Jesse Stone was one of the greatest songwriters of the rhythm & blues and rock and roll era.
Much of his best-known work was done at Atlantic Records, where he wrote, arranged and played on some key sessions.
For the Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, he came up with “Money Honey,” which topped the R&B and pop charts for a total of 11 weeks in 1953 and 1954, and was covered by Elvis Presley early in his career. “Shake, Rattle and Roll” - recorded by Big Joe Turner, Bill Haley and His Comets, and many others - became a turning point in early rock and roll history. The song served as a bridge to R&B for white teenagers, who accepted it as rock and roll.
Another standout from the era, “Your Cash Ain’t Nothing But Trash,” was a hit for the Clovers. As a musician, Stone led the house band on Chuck Wills’ rocking update of blues singer Ma Rainey’s “C.C. Rider.” On the jazz side, he wrote “Idaho,” which became a standard. Stone penned “Smack Dab in the Middle,” which became the signature song of Joe Williams, vocalist with Count Basie’s band in the mid-Fifties. Other R&B classics written by Stone include “Flip, Flop and Fly” (Big Joe Turner), “Cole Slaw” (Louis Jordan) and “Don’t Let Go” (Roy Hamilton). Ray Charles recorded Stone’s “Losing Hand” and “Smack Dab in the Middle.”
Born in Kansas, Jesse Stone began performing in his family’s minstrel show at the age of four. By the Twenties he was leading a jazz band that included saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, a future jazz legend. Jesse Stone and His Blue Serenaders became a fixture on the Kansas City jazz scene.
Relocating to New York, he played at the Cotton Club and worked at Apollo Theater as a composer, arranger and joke writer. He moved to Atlantic Records in the late Forties, where he worked with such key artists as Ray Charles, Ruth Brown and Big Joe Turner. Back in that time, a hit record required a compelling, danceable rhythm, and Stone had a knack for coming up with them As Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun noted, “His work helped R&B take the first step into rock and roll.”
Producer Jerry Wexler had this to say about Stone in his autobiography: “Jesse’s musical mind had as much to do with anyone’s with the transformation of traditional blues to pop blues – or rhythm & blues, or cat music, or rock ‘n’ roll, or whatever the hell you want to call it. Jesse was a master, and an integral part of the sound we were developing [at Atlantic].”
Stone was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 1992. In his later years, he continued to play keyboards and write songs for his wife, jazz singer Evelyn McGee Stone. He died in 1999 at his home in Florida, at the age of 97. Billboard, in its obituary, termed Stone “a master architect of rock and roll.” Another tribute-writer exclaimed, “Jesse Stone had a wider influence on more of the various forms of popular music developed in the 20th century than any other person, bar none.
Jesse Stone (songwriting, piano; born November 16, 1901, died April 1, 1999)