Skeets Tolbert

1940-1942

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Skeets Tolbert led a tidy little swing band from the late '30s to the mid-'40s. This group's recorded legacy consists of 40 sides originally released on the Decca label and reissued for the first time on compact disc in the late '90s by the Classics Chronological series. This second volume opens with a novelty bounce dedicated to the topic of a butcher and the various meats available from "Sammy's Choppin' Block." Yack Taylor sings a "Sugar Boogie" and delivers a slow, bluesy attempt at seduction on the flip side, sounding a little like Bertha "Chippie" Hill. On Tolbert's last session of 1940, Taylor returned and sang "Those Draftin' Blues," a cousin of Hot Lips Page's "Uncle Sam Blues." Let it be known that Skeets Tolbert composed "Hit That Jive, Jack," a humongous hit for Nat King Cole's trio in late 1941. Three Johnny Dunn tunes (credited to publisher Clarence Williams and Perry Bradford) are trundled out and performed with immaculate ease. The third of these, "Uncle Eph's Dream," introduces pianist Buddy Johnson, soon to become established as an influential bandleader. Tolbert, in fact, is said to have written arrangements for two Buddy Johnson hits, "Stop Pretendin'" and "Please, Mr. Johnson." The catchy "Big Fat Butterfly" is Tolbert's hopped-up Steve Washington-styled treatment of the popular ballad "Poor Butterfly," and was used on a 1945 Melodisc recording by a group calling themselves the Flennoy Trio. "Jumpin' in the Numbers" carries on in a Slim Gaillard bag while "The Rhumba Blues" showcases Hubert Pettaway's percussive talents. Tolbert used several different pianists, opting for Charles "Red" Richards on his "Messy Boogie" and Herbert Goodwin on "Delta Land Blues." The band's final instrumental, "Fill Up," a steamy strut using a lick from "Hold Tight Want Some Seafood Mama," was committed to wax in January of 1942. Tolbert featured quite a number of vocalists, with the novelty and blues-oriented acts seriously outnumbering the sentimental pop singers. His last pair of records were topical novelties: "C.O.D." makes light of the financial aspect of interpersonal relationships and "Hey Man! Hey Man!" is a takeoff on the spiritual "Amen! Amen!" By the middle of the 1940s Tolbert bailed out of bandleading and retreated to Houston, TX, where he worked for the musician's union, as a teacher, and as the proprietor of a music store. The rest of his story has yet to be told.

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