For many Ponderosa Stomp goers (including this scribe), the highlight of 2010’s event will be the appearance of the fabulous Young Jessie. Best known for the hit “Mary Lou,” Young Jessie epitomized the wild 1950s blend of West Coast R&B and rock and roll—and cut some of the best records of the era.
Born Obediah Donnell Jessie December 28, 1936 at Dallas, Texas, “Young” Jessie was introduced to music by his piano playing mother. When the War broke out, Jessie’s family moved to the West Coast so his father could find a better job. Jessie’s family moved back to Texas in 1950. Jessie however returned to Los Angeles shortly after where he attended Jefferson High, a school also attended by Etta James, Johnny “Guitar” Watson. and Richard Berry.
Berry—of “Louis, Louie” fame, but sadly, not fortune—encouraged Jessie to join his doo-wop group dubbed the Flairs. The group became very popular on the L. A. high school circuit in the early 1950s via dances and house parties. One day the group collectively skipped classes and auditioned for RPM Records—then one of the most successful R&B record labels on the West Coast. RPM owners Jules and Joe Bihari were impressed and set up a recording session for the 16-year-olds.
The group’s first effort “She Wants To Rock,” was produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, with Berry singing lead. A playful recording, Leiber and Stoller would later parlay the Flairs style into gold when they began working with the Robins and the Coasters at Atlantic. The Flairs cut four singles for RPM as well as several more using other group names. The group disbanded around 1955 and Jessie and Berry forged their own careers.
The Biharis brothers suggested the moniker “Young” Jessie and together they struck pay-dirt with “Mary Lou,” a song Jessie wrote about a wild aunt on his fathers side. “Mary Lou” sold especially well on the West Coast and in Texas and Jessie embarked on a series of tours with the likes of Guitar Slim, Bobby Bland and B. B. King. Other RPM masterpieces included “Hit, Git and Split” and “Oochie Coochie.” “Mary Lou” was eventually covered by Arkansas rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins and his version made the national charts in 1959.
Young Jessie – Mary Lou
Jessie briefly joined the Coasters—long enough to record “Searchin'” and “Youngblood”—before waxing the infectious “Shuffle In the Gravel” for Atco in 1957 with his old pals Leiber and Stoller producing. Next stop was Capitol—albeit a brief stop— where Jessie recorded the equally effective “The Wrong Door.”
In 1961, producer Bumps Blackwell got Jessie a deal with Mercury where he waxed the Coasters influenced “Teacher Gimme Back,” and the riotous “My Country Cousin.” Unfortunately, the public’s taste in music was “maturing” and Jessie’s 1950s rocking style wasn’t appreciated. He spent the rest of the 1960s recording great singles for small labels on the West Coast.
Young Jessie was more-or-less rediscovered in the early 1980s when his recording began being reissued in Europe. Since then, Young Jessie has made numerous overseas appearances where he has never failed to please. Eventually, America came on board.
Young Jessie – Hit, Git and Split
Note. Young Jessie should not be confused with a local artist, Jesse Thomas, that recorded under his own name and with Huey Smith and the Clowns in the 1960s. That Jessie often billed himself as Young Jessie in New Orleans. This Young Jessie is the real Mccoy.