Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Night Train To Nashville: Christine Kittrell

BUY Night Train To Nashville here...

This week I'm going to post on a few artists to be found on the compilation Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970 - Vols 1& 2, from Lost Highway/Universal. This compilation was devised to accompany an exhibition at the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2004-5, and brings together songs recorded at 25 Nashville labels, by dozens of artists, some of whom were regularly featured on the TV shows Night Train and The!!!!Beat, which featured Nashville r&b. You can actually hear a stream of all the tracks on the Commotion PR website - who promote Night Train To Nashville , and buy the CDs (or vinyl!) at the Night Train to Nashville website.
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Christine Kittrell is featured several times on the CDs. Christine Kittrell was born on August 11, 1929, into a musical family in Nashville, and decided that singing would be her life's work after singing in church, and listening to records by Vela Johnson, Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday and Bessie Smith. Ann Bishop, a friend, remembers when she first heard her sing:

"When I met her she was singing at Tony Morone's Cadillac Club on North 20th Street. She had stage presence, personality and an unforgettable voice."

During the 1940s and early 50s, Kittrell toured extensively, and recorded for Tennessee, Republic, Federal, King and Vee-Jay Records over her career. During the summer of 1952, a little independent label based in Nashville called Tennessee Records released a blues recording called Sittin' Here Drinkin' /I Ain't Nothing But A Fool (Tennessee 128). In 1952, Little Richard played piano on one of her songs, Lord Have Mercy. In 1953, Christine moved to Republic Records, also in Nashville, and recorded with the Gay Crosse Band, who had in their number a young tenor player called John Cole Trane. Christine was starting to rack up sales of over 20,000 per single.

In 1954, she toured regularly. DJ Gene Norman organised a show with The Robins, Christine Kittrell, Earl Bostic, and The Flairs at the Embassy Ballroom in LA, and to tour California in March. Other West Coast tours would follow, with "Fats" Domino, Earl Bostic, Paul Williams, John Coltrane and more. She did other shows with Johnny Otis, The Lamplighters, Ruth Brown and Count Basie. Success as a national r&b artist seemed imminent.

At this point in 1954, Christine decided to return to gospel music. She moved to Columbus Ohio in 1962, to make a new home. Around this time, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller sought her out and wrote the song I'm a Woman for her, which she recorded on Vee-Jay along with some other, but none of them sold well, and she returned to her gospel once more.

In the early 60s, she toured Japan performing with Louis Armstrong and Paul Williams. Then, in the mid 1960s, promoter David Moore, who knew her from her r&b shows on the West Coast, booked her on a Southeast Asian tour where she sang for the troops in Vietnam. She stayed on tour in Vietnam for 8 1/2 months, intending to stay longer. The tour was terminated, almost literally, when Christine was wounded by shrapnel in a Viet-Cong incident.

In 1986 a fan of Kittrells' called Bruce Bastian, suggested recording an album, titled Krazy Kat, returning to the blues. Continuing to perform with local Columbus blues group The Night Owlz, she became a mentor for Ohio artist Teeny Tucker (daughter of Tommy 'High Heel Sneakers' Tucker), and sang on Tucker's album First Class Woman.

Kittrell spent her remaining few years working with a beautification group, the Linden Community in Action, and was inducted into the Columbus Senior Musicians Hall of Fame in 1998. Christine Kitrell died on 19th December 2001 from emphysema, aged 72.

You can hear an interview with Christine Kittrell, on Ohio University Radio in 1994, and hear her sing a number of her songs with the Night Owlz, including Evil Eyed Woman and Mr Big Wheel. In addition, this track below is being offered by Commotion PR, who run promotion for the Night Train To Nashville CDs.

Christine Kittrell - L&N Special (Republic) (June 1953)

Information from an article by Ann Bishop, the Night Train To Nashville exhibition, Bad Dog Blues, and the most comprehensive article by J C Marion, which contains a detailed discography. Link to free promotional download provided by Commotion PR.

2 comments:

afcpeters said...

Christine Kittrell’s recording of “I’m A Woman” may have been recorded and released prior to Peggy Lee’s hit version, but Leiber & Stoller did not write the song for her. The song was written for a musical based on the work of writer Richard Pike Bissell. When the show failed to materialize, they sent a demo to Lee’s producer, Dave Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh didn’t respond, but Mike Stoller read a review of Lee’s show at Basin Street East that mentioned the song. He went to the club, where he met Lee for the first time. Cavanaugh came to New York to make the record, and invited Leiber & Stoller to join him in the studio, where he essentially let them produce the track (albeit without credit.)

At that time, Leiber & Stoller had no idea Christine Kittrell had already recorded the song; I’m not even sure they’d heard of Kittrell. It remains a mystery to them to this day how she got ahold of the song when she did…although they do think she made a fine record of it.

Peter Stoller
Leiber/Stoller Productions

Rob Whatman said...

Thank you, Mr Stoller, for the info. I'm going to alter this post to reflect this. And thank you for visiting my blog! Pass on my highest regards to your father and to Mr Leiber!

A mystery brews, perhaps suitable for the Soul Detective?...