Hugh Jarrett: Bass singer with the Jordanaires

From 1954 until 1958, Hugh Jarrett sang bass in the quartet the Jordanaires, and his distinctive vocals can be heard on many of Elvis Presley's key recordings, including "Hound Dog", "Don't Be Cruel" and "All Shook Up".

Jarrett grew up with a love of vocal harmony. Born in Nashville in 1929, he sang in gospel quartets and worked on local radio. He admired the Jordanaires, a group which provided vocal backings for the artists on the Grand Ole Opry radio show and toured with country music packages. When, in 1954, their bass singer, Culley Holt, left he was replaced by Jarrett.

At the time, the Jordanaires would go to Chicago each week to perform on a television show hosted by the country star Eddy Arnold. When Arnold played in Memphis, they spoke to the teenage Elvis Presley backstage, who said, "If I ever cut a record, I want you guys singing with me."

The Jordanaires were not involved in Presley's Sun Recordings but they joined him for a television appearance on The Steve Allen Show in New York on 1 July 1956. The following day, they recorded "Hound Dog", "Don't Be Cruel" and "Any Way You Want Me" together. As always, they worked out their vocal parts – the "bop bops" and "doody wahs" – within a few minutes. Elvis was so taken by the results that he asked RCA to put them on the label, even though the Jordanaires were signed to Capitol, and their name appeared on singles starting with "Too Much" in 1957. They also backed Ricky Nelson ("Believe What You Say"), Marty Robbins ("A White Sport Coat") and Ferlin Husky ("Gone").

Jarrett was involved in many of Presley's hit recordings including "All Shook Up" and "One Night" and the Jordanaires are also heard on gospel songs ("Peace In The Valley", "It Is No Secret"), the queasy "Old Shep" and Elvis' Christmas Album (1957). They sang on the soundtracks of Loving You (1957), Jailhouse Rock (1957) and King Creole (1958) and undertook many concert appearances with Presley. Jarrett's last recording with him was "Wear My Ring Around Your Neck" in February 1958, after which he was replaced by Ray Walker.

In 1960, Jarrett joined a radio station, WLAC in Nashville, working as "Big Hugh Baby" and organised many record hops. Briefly, he had some success as part of the Statues, recording "Blue Velvet", and in the late 1960s formed the Hugh Jarrett Singers.

In 1970, Jarrett moved to Atlanta and continued as a DJ, also singing when time permitted. He was modest about his contributions, saying of Elvis, "We had fun, worked very hard and maybe did something that no one else had done."

Spencer Leigh

Hugh Jarrett, singer: born Nashville, Tennessee 11 October 1929; married; died Atlanta, Georgia 31 May 2008.

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