More Than Just A Jukebox King

Louis Jordan.  The man hailed as a jukebox king was delightfully irreverent, socially relevant, and downright hilarious.  And I wasn’t very old when I first heard some of his most popular songs.  In fact, I wasn’t even a pre-schooler when I first heard some of his most famous songs although I didn’t hear them from any of his recordings until I was older.

When I was a child, my father would occasionally sing snippets of songs popular from his younger days, and these snippets usually sent his children into fits of laughter.  My father could be wildly politically incorrect in today’s terms, but back when I was growing up, being politically incorrect had its moments, and singing these songs were part of those moments.

Were it not for the silliness of that song, I might not have told myself it was important to remember the name of the singer, and as it happens, I found the singer’s name to be as memorable as the first line of that song.  It’s also where my love of dark chord progressions and happy lyrics began.

Another Louis Jordan favorite that I loved to pieces (and was happy to hear re-recorded by Doug and the Slugs in the 80s) was “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.”  I loved that song so much that I took to using that line as my default answer when my mother would try to find her brood.  While the line always seemed to work for Louis Jordan and his orchestra, it never seemed to work for me as I was always the first child found in the house.

Now romance is something that I’ve always seen from an interesting comic perspective.  This song with its dark lyrics and uptempo music quickly became one of my favorites, and as a child, I thought it would be lots of fun to meet Jack from the song — just so I could find out why he had such bad luck in the love and romance department.  And every time my father got to the final refrain of this song, well, it was the cat’s meow!  Or the bees knees.  Or whatever other funny phrase came to mind at the time.

I suppose my love of writing lyrics that added another level to words was as a direct result of listening to songs like this one.  At the time, I was far too young to understand the many layered meanings to this song, but I loved how n-n-n-nuts made me think that this is how squirrels would probably say the word if they spoke English.

One thing I never understood (never have, and probably never will) is what it was about this song that would stick in my mother’s craw every single time my father launched into singing it.  Whenever she had terse words for my father (and we were the built-in audience for the drama during such times), there came a point where he would laugh heartily and start in with this Louis Jordan hit.

As a teenager, I uncovered a lot more Louis Jordan songs that made my day any day I listened to them.  In some ways, they were an extension of those fun days I’d known as a child, but they were also a chance to express myself without being chided for being insolent.  And trust me, on days when my older brother stuck his nose into my life, it was songs like this that helped me sidestep his nosey parker ways.

Then there was this riotously inappropriate murder-promoting song that really let a person vent thanks to a number of very popular musicians of the day including Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald.

These days, everyone as an opinion on everything including how to fix the national debt (even though they may be up to their own ears in debt) and how everyone else should run their business.  Of course, in some cases if you don’t give them time on their virtual soapbox, you’ll never hear the end of how close-minded you are.  In cases such as those, you might want to learn this song so you can sing it silently to yourself while the lecture is proceeding.

Finally, while this Louis Jordan song isn’t one I heard as a child or a teen or even a young adult, it seems oddly appropriate as the American election looms large on the horizon.

Until next time, take care, be well, and let music guide you through the rough times as well as the tough times, and to spice up the fun times along the way.

Elyse Bruce


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