Jimmy Rushing, “Good Morning Blues” (1937): One Track Mind

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Every so often, a singer gets so dispirited, laid so low, that he’s simply got to talk back to the blues. I love those songs. Think Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache,” and this one — recorded by Jimmy Rushing with a sizzling early edition of the Count Basie Orchestra.

Included on the Decca date are Lester Young on trumpet, Buck Clayton on trumpet, Freddie Green on guitar, Walter Page (with whom Rushing had an early association in the Blue Devils, out of Little Rock, Ark.) at the bass, Jo Jones on drums, and arranger Eddie Durham on trombone. Rushing’s conversational style fits the tune perfectly, as he introduces himself — “I feel alright, but I’ve come to worry you” — then makes the eternal plea of the lonely: Bring back my girl.

Before long, though, Jimmy Rushing begins to question his own request — knowing he’s got to settle his emotions a bit after so long away: “Don’t show me my pretty baby; I’ll break all of the laws!” Finally, while the riffy blues interplay behind him continues unabated, Rushing figures he’ll ask for his lost love to return as a Yuletide surprise: “Santa Claus, Santa Claus, listen to my plea — don’t send me nothing for Christmas, but my baby back to me.”

A native of Oklahoma City, Okla., Jimmy Rushing was a talented multi-instrumentalist; he played both piano (as seen in the video above, with slightly different lyrics) and also the violin, before finally turning to vocals. Rushing made an early impression beginning in 1929 during a stint with Bennie Moten’s group, with whom he stayed until Moten’s passing. Rushing joined Basie’s band in ’35, and moved from the midwest to the Big Apple a year later.

Before long, “Good Morning Blues,” resigned and then tough and always swinging, became a kind of theme song for the Basie band — and so closely associated with the Count, in fact, that the bandleader used it as the title of his autobiography. Jimmy Rushing launched a successful solo career in 1948; he died of leukemia in 1972.

Like many of the great songs of the era from this group, “Good Morning Blues” boasts a romping rhythm — and not just from the usual suspects like Jones and Page. Young started his career as a drummer, and finds ever more inventive ways to play with cadence and meter, while Basie himself brings a tempo to his playing that sounds as if he’s playing the whole band like a snare. But “Good Morning Blues,” even now, still belongs to the rumbling, stocky Rushing — called “Mr. Five by Five,” after the song, because he was “five-feet tall and five-feet wide.”

Jimmy Rushing stands in the center, shouting and proclaiming, crying and exclaiming, and he’s so mesmerizing that sometimes you can’t help but forget about the magic happening all around. He’s talking back to the blues, and you’re listening, too.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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