The Nickel: A Musical History of the Fifth Ward, Part 4

[Note: Click on the numbers for parts 1, 2 and 3.]

Fifth Ward music mogul Don Robey was so taken with Gatemouth Brown's talents that he built his entire Peacock label around him. Robey already owned the Bronze Peacock night club and various other business interests, but it was his meeting of Brown that truly launched them both into Texas and world music immortality.

Although their relationship would sour by the end of the '50s, along the way the genre-smashing multi-instrumentalist Brown would lay the groundwork for a Grammy-winning, globe-spanning career as a purveyor of "American and world music, Texas-style." He was the Duke Ellington of the Gulf Coast. Above, he's performing "Okie Dokie Stomp," an anthem of his from the Duke-Peacock days and one of the finest instrumentals of the rock and roll era.

And here we are at Duke-Peacock and its affiliated labels. As the source of a platinum parade of immortal secular records by Bobby "Blue" Bland, Big Mama Thornton, Johnny Ace, Junior Parker, and Roy Head, and an early home to people like James Booker and Little Richard, it deserves whole books on its own.

And then there was the whole gospel wing of the label, which churned out sanctified bliss from the likes of the Dixie Hummingbirds, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Five Blind Boys of Mississippi and the Sensational Nightingales, among many others. (What is left of this empire is now a church and still stands at 2809 Erastus Street.)

Suffice to say here that it was the most important black-owned label before Motown, and through all its years, the nuts-and-bolts operations of that Fifth Ward business (and Robey's Buffalo Booking Agency) would be run by Louisiana-born, Fifth Ward bred Evelyn Johnson, one of the most successful music businesswomen in American history. We'll leave you three exemplars of Duke-Peacock's legacy. First, above, that's Big Mama Thornton's fierce rendition of "Hound Dog" - with a twentysomething Buddy Guy on guitar.

Trumpeter Joe Scott, a genius in the true sense of the word, was the in-house bandleader at Duke-Peacock. Look up "perfection" in the dictionary and you should hear things like this majestic recording of Bobby Blue Bland's "I'll Take Care of You." (Possibly featuring Fifth Ward's Clarence "Gristle" Hollimon on guitar.)

We'll close today's post with a nod to Duke-Peacock's gospel history: the Mighty Clouds of Joy, with the lion's roar lead of Ermant Franklin Jr. out front, performing "(It's Another Day's Journey) I'm Glad About It" in 1967 at Houston's long-gone Music Hall. Which brings us to the '60s. In a later installment or two, we'll dip back into the '40s and '50s to discuss the creation of zydeco, and then proceed forth toward the present day to get jazzy with Joe Sample and the Crusaders, "Tighten Up" with Archie Bell and the rest of the funky soulsters, wax poetic with Juke Boy Bonner, take a trip to Sawdust Alley with Calvin Owens, and grip it on that other level with the Geto Boys.

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