As the old musician’s joke goes, we’ve been getting a lot of requests lately, but we’re gonna do it anyway.
Few remember, but Mad Peck Studios pioneered - some say invented - the playlist concept back in the early 1970’s at a long-forgotten rock magazine titled Fusion. Every month we published a tape “recipe” as an adjunct to our cartoon feature “Flash Burn Funnies,” the mostly fictional account of the antics of real-life rock critics The Masked Marvel and The Fabulous I. C. Lotz.
These recipes or playlists were intended to guide rock fans in the creation of self- recorded cassette tapes of their record collections for use in automobiles and portable tape players. The content alternated between collections of works by a particular artist, a specific musical genre, and the biggest top 40 rock ‘n’ roll hits of a given year. Since we were not producing a real physical product, we were not limited by the any legal restrictions imposed by the owners of the recordings we were compiling. The only considerations were our personal taste and/or popularity data gleaned from Billboard magazine.
When the digital revolution of the mid-1980's held out the promise that soon every significant musical recording would be available at the stroke of a key, we realized there would be a need for old farts like us to guide neophytes through the bewildering cyber catalog of music past and present. However, by then we had quit the music biz in favor of a more respectable position: wrangling a collection of 80,000 comic books for Brown University’s John Hay Library. Besides, constructing those tape recipes was way too much work. Doing the research, gathering all the possibilities, and then paring them down to the best was bad enough. Figuring out the running order by recording possible segues and then listening to them repeatedly to evaluate the flow took hours! Still, the impulse to further formalize and share our musical knowledge has proven to be very seductive.
So when we were recently asked where the Blues Brothers got “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer” for the umpteenth time, we decided it was the moment for once more into the breach. Only this time around we’d supply the research and let the fans do the rest. What follows is a comprehensive list of important rhythm & blues drinking records that flourished from the 1940’s up through the advent of rock ‘n’ roll.
“What’s the Use of Getting Sober (When You Gonna Get Drunk Again?)”
Louis Jordan, and his Tympany Five, Decca 8645, 1942/1943.
Since Louis is a prime example of the transition from swing to rhythm & blues, here is as good a place as any to start. This record was listed for fourteen weeks, one of them at #1, on Billboard’s first R&B chart the Harlem Hit Parade.
“Rum and Coca-Cola”
The Andrews Sisters, Decca 18636, 1945.
Although it is really a pop record, it reached #3 on the Harlem Hit Parade. The tune came from a calypso song “L’ Anee’ Pasaee’”. During World War II U.S. servicemen often sang their own off-color lyrics. Morey Amsterdam combined, cleaned up, and polished their verses, whereupon he took authorship. In 1963 Chubby Checker included the song on his “Let’s Limbo Some More” album.
“Who Threw the Whiskey In the Well?”
Lucky Millinder / Wynonie “Mr. Blues” Harris Vocal, Decca 18674, 1945.
One of the top five rhythm and blues records of the year, it spent twenty weeks, eight of them at #1, on Billboard’s renamed Most Played Juke Box Race Records chart. It reached #7 on the Pop (white) chart as well. More than four decades later it was revived by Buster Poindexter aka David Johansen.
“Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee”
Stick McGhee & his Buddies, Atlantic 873, 1949.
Granville “Stick(s)” McGhee’s original recording of the song was released on Harlem records 1018 in 1947. When the record belatedly broke in the New Orleans area two years later, Atlantic records tracked down Stick and had him make a new recording, which became the label’s first major hit. It reached #2 on the R&B juke box chart, #3 on the R&B sales chart, and crossed over to #26 on the Pop chart. It might have charted higher had not the top spots been dominated by the wildly successful dance record “The Huckle-buck” by Paul Williams.
“Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee”
Wynonie Harris, King 4292, 1949.
King Records, already an R&B powerhouse with a firmly established distribution network issued a cover version of Atlantic’s hit. It entered the R&B charts two months after the original, and reached #4 on both the sales and juke box lists. In 1968 the Electric Flag released a variation of the song entitled simply “Wine”. The lyrics did not have any “spo-dee-o-dees” either. Today most folks identify Jerry Lee Lewis with the song in its original form.
Joe Liggins, Specialty 355, 1950.
The biggest selling rhythm and blues record of the year, it topped both the R&B sales and R&B juke box charts for three months, and stayed on them for almost half a year. It made the Pop chart too.
“Bad, Bad Whiskey”
Amos Milburn and his Aladdin Chickenshackers, Aladdin 3068, 1950/1951.
Amos Milburn’s first but not last concoction of intoxication reached the #1 R&B sales and R&B juke box spots, and remained on those charts for nineteen weeks.
“I Got Loaded”
Peppermint Harris, Aladdin 3097, 1951.
Harrison D. “Peppermint Harris” Nelson’s smooth #1 sales and juke box R&B hit had an infectious piano hook and a touch of chagrin. It too was revived by Buster Poindexter.
“One Mint Julep”
The Clovers, Atlantic 963, 1952.
Atlantic’s top vocal group of the early 1950’s went to #2 on both the sales and juke box R&B charts with this tale of remorse. In 1961 Ray Charles’ instrumental version featured his jazzy virtuoso performance on the Hammond B-3 organ with the Leslie, and Ray's' vocal aside, “Just a little bit of soul now.” It topped the R&B chart and reached #8 on the Pop chart.
“Let Me Go Home, Whiskey”
Amos Milburn and his Aladdin Chickenshackers, Aladdin 3164, 1953.
Amos came back with his third shot which climbed to #3 on the R&B sales chart and #6 on the R&B juke box chart.
“One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer”
Amos Milburn and his Aladdin Chickenshackers, Aladdin 3197, 1953.
Amos did even better with his fourth round, reaching #2 on both sales and juke box R&B charts, and remained on them for fourteen weeks. It has been revived by numerous artists including John Lee Hooker, John Hammond, George Thorogood & the Destroyers, and the Blues Brothers.
Jimmy Liggins and his 3-D Music, Specialty 470, 1953.
Joe Liggins’ little brother’s record made #7 on the R&B sales chart and #4 on the R&B juke box chart.
“I Know Who Threw the Whiskey (In the Well)”
Bull Moose Jackson, Queen 4116, 1946.
Benjamin “Bull Moose” Jackson’s answer to the Lucius “Lucky” Millinder / Wynonie Harris smash reached a respectable #4 on the Most Played Juke Box Race Records chart.
Bull Moose Jackson and his Buffalo Bearcats, King 4181, 1948.
The flip side of Jackson’s gigantic hit “I Love You, Yes I Do” appeared briefly on the Most Played Juke Box Race Record in its own right. The title is street jargon for cheap wine.
Wynonie Harris, King 4461, 1951.
This cover of Hank Penny’s #4 country hit from 1950 peaked at #6 on both the sales and juke box R&B charts, and had a cute revival by Millie Small of “My Boy Lollipop” fame in the 1960’s.
“Thinking and Drinking”
Amos Milburn and his Aladdin Chickenshackers, Aladdin 3124, 1952.
One of Milburn’s weaker inebriants, it only made the R&B sales chart for one week.
“Good, Good Whiskey”
Amos Milburn and his Aladdin Chickenshackers, Aladdin 3218, 1954.
Milburn’s last call didn’t make the R&B sales chart, but pulled enough nickels to make the R&B juke box chart for three weeks, peaking at #5.
Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, Chess 1472, 1951.
This successor to “Rocket 88” rocked even harder.
Tommy Ridgley, Imperial 5203, 1952.
It is still getting spins in New Orleans.
“Wine, Wine, Wine”
Floyd Dixon, Aladdin 3135, 1952.
This recording was revived in the early 1960’s by the Nightcaps. Their version became such a record collector’s favorite it was released twice.
Floyd Dixon, Cat 114, 1954.
When they revived it, the Blues Brothers made a point of verbally crediting Floyd Dixon.
The 4 Deuces, Music City 790, 1955.
WPLJ is an acronym for white port (wine) and lemon juice. The title was appropriated in the 1970’s as the call letters for a pioneering New York FM rock station. Frank Zappa often played this song live, and it is on the Mothers of Invention LP “Burnt Weeny Sandwich."
“What’s the Word? Thunderbird”
Red Prysock, Mercury 71214, 1957.
One of Wilbert “Red” Prysock’s patented honkers, the title and shout-out refers to a budget priced wine.
“I Like Moonshine”
The Five Owls, Vulcan 1025, 1955
A very, very rare vocal group record. Good luck in finding it.
That’s our take on the great post war R&B drinking bacchanal. What got it started we would not venture to guess. Let sociologists and cultural anthropologists round up the usual suspects. By the early 1950’s the fad was on its way out and lyrical braggadocio was giving way to contrition. During the second half of the decade, when rock ‘n’ roll offered the possibility of really big money to rhythm and blues writers, performers, and record companies, they all realized that grown-ups were not going to stand for teenagers listening to records that so much as mentioned alcohol. Even rock-a-billy (the first cousin of country music where booze is a major subject) cleaned up its act after Carl Perkins and Elvis sang, “You can drink my likker from an old fruit jar”.
So anyway, all you dee jays and mix masters out there, next time you are constructing a drinking set or list, add a little of this vintage stock. It’s good for what ails ya.
We at Mad Peck Studios would like to extend our grateful appreciation to Billboard magazine for documenting the popularity of the above records. At the suggestion of Jerry Wexler, in 1949 they finally settled on the title “rhythm & blues” or “R&B” for their black music charts. Thank you too Joel Whitburn for compiling Billboard’s data into easily referenced form. We would also like to thank the following folks for their direct contributions to this effort: Ty Davis, Miss Olivia Greene, Gary Kenton, Mark McDonough, Brad Vickers and his Vestapolitans, and of course “Big” Al Pavlow, who wrote the book on R&B.
Dean of The University of Musical Diversity (Emeritus)
Providence, Rhode Island