BRINKLEY –- Friday, July 8, will mark what would have been the 97th birthday of rhythm and blues pioneer Louis Jordan. The Brinkley native had more than 50 top 10 hits in the 1940s, and influenced James Brown, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and many others, but is far less known than his acolytes.
But even amidst ivory-bill mania, Monroe County residents also seem to be seeing the advantage in recognizing their area’s musical heritage. A second well-attended Choo Choo Ch’Boogie Delta Music Festival was held June 25 with headliners Sonny Burgess and the Pacers and Willie Cobbs and the Hi Rhythm Section.
A deeper connection is implied with the festival’s unique name. It refers both to the renovated train depot, which serves as the area’s first-ever museum, and the biggest hit of Brinkley’s biggest native son, Jordan. More than 30 years after his death, and six decades since his heyday, Brinkley is honoring its most famous resident. Jordan’s boyhood home on Main Street is barely standing, but at least a homemade sign marks the structure.
At the train depot-turned-museum, a bust of Jordan greets visitors. Sculpted by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette artist John Deering, the bust has funded by proceeds from Louis Jordan Tribute concerts. Held annually in Little Rock since 1997, the Louis Jordan Tribute has been recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the U.S. Library of Congress’s “Living Legacies” program. The Jordan Tribute has included Jordan’s widow, Martha, twice, as well as dozens of bands doing Jordan songs. The tribute also has helped Jordan get inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in the 1990s.
With the bust still being paid for, the Ninth Annual Louis Jordan Tribute will be held July 7 at the Cornerstone Pub and Deli in North Little Rock. Plans to install the bust outdoors will involve still more costs, noted Katie Jacques of the Central Delta Historical Society.
Jordan in January 1945 recorded what would become one of his most enduring songs, “Caldonia Boogie.” Jordan¹s wife at the time, Fleecie Moore of Brasfield (Prairie County), was actually given credit for writing “Caldonia Boogie,” as well as several more of his biggest hits. Jordan was signed to another publishing agency, and assigning credit to Moore allowed him to negotiate other deals. He regretted the practice when the couple divorced acrimoniously after she stabbed him in January 1947.
Following its success, many claimed “Caldonia Boogie.” Blues singer Sippie Wallace claimed it was based on her early 1920s song “Caldonia Blues,” while Jordan acknowledged the hook lyric, “Caldonia, what makes your big head so hard?” was lifted from Hot Lips Page. A lawsuit over the song went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the song remained Jordan’s— or Fleecie Moore’s, rather.
Roy Clark, B.B. King, Benny Goodman, Memphis Slim, Carl Perkins, Louis Prima, Dale Hawkins and Clifton Chenier are among the hundreds of diverse artists who have covered “Caldonia Boogie.”
“Caldonia Boogie,” Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five
“Caldonia Boogie,” Erskine Hawkins
“Caldonia Boogie,” Woody Herman and His Thundering Herd
“Caldonia Boogie,” Muddy Waters with Levon Helm