A figure who was vital in the ascent of Memphis blues and rock ā€˜nā€™ roll in the late 1940ā€™s and early 1950ā€™s, but whose own recording career was limited and thus is known almost exclusively through occasional mention of his name in the stories of much bigger national stars, from B.B. King to Johnny Ace.

Richard “Tuff” Green was born in Mississippi in 1911 and like so many other musicians from the state he made his way to Memphis as a young man where he established himself as a bass player who in time led what was widely considered the greatest band in the city, featuring such notable figures as drummer Phineas Newborn Sr., sax players Ben Branch and trumpeter and future head of Hi Records, super producer Willie Mitchell.

Green was the top draw for years on the Memphis club scene, a band that was capable of playing any style of music for any audience. Reared in jazz – Green had went to school with swing legend Jimmie Lunceford – conversant in everything from country to blues, and capable of adapting all of that to rock, the group had no need for a record contract and the hassles of going on the road to earn a living.

However Green DID provide the means for other aspiring artists to get into the record business as he ran a recording studio out of his house, cutting songs in his living room behind a wide array of acts just getting their start, among them B.B. King and most of the his fellow Beale Streeters, cutting a major hit for Roscoe Gordon along the way. When Sam Phillips’ more professional Memphis Recording Studio opened it curtailed this aspect of Green’s activities, but he continued to be the number one band in town for live gigs, even as members departed for stardom of their own.

Trumpeter Luther Steinberg left after 1949 with other members of Green’s band, including brother Wilbur, a bassist, and pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. and got a lone release – as Lou Sargent – on Chess Records (included below).

TUFF GREEN DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Bullet 312; September, 1949)
A good idea done in by playing that is too mild for rock success, dispensing with the lustier horns, grittier vocals and overall debauchery that a song like this requires to convince you of their intent. (3)

(Bullet 312; September, 1949)
By trying for less they accomplish more, sticking to a basic plot, written and sung by female trombonist Sammie Jett, who handles the emotional reading with class while the band sticks to the basics with some stellar piano work by future jazz star Phineas Newborn Jr. in the intro. (5)

(Bullet 338; October, 1950)
A very proficient record, one not harmed too much by the year long delay in releasing it, as the band churns along nicely behind Billy Taylor’s expressive lead telling a pretty basic story in a believable way… hardly dazzling maybe, but effective all the same. (6)

(Chess 1465; May, 1951)
As by Lou Sargent… Luther Steinberg who along with other Green expatriates including Phineas Newborn Jr. on piano come up with a rock instrumental that at times shows too much class for the genre, though it’s hard not to appreciate their skills all the same. (5)

(Chess 1465; May, 1951)
As by Lou Sargent… this time around Steinberg’s brother Wilbur, the bass player, sings lead and does a credible job conveying an enjoyable nonchalance with a few moments that provide a nice musical kick as well. (5)