Herman Poole Blount lived a more interesting life under the name Sun Ra than anyone you know, it’s safe to say. To make money on the side, Sun Ra used to record novelty albums as a session keyboardist. In the mid-1950s there was a DJ in Chicago named Edward O. Bland who was a big Sun Ra fan right from the very start; in 1959 he used Sun Ra for a movie he put out called Cry of Jazz. A few years later Bland was getting steady work as an arranger, and, according to John F. Szwed in his book Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra, he would consistently use Sun Ra and the members of his Arkestra as often as he could.
One such gig came in 1963, for an album intended to cash in on the limbo fad, which had actually been kicked off in 1957 by a James Mason movie called Island in the Sun that had been filmed in Barbados and Grenada. The movie introduced western audiences to the Trinidadian dance that involved walking underneath a horizontal pole, eventually by bending far backwards as the pole was positioned lower and lower on successive attempts, but it was likely Chubby Checker’s 1962 single “Limbo Rock” that truly set the limbo craze in motion.
A few months later Bland recruited Sun Ra and several of his Arkestra players to accompany Roz Croney on her album How Low Can You Go?. Specifically, Sun Ra played organ on the album, and four longtime Arkestra conspirators also play on it: Marshall Allen (alto sax), John Gilmore (bass clarinet), Ronnie Boykins (bass), and Pat Patrick (baritone sax and flute).
Being a novelty album, almost every song title mentions the word limbo by name (the only one that doesn’t is the cover of “Whole Lot of Shaking Going On,” as the title is schoolmarmishly rendered on the album sleeve). Sample titles include “Kachink Limbo,” “Loop De Loop Limbo,” and “Doggie In The Window Limbo.”
On this Organissimo forum, a user tosses out the delicious idea that “Roz Croney” was a gag name, intended to signify “Ra’s cronies,” but alas, a 1961 article in Ebony about the actually existing native of Granada (one page reproduced below) shoots down that inventive theory.
We’ve posted three tracks from the album for you, but there’s more out there on YouTube.
“It’s Limbo Time”:
“The Limbo Queen”:
“How Low Does Lulu Limbo?”
Here’s the first page of the Ebony article on Roz Croney, which appeared in the March 1961 issue:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Limber limbo: How low can you go?
‘A Joyful Noise’: Cheer up with the gleefully cosmic philosophy of Sun Ra