By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon
The Sparrows came together in 1949 to record for Coral Records. They changed their name to The Jive Bombers in 1952 to record for Citation Records. By the late 1950s they landed on Savoy Records, eventual home of many classic R&B groups, though they did an even bigger business in Gospel music.
1957 saw them release “Bad Boy”. It became a hit, topping out at #7 on the R&B charts and #36 on the pop charts. It has since been covered by many artists including Mink DeVille, Ringo Starr and Buster Poindexter.
“Bad Boy” was an old song written by Avon Long and Lil Hardin – the legend who was Louis Armstrong’s second wife! The Jive Bombers gave it a new twist with the bizarre vocal stylings of lead singer Clarence Palmer. He would frequently scat-sing with a strange vocal sound at the end of certain words. In “Bad Boy” he uses this effect every time he sings the song’s title. Somehow it clicked with the public- maybe it was the annoyance factor – and from then on he used it in nearly every Jive Bombers record, to the point that some recordings consisted of little else vocally!
I wonder if radio stations sometimes hesitated to play this record. On one hand, it had echoes of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans scat-singing. But it’s also easy to see it as sounding like a kind of speech defect.
The Jive Bombers combined of members of two previous vocal groups, Sonny Austin & the Jive Bombers and The Palmer Brothers. The final lineup was Earl Johnson, Al Tinney, William “Pee Wee” Tinney and Clarence Palmer.
Al Tinney had entertainment in his blood. A child actor on the stage, he was a cast member in the original production of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in 1935. He leraned to play piano and became fascinated by jazz. He is considered one of the unsung founders of BeBop, leading the house band at Monroe’s from 1939 to 1943, where he crossed paths and influences with Charlie Parker and Max Roach, among others. Though little-recorded in that idiom, due to his prominent placing “on the spot”, ground zero of the Bop movement, he influenced the Bop pianists who came after, like Bud Powell, George Wallington, Al Haig and Duke Jordan.
Al became disgusted with the hard drugs that dominated that form of jazz music and left the jazz world in the late 1940s. When the success of the Jive Bombers ran out he got back into jazz and became increasingly interested in the passing along the culture. He worked locally in jazz music, often playing at the historic Colored Musicians Club or with Peggy Farrell’s band – with whom he recorded an album. He did work in a state prison music program, lectured at SUNY Buffalo, supported the Buffalo arts and music scene in Buffalo, and in general encouraged a love of jazz, jazz culture and the classier side of that world.
Maybe he felt he owed for helping inflict the ‘bad taste’ of “Bad Boy” on the world!