Brinkley-born R&B pioneer Louis Jordan’s sales — and influence — loom large. And 1946 was a very good year for Jordan, who saw some of his biggest songs — “Let the Good Times Roll,” “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” “Jack, You’re Dead” — cut. And Jordan’s biggest-ever single, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” was recorded that January.
Milt Gabler, Jordan’s longtime producer at his longtime label, Decca, brought “Choo Choo” to Jordan and claims a co-writing credit. The other writers, Denver Darling and Vaughan Horton, performed country and Western music on New York’s WNEW radio.
Jordan, who was born July 8, 1908, played his own brand of sophisticated pre-rock, pre-R&B music in the face of the big band era. He reportedly heard the song and said, “Leave the chords in the blues vein and we’ll see what we can do with it.” By the next March, Jordan was presented his first-ever gold record for sales of “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie.” Several others of his songs were also approaching the million sales mark at the time, but “Choo Choo” remained his biggest song and 1946 his peak.
In fact, Jordan had four of the year’s five top “Race Records” songs. Two of these, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” spent an incredible 35 combined weeks at No. 1 that year.
Jordan had more than 50 top 10 hits over the span of the 1940s; his biggest, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” sold some 2 million copies. A decade later, the Monroe Countian was relegated to rerecording old hits like “Choo Choo” with Quincy Jones for Mercury in 1956 and 1957 to compete with the R&B and rock ’n’ roll crazes he helped spawn.
Those artists considered influential, such as Chuck Berry, B.B. King and Ray Charles, were themselves profoundly influenced by Jordan, who died Feb. 4, 1975. Sammy Davis Jr., who got his start opening for Jordan, called him “the original soul brother.” Sonny Rollins called Jordan “a bridge between the blues and jazz.” James Brown put it most succinctly: “He was everything.”
Many have recorded “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” — from B.B. King to Clifton Chenier to Foghat. Western swing group Asleep at the Wheel, whose founder Ray Benson also cites Jordan’s influence, made the song a concert and album staple — while returning it to its country-Western roots.
Jordan never left “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie.” In March 1960, he performed it on the network TV show “Startime,” emceed by Ronald Reagan. In December 1962, Jordan recorded the song once again with the Chris Barber Band in London.
Today, the museum in Brinkley displays a Jordan bust, stemming from funds raised at annual Louis Jordan tribute concerts held in Little Rock since 1997. And Brinkley has its own appropriately named music event staged near the city’s museum, a renovated former train depot — the Choo Choo Ch’Boogie Delta Music Festival.
This year’s festival will be held June 25. Billy Swan, Sonny Burgess and the Pacers, Ho-hum and the Bug Tussle Boys (whose lineup includes this columnist) are among those scheduled.
• “Jack, You’re Dead”
• “Let the Good Times Roll”
• “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”
• “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five
• “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” B.B. King
• “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” Asleep At The Wheel
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