Once again let’s board the Soundies Time Machine for a late evening musical treat. Head south on Central Avenue from downtown Los Angeles, turn right on Adams for three blocks, then a block and a half southwest on San Pedro. You’ve reached LA’s Café Society. The show is terrific, with tenor sax Tom Archia and baritone Claude Trenier on the bill. Also featured is Dusty Brooks and his Four Tones.
Dusty Brooks and the Four Tones was a vocal harmony group quartet formed at Lane College, Jackson, Tennessee, in the early 1930s. By 1934 the Four Tones included two members, Dusty Brooks and Rudolph Hunter, who would still be with the group when this Soundies session was produced in May 1946. The Four Tones was featured on the radio in Jackson, then took to the road performing on theater stages in the South and Southwest. In Dallas, Texas they met radio host Art Linkletter who brought them to Hollywood in 1937.
The Four Tones found almost immediate success on the West Coast. They landed a job broadcasting on KFI radio, recorded for a large number of independent labels, and appeared in black cast Westerns with Herb Jeffries. Local engagements included the Hi-De-Ho Club and Streets of Paris, both in Hollywood. Buddy Collette recalled, “You know, during the war years there were a number of clubs in the Hollywood area where you could hear Black musicians, especially low-key cocktail groups. You know, groups that had been listening to the Nat “King” Cole Trio. There were a couple on La Brea, and that’s where I recall hearing the Four Tones.”
In January 1944 the Four Tones were booked in the Zanzibar Room at the Florentine Gardens. They played there a number of times over the next two years and it is likely that Soundies producer Ben Hersh heard them her, and arranged for this series of Soundies.
A review in Billboard suggests that the personnel was unusually stable, with Lucius “Dusty” Brooks out front as leader and featured vocalist. Art Maryland is heard on guitar, Rudolph Hunter on string bass and lead vocal, and Ray Wheaton on drums. Only the pianist is unknown. Peter Martin is seen on screen, although it is possible that the soundtrack was recorded by William E. Banks.
Am I Lucky is a retitled performance of a composition by Brooks and Jimmy Turner called “Play Jackpot.” For me, this is “cocktail jazz” at its best. If you agree let me know and I’ll send a Manhattan or Stinger your way.