It’s a Wednesday night in the basement practice room of Lee Shropshire’s and Andy Scheinman’s Inglewood home. The five musicians in the band Eight O’Five Jive are running through their version of Joe Liggins’ 1953 R&B hit “Drunk.” It’s a sly ode to the wonders and perils of inebriation, driven by a persistent rhythm and a honking saxophone. It’s blues at its best, but not the style that one usually thinks of when the term “modern blues” is invoked. Eight O’Five Jive doesn’t feature a hotshot guitarist coppin’ licks from B.B. King records, nor a sharp-dressed young axe-wielder peering out at the audience from beneath his Stevie Ray Vaughn-inspired western hat. Instead, Eight O’Five Jive’s stock-in-trade is jump blues, the jumpin’ and jivin’ sound that ruled nightclubs and juke joints over 70 years ago.
Originating in the mid-1940s, jump blues fused the blues with big band swing rhythms to produce hot dance music with a powerful backbeat. As practiced by such artists as Louis Jordon, Wynonie Harris, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, Louis Prima and Dinah Washington, jump blues was powered by post-war optimism and focused on sex, drinking, partying, and conspicuous consumption. More than any other style, it was a direct progenitor of rock & roll.
As an experienced musician, Shropshire had worked with rock, folk, and jazz bands throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, but after settling in Nashville she gradually left her music career behind her. That all changed when she discovered the sound of classic jump blues on Vanderbilt’s late, lamented radio station, WRVU.
“I was driving to work one morning and discovered Pete Wilson’s radio show, Nashville Jumps,” Shropshire says. “It was just electric and so exciting, and Pete's knowledge of the music was inexhaustible. I began recording the show so I could listen to it again. I had some jazz influence in my past, and the songs I had been writing when I was younger really fit the jump blues genre, but I didn’t know it was called that. I hadn’t played music in about 20 years, but Andy had been playing jazz influenced guitar for years. I started bugging him to play more jump blues. We decided to form a band and started picking through the material that I thought would fit my voice.”
With Shropshire on lead vocals, Scheinman on guitar, Bill Bois on bass, Duane Spencer on drums, and Patrick Mosser on saxophone, Eight O’Five Jive made their debut at the 2011 Riverside Blossom Festival, bringing their version of classic jump blues sounds to enthusiastic audiences. The band has won the Nashville Industry Music Award for “Best Live Blues Performers” in 2014 and 2015 and “Best Blues Artist” in 2015. Their debut album, Too Many Men, was nominated for Blues Blast Magazine Music Award for “New Artist Debut Album.”
Next up for the group is the 2016 International Blues Challenge on January 26-30, 2016 in Memphis, Tennessee, where they’ll be representing the Nashville Blues Society. Sponsored by The Blues Foundation, the event is the world’s largest gathering of Blues acts with over 250 blues acts from around the world competing for the top spots in several different categories.
“The blues can easily be pigeon-holed into one style by people when it really has so many aspects,” Scheinman says. “We’re focused on that great time when blues, jazz, doo wop, swing, and big band all got jumbled up and gave birth to rock & roll.”
“Some people think of the blues as something depressing,” Shropshire adds, summing up Eight O’Five Jive’s mission statement even more succinctly. “I prefer to look on the positive side like the great jump blues singers did. Life has its up and downs but you can handle them all with humor, wit and great music.”