KING PERRY (By Dave Penny)

Born Oliver King Perry, 1920, Gary, Indiana

When mid-western bandleader King Perry found himself and his quintet abandoned in Los Angeles at the end of a 1945 tour, the misfortune soon proved itself to be very fortunate indeed; the West Coast was in the midst of an explosion of war-time entertainment opportunities and aside from the wealth of nightclub positions available, Perry found for the first time in his life that he was in demand as a recording artist...

Born Oliver King Perry in Gary, Indiana in 1920, the lad learned to play violin as an infant, before becoming proficient on bass, trumpet, drums and piano, too. He apparently took up the alto saxophone after hearing Johnny Hodges with Duke Ellington's band in the mid 1930s. Around the same time, Perry joined the Steel City Melodians, the leader of whom made it clear that they would prefer a saxophonist instead of a violinist, so he began wood-shedding on clarinet and alto sax. In the late 1930s, Perry attended Storr College in West Virginia to study piano and arrangement, and by the early 1940s he had formed his own band and was playing in Detroit at Club Congo and at such Chicago venues as the Band Box and at Café Society.

By early 1945 his band - then featuring Maxie Ward on trumpet, Jeep Underwood on piano, Ike Brown on bass, and drummer Dan Graves - was firmly ensconced at the Ice Capades, when his manager arranged for them to join a tour that featured Dorothy Donegan, Scatman Crothers and the King Cole Trio, travelling to Tucson, Phoenix, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The tour ended in L.A. where the whole entourage was abandoned without pay, so King Perry and his boys decided to arrange a few gigs there to pay for the trip home. The return home was put on hold when the band proved to be highly popular with the Californian audiences, and they were quickly signed to Daniel O'Brien's Melodisc label.

The first session included the inevitable King Perry Blues and a clutch of jazz standards, while further sessions were recorded for Melodisc (until a warehouse fire put paid to the label), Excelsior, United Artists (Perry's band also supported blues shouter Duke Henderson on a great session for U.A. at this time), De Luxe, Specialty, Dot, RPM, Lucky, Hollywood, and a number of smaller West Coast indies. Never enjoying a national hit record, the band's most popular releases were undoubtedly the memorable Keep A Dollar In Your Pocket cut for Otis Rene's Excelsior label and those recorded for Specialty in 1950, such as Blue And Lonesome and Everything's Gonna Be All Right Tonight; at which time King Perry appeared daily on his own TV show on KTTV in Hollywood!

Unfortunately, due to the lull caused by the post rock 'n' roll boom in the late 1950s, Perry disbanded and started a new business selling real estate, which became very successful. He also ran his own label, Octive Records, and his own publishing company, Royal Attractions. He retired from his real estate business in the 1980s and went back to performing as a solo in and around Bakersfield, California.

Recommended listening:-

Classics 5081 - The first of two volumes (the second of which is as yet unreleased) this chronological collection features the complete Melodisc and Excelsior recordings from the 1940s, ending with the sole release which appeared on De Luxe in 1949. On aural evidence, two of the tracks, Wait Now and Big Fat Mama, despite being Excelsior releases, would appear to be later recordings from around the mid 1950s, but much of the material is original jump blues and R&B songs, although the band also included a fair proportion of standards, such as Song Of The Islands, a song written in 1915 and popularised by Wayne King and Bing Crosby in the 1930s, the Gershwins' 1924 composition The Man I Love, and the enduring Hoagy Carmichael/Mitchell Parish collaboration from 1929, Star Dust. Babe Wallace's swing novelty A Chicken Ain't Nothin' But A Bird from 1940 had been recorded by the likes of Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan on down, and Laughing At Life was even earlier, popularised by Ruth Etting and Billie Holiday. Perry's love of Ellingtonia was shown by his instrumental cover of Rocks In My Bed, and the influence of Lucky Millinder by (Big) Fat Mama and Red Callender by Red Light...or as Perry would have it, Wait Now; both of which he may have been influenced to cover via Roy Milton's versions. Perry's own most influential recording from this period was his Keep A Dollar In Your Pocket, which said rival Roy Milton would take to #8 on the R&B chart in 1948.

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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