Shorty Rogers led a double life in the 1950s. By day, he was one of West Coast jazz's founding fathers—standing out as a dynamic trumpeter and flugelhornist, a prolific big-band and small-group composer-arranger, and dominant bandleader. But in his off hours, he had an alter-ego—Boots Brown, an early rock-and-roller who recorded about a dozen jump-boogie singles.
Why Rogers bothered and went incognito to do so has been something of a mystery. He didn't really need the money. Was he simply gaslighting the music industry—showing executives that any decent jazz artist could knock off the stuff provided horns honked and the drummer could keep a solid strip-time beat. What's the meaning of the name Boots Brown? And why was Block Buster in '52 credited to "Mickey Rogers?" A royalty annuity for two-year-old son Michael?
We know that in 1957 Shorty Rogers and a handful of his pals recorded the rock-and-roll music used in the Looney Tunes cartoon Three Little Bops. The hipster send-up of the Three Little Pigs was conceived and narrated by humorist Stan Freberg, and Rogers is listed in the credits.
But the soundtrack was just the most visible tip of Rogers' rock-and-roll efforts during this period of transition in the music business. According to Rogers' discography, there were nine Boots Brown sides recorded in 1952 and '53—six for three RCA singles and three more tracks added to fill out an album of multiple 45s on Groove, RCA's R&B label (this was the label's first release). The 45s eventually were converted to a 33 1/3 LP.
My guess is Rogers was asked by his label to record them when RCA was trying to establish its new 45-rpm format. On the '52 session, the musicians included Shorty Rogers (tp), Milt Bernhart (tb), Bud Shank (as), Jimmy Giuffre (ts), Gerry Mulligan (bar), Marty Paich (p), Jimmy Wyble (g), Howard Rumsey (b), Roy Harte (d) and Jo Jo Johnson (vcl).
On the '53 session, the musicians were Shorty Rogers (tp), Bud Shank (as), Dave Pell and Jimmy Giuffre (ts), Bob Cooper (bar), Frank Patchen (p), Howard Rumsey (b), Shelly Manne (d) and Charles Schrouder (vcl).
According to Tom Lord's Jazz Discography, "the six titles by Shorty Rogers on Boots Brown and His Blockbusters are spoof versions of rock-and-roll numbers; the other side of this LP is also a rock-and-roll spoof by top East Coast jazz men who go by Dan Drew and His Daredevils." Based on my research, the Dan Drew gang included saxophonist Al Cohn, trumpeter Nick Travis and pianist Elliot Lawrence.
Rogers returned as Boots Brown in '58 and '59 for another bunch of RCA sides that included Juicy, Trollin' and Block Buster. If I get a chance this week, I'll give Dave Pell a buzz to find out the deal and report back. [Pictured above, from left: Harry Babasin, Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne and Marty Paich in 1952]
JazzWax clips. Two from the Boots Brown rock-and-roll repertoire:
Here's Boots Brown and His Blockbusters playing Shortnin' Bread from 1952 (on the German Elektrola label). Wow, Jimmy Giuffre could wail!...
Here's Boots Brown and His Blockbusters playing Juicy, from 1958, which oddly doesn't turn up in the Rogers discography. What's interesting is that two guitars take the lead, a sound that may have influenced Britain's John Barry Seven...