J.C. Heard (left) with his trio
“Listen – J.C. Heard – J.C.’s Grit Gitter – MP3″
The tune I bring you today is a great example of a puzzle piece that once fitted into the larger picture, instead of bringing things into focus, serves only to make things more complicated.
The story begins a number of years ago when I picked up a 45 on the storied Harrisburg, PA soul label Soulville. The record in question, ‘Grit Gitter’ by a cat named Cha Cha Hogan was a very cool bit of piano funk (which can be heard in Funky16Corners Radio v.2 – Sookie). If memory serves I found my way to ‘Grit Gitter’ via the expert counsel of my good friend Haim, a man whose sage counsel has led to to many a great record.
I really dug the side but for a while was unable to discover anything about Hogan. Shortly after scoring the 45 I found out that ‘Grit Gitter’, while released on Soulville was not in fact a Harrisburg-based side, having originated elsewhere (though I did not know where).
I posted the 45 on what was then the Funky16Corners web zine, and after a few months I got an e-mail from one of Cha Cha Hogan’s children indicating that he had been based in Detroit when ‘Grit Gitter’ was recorded and later went on to play in Las Vegas. This was an intriguing development, but since I was unable to locate any other info, I was at yet another dead end.
Then, proving once again that this is a truly weird world we live in, I’m lounging around one night, channel surfing and I catch the end of an episode of ‘Sanford and Son’ and who’s name should appear in the credits as a guest star?
Cha Cha Hogan.
Off I go to IMDB and discover that Mr. Hogan’s acting resume had exactly two entries, both being episodes of ‘Sanford and Son’, once as ‘old man’ and another time as ‘heckler’*. Intriguing to be sure, but this discovery did nothing to flesh out the story.
Since that day the only other clue I’ve discovered to the Cha Cha Hogan puzzle is that he once recorded a comedy album for the Laff label, home to a wide variety of ‘adult’ comedy albums, many featuring ‘Chittlin Circuit’ talents like Jimmy Lynch, Mantan Moreland and – bringing the ‘Sanford and Son’ connection full circle, Redd Foxx and LaWanda Page.
So, while my fevered brain is littered with Cha Cha Hogan trivia, I can’t tell you a whole lot about him.
Flash forward to earlier this year, and I’m patrolling the interwebs in my pith helmet and jodhpurs (look it up) in search of big game, and I happen upon a record with the very interesting title of ‘J.C.’s Grit Gitter’ on the Detroit label Sir-Rah. As luck would have it, there was a sound file on the auction which revealed that ‘J.C.’s Grit Gitter’ by J.C. Heard was – if not the same recording – the same song as the record by Cha Cha Hogan. A la Captain Spaulding I immediately loaded my elephant gun and whipped some lucre in the direction of the 45 and eventually (without too much of a struggle) bagged the beast and brought it home to stuff and hang in my trophy room.
A few weeks pass and eventually my friendly mail carrier drops the record through yon mail slot, after which I promptly drop it on the turntable to discover that ‘J.C.’s Grit Gitter’ did in fact employ the same backing track as the Hogan 45, adding a vocal to the mix.
As I said before, the addition of the J.C. Heard record didn’t do anything to solve this particular puzzle. All the info on the label did was confirm what I already knew, that being that ‘Grit Gitter’ was most definitely a Detroit record, bearing the name of Funk Brother Jack Ashford in the writing credits (with a few other names included on the two 45s, with Ashford’s being the only common link).
Things got even more interesting when I started looking for information on J.C. Heard.
When I got the record I thought that the name rang a bell, but I couldn’t remember why. Then I started to tip-toe through Google and discovered why.
J.C. (James Charles) Heard was one of the great journeyman jazz drummers of the 40’s and 50’s having played and recorded with Teddy Wilson, Coleman Hawkins, Cab Calloway and many, many others during his long career. He moved to Japan in the mid-50’s where he spent some time working as a singer and drummer, eventually moving back to the US by the end of the decade.
By the mid 60’s J.C. Heard relocated to Detroit where he spent the rest of his life.
How J.C. Heard ended up doing the vocals (and maybe the drums) on ‘J.C.’s Grit Gitter’ is a complete mystery. I also have no idea which record – Heard’s or Hogan’s came first – and if Hogan was indeed the pianist on the Heard date (though since the backing tracks are the same I’ll go ahead and make the assumption that he was).
J.C. Heard – who had to be close to 50 when the record was made – was by no means the first musician of his generation to work the soulful side of the street, with contemporaries like Lionel Hampton, Bill Doggett and Louis Jordan all recording around the same time.
As far as I can tell he didn’t do anything else along the lines of ‘J.C.’s Grit Gitter’ and if anyone knows different (or has anything else to add) I’d love to hear from you. J.C. Heard passed away in 1988.
I hope you dig the tune.
*Interestingly enough one of the episodes with Hogan also features a cameo by Timmie Rogers, aka Clark Dark, aka Super Soul Brother