When you hear the name, Meade Lux Lewis, chances are that his extraordinary Honky Tonk Train Blues comes to mind. Lewis recorded it for the Paramount label in 1927 and performed it in 1938 and '39 at the two "From Spirituals to Swing" Carnegie Hall concerts. It was at the 1938 concert that Lewis caught the ears of Alfred Lion, who made him the first artist to record for his new label, Blue Note. Meade Lux Lewis joined with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson to form The Boogie Woogie Trio, which ignited a brief but rollicking fad that had the big bands boogying onto the charts as the Swing Era rose to its peak.
I met Meade Lux Lewis in 1961 when NBC hired me as a talent scout of sorts for "Chicago, and All That Jazz," a Dupont Show of the Week special presented in early "Living Color." He had not recorded a solo session in ten years, so I suggested that we do one, and he liked the idea. He seemed pleased when I told him that I wasn't looking for yet another rendition of his famous hit, and asked if he could do tunes that he hadn't done before—I liked that idea. He also wanted to do a few tracks on a celeste, so that was arranged.
At the bottom of this post (below the photo) is a link to one of the piano selections, You Were Meant for Me, a standard written by Nacio Herb Brown in 1929 for an early film musical, "The Broadway Melody". It has appeared in numerous films over the years and is not the type of song one might expect Meade Lux Lewis to play, but he told me that he had "liked it for many years." This may well be the most unusual version of this song.
|The original Riverside cover illustration by Peter Max.|
I don't think the album did very well, but I'm glad we made it, because Meade Lux only had one more session, with a band, before he was killed in a Minneapolis car accident. He was only 58.
There is an interesting story behind the original album cover, which was designed by Ken Deardoff, who was Riverside's in-house Art Director. What most people don't know, because it is far from apparent, is that Ken commissioned a young relatively unknown illustrator to come up with a cover painting. It would win 26-year-old Peter Max the Society of Illustrators' Advertising Gold Medal for 1963. By the end of the decade, Peter Max's unique style—dubbed "Cosmic Art" and very different from this cover—had captured the imagination of new generation. Ken Deardoff gets the usual design credit on the album, but nowhere is there any mention of Peter Max.
|I took this photo of Meade Lux Lewis in the studio. Amazingly, it's almost focused!|