Though perhaps best known as the man who brought into this world such memorable ditties as “Piccolo Pete”, “Harmonica Harry”, and “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (from Dumas)”, among others, maestro Phil Baxter was also a capable pianist and vocalist, and the leader of a successful Southern-based territory jazz band in the 1920s.
Philip Kerley Baxter was born in the small settlement of Rural Shade in Navarro County, Texas on September 5, 1896, twenty miles southeast of Corsicana, the son of Thomas and Lila Baxter, who were at the time making their way via horse and buggy to Palestine (Texas, that is). He served his country in the First World War, and was writing music by 1921 and leading his own jazz band later in the decade. Baxter’s orchestra first recorded in St. Louis, Missouri on October 24, 1925, cutting four titles for Okeh Records, three of which were issued. Around that time, he and Carl Moore published a version of “St. James Infirmary” as “Gambler’s Blues”—Baxter claimed to have co-written the song, but neglected to file for a copyright, which Irving Mills did in 1929 under the pseudonym “Joe Primrose”. Baxter’s orchestra, previously called the “Texas Tommies”, became the house band for El Torrean Ballroom in Kansas City in 1927, broadcasting on KMBC, a post which they retained until 1933. He returned to the recording studio four Octobers after his first session in 1929, when he waxed four further sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, all of which were released that time around, including the noted “I Ain’t Got No Gal Now”. Following the Dallas session, Baxter made no further commercial recordings, though a few home recordings have turned up (which are, most unfortunately, not part of the Old Time Blues collection). The Baxter orchestra continued into the middle of the 1930s. In his later years, his music was hindered by arthritis. Phil Baxter died on November 21, 1972 in Dallas.
Victor V-40160 was recorded on October 20, 1929 in the ballroom of the Park Hotel in Dallas, Texas. The band’s roster includes Ray Nooner and Al Hann on trumpets, Al Jennings on trombone, Ken Naylor on clarinet and alto saxophone, Jack Jones on alto sax, Thurmond Rotroff on tenor sax, Davy Crocker on accordion, Phil Baxter on piano, Joe Price on banjo and guitar, Pop Estep on tuba, and Marion Flickinger on drums. Baxter sings the vocals on both sides. Perhaps only a regional release without nationwide distribution—though it appeared in Victor’s catalog for Old Familiar Tunes—it is said to have sold only a few hundred copies. As such, it—along with the other Baxter Victor—made it into the honorable mentions (or rather “Conspicuous Omissions”) section of 78 Quarterly’s series on the “Rarest 78s.”
First, the band plays the magnificent “I Ain’t Got No Gal Now”, a real tour de force, perhaps my favorite jazz side of them all. The band plays here in a style all their own, mellow yet hot, with a loose sort of sound, with accordion that was obligatory in Texas dance bands of the era. Simply a masterpiece!
On the reverse, they play a delightful Texas themed number: “Down Where the Blue Bonnets Grow”, another excellent ditty, and with even more accordion!