The Red Heads

The Complete 1925-1927

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What's in a name? Once upon a time there were Red Nichols & His 5 Pennies, Miff Mole's Molers, Red & Miff's Stompers, and the hot little band known simply as the Red Heads. If you shuffle your discographies and average out the personnel, these differently named ensembles could be rendered down more or less into one shape-shifting jazz band with interchangeable players. Aside from four period vocals, the records issued under the banner of the Red Heads are strictly instrumental. The first three sides, dating from 1925, are jacked up with bouncy angular rhythms. "Nervous Charlie" is a club sandwich of syncopated riffs and routines. At one point it even uses the old "Wang Wang Blues" as a chorus. Arthur Fields, who during World War I sang jingo-istic nougats with titles like "Hunting the Hun," is harnessed to the band for a three-minute trot called "Poor Papa." "Plenty Off Center" is performed by Nichols, Arthur Schutt and Vic Berton. Eddie Lang plays exceptionally beautiful guitar on "Trumpet Sobs," and is featured on several other tracks. When Lang was unavailable they chose the impeccable Dick McDonough. "Dynamite" relies on a Charleston lick, while "Alabama Stomp" was composed by James P. Johnson who in fact wrote the original "Charleston," source of the lick in question. This particular "Hurricane" is almost as satisfying as the extended versions recorded for the Edison label two months later by Red & Miff's Stompers. Jimmy Dorsey manages to squeeze a few Plutonic tones out of some hitherto undiscovered register of the alto saxophone during "That's No Bargain." Miff Mole delivers trombone blasts like ball bearings dropped from an attic window. Brad Gowans, known in later years as an accomplished valve trombonist, handles a cornet during "Heebie Jeebies." The straight flush of instrumentals ends with a congenial version of Jelly Roll Morton's "Black Bottom Stomp." Someone named Frank Gould was brought in to wiggle his tonsils in front of the band on January 21, 1927. He sounds a bit glib during "Tell Me Tonight," like a schoolboy on "You Should See My Tootsie" and like an innocent waiting to be massacred on "Here or There." Incredibly, there is no vocalist on "Nothin' Does Does Like It Used To Do Do Do," or during "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." These are delightful performances, with conspicuous hi-hat cymbal work from Vic Berton, who is credited with designing this particular contraption and devising several other aspects of the modern drum kit. If this is true, we must pause for a minute to contemplate the effect that his inventions had upon music in general during the 20th century. Berton also plays a "harpophone," which must have been a rudimentary sort of vibraharp, soon to become the vibraphone. That's what it sounds like. Adrian Rollini would help to introduce the instrument, then Red Norvo and Lionel Hampton would popularize its ringing tones. Berton uses his primitive vibes for accents, like a set of tuned bells.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
feat: Red Nichols
2:58
2
feat: Red Nichols
2:48
3
feat: Red Nichols
3:03
4 2:54
5 2:42
6 2:45
7
feat: We 3
2:54
8
feat: We 3
3:03
9 3:04
10 2:50
11 2:40
12 2:48
13 2:54
14 2:35
15 2:28
16 3:15
17
feat: Red Nichols
2:39
18 3:03
19 2:20
20
2:53
21
2:42
22 2:53
23
feat: Red Nichols
2:27
24
feat: Red Nichols
3:15
25
feat: Red Nichols
2:59
blue highlight denotes track pick