It occurred to me that, before I die, I should, having spent a large part of my life listening to them, actually document the greatest recordings ever made. This will, of course, be a purely personal subjective listing and, as such, be uncontroversial and yet definitive 😉 I will catalogue them on a separate page but for now….in no particular order:
Hands Off by Jay McShann with Priscilla Bowman.
I think it was John Walters, the producer of John Peel‘s radio programmes, who observed that lyrics were superfluous to a great song; they could be replaced with “rhubarb and custard” and it would still be a great song. Hands Off certainly passes that test.
With the relentless drums and bass driving ever forward, occasionally punctuated by the horns, and the whole thing topped off with McShann’s piano intertwined with Bowman’s understated vocals and the extended fade out – like finding the ice cream goes right to the bottom of the cornet; it was unsurprisingly a big hit in December 1955 staying at number one on the Billboard R & B charts for three weeks.
Jay McShann was a mostly self taught pianist. His thirteen piece big band in the 1930s had included the teenage Charlie Parker. It was while touring with McShann’s band in the early 1940s that Parker acquired the nickname ‘Yardbird’ from them. By the mid 1940s McShann set up a smaller band as was the trend at the time. In 1949 they had a hit with the band’s vocalist Jimmy Witherspoon‘s recording of Ain’t Nobody’s Business.
Witherspoon was replaced in the early 1950s by Priscilla Bowman. She had come from a church based background (her father was a minister) and, as a teenager, performing in local nightclubs where she adopted the popular styling of Ruth Brown‘s 1951 hit Teardrops from My Eye and the like.
In 1955 McShann’s band were signed to Vee Jay Records where they recorded Hands Off. Unable to replicate the success Bowman was signed to Vee Jay as a solo artist in the late 1950s. Again failing to achieve any great success although in 1958 she was the first to record Brook Benton‘s song A Rockin’ Good Way before Benton and Dinah Washington had a hit with it in 1960.
Although Vee Jay was commercially successful with many hits, even releasing the early recordings by The Beatles in America after Capitol Records had said they were not interested (they would soon change their mind) financial mismanagement meant that they filed for bankruptcy in 1966.
Elvis Presley would perform both Got My Mo-Jo Working/Hands Off mashed together.
Recordings mentioned: (links to: Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube)