Ollie Shepard

Complete Recorded Works, Vol. 2 (1939-41)

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Volume two in Document's history of early Ollie Shepard recordings picks up where volume one left off with seven of the nine titles recorded on April 18,1939 using a trio anchored by pianist Sammy Price and featuring tragically short-lived tenor saxophone legend Leon "Chu" Berry, then famous as a Cab Calloway sideman and soloist. Berry crossed over into blues territory again with Blue Lu Barker's band a few days later. He worked closely with singing trumpeter Wingy Manone during this same time period, and was one of the men who accompanied Bessie Smith on her very last session in 1933. Anybody who knows Chu Berry is going to want to have these Shepard recordings; the interplay between the voice and the sax is marvelous and laid-back, with Berry varying his proximity to the microphone at will, sometimes blowing with gusto on the other side of the room. Let's not forget to include among Shepard's many accomplishments the fact that track two, "The Shepard Blues," is sung in Pig Latin. The next session took place in July 1939, this time with Walter Wheeler on tenor and Duke Ellington's revered bassist Wellman Braud holding the ground. There are ensemble vocals on "Oh Maria" and "Li'l Liza Jane." Four titles cut on January 22, 1940 represent Shepard's last date for Decca. Saxophonist Stafford Simon fortified the band for a rousing "Jitterbugs Broke It Down," which lands the listener in Louis Jordan territory, and "I'm Stepping Out Tonight" with a shared vocal by a woman named Ollie Potter. This collection ends with six sides cut on May 2, 1941 for the Okeh label with Theodore McCord blowing clarinet and tenor sax, George Francis operating an electrically amplified guitar, and Johnny Wells appearing as one of Shepard's few identified drummers. With the "Army Camp Blues," Shepard hinted at the approaching world-wide conflagration that interrupted or terminated so many musical careers. He would continue to make records sporadically until 1960, but no one has ever compiled them for the public to study and enjoy. The last title from the 1941 date, "I'm Nuts About My Baby," remained unissued and is not included here. Eight sides cut in January 1942 also never made it onto the market, and one can only hope that they emerge from the shadows at some point.

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