Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


McVEA, Jack

(b 5 November 1914, Los Angeles; d there 27 December 2000) Tenor sax, leader. He played in his father's dance band; went out on his own in 1932, played in various L.A. bands; joined the original Lionel Hampton big band '40-3, playing alto and baritone; formed own L.A. combo '43, played on first JATP concert records '44. He taught Art Pepper how to read music in Lee Young's band. He gradually followed public taste from swing through the 'jump band' era to R&B.

McVea recorded in Hollywood '45 with Slim Gaillard and an unusual lineup: Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bam Brown on bass, New Orleans veteran Zutty Singleton on drums; Gaillard wanted a remake of his '38 novelty hit 'Flat Foot Floogie', Parker and Gillespie made up 'Dizzy Boogie', while Gaillard's 'Popity Pop' was about a motorcycle, and the laid-back novelty 'Slim's Jam' included solos for the horns and plenty of Gaillard's jive: as he introduces McVea, the latter knocks and says 'Open the door, Richard!', a reference to a routine by black vaudeville comic Dusty Fletcher in which the comic has come home late without a key and wants to get in, while his housemate Richard is occupied in something he is loath to interrupt. McVea began performing a riff based on the comedy routine with his combo; Ralph Bass recorded it for the L.A. Black and White label; McVea also performed it in the film Sarge Goes To College '47: by then it had taken the country by storm, the biggest hit of the year, until the riff was so familiar that WOR in NYC banned it, along with Richard jokes. Count Basie on RCA, the Three Flames on Columbia had no. 1 hits with 'Richard' (Basie's so uncharacteristic of the band that it is not included in compilations); McVea and Fletcher on National tied at no. 3, Louis Jordan on Decca, Charioteers (also on Columbia) at no. 6; Pied Pipers on Capitol were no. 8 (according to Pop Memories; see Charts); the also-rans included western swing bandleader Hank Penny on King, Hot Lips Page on Apollo, Sid Catlett on Manor, etc. McVea and Fletcher shared composer credit with John Mason, from whom Fletcher had learned it, and Don Howell, who probably didn't exist (maybe the publisher got an extra slice). McVea made a flop follow-up 'The Key's In The Mailbox', by Jack McVea and his Door Openers; Tiger Haynes's Three Flames got an NYC TV show out of it '49.

McVea also played on T-Bone Walker's classic 'Stormy Monday Blues' on Black and White (a hit '42 by Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine), helping Walker to find himself as a huge influence on electric guitar. He backed Gatemouth Brown on the first sides recorded by Don Robey's Peacock label in Houston '49; recorded for Exclusive; drove a bus and played for all-girl touring R&B band the Sepia Flames (Clora Bryant on trumpet, Jackie Glenn on piano). He switched to clarinet '66 to play in a dixieland combo at Disneyland, a deservedly comfortable berth for a hard-working entertainer. Compilations on vinyl were Come Blow Your Horn on Ace, Open The Door Richard on Juke Box Lil, 1944-1947 on Solid Sender.