JUNIE C. COBB and His New Hometown Band
Junie C. Cobb (p, and vocal on Side 2, #4) Fortunatus “Fip” Ricard (tp) Harken “Booby” Floyd (tb) Leon Washington (cl, ts) Ikey “Banjo Ike” Robinson (bj) Walter “Chippy” Hill (b) Red Saunders (drs) vocal on Side 1, #2 and 4, Side 2, #2 and 4) by Annabelle Calhoun
Chicago; September 8, 1961
Swing Your Hurdy-Gurdy (3:58) (Junnie Cobb)
Belligerent Blues (6:25) (Junnie Cobb)
Once or Twice (4:25) (Junnie Cobb)
I’m Gonna Have You (3:06) (Junnie Cobb)
Mister Blues (3:34) (Junnie Cobb)
Just Squeeze Me (4:42) (Duke Ellington)
Be Mine (5:04) (Junnie Cobb)
Just Because of You (5:06) (Junnie Cobb)
In a sense, JUNIE COBB was unintentionally the starting point for the entire “Chicago; The Living Legends” series of which this album is a part. In the Summer of 1961 a friend who had just returned from a trip to that city brought me a thoroughly obscure 45 rpm single, apparently, issued in 1959, by “Junie Cobb and His Grains of Corn”. When I placed it on my record player, the loudspeaker immediately vibrated with a steady rhythm, some fine piano playing reminiscent of Jelly Roll Morton and very effective tenor sax solo. If this were the same Junie Cobb who had recorded with Johnny Dodds in Chicago in the ‘20s – and it must be he, I figured – then there might well be many other legendary jazz figures still active in the Windy City. Having successfully captured the “living legends” of New Orleans for Riverside earlier in the year, it seemed only natural that Chicago be next line. Brief investigation convinced us, and it wasn’t long before Riversides mobile recording unit was again on the move …
On the night of my arrival in Chicago, I located Cobb. He confirmed that he had recorded the single and was also the man whose early recordings with Dodds can be heard on Riverside’s “Jazz Archives” series (RLP 104). He and his wife now live in a comfortable house on Indiana Avenue. On a table near the living room window I spotted and old clarinet. Junie informed me that he had given it up on doctor’s order several years ago, and was now devoting himself to the piano – the first instrument he had learned to play. He has also been doing much composing, so we agreed that his album would feature his originals, as arranged by Leon Washington, the tenor soloist on the number I had heard. His recording date was set for our last day in Chicago.
At first Junie had wanted to use Al Wynn and other “old-timers”, but when he learned that the men he had picked were scheduled for other albums in our series, he changed his mind, deciding not to duplicate personnel. Since most available veterans were thereby eliminated, Junie’s selections – except for “Banjo Ike” and Red Saunders – were relatively younger musicians. But all had worked with him before, which led us to borrow a name used on some of his old recordings for the Paramount label and call this group the “New” Hometown Band.
Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Junie began his musical studies at the age of nine. It was his father’s decision that he attend the University of New Orleans which led him to jazz, for the young man absorbed much from the Crescent City beehive of jazz activities, most of the great early musicians before they migrated North.
In New Orleans, he noted, he mastered “a terrific jazz beat,” and his piano playing found a great additional source of inspiration several years later when he ventured out to Los Angeles and formed a close friendship with Jelly Roll Morton. Returning to Hot Springs, he led a trio that included cornetist John Dunn, but it wasn’t long before he followed in the footsteps of the New Orleans musicians and moved on to the new jazz mecca of Chicago. He first played at he Club Alvedere, later re-named The Nest and eventually most famous as the Apex Club – under which name Cobb worked there (as a banjoist) along with Jimmie Noone and Earl Hines.
A remarkably versatile musician, Junie played with King Oliver at the old Lincoln Gardens and later at The Plantation – where he relieved every man in the band nightly, for by that time he could play all the saxes, clarinet, oboe trumpet, banjo, piano, trombone and drums. When The Plantation burned one Christmas Eve, Cobb joined Sammy Stewart’s band, late formed his own “Giants of Corn”, worked briefly in Paris around 1930, and then returned to Chicago, where he was at the Metropole Café and the celebrated Club Delisa, at 55th and State. (This biography, which differs slightly from others appearing n various jazz publications, was obtained directly from Cobb.)
Ikey Robinson, best known as “Banjo Ike,” was born in Dublin, Virginia. He came to Chicago in 1926 and spent three years with a group called The Albamians, which Jelly Roll took over in ’29. He was then at New York’s Savoy Ballroom with Sammy Stewart, played with Wilbur Sweatman and toured with several Negro musicals, including James P. Johnson’s “Sugar Hill” eventually returning to Chicago to play with Carroll Dickerson at the famous Sunset Café. Robinson, who also plays piano, guitar and clarinet, is still active in Chicago restaurants and cocktail lounges. Leon Washington started his career with the Chicago Defender Band in 1925. His associations have included such legendary and/or famous groups and figures as Bernie Young’s Creole Band, Carroll Dickerson’s Grand Terrace orchestra, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Jimmie Cobb (Junie’s trumpet playing brother) and Earl Hines.
Red Saunders has had an equally full career almost since he first came to Chicago from Memphis at the age of seven and stayed at the home of Lil Hardin Armstrong. He has worked in the big bands of Armstrong, Woody Herman and Duke Ellington. Joining Albert Ammons’ band at the Delisa in February, 1937, he took over the band later that year and headed it here for two decades (Leon Washington was with him virtually all that time). During those years Re coached such young hopefuls as Billy Eckstine, Lurlean Hunter and Joe Williams (who sang with Red’s band for five years before joining Count Basie). The Delisa closed in 1958, but Saunders still maintains a big band, playing at such local places as the famed Regal Theater.
Four tunes here feature vocals by Annabelle Calhoun, who came to Chicago in 1938 from Dallas (where she had sung in church choirs and choral groups directed by a daughter of Booker T. Washington). In 1940 Junie “snatched her out of the choir” and they have been working together ever since.
Except for one Ellington standard, the tunes are all Cobb’s ranging from the fast-moving Hurdy-Gurdy to Just Because of You (which is based on Chopin’s Minute Waltz sound of this album differs greatly from the rest of the music in this series – but Mr. Cobb is a highly individualistic man with a forceful personality that begs to differ.
This album is part of an extensive group of recordings of traditional jazz as it is played today, made by Riverside in Chicago during September, 1961, and issued under the general series title, “Chicago living Legends.” The musicians featured here can also be heard in the initial albumin this series, which is an overall survey of the current Windy City scene.
CHICAGO: The Living Legends (RLP 389/390; Stereo 9389/9390 – a two-LP set
A similar series albums, recorded in New Orleans in January, 1961, has been issued on Riverside under the general title “New Orleans: The Living Legends.”
Produced by CHRIS ALBERTSON
Recording Engineer: BARRETT CLARK
Mobile unit assistant: RICHARD COHN
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Cover and back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
Recorded at “The Birdhouse”
Mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York City 36, New York