Vintage Guitar - February 2018 - 56
Cool Blues TrailBlazer
By Wolf Marshall
s blues began its ascent from America's
indigenous folk music to a worldwide
popular force, it morphed into two incarnations. One remained true to its rural roots,
acoustic timbre, and the notion of an itinerate
singer/storyteller at the center. The other addressed the urban environment and growing
trends of small combos and big bands, jump
blues, and boogie-woogie. Between Robert
Johnson and B.B. King were innovators who
set the stage for the electric-blues explosion of
the 1950s. Among the most influential were the
Three Blazers, led by guitarist Johnny Moore.
John Dudley Moore was born in Austin on
October 20, 1906. He was raised in Texas and
Phoenix, Arizona, and began playing guitar in
string bands with his younger brother, Oscar.
In the '30s, they relocated to Los Angeles,
where Oscar - inspired by Charlie Christian
- turned to jazz and became a key member
of Nat "King" Cole's trio.
Johnny gravitated to the blues and played
with several local combos before forming
Three Blazers with two fellow Texans, bassist
Eddie Williams and pianist/vocalist Charles
Brown. In that lineup, both Moore and Brown
became highly influential - Brown to Amos
Milburn and Ray Charles, Moore to B.B. King
and Chuck Berry. In a seeming contradiction
of terms, Moore's Three Blazers summed up
cool blues, trading on the smoother urbane
sound of the West Coast while adhering to the
blues form and mood. They personified the
incipient R&B scene; modeling themselves
after the jazz-inflected sound of Nat Cole's
trio but tempered by a decidedly bluesy edge
that bypassed pop standards, cocktail jazz,
and easy listening.
After Nat Cole's trio moved to Capitol in
1943, Oscar helped Johnny Moore's Three
Blazers secure a recording contract with
Atlas Records. One condition was that Oscar
would appear as a regular guest with the
trio, and their records were to be released as
"Oscar Moore with the Three Blazers." This
arrangement prevailed until the Blazers broke
through with a string of successes on various
labels (Johnny Moore avoided exclusive contracts throughout his career) and by backing
such artists as Ivory Joe Turner, whose "Blues
at Sunrise" became their first hit in 1945.
Thereafter, they enjoyed a run of hits on the
R&B charts from late '45 to '49, including
"Drifting Blues" (#2 in '46), "Sunny Road"
('46), "New Orleans Blues" ('47) and "Merry
Christmas Baby" ('47, '48, and '49), which
remains one of the most popular yuletide
songs of the modern era.
Brown left the Blazers in '48 to embark on
a successful solo career. The trio persevered
Johnny Moore's Three Blazers: Michael Ochs Archive.
Johnny Moore (middle) with
Blazers bassist Eddie Williams and
pianist/singer Charles Brown.