Victor 19149 – Henry C. Gilliland–A. C. (Eck) Robertson – 1922

This disc bears the distinction of being one of the first records (though not the first) whose contents could be considered “country” music.  However, the pair of musicians responsible for producing these tunes—Henry C. Gilliland and A.C. “Eck” Robertson—almost certainly were the first old time musicians from Texas to make a record.  What you’ll hear here is some of the finest rustic fiddling what am.

Henry Clay Gilliland was born on March 25, 1845 in Jasper County, Missouri.   His family relocated to Texas when he was eight years old, settling in Parker County (home of peaches).  He learned to play the fiddle at a young age from his older brother Joseph, and the two rose to prominence around Weatherford.  When the South seceded, Gilliland enlisted and served in the Arizona Brigade of the Second Texas Cavalry.  After the war was done, he returned home and became known as an Indian fighter and small-time politician.  Alongside talents such as Moses J. Bonner, Gilliland became one of the most prominent Texas fiddlers of his day.

Eck Robertson (back row center, with fiddle) and family. As pictured in 1930 Victor catalog.

Alexander Campbell Robertson was born in Delaney, Arkansas on November 20, 1887 (though his tombstone says 1886).  Like Gilliland forty-some years his senior, Robertson’s family moved to Texas in his early childhood, making their home near Amarillo in the panhandle of the state.  His father was a fiddler-turned-preacher, and many of the other men in his family were also skilled on the instrument.  Unsurprisingly given such a heritage, the young “Eck” soon took up the fiddle himself.  At sixteen, he took off to join a medicine show, hoping to win fame as a musician.  After marrying and settling briefly in Amarillo as a piano tuner, he went on the road once again to play in fiddle contests and vaudeville shows throughout the Southwest.

The two men crossed paths at a Confederate reunion in 1922 in Richmond, Virginia; Robertson was the son of a veteran, Gilliland was a veteran himself.  Together, they played before a crowd of some four-thousand at the convention.  The two fiddlers evidently hit it off, and, with aid from a friend of Gilliland’s in a high place, very soon after traveled to New York to make a record for the Victor Talking Machine Company.  On June 30, 1922, the duo cut four sides, starting with “Arkansaw Traveler”, which, coupled with “Sallie Gooden” (Victor 18956) is often credited as the first “country” music record (though it is debatably not).  The following day, Robertson returned to the studio alone to make six more solo recordings.  Six of those ten sides saw release, only two of which featured Gilliland.  Henry C. Gilliland died on April 21, 1924 in Altus, Oklahoma at the age of seventy-nine, and was thereafter memorialized as the “greatest fiddler in the world.”  Eck Robertson on the other hand continued to perform and record.

In 1929, the Victor company twice ventured into Dallas to record the local talent, and Eck returned to the studio, this time bringing his family along: wife Nettie, son Dueron, and daughter Daphne.  In four sessions that year—one in August and three in October, the last of which was only nine days before the stock market crash that would all but kill off such recording field trips —Robertson recorded a further fourteen sides, five solo, nine with his family, and two with fellow fiddler Dr. J.B. Cranfill (seemingly the same man as the noted Dallas prohibitionist James Britton Buchanan Boone Cranfill, though I can’t find definitive confirmation), which altogether yielded a total of ten issued sides.  From then on out, he maintained that Victor had given him the short end of the stick.  Robertson also performed on Fort Worth’s WBAP from time to time, and he made a reported hundred non-commercial recordings for the Sellers transcription company of Dallas in September of 1940, which appear to be lost today.  Eck Roberton died on February 15, 1975 at age of eighty-eight, in Borger, Texas.

Victor 19149 was recorded on June 30 and July 1, 1922 in New York City, the former being their first session.  It was released on November 30, 1923, and remained in the catalog until 1936.  I found this record in Mineral Wells, Texas, not far from Gilliland’s home town of Weatherford; perhaps it was his own personal copy.

First, both Robertson and Gilliland play a fiddle duet on the classic “Turkey in the Straw”.  Listen closely to the end for a little artifact from the recording studio: a small “bump”.  Could be one of the men setting down his instrument, could be something else entirely.

Turkey in the Straw, recorded June 30, 1922 by Henry C. Gilliland–A. C. (Eck) Robertson.

Next, Eck plays solo on another old time classic, the traditional Texas fiddle tune “Ragtime Annie”.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is truly old time fiddling.

Ragtime Annie, recorded July 1, 1922 by A. C. (Eck) Robertson.

Victor 25523 – Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra – 1937

The nineteenth of November marks the anniversary of the birth of the legendary “Sentimental Gentleman of Swing”—Tommy Dorsey.  I could pay tribute to him with some rare and obscure hot jazz disc from his early days, but frankly, I’d rather commemorate the occasion with my favorite of his records, one of his biggest swing hits.

A young Tommy Dorsey in the 1920s.

The younger of the famed Dorsey Brothers, Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr. was born on November 19, 1905 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, one of four Dorsey children, of whom three survived into adulthood.  Tommy initially took up the trumpet as a boy in his father’s band, and later switched to trombone.  He played both instruments proficiently throughout his career.  Tommy got his first professional gig in 1921, when his brother Jimmy recommended him to replace trombonist Russ Morgan in Billy Lustig’s Scranton Sirens Orchestra, and both brothers played in that band until Jean Goldkette poached them for his own orchestra in 1923.  Tommy made his first recordings with Goldkette in 1924, but remained in the band’s roster—which also famously included the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Joe Venuti, and Eddie Lang—only until 1925, when he left to join the California Ramblers. and began working prolifically as a studio musician.  Before departing, Tommy, along with other members of Goldkette’s orchestra, sat in at the first session of Bix Beiderbecke’s Rhythm Jugglers in 1925.  Both Dorsey brothers joined “King of Jazz” Paul Whiteman’s orchestra in 1927.  He made his first record under his own name in 1928: a pair of trumpet solos on the Okeh label.  The Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra also made their first records for Okeh in 1928, originally strictly as a recording band made up of studio men, an arrangement which continued into the 1930s.  Not long after forming a “real” band around 1934 with a recording contract for Decca, Tommy—always the temperamental one—stormed off the stage in 1935, creating a rift between the brothers.  Thereafter, the brothers split up; Jimmy continued to lead the former Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra for Decca, while Tommy bought out Joe Haymes’ orchestra and began recording for Victor.  Both Dorseys enjoyed great success leading their own orchestras, and the two became leading names as the swing era began.

With “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” as his theme song, Dorsey’s orchestra was known for playing music on sweet side, but he also led a smaller jazz group: the Clambake Seven.  Among the many hits to Tommy Dorsey’s name were “Song of India” and “Marie” in 1937, “I’ll Never Smile Again” in 1940, and “Opus No. 1” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” in 1944, the latter two featuring arrangements by Sy Oliver.  In 1939, Dorsey replaced vocalist Jack Leonard with a young man from Hoboken, who had previously made his first records with the orchestra of Harry James: Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra remained in his band until 1942, when, as things tended to go with Tommy Dorsey, they parted ways acrimoniously.  In 1947, both Dorsey brothers appeared in the biographical picture The Fabulous Dorseys, and in 1953, they finally reunited when Jimmy disbanded his own band was invited to join Tommy’s.  Together once again, they began appearing on television.  Tommy Dorsey died after choking in his sleep on November 26, 1956.  Jimmy took over and led his band until his own death the following year.  Like that of fellow bandleader Glenn Miller, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra continued to operate and perform into the modern day.

Victor 25523 was recorded at RCA Victor’s Studio 2 in New York City on January 29, 1937 in a session supervised by Leonard Joy.  The orchestra is made up of Bunny Berigan, Jimmy Welch, Joe Bauer, and Bob Cusumano on trumpets, Tommy Dorsey, Les Jenkins, and E. W. “Red” Bone on trombones, Joe Dixon on clarinet and alto sax, Fred Stulce and Clyde Roundson alto sax, Bud Freeman on tenor sax, Dick Jones on piano, Carmen Mastren on guitar, Gene Traxler on string bass, and Dave Tough on drums.  It originally appeared with Victor’s “scroll” label, which was discontinued in 1937, this pressing dates to soon after, probably around 1938.  It was Tommy Dorsey’s first big hit with his own orchestra, after his split with brother Jimmy.

On the “A” side, designated a “Swing Classic”, the boys swing the old “Song of India”, originally from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1896 opera Sadko, with an enticing arrangement by Dorsey.

Song of India, recorded January 29, 1937 by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.

On “B”, they play a song that’s truly near the top of my very long list of favorites, Irving Berlin’s “Marie”, with a lead vocal by Jack Leonard, backed by a chorus made up of members of the band—and a solid trumpet solo provided by Berigan.  I tell you, all the really best swing records have Bunny Berigan in the lineup.

Marie, recorded January 29, 1937 by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.

Conqueror 8183 – Dick Powell – 1933

Dick Powell as pictured in Stars of Radio and Things You Would Like to Know About Them.

A star of stage, screen, radio, and records, the 1930s would have been unquestionably more depressing without Dick Powell as a leading man.

Richard Ewing Powell was born on November 14, 1904 in Mountain View, Arkansas.  He began singing as a child, and started out in choirs and local bands.  Soon he got his big break as a vocalist with Myron Schultz’s Midwestern territory band, the Royal Peacock Orchestra.  Not long after arriving in Indianapolis, he joined Charlie Davis’ orchestra.  In 1927, Powell made his first records: “Beautiful” and “Is She My Girl Friend? (How-de-ow-dow)” for Vocalion.  Finding success as a a master of ceremonies, he later relocated to Pittsburgh, and then off to Hollywood.  When Warner Bros. bought out Brunswick Records—the parent company of Vocalion—in 1930, they offered him a motion picture contract.  Thus, he began his ascent to stardom, as a “boy tenor” in musical pictures in the 1930s, then as a hard-boiled tough guy in film noir in the 1940s.  He found early success paired with Ruby Keeler in a string of  musicals: 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade, Dames, and Flirtation Walk, most of which were choreographed by Busby Berkeley.  Later, he went on to portray Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet.  The aforementioned six titles account for only a small fraction of his extensive career in films.  In 1936, Powell married frequent co-star Joan Blondell, and later married June Allyson in 1945.  When television came around, Powell got in on it; he hosted Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre and The Dick Powell Show, respectively, from 1956 to 1963.  Dick Powell died of cancer on January 2, 1963, speculated to have been the result of radioactivity from nuclear testing near the set of the Howard Hughes film The Conqueror in 1956.

Conqueror 8183 was recorded on May 25, 1933 in New York City.  According to Rust, Powell’s accompaniment includes Bunny Berigan, Mannie Klein, Charlie Margulis on trumpet, Russ Morgan or Charlie Butterfield on trombone, Chester Hazlett on clarinet, bass clarinet, and alto sax, and Larry Binyon on tenor sax and flute, among others.  Both tunes are hits from one of my favorite movies, the 1933 (if that much doesn’t go without saying) Warner Bros. musical Gold Diggers of 1933, in which Powell starred.

First, Powell sings a bubbly rendition of “Pettin’ in the Park”, complete with sound effects.

Pettin' In the Park

Pettin’ In the Park, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.

On the flip, he sings Gold Diggers’ big hit: the “Shadow Waltz”.

Shadow Waltz

Shadow Waltz, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.

Brunswick 6074 – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra – 1931

It’s been quite a while since we’ve last heard from our old friend Cab Calloway here on Old Time Blues, but has come time to turn out attention to what may well be his greatest claim to fame—”Minnie the Moocher”.

Cab Calloway and his Orchestra in the early 1930s. Pictured in Of Minnie the Moocher & Me, photograph from Frank Driggs Collection.

With a career spanning more than half a century, it’s no stretch to say that Cab Calloway sang hundreds of songs on record, radio, stage, and screen, but no song is so indelibly identified with him as his own composition “Minnie the Moocher”.  Minnie “messed around with a bloke named Smokey” who “showed her how to kick the gong around”—a euphemism for smoking opium.  Cab wrote “Minnie” early in his career, around 1930, based heavily on “Willie the Weeper”, a popular folk tune and vaudeville favorite that originated in the early twentieth century.  He first recorded it early in 1931, and it became an instant success, spawning close to a dozen covers in the first year.  Becoming his theme song, Cab reprised “Minnie” in Fleischer Studios’ eponymous Betty Boop cartoon the following year, appearing both as himself and rotoscoped as a ghost walrus.  Such a sensation it was that sequels followed, like “Kickin’ the Gong Around”, “Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day”.  Cab’s original Brunswick recording was reissued all throughout the 1930s and onward, and he made new recording more than once, including an unissued Victor recording in 1933, and another for Okeh in 1942 (not to mention recordings made after the 78 era, upon which I’m not qualified to comment).

Brunswick 6074 was recorded on March 3, 1931 in New York City.  Still following the basic roster of their predecessor, the Missourians, Cab’s orchestra is made up of R.Q. Dickerson, Lammar Wright, and Reuben Reeves on trumpets, De Priest Wheeler and Harry White on trombones, Arville Harris on clarinet and alto sax, Andrew Brown on bass clarinet and tenor sax, Walter “Foots” Thomas on alto, tenor, and baritone sax and flute, Earres Prince on piano, Morris White on banjo, Jimmy Smith on string bass and tuba, and Leroy Maxey on drums.

And so now here it is, Cab Calloway’s first ever recording of his theme song, “Minnie the Moocher (The Ho-De-Ho Song)”.  “Minnie had a heart as big as a ‘hay-wale’.”

Minnie the Moocher (The Ho-De-Ho Song), recorded March 3, 1931 by Cab Calloway.

Unlike “Minnie”, Cab’s “Doin’ the Rumba” on the flip-side is all but forgotten.  Nonetheless, it’s still a fine song, with hot, Spanish tinged, playing from the former Missourians.

Doin’ the Rumba, recorded March 3, 1931 by Cab Calloway.

Sentry 4011 – Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals – 1927

Generally, I hesitate to post reissues, I really do.  They’re often dubs, which offer lowers fidelity than the original, and let’s face it: original issues are just more desirable as collectors items.  Sometimes, however, original pressings may be exceedingly difficult to track down, and as nice as it might be have an original, it’s simply more practical to take the reissue.  They have the music on them, after all, and that’s what matters the most.

I’d wanted this record for quite a number of years, on any issue.  The Gennett originals are notoriously rare (and notoriously expensive)—at one time, the 78 Quarterly estimated fewer than five copies in existence—and even the reissue proved for me to be quite hard to find.  Finally, one of my favorite eBay sellers posted this one for sale, so I jumped on it.  I’d go as far as to place it as one of my favorites (though that list could easily run into the hundreds, or thousands).  Much as I’d love to own the original, this circa 1950s reissue is a quite decent dub, and in excellent condition, so it provides beautiful playback.

Hoagy Carmichael pictured in Eddie Condon’s Scrapbook of Jazz.

What makes this one remarkable, and worthy of reissue, is that it contains the first ever recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s now renowned composition “Stardust”.  That Stardust melody first haunted Carmichael while he was on the campus of Indiana University, his alma mater—inspired by the jazz music of Bix Beiderbecke, he began whistling the tune, and ran to get it written down.  After polishing it up a bit, he took it to the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, where he recorded it for their Gennett label with Emil Seidel’s orchestra.  It’s said that Gennett found the recording to be of lesser quality, and considered destroying the masters.  Fortunately, they didn’t and it was released, though the success of “Stardust” was yet to come, the record didn’t sell too well.  Two years later, Carmichael published the song as “Star Dust” (the title has appeared as both one and two words throughout its history) through Mills Music, with lyrics added by Mitchell Parrish.  McKinney’s Cotton Pickers made an early recording in 1928, and Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang cut one in ’29, around the time Carmichael published it.  Isham Jones’ orchestra made a popular recording of the tune in 1930, followed closely by the smash success of the budding Bing Crosby’s rendition in 1931.  The Crosby hit inspired a wave of new recordings of “Star Dust” in 1931.  Since then, that Star Dust melody has haunted our reverie countless times, as it elevated to become one of the most successful songs of the twentieth century.

Sentry 4011 was originally issued on Gennett 6311, recorded on October 28 and 31, 1927 in Richmond, Indiana.  The two sessions featured different bands using the identity of “Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals”: the former included Hoagy Carmichael on piano, doubling on cornet, Andy Secrest and Bob Mayhew on cornet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Nye Mayhew on tenor sax, Mischa Russell on violin, and three unidentified players of guitar, tuba, and drums; the latter session features Emil Seidel’s Orchestra with Carmichael sitting in, made up of Byron Smart on trumpet, Oscar Rossberg on trombone, Gene Woods or Dick Kent on alto sax, Maurice Bennett on tenor sax, Don Kimmell on guitar, Hoagy on piano, Paul Brown on tuba, and Cliff Williams on drums.

Although it was the “B” side of the original issue, “Stardust”, is effectively the “A” side of this reissue (it has the lower matrix number)—understandably so, as it is the tune that made the biggest hit, not only of the two on this record but practically of any two on any record.  This has always been—and I feel I can safely say always will be—my favorite version of the classic.  The original label called this a “stomp,” and while I’m not sure I’d agree with that, it is really a lovely recording, and possesses an almost dreamlike quality that is very seldom paralleled in recorded music.

Stardust, recorded October 31, 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals.

On the other side, Hoagy’s “One Night in Havana”, recorded at the earlier date with the Dorsey brothers in the band, is another really delightful tune, with a similar dreamy air to the previous.  Though it never made quite as much of a hit as “Stardust”, Hoagy thought enough of it to record it a further three times, only one of which was released on the flip-side of the original issue of his “Georgia (On My Mind)”.  This one was also issued on Champion 15420 at the time, but since then, it seems to have received little attention.

One Night in Havana, recorded October 28, 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals.