Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sammy Harris on Freedom 1539



Sammy Harris And Orchestra - King Zulu / Fatso (Freedom 1539)

"King Zulu" (vocal by Leon Whitehead)



"Fatso" (vocal uncredited)



Time has not been especially kind to Houston's African-American orchestra leaders of the 1940s and '50s. Sammy Harris, I.H. Smalley, Sherman Williams, Ed Golden, and others were the biggest names on the scene of their time, but they recorded little (if any) and made the unfortunate career move of playing saxophones instead of guitars. This is pretty much unforgivable. Even worse, they appear to have had no influence at all on the Blues Brothers. Strangely but perhaps significantly, all of them ignored Don Robey (or vice versa).

Sammy Harris is only mentioned once by his peers in Alan Govenar's huge Texas Blues book, in a passing reference from Grady Gaines, who remembered Harris as his high school band instructor. Grady apparently didn't think it worth mentioning that Sammy, who played alto sax, also led one of the most popular and exciting bands in town for many years. They were regulars at hotspots like the Eldorado, Club Matinee, and Club Ebony.

Below: Houston Informer, February 10, 1951.




It probably didn't help matters that Harris only made this one record, but if you're going to make just one, you should make it count. "King Zulu" and "Fatso" are pure fun. There is a strong Louis Jordan and Amos Milburn influence working here. (Who cares if the brass are a little out of tune?) It was recorded at ACA in 1950 and probably released around September of that year. The record itself is a high quality flexible vinyl pressing by Gold Star/Research Craft.

Other than Harris and vocalist Leon Whitehead, the personnel here is unknown. The Houston Informer wrote in its November 22, 1952, issue that the group included Richie Dell Thomas (nee Archie or Archia) (piano), Henry Sloan (trombone), Paul Wallace (tenor sax), Roy Patterson (trumpet), Leon "Popeye" Whitehead (vocals), and Duke Barker (drums), so perhaps some of these men were present on the "Zulu" session. A Club Matinee ad from early 1951 (shown above) cites Roger Wallace as the group's "sensational tenor sax" player; I presume he's the same person as Paul Wallace. Richie Dell Archie/Archia was the sister of Tom Archia, the Chicago saxist who helped launch the Aristocrat label.

Below: Houston Informer, February 6, 1954. Click to enlarge.



Below: Richie Dell Archie in the Houston Informer, February 10, 1951.

3 comments:

  1. Good, good stuff. Has anyone ever done an overall comp. of the Freedom label? I'd love to hear a mixed set of hillbilly/r&b from the label.

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  2. Great Rhythm and Blues, love it!

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  3. There's been two reissues of the Freedom label.

    "Come On Let's Boogie: Freedom Records: Texas Blues Anthology" is a 2 CD set covering the blues series.

    "Heading Back to Houston" (Krazy Kat) covered the country series.

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