Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jimmy Forrest - "Night Train" - United Records, 1952

We're going way back to 1952 for this huge RnB tune that spawned about a million cover versions. Many of you my age or younger may recognize this song as the one being performed at the dance scene in the movie "Back To Thie Future".
Jimmy Forrest (January 24, 1920 - August 26, 1980) was a Jazz musician born in St. Louis, Missouri. From Wikipedia:
"(Jimmy Forrest) played alongside Fate Marable as a young man. He was with Jay McShann in 1940-42 and with Andy Kirk from 1942-48, when he joined Duke Ellington. During the early 1950s, he led his own combos. He also played with Miles Davis, in the Spring of 1952 at The Barrel Club. After his solo career, he played in small combos with Harry "Sweets" Edison and Al Grey as well as appearing with Count Basie."
"Night Train" was Jimmy's smash hit. It reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart in March 1952 and stayed at the top for seven weeks. For many white kids, this was their first introduction to "race music".
Now "Night Train" had it's influences: the opening riff can be found in Duke Ellington's "That's the Blues, Old Man" and "Happy-Go-Lucky Local", and Forrest was part of Ellington's band during the period in which this song was performed. But Forrest's own solo and a new stop-time rhythm is what really made this song. Before we start discussing some of the covers, let's listen to the original:

Now some of the many, many covers. First, Louis Prima's 1957 version - a real scorcher!

And during the 60's somewhere, legendary California surfer rockers The Rumblers released this version on Dot (from my collection, off the "Boss" LP).

Or how about some mid-60's Ska flavor - get skanking with Danny Davis and Byron Lee!

And let's not forget James Browns' hopped up funk masterpeice of a version!

I could go on, but I think you get the point: this tune has become a standard and has inspired countless musicians.
Jimmy blowing minds back inna day
United was formed in July of 1951, and May 1952 the company added a second imprint, States (how patrotic!). United/States recorded the whole gamut of African-American popular music styles of the day: blues, jazz, vocal groups, rhythm and blues jumps, and gospel. By the end of the 50s, the labels had fallen into decline and went under. But they had a terrific run for those 10 years.
Here's a great resource for info on the United/States record labels, I recommend it for those of you deep history buffs:

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