Jazz saxophonist Louis Jordan, leader of the Tympany Five, made a best-selling recording of the song ‘‘Salt Pork, West Virginia,’’ in 1946. There are at least three versions by Jordan, the most recent recorded by Mercury records, October 29, 1956, in New York. All three versions feature a driving beat, reminiscent of the rhythmic thump associated with rail travel, and each ends with Jordan singing the names of a series of cities much like train conductors did. The cities include Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Birmingham, Atlanta, Savannah, Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami, Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth. Finally, Jordan concludes, ‘‘I think I’ll go on home now; Bluefield, my Salt Pork, West Virginia.’’
Jordan performed in southern West Virginia on several occasions. ‘‘Salt Pork’’ was composed in 1945 by Jordan associates Fleecie Moore and William Tennyson Jr., and memorializes a real-life encounter with a Bluefield justice of the peace, Wallace W. ‘‘Squire’’ McNeal. McNeal’s niece, Nancy (McNeal) Byrd, recalled that McNeal told the family that Deputy J. Earl Bailey had arrested Jordan for speeding and suspicion of drunk driving, offenses that could have resulted in the impoundment of Jordan’s car. During a hearing on the matter, McNeal, Mercer County Democratic Party leader and president of the local Billy Sunday Club, was charmed by Jordan’s sense of humor. He released Jordan, and in return, the singer offered to buy the JP a meal at the city’s finest restaurant. When McNeal declined the offer, Jordan and his sidemen immortalized the episode in song.
Written by William R. Archer