Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Nugetre's Nuggets, Part Three: Joe Turner Ties Chains Of Love To You...

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Today's nugget of Nugetre songwriting is Chains Of Love, written for Big Joe Turner.

Joe Turner had already had a long career working with big bands as a vocalist, and alongside friend and fellow bluesman Pete Johnson. By the 1950s, Joe was a veteran of the vocal jazz scene, but his popularity was limited outside this audience.

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The big opportunity for Joe to revitalize his career came in spring 1951, when singer Jimmy Rushing left the Count Basie Band. Ahmet Ertegun heard that Joe was being called in to replace him, so he went to the show at the Apollo Theater. Ahmet signed Joe to a one-year contract with Atlantic. On April 19, 1951, he recorded the first song, written by Ahmet himself with pianist Harry 'Van' Walls, who play behind Joe on the song.

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Chains Of Love b/w After My Laughter Came Tears was the first single in May 1951. It reached No.2, and stayed on the r&b chart for 25 weeks, and became the number four best-selling record of the year. Joe toured with Helen Humes and The Hal Singer Orchestra, then as part of Atlantic's "Cavalcade of Blues" tour traveling throughout Louisiana and Texas.

Atlantic released a follow-up while Chains Of Love was still in the charts. The Chill Is On reached No.3 on the R&B charts. In the meantime, material he had recorded earlier for other labels surfaced on the radio. Joe recorded another Nugetre song, Sweet Sixteen , in January 1952. Up to this point in his career, Joe had written most of his songs, and he continued to write material, including the 1953 No.1 hit Honey Hush. Back in New York in December 1953, Joe recorded his biggest hit of all. Shake, Rattle, And Roll reached No.1 on the R&B charts. While this song wasn't written by Ahmet Ertegun, you can hear Ahmet, Jerry Wexler and Jesse Stone making the noise and doing the backing vocals!

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Oddly, despite the version by Bill Haley and The Comets being heard on the radio, it was Joe's version that remained on the charts for over six months! Such popularity for the original black artist dictated some alteration of the traditional pattern of promotion, and Joe was a rock n' roll star! Joe and Bill ended up bizarrely on a tour together, and became friends. After reinventing himself as an r&b star, Joe now was introduced into the crossover world of rock n' roll, and promoted by DJ Alan Freed as part of his tour, even starring in two rock n'roll movies: Harlem Rock And Roll and Shake, Rattle And Roll.

Pete Johnson watches J.C. Higginbotham win the table-tennis competition at the Turkish Embassy...
Pete Johnson watches in awe as J.C. Higginbotham takes on all-comers at a table-tennis tournament at the Turkish Embassy.

After a string of successful hits after that, Joe teamed up once again with his old friend Pete Johnson to record the Boss Of The Blues album, and they played together at The Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 before going off to tour successfully in Europe.

Big Joe Turner - Chains Of Love (1951)

Information from a BluesNotes Magazine article by Terry Currier, of the Cascade Blues Association. Photos from various and What'd I Say: The Atlantic Story.

1 comment:

billmitchell said...

joe turner guested at Reece's ballroom in Liverpool sometime in the late 50's or maybe early 60's I was there ! he was most gracious mixing with the fans DURING THE INTERVAL,and most complimentary when I quizzed him about the standard of the British bands that he was appearing with..it goes without saying that his singing was in a different class to our usual diet..I have very pleasant memories of the occasion..bill mitchell