Wer war/ist George Miller & His Mid Driffs ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD und mehr

George Miller & His Mid-Driffs

To New Orleans collectors George Miller & His Mid-Driffs have long been a mystery, with their one claim to fame being Bat-Lee Swing, an all-out sax duel between tenor legend Lee Allen and Roy Brown's teenage sensation Leroy 'Batman' Rankin. The group also shone on piano, with Alex 'Duke' Burrell, whose delicate, cascading notes make even modest songs on this album a delight.

Drummer Lester Alexis (born November 1, 1914) came from a famed New Orleans jazz family. He was born and began playing drums as a teen in Biloxi, Mississippi, where his family had a summer home. Alex Burrell (born July 9, 1920), on the other hand, was orphaned at an early age and lived 'from pillar to post.' Like Longhair, he was largely self-taught -- he picked up his incredible skill on piano simply by listening to pianists like Bud Powell, Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum on records and radio. He later obtained the nickname 'Duke' because his fans thought he sounded like Duke Ellington.

In 1940 Burrell joined the swing band of Battleaxe Purnell at the 'Famous Door.' "George Miller used to come in just to have a chance to sing," recalled Alex. "And he got better on bass than the bassman Battleaxe had."

George and Alex went to Biloxi with Teddy Johnson's band, where they met Lester, with Alex continuing the story: "The three of us got together, and said, 'Look, we're so far ahead of the damn band, why don't we form an outfit?' And by George doing the singing we named the outfit George Miller & the Mid-Driff Trio."

In the late 1940s the Mid-Driffs began raising hell with their cool jazz sounds, especially at the 'Horseshoe Club,' right outside the racially segregated French Quarter. "Man, we had Count Basie, Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris – all of them used to come there and jam," recalled Lester Alexis. Lee Allen, who also began sitting in, remembers, "It was a swingin' group. I took Buddy Johnson's band by there one night." "It was a black club," laughed Burrell, "but sometimes they'd have more whites in the club than blacks. It got too rambunctious. The blacks wanted to take the white woman home and the whites wanted to take the black woman home, so the police said, 'No, we can't have this.' That tore that playhouse down!"

The Mid-Driffs became a French Quarter sensation with the addition of Longhair and Batman.

Even Burrell, who had few piano peers, enthused about Longhair: "Man, couldn't nobody in the world play like him. I don't know where Fess got that style from, but, man, he had a heck of a style of his own… It'd make your feet pat." Longhair once returned the compliment with a bit of a sour memory: "(Duke) was one of the finest piano players you could ever meet… After I started working with them we discovered Lee Allen, who we took in. We had a sharp band then… two pianos, me and Duke. He didn't like it either; he got me fired. When I played Alex didn't have nothing to do. But when Alex played I would always be doing something, playing bongos or tambourine, liven up things."

Lester had a vivid memory of Batman: "He used to walk the bar, jump off the bandstand down on the floor, go out on the banquette (sidewalk), go out one door and come in another door and then come back on the bandstand still blowin'. He would bring people off the banquette back in the club like a parade." On January 6, 1951, Dr. Daddy-O wrote, "Didja know that 'Batman' Rankin is becoming the idol of the Quarter?? His saxophone is stuffed with dollar bills almost every time he plays a frantic solo."

While the Mid-Driffs were tearing up at the 'El Morocco' their record went all but unnoticed except by Dr. Daddy-O, who announced its release in October 1950.

Early in 1951 promoter Jack Thomas spotted the group and renamed them the Rampart Streeters. Miller became 'Ramp Davis'; Alex became 'Duke'; Lester became 'Boots'. The group recorded a session for High Time Records that apparently was purchased by Modern, which released a 78 under the name Ramp Davis. Four recordings, all showing distinct Longhair Latin influence, were released on the Ace (U.K.) reissue 'California Jump Blues.'

Thomas took the group to California, where they played for movie stars in Palm Springs in support of the Will Mastin Trio with Sammy Davis, Jr. A new agent, Johnny Robinson, then booked them into Hawaii with a ravishing songstress named Anna Marie Wooldridge, who would become known as Abbey Lincoln in movies like 'The Girl Can't Help It' and 'For Love Of Ivy'. While in the tropical paradise Burrell and Rankin became heavy drinkers. In 1953 Lester became ill and came back to Biloxi, where he formed a band that backed Longhair, Alma and others into the 1960s. After that he played with jazz bands in New Orleans, including those led by John Handy and Danny Barker's, up until 1987.

The others stayed in Hawaii for another year. Burrell said that George Miller died in a Los Angeles nursing home in 1976. "Batman died in '73," recalled Lester. "He lived down in the Ninth Ward… He drank that wine until it killed him, man." Lester Alexis himself passed away in 1990.


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Various - Record Label Profiles
The Mercury New Orleans Sessions (2-CD)

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