Meet Clifford "Boots" Douglas, a solid drummer who led a fine big band in and around San Antonio, Texas during the mid-'30s. Thanks to the efforts of the men behind Victor's budget Bluebird label, Boots managed to make no less than 42 recordings, exactly half of which are presented here, on 1935-1937. Most of the players are shrouded in obscurity. A.J. Johnson was an able pianist, Walter McHenry packed punches with his upright bass, and Baker Millian handled a tenor sax with warmth and finesse. The leader's straightforward shuffle-drumming punctuated with concisely employed cymbal strikes is delightfully consistent, and at times exciting, for example during the stomp simply known as "Riffs." Boots liked to mask the tune titles using a kind of glib shorthand: "Sweet Georgia Brown" becomes "Georgia," Will Hudson's "Hokus Pocus" is rechristened "The Vamp" and "Sleepy Time Gal" is "Sleepy Gal," for short. Duke Ellington's "Stompy Jones" is reworked here as "The Swing," and "San Antonio Tamales" turns out to be "Angry," a ripe old number from the repertoire of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Five sides feature vocalist Celeste Allen, a robust fellow who could easily pass for the young Jimmy Rushing, and two titles are sacrificed to a sentimental Israel Wicks, who chose the crooning Pha Terrell approach. Allen returns to the microphone with two other vocalists who harmonize with him in a performance worthy of Jimmie Lunceford's orchestra, cheerfully intoning: "When I see a jelly roll, I lose all my self control." Altogether a splendid introduction to a band that dared to operate far from the New Orleans/Chicago/New York triangle.
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