Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Simply a Jazz Legend

For several years, I have known that today’s artist is not the obscure entity that his 45 on a small Chicago label would imply. When Uncle Tom brought the 45s to me (he gave me two copies, bought on different record runs), they came from the usual bargain bin. The single didn’t chart. Three-year-old caithiseach cranked it a lot, though, and the two sides broadened my horizons plenty.

First of all, the A-side, “Simple Steps” by James “Red” Holloway (Mad 1297), set the tone for many caithiseach favorites: growly baritone sax, an energizing 1-4-5 progression (think “Why Wait” with a rockier beat) and a clean guitar solo that has a tinge of jazz to it. During the sax solo, the bass line is distinctly jazzy, but I didn’t notice that when I was three years old.

It’s a good thing Uncle Tom picked up two copies of this gem: one died in the Great Meltdown. The Survivor hasn’t fared all that well; it’s nearly Ground to Dust, and there are parallel cracks, one across the entire playing surface, and another halfway through, close enough to the first crack to make losing a chunk of the styrene a serious threat. I have transferred the song to my hard drive, of course, and a search will show you where you can get both sides of this 45 on CD. I don’t have the CD yet, so I can’t tell you how good it sounds. Even with the option of acquiring the songs on CD, I would hate to have my 45 break, so I am being extra careful with it.

The label has one of the busiest logos I have seen on a 45. I liked it when I was a kid, but I also couldn’t see it very well until I entered the first grade, when people figured out that I needed glasses. See the label here.

There are little man-faces with huge noses peering over the letters, with music notes weaving behind the letters. I can describe the logo, but I can’t tell you what it means.

About four years ago, I decided to look for a cleaner copy of the 45, and I found something even better: a website devoted to Mad Records. Professor Robert Campbell of Clemson University is responsible for this excellent labor of love, and I am proud to have contributed both the label scans and the sounds of this 45 to his research. You can see the site here. There is a lot of information there, so you’ll have to scroll partway down the page to find today’s song.

I scanned the label of my 45, then Professor Campbell cleaned it up, and I took the jpg from his site, so consider that a statement of credit.

What I have learned about James “Red” Holloway is that he has, over time, become an intensely respected jazz saxophonist. He’s an Arkansas native, born in Helena on May 31, 1927. Yes, I chose this slot and the next to discuss his music in order to honor his birthday. He is still active; you can book him via his website. But good luck finding an open slot in his schedule; he’s performing constantly throughout 2008, including the Red Holloway Jazz & Blues Festival in his hometown on July 26, six weeks in Europe in September-October and a Thanksgiving trip to Japan. Nice.

When three-year-old caithiseach was playing Red’s 45 regularly, there was no way of knowing that the singer/sax player had performed with Dizzy Gillespie, would later cut a couple of albums with Sonny Stitt, and could play “clarinet, flute, piccolo, piano, bass, drums, and violin,” according to his site bio. There is so much to say about this varied and exciting career that I would do well to step aside and let you peruse the two websites to which I have linked.

Professor Campbell’s page states that Red recorded enough tracks during the Mad sessions of late 1958 or early 1959 to make up a complete album, but only the tracks on this 45 were released. I really liked this double-sided caithiseach hit, so I am hoping the tapes are sitting somewhere, waiting for some motivated investigator to rescue them.

Red Holloway wrote “Simple Steps.” On the recording, Leon Hooper plays drums, and McKinley (Mac) Easton most likely provides the baritone underpinning. The organist and the guitarist are unknown. A lot of research has been done, so the missing information may well never come to light.

Mad Records was set up in Chicago in 1957 by a jazzy saxophonist, Tommy “Mad Man” Jones. He kept the label and a companion, M&M Records, going until 1991. Jones was responsible for the debuts of a number of significant artists, including Red Holloway and Oscar Brown Jr.

Over the course of this blog, I’ve discovered that I owned some famous songs (“Midnight Sun”) and early work by people with great futures (Marlin Greene) or amazing connections (Bob Keefe). I don’t think anyone in my collection can top Red Holloway’s musical range, contacts or longevity.

To show you what this man is capable of, I’m including a cut from a 1964 LP, Brother Red, which shows his prowess as a jazz saxophonist in a setting where he is in charge.

After this first taste, I’ll share more about him Saturday. See you on the flip side!

Red Holloway, Simple Steps

Red Holloway, Brother Red

1 comment:

stackja1945 said...

Can see where Bill and the Comets came from.