Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Number seven . . .

7 Boogie-Woogie Santa Claus Mabel Scott

Born in Virginia, Mabel Scott started out singing in the choir of the Metropolitan Baptist Church, 151 W128th St, in Harlem. She sang R&B from the mid-1940s till the mid-1950s. ‘Tiny Bradshaw, Bull Moose Jackson, I worked with all of them,’ she said. She worked in the Cotton Club (with Cab Calloway), Detroit and . . . London, where her first recordings were made for the same label as would later sign the Beatles (and Bernard Cribbins), Parlophone.

Boogie-Woogie Santa Claus was written by Leon René, a ‘Creole’, originally from Covington, Louisiana, right across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans — a four mile trip on the world’s longest bridge over (continuous) water. He took up brick-laying to support his music-making. By then based in Los Angeles, he was the first person to record Nat King Cole. (He said. Actually, Cole had cut stuff years earlier.)

One of the first (and foremost) black music business giants, René also wrote When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, I Sold My Heart To The Junkman, Rockin’ Robin and When The Swallows Came Back To Capistrano — which I can’t be alone in having thought was about somewhere in Italy rather than, as I just discovered by checking, a cliff in southern California.

Mabel Scott was the first to have a hit with this song, in 1948 — on René’s own Excelsior label. That was only a ‘race’ hit. The one that really made the money was Patti Page’s version. ‘It just happened to be couple with one of the biggest hit records of all times,’ said René. It was the flipside of Page’s Tennessee Waltz and when it comes to royalties, of course, the b-side pays just as much as the a-side.

Mabel Scott also cut Baseball Boogie, for King. ‘I’m a big-legged pitcher. Get your bat ready, baby. If you can hit that ball, you can make a home run. I’ve got a drop that’ll make you swing down low. So get your bat ready, baby, let’s see what you can do. Will you step down low? Will you step to the plate?’ Donne or Marvell would have been proud of such an extended poetic conceit. She also cut a track called Yes! Sample lyrics: ‘I can’t say no to you. Baby, baby, yes. Yes, yes, yes.’

How her songs and singing related to her offstage life is hard to say. Judging by the few pictures, she was certainly beautiful. Yet . . . around the time she first cut this track, she was married to the man I shall now dub Mr Black Christmas — Charles Brown (see below). But she divorced him within three years. Her second marriage wasn’t much more successful. That husband hit her. Disillusioned, she gave up secular music and retreated to the church for the remaining forty-five years of her life.

Next up A Platters' platter


Lo Jardinier said...

Great song, and thanks for the info on Hazel Scott, who I hadn't heard of. Creole is a word which has changed meanings, it appears: from a settler who takes on the culture of the people s/he has settled among (gone native), to a word for a debased or mixed culture and language. So it seems hard to use in an accurate, positive sense, which is a pity since it seems to me that so much great music is made when and where cultures meet and mix, compared to a monolithic, monoglot bloc - if that even exists any more outside of racist imaginations.

Peter Silverton said...

I was using Creole in a particular New Orleans sense. But I guess I should have been even clearer and used the phrase 'Creole of color'. The original New Orleans Creoles were those who were born in the city - rather than in Europe, it then being a French/Spanish colony. Back then it was a racially neutral phrase - applied to black and whites and anything in between, including those with native american ancestry.

These Creoles were a kind of New Orleans upper class, speaking French (not the cajun version but metropolitan French). Some were half-toned, so to speak. They certainly mixed freely. Pianist/composer Louis Gottschalk (one of jazz/R&B's forgotten precursors) had Creole mother of Haitian descent - not clear whether that included 'blackness'. But his (London Jewish) father had children by his 'mulatto' mistress who were LG's half-siblings. There was no fuss, so to speak.

Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton self-identified as Creole — and in Morton's case at least saw it as rising him above blackness.

Lo Jardinier said...

Some lines of further research there for me....including why I wrote Hazel Scott (the pianist, who I have heard of) for Mabel Scott.