Freddie Mitchell started out as a blues pianist in Tampa, Florida, but when he was 13, his family moved to NYC, where he took up sax and clarinet. By 1940 he was swinging the sax with the big bands of NYC, with Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong and Hot Lips Page. He formed his own band in 1949, which became the house band that year for the new Derby record label. They hit early with "Doby's Boogie," a record which was dedicated to Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, the first black athlete in the American League (the National League's Jackie Robinson was one year earlier). Besides his role as director of the recording sessions for Derby, Mitchell was also their A&R man, and part of his job for them was to recruit talent. Many of the singers on theDerby label were
unknowns who were given one recording session in front of Mitchells band. For example, the recording below by Honey Brown is taken from one of the only recording dates she ever had, and the same applies to Walter "Sandman" Howard and Eunice Davis. Davis recut "Rock Little Daddy" for Atlantic in 1952. Walter "Sandman" Howard reportedly sings jump songs on the 1964 album "Ebony In Rhythm" on Canadian Capitol T/ST-6090.
Freddie Mitchell went on to cut "Moondog's Boogie" in 1952, in honor of the famous Cleveland DJ Alan Freed, who called himself "Moondog." Freed played the record on his own show. In Freed's 1956 movie, "Rock, Rock, Rock," Mitchell appears in a band called, in the movie's credits, "Alan Freed's Rock and Roll Orchestra," with Mitchell up front on tenor sax. In the film, the 17-piece band plays "Moondog's Boogie," which Freed announces as "Rock and Roll Boogie." Freed appears in the movie to be leading the band and singing a vocal line. In fact, his vocals were horribly deaf-dubbed onto the footage (he could not hear the band while dubbing but merely watched the footage, footage of a band synchronizing itself to a recording that was 4 years old, which contained no vocals!)
Mitchell label-skipped through the 50's, and recorded a sax battle with King Curtis in 1959, but the credits listed only Curtis. As jobs got scarce in the 60's, he started driving a taxi cab, but continued to gig as "Taxi Mitchell," and died unknown.
Honey Brown, from Detroit, walked into Mitchell's studio in April of 1951, bringing her song "Rockin' and Jumpin'," with her. Billboard reviewed the record in June: "Combo swings hard on this novelty jump blues, with boys joining in the tag line." Little else is known about Brown, other than the fact that she re-cut the same tune with the Choker Campbell Orchestra for the Fortune label in Detroit in 1952, and she recorded for the tiny Club 51 label, (see http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/rsrf.html ). Nothing else could be found about Walter "Sandman" Howard or Eunice Davis. As for the Eunice Davis track, the lyrics are nearly identical to those in Cecil Gant's "Rock Little Baby," also of 1951. It is unknown whether Gant stole it from Davis or Davis stole it from Gant.
Record collectors may be interesed to know that there is a fairly common LP released in 1957 on the Masterseal label that pops up all the time at record auctions called "Let's all Dance to Rock And Roll" by "Hen Gates and His Gators." The album jacket, with a photo of cruising white teenagers, goes on to describe this band, but close inspection of the tracks reveals that they are all taken from 1940's Freddie Mitchell masters from the Derby label, and all the songs were given new bogus titles. There was never any Hen Gates and never any Gators, it was a bogus way of selling records in the late 50's: taking old R&B masters and repressing them for the new rock 'n' roll market. One of the tracks on that album, though given a different title there, is actually Mitchell's "Doby's Boogie," below. There actually was a real pianist nicknamed Hen Gates, who was a bebop musician of the early- and mid-40's, but there is no relation to this album. Freddie Mitchell almost always used Joe Black on the ivories at Derby. Amazingly, the Masterseal LP's have been released recently on CD, with the original album photo, but now the text has the words "with Freddie Mitchell," on the cover, though Mitchell's name does not appear on the original 1957 vinyl issue. The label that is issuing the CD's calls itself Masterseal, so it's obviously a European bootleg nostalgia pressing. Thank goodness for Europe for keeping this stuff alive.