JESSE STONE (a.k.a. Charles Calhoun)

Born Jesse Albert Stone, 16 November 1901, Atchison, Kansas
Died 1 April 1999, Altamonte Springs, Florida

Arranger, songwriter, singer, pianist.

None other than Ahmet Ertegun has said that "Jesse Stone did more to develop the basic rock 'n' roll sound than anybody else". The grandson of Tennessee slaves, Jesse Stone enjoyed a long career in jazz and blues prior to the birth of rock n roll. His whole family was in show business, parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins. He started singing when he was four and at age five he performed with a trained dog act in his parents' minstrel shows. By 1926 he had formed a group, the Blue Serenaders, and cut his first record, "Starvation Blues", for OKeh Records in 1927. For the next few years he worked in Kansas City as an arranger and pianist, recording with Julia Lee among others. Duke Ellington got Stone and his orchestra booked in New York in 1936, after which Jesse moved to the Big Apple. One of his earliest songwriting successes was "Idaho", recorded by several artists, with the Benny Goodman version peaking at # 4 (pop) in 1942.

In 1945 Stone and his friend Herb Abramson got involved with National Records. Two years later Abramson founded Atlantic Records with Ahmet Ertegun and Jesse joined the company as an arranger and songwriter. He was the only black person on the Atlantic payroll. For the first two years the Atlantic records didn't sell. Abramson, Ertegun and Stone undertook a trip to the South in 1949 and Jesse noticed that the kids there were looking for something to dance to. It became clear to him what was missing from the Atlantic recordings : a danceable rhythm. "All we needed was a bass line", he told Nick Tosches. "So I designed a bass pattern, and it sort of became identified with rock n roll : doo, da-DOO, DUM ; doo, da-DOO, DUM, that thing. I'm the guilty person who started that." Interviewed by Charlie Gillett, Jesse said : "I had to learn rock n roll - we didn't call it rock n roll then - and it wasn't something that I could do easily at first. I considered it backward, musically, and I didn't like it until I started to learn that the rhythm content was the important thing. Then I started to like it and began writing tunes."

Stone's bass line had a revolutionary effect on rhythm sections. Atlantic's records started selling like hot cakes with the new sound. During his years at Atlantic, Jesse Stone was responsible for writing some of the label's most memorable and groundbreaking R&B hits : "Money Honey" (The Drifters), "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and "Flip, Flop and Fly" (Joe Turner), "Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash" (The Clovers), "As Long As I'm Moving" (Ruth Brown), "Soul On Fire" (LaVern Baker), "Smack Dab in the Middle" (Ray Charles), and many others. On Ertegun's advice, Stone used a pseudonym (Charles Calhoun) on his BMI tunes, to avoid conflict with his membership in the other music licensing society, ASCAP. Other (non-Atlantic) rock n roll hits to come from his pen include "Razzle Dazzle" (Bill Haley) and "Don't Let Go" (Roy Hamilton). Many of his songs were covered by others, including Elvis Presley, who recorded "Money Honey" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll" early in his RCA career. Bill Haley's version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (1954, with "sanitized" lyrics) was his first million seller, preceding the success of "Rock Around the Clock". It helped to pave the way for the acceptance of rock n roll by white audiences.

Though he was no great singer, Stone also made some records of his own, first for RCA Victor in 1947-49 (influenced by the novelty jump blues style of Louis Jordan), then for Atlantic/Atco in 1954-56 (his "Oh That'll Be Joyful" is probably the strangest - not to say worst - record ever released by Atlantic), also for MGM, Poplar and again RCA (1958, credited to The Stone Crushers). Some of these recordings came out under the name Charles (or Chuck) Calhoun and some were instrumentals.

After being refused a partnership in Atlantic, Jesse left the label in 1956 to form his own publishing company, Roosevelt Music. He decided to take a less active role in recording in the late 1950s and retired to California. During the twist craze he was lured back into the studio and ended up doing work for Frank Sinatra's Reprise label. Later in the 1960s, Stone relocated to Chicago to head up Ran-Dee Records, a shady enterprise operated by gangsters. While in Chicago, he recorded several classical piano concertos for RCA, which have never been released. In 1966 he moved back to New York City and formed a musical duo with his second wife, jazz singer Evelyn McGee, until they retired in 1978.

In 1983 the couple moved to Florida, where Stone would live for the rest of his life. In 1992 Jesse Stone was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. He died at a hospital near his home of Altamonte Springs, Florida, in April 1999, aged 97, after long-term kidney and heart problems. Posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in the category non-performer) followed in 2010, well deserved for one of the architects of rock n roll.

More info :
- The chapter on Jesse Stone in : Nick Tosches, Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll (2nd ed. 1991), page 12-21.

CD's :
- Jesse Stone Alias Charles 'Chuck' Calhoun (Bear Family BCD 15695). 30 tracks, mostly vocal, from a variety of labels, 1947-58. Liner notes by Peter A. Grandysa. Released in 1996.
- Jesse Stone, Best of Rhythm & Blues (Master Classics, 2012). 24 tracks, all of which are also on the Bear Family CD.

Acknowledgements : Peter Grendysa, Nick Tosches, Charlie Gillett (book "Making Tracks", 1974), Wikipedia.

YouTube :
Cole Slaw (1949) :
Runaway (instr.) :
Smack Dab in the Middle :
The Rocket (instr.) :
Night Life (instr.) :
The Stash (instr.) :

(I would have liked to include "Why the Car Won't Go", "Hey Tiger" and "My Pigeon's Gone", but they are not available on YouTube).

Dik, January 2014


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

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