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SAVOY 691; APRIL, 1949



Today we’re introduced to a rather obscure performer named Kansas City Jimmy, who was not actually from Kansas City, nor was he recording in Kansas City or signed to a record company located in Kansas City and for all we know he may never have visited Kansas City or even been able to locate it on a map.

But when it came to locating the heart of early rock ‘n’ roll in all of its unhinged glory Kansas City Jimmy clearly had a built-in compass in his heart, body and soul because while he didn’t last very long on the scene and never made any sort of impact in the marketplace the handful of records he made during 1949 showcased the wild spirit rock music has had as its defining characteristic ever since its birth.


Standin’ In Front Of My Door
If you were drawing up a game plan with the intent of setting up an artist to slip through the historical cracks then we’d have to congratulate Savoy Records for doing such a bang-up job.

Obviously they weren’t doing any such thing but then again we have to call into question a few of their more perplexing decisions even while commending them for signing this guy in the first place and issuing three singles over his year long tenure with the label.

The artist in question is Jimmy Smith… no, not THAT Jimmy Smith, the organist of note from the 1960’s… this artist was from South Carolina who sang with his siblings as The Smith Brothers.

(No, not THOSE Smith Brothers!).


Somehow this Jimmy Smith found himself in Los Angeles – without his brothers I’m assuming – and was inked to a deal by Savoy’s West Coast A&R man Ralph Bass and taken into the studio in L.A. for two sessions a few weeks apart in March, showing they had some faith that he would be worth their investment.

Why then would they name him Kansas City Jimmy?

Or rather, why not come up with a better name than that, or at least one more appropriate? I mean, Jimmy Smith – even before the organist came along to forever be identified with that name – is hardly eye-catching, so I understand the urge to affix something more memorable to him. It worked recently for Big Jay McNeely (real name Cecil) and certainly “Wild” Bill Moore was a similar, though more obvious, example.

But Kansas City Jimmy not only is purposefully misleading to denote Smith’s place of origin it’s also got a decidedly old school “blues” connotation to it akin to Memphis Minnie or St. Louis Jimmy Oden, an understandable trend back in the day of itinerant musicians but hardly one suited for a post-War landscape filled with jukeboxes and radios that served to shrink the country in its listening habits. Of course that didn’t stop the blues from continuing this unfortunate habit in the years that followed as Savoy themselves would soon bestow the name Carolina Slim on Edward Harris, though as they also did with Jimmy Smith they released additional records on Slim under alternate names which certainly didn’t help either one of them find a consistent audience.

But getting back to Smith’s quandary over a suitable name, I realize that we’re still a long ways off from getting really creative in re-naming artists in colorful ways – some might say overly creative since hip-hop became rock’s most dominant style four decades ago, as old folks quizzically stare at names such as A Boogie Wit A Hoodie, Juice Wrld and the late XXXTentacion and shake their heads in blank faced wonderment – but if there was an agreement in upper management that it’d be for the best to change how Jimmy Smith was billed, let’s just say keep his own name and tack on a fictitious band behind him even if they were all just studio musicians he’d never see or play with again.

How about Jimmy Smith and The Gold Diggers since Treasure Of The Sierra Madre was winning four Academy Awards at the time the songs were being cut in the same city.

Smith and Savoy Records may not have struck gold with the commercial returns on their records, but as with gold itself the true value is often not discernible to the naked eye of those who peruse the charts for treasure.

I Know Where You Shoulda Been
You may have noticed, and then again maybe you didn’t and we shouldn’t point it out for fear of ruining the surprise of the next review, that this is in fact the B-side of Kansas City Jimmy’s debut.

Obviously there must be a good reason for this… (humor me and nod your head at least so we can get on with things).

One listen to the cacophony of hell-bent sounds emanating from the speakers when you cue up Cheatin’ Women should answer any questions as to why we reversed the track order when it came to reviewing this single – for when you want to make a splashy entrance in rock ‘n’ roll it always helps to scare the living daylights out of any unsuspecting listener.

Say what you will about the lack of musical dignity rock ‘n’ roll was busily promoting at every turn but when it comes to creating a unholy racket it’d be pretty tough to top these guys. They have all of the requirements for rock ‘n’ roll stardom – the right instrumental lineup, heavy on the deeper horns; the proper level of assertiveness and attitude to put this music across without feeling the need to reign themselves in, and most of all they have either a complete lack of inhibitions or a total lack of good taste and moderation that hampered too many records trying to make their presence known in this field over the past two years.

In terms of sheer intensity on scale of 1-10 this record starts off at eleven and then ramps it up from there – saxes thrashing, drums pounding and windows rattling. When Jimmy comes in he’s equally frantic, stomping on the gas pedal and challenging the musicians to keep up.

Since everything is taken at such a breakneck pace it requires every ounce of your concentration just to make some sense out of this and even then you’re probably left unsteady and babbling incoherently by the time they hit the first instrumental break when Jimmy is imploring them all to ”Go! Go! GO!” and the horns are going, going, gone into another dimension.

But if you can follow it you’re in for a treat as the bulk of the horns are laying a steady riff which soon is overwhelmed by a lusty tenor that sounds as if it’s fighting off a swarm of bees… or perhaps vultures… or maybe even pterodactyls! Whatever they are that are attacking him the sax is putting up a valiant fight, going down swinging with everything its got while Jimmy continues to sound the alarm in the confusion, shouting encouragement with a cracked voice that suggests it’s best used as a percussive instrument rather than a melodic one.

Not Gonna Open The Door, Not Gonna Let You In
He’s not much of a singer to be honest, he’s got no tonal control, no melodic variation and no ability to shift into a lower gear and so you take your life in your hands as he races along like a maniac. Each vocal refrain is a full-throttle adventure in which Jimmy is recklessly driving the car at top speed around hairpin turns while simultaneously hanging on for dear life behind the wheel, somehow staying on the road even though the entire time he seems intent to hurtle through the guardrails and over the edge of the cliff.

As for what he’s blathering about during all of this, let’s just say he and his woman have some relationship issues that he’s beyond discussing in a calm reasonable manner. I’m not sure if any of the lyrics are actually intended to make an impression on the unfaithful girl, or to be understood by that girl without benefit of subtitles for that matter, but his impatient dismissal of her comes across fine nonetheless just from the sheer force in which he spews them from his mouth.

Taking a slight breather from the action we should mention there’s an interesting sidebar to Cheatin’ Women which is the fact that the label has the seemingly random subtitle (Tennessee Baby) affixed to it.

Now if you can actually decipher the lyrics you’ll find that the location isn’t specified in the story, nor would it particularly matter much where this gal was from. But at the time this was cut there was a very popular country song by Red Foley entitled Tennessee Saturday Night… now let’s flip our record over and see that the other side is called Saturday Nite and maybe we’ll put one and one together and see that – as unlikely as it seems that this charade would fool anybody – Savoy was attempting to confuse record buyers, not into thinking that these were a cover of that song necessarily, but something distantly related to it for sure.

One listen to this wild ride however and anybody who can find the slightest similarity musically to Foley’s tune is entitled to the grand prize of an all expenses paid visit to the ear doctor to be fitted for a new set that actually work.

If You Gotta Good Man
Just as there’s no mistaking this for a country croon, there’s also little chance you’ll find it settling in comfortably to the dominant rock vocal approach to date. Yeah, there’ve been a few records that are pushing the limits of human endurance but Jimmy Smith is bound and determined to make a name for himself by besting them all come hell or high water, never letting up and never slowing down.

It’s fun that’s for sure, especially if you can experience it vicariously without needing to fasten your own seat-belt and pray the traffic in the other direction isn’t very heavy, but there’s also a sense of delirium that sets in after awhile, as if you are so shaken by the turbulence that you can’t see straight and need to lay down.

That was probably by design because while Smith is the focal point he’s not quite the main event, not when the horns are bashing you over the head repeatedly. This is when you realize the formula that’s being used for Cheatin’ Women was apprehended from something else they knew very well.

Savoy had just lost Big Jay McNeely whose instrumentals had set the bar high for this kind of musical madness. But since the label had no horn players – with apologies to Wild Bill Moore and Paul Williams – who’d be capable of matching McNeely’s usual furor, they decided to transpose his brand of instrumental mayhem to a vocal record, then throw in all of the reinforcements by way of whatever crazed sax players they could round up to add to the insanity.

But what kind of madmen are even capable of playing this frantic while still making sense?

How about none other than Big Jay McNeely himself?

I know that probably seems somewhat far-fetched on the surface since Jay had left Savoy rather acrimoniously just weeks earlier, but that was the result of a tiff with the label’s owner Herman Lubinsky, not Ralph Bass who was running their West Coast sessions and with whom he remained on good terms. Who’s to say that Bass didn’t convince Jay and his band with brother Bob holding down the distinctive baritone to come in for cash and play anonymously to help him out? We have no way of confirming this of course but if you know their work and listen to the playing here you’ll realize that it’s far too good to be some random musicians pulled out of a temp agency on Sunset and Vine.


Do What He Wants You To Do
As for the end result of all of this lunacy… we gotta say it pretty much works, at least for the goals they were clearly aiming for when setting out to break the laws of decorum.

Commercially it failed to make much of an impact apparently, but maybe we can chalk that up to Savoy’s rather questionable decisions on how to bill this cat, or the vague suggestion that both sides of this record were related to a rather tame country song, or maybe just the fact that hearing this once would cause concussions to its listeners which lead to memory loss and thus no repeat business.

Whatever the case may be, the no holds barred enthusiasm of Kansas City Jimmy wildly ranting about Cheatin’ Women might not make too much sense in the normal world of popular music as established by the likes of Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington and Red Foley, but in the wild frontier of rock ‘n’ roll this was quickly becoming the norm.

It might make your head pound, your palms sweat and your stomach to do flips until you throw up, but isn’t that the end result of a lot of nights when you imbibe too much potent sauce like this and at least here you don’t even have to take so much as a single drink to feel that way.


(Visit the Artist page of Kansas City Jimmy for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)