He was born in Texas in 1936 and given the impressive name of Obediah Donnell Jessie. His piano-playing mother Malinda provided early musical inspiration, and he was related, on Malinda’s side of the family, to the legendary blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson.
At the age of 10, Jessie moved with his family to Los Angeles. There he studied music and formed a vocal group called the Debonairs. The group’s members also included one Richard Berry who went on to become famous as the songwriter who penned the classic “Louie Louie,” and was the first to record it.
Jessie was a songwriter himself, and in 1953 the group recorded his song “I Had a Love.” The Debonairs were renamed the Hollywood Blue Jays for the record release. Before long, the Debonairs who had become the Hollywood Blue Jays were renamed again. This time they called themselves the Flairs and they got a deal with Modern Records, a label run by Saul, Jules, and Joe Bihari.
It was only a year later that Jessie signed a solo deal with the producers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller and began recording under the name Young Jessie. The name derived from the fact that despite the fact that Jessie was only 17 years-old, he sounded like a grown man of 40 when he sang in his deep baritone voice. The Biharis, anxious to succeed in the nascent rock and roll market, didn’t want anyone to think that Jessie was old.
It was in 1955 that Jessie had his greatest success such as it was. That year he released his single “Mary Lou,” and although it wasn’t a hit, it inspired cover versions by Ronnie Hawkins, the Steve Miller Band, Bob Seger, and Frank Zappa among others. The following year Jessie went to New York and recorded a song called “Hit, Git, and Split” that he had written with Buck Ram. Guitarist Mickey Baker was featured on the track.
In 1957, Jessie found himself singing background vocals for the Coasters, and he appeared on two of the group’s biggest hits, “Young Blood,” and “Searchin’.” He also sang on records by the Crescendos and Johnny Morisette and wrote songs for artists like the Chargers and Jimmy Norman. In 1957 he returned to the studio with Lieber and Stoller and released “Shuffle In the Gravel”/”Make Believe” on the Atlantic Records subsidiary Atco.
Jessie proved to be a versatile if not overly successful singer from a commercial perspective. He sang jazz for Capitol Records. He made novelty records like “Be Bop Country Boy” for Mercury Records. And he released soul ballads like “Make Me Feel a Little Good” on the Vanessa label. Jessie stayed busy, but chart success continued to be elusive. In 1972 he released a single under the name Obe Jessie & The Seeds Of Freedom. “Who’s The Blame” b/w “Beautiful Day My Brother” was released on Stone Dogg Records and was Jessie’s final single to date.
After that, Jessie turned almost exclusively to jazz, touring with the Obie Jessie Combo and releasing albums like What Happened To Jr. in 1995, and Here’s To Life in 2002. His most recent album, New Atmosphere, was released in 2009.
As an interesting side note, Jessie has a brother named DeWayne who became an actor. DeWayne is best known for his role as bandleader Otis Day in the film Animal House.
Now listen to that great record from 1955 below.