Harry the Hipster Gibson

Posted on June 13, 2007
Filed Under Culture, Main, Music | 2 Comments

Here’s someone you won’t remember from the 1960s:

Harry the Hipster Gibson, a wild man piano player/jive singer who could easily have been the inspiration for such rock heroes as Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard and a whole generation of wild, rockabilly performers. I first came across him in a PBS pledge special “Soundies: A Music History” in March. (Before MTV, there were “soundies.” First appearing in 1941, these three-minute “music videos” played in nightclubs and restaurants everywhere, featuring many of the legendary musicians of that era. For just 10 cents, audiences enjoyed artists such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong and Cab Calloway — all viewed through a special machine called a “panoram,” or movie jukebox.) I was knocked over by this cat’s craziness and researched him on the Net, coming across some videos on YouTube and two albums still in print on CD.

Check out the video below:

According to the entry in Wikipedia on Gibson:

Gibson was a jazz pianist, singer, and songwriter who played boogie woogie and smooth jive piano while singing in an unrestrained, wild style. His music career began in the late 1920s, when he played stride piano in Dixieland jazz bands in Harlem. He continued to perform there throughout the 1930s, adding the barrelhouse boogie of the time to his repertoire, and was discovered by Fats Waller in 1939. In the 1940s, Gibson was known for writing unusual songs, which were considered ahead of their time. He was also known for his unique, wild singing style, his wild, unorthodox piano style, his tongue-in-cheek references to drug use and for his intricate mixture of a hardcore boogie rhythms with ragtime, stride and jazz piano styles. Gibson took the boogie woogie beat of his predecessors, but he made it frantic; similar to the rock and roll music of the 1950s. Gibson recorded a great deal, but there are very few visual examples of his act. However, in 1944, he filmed three songs for the Soundies film jukeboxes, and he went to Hollywood in 1946 to guest star in the feature-length film musical “Junior Prom.” Gibson preceded the first white rock and rollers by a decade, but the Soundies he recorded show significant similarities to rock and roll. His career came to a sudden end in 1947 when his song “Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine” put him on the music industry blacklist. His own drug use led to his decline, and with the rising popularity of young rock ‘n’ roll musicians among teenagers in the 1950s, older musicians were not in high demand. But he had a comeback in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in two more albums “Everybody’s Crazy But Me” and “Who Put the Benzedrine In Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine.” Those albums include rock and roll songs about reefer, nude bathing, hippie communes, strip clubs, male chauvinists, “rocking the 88s”, and about how hip Shirley MacLaine is.

Gibson, who was born in 1915, died in 1991.

There’s very nice tribute site/biography on Harry as well as a snippet/ autobiography. The albums, “Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine” and “Everybody’s Crazy But Me” are available from harryhip.jpgAmazon.com. The first, recorded in 1986, includes such songs as “Hey Man! You Just Made My Day,” “I Got Framed,” I Wanna Go Back to My Little Grass Shack,” “Who Put the Benzedrine In Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine?” “Get Hip to Shirley MacLaine,” “I Flipped My Wig In San Francisco,” “Boogity Woogity Blues” and more.


2 Responses to “Harry the Hipster Gibson”

  1. Kid Dutch on June 2nd, 2009 8:42 pm

    Harry’s later albums(1970s and 80s) are really a shadow of his real talent. Get the Musicraft 1944 series if you can find it. Also the few 45’s he made in the 50s such as “Live Fast, Die Young (and leave a real good looking corpse)” exhibit marvelous pianitic talent.

  2. Larry Murillo on June 8th, 2009 3:58 pm

    I was a fan of Harry the Hipster way back in the 60s. My mom owned several of his albums and his poems. My personal favorite is “We are the youth, you crummy bastards”. This brought back many wonderful memories.

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