The Roots Canal: Voot DetectiveUpdate: In the interest of promoting all things voot, I'm going to leave links to all the old voot songs live permanently -- or at least until someone complains, which seems unlikely.
Nelson Alexander Trio — Rock That Voot
I first encountered this word in a terrific jump blues by the Nelson Alexander Trio, a little-known band I know little about. Smashing song. It was released in 1948, the first year of the rock’n’roll revolution (see How Rock Really Began), but it’s not a rock'n'roll song. There’s no back beat. It’s pretty much a straight-ahead boogie woogie with a Texas-style blues guitar and a jumpin’ vocal.
But I kept wondering about that word voot. The lyrics are suggestive but vague: “It’s cool in the kitchen, it’s warm in the hall, it’s hot in the bedroom and that ain’t all. I’m gonna rock that voot, baby, all night long.” Sure, it’s about sex; that’s obvious.* But where’d it come from? Why haven’t I heard it anywhere else? So I started looking around the Internet. Eventually it became a bit of an obsession.
Here, for the first time anywhere, is your ultimate voot encyclopedia. I've tracked down every voot reference I could find. I've even included a complete MP3 discography of a dozen original voot songs, never before collected in one place (as far as I can tell). Rarely in history has so much effort been expended on something so insignificant. But it's been fun.
Click on the permalink to see what I found out, including a complete voot discography with rare MP3’s.
[*Actually, the only dictionary definition I can find is from The Internet Guide to Jazz Age Slang, which defines voot as "money." Uh, better try again, folks.]
Duke Henderson — Let’s Get Vootin’
Duke Henderson was a popular blues shouter until he found religion and became a gospel deejay calling himself Brother Henderson. This is a great jump blues he wrote himself with plenty of voot in the lyrics: "I’ve been looking for a women to fall in love with me. You’re my kind, baby, suit me to a tee. So let’s get vootin’. Please let’s get vootin’. Yes let's get vootin'."
Ivie Anderson — The Voot Is Here to Stay
For more than a decade, Ivie Anderson was Duke Ellington's featured singer until asthma forced her to quit in 1942. She opened a restaurant called Ivie's Chicken Shack in Los Angeles, occasionally performing and recording. For Ivie Anderson, her voot was a man: “Baby I’m so glad, I thought I’d almost die. ‘Cause my voot came home, you know the reason why. The way you love me, baby, I sure was satisfied.”
Dinah Washington — No Voot, No Boot
Before Dinah Washington became the queen of over-orchestrated easy listening ballads, she was a huge R&B star. Here’s a real find, from her early days. This song uses voot in its title, although not in the song itself. But when she sings, she gets right to the voot with these lyrics by Duke Henderson: "Some things you can’t buy, some things you can’t give away, and if I can’t get what I want, I’m gonna sit on it the rest of my days."
Dinah Washington — My Voot Is Really Vout
This song is notable because it uses voot and vout as two different words. Vout is a jive language invented by jazzman Slim Gaillard (see below). At first, I thought voot might be a variant spelling of vout. But this song makes it clear they’re two different things.
My Voot Is Really Vout has the most straight-ahead voot lyrics of all: “One thing I’m sure, I could really knock you out. ‘Cause all the men have told me that my voot is really vout.” Or, “We can come up to my pad, we’ll really twist and turn about, and when you leave, pretty daddy, you’ll know my voot is vout.” Another verse makes it clear that voot was self-conscious hipster talk whose purpose is to mark insider from outsider: “Do you dig this jive, baby, or are you another square?”
[On one Dinah Washington album, this song is mistakenly listed as No Voot Is Really You. At first, I thought it was a new voot song. Nope. Same one.]
Slim Gaillard -- Voot Boogie
Slim Gaillard was a comic jazz singer/guitarist who is best known for Flat Foot Floogie, which he created with the great humming bass player Slam Stewart as the duo Slim & Slam. (I have a soft spot for Slam Stewart because he retired near my college and used to come play informally, often bringing friends like Dizzy Gillespie.) Gaillard sang jive nonsense syllables in a language he called vout and recorded a bunch of songs with names like They Call It the Vout, Minuet in Vout and Vout Orenee along with albums like The Legendary McVouty, Opera in Vout and The Absolute Voutest.
The people who re-release old recordings (whoever they are) seem to confuse voot and vout. Slim Gaillard's Vout Orenee is misspelled on several records as Voot Orenee -- and on one CD as Voot Greene! Bob Mosley's Voot Rhythm (see below) was re-released as Vout Rhythm. And Louis Prima even cut a Gaillard-inspired novelty called Vout Cowboy which is mistakenly called Voot Cowboy on several CDs. The big difference is that vout is a nonsense syllable (rhymes with "about") while voot is -- or was -- a word (rhymes with "boot"). As far as I can tell, Voot Boogie is Gaillard's only genuine voot song. It's mostly an instrumental; the only word is voot -- still used as a sound or exclamation, not as an actual word that means something.
Basin Street Boys -- Voot Nay on the Vot Nay
The Basin Street Boys sang mostly romantic ballads in the style of the Ink Spots, along with a few up-tempo numbers like this one. Voot Nay on the Vot Nay was the flip side of their biggest hit, Sold My Heart to the Junkman. Even more than Dinah's My Voot Is Really Vout, this song is about the jive itself, with lyrics like:
It's a new hip slang that everyone should speakWhen they start scatting, it's clear they're using voot more as a nonsense syllable (like Slim Gaillard) than as a word, as some of the other songs do.
Every day in the week
It's a frantic phrase, the Harlem rage,
Come on, it's really unique
Voot nay on the vot nay
Voot is really blase
Voot nay on the vot nay
Man, it's hear to stay
King Perry -- Voot Rock
King Perry was a midwestern bandleader stranded in Los Angeles after a tour promoter ran off without paying him in 1945. He stayed and quickly gained a following with his mix of swing and jump blues. His career lasted a good decade, into the R&B and early rock'n'roll eras. He recorded some hot jump blues and a lot of novelty songs like Kilroy Was Here, but Voot Rock unfortunately isn't either of those. It's an instrumental that sounds kind of old-fashioned to my ears, more swing than jump, which is a shame because Perry had some great jumpin' songs like Keep a Dollar in Your Pocket and Everything's Gonna Be Alright, an early rocker.
Bob Mosley and His All Stars -- Voot Rhythm
This is another instrumental but more fun than Voot Rock. This song features Lucky Thompson on tenor sax and was later included on a compilation album, Lucky Thompson: The Beginning Years, under the misspelled name Vout Rhythm even though the original record was released as Voot Rhythm.
The Blues Woman (Marion Abernathy) — Voo-it! Voo-it!
This is by far the best known of the voot songs, although it doesn’t exactly use the word voot. The whole song is built around the sound “voot” or “voo-it” — more as an exclamation than an actual word, as in Gaillard's Voot Boogie. The lyrics are a lot like No Voot No Boot: “Throw away all my troubles and all my worries are gone. I’ve got a man that can boogie all night long.”
This song was first recorded in 1945 by Marion Abernathy under the name “The Blues Woman,” just the second record ever released by Specialty Records. It was covered before the end of the year by Helen Humes. The Flamingos rewrote the lyrics and released it as a doo-wop song called Jump Children in 1954; theirs was later re-released as Vooit Vooit (without the hyphens). More recently, it was recorded by the British R&B revival group King Pleasure & The Biscuit Boys in 1988, Paula Lockheart on her album The Incomplete Paula Lockheart in 1991, and the neo-swing singer Lavay Smith in 2000 [thanks, Nathan]. Vicki Tafoya & The Big Beat covered the Flamingos' version in 2004. There are probably some others I've missed.
I nearly fell off my camp chair last month when I heard Springsteen's Seeger Sessions Band sing Voo-it! Voo-it! at Jazzfest in New Orleans. (It’s not on their new album, though.)
Clinic -- Voot
I suppose in the interest of completeness I also have to include the 1997 song Voot by Clinic, a British band, even though it has nothing to do with the 1940s jive voot we're talking about here. Unless, perhaps, somehow, maybe, possibly, they heard some of this old jive voot and were paying a subtle hommage. I doubt it.
Johnny Mercer — G.I. Jive
Finally, here’s another song that uses voot more as a sound than a word. Johnny Mercer was one of the great Tin Pan Alley songwriters, who wrote this parody of military jargon: “Rootle-y toot, jump in your suit, make a salute, voot!” (For some reason, when Louis Jordan covered this song he changed “voot” to “arrivoot.”) I'm not sure whether this song really belongs on the voot list, but here it is.
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Those are the songs. Now here’s where the detective work starts to get interesting....
It turns out that all these voot songs (not including Clinic's Voot, of course) were recorded in Los Angeles in a very short span of time. In fact, all but two were cut in 1945 or 1946, and most of those in a three-month period from November through January, often using many of the same musicians. (G.I. Jive was recorded in 1943 and Rock That Voot in 1948.)
Dinah Washington recorded both her voot songs with backing by Lucky Thompson’s All Stars, which was virtually the same band as Bob Mosley and His All Stars and Ivie Anderson and Her All Stars. (A young Charles Mingus played bass on all these sessions.) All four of their voot songs were recorded in November/December 1945 and January 1946.
Lucky Thompson also played with the Basin Street Boys on Voot Nay on the Vot Nay. And he played some sessions with Slim Gaillard in the same month (the previous September) that Gaillard recorded Voot Boogie, although he didn't play on that song.
Dinah's No Voot No Boot was composed by Duke Henderson, who also wrote and recorded Let's Get Vootin'. Guess who often played sax with Henderson? Lucky Thompson, of course (although not on this song).
Marion Abernathy sang with Mosley in the same session when he recorded Voot Rhythm, but not on that song (an instrumental).
Duke Henderson recorded Let's Get Vootin' that December, using the same guitarist as Mosley and the same pianist as Thompson and Anderson. (Henderson's sax player on that song was "Wild" Bill Moore who later cut the original We're Gonna Rock, We're Gonna Roll in 1948.)
King Perry recorded Voot Rock the following April, using the same trombonist as Henderson on Let's Get Vootin'.
It seems that voot was briefly -- very briefly -- jive slang among a group of R&B musicians in Los Angeles that never caught on in the wider world. If there's one person at the nexus of all these songs, it seems to have been tenor sax player Lucky Thompson, whose career spanned several genres. Thompson started out with NYC swing bands in the early 40s, was part of the mid-40s LA scene that played such a big role in creating R&B, and went on to a successful career as a bebop saxophonist. He retired (twice) in the late 60s and early 70s, briefly taught at Dartmouth, and then fell off the musical radar. It turned out he was homeless for as long as 20 years and spent his last decade in an assisted living center in Seattle where he died last August.
Did Lucky Thompson create the word voot? Could be. Maybe he was inspired by Slim Gaillard. Or even Johnny Mercer. At this point, that's my best guess. But I'm open to other ideas.
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Oh, yeah. Let's get back to the Nelson Alexander Trio. All I know is they recorded four tracks with Alexander on piano and vocals in two sessions for Specialty Records in 1948. In addition to Rock That Voot, there were Drink Up - Light Up, Well Well Baby and Doin' the Boogie Woogie. If anyone knows anything else, even the other members of his trio, I'd love to hear it.
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The songs in this post are available on these albums:
Rock That Voot: Specialty Legends of Boogie Woogie. (Also on emusic.)
Let's Get Vootin': Get Your Kicks.
My Voot Is Here to Stay: I Got It Good & That Ain't Bad.
No Voot, No Boot and My Voot Is Really Vout: Collection.
Voot Boogie: 1945.
Voot Nay on the Vot Nay: Satchelmouth Baby.
Voot Rock: 1945 - 1949.
Voot Rhythm: The Beginning Years.
Voo-it! Voo-it!: The Specialty Story. (Also on emusic.)
G.I. Jive: Capitol Collectors Series.
Voot: Voot/Cement Mixer/Monkey on Your Back (3 EPs).
You've done more work on this than the Oxford English Dictionary, which for a search on vo?t just returns vogt and volt.
Slide on over to MacVooty-ville
More generally, I find it fascinating that there are so many people willing to rip their own vinyl to mp3 or CD, and disturbing (but not surprising) that the RIAA and MPAA has been so desperate to "plug the analog hole." It reminds me of the film companies refusing to preserve their own stock, their own original copies of countless works, and it took a group effort from people like Scorsese, Coppola, Altman, and Spielberg to get them to wake up and realize "hey, maybe this is important, and not just for nostalgia--also for continuing income." Unfortunately I'm sure they're not much concerned for the progress of the arts and sciences, but they really deserve a kick in the ass for their sheer (and ongoing) stupidity on the matter.
Utterly amazing work, by the way.
Before or after that time they can remix (make a crap steeo version) and get a new copyright ...
I should have acknowledged the origins of my own version. It was very kindly sent to me last year, when I was just starting to collect voot songs, by Tony Fournier of the Vocal Group Harmony site at:
Thanks, Tony. Great site!
Vocal Group Harmony Web Site
My favorite was Voot Nay on the Vot Nay, and I misplaced it over the years.
What a pleasure to find it again!
Thanks SO Much!
Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I feel so lucky to have found it! I'm a grad student writing about Gwendolyn Brooks and her book, Annie Allen, which won the Pulitzer in 1950. In a poem in this book, called "I love those little booths at Benvenutis," she references a song I had never heard of before:
"They play 'They All Say I'm the Biggest Fool'
And 'Voo Me On the Vot Nay' and 'New Lester
Leaps In' and 'For Sentimental Reasons.'
But how shall they tell people they have been
Out Bronzeville way? For all the nickels in
Have not bought savagery or defined a 'folk.'
The colored people will not 'clown.'"
(Annie Allen, 47)
Cool, no? Now I know the mysteries of "Voo," a little about the Basin Street Boys, and best of all, can hear the song itself. If you get this post, please send me an email at email@example.com with your full name so I can cite your wonderful research properly.