Little Mummy – A Rarity on Federal Records

Little Mummy, whose real identity is unknown, was a rhythm-an-blues singer who recorded only two songs with Federal Records in New Orleans. The songs were officially released decades after being recorded and, both tracks are true rhythm-and-blues dance floor fillers.

The titles “Where You At Jack” and “Oh Baby Please” were distributed by Federal Records as a 45rpm dee jay promo in 1960. Before recording a full album, record companies would first record a single. The single was sent to radio stations and, depending on the success, artists were offered a contract. For many of them, the success was too low to record and release a full album (songs may have been released on later compilation albums). This probably was the case for Little Mummy.

Federal Records has got a long list of artists and 45rpm recordings that never gained any success. What caused their vaults to be filled with various rhythm-and blues rarities from the fifties and sixties. Songs like “Where You At Jack” and “Oh Baby Please” never gained the attention of the wider public but are now a treasure for dee jays and music collectors.

The competition in 1960 was top-level. So was there James Brown and His Famous Flames who recorded and released several singles on Federal Records, including the hit “Think!” which turned into a full-length album that same year. Their popularity most likely outshined Little Mummy.

Here you can explore the vaults of Federal Records yourself:

The Rhythm of Shirley Ellis – The Name Game

Shirley Ellis, born Shirley Marie O’Garra in 1929, was an American soul singer and songwriter who gained international fame during the 1960s. Although her active recording span was short, Shirley Ellis left us with many great songs before she retired from the music business in 1968.

Songs such as ‘The Name Game’ and ‘The Nitty Gritty’ are an innovation for rhythm-and-blues and soul, while her hit ‘Soul Time’ became a true Northern Soul classic and filled the dance floor at many UK clubs during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Initially, Shirley Ellis aspired to become a songwriter. She started her career by writing several songs for the doo-wop group The Chords. A milestone in her singing career was her participation in The Amateur Night At The Harlem Apollo Theatre in 1954. She won first prize. In 1959, Shirley Ellis met Lincoln Chase. Lincoln Chase was a songwriter, producer, and manager who shared the same West Indian heritage as Shirley Ellis.

Aside from a handful of singles, Shirley Ellis recorded and released three studio albums: In Action (1964, Congress), The Name Game (1965, Congress), and Sugar, Let’s Shing-a-Ling (1967, Columbia).

Her studio debut, In Action, features most of her classic single releases such as ‘The Nitty Gritty,’ ‘Takin’ Care Of Business’, ‘Shy One’, and ‘(That’s) What The Nitty Gritty’. It’s a great collection of music created by Shirley Ellis and her songwriter Lincoln Chase.

What became a signature for Shirley Ellis was her ability to step outside the boundaries of standard pop music by provoking humor and commentary. Shirley Ellis often performed songs for the comic effect. Lyrics and rhythms could be compared with what children would rhyme and sing to each other while playing hand-clapping games on the playground. ‘The Clapping Song’ and ‘The Name Game’ are both great examples of this.

Performing songs in this “playground” rhythm allows a great emphasis on syncopation and Juba dance, an African-American style of dance that contains stomping your legs and clapping the hands, arms, chest, and cheeks.

In her second studio album titled The Name Game, the rhythm of most songs is defined by syncopated hand-clapping. She also adds clapping to her versions of Ma Rainey’s ‘C.C. Rider’ (a rendition of the blues song ‘See See Rider’) and Lloyd Price’s ‘Stagger Lee’ (song credits to Ray Lopez) what changes the original intent of the songs.

Most of her songs sound like a game. For the title track ‘The Name Game’ the record sleeve even features game rules so the listener can create lyrics using their own name.

The Name Game Rules as Printed on the Record Sleeve

In 1967, Shirley Ellis released her third and final studio album called Sugar, Let’s Shing-A-Ling (Soul Time with Shirley Ellis) featuring many great soul tracks including the hit ‘Soul Time’. The song selection is more focused on the progressive soul and funk music that was surfacing in Detroit, Chicago, and New York City.

Shirley Ellis & Lincoln Chase Performing ‘The Name Game’

The following article includes a complete biography of Shirley Ellis:

Jim Dandy To The Rescue

With a recognizable drum intro from David Albert ‘Panama’ Francis, and with guidance on the tenor sax by Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor, LaVern Baker hit the charts in 1956 with the song ‘Jim Dandy’. The song would later take number 325 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

LaVern Baker recorded many great rhythm-and-blues songs during the 1950s and 1960s. Her single debut for Atlantic Records was in 1953 with the song ‘Soul On Fire‘ and the following year, she would record the major rhythm-and-blues hits ‘Tweedle Dee‘ and ‘Bop-Ting-A-Ling‘. Baker, born Delores Williams, recorded already before signing with Atlantic Records. This was under different pseudonyms. In 1951, she recorded on RCA Records under the stage-name Little Miss Sharecropper, and in 1952, she signed with Okeh Records and started using the name Bea Baker. Her big breakthrough as a singer was with Atlantic Records so the name, LaVern Baker, was kept.

We can hear the soul, the spirit, and the sense of humor in her art.”

Chaka Khan
LaVern Baker

In the 1950s, it was usual for white musicians to copy or imitate the creative work of black artists. Those copies would sell often better with the white audience and many record companies used this as a sale strategy. Ahmet Ertegun, the co-founder of Atlantic Records, said: “when Radio stations had the choice between the black original and the white copy, they would always play the copy”. Baker’s hit ‘Tweedle Dee‘ was covered by Georgia Gibbs, the cover became more popular and sold much better. Apart from quality and musicality, it succeeded Baker’s original. LaVern Baker was not a big fan of this practice, it made her upset and she considered it stealing. As a sarcastic joke, Baker named Gibbs beneficiary on her flight life insurance. When she would go on a big tour, and not record any new songs, she mailed the insurance documents to Gibbs with the message: “Since I’ll be away and you won’t have anything new to copy, you might as well take this.”

Baker took satisfaction in knowing that when Gibbs covered her song ‘Tra, La, La“, she didn’t pay attention to the song on the record’s other side, ‘Jim Dandy‘. This song would become and major hit and remained untouched by Georgia Gibbs.

Songwriter Lincoln Chase, who wrote ‘The Nitty Gritty‘ for soul legend Shirley Ellis, was the creative figure behind the song ‘Jim Dandy (To The Rescue)‘. He wrote the lyrics to the song that was recorded by LaVern Baker in 1956.

I was sitting on a mountain top. 30,000 feet to drop. Tied me on a runaway horse Uh huh, that’s right, of course. Jim Dandy to the rescue! Go, Jim Dandy!” describes one of the multiple situations where Jim Dandy would save a woman in distress. In the song, Jim Dandy refers to a man who rescues women from difficult, unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous situations. A real hero you can say. The dictionary defines ‘Jim-Dandy‘ as something very pleasant or something of excellent quality (e.g. that new album you bought is a real Jim-Dandy). Now as in many great rhythm-and-blues songs, the lyrics contain a great deal of humor and sarcasm.

Thanks to its success a sequel came out in 1957. Again written by Lincoln Chase, recorded by LaVern Baker, and released by Atlantic Records. The song describes a humorous cliche of a hero falling in love with the girl he just saved; “Jim Dandy rescued May, Fell in love with her the very same day, Got engaged that afternoon. Left that night on his honeymoon“.

‘Jim Dandy’ by LaVern Baker (Atlantic reissue from my collection)

Shake, Rattle, & Roll

It was the co-founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, who approached Jesse Stone with the question to write an up-tempo 12-bar blues song for Big Joe Turner. Little did he know that the song to be produced would be listed at number 127 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

American rhythm-and-blues songwriter, Jesse Albert Stone, started his music career in 1926 when he formed The Blue Serenades. In the late 1930s, Stone would become a bandleader in the Apollo Theatre. There, he gained his credits as a songwriter while working with musicians such as Chick Webb, Louis Jordan, and Jimmie Lunceford. In 1947 he was officially employed by Atlantic Records as a producer and songwriter. Stone would push the direction of the new record label into a more ‘rhythmical’ rhythm-and-blues sound.

The most famous song from his hand is ‘Shake, Rattle, & Roll‘. The original recording of the song was by the American rhythm-and-blues legend, Big Joe Turner, on February 15, 1954. For work relating to Atlantic Records, Stone would use the pseudonym Charles E. Calhoun (as shown on the label below) to avoid copyright conflicts. The song recorded by Joe Turner is referred to as one of the earliest rock-and-roll recordings made. Although the original lyrics of the song would say one thing, their true meaning was different. Certain parts of the song were considered to be sexual, even too vulgar for jukeboxes in cafes. The song had to be cleaned up before recording and radio broadcasting. The original lyrics, as intended by Jesse Stone, were never published or recorded in the studio.

Original 45 rpm release of ‘Shake, Rattle, And Roll’ by Joe Turner And His Blues Kings

The song was covered by many artists, including Elvis Presley, during the 1950s and 1960s. In the same year of Turner’s recording (1954), Bill Haley And His Comets made their version of the song. Their adaptation was released on Decca Records and the lyrics were even cleaner. For example, the first line of the song “Get outta that bed, wash your face and hands” would be revised to “Get out from that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans“. Although Haley would use the more original lyrics during live performances to acknowledge Turner, Big Joe Turner would use Haley’s version for live TV broadcasts.

One of the versions from my collection is by soul singer Arthur Lee Conley. His version was recorded more than a decade later and the musical development of soul music is clearly present in his recording of the song. The background music and vocals are clearly indicating the late 1960s and the song has a less rock-and-roll feeling. Another great version is the one by Sam Cooke, who brought a more gospel feeling into the song.

Shake, Rattle, And Roll by Arthur Conley – 45 rpm from my personal collection

The Origin And Influence Of Doo-wop music

The sound of doo-wop music was born out of the creativity of the African American youth who dealt with the impact of segregation during its peak in the late 1940s and 1950s. The development of the music had a great deal of influence on other music genres such as soul, rhythm-and-blues, rock-and-roll, pop, and surf-rock.

Doo-wop music originated in America in the late 1940s. It was in the bigger cities, such as Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York, where young African American teenagers would gather to sing in public places.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, American segregation was at its highest point. Young African American musicians were often too poor and could not afford musical instruments. Because of that, they had to be creative. They would meet together, mostly as a group of 4, and start producing sounds by only using a wide range of vocal parts. They would sing a capella and simultaneously generate meaningless onomatopoeiae to imitate musical instruments (e.g. “doo doo-wop” or “do wop de wadda”).

Jazz dominated in America and, most radio stations would broadcast popular swing music. This music was an inspiration for the early form of doo-wop music. In the early stages of doo-wop, no instruments got used. It was in its purest form and, the only sounds were produced by the voice, usually from bass to falsetto.

The Mills Brothers was a band who brought the genre to life. They had a major influence, especially when it came to the use of onomatopoeia, rhythmic punctuation, and multi-layered harmonies. The songs were slow and jazzy, and they had a spiritual influence. The lyrics were quite ordinary, usually about love and addressed to a beloved.

Another doo-wop group with an important influence on the genre was Sonny Til And The Orioles. They were the first to gain nationwide fame. Bandleader, Sonny Til, was even considered a rock star and, he was loved and adored by the audience. The group named themselves after the Baltimore Oriole, the official state bird of Maryland. Using a bird in the naming became a trend among doo-wop groups. Examples of this are The Ravens, The Penguins, The Flamingos, The Crows, and The O’Jays.

Sonny Til And The Orioles

The term “doo-wop” was not used until the early 1960s. In 1961, an article appeared in The Chicago Defender calling the music style doo-wop. The author may have gotten his inspiration from previous hits in the genre. “Doo-wop” itself is a meaningless expression that was initially recorded in 1945 by The Delta Rhythm Boys. In their song ‘Just A-Sittin’ And A-Rockin’, you can hear it in the backing vocals. Almost a decade later, in 1954, it was recorded again by The Rainbows. They used the phrase “do wop de wadda” in their successful hit ‘Mary Lee‘.

Although, many music experts agree that the first group to intentionally use the wording “doo-wop” were The Turbans. In their recording of ‘When You Dance‘ (1955) the wording “doo-wop” is more clearly present as it was used in the refrain. I do, however, also need to mention that there are indications that “doo-wop” was already used to archive music in the late 1950s but, there is no information available to support this.

In the mid-1950s, early doo-wop music would evolve in the so-called “mid-era doo-wop”. In early doo-wop, the vocals would sometimes get support from a guitar or a single drum. In mid-era doo-wop, instruments start playing a bigger role. We’re starting to hear the double bass, saxophone, piano, and even the electric guitar. In some cases, a full orchestra would be present. Many bands recorded songs before and after 1955. If you compare both recordings, you can hear the difference in the number of musical instruments used.

The doo-wop sound spread nationwide and soon it would also reach white American teenagers. Because the sound of doo-wop music became popular with the white audience in America, mixed-race groups were formed and black and white vocalists would sing harmonically together as equals. The most famous example is The Dell-Vikings. Soon even all-white doo-wop bands, such as The Crew Cuts or Danny & the Juniors, were formed.

It was not only the male vocal groups that came into existence. Starting in 1952, groups as The Platters became widely known. They consist of both male and female singers and so, they brought another vocal dimension to the sound of early-doo-wop music. Strictly female doo-wop groups were unusual in the early 1950s but, halfway through the decade, they started to gain popularity and got recorded. Famous examples are The Hearts, Pattie Labelle & The BluebellsThe Bobbettes, and The Chantels.

A big name that needs mentioning when talking about the history of doo-wop music is Bill Kenny, often referred to as “the Godfather of doo-wop and rhythm-and-blues“. What made him so unique was his high-tenor singing capabilities that had a range spanning over four octaves. He was the lead tenor of The Ink Spots and had a very successful full solo career after leaving the band in 1954. During the late 1950s and 1960s, Kenny would record and perform worldwide. In 1966, he hosted his TV show on CBC called ‘The Bill Kenny Show’. 

The Ink Spots with Bill Kenny on the left

Maybe the most famous and influential band in doo-wop music history is The Teenagers, led by singer Frankie Lymon. The band is most celebrated for its contribution to the early success of rock-and-roll music. They introduced the world to a new brand of doo-wop music by speeding up the tempo.

Frankie Lymon (left) – The Teenagers (right)

The Teenagers got formed at a high school in Manhattan under the name The Coup De Villes. The group changed their name a couple of times (The Ermines and later The Premiers) before they officially changed it to The Teenagers. In 1954 a 12-year-old boy, Frankie Lymon, joined the group. Together they wrote and composed the song ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love‘. The song became an instant success.

Thanks to Frankie’s success, the group got renamed Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers in 1957. This name change was not well received by some band members what caused Frankie to leave and start recording solo. The Teenagers continued under their original name but with a new lead singer what they came to regret. The band had to hire female singers to replicate the unique high “boy” voice of Frankie Lymon.

Frankie Lymon’s life was short. He passed away when he was 25 from an overdose of heroin.

‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ live on The Frankie Laine Show in 1956

Doo-wop music evolved into various genres, among them rhythm-and-blues and rock-an-roll. Although, doo-wop music is better categorized as a less instrumental and more vocal version of the genres. It has its unique history and origin. One main difference is the band formation. In doo-wop music, this is most often a quartet, like in a barbershop quartet. And like in gospel music, doo-wop music would use harmonies in a slow and medium tempo. The lead voice would sing higher than the other band members and interacts with them by leveling out the vocals.

Doo-wop music peaked in 1962 and became dominated by rock-and-roll music and a phenomenon that is known in music history as ‘The British Invasion’. Bands as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Animals became very popular with the American youth but, there is no doubt that doo-wop music had a great deal of influence on their music style and way of performing.