Jimmy Liggins / Rhythm and Blues

Jimmy Liggins

Jimmy Liggins (October 14, 1918 – July 21, 1983) was an American R&B guitarist and bandleader. His brother was the more commercially successful R&B/blues pianist, Joe Liggins.

The R&B music of Jimmy Liggins is quite different from that of his brother Joe Liggins, who had greater commercial success. Joe, the elder, wrote and recorded music that was refined, that of a schooled musician, while Jimmy’s was more primitive and aggressive. Both men made exciting, danceable music which was very popular in its time - the heyday of urban jump blues, that important link between swing and rock ’n’ roll. There were other differences : Joe was a solid, steady type (his alto/baritone sax player, Little Willie Jackson, stayed with him for over forty years), while Jimmy had three complete changes of personnel in a mere four years.

The son of Harriett and Elijah Elliott, Jimmy was born James L. Elliott in Newby, Oklahoma. As a child he adopted the surname of his stepfather, a minister and graduated from Hoover High School. The Liggins family moved to San Diego, California, in 1932. Jimmy fought under the name of Kid Zulu as a professional boxer until he was 18, then he started working as a driver for his brother Joe’s band, the Honeydrippers.

Seeing how much money Joe was making from his hit recordings “I’ve Got A Right To Cry” and “The Honeydripper” (both 1945), Jimmy taught himself to play guitar, formed his own band in 1946 and started writing songs. However, neither Joe nor his label, Exclusive, took an interest in his compositions. Jimmy then took his songs to Art Rupe at Specialty Records. Rupe sent him back three times for rewrites, but the results were well worth the work and Liggins had no less than six sessions for Specialty during the last four months of 1947.

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