Roy Milton: The Hucklebuck (1949)

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Roy Milton: The Hucklebuck (1949)

The career of band leader, jump jive and rhythm and blues singer Roy Milton (1907-83) is long and convoluted, and full of crossover chart hits in the Forties and Fifties.

His story is best told here, so let's just focus on this song -- which New Zealanders will recognise because it was given an upbeat overhaul in 1965 and became a chart hit for the hugely popular sister duo The Chicks out of Auckland.

The song however, in some form or other, had been around since the Twenties when something very like it was called Bulldog Blues (by the Charles Pierce Orchestra). Down the decades it was much covered and adapted: Charlie Parker uses the riff in Now's the Time, Louis Armstrong played it, Pearl Bailey and Frank Sinatra sang it . . .

Of course when it was in the black blues world it was rather more . . . well.

"That Hucklebuck was a very nasty dance," recalled Virginia Robichaw, a teenager in Philadelphia when she first heard the song in the more famous version by Detroit band leader Paul Williams in the late Forties.

"They used to get down, I don't know how they did it. They would do the dance, the hucklebuck, and they would get down on their back and the guy would stand over top of 'em."

And all this was before words like "shove your baby in, twist him/her all around" were added. In some urban dictionaries the Hucklebuck is a sexual position.

Of course when Sinatra and others sang it, it was just another dance craze tune -- as it was for Chubby Checker whose version was doubtless the inspiration for the Chicks (seen below with Dinah Lee, Ray Columbus, Sandy Edmonds and other Kiwi stars of the period in some interesting home movie footage).

Incidentally the Chicks -- Sue and Judy Donaldson -- previous appeared at From the Vaults with this rebellious rocker. And the version by Roy Milton came from this excellent collection.

For more oddities, one-offs or songs with an interesting backstory use the RSS feed for daily updates, and check the massive back-catalogue at From the Vaults.

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