Our Top 10 Louis Jordan Songs list defines and presents the best and most groundbreaking Louis Jordan songs that turned the music world upside down. Before he was dubbed “The King of the Jukebox,” Louis Thomas Jordan was born on July 8, 1908, in Brinkley, Arkansas. After his mother died, he was sent to live with his aunt Lizzie Reid and grandmother Maggie Jordan. His father, James Jordan, was a music teacher and bandleader for the Brinkley Bass Band, as well as the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.
Because of his father’s musical background, little Louis Jordan learned how to play the clarinet, the piano, and the saxophone when he was still a small boy. When he became a teenager, he joined the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. During the early 1930s, Jordan performed in venus located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as well as New York City. He performed and recorded with notable artists such as Charlie Gaines, Clarence Williams, the Chick Webb Orchestra, and the Stuff Smith Orchestra. Starting in 1938, he started his own band, Tympany Five.
Right at the start of his career, Louis Jordan had a knack to combine comedy with music as he performed as the frontman for his own band for over two decades. He also collaborated with other big-name artists such as Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald. In addition to his career as a bandleader, multi-instrumental musician, singer, and songwriter, he was also an actor and film personality. Fans familiar with “Caldonia” are likely to recognize this promotion film clip as one of his best-known appearances.
The career of Louis Jordan started in the 1930s as a big-band swing jazz performer. He quickly earned a name as one of the elite performers popularizing a dance craze known as the jump blues. It was a swinging dance style that fused blues, boogie-woogie, and jazz. Known as jump music, smaller bands sized at five or six players would perform shouted, syncopated vocals, along with comedic lyrics of an urban contemporary nature. There was a strong emphasis on rhythm, using bass, drums, and piano. Once the mid-1940s came along, the electric guitar joined in on the fray. It was also during this era Jordan’s Tympany Five bands introduced the use of the electric organ.
The popular musical genres of today owe their existence to Louis Jordan and the rest of the pioneering acts that shaped blues, R&B, and rock-and-roll into what they are today. Via Decca Records, Louis Jordan released hit after hit that earned him “The King of the Jukebox” monicker. Jordan’s recordings influenced the styles of popular rhythm and blues and soul music that began to spring up in the late 1940s. Several of his recordings were produced by Milt Gabler, the same man who refined and developed the qualities of his recordings in his later work with Bill Haley. This includes the recording for the cult classic, “Rock Around the Clock.”
The first roster of Tympany Five featured members from Jesse Stone’s band that first began as a nine-man group before downsizing to six. They often performed at the Elks Rendezvous, located at 464 Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York. at the time, there was a need to spell Louis Jordan’s name “Louie” as a means to stop people from pronouncing the “S” in his name.
After Louis Jordan relocated to Los Angeles, California, in 1942, he took his band with them. It was while he was there he began making soundies. At the time, this was the entertainment industry’s equivalent of a music video. There were several Jubilee radio shows he appeared on, as well as programs featured on the Armed Forces Radio. These would be prepared for distribution overseas for the American military to enjoy. Aside from a four-week camp tour in the United States Army, Louis Jordan was able to avoid engaging in military action. At the time, he had a hernia condition that exempted him from being drafted.
It was also during the 1940s that Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five became popular with a string of hits that have since become soul music standards. Aside from enjoying a prolific recording career, he also made several film appearances. In the meantime, due to the spike in Jordan’s popularity, the price to hire Tympany Five jumped from $350.00 USD to $2,000.00 USD for an evening’s worth of entertainment.
This, however, was minuscule compared to the level of influence Jordan had on the music industry. Because of his multi-instrumental talent, he and his band served as a threat to bigger bands. Even at $2,000.00 USD, it was cheaper to hire the equally entertaining Jordan and the Tympany Five than it was to hire a much larger group.
Throughout the 1940s, Louis Jordan and the Tympany Five held a solid dominance on the R&B charts. At the time, it was referred to as the “race” charts before US Billboard updated its musical categories. The 1940s witnessed Jordan score eighteen number one hit singles, along with fifty-four top ten hits. Between July 1946 and May 1947, Jordan spent forty-four straight weeks between five of his chart-topping hits. Because of his popularity, Decca Records received the full benefit as a label powerhouse back in the day.
Adding to that popularity were the soundings he made for his hit songs. He also starred in short musical films, singing, and acting that appealed to all audiences. In 1944, he and the Tympany Five performed “Deacon Jones” for the movie, Meet Miss Bobby Socks. In 1945, the short film musical, Caldonia, served as a big boost to Jordan’s career as there were roadshow screenings used to support his live performances.
Jordan also appeared in full-length movies such as 1944’s Follow the Boys and 1946’s Beware! In 1947, Jordan also starred in Reet, Petite, and Gone, and Look-Out Sister. On film, he was just as visually entertaining as he was in music. This was a formula of success that forever paved how the entertainment industry merged music to boost the appeal of movies and vice versa.
Starting in the early 1950s, Louis Jordan stepped away from his iconic rhythm and blues style in favor of big band performances. This proved to be a bad career choice, causing his shining star to dim down at that time. It didn’t help that he fell ill at this time, causing him to spend more time in his home in Arizona than on tour. Come July 1, 1952, he performed at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, California, for Leon Hefflin, Sr.’s eighth Cavalcade of Jazz concert. He appeared again on June 20, 1954, this time with Tympany Five.
In 1954, he signed with the label, Aladdin, and recorded twenty-one songs. Nine of them were released while the other three remained unreleased. Among different labels, Jordan continued as a prolific recording artist until 1974’s JSP. Some of those recordings included remakes of previous hits, including “Caldonia.” Unfortunately for Jordan, the 1950s didn’t have enough room for his style of music anymore as the fans were enthralled with the rock n’ roll genre. By 1953, not only was his popularity declining but so were his finances.
As successful as Louis Jordan was as an entertainer, his personal life saw him go through five wives. The first wife, Julia, gave birth to a daughter he learned belonged to another man. In 1932, he met his second wife, Ida Fields. However, she sued him in 1943 for bigamy as he married Fleecie Moore in 1942. Ida, who was also an entertainer, won $30,000.00 USD in the settlement and later billed herself as Mrs. Louis Jordan, Queen of the Blues, and her Orchestra.
Her ex-husband put a stop to it by stalling payments. Unfortunately, this cost him another $50,000.00 USD when Ida took him to court again. In 1947, his marriage to his third wife, Moore, ended after she discovered he was having an affair. What used to be his childhood sweetheart attacked him with a knife and was charged with assault. Jordan married his lover, Vicky Hayes in 1951, but the two separated nine years later. His fifth and final marriage was to Martha Weaver in 1966.
Adding to Jordan’s burdens was a 1961 tax lean against him and his estate by the Internal Revenue Service. His property needed to be sold in order to pay off the debts. Of the many songs he wrote, he did not reap the financial rewards for them. His wife at the time, Fleecie Moore, got the credit for his work, plus all the royalties. This was a judgment call Jordan made to avoid existing publishing issues and it was a bad one on his part. Even after the couple divorced, she managed to retain ownership of those songs.
On February 4, 1975, Louis Jordan had a heart attack and died while he was in Los Angeles. His body was taken to the hometown of his wife, Martha, which was in St. Louis, Missouri.
Louis Jordan Legacy
Louis Jordan’s legacy saw a star in his prime from the late 1930s until the early 1950s. As “The King of the Jukebox,” he was at the peak of his career near the end of the swing era. In 1983, Jordan was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, then again in 1987 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In statistics, Jordan ranks as the fifth most successful African-American recording artist, at least according to the R&B category of Billboard Magazine.
In his time, he was the most popular rhythm and blues artist, thanks to the jump blues style. In addition to dominating the R&B charts at the time, Jordan also experienced a series of crossover hits as the mainstream audience found his music too irresistible at the time. During an era where the pop charts were typically dominated by white people. Jordan’s musical influence spoke volumes too loud for the entertainment industry to ignore.
In 2008, the United States Postal Service featured Louis Jordan and his film, Caldonia, as a tribute to Vintage Black Cinema. As far as the Blues Foundation is concerned, Jordan was a precursor to R&B and was the biggest African-American star of his era. It was suggested by many that the musical style of Chuck Berry was fashioned after Louis Jordan’s. The only twist was the references made in the lyrics that set them apart.
As for the opening guitar riff of his signature single, “Johnny B. Goode,” there was too much in common with 1946’s hit single, “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman,” to be denied. Performed by guitarist Carl Hogan while he was part of Jordan’s Tympany Five, this was one of the earliest examples of legendary electric guitar influence.
The Grammies awarded Jordan in 2018 for lifetime achievement, citing he paved the way for the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s. Included in the Grammy Hall of Fame are the singles, “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens,” “Caldonia Boogie,” “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” and “Let the Good Times Roll.”
Top 10 Louis Jordan Songs
# 10 – Five Guys Named Moe
“Five Guys Named Moe” was a song Louis Jordan wrote and recorded in 1943 that was inspired by the short musical with the same name. It debuted in the UK as a theatrical production before finally premiering on Broadway in 1992. There is also a book, written by Clarke Peters, that covers the tale of “Five Guys Named Moe.”
In the story, the lead character is Nomax, a man whose girlfriend just left him and left him penniless. As he turned to 1930s-style radio entertainment to find comfort, he discovered the “Five Guys Named Moe.” Broken down individually, they were Big Moe, Four-Eyed Moe, Eat Moe, No Moe, and Little Moe. Louis Jordan’s performance of this song revolutionized jazz music, as well as traveling down a road that would lead to the spawn of rock and roll music.
# 9 – Knock Me a Kiss
Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five recorded and released “Knock Me a Kiss” in 1941. It became a huge hit but did not appear on any official music charts as the Harlem Hit Parade wasn’t created until late October 1942. As a popular jive number, “Knock Me a Kiss” was one of the first songs to influence the jump blues era, as well as swinging jazz music.
In 1958, jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald recorded her own version of what became one of Jordan’s most popular songs. This song was a swinging jazz favorite that featured simple lyrics by an incredibly talented vocal artist who knew how to win over the crowd, regardless of their skin color.
# 8 – Ain’t That Just Like a Woman (They’ll Do It Every Time)
The guitarist was Carl Hogan, who served as a member of Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five. The song was “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman (They’ll Do It Every Time).” The popularity and influence of this song about a woman’s knack for stirring up trouble was so immense that when Chuck Berry performed his signature single, “Johnny B. Goode,” discerning fans and critics were quick to point out the similarities.
Jordan’s “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” was released as a single in 1946 and became a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number seventeen. In 1961, Fats Domino recorded his own version of this highly influential single, which became a number thirty-three hit for him on the US Billboard Hot 100.
#7 – Ration Blues
“Ration Blues” became the first crossover hit for Louis Jordan after it was released as a single in 1943. As the title suggested, the song’s lyrics described the U.S. government’s rationing of food and supplies during a time of war, which took its toll upon the American people. As the events of the Second World War continued, the timing of Jordan’s single earned a place in the hearts of the public as they struggled to ensure the hardships placed upon them by a political authority that seemed to have little care about their way of life.
“Ration Blues” became a number one hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number eleven. Ration Blues also became a short film in 1944 that featured Jordan and his Tympany Five band.
#6 – Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby
On October 4, 1943, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” was a song that was first recorded by Louis Jordan. It was released on the same record as “G.I. Jive,” but as “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (Ma’ Baby).” It became a number one hit on what is now referred to as the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It was also a number two hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and a number three hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
The inspiration behind this song started with 1932’s jazzy piano number, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t.” It came from the film, Harlem Is Heaven. While both the title and the lyrics are different, the melody was partly similar to Jordan’s hit single. With well over one hundred artists from different genres each recording their own version of this song, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” has earned its place as an R&B standard.
#5 – Let the Good Times Roll
“Let the Good Times Roll” became a number two hit for Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five after it was released as a jump blues single in 1946. It peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and has since become a blues standard. “Let the Good Times Roll” became one of Jordan’s signature songs and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009.
In 2013, the Blues Foundation did the same in its Classic of Blues Recording category. As a blues standard, “Let the Good Time Roll” inspired many artists to either record their own version or use it as a source of inspiration in songs such as Earl King’s big hit, “Come On.”
#4 – Choo Choo Ch’Boogie
Recorded in 1946, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” was a song that topped the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for eighteen weeks during the year’s summer season. It became one of his biggest hits that won over a multi-racial audience as it also peaked at number seven on the US Billboard Hot 100. This song was considered an important link between the music genres of blues and country, just before rock and roll music officially made its introduction a few years later.
This song was written by songwriters with a country and western musical background, then performed as a jump blues favorite by Louis Jordan. As a song, it first portrayed the feeling of excitement before the mood shifted to the feeling of uneasiness after the return of many who served in World War II. The cultural significance of this song earned it a place as a 2008 inductee into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
#3 – Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens
“Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens” was a popular jump blues song that became a number one hit on what US Billboard magazine referred to as the Rhythm and Blues Records Chart. It remained at the top of its chart for seventeen weeks, longer than any of the number one singles Jordan released in his recording career. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a number six hit.
Known for his comedic charm in his music, Louis Jordan borrowed the phrase “Nobody here but us chickens” from a published joke about a chicken thief. “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens” became an iconic hit that was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013.
#2 – Saturday Night Fish Fry
“Saturday Night Fish Fry” was a 1950 release that made musical history. It was split into both sides of a 78-rpm record, plus it triggered the jump blues era as the listeners couldn’t help themselves but respond to its beat. This was also one of the first popular songs to use the word “rocking” as part of the chorus. It featured a distorted electric guitar, adding some highly impressionable riffs that would inspire Chuck Berry to do the same in his own recording career.
According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “Saturday Night Fish Fry” served as one of the earliest examples of rap music, as well as rock and roll music. When Louis Jordan was inducted in 1987, he also earned the monickers of “The Father of Rhythm & Blues” and “The Grandfather of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Aside from the argument of who originated rock and roll as a genre, there is an agreement Louis Jordan and “Saturday Night Fish Fry” served as a catalyst, thanks to the electric guitar, the mix of bass, and a fast-paced tempo. When this song was released as a single, it became an R&B chart-topping hit for twelve weeks, as well as a number twenty-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. During a time when such an achievement was rare for an African-American artist, “Saturday Night Fish Fry” became one of his many singles that became crossover hits.
Originally, “Saturday Night Fish Fry” was recorded by Eddie Williams and His Brown Buddies but the acetate fell into Jouis Jordan’s talent agent instead. However, Jordan changed the song by turning it into a raucous and rowdy Boogie-Woogie style. Jordan’s version of a “Rockin” fish fry turning into a wild party became the iconic favorite as it caused listeners to jump up and get into the beat.
Interestingly enough, as one of the pioneers of jump blues, Louis Jordan’s “Saturday Night Fish Fry” was a song that replaced its popularity with the birth of rock and roll music. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s statement in 1968, this song served as an early example of rap music, as well as the potentially the first rock and roll recording. In 2013, the legacy of Jordan’s influence on rap music was further cemented, even long before it officially became a genre. Several artists have since covered this cult classic, including B.B. King. Much of King’s discography includes several songs recorded by Louis Jordan and has turned some of them into his own hits as well.
The comedic “Caldonia” made history as the first music video when it was released in 1945. Considered a short film musical, Caldonia, launched Louis Jordan’s career to new heights as it was used as roadshow screenings to promote his live performances. Both the song and the musical film served as key influences that sparked Little Richard to embark on a recording career of his own. He admitted it was the first non-gospel song he heard and was instantly drawn to the shrieks he heard.
When Little Richard covered “Caldonia” himself, many fans were amazed at how much he was able to sound like his idol. On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, “Caldonia” was a number one hit. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number six. The sheer energy behind this song was jazzy enough to give rock and roll one heck of a kickstart, not to mention serve as an intro to the genre of hip-hop music, as well as rap.
“Caldonia” became a cult favorite then and remains a cult favorite today. In 1998, it was inducted as “Caldonia Boogie” into the Grammy Hall of fame. His original version was later added to the U.S. National Recording Registry in 2013 for its cultural, historical, or aesthetical significance.
Shortly after Jordan’s recording of “Caldonia,” Erskine Hawkins released a cover version that peaked as high as number two on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and at number twelve on the US Billboard Hot 100. Woody Herman, Sugar Chile Robinson, James Brown, and Sammy Lowe each had their own versions of this song that became hits on the music charts as well.
Feature Photo:William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Louis Jordan Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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