5 December, 1962
The weather was foul that Wednesday, icy with dense fog covering much of Britain. It was the precursor to what would prove to be The Big Freeze, the UK’s coldest winter experience since 1895. Jump blues great Louis Jordan had been due to fly to London on that date but, instead, found his plane diverted to Prestwick.
“I spent the coldest hour of my life in a heated room at the airport,” he later mused. Eventually he caught a train to London but this too proved to be a bitterly cold journey. When he awoke next morning he had completely lost his voice. The tour set up for him by British jazz bandleader Chris Barber faced disarray, and some appearances were cancelled. When, he recovered enough to face the media, Louis immediately apologised: “I can’t tell you how sorry I am. It’s been rough, man. Until today I haven’t been able to leave my room.”
An R&B mainman, Louis took his responsibilities seriously. “Most jazz musicians usually want to play for themselves” he maintained, ”but I just wanted to play for the people.” And that he did, inventing a form of R&B that, at once was infectious, fun and practically sat up and invited the audience to dance. In America he was a sensation, notching around 60 R&B chart hits including 18 number ones, and starring in several movies. In the UK too, his music resonated strongly with British youth. In the late 40s and early ‘50s, the sax-playing, ebullient Jordan notched eight big sellers in this country with Is You Is Or Is You Ain't’ My Baby, Caldonia and Open The Door, Richard!, while Let The Good Times Roll and Daddy-O, were early indications of changes soon to come. No one doubts that as a precursor of Rock and Roll, Louis Jordan had few rivals. Some even credit him as a very early rap MC.
“Playing with Louis was like being dragged along by a wild horse.”
Chris Barber caught up with Jordan in the early 60s. Barber, who had arranged UK tours for such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy, recalled, “We were touring America and were in New York where the Apollo had Louis Jordan for a week.” He and his wife, singer Ottilie Patterson hurtled off to the Harlem venue, where Jordan’s Tympany Five was appearing in the company of guest star, saxophonist Sonny Stitt. ”The great thing was at the end of the show, when Louis and his baritone player were doing the splits,” recalls Barber. “Sonny Stitt was beaming. I was amazed to find that Louis had Teddy Bunn on guitar, I didn’t know that he was still alive. And he was still playing without a pick. I said to Louis, Would you like to come to England sometime? He said, Of course! We got back and I fixed up a ten-day tour of England, which was fantastic.”
UK Debut Show
Jordan belatedly made his UK debut at Sheffield City Hall on December 8. The weather was still poor and the hall consequently was only half full but one reviewer who braved the elements reported: “Louis should not be missed, his playing was really something tough, unsubtle but mightily swinging.” As well as playing those irresistible hits, he duetted with Ottilie Patterson on T’Ain’t Nobody's Business and provided the best moment of the night with the blues, Outskirts Of Town. Says Chris Barber:
“The thing was, he didn’t reckon on singing blues and if he sang anything serious he would put humorous interjections into it. He said, You must not bring your audience down. He was marvellous. He could have sung blues all night and no one would have minded. Offstage he was a quiet, very likable man. Very methodical too. He had this book which was filled with phone numbers, addresses and birthdays. Each day he would send cards to anyone who had a birthday coming up. He once said that if he ever wanted work in any place, all he had to do was to call one of the numbers in his book and he’d get fixed up.”
Before he headed home for Christmas, Jordan went into Barnes’ Olympic Studio on December 15 to cut nine tracks with the Barber band. “He and Ottilie performed T’Ain’t Nobody’s Business, which is beautiful,” says Barber. “Louis Jordan was the greatest thing that ever happened to our band. We can swing with the best, but playing with Louis when he was fifty-four years old was like being dragged along by a wild horse.”