The RJ Spangler Band, which has long included the music of Louis Jordan in its sets, has now released a live tribute album to the influential Jordan.

The RJ Spangler Band, which has long included the music of Louis Jordan in its sets, has now released a live tribute album to the influential Jordan.

Photo by Jeff Dunn, provided by RJ Spangler


Local band brings back ‘The King of the Jukebox’ with new recordings

By: K. Michelle Moran | Metro | Published April 22, 2021

 RJ Spangler of the RJ Spangler Band became familiar with the songs of Louis Jordan as a young musician and has been playing them ever since.

RJ Spangler of the RJ Spangler Band became familiar with the songs of Louis Jordan as a young musician and has been playing them ever since.

Photo by Jeff Dunn, provided by RJ Spangler

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METRO DETROIT — He’s not nearly as well known today, but singer/songwriter/saxophonist/band leader Louis Jordan was once one of the biggest music stars in America.

The RJ Spangler Band is trying to make sure audiences don’t forget this groundbreaking artist. Besides continuing to play Jordan’s songs at live shows, the band is now releasing “The RJ Spangler Band Live at the Scarab Club Series: A Tribute to Louis Jordan,” a CD that includes some of Jordan’s biggest hits.

“They called him ‘The King of the Jukebox,’” said drummer/background vocalist RJ Spangler, of Grosse Pointe Park. “He had hit after hit after hit. People forget about Louis Jordan, but he was so influential. There would not be rock ’n’ roll music if it were not for Louis Jordan. There would not be R&B if it were not for Louis Jordan. There would not be rap and hip-hop if not for Louis Jordan.”

A 45-rpm vinyl single — featuring “Knock Me a Kiss” and “Saturday Night Fish Fry” — was slated for release April 23, and the full-length CD — which includes the songs on the single — will be available May 2.

The band will celebrate the release of the album and single with an outdoor concert at 6 p.m. May 2 in the biergarten at the Cadieux Café on Detroit’s east side.

“They do a great job with social distancing protocols,” said trumpet player/background vocalist James O’Donnell, of Lake Orion.

O’Donnell and Spangler both grew up on Detroit’s east side and met when O’Donnell was about 16 and Spangler was 20; Spangler, who then lived on Ashland Street, was in a band with older musicians at the time.

“RJ and I met in 1976 in (the) Jefferson-Chalmers (neighborhood),” O’Donnell recalled. “He was listening to John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme.’ That was the start of my musical journey.”

It wasn’t long before the two young musicians were working together and soaking up the jazz, blues and R&B influences of their elder peers.

Spangler said it was in the late 1970s that one of his neighbors, a professional pianist, was throwing away a large number of items from his home, some of which were music related. Spangler and O’Donnell decided to check out the garbage before it was hauled away.

“We saw a folio of Louis Jordan (sheet music),” Spangler said. “So we trash-picked that. James still sings songs from that songbook.”

That songbook introduced O’Donnell and Spangler to Jordan’s music, and they’ve been playing it ever since. Spangler said Jordan influenced vocalists such as Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and B.B. King, while Jordan’s saxophone playing influenced artists such as Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman. Jordan, whose heyday was the 1930s through the 1950s, was also an actor, and he was one of the first Black musicians to gain a large audience with white and Black audiences alike. After starting out in big band swing music, Jordan became known as one of the leading performers and innovators of jump blues, a mixture of boogie-woogie, upbeat jazz and blues.

“He brought his own personal flavor (to the music),” Spangler said of Jordan. “When Nat (King) Cole got his start, he wanted to be Louis Jordan.”

The RJ Spangler Band’s new CD, on Eastlawn Records, is the third in a series of live albums recorded during a string of concerts in 2017 at the Scarab Club in Detroit. Previous CDs have included Spangler’s Planet D Nonet band performing the music of Thelonious Monk with John Sinclair, and Planet D Nonet playing the music of Count Basie and Bennie Moten.

Even before their release, the RJ Spangler Band’s recordings of Jordan’s music were getting positive notices.

“This hep new platter tips its cap to the man that matters — Louis Jordan, father of R&B, a true pioneer of American popular song and the influence to the influential,” wrote Stephen Koch, author of “Louis Jordan: Son of Arkansas, Father of R&B” in a review of the single. “Here live on wax is the R.J. Spangler Band’s takes on Mr. Jordan’s groundbreaking 1949 hit ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’ coupled with a smoldering version of Jordan’s ‘Knock Me A Kiss,’ rendered fully reet with an intense sax and guitar breakdown.”

Although the CD only includes 10 tracks, O’Donnell said they played many more Jordan songs during the concert, which consisted of two sets. O’Donnell said “everybody had a say” in which songs they included.

Besides Spangler and O’Donnell, the RJ Spangler Band consists of vocalist Dan Devins, of Washington Township; tenor saxophonist Keith Kaminski, of Mount Clemens; baritone and alto saxophonist Goode Wyche III, of Detroit; trombonist and vocalist John “Tbone” Paxton, of Royal Oak; guitarist Matt LoRusso, of Detroit; and string bassist Jeff Cuny, of Grosse Pointe Park.

Today, it’s Spangler and O’Donnell who are among the seasoned veterans in the band, sharing their love of classic jazz, blues and the like with the next generation of younger musicians and mentoring them the way they were once mentored.

“We’re a musical family,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a really strong bond. … We find talent in Detroit, young people coming up. We try to get them involved (in the music scene).”

The Cadieux Café is located at 4300 Cadieux Road in Detroit. Besides being available during the record release party, the single and CD can be purchased at Ripe Records in Grosse Pointe Park or online at planetdnonet.bandcamp.com/album/rj-spangler-band-tribute-to-louis-jordan. For more information, visit rjspangler.com.

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