Tin Roof Blues

1923© Music by New Orleans Rhythm Kings and Lyrics by Walter Melrose

Walter Melrose * ??
† ??

First recorded by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Richmond, Indiana, March 12-13, 1923.
Said to be an early blues riff by legendary New Orleans cornetist Buddy Petit, the theme was called ‘Rusty Nail Blues’ around New Orleans. The verse is a 12 bar blues statement leading to the famous riff that is also a 12 bar blues form. This is the melody that has been renamed a number of times: “Jazz Baby Blues” in 1926, “Make Love To Me” in 1950 as recorded by Kay Starr.i1

The Tin Roof Cafe at Washington street and Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans was converted into a vinegar factory around 1910. Tin Roof Blues began life, according to George Brunies, as a routine the NORK often did at the Friars’ Inn. Their name for it was The Rusty Rail Blues until Walter Melrose came along looking for publishable properties. “He liked the tune,” Brunies said, “gave us a $500 advance on it,” and said `You don’t mind if I do anything with it do you?'” But he needed a better title, something evocative of New Orleans. So they named it after the Tin Roof Cafe on Baronne Street Back home, later known as the Suburban Gardens. They put all their names on it, “because we didn’t figure it was going to do anything.” A generation later, with a new title and lyric and an eight-bar release added, it hit the 1953 pop charts as Make Love to Me (sang by Jo Stafford made it a second place in 1954) much to the surprise of the surviving musicians–though the presence of eight names on the composer credits (including that of Melrose) guaranteed that no one person would get rich on royalties. Bill Norvas and Allan Copeland added the new lyric in 1954.
Because the melody of Tin Roof bears some resemblance to one strain of Richard M. Jones’s Jazzin’ Babies Blues as recorded by King Oliver, it has been suggested that NORK stole the number. NORK, however, recorded their tune first and Jones did not copyright Jazzin’ Babies until early 1924. In any case, Tin Roof and Jazzin’ Babies are melodically quite dissimilar.i2

I have seen, the bright lights burning up and down old Broadway,
Seen ’em in gay Havana, Burmingham, Alabama, and say,
they just can’t compare with my hometown New Orleans,

’cause there you’ll find the old Tin Roof Café,
where they play the blues ’til break of day.
Fascinatin’ babies hangin’ ’round,
dancin’ to the meanest band in town,
Lawd, how they can play the blues.
and when that leader man starts playin’ low,
folks get up and start to walk it slow,
Do a lot of movements hard to beat,
’til that old floorman says “Move your feet”,
Lawd, I’ve got those Tin Roof Blues.

Ev’ry day, my baby writes to me and says, Daddy please,
don’t keep your mamma grievin’, tell me you’ll soon be leavin’ and please,
bring your dancin’ shoes and come on back to me