Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Four Blazes - Mary Jo

One of the top R&B records of 1952, a tribute to that legendary woman who "went up to Alaska just to melt the snow", "Mary Jo" provided a moment in the national spotlight for one of Chicago's hottest vocal combos. The single was released in April of '52 and entered the national charts in the middle of July. It moved rapidly to the top, displacing Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" as the #1 R&B song in the nation at the end of August. Born in the waning years of the Depression, The Four Blazes brought vitality and showmanship to the early years of R&B. Bassist Tommy Braden was the main lead singer while all members provided backup harmony vocals. "Jelly" Holt was the founder and drummer in the group, while Floyd McDaniel and "Shorty" Hill played guitars. The vocal styling on this song reminds me a lot of Louis Prima. My dad liked him too and played his "The Wildest" album often when I was a kid. I'll never forget how surprised I was when David Lee Roth covered, "Just A Giggolo" as I never heard that song anywhere outside of my home growing up. Dave's video for that song was an 80s classic. Anyway, I digress. Mary Jo was released on United Records, which was the first successful black-owned record company. Operated by Leonard Allen: tailor, retired policeman and one of exceptionally wide taste in music, the two labels (United and States) issued some of the best performances in jazz, blues, gospel and R&B from '51-57.

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