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“Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” — Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five

April 19, 2010

My last post featured a song by the French rock band Téléphone.  Glancing at the heading, some of you might think that this one also features a French singer, but it doesn’t — that guy would be Louis Jourdan, who is probably best known for singing the song “Gigi” in the movie of the same name.  This definitely ain’t “Gigi.”  It also ain’t a cover of a well-known Bob Dylan tune (though there is a Dylan connection that I’ll discuss later). 

No, this track is by Louis Jordan.

Jordan was a singer, bandleader and saxophone player who, despite segregation, managed to be very popular with both black and white audiences during the 1940s.  He was a leading exponent of the musical style known as Jump Blues, which melded elements of swing-era jazz with boogie-woogie and the blues.

Jordan’s music had a strong beat that was good for dancing and lyrics that often were humorous and laced with 40’s-era “jive” slang and/or sexual innuendo.  He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, in the category “Early Influence,” and there’s a good overview of his career on their website.1

Okay all you hep cats, let’s give a listen to “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” from 1946 — and check out the electric guitar intro played by the Tympany Five’s  Carl Hogan.

Ain’t that just like… “Johnny B. Goode?”  Things must have been more than a little strained backstage at this show:

Chuck was also influenced by Jordan’s lyrics — compare the words of “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman”2 with Berry’s “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.”3

Speaking of the lyrics:

  • Jordan implies that Nero was a woman — there were many rumors about Nero (including that he played his lyre and sang while Rome burned) but none, to my knowledge, about him being a woman.  Weird!
  • Though certainly not as wickedly satirical or surreal, Jordan’s references to Biblical and historical figures in this song suggest a template for Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”  Skeptical?  Well, Dylan played a half-dozen Louis Jordan tracks on his Theme Time Radio Hour show on satellite radio.  And back in the 60’s, he explicitly referenced a tune recorded by Louis Jordan called “Open the Door, Richard” in the chorus of his song on The Basement Tapes entitled “Open the Door, Homer.”4

I’m not the only one who’s noticed the connection.  Wikipedia, discussing Jordan’s 1949 hit tune “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” says: 

“Its distinctive comical adventure narrative is strikingly similar to the style later used by Bob Dylan in his classic ‘story’ songs like ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’ and ‘Tombstone Blues’.”5

I first became aware of Louis Jordan through other artists — Asleep at the Wheel, who I used to see at the Longbranch Saloon in Berkeley back in the early 70’s, covered his “Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie.”  Later, Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive album included several Jordan tunes; one, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” seemed oddly familiar to me; it turns out that it was used in a Tom and Jerry cartoon that I must have seen as a kid.

I couldn’t end this post without commenting on the name of Jordan’s band — The Tympany Five misspelled the word ‘tympani’ and, most of the time, had 6 to 8 members.







From → Pre-1960

  1. Ted permalink

    Hail Hail Almost-cooked-but-not-quite-ready Rock ‘n’ roll! You know I’m a fan of this prehistoric music madness. I’ve got records from Louis Prima, Charlie Christian, and Barney Kessel. I might even be able to name all the five guys called Moe.

    You’re right about Highway 61. And don’t forget the Bob Dylan classic with the same title as today’s Louis Jordan song. That’s not just an influence, that is a copy.

  2. JIm Laffan permalink

    Dorn: And let’s not forget Bonnie Raitt. I’ve tried to find something on YouTube from the live double album, but got this instead:
    Lowell George, another acolyte?

  3. Quick update: Check Berry actually recorded “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” on his 1965 album Fresh Berry’s.

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