JAMES "JIMMY" WITHERSPOON (By Dave Penny)

Born 18 August 1922, Gurdon, Arkansas

Died 18 September 1997, Los Angeles, California

In his mid teens, young Jimmy left home and hitched to Los Angeles where he landed his first job as a dish-washer at the Owl Drug Store on 8th and Broadway. At Lovejoy's Breakfast Club - a favourite after hours haunt of blues and jazz musicians - he came into contact with stars like T-Bone Walker and Art Tatum, and it was here that he decided that he wanted to pursue a career as a vocalist. During the Second World War, 'Spoon joined the Merchant Marines as a cook, sailing the Pacific and Indian Oceans as far as Calcutta, where he made his unlikely performing debut with Teddy Weatherford's Orchestra broadcasting over the Armed Forces Radio Service, By 1945 and back in the Californian naval port of Vallejo, 'Spoon's sailor friends persuaded visiting bandleader Jay McShann to allow him to sing a couple of songs with his band. McShann was so impressed that he hired young Jimmy to replace his current blues singer, Walter Brown who had given notice, although he was offered the job only on the condition that he sing the band's biggest hit, "Confessin' The Blues", just the way that it had been sung by Walter. Jimmy's recut of "Confessin' The Blues" became his recording debut with the McShann Orchestra in August 1945, and in many ways his version was as good as the 1941 original. Associated with McShann until early 1949 - when he topped the Billboard R&B chart with his first and biggest hit "Ain't Nobody's Business (Parts 1 & 2)" - 'Spoon recorded on Jay's band recordings for Philo/Aladdin and Premier/Mercury during 1945-47, before recording under his own name for Supreme/Down Beat/Swing Time and Modern for the remainder of the decade, usually in the company of McShann and his musicians. In late 1949, 'Spoon scored a big hit for Modern with "No Rollin' Blues" c/w "Big Fine Girl", recorded live at a Gene Norman "Blues Jubilee" concert with the Gene Gilbeaux Quartet. Many fine records were made in the 1950s and 1960s, the highlights being his Modern, Feder al, Checker and Prestige recordings, and although he did not thrive through the rock 'n' roll revolution of the mid 1950s, he adapted his act for a spot at the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival, where he was reborn that night to a reception that carried him successfully and comfortably through the last 48 years of his life and hundreds of jazz festivals and recordings for the likes of Pablo and Muse. 'Spoon was diagnosed with throat cancer in the early 1980s and was hospitalized several times over the following decade, always bouncing back with remarkable speed to recording and touring. He died at the age of 75 in September 1997.

Recommended listening

"Gone With The Blues" (Jasmine CD 3002)

"Jimmy Witherspoon 1947-48" (Classics CD 5051)

"Blowin' In From Kansas City" (Ace CDCHD 279)

"Jay's Blues" (Charly CRB 270)

"Spoon So Easy: The Chess Years" (MCA CD 93003)

"Jimmy Witherspoon Meets The Jazz Giants" (Charly CRB 169)

"Sings The Blues Sessions" (Ace CDCHD 896)

"Jazz Me Blues: The Best Of Jimmy Witherspoon" (Prestige CD 11008)

 
These pages were saved from "This Is My Story" for reference usage only. Please note that these pages were not originally published or written by BlackCat Rockabilly Europe. For comments or information please contact Dik de Heer at dik.de.heer@ziggo.nl

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