CHICO CHISM AND HIS JETANAIRS - Hot Tamales and Bar-B-Que (Clif, 1957)
Legend has it that drummer Napolean F. “Chico” Chism entered this world on a riverboat in Shreveport, Louisiana, on May 23, 1927. Public records suggest he was the offspring of Napolean Chism and Willie Mae Thomas, who married on September 27, 1926, and lived at 221 Agurs Row. This street (now named Fontenauc) runs alongside Cross Bayou, so perhaps the riverboat claim isn't far from the truth. While his upbringing may be a bit of a mystery, Chism’s music was preserved on a few locally released 45s in 1956 and 1957. Of these records, he led the band and received top billing once:
CHICO CHISM AND HIS JETANAIRS – Hot Tamales and Bar-B-Que
CHICO CHISM AND WITH JERRY AND GARLAND – Romp and Stomp
(Clif 102, 1957)
"Hot Tamales and Bar-B-Que” celebrates two rich subjects––food and Texas Avenue. The latter served as a main transportation route lined with multicultural businesses. The National Register of Historic Places marker installed at the 800 block of Texas Avenue in 1979 emphasizes this point: “Preserved commercial block dating from between 1899 and 1917. Many early ethnic businesses were housed here, including Black, Jewish, Chinese, and Arab merchants.” Further down the street in the 1000 block lay a major African American district containing the Calanthean Temple, Antioch Baptist Church, and the Star Theater.
Chism’s 45, recorded at Mira Smith’s RAM recording studio, appeared on Clif Hagin’s short-lived label, Clif. Upon its release, Billboard published this colorful review:
(Billboard, July 1, 1957, p. 64)
Outside of his recordings, few other traces of Chism’s Shreveport days have surfaced. Ernest Lampkins recalled playing with Chism at Ernest Palmisano's Supper Club when his band’s regular drummer was unavailable. Lampkins also remembered a period when Chism disappeared for awhile. Then, while driving past the penal farm prison on West 70th Street, he spotted Chism picking beans near the road. He stopped the car and called out “Chico!” Chism responded, “Get me outta here, I ain’t did nothing!” A prison guard cut the conversation short by yelling “Get to work over there!”
Only one photograph of Chism has surfaced from his Shreveport days. It depicts him playing in a band on a KTBS television show titled “Jockey Jim’s Sepia Showcase.” James Randolph Waters (aka Jockey Jim) lived in Shreveport during the 1950s and spun records over KANV, KANB, and KOKA. The undated photo appears in Willie Burton’s book The Blacker the Berry: A Black History of Shreveport. (Shreveport, La: The Times, 2002).
Chism appears to have left Shreveport in the 1960s. By the 1970s, he was living in Chicago, and worked as Howlin’ Wolf’s last drummer. In 1986, he relocated to Phoenix, where he continued to play music until he passed away on January 28, 2007. These later years are well-documented by his friend Bob Corritore at “Chico Chism Remembered” , “Chico Chism Photos” , “Chico Chism Photo Remembrances” , and “More Chico Chism Remembrances.”
For those seeking a copy of “Hot Tamales and Bar-B-Que” without the pops and scratches, check out the compact disc Red River Blues (Ace 725).