Jeb Stuart Biography
Jeb Stuart is what they used to call a stylist. An entertainer. If you’re looking for a straight reading, you won’t get it from ‘Mr. Emotions,’ as he often billed himself. On “Sunny Side of the Street,” Stuart brings his frenetic energy to the lyrics. Like fellow stylist Billy Stewart (no relation), Jeb repeats words two or three times. He seems overcome by his own excitement; he just can’t bear any pauses in his delivery. Empty space is wasted space. The effect is strange to say the least. How does one classify such an agitated style?
Is it R&B? Blues? Pop? Jazz? We can pretty much rule out country or gospel, but then what? The situation isn’t helped by the new studio at 639 Madison, whose spacey echo only confuses matters more. When you’ve finished adding overdubs by the Gene Lowery Singers, the effects are beyond recognition. Things become a lot clearer on “Take a Chance,” which is far more conventional urban R&B, circa 1960. Once again, though, Stuart is sabotaged by the out-of-control sonics of the new studio.
From the beginning of his career, Stuart seems to have oriented himself toward the white audience. It surely couldn’t have been coincidence that a black Memphian named Charles Jones took the name of a Confederate cavalry general. Jones/Stuart claims to have been born on June 2, 1945, although one suspects that there’s a birth certificate somewhere that tells a different story. He grew up idolizing Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, Elvis, Fats Domino, and Little Richard, and left Memphis to study at the Chicago Conservatory of Music under Frank Lavere, one of the writers of Cole’s hit “Pretend.”
Back in Memphis, Stuart landed a gig at the Southern Club, and hired Isaac Hayes as his piano player. They were eventually displaced by Sam the Sham, but moved on to several other local venues. Hayes, incidentally, claims to have played piano and arranged one of Stuart’s Phillips singles (although the Union logs tell a different story, as they often do). It was Rufus Thomas who suggested that Stuart contact Sam Phillips. Stuart was auditioned by Charles Underwood, who was sufficiently impressed to call Phillips down from the executive suite. Phillips liked what he heard. Stuart and Underwood cowrote “Take a Chance,” and, given the choice of singing with Phillips International or Sun, Stuart opted for Phillips because of its uptown image.