T. J. FOWLER (By Dave Penny)

Born 18 September 1910, Columbus, Georgia
Died 22 May 1982, Lincoln Park, Michigan

"T J Fowler might well lay claim to being one of the town's sendingest boogie beat pianists. Of course Bob (Count Basie) White might also lay claim to that title.Wade Boykin might wonder where he stands too.all three are boogie specialists so take your choice."

Michigan Chronicle, August 5th, 1944.

Born in Columbus, Georgia in 1910, T.J. Fowler was named with just initials, like his three brothers, E.J., K.C. and F.C. The whole Fowler family moved north to River Rouge, Michigan, when T.J. was only six years old, and he grew up in and around the Detroit area, taking piano lessons as a teenager, and finishing his education at the Detroit Conservatory of Music, where he learned to arrange and compose. T.J.'s father owned a poolroom and a dance hall, and the young pianist began playing at weekends for the dancers. He remained playing there until he was around 24 years old and was confident to strike out when he was asked to join the band led by alto saxophonist Guy Walters. He left Walters around 1944 to play with another local band led by veteran trumpeter Clarence Dorsey, alongside another future R&B band leader, saxophonist Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams, until Fowler left the Dorsey band to form his own jump unit in 1947. Paul Williams, in fact, used the Fowler band on his first sessions for Savoy in September and October 1947, before forming his own group, and it is the Fowler band that is present behind Williams on the latter's debut Billboard R&B chart hit 35-30 (#8 1948). Savoy took the opportunity to record a boogie instrumental by Fowler at the first Williams session, but it remains unissued.

The Fowler band's own recording debut came for the local Paradise Records, owned by Mrs Delmar Ray, in 1948, moving to Bernie Besman's Sensation label the following year. Besman leased some of the recordings to National and Gotham during 1949/50 and in 1952/53, the band recorded for Savoy, where they were utilised to back Detroit blues guitarist Calvin Frazier and singer Varetta Dillard. After Savoy, the band moved to the Chicago-based States Records in 1953 - billed as the "band that rocks the blues" - and made their only known recordings outside of Detroit; Fowler was known to have many business interests in Detroit, in addition to his band leading duties, and this coupled with his wife's dislike of him travelling far from home, meant that most of his band work was in the Michigan area. The band also backed Alberta Adams and T-Bone Walker on record in the early 1950s.

When Kurt Mohr wrote to Fowler in 1959, he was living in Ecorse, a small suburb of Detroit, and he replied that his latest release was Milk Shake c/w Coochie on his own Bow label and that he was playing the Hammond organ and still leading a small jazz quartet at The Military Inn in Detroit. During the summer of 1959, Fowler was also contacted by Berry Gordy Jr, who asked for help setting up of the new Motown studio; by this late stage Fowler was well-regarded in Motor City as a composer, musician, small-time label owner and music publisher, and had experience as a recording engineer - in fact everything that Gordy wanted to be.

T J Fowler continuing to play with small jazz trios and quartets through the 1960s, quietly retired from music to run his other business concerns, including a landscaping company, and died in his adopted home of Detroit, on 22nd May 1982.

Recommended listening:

T.J. Fowler 1948-53 (Classics 5103)

This CD offers the complete issued recordings of T J Fowler's band from 1948-53, and while none of his own tracks were successful chart-wise, there is much here to excite, particularly in the powerful solos by tenor saxophonist Walter Cox (born Nashville, Tennessee, 1912). Guitarist Calvin Frazier (born Osceola, Arkansas, 1915) marks a highlight of the compilation with his pairing, as well as his general participation in the 1952 Savoy sessions, topped-off by the strong, rough-house boogie woogie piano of Mr T J Fowler.

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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