Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Chuck Higgins born 17 April 1924

Charles Williams Higgins (April 17, 1924 – September 14, 1999) was an American saxophonist. Higgins, who was noted for mixing elements of Latin Jazz with Blues, recorded in Los Angeles during the mid-fifties, notably for the Specialty, Combo and Doo-Tone labels. 

Saxophonist / bandleader Chuck Higgins was born in Gary, Indiana.  His first choice of instrument was the trumpet, which he took up at the age of ten and at which he became considerably more proficient than he ever did at playing the tenor saxophone. 

In 1940, the Higgins family moved to Los Angeles, where Chuck attended the L.A. Music Conservatory. He hooked up with a quartet of musicians that included Frank Dunn on piano and sax player Johnny Parker. When Parker quit this band, Higgins took on the sax blasting duties himself and became the leader of the band, soon to be called the Mellotones. Chuck's composition "Pachuko Hop" became his first record, on Jake Porter's fledgling Combo label in 1952. It is the definitive Higgins instrumental and his biggest seller, but due to Combo's poor distribution, sales were limited to the West Coast and insufficient to dent the national charts.

Many of Higgins' s recordings feature a vocal by varying members of his combo. This was also the case with the flip of "Pachuko Hop", which is a classic of early rock 'n' roll in itself. "Motorhead Baby" features the vocals of 17-year old John Jacob Watson Jr, who was still pounding the piano before taking up the instrument that would make Johnny "Guitar" Watson a household name. After switching from piano to guitar in 1953, Watson left the Mellotones, giving Frank Dunn the chance to rejoin the band. Of the eight singles that were released on Combo in 1952-53, the most interesting were those featuring a vocal : "Motor Head Baby" and "Just Won't Treat Me Right" by John Watson, "Big Fat Mama" and "Real Gone Hound Dog" by Daddy Cleanhead (Chuck's older brother Fred Higgins).  

In 1953, the combo switched to Aladdin, where they had three singles released (3215, 3224, 3283), and then, in 1954, to Art Rupe's Specialty label. Fourteen titles were recorded during three sessions (most of them with vocals by Daddy Cleanhead), eight of which were originally issued, on four singles (532, 533, 539, 541). Art Rupe was a perfectionist and replaced some of Higgins' band
members in the studio by up-and-coming session pros such as H.B. Barnum and Jimmy Nolen. 

In 1955-56, the Higgins combo recorded for Dootsie Williams's Dootone label. The second Dootone single, "Wetback Hop", became the subject of controversy because of the use of the derogatory term for Mexicans in the title. It was an attempt to associate the listener with the earlier success of "Pachuko Hop", which refers to Mexican zoot suiters of the 1940s. After a few sessions for various small labels in 1956, Higgins returned to Combo in 1957 with a mixed-race band that included future Canned Heat member Henry Vestine. "Long Long Time" (Combo 144, 1957) is a fine bluesy recording, featuring Frank Dunn on vocals. There were no Higgins releases until 1962, the year in which he reunited with Jake Porter for the opportunist "Pachuko Hop Twist" (Combo 170). 

Chuck temporarily retired from performing and became a music teacher at various L.A. high schools. For the last 20 years of his life he was a professor of music at UCLA, a job which he combined with a 1970s comeback as a honking saxblaster. In that decade, he had two LP releases (and one single, "Too Smart") on Ronnie Weiser's Rollin' Rock label. The second of these (1979) was called: "Chuck Higgins Is A PHD", PHD here standing for "Pretty Heavy Dude". 

 In August 1983, Higgins was part of Ace's "1950s R&B Jamboree", in the company of LA contemporaries Young Jessie, Willie Egan and fellow honker Big Jay McNeely. This was a great success and Higgins was finally discovered by European R&B fans, as his Combo recordings were released on an Ace LP. A collection of his early rare singles, Yak A Dak, was released on the Swedish Saxophonograph label in 1990. 

He died of lung cancer in 1999, leaving behind an estimable body of work, even though he never scored a national hit.  (Info taken mainly from BlackCat Rockabilly Europe)


boppinbob said...

For “Chuck Higgins • Yak A Dak” go here:


01. Yak A Dak
02. Shotgun Wedding
03. Groove
04. Wiggle
05. Greasy Pig
06. Something's Goin' On In My Room
07. Candied Yam
08. Kubeon
09. That Dubbonet Wine
10. Pachuko Hop
11. Let Me Come Back Home
12. West Side
13. Chop Chop
14. Rock
15. Chuck A Buck
16. Beautiful Love
17. Double Dip
18. Baby Shoes

Thanks to Egroj @ Egroj World for original post

01. Yak A Dak - Aladdin 3215; December 1953
02. Shotgun Wedding - Kicks 6; 1955
03. Groove - Kicks 6; 1955
04. Wiggle - Aladdin 3224 credited to "Gene Forrest and the Four Feathers with Chuck Higgins Orch"); 1954
05. Greasy Pig - Lucky 45-005 (vocal - Frank Dunn); 1954
06. Something's Goin' On In My Room - Specialty 541 (Credited to "Daddy Cleanhead") (vocal - Fred Higgins aka "Daddy Cleanhead"); January 1955
07. Candied Yam - Lucky 45-005; 1954
08. Kubeon - Combo 144; 1958
09. That Dubbonet Wine - Recorded In Hollywood 399 (vocal - Carl "Johnny" Green); 1954
10. Pachuko Hop - rerecording made for Starla LP "Art Laboe's Memories Of El Monte"; 1960
11. Let Me Come Back Home - Specialty 541 (credited to "Daddy Cleanhead") (vocal - Fred Higgins aka "Daddy Cleanhead"); January 1955
12. West Side - Combo 48; 1953
13. Chop Chop - R&B 1314; 1955
14. Rock - R&B 1314; 1955
15. Chuck A Buck - Aladdin 3215; December 1953
16. Beautiful Love - Money 214-45 (vocal - The Mello Moods aka The Mellotones); 1956
17. Double Dip - Loma 706; 1956
18. Baby Shoes - Combo 170; 1960

Thanks to BeBopWino for track info

egroj.jazz said...

Excellent post! Many thanks!