Born 27 February 1924, Fort Worth, Texas
Died 19 October 1982, New York City, New York

Sax man Jesse Powell switched from jazz to R&B and rock and roll in the 1950s and found steady work as a session man for a variety of R&B artists, especially vocal groups.

Powell was a tenor saxophonist in the grand Texas tradition, following in the footsteps of Buddy Tate, Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet and his idol, Herschel Evans. He majored in music at Hampton University and turned professional at the age of eighteen. Powell played in the big black jazz bands of Hot Lips Page, Louis Armstrong and Luis Russell before replacing Illinois Jacquet in the Count Basie band in September 1946. After trying his own band in 1948, he hooked up with Dizzy Gillespie in 1949-50 and then settled in New York as a session man. In addition to running with the major players of modern jazz, Jesse also fell in with the loose group of regular session men utilized by Brownie McGhee and his friends, and appeared on various blues and jump recordings by McGhee (Alert), Champion Jack Dupree (Alert, Apollo), Piney Brown (Apollo), Doc Pomus (Savoy) and others.

Powell’s most notorious R&B session took place on November 3, 1951, when he and his band backed vocalist Fluffy Hunter on two raunchy pieces of double entendre, “The Walkin’ Blues” and “My Natch’l Man”, released on two separate Federal singles in 1952. On October 9, 1953, Powell returned to Federal to record another four numbers. In 1954 he was hired by Jerry Blaine as music director for his Josie and Jubilee labels, a post that Powell would hold for almost six years. He arranged many sessions for Josie’s most successful group, the Cadillacs, and played sax on most of their recordings. Powell also had four Josie singles released under his own name. Two singles contained instrumentals, the other two featured vocals by the Majors (not the same group that had a hit with “A Wonderful Dream”) and the Caddies, who were in fact the Cadillacs. Another instrumental single, recorded on September 11, 1958, was “Scotch On the Rocks”/“Head Hunters”, credited to the Goofers and released on Josie’s Post subsidiary. “Scotch On the Rocks” is an amusing rock ’n’ roll novelty, featuring bagpipes, while the exotic “Head Hunters” was a piece of hypnotic jungle exotica, complete with Tarzan yodels, growls and roars.

Between 1956 and 1961, Powell also appeared as a session sax player on quite a few Atlantic sessions. He played the solo on the # 6 hit “Mr. Lee” by the Bobbettes and can be heard on recordings by the Clovers, the Drifters (“Fools Fall In Love”), Bobby Darin (“Splish Splash”) and Solomon Burke (”Cry To Me”), among others. After leaving Josie / Jubilee, Jesse recorded a single for the Fling label in 1960 (“Kingfish Rock”/“Let’s Talk It Over Baby”) before he signed with Tru-Sound in 1961, a subsidiary of the Prestige label. Dave Penny describes Powell’s 1961 LP “It’s Party Time” as “tremendous” and the album "that assured his place in music history”. Powell later cut an LP with his quintet for Kapp and resurfaced briefly ten years later in 1971 on guitarist Billy Butler’s “Nightlife” album, but music increasingly took a back seat and Powell died in New York City in 1982 at the age of 58.

More info :

CDs :
Jesse Powell has been neglected by the reissue companies. The pick of the Josie / Jubilee tracks was released on three Various artists CDs on the British Sequel label in the 1990s, now hard to find. His 1953 Federal session was included on the Westside CD “Groove Station” in 1999. An 11-track mp3 collection with Federal and Josie recordings was released in 2014 by Vintage Music Association under the title “Hot Box”.

Acknowledgements : Dave Penny, Peter Grendysa.

YouTube :
Fluffy Hunter, The Walkin’ Blues :
Fluffy Hunter, My Natch’l Man :
Turnpike :
Ain’t You Gonna :
String Along (with the Majors) :
The Goofers, Scotch On the Rocks :
Head Hunters :
Let’s Talk It Over Baby :
Kingfish Rock :

Dik, November 2017

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

-- Return to "This Is My Story" Index --