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Squeeze Me (1925)

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Origin and Chart Information
The song found one of its best interpreters in vocalist Mildred Bailey.

- Chris Tyle

Rank 171
Music Fats Waller
Lyrics Clarence Williams

An obscure 1925 recording by clarinetist Buster Bailey is the inauspicious debut of “Squeeze Me,” but two more recordings that year probably had more to do with establishing the popularity of tune.

In the mid-1920s, the center of the recording industry was New York, although Chicago’s vital music scene and indie companies were putting it in a strong second place. Yet the big recording companies sensed there was talent to be found outside the Big Apple and the Windy City and began sending scouts throughout the country to find new artists. Consequently, cities like Atlanta, St. Louis, and New Orleans that had no recording facilities were visited by portable recording units. Columbia Records, on a visit to New Orleans in September, 1925, recorded the popular local jazz group, The Halfway House Orchestra, led by cornetist Abbie Brunies. Brunies’ band made the first important recording of “Squeeze Me” as an instrumental.

A month later, pianist/bandleader Clarence Williams (credited as lyricist of the tune) recorded a vocal rendition with his wife Eva Taylor singing and Louis Armstrong and tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins as part of the backup group.

The next important recording was made by the hugely popular African-American blues singer Bessie Smith in May, 1926, accompanied by Clarence Williams on piano. Although none of these early recordings were huge sellers, they made enough of an impact that the tune soon began on the bumpy road to being a standard.

The music for “Squeeze Me” was written by Thomas “Fats” Waller, based on an old bawdy blues number entitled “The Boy in the Boat.” Waller’s talent as a pianist and accompanist had been recognized by music publisher Clarence Williams, and Williams encouraged the young man to try his hand at composing. “Squeeze Me” was only his second published piece but his first real success.


More on Clarence Williams at JazzBiographies.com

More on Fats Waller at JazzBiographies.com

Williams’ contribution as lyricist comes into question. At some point in the early twenties Waller had met lyricist Andy Razaf, probably when Waller was entertaining at a Harlem “rent party” (an event celebrated in Waller’s composition “The Joint Is Jumpin’”). The two began writing music together, forming a life-long partnership. In Barry Singer’s biography, Black and Blue: The Life and Lyrics of Andy Razaf, he mentions that Razaf admitted to a journalist in 1960 that he, not Clarence Williams, had written the lyrics for “Squeeze Me.” It’s a plausible story, as Williams was known to be, as jazz bassist George “Pops” Foster put it, “a horse thief.”

The song’s title explains the lyrics, a request to be the recipient of repeated hugs as “cupid is standing nearby.” The song found one of its best interpreters in vocalist Mildred Bailey. At an Esquire Jazz Concert in 1944, Mildred, a rather Rubenesque woman, received a rousing response from the audience when she sang the lines “pick me up, on your knee, I just get you know ooooo when you squeeze me.”

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

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