Bill Doggett

How could a man born in 1916, have any influence on “My” Rock and Roll? – well somebody did.  Here is a man that came out of the Big Band Era, played the Hammond Organ, but had a great influence on Rock and Roll in 1956.

First off, let’s establish that I do love instrumentals and R&B, and this man fits in there, but he also holds his own in the Jazz field.  As far as the Pop Charts go, he really only had three tunes charted, but one is a Standard today!

William Ballard Doggett

(February 16, 1916 – November 13, 1996)

All of this music was recorded on the King Label. It is very difficult to locate, so this is the best that I could do:

1A.  Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)/ King 4950/ 8/25/56/ # 2 (3) Billboard R&B #1

1B.  Honky Tonk (newer version by Bill Doggett)

2.  Slow Walk/ King 5000/ 12/15/56/ # 26 Billboard # 4 R&B (with sax-man Earl Bostic)

3.  Ram-Bunk-Shush/ King 5020/ Jan/57/ # 67 Pop # 10 R&B

4.  Hold It/ King 5149/ Nov 58/  # 96 Pop # 3 R&B (with Earl Bostic)

As a jazz player Doggett started in swing music and later played soul jazz, a field in which rhythm and blues organists were highly sought after. His band included saxophonists Red Holloway, Clifford Scott, Percy France, David “Bubba” Brooks, Floyd “Candy” Johnson, guitarists Floyd Smith, Pete Mays, and singers Toni Williams and Betty Saint-Clair.

Born on the north side of Philadelphia, William Ballard Doggett struggled with poverty as a youngster. Although he initially dreamed of playing the trumpet, his family was unable to afford lessons.

His mother, a church pianist, introduced him to music when he was 9 years old by urging him to try the piano instead. Doggett quickly mastered the instrument. Hailed as a child prodigy, by his 13th birthday, he formed his first band, “The Five Majors”, at the age of 15.

At 15, Doggett joined a Philadelphia area combo, the Jimmy Gorman Band, the pit orchestra at the Nixon Grand Theater, while still in high school,  and assumed leadership of the group in 1938.

He formed a short-lived orchestra with Benny Goodman’s arranger, Jimmy Mundy, in late 1939. This experience was brief, as Doggett sold the orchestra to Lucky Millinder, with whom he continued to work off and on, primarily as a sideman for the next four years.

He made his recording debut on Millinder’s tracks, “Little Old Lady From Baltimore” and “All Aboard” in 1939.

In 1942 he was hired as The Ink Spots’ pianist and arranger. Playing piano and arranging for the Ink Spots from 1942 until 1944, he went on to arrange tunes for Count Basie’s band and tour and/or record with Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Otis, Wynonie Harris, Ella Fitzgerald and Lionel Hampton.

In 1947, he replaced Wild Bill Davis in Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five. It was there that he first achieved success playing the Hammond organ and he is also reputed to have written one of Jordan’s biggest hits, “Saturday Night Fish Fry”, for which Jordan claimed the writing credit. He also appeared on the influential tune,  “Blue Light Boogie”.

In 1951, Doggett made his debut as an organist and organized his own organ-led trio at a New York nightclub, The Baby Grand. During June 1951 he did recording sessions with Ella Fitzgerald.

In June 1952, he began recording for King Records. He recorded more than a dozen singles before striking gold with “Honky Tonk” four years later. This was his best known recording, a rhythm and blues hit of 1956 which sold four million copies, and which he co-wrote with Billy Butler.

With his instrumental hit “Honky Tonk” in February 1956, Bill Doggett created one of rock’s greatest instrumental tracks. Although it generated scores of offers to perform in rock & roll clubs throughout the United States, Doggett remained tied to the jazz and organ-based R&B that he had performed since the 1930s.

He won the Cash Box award for best rhythm and blues performer in 1957, 1958, and 1959. He also arranged for many bandleaders and performers, including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lionel Hampton.

Continuing to record for the Cincinnati-based King label until 1960, he went on to record for Warner Brothers, Columbia, ABC-Paramount and Sue. His last session came as a member and producer of an all-star jazz/R&B group, “Bluesiana Hurricane” in 1995.

A longtime resident of Long Island, New York, he continued to play and arrange until he died on November 13, 1996, three days after suffering a heart attack in New York City.

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