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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The BIG Big Maybelle list :) Yeah, it's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on........

Big Maybelle Smith

Mabel Louise Smith (May 1, 1924 – January 23, 1972),  known professionally as Big Maybelle, was an American R&B singer and pianist. Her 1956 hit single "Candy" received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999.

Born in Jackson, Tennessee, Big Maybelle sang gospel as a child and by her teens had switched to rhythm and blues. She began her professional career with Dave Clark's Memphis Band in 1936, and also toured with the all female International Sweethearts of Rhythm.  She then joined Christine Chatman's Orchestra as pianist, and made her first recordings with Chatman in 1944, and with the Tiny Bradshaw's Orchestra from 1947 to 1950.

Her debut solo recordings, as Mabel Smith, came for King Records in 1947, backed by Oran "Hot Lips" Page, but she had little initial success. However, in 1952 she was signed by Okeh Records, whose record producer Fred Mendelsohn gave her the stage name Big Maybelle.  Her first recording for Okeh, "Gabbin' Blues", was a number 3 hit on the Billboard R&B chart, and was followed up by both "Way Back Home" and "My Country Man" in 1953. In 1955 she recorded "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On", produced by Quincy Jones,  two years before Jerry Lee Lewis' version. More hits followed throughout the 1950s, mainly for Savoy Records, including "Candy" (1956), one of her biggest sellers.

She made the stage of the Apollo Theater in New York City; the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival; and she appeared in Jazz on a Summer's Day (1960), filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival, along with Mahalia Jackson and Dinah Washington.   After 1959 she recorded for a variety of labels but the hits largely dried up. She continued to perform in person into the early 1960s, when drug addiction and health problems took their toll on her.   Her last hit single was in 1967 with a cover of "96 Tears" by Question Mark & the Mysterians.

Big Maybelle died in a diabetic coma in 1972, in Cleveland, Ohio.   Her final album, Last of Big Maybelle, was released posthumously in 1973.

The album The Okeh Sessions on the Epic label, won the 1983 W. C. Handy Award, for "Vintage or Reissue Album of the Year (U.S.)"


Mabel Louise Smith was born in Jackson Tennessee in May of 1924. In the early nineteen thirties the young Mabel won an amateur singing contest in Memphis, and decided that performing was for her, She began her professional career on tour with The Sweethearts of Rhythm, an all female swing group that toured the South in the late thirties and featured Tiny Davis, Jackie Glenn, and Mattie Watson. In the early forties Mabel was part of pianist Christine Chatman's orchestra (a decade later Chatman was a session pianist on some of Hank Ballard & The Midnighters sides for King) and made her first recording with that group in 1944 for Decca Records. Soon she toured with the Tiny Bradshaw band, and her work with him and Oran "Hot Lips" Page led to a couple of appearances on record for King in the late nineteen forties. By the start of the new decade she was now working as a single, but bookings were sporadic and recording sessions were non-existent. At an appearance with Jimmy Witherspoon at Detroit's Flame Show Bar in 1952, the struggling performer gained notice, and soon it paid off.

Okeh Records, the newly revived R & B offshoot of Columbia records was developing a roster of recording talent when word was passed about the blues belter based in Cincinnati, Mabel Smith. The people at Okeh liked what they saw and heard, and so the newly renamed Big Maybelle was signed to the label in September of 1952. Her first session for the label produced the song "Rain Down Rain" written by promising composer Lincoln Chase on #6931. The flip side was "The Gabbin' Blues". This very first session produced the first success of Maybelle's career. "Gabbin Blues" along with Chuck Willis "My Story" resulted in the biggest month for the label ever and the first time Okeh had two top ten sellers on the list at the same time. Maybelle was an in person smash in Philadelphia, first for a week at the Earle Theater along with Willie Mabon, and then at a number of nightclubs in that city including Pep's and Emerson's cafe.

Early in the new year Maybelle appears at an unusual double bill with Varetta Dillard at Detroit's Flame Show Bar. In late January Big Maybelle embarks on a two month tour of mostly one nighters throughout the Midwest. As her Midwest tour ends, she is part of the "Broadway Revels" revue at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. In April of 1953 Okeh releases #6955 by Big Maybelle - "Way Back Home" and "I Just Want Your Love". She goes out on the road again to the Midwest first in Chicago with Errol Garner, and featured by a week's stay at Kansas City's Orchid Room. In a bit of regionalization, the record does not sell in the East, but in the Midwest and Tennessee, "Way Back Home" is a big seller. In August "Send For Me" and "Jinny Mule" are released by Okeh Records on #6998. The Midwest is once again kind to the singer as "Jinny Mule" sells big in Detroit, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. In November Big Maybelle is a hit at the Club Baby Grand in Harlem, appearing with The Wanderers. In a testament to Maybelle's popularity during her first year for Okeh, Cash Box Magazine awards Maybelle the number three position as best female R & B performer behind Faye Adams and Dinah Washington.

In mid January of 1954, Okeh releases #7009 - "My Country Man" which again does well in the Midwest, and this time the record enjoys good sales and airplay in the South especially in Atlanta. This is followed in April with Okeh #7026 - "You'll Never Know" and "I've Got A Feelin". This time there is not much action on the record. In April Maybelle shares the stage in Detroit with Wynonie "Mr. Blues" Harris, Bull Moose Jackson, and old recording partner Tiny Bradshaw. Big Maybelle makes two noteworthy appearances in the New York metropolitan area - first at a big July 4th outdoor show and picnic held by WNJR radio in Newark, New Jersey. The second was a landmark R & B revue at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater over the Labor day weekend. This was the last time a big show of this kind would be held under the category of Rhythm & Blues, as the Rock 'n' Roll explosion was weeks away. This show was the first indication of the interest of this music by White teenagers in the East. Maybelle appeared with The Drifters, Roy Hamilton, Faye Adams, LaVern Baker, The Spaniels, The Counts, Rusty Bryant, and Erskine Hawkins. Okeh #7042 is released in October - "My Big Mistake" and "I'm Getting Along All Right". The Apollo Theater in New York headlines Big Maybelle along with Gene Ammons and his combo.

Big Maybelle begins 1955 appearing in an all star revue at Chicago's Trianon Ballroom. She continues to tour with the show which ends at Symphony Hall in Boston in Mid-March. In the Spring "Don't Leave Poor Me" and "It Ain't No Use" are released on Okeh #7053. She is well received at a two week stay at Gleason's in Cleveland, and appears at The Howard in D.C. with The Rivileers and Gene Ammons. In September Big Maybelle's recording of "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" gets good airplay on R & B radio stations around the country, but sales are disappointing. The song would be revived by many other performers. The same thing happens to her original rendition of "Whole Lotta Shaking Going On" (which was produced by a young Quincy Jones), which didn't do much for Maybelle's career, but of course produced a cataclysmic hit for Jerry lee Lewis and became one of the true defining moments of rock history (Jerry by the way often cites the original as by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton). Record sales may be lagging, but Maybelle continues to be a big draw in the Midwest. She sells out a week at Chicago's Crown Propeller Lounge, and does well with Nappy Brown and Red Prysock at that city's Regal Theater.

In 1956 Big Maybelle begins the year with two weeks in Buffalo, New York. Okeh releases "Such A Cutie" and "The Other Night" on #7066. Once again the record fails to sell. Meanwhile Maybelle returns for a week's stay at Chicago's Crown Propeller. Okeh Records drops Maybelle, but she is immediately signed to Savoy. What happens next almost defies description. Somebody at Savoy, whether it was Kelly Owens, Ernie Wilkins (both arrangers and session leaders who worked at Savoy), or someone as yet unknown (possibly her soulmate at the time Van "Piano Man" Walls ?)to history made a decision. The idea was to record Big Maybelle doing a bluesy ballad version of Johnny Mercer's 1940s tune "Candy" (Mercer wrote and recorded a number one rendition of his tune). What emerged on Savoy #1195 was as personal a treatment of a song as could be performed. No one could duplicate the style and sound of this performance. The listening public agreed and the breakout was almost immediate. It was the biggest seller in the long history of Savoy Records getting into the top fifteen sellers on the national pop charts. The soulful delivery, the smooth orchestration, and the now famous trademark squeal at the end, all combined for a powerhouse record, one that made Big Maybelle a national star. She brings down the house at the big Dr. Jive show at New York's Apollo Theater, and is now much in demand. Savoy soon tries again with the same formula, and again it is a success. Maybelle turns her talents on another pop standard "Mean To Me" on #1500 for Savoy, and as a nod to her vast popularity, Okeh rushes out a re-release of "Gabbin Blues" on #7069. Big Maybelle had finally achieved the national stardom that she had begun dreaming about since that day in Memphis more than twenty years before. She ends the year headlining the show at the Apollo with Etta James, The Clovers, and James Moody.

In April of 1957 Savoy tries again with Maybelle's version of the pop standard "All Of Me" backed with "I Don't Want To Cry" on #1512. The side starts off selling well in the Northeast and in Chicago and Milwaukee. Maybelle appears with dj Al Benson at Chicago's Regal Theater in April. "All Of Me" sells big in Philadelphia. August of 1957 sees Savoy with a new release by Big Maybelle. It is "Jim" and "Rock House" on #1519. During Labor Day week of the year Maybelle appears on stage at New York's Apollo Theater with Jocko Henderson for a big show headlining Bo Diddley and Fats Domino. Also on the bill are The Cookies, Harptones, and Lee Andrews & The Hearts. After that show Maybelle hits the road with Lowell Fulson and Jimmy Beasley for a series of one nighters in the South. In October Savoy releases an LP called Big Maybelle Sings on #14005. In early November Maybelle returns to Chicago for another big revue with Al Benson at the Regal Theater. In December Savoy releases the seasonal "White Christmas" and "Silent Night" on #6041. At year's end Savoy re-releases "Ring Ding Dilly" backed with "So Long" on #1527. In 1958 Maybelle tours with the Joe Morris band across the country. Her two ballad hits are showstoppers. Savoy #1527 of "So Long" is being pushed hard by the label. In May Big Maybelle is involved in legal action as a recording contract she signed with jazz label Vanguard Records is challenged by Savoy. The plans were for a series of sessions to be produced by John Hammond that would include Maybelle's versions of classic blues and jazz songs. Herman Lubinsky of Savoy claims the singer has a binding contract with that label. Also that summer, Big Maybelle was a performer at the Newport Jazz Festival in July of 1958, and is seen in Bert Stern's great documentary of that concert called "Jazz On A Summer's Day". That summer Savoy releases #1536 - "Blues, Early, Early" parts one and two and is listed as Big Maybelle Smith. In the middle of all the Savoy-Vanguard fuss, Maybelle goes and records an album for MGM Records ! More litigation ensues.

In early 1959 Savoy releases "Say It Isn't So" and "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" on #1558. Big Maybelle's next for Savoy comes out in late June of the year. It couples "Pitiful" and "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" on #1572 which has good initial sales. In October "Some Of These Days" and "I Understand" both recorded with a big string section is released on Savoy #1576, while "A Good Man" is still selling. Big Maybelle never again attained the height of success that she enjoyed in 1956, but her place in music history was assured. The recordings of "Candy" and "Ring Ding Dilly" luckily preserved from the Alan Freed live radio show on CBS network, show Maybelle's ability to get the audience into the act and become a great live performer. She recorded the up tempo tunes "That's A Pretty Good Love" and "Tell Me Who", and then for her last session for Savoy in 1959 tried some pop outings complete with strings. The best of these was her version of "Until The Real Thing Comes Along". Big Maybelle continued to record for various labels such as Brunswick, Scepter (which produced a fine effort called "Yesterday's Kisses") Chess, and Rojac, for whom she did a cover of "96 Tears". Maybelle also continued to perform in person into the early sixties, when the battle with drug addiction and health problems took their toll on her. From the mid sixties on she performed on an irregular basis, settling down in Cleveland. She passed away from the effects of a diabetic coma in January of 1972. She was 48 years old.

Mabel Louise Smith was fortunate to change up and become a top selling recording artist in the midst of the rock 'n' roll era which assures her a place in the hearts and minds of so many that were there during those musically revolutionary times. Rather than becoming one of the many talented but neglected performers who shaped the music of the last fifty years and were then discarded from the writing of the history, Big Maybelle remains as a performer who bridged the gap between the R & B days, to the rock music future. For this we can all be thankful.

The melody does indeed linger on as CD re-issues are available that show the full range of the vocal talent of Big Maybelle. The best are "The Complete Okeh Sessions", "Big Maybelle on Savoy", and the late 50s on that label are represented in the double CD issue entitled "Blues, Candy, and Big Maybelle" on Savoy.

As promised....a big swingin' list for a Saturday night..............and, awayyyyy we go!!

Hurry hurry
Indian giver
Foolin' blues
Don't try to fool me
Dirty deal blues
Gabbin' blues
I'm getting along alright
Hair dressin' women
Baby please don't go
I don't want to cry
I could make you care
If I could be with you
All of me
The blues
Baby won't you please come home
Ain'cha glad that I want you
Blues early early (parts 1&2)
Goodnight wherever you are
Beale Street blues
Careless love
Friendless blues
Harlem blues
The basement blues
A good man is hard to find
How it lies, how it lies
I ain't got nobody
Goin' home baby
I got it bad
I understand
I can't give you anything but love
How deep is the ocean
I'll close my eyes
I still care
Everybody's got a home
Cold cold heart
I will never turn my back on you I cried for you
I won't cry anymore
Don't let the sun catch you crying
I know love
I just don't know what to do with myself
In the still of the night
I don't want to cry 2
Don't pass me by
If I had you
Gloomy Sunday
Black is black
Every time I feel the spirit
Do Lord
Down by the riverside
Dry bones
He's got the whole world in his hands
Heaven will welcome you
Ain't no use
Don't leave poor me
Ain't to be played with

Little Miss Muffet
Bad dream blues Sad and disappointed girl
Let's roll it
Just want your love
Please stay away from me
One hour
So good to be my baby
Ring dang dilly
My country man
Mean to me
It's a sin to tell a lie
Say it isn't so
Rain down rain
Silent night
Rock house
A little bird told me
So long
Stay as sweet as you are
Ramblin' blues
Joe Turner blues
Memphis blues
Ole Miss blues
St. Louis blues
Jinny Mule
Some of these things
Send for me
The price you have to pay
Oh, Lord, what are you doing to me
Put yourself in my place
Only you
Maybelle's blues
Same old story
No better for you
Let me go
I've got a feelin'
It's a man's man's world
Maybelle sings the blues
It's been raining
Quittin' time
Nobody knows the trouble I seen
Swing low sweet chariot
Old time religion
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho
No more trouble out of me
My big mistake
One monkey don't stop no show
New kind of mambo
Ocean of tears
The other night
Such a cutie
My mother's eyes

Too tight mama
Way back home
Whole lot of shakin' goin' on
That's a pretty good love
Tell me who
There I've said it again
White Christmas
True true feeling
Way down South where the blues began
Yellow dog blues
Until the real thing comes along
What more can a woman do
Why was I born
That's all
Yesterday's kisses
96 tears
You'll never know
Yes indeed
When the saints go marching in
You'll be sorry
Whole lotta shakin' goin' on 2


  1. Thank you very, very, very...

  2. You are very, very, very....welcome :)_


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