar Watson: ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Lone Ranger‘ (Fantasy) and Rhythm Makers: ‘Zone’ (US Vigor)
Could Jamaica Ska be due for a come back — it’s huge in Belgium? . . . Jon Taylor and Doctor John tip Softones: ‘That Old Black Magic?’ (Avco).
Salsoul Orchestra: ‘Tangerine‘ (Epic), Simon Said: ‘Smile‘ (Atlantic) and 5000 Volts: ‘Bye Love‘ (Philips) climbing for Colin McLean (Acas Club, Hamilton) . . . Jay Jay Sawers (Hotel De Croft, Dairy) joins Colin King to tip Jesse Green: ‘Nice and Slow‘ (EMI) and Ray Robinson (Tiffanys, Leicester) for De Blanc: ‘Oh No Not My Baby‘ (Arista) . . . Lots of grumbling going on about EMI-distributed labels’ promotion — they don’t even send stuff to me, which is why there’s no review yet of Atlanta Disco Band’s UK release.
Les Spaine (Timepiece, Liverpool) has LTG Exchange: ‘Money Mad’ (US RCA) and Joe Quarterman: ‘Young Man’ (US Mercury) amongst his funky tips.
Les Aron flips for Glitter Band: ‘Makes You Blind’ (Bell).
Chantelles: ‘Sugar Dumpling’ and Sharonettes: Broken Hearted Melody (both Black Magic) are star breakers for Anthony Allan (Speakeasy, Wakefield) . . . Following “live” broadcast by Syd Lawrence, the old Ted Heath big band will be on Capital Radio this Friday (27th) at 11 pm . . . Rod “King” Schell (Twisted Wheel, Carlisle) was first onto Billy Ocean: ‘Love Really Hurts Without You’ (GTO) . . . The Boney M: ‘Baby Do You Wanna Bump‘ import is now for imminent release on Creole . . . “Dirty” Harry Park (Geordie Pride Roadshow, Wall-send) reckons that this page is now more influential than Radio One — Gee, thanx!
UK Disco Top 20 – February 28, 1976
01 03 Tina Charles – I Love To Love – CBS
02 02 Four Seasons – December 1963 – Warner Bros.
03 01 Miracles – Love Machine – Tamla Motown
04 06 O’Jays – I Love Music – Philadelphia Int’l
05 NE The Who – Squeeze Box – Polydor
06 05 Donna Summer – Love To Love You Baby – GTO
07 16 Yvonne Fair – It Should Have Been Me – Tamla Motown
08 10 Sound 9418 – In The Mood – UK
09 07 A Wing & A Prayer Fife & Drum Corps – Baby Face – Atlantic
10 RE David Ruffin – Walk Away From Love – Tamla Motown
11 NE Louis Jordan – Choo Choo Ch’Boogie – MCA
12 NE Stylistics – Funky Weekend – Avco
13 12 Manhattan Transfer – Tuxedo Junction – Atlantic
14 13 Juggy Jones – Inside America – Contempo
15 NE Fatback Band – Spanish Hustle – Polydor
16 RE Electric Light Orchestra – Evil Woman – Jet
17 20 L. J. Johnson – Your Magic Put A Spell On Me – Philips
18 18 Fire – Oh That’s My Man – Jay Boy
19 17 Slik- Forever & Ever – Bell
20 04 War – Low Rider – Island
NE = new entry; RE = re-entry