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The Red Heads

Unlike a wide-eyed, nostalgia-fed pop vocal trio who recorded for Epic during the middle 1950s as Somethin' Smith & the Redheads, the jazz band known to the record buying public during the mid- to late 1920s as the Red Heads was not a knot of neo-vaudevillians topped with brick-tinted ivy league crew cuts. The individual whose hair color inspired the name of the jazz band in question was Utah-born cornet and trumpet man Red Nichols, one of the busiest sessionmen of the entire era. After someone at Brunswick dreamed up the name Red Nichols & His Five Pennies, other record companies followed suit by inventing different handles for bands of variable mass and density led or co-led by Nichols; on Columbia his group became the Charleston Chasers, while Cameo, Romeo, and Lincoln identified them as the Alabama Red Peppers; on Apex they were the Ten Blackbirds, and on Domino, the Six Black Diamonds. When a similar group recorded for Edison, trombonist Miff Mole shared more than nominal leadership of Red & Miff's Stompers. And whenever the band's recordings appeared emblazoned with the Oriole, Pathe, Perfect, or Melotone logos, they were billed as the Red Heads. During the years 1925-1927, the Red Heads cranked out a healthy supply of hot instrumentals while serving as a skilled backup band for pop vocalists Cliff Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, Frank Gould, and Arthur Fields. In addition to Nichols and Mole, a thorough assessment of instrumentalists who recorded under the banner of the Red Heads includes Nichols' second chair trumpeter Leo McConville; cornetists Brad Gowans and Wingy Manone; clarinet and sax handlers Jimmy Dorsey, Fud Livingston, Bobby Davis, Fred Morrow, Alfie Evans, and Jimmy Lytell; pianists Arthur Schutt and Rube Bloom; guitarists Dick McDonough and Eddie Lang, and master percussionist Vic Berton, who augmented his drum kit with tympanum and vibraharp. Most of the best of the Red Heads was made available on compact disc in 1998 on the EPM Musique Jazz Archives series; a no-stone-left-unturned overview that included scads of vocals by Edwards and Flippen appeared in 2004 on a triple-disc edition prepared by a diligent team of experts at Jazz Oracle. ~ arwulf arwulf, Rovi
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