The Real Honky Tonk Man

Another Mozart

Wynona, his Church pianist mother, gave birth to William Ballard Doggett on the sixteenth of February in Philadelphia, PA. A lad of just nine, Bill aspired to be a trumpet player like Louis Armstrong, but, as budget dictated, he resigned himself to learning piano as was available. Two years after he was declared a child prodigy, he formed his first band, the Five Majors and while yet a Central High School student he part-timed with the Jimmy Gordon Band making extra money in The Nixon Grand Theater's orchestra pit.

Big Band, Big Bust

Hardly twenty, he took over the fifteen man ensemble, but with fears of a glut of Big Bands realized, he liquidated these musical assets to Lucky Millender, who then hired his talents in return.

Jimmy Munder who was arranging for Benny Goodman, tapped Doggett in 1939 to help create another orchestra, and with Lucky, Bill made that year his two debut recordings on the Varsity Label, Little Old Lady From Baltimore, and All Aboard. Just around the beginning of World War II he had finally appeared on eight more of Millender's orchestra's recordings, and in 1942 the Ink Spots took Doggett in for arranging as well as playing the ivories. In the next two years with this notable group he helped on five of their singles' releases. He went in the studio and on the road with several stars such as Wynonie Harris, Johnny Otis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Illinois Jacquet up until 1947 (and with whom he continued a relationship).

On the other Side of Jordon

During those years where he also met Louis Jordon, who refined Bill's rapport with the crowd. He joined Louis Jordan's group, Tympany Five, finally in 1948 when he took Wild Bill Davis' spot at piano. He is spotlighted and can be heard on their Decca recordings: Saturday Night Fish Fry and Blue Light Boogie (which for K-Mart could be changed to the Blue Light Blues). He also shared musical time with Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis. It was at this time that he questioned his personal anathema of playing the organ (it is for Church only) from the pioneering example set by his predecessor, Davis, so when he left in 1951 to form his own trio he decided to differentiate himself from other piano combos and switch, with the reservations mentioned, to organ.

With the King

Bill Doggett's trio signed a record contract with King Records out of Cincinnati, OH, where they initially recorded a dozen modest cuts that were of a swing jazz style from the early forties, or a methodical blues developed around the turn of the decade. These included, Dance Awhile, Christmas Songs, and His Organ and Combo. He was to remain with this company doing 30 records until 1960. He is another hot organist who has put the Hammond B3 on the musical map.

Honky Tonkin' in the Big Apple

After recording and playing live tours five years, their experiences on the road, especially the one-nighters, led to his writing early in 1956 the recollections instrumentally painted impressionistic in Honky Tonk. The group tried it out on the stage, and the audience enjoyed its uncomplicated danceable beat. The song is a classic in the true sense of the word, it is as playable today as then. They went in King's New York City studios on June 16 of that year, and its release and rave acceptance put them in a dilemma, the bookings began to be for the new Rock and Roll craze, and they considered themselves jazz or blues, and above that. They made their choice as the following releases in 1956 leaned to the Rhythm and Blues end of the spectrum with Sil Austin's Slow Walk and their own bouncy jazzy Leaps and Bounds. Also in 1956 were: Sentimentally Your's, Everybody Dance to the Honky Tonk, and Dame Dreaming. And the next year he reached further back for inspiration with Millender's Ram-Bunk-Shush and an about face with Tiny Bradshaw's Soft; while releasing, Hot Dogget and Moondust. Some memorable cuts in 1958 were, Candle Glow, A Salute to Ellington, As You Desire Me, andThe Doggett Beat for Dancing Feet. In 1959 he rewarded us with:

     

  • Big City Dance Party
  • Hold It
  • On Tour
  • Swingin' Easy
  • For Reminiscent Lovers, Romantic Songs
  • Christmas
  • High and Wide

 

The Sixties and Somethin's Happenin' Here

He recorded these two records for King in 1960 (except for Impressions rel. '63, and others in the 90's mentioned below) before he switched to Warner , Back Again with More Bill Doggett and Bonanza of 24 Songs. Now that year for Warner he recorded and sold 3046 People Danced 'til 4 AM, followed the next by Band with the Beat and The Many Moods of Bill Doggett. In 1962 he did another wax, Bill Doggett Swings until he jumped to Columbia where he unleashed, Oops!, and Bellaphon for Bill Doggett. Columbia released his Impressions in 1963. He did some work on ABC-Paramount and Sue records as well, but slowly Rock evolved further from his roots and even the Jazz Festivals left him in a relative lurch. These years in the 1960's would have his musical time more consumed with his heavy involvement in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement in the US.

From Swinging in the Seventies to Swing Low Sweet Chariot

The Jazz community's recognition and subsequent bookings helped Doggett remain viable as he toured those clubs in his New York as well as Cleveland and New Orleans. He recorded on the Black and Blue label in 1978 his Midnight Slows 9 and 1985, Mr. Honky Tonk. 1985 Charly records released Goin' Dogget and the next year Deluxe released 14 Hits. Starday had Bill Dogget and His Combo Play in 1988, After Hours in 1991, and 1996 Richmond had him on its Best of the Instrumentals. The late 90's had as well King's Greatest Hits (1994) All His Hits (1995), All Time Christmas Favorites, His Organ and Combo (1996), and 1999's Best of Bill Doggett. Before the end of the millennium you could find him on Jazz Time's Bill's Honky Tonk. His list of people he had worked with now included:

 

 

He had only semi-retired in 1996 to his Islip home on Long Island in New York, as he still played from time to time, when he was called to join that Great Ensemble on November thirteenth of that year. Along with what he wrote, his renderings of Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, and even Handel and Franz Schubert can always still be revered as they are engraved not just on vinyl, but our hearts.

 

Source: Scott Yanow (online tribute)
AMG website

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