Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hunter Hancock Presents Blues & Rhythm Midnight Matinee 1951

"...These recordings have been retrospectively labelled the first live rock 'n roll broadcast. There are plenty of references to rockin' & rollin' from Smilin' Smokey Lynn & Duke Henderson. Hunter Hancock had been popularising R&B on KFVD since 1948, long before Alan Freed started doing the same sort of thing in Cleveland..."

SUNDAY, 19 JULY 2009

Hunter Hancock Presents Blues & Rhythm Midnight Matinee

“At midnight on Saturday, September 29, 1951, disc jockey Hunter Hancock hosted the first of what would be only two Blues & Rhythm Midnight Matinee shows at the fortress-like Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. Fortunately concert promoter Bill Lester had the foresight to record the two evenings (or rather, mornings) on 78 rpm acetates. In 1983, Lester’s widow, Pat, found the large, dusty records in the rear of a closet. Thanks to her, you are now holding a magic little time machine that will transport you back into the murky, all too forgotten beginnings of rock ‘n roll.”
- from Jim Dawson’s sleeve notes to this 1985 Mr R&B LP.

We not only have an audio record of these two evenings in Los Angeles more than half a century ago. Thanks to photographer Bob Willoughby we also have a visual record. He was listening to the Hunter Hancock radio show while working in his dark room and intrigued by Hancock’s advert for the upcoming midnight concert, he took himself along to the Olympic Auditorium. The result was a series of photographs some of which have become very familiar to R&B and rock ‘n roll fans as they have been used on the covers of CDs and LPs over the years. The best known shots are of Big Jay McNeely playing to a hysterical crowd of young fans. You can spot one on the banner of this blog if you look carefully enough.

A full account by Bob of his encounter with Big Jay is on the JazzWax blog. Interestingly, he refers to the Midnight Matinee as a jazz concert. Pop over to and you’ll find it under photostory4. You can see more of Bob’s photography, including some of the Olympic Auditorium photos, at

Considering that Bill Lester’s acetates had deteriorated badly while lying in a cupboard for decades, what’s on offer here is in remarkably good sound quality, thanks to the efforts of producer Jim Dawson. Just under 25 minutes of material from each show was still usable, so on this LP the two concerts have been made into one. The first seven numbers are from September 29, and the second seven are from the following Saturday / Sunday.

To modern ears the mix of different musical styles at the concert may seem rather disorientating. Duke Henderson is a Big Joe Turner style blues shouter, Smilin’ Smokey Lynn is more in the Roy Brown mould and Ernie Andrews has a go at a Billy Eckstine style ballad, much to the audible delight of at least one female fan. There are the cooler sounds of Floyd Dixon, with his hit from earlier in the year “Telephone Blues” and Peppermint Harris with “I Got Loaded” which was on its way to the number one spot in the R&B charts. Bixie Crawford belts out a typical 1950s swinger in “I Get The Blues When It Rains”, Madelyn Perkins is less convincing despite great backing by Maxwell Davis, while my favourite performance on the LP comes from Betty Jean Washington who blasts through “Elevator Boogie”, with Maxwell Davis providing a red hot tenor sax break.

Smilin' Smokey Lynn

Unfortunately the performance that should have been the highlight of the album, “Chicken Shack Boogie” is spoiled by Floyd Dixon’s vocal getting lost, possibly due to singing into the wrong microphone. The instrumental backing by Dixon, Chuck Norris and Maxwell Davis is terrific though. Big Jay is of course on top form, but unfortunately we only get to hear part of “Deacon’s Hop” as the show fades out into that LA night of more than fifty years ago. Luckily we have Bob Willoughby’s photos to confirm what we can hear at the end of the LP – Big Jay is driving the crowd wild.

Presentation is by station announcer George Wilhelm and deejays Hunter Hancock and Ray Robinson. Hancock sounds like he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown while Robinson is one cool dude. There are lots of things to pick up on from the deejays’ chatter – the references to Hadacol, and the fact that the show was going to last at least two and a half hours. The presenters are under the mistaken impression that there will be an extended run of Midnight Matinees, but despite drawing big crowds the shows lost money due to additional expenses, especially security in what was a pretty rough neighbourhood, and the series came to a premature end after the second show.

Big Jay and Ray

These recordings have been retrospectively labelled the first live rock 'n roll broadcast. There are plenty of references to rockin' and rollin' from Smilin' Smokey Lynn and Duke Henderson. Hunter Hancock had been popularising R&B on KFVD since 1948, long before Alan Freed started doing the same sort of thing in Cleveland. Whether what we are hearing is rock 'n roll is entirely for you the listener to decide!

Ol' HH encourages the band

Ripped from vinyl at 320 kbps. Password = greaseyspoon

Download from here:
Or here:

Running order:
Smilin’ Smokey Lynn – I Was Born To Rock
Floyd Dixon – Telephone Blues
Bixie Crawford – I Get The Blues When It Rains
Peppermint Harris – I Got Loaded
The Golden Keys – Noah
Duke Henderson – Low Down Dog
Cecil “Count” Carter – Out Of Count
Ernie Andrews – The Masquerade Is Over
Madelyn Perkins – What Is This Thing Called Love
Floyd Dixon, Chuck Norris & Maxwell Davis – Chicken Shack Boogie
Betty Jean Washington – Elevator Boogie
The Golden Keys – Dry Bones
Duke Henderson – We’re Gonna Rock
Big Jay McNeely – Deacon’s Hop

Note: the download consists of one mp3.

Posted by boogiewoody at 05:50

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