JJ 11/61: In My Opinion – Harry Douglas

Sixty years ago the Deep River Boys singer showed his jazz credentials, opining with informed enthusiasm on Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Bill Doggett and more. First published in Jazz Journal November 1961

The Deep River Boys with Harry Douglas standing

This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians, who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop. Harry Douglas is the lead singer with the Deep River Boys, an American singing group that has delighted British audiences for a number of years. Although they do not sing jazz, as such, they have in common with all the best coloured vocal groups, an ability to produce a beat, and to sing with an infectious swing. Harry has been a jazz fan for many years, and numbers amongst his closest friends many of the jazz giants of today and yesterday. He does, in fact, know jazz. – Sinclair Traill

“Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”. Louis Armstrong (Louis & The Good Book). Brunswick LAT 8270
Well, I know that is one of the greatest albums Louis ever made. Of course that is my type of song, for the original Deep River Boys used to sing spirituals and more or less nothing else but. Pops there is just wonderful, the feeling he gets into his singing is just pure jazz. I also dig that Sy Oliver chorus behind him – they swing, you know, and the writing is very, very delicate. I saw Sy on Broadway a few weeks back and actually mentioned this album to him. We had heard it over the radio in Barcelona and I had to tell him just how good I thought it was. I only wish there were more people making music like this, music that will go down in history, music that people, whatever their tastes, will con­tinue to love. I really can’t say enough about that record – a superb artist at his very best.

“Dyin’ By The Hour.” Bessie Smith. Fontana TFL S123
What a pity I wasn’t around in the days that was made! How I would have liked to have heard Bessie in the flesh, and to have worked a show with her . . . she met with that fatal accident a couple of years or so before I got started. I re­member I used to listen to a lot of her records when they were broadcast from Norfolk, Virginia. She was, of course, a superb blues singer and must also take the credit for partly forming the styles of those who came after her, Billie Holiday and of course Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and others. Listening to this one sees just what a creative artist she was – what power, and timing! The recording methods in those days weren’t so good as they are today, and yet she sounds as clear as a bell. You ever notice how good artists nearly always record well? They must position themselves instinctively, or something. Only wish I could have known her.

“Trouble In Mind”. Jimmy Rushing (The Smith Girls) Philips BBL 7484
It’s good to have Jimmy Rushing around to carry on the trend of this wonderful music – the blues. We saw him last here in London, when he paid us a great compliment. He heard us do our act and said to me, “I like you Deeps, you’re genuine singers.” Well, I’d like to return the compliment, for there is nothing more genuine than the way Jimmy sings the blues. He sings the music that comes from the heart of a people, and he sings it in the old tradition, and from his own heart. He has some great musicians working with him on this record, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, Claude Hopkins – I’ve worked with them all. Buck and I left the army on the same day in 1946. Last time we met up was in Sweden, but we often run across one another. He is one of the great trumpet players, don’t forget that! Now Claude Hopkins, I knew him well when he played at the Cotton Club. Our pianist, Ray Durant, used to sit in for him there – directly he left the stand Ray would spell for him. Ray travelled with Claude and doubled for him everywhere. I saw Claude and Buster Bailey last when we worked the Roundtable recently. We used to call in the Copper Rail after work, and Buster and Claude were always there, after they finished at the Metropole. But getting back to Jimmy, I must say he’s still the best in the business when it comes to singing this type of blues – always has been, ever since those days with Count Basie.

Of Billie Holiday: ‘What a jazz singer she was! She knew the music like no other singer has since. I hope someone will come to take her place, but whoever it is, will have to go some’

“I Cried For You”. Billie Holiday. Fontana TFL 5106
Well that was made the same year the Deeps first arrived in New York. We won an amateur radio show, a hundred dollars, twenty five dollars a man, and you couldn’t touch us with a ten foot pole, I’m telling you! It was big money in those days. But Lady Day was going strong then, she was almost at her height. And what a jazz singer she was! She knew the music like no other singer has since. I hope someone will come to take her place, but whoever it is, will have to go some. I saw her just before she died, she was doing a TV show, and believe me that day she was just as good as she had ever been. We were actually recording when we heard she had passed on, and I can tell you it was an awful shock to all of us. This is a real star group with her on this record. I see John Kirby was on the session. We had a wonderful couple of weeks at the Earl Theatre in Philadelphia with Kirby. That was the group that had Bus Bailey, Charlie Shavers, O’Neil Spenser and Billy Kyle. It was one of the best little swinging groups I have ever heard. Much ahead of their time they were – that was around 1939-40. A fine alto player Kirby had with him also – Russell Procope, if I remember right. They used to do a wonderful Sunday afternoon show, with Canada Lee as compere, Maxine Sullivan singing and also those old friends of ours the Golden Gate Quartet. It was a tremendous show, but musically I don’t think the band were really appreciated as much as they deserved. The show was called Swing Easy and that is just what it did, swing easy. But to return to this record and the glorious singing of Lady Day – she had so much to offer that it seems a shame she couldn’t have stayed around for ever. Thank heavens things such as this were recorded, so at least her memory and talent will never die.

“Black Coffee”. Peggy Lee. Ace Of Hearts AH 5
I am terribly sorry I haven’t had a chance to catch Miss Lee on this trip, as I was also unlucky enough to miss her at Basin Street East, just before we left New York this time. We were lucky enough to play a show for the Veterans in Hollywood, got together by our old friend, that great musician Benny Carter, and Peggy Lee was also on the concert. We backed some of her songs and everything went great. She sings with deep sincerity and everything she does is very artist­ic – she works on her material, works hard. A good example is this Black Coffee – she gives it everything, and don’t forget it is difficult to swing at that tempo. It can drag so easily if it’s not just right. She’s a great artist all right.

“Baby, I Still Want You”. Big Joe Turner. London HA-E 2231
Is this the same Joe Turner, who I used to see sitting in at the old Savoy Ballroom on Lennox Avenue? That’s what they used to do sometimes in those days. It was Basie’s band, and this Joe Turner was up there jamming with them one night when I was in, and believe me the whole place was really rocking. I don’t think I ever met him, but I also used to catch him down in the Village at the Café Society with that Ammons and Johnson combination. The place used to jump when they were around. It does me good to hear an artist like this, a man who has been around for some time, singing like this. I see on the sleeve it says he was able to capture a rock ‘n’ roll audience. Now he’s the kind of person who can really teach an audience what the real music is all about. It is not an easy thing to do, but a great singer like this can do it. The beat has always been there, but people like Joe Turner would never vulgarise the music, because he stems from the good days, when blues was just blues. I have nothing against rock ‘n’ roll – we like that beat, and I am glad to see Joe Turner is turning it to his advantage, ’cause he is a real great singer of that type of song. Did you say Hal Singer might be at the back of him there? Hal and I were at school together, back in Hampton, Virginia. I saw him last when he was playing the Metropole. He’s the kind of bouncing, beaty tenor player that would suit Joe Turner. He’s all rhythm, is Hal.

‘Bill Doggett had the complete package. He is a great performer, and it brought back memories of Fats Waller seeing Bill Doggett doing his business up on that stage. The band are really swinging, man, that’s the best dance music, the best music to dance to, you can can get anywhere’

“Jackrabbit”. Bill Doggett (3046 People Danced . . . ). Warner WS 8042
Well of course, I’m sold on anyone who can swing an organ like that. We used to be teamed up with a man who carried an organ around with him all the time – the one and only, the great, the late Fats Waller. I shall never forget Fats and that organ. One time in a hotel in Chicago, where we were all staying, I passed along the passage ’bout 3 o’clock in the morning, and saw Fats’ door was just a tiny bit open. Not wide you understand, but just a little bit open. I knocked, and that voice cried, “Come in chillun!”. And Fats was sit­ting at that organ playing so soft you couldn’t hear it in the passage, but it was swinging all right in there, I’m telling you. He was dressed in those wonderful gaudy silk pyjamas he used to wear. “Grab yourself some liquid food!” he’d holler, and we’d all sit around and listen and drink until it was the next day. Gosh he used to get some fantastic tones from that organ. But getting back to Bill Doggett, I’ve been mad about his playing for years. Last time we ran across him we were both playing in Cleveland, and we caught his show after we had finished ours. The place where he played was packed solid, and he was playing a number of tunes I see are on this album – Doin’ The Hully Gully Twist, Jackrabbit and others – and he knocked us out. I wonder if this was recorded at that place at Cleveland? He was there for some time, and this was the programme he played that night. And this was the same combo – Jim Powell, Ed Silver, Ray Felder, Buddy Lucas, Harry Johnson, Bill Butler, Carl Pruitt, and drummer Alvin Johnson. We met them all that night – and Bill, of course. He was taking the whole show around – singers, dancers and the combo, Doggett had the complete package. He is a great performer, and it brought back memories of Fats Waller seeing Bill Doggett doing his business up on that stage. The band are really swinging, man, that’s the best dance music, the best music to dance to, you can can get anywhere.

“Sister Salvation”. The Slide Hampton Octet. London LTZ-K 15225
Well, those guys were really saying something! I don’t know of Slide Hampton, but I certainly want to hear a lot more of him. Looking at the names on this sleeve I see I don’t know any of them. They must be all new, young musicians, which is a very good thing to see, because you’ve got to have fresh faces coming into the business to help it carry on. This group have quite a sound here; it’s new. I heard some music of this kind just before we left New York, and it’s a new sound, a sound that I think will stay around for a while. It has a kind of churchy or religious sound about it, and it has a very strong beat that’s there all the time. Maybe some of those who go for the older stuff won’t like this, but I go for it, when it’s this good. When we played the Roundtable recently, Cootie Williams had the band there, and there was also a fine new singer, Gloria Lynn. She was accompanied by the Earl May Quartet, another excellent young group. May is a tremendous bass player, with a big fat tone – a great young musician. It was fine to hear these two groups, with Cootie swinging all the time and this younger group with its rather different, newer sound. It made a good contrast. Listening to this, I find it’s necessary to move over, to accept musicians like Slide Hampton. These are the people who are going to carry jazz on, and it is so good to hear youngsters come up with new ideas. Something comes and stays if it’s good, and I think this music of Slide Hampton’s will stay.