An Edison Needle Type Electric Dance Band Double Feature – 14003 & 14041 – 1929

B.A. Rolfe, as pictured in a 1932 publication.

Thomas A. Edison’s “Needle Type Electric” records—sometimes called “thin” Edisons for reasons self explanatory—were his last hurrah in the record business, before bidding the industry farewell forever.  Unlike his vertically cut, quarter-of-an-inch thick Diamond Discs, they were plain, ordinary shellac 78s, which could be played on any Victrola or like talking machine.  The completely redesigned labels—with an array of lightning bolts striking from the top, framing the name “Edison”, emblazoned in bold, block lettering—represent the pinnacle of late-1920s commercial art.  Thus, like any of the countless extremely short-lived record lines (e.g. Black Patti, Timely Tunes, Sunrise, etc.—all of which, incidentally, also had beautifully designed labels), they are quite uncommon today.

First up, the famed B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra plays “Dance of the Paper Dolls” and “Fioretta”, both sides featuring vocals provided by an uncredited Jack Parker.  Born on October 24, 1879, Benjamin Albert Rolfe, known in earlier life as the “Boy Trumpet Wonder” was a trumpet prodigy who went on to become a popular radio bandleader and Edison recording artist.  During the 1910s and ’20s, Rolfe spent a stretch as a Hollywood movie producer, following which he established his distinguished career as a bandleader.  Notably. he directed his “Palais D’or Orchestra”—named for his own Broadway cabaret—from 1926 until 1928, at which point it became the “Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra” for the remainder of his time with Edison.  Rolfe remained a radio mainstay into the 1930s, appearing in a pair of Vitaphone short films, and leading the B.F. Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra in 1935 and ’36.  B.A. Rolfe died of cancer on April 23, 1956.

Edison 14003 was recorded on March 19, 1929 in New York City.  Both tunes also appeared on Diamond Discs, with “Dance of the Paper Dolls” on 52548, backed with “Hello Sweetie”, and “Fioretta” on 52531, backed with “If I Had You”, both as the “R” side of their respective disc.  This Needle Type record provides a somewhat uncommon opportunity to hear Rolfe’s orchestra on a standard laterally cut phonograph record.  This disc, unfortunately, is a little moisture damaged, causing some noticeable “swishing.”

Dance of the Paper Dolls and Fioretta, recorded on March 19, 1929 by B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra.

Next up, another Edison dance band, the Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra (under the direction of violinist Bernhard Lewitow) plays “Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember” and “Smiling Irish Eyes”, the latter from the 1929 Warner Bros. Vitaphone talkie of the same name, starring Colleen Moore, now a lost film.  I’m not sure who the vocalist is on these, so if anyone could tip me off, I’d be much obliged.  These two are in better shape than the previous, and if you ask me, the music is too; those last two are just too darned dainty.  Edison 14041 was recorded on July 18, 1929, also in New York City.  “Smiling Irish Eyes” appeared on Diamond Disc number 52637.

Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember and Smiling Irish Eyes, recorded July 18, 1929 by Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra Under the Direction of Bernhard Levitow.

Columbia 14258-D – Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band – 1927

Of all the hundreds of bands to record jazz, there were only a relative handful that stayed home in New Orleans instead of traveling away to Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York, and were recorded playing what might be described as pure, unadulterated jazz, perhaps akin to what was played by the legendary Buddy Bolden’s band.  Among the New Orleans hometown bands were those of Armand J. Piron, “Papa” Oscar Celestin, and among the finest of them all, Sam Morgan.

In spite of Morgan’s excellence in music, not much is known about his life.  He was born in Bertrandville, Louisiana in the late part of the nineteenth century—most sources state 1895, others offer the date of December 18, 1887.  Part of a musical family, his younger brothers Isaiah “Ike”, Al, and Andrew also turned out to be musicians.  Sam, like his brother Ike and so many New Orleans greats, took up the cornet.  Morgan grew up playing in the brass bands in Plaquemines Parish, and took up residence in New Orleans in the mid-1910s, where he became the director of the Magnolia Brass Band.  A stroke around 1925 forced a year of convalescence, but he soon returned to music as a member of Ike’s band, the leadership of which soon became his own.  With a sound characterized by a strong reed section at the forefront and a walking bass plucked out on the bullfiddle, Morgan’s band became a popular group in the Crescent City, as Morgan touted in his verse of the eponymous song: “ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout Sammy, ’cause Morgan’s got the best go here.”  Their repertoire consisted of both hot jazz tunes like “Mobile Stomp” and “Bogalousa Strut” (both of which incidentally drew their names from nearby towns) and traditional hymns and negro spirituals like “Over in the Glory Land” and “Down By the Riverside”.  On the side, Morgan ran some kind of a treasure-hunting service.  When the Columbia Phonograph Company made a field trip to New Orleans in April of 1927, Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band cut four sides at Werlein’s Music Store, followed by another four that October.  Morgan continued to lead his band until 1932, when he suffered a second stroke that put him out of music permanently.  Following several years of ill health, Sam Morgan died on February 25, 1936.

Columbia 14258-D—in the “race” series—was recorded on April 14, 1927 at Werlein’s Music Store on Canal Street in New Orleans.  The band consists of Sam Morgan and Isaiah “Ike” Morgan on cornets, Big Jim Robinson on trombone, Earl Fouche on alto sax, Andrew Morgan on clarinet and tenor sax, Tink Baptiste on piano, Johnny Davis on banjo, Sidney Brown on string bass, and Nolan Williams on drums.

On the first side—also the first recorded at Morgan’s first session—is “Steppin’ On the Gas”, a different piece than the 1925 tune of the same name that Jimmie O’Bryant recorded for Paramount.

Steppin’ On the Gas, recorded April 14, 1927 by Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band.

On the reverse, they play another hot Sam Morgan composition: “Mobile Stomp”.

Mobile Stomp, recorded April 14, 1927 by Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band.

A Skillet Lickers Double Feature – Bluebird B-5433 & B-5562 – 1934

Few old time “hillbilly” string bands of the 1920s and ’30s left behind such illustrious and distinguished legacies (and darned good music, too) as Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers.  From their first recordings in 1926, Tanner’s Skillet Lickers established themselves as one of the most commercially successful “hillbilly” bands of the decade.  But as the twenties ceased to roar giving way to depression, the record industry quickly faltered, and so did the recording oriented Skillet Lickers.  The band had their last session for Columbia Records—with whom they had recorded exclusively since their first session—in October of 1931, and broke up thereafter.  Fiddle player Clayton McMichen went on to form his Georgia Wildcats and found success on radio and records through the remainder of the decade.  Come 1934 however, Gid put together a reunion of sorts.  Together with his son Gordon Tanner, old pal Riley Puckett, and mandolin player Ted Hawkins, they traveled to San Antonio, Texas, where the RCA Victor Company was holding a series of recording sessions at the Texas Hotel.  There, they recorded in two sessions on March 29th and 30th a series of twenty four sides, mostly energetic and jubilant dance tunes in stark contrast with the hard times the nation was then facing at the depth of the Great Depression, concluding with two of their classic “skit” records: “Prosperity and Politics” and “Practice Night With the Skillet Lickers”.

Bluebird B-5433 and B-5562 were both recorded on March 29, 1934 at the Texas Hotel in San Antonio, Texas—the same time and place Riley Puckett recorded his famed solo performance of “Ragged but Right” and others.  The former was released on April 18th of that year, and the latter on July 18th.  B-5433 was also issued concurrently on Montgomery Ward M-4845, and B-5562 was reissued widely throughout the following decades on RCA Victor 20-2167 and 420-0569, making it all the way into the 45 RPM era on 447-0569.  The Skillet Lickers are Gid Tanner and his son Gordon Tanner on fiddles, Ted Hawkins on mandolin, and Riley Puckett on guitar.

On B-5433, the Skillet Lickers play two old time fiddle standards, both tunes which they recorded previously in 1930 and ’29, respectively.  First it’s “Georgia Waggoner”, the first side they recorded at the reunion session.  Next, keeping in the same theme, they follow with one of my personal favorites, a high energy rendition of “Mississippi Sawyer”, punctuated by Hawkins’ mandolin.  The band members can be heard talking over the music, lending to an informal atmosphere.

Georgia Waggoner and Mississippi Sawyer, recorded March 29, 1934 by Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers.

On B-5562, the Skillet Lickers first play that old 1921 L. Wolfe Gilbert standby, “Down Yonder” (which we last heard played by an unidentified pianist).  This might just be my favorite Skillet Lickers side; I like their 1934 sound with the added mandolin, even though the old mainstays like Clayton McMichen and Fate Norris are absent.  Then, they play another utterly bright and feel-good tune, the traditional fiddle piece “Back Up and Push”.  Though not credited as such in Russell’s Country Music Records, I’m quite certain Riley Puckett’s voice can be heard on this side, hollering some of the calls (“now ladies in the center and gents catch air, hold ‘er Newt, don’t let ‘er rare”).

Down Yonder and Back Up and Push, recorded March 39, 1934 by Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers.

Okeh 45114 – Frank Hutchison – 1927

The last time we heard from the “Pride of West Virginia”—our old pal Frank Hutchison—he gave us two fine songs, joined on one by Sherman Lawson on fiddle.  Now let’s hear from Frank again with two of his most famous performances, played on slide guitar.

Frank Hutchison was born most probably on March 20, 1897 either in Logan County, West Virginia or Raleigh County but soon relocating to the former.  He later dedicated his “Logan County Blues”, a re-working of the tune called “Spanish Fandango”, to the location where he spent most of his life.  He learned the blues from local black musicians, and was an excellent guitarist, playing in regular style and flat on his lap using a pocketknife as a slide, and also possessed formidable skill on harmonica.  Like fellow folk musician “Dock” Boggs, Hutchison made his living as a coal miner, and only musicianed on the side.  He was said to have been a large fellow with red hair and an extroverted personality, and reportedly walked with a limp, likely a result of an injury in the mines.  In September of 1926, Hutchison became one of the pre-Bristol sessions “hillbilly” musicians on records when he traveled to New York City for a session with the Okeh record company, producing in that session but a single disc.  That was not to be all for Frank Hutchison however, he returned to the city to record again in January of the next year, producing his notable rendition of “Stackalee” included on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and eight other titles.  Thereafter, he continued to record for Okeh, in New York and “on location”, until 1929, ultimately leaving a legacy of more than forty recorded sides in all.  After the conclusion of his recording career, Hutchison moved from Logan County to Ohio, but soon settled in the small town of Lake, West Virginia, where he worked as postmaster and operated a store.  A fire claimed Hutchison’s property in 1942, after which he moved to Dayton, Ohio, reputedly entertaining on riverboats.  Frank Hutchison died from liver disease on November 9, 1945.

Okeh 45114 was recorded on April 29, 1927 in St. Louis, Missouri by Frank Hutchison.  It’s worthy of note that both sides are remakes of his first two sides, which were recorded acoustically on September 28, 1926 and released on Okeh 45064.  In my opinion as well as that, I’m sure, of many others, these sides are considerably better and more polished performances than that original record, in addition to being unquestionably superior quality recordings, technically speaking.

First, Hutchison plays what may well be his most famous song, which earned him the scholarly recognition of being one of the earliest white musicians to play the country blues: “Worried Blues”.

Worried Blues, recorded April 29, 1927 by Frank Hutchison.

On the other side, Frank plays another one of his finest, the classic “The Train That Carried the Girl From Town”.  “Breakfast on the table, coffee’s gettin’ cold, some old rounder stole my jelly roll.”

The Train That Carried the Girl From Town, recorded April 29, 1927 by Frank Hutchison.

Vocalion 04727 – W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys – 1938

On this day, we celebrate the life and accomplishments of one hayseed flour salesman from Ohio whose name went down in the history books: Mr. “Pappy” O’Daniel.

“Pappy”, as pictured on the cover of “Beautiful Texas”.

Wilbert Lee O’Daniel was born in Malta, Ohio on March 11, 1890.  When he was a baby, the family relocated to Kansas following the death of the O’Daniel patriarch.  Lee entered the flour industry at the age of eighteen, and soon went on the move, eventually settling in Fort Worth, where he began working for the Burrus Mill and Elevator Company of Saginaw, Texas as sales manager.  In 1928, O’Daniel became the company’s director of advertising in the newly emerging medium of radio broadcasting.  About three years later, he hired the Wills Fiddle Band, at the time consisting of fiddler Bob Wills, guitarist Herman Arnspiger, and singer Milton Brown, to perform on the air as the Light Crust Doughboys.  Not a fan of their hillbilly music however, O’Daniel canceled their show a couple weeks later.  Fans of the show were not pleased, and soon the Light Crust Doughboys were back on the air.  By 1933, the original Doughboys had parted ways, and a new lineup of musicians had taken over the moniker, going on to achieve great radio acclaim.  In 1935, O’Daniel was fired from his position with the Burrus Mill, and he went on to found his own flour company, the W. Lee O’Daniel Flour Company, manufacturer of Hillbilly Flour.  To promote the new product, “Pappy” O’Daniel formed a new radio band: the Hillbilly Boys, which included his two sons Mike and Pat.  Broadcasting from WBAP in Fort Worth and “border blaster” XEPN in Piedras Negras, Mexico, the Hillbilly Boys also found considerable fame with their madcap radio theme “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy”.

Come 1938, W. Lee O’Daniel registered to run for Governor of Texas—his platform, the ten commandments, and his campaign slogan, the golden rule.  He took his Hillbilly Boys on the campaign trail and drew huge crowds.  Winning the election, he promised no sales tax or poll tax, an end to capital punishment, and an old-age pension.  He delivered on none.  Nonetheless, he proved popular enough and was reelected in 1940.  Shortly into his second term as Governor, O’Daniel set his sights on a more prestigious and powerful position, the United States Senate.  When Senator Morris Sheppard died in 1941, O’Daniel appointed the eighty-six year old son of Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson Houston, to fill his empty seat in the interim.  When Houston himself died several months later, O’Daniel defeated Lyndon B. Johnson in a special election and took the seat for himself.  When the next election came around, he asserted that his opponents, former governors Dan Moody and James V. Allred, were part of a communist conspiracy against him, alienating himself from some of his supporters, but nonetheless claiming the election.  In 1944, he campaigned for the Texas Regulars, opposing Roosevelt’s fourth term.  Serving ineffectively for eight years, O’Daniel declined to run for reelection in 1948—citing the hopelessness of saving America from the commies (though in reality he had simply embarrassed too many of his constituents)—and was replaced by “Landslide Lyndon”.  Thereafter, he retired to a ranch outside Fort Worth, making several ill-fated political comebacks in the 1950s and claiming that the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate schools in Brown v. Board of Education was a communist plot.  W. Lee O’Daniel died on May 12, 1969 in Dallas, at the age of 79.

Vocalion 04727 was recorded in Dallas, Texas on December 3, 1938.  The Hillbilly Boys are Mike O’Daniel on fiddle, Bundy Bratcher on the  accordion, Kermit Whalen on the steel guitar, Pat O’Daniel on tenor banjo, Leon Huff and Curly Perrin on guitars, and Wallace Griffin on string bass.  Huff sings the vocals on both sides.

First: the Hillbilly Boys’ theme song, “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy”, really the 1933 song “I Like Mountain Music” with new words added by W. Lee O’Daniel to reflect his floury interests.

Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy (I Like Mountain Music), recorded December 3, 1938 by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys.

On the other side, the Hillbilly boys do a swell job swinging the 1927 tune “One Sweet Letter From You”.  I bought the record for “Please Pass the Biscuits Pappy”, but I do believe I like this one better.

One Sweet Letter from You, recorded December 3, 1938 by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys.