For a drummer, there is probably no higher honor than to be forever associated with a certain kind of rhythmic groove. The musician then becomes something like a witch doctor specialist, the one customers have to travel to at their own great risk and expense because there simply is no substitute. That drummer Jimmy Crawford, not to be confused with country & western pedal steel guitarist of the same, is associated with the special Jimmie Lunceford shuffle is really no surprise. The two men went to high school together, played together in their first bands, and seemingly began developing the innovative Lunceford sound right there and then. Crawford's association with this bandleader has led to a pile of records that could bury a small dog. This pile would in turn seem insignificant compared to the drummer's entire discography, which by itself would be enough to keep a pressing plant busy day and night. Another pile of sides equally grand, if not larger, would consist of various compilations that would begin leaking tracks if Crawford was not present. Be it a collection of great drumming, great pianists, great female vocalists, great male vocalists, early jazz guitarists, the Memphis scene, the Chicago scene, the Kansas City scene, the Harlem scene...you name it, Jimmy Crawford is there laying down the beat. Crawford's professional career began with the very first of Lunceford's bands, the Chickasaw Syncopators. Crawford went on this group's first road tours and made huge contributions to the sound of the band. In 1933, the group enjoyed something of a breakthrough with a booking at New York's Lafayette Theater, followed by the Savoy the following year. The boisterous, lively drumming of Crawford was a constant source of support within the band, the players learning to navigate their way through the clever and sometimes fascinating arrangements that were an important part of this band's success. The drummer went his own way in terms of what other big band drummers such as Chick Webb were up to. His style was based on keeping the beat in two, a wise move that gave the whole band the equivalent of an elevator ride.
The complete sense of continuity in this rhythm section was a key ingredient in Lunceford's recipe for success, perhaps even more vital than the arrangements. Pianist Ed Wilcox, bassist Mose Allen, and guitarist Al Norris joined the drummer in a rhythm section that remained constant for the entire life of the band, which unfortunately ended in 1943. Crawford's old high school pal died four years later while signing autographs. As if unable to find another big band that was as enjoyable as Lunceford's had been, Crawford switched to small groups including combos led by the wonderful tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. He also worked with trumpeter Harry James, taking a similar respite from the big band life, New Orleans clarinetist Edmond Hall, and some special units organized by swing icon Benny Goodman. In the '50s, he was extensively involved in the theater pit bands on Broadway. He also performed and recorded with Ella Fitzgerald, bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and Lunceford's old rival, Count Basie.
An excellent profile of the drummer is featured in the book Drummin' Men: the Heartbeat of Jazz, the Swing Years by Burt Korall. The drummer's credits sometimes include vocals, but he did not perform as a lead vocalist or front man, only as a background vocalist. The presence of several obscure vocalists named Jimmy Campbell and James Campbell in the blues and rhythm & blues idioms has confused the issue. There is no reason to believe these singers are the same person as the drummer, but skeptics are welcome to consult reissue collections for research purposes. A James Campbell recorded a handful of blues numbers in the '20s that have been reissued on the Document album Male Blues of the '20s, while a Jimmy Campbell recorded a session for Specialty which is included in a complete collection of that label's productions. The drumming Crawford did double on vibraphone sometimes within the big band context, but did not record on this instrument in the small band setting. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi