Blues Chasers

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This quintet was behind a killer early-'50s instrumental recording entitled "Birmingham Boogie," and like most great events in music history it all happened accidentally. More accurately, it can be blamed…
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This quintet was behind a killer early-'50s instrumental recording entitled "Birmingham Boogie," and like most great events in music history it all happened accidentally. More accurately, it can be blamed on someone else's foul-up. There's a joke musicians tell about singers, which goes like this: How do you know when a singer is knocking at your door? The answer is, the knock slows down and they don't know how to come in. In this case, the singer showed up some five hours late. That was Millie Bosman, whose efforts are not remembered nearly as fondly as "Birmingham Boogie," if at all. Producer Joe Davis would in some universes be credited as the composer of the tune, since it was he who decided that musicians should cut instrumentals instead of waiting around for Bosman to show up. But the idea to jam instrumentally might not have had such great results were a different set of musicians present.

The members of the group were all in-demand on the New York City studio scene, playing on a variety of jazz, rhythm & blues, and down-home blues sessions. The rhythm section of Milt Hinton on bass and Panama Francis on drums is strictly first class, way above the level of players some listeners might assume would be involved with a honky tonk boogie record. Pianist Bert Keyes filled out the band, with session logs crediting two arrangers as being present, Fred Norman and F. Henri Klickman. These were contractors as well as musical directors and arrangers; depending on the session, they might have been doing full-out arrangements or just making sure there was enough coffee if it was a "by ear" date. The instrumentals that were recorded simply used arrangements that had been cooked up to back the tracks the vocalist had planned on recording. The trumpeter and tenor sax players on the date winged solos where the vocals would have gone on the instrumentals, which is where the "Birmingham Boogie" really takes off. The tenorman is Sam "The Man" Taylor, one of the greats of gut-bucket sax. Taft Jordan, no slouch either, was the trumpeter.

The Blues Chasers lineup also backed several other singers that were recorded during this period and who managed to arrive at the studio on time, including the superb Irene Redfield. Once Bosman showed up, part of the "Birmingham Boogie" arrangement was recycled into her recording of the Lillian Armstrong tune "You Ain't Had No Blues," a perfect summary of what happens when a blues singer fails to make it to a session. At this stage of the game instrumentals such as "Birmingham Boogie" were not that common, the labels involved in so-called "race records" always seeming to push the idea of vocalists first and the music industry at large sharing this prejudice ever since. The success of the Blues Chasers release inspired interest in other instrumental combos such as the Birmingham Boogie Boys. Taylor used the Blues Chasers name through the '60s, and it has also shown up printed across the bass drums of unrelated outfits extending well beyond the actual blues genre. Bandleader Bob Fuller had his Three Blues Chasers, but it is not known if this name worked better for him than Three Jolly Miners, the Three Monkee Chasers, or Three Hot Eskimos, all Fuller combos. In bluegrass, legendary frontman Stoney Cooper recorded a band called Stoney Cooper's Blues Chasers for the Rich-R-Tone label. There was a '20s big band from Washington state which used the same name, and there was also a Kansas territorial band in the same era known as Eddie Anderson & His Blues Chasers. Olive Brown & Her Blues Chasers cut a soul album in the '60s. Spiritual self-help types have co-opted the term "blues chasers" for upbeat depression-fighting tips.