Okeh 4890 – Fiddlin’ John Carson – 1923

If there is a figure more deserving of the title of “Father of Country Music” than Jimmie Rodgers, one such contender is Fiddlin’ John Carson, who, while not the first to make records of what could be called “country music,” was undoubtedly one of the first to find great success doing it.

John William Carson was born in the north of Georgia—county of Cobb or Fannin—on the twenty-third of March, though there is dispute as to which year, probably 1874, though some sources suggest 1868 (earlier census documents, as well as his death certificate, agree with the later date, while later ones support the earlier year).  Before turning to life as a musician, Carson found work on the farm and railroad, as a jockey, making moonshine, and in an cotton mill.  In 1913, Carson participated in the first Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers’ Convention, coming in fourth in the fiddling contest.  He went on to take home first prize from the Convention a total of seven times between 1914 and 1922, earning him the nickname “Fiddlin’ John”.  In the cradle days of radio broadcasting, Carson made his debut on the Atlanta Journal station WSB on September 9, 1922 to great public acclaim.  Soon after, he was noticed by Atlanta furniture dealer and Okeh record distributor Polk C. Brockman, who spotted Carson in a newsreel of a fidders’ convention, and persuaded Okeh record man Ralph S. Peer to record the fiddler.  On the fourteenth of June, 1923, Fiddlin’ John Carson made his first record at 24 Nassau Street (now 152 Nassau Street NW) in Atlanta, cutting only three sides, the first of which was unreleased and presumably destroyed.  Peer reportedly thought the two tunes were “plu-perfect awful,” but released the record nonetheless, and was surprised when sales took off like a skyrocket.  Whatever Peer’s personal taste, he was too smart to pass up a sure thing, and it was clear that the people wanted what Carson had to offer.  Before Carson’s recording career began, fiddlers Don Richardson and A.C. “Eck” Robertson had made records of “country” music, in 1914 and 1922 respectively, but both did so only sporadically and without enormous success.  Carson, on the other hand, began recording prolifically in the wake of his debut session.  Five months after cutting his first two sides, Fiddlin’ John traveled to New York City for another session, this time laying down a total of twelve sides, a number of which, like “You Will Never Miss Your Mother Till She’s Gone” and “Be Kind To a Man When He’s Down”, achieved considerable success.

Though far from the most skilled fiddler or talented singer, Carson appealed to record-buyers of the 1920s with his folksy manner and archaic sound that evoked memories of simpler times, which many longed for in the days of fast living, T-Model Fords, and New South industrialization.  Carson was also politically active within his state of Georgia, and used his music as a tool to further those ends, such as to promote the populist Democrat Tom Watson, or to condemn the accused Leo Frank for the 1913 murder of thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan.  He continued to record for Okeh until 1931, producing a total of 155 sides, of which all but seventeen were released.  Many of those featured his daughter Rosa Lee Carson, better known as Moonshine Kate, and band the Virginia Reelers.  Three years after concluding his engagement with Okeh, Carson went to Camden, New Jersey, to begin a new series of recordings for RCA Victor’s Bluebird label, an arrangement which only lasted but two consecutive sessions in February of 1934.  In those two marathon sessions, Carson, with Moonshine Kate, guitarist Bill Willard, and banjoist Marion “Peanut” Brown, recorded twenty-four sides, all of which but four were released, many of which were re-dos of his popular Okeh recordings.  Thereafter, he retired from professional musicianship.  In his later years he worked as an elevator operator in the state capitol of Georgia.  Fiddlin’ John Carson died in Atlanta on December 11, 1949.

Okeh 4890 was recorded around June 14, 1923, in Atlanta, Georgia.  These are takes “B” and “A”, respectively, both the earlier of two released takes of each side (only the latter of which are listed as issued in the DAHR).

Firstly we hear Carson’s history-making performance of the once-popular 1871 minstrel song by Will S. Hays: “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane”.

The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane, recorded c. June 14, 1923 by Fiddlin’ John Carson.

Nextly, Fiddlin’ John delivers an equally rustic performance of “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow”.

The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow, recorded c. June 14, 1923 by Fiddlin’ John Carson.

Okeh 4918 – King Oliver’s Jazz Band – 1923

Though unquestionably a truly legendary figure in the history of jazz, the legacy of Joe Oliver has been overshadowed that of his foremost disciple: Louis Armstrong.  But to some of us moldy figs, Joe Oliver is still king.

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band around 1923.  From left to right: Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, Honoré Dutrey, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Lil Hardin, and Bud Scott.  Pictured in Jazzmen, 1939.

Joseph Nathan Oliver was born in Aben, Louisiana and moved to New Orleans in his youth.  The date of his birth is uncertain, but December 19, 1881 is the most probable candidate; the same date in 1885, and May 11, 1885 have also been posited.  At first taking up the trombone, Oliver soon switched to cornet.  As a youth, Joe Oliver lost sight in his left eye in a fight, and often played with a derby hat tipped down over it.  He won the title “King” of New Orleans cornettists, which had earlier belonged to Buddy Bolden, from Freddie Keppard one night in 1916.  Oliver took up in Chicago in 1919 and founded his famous Creole Jazz Band, soon becoming a fixture in the Windy City.  In 1922, he sent for his young protégé Louis Armstrong, who was back home in New Orleans, to join him in the city.  King Oliver’s Creole Jazz band waxed their first phonograph record sides for the Starr Piano Company, makers of Gennett records, in their famous “shack by the track” in Richmond, Indiana on April 5, 1923.  They made a total of thirteen sides for Gennett before moving on to record fifteen more for Okeh, four for Columbia, and three for Paramount, before breaking up in 1924.  Thereafter, he recorded some landmark duets with Jelly Roll Morton for Marsh Labs in Chicago in 1925, and soon started a new band, the Dixie Syncopators, which began recording for Brunswick/Vocalion in 1926.  The Dixie Syncopators, which at various times included Luis Russell, Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, and other luminaries, stuck together until the end of 1928, after which Russell took over the reins.  In 1927, at the height of his success, Oliver was offered the position of house bandleader at Harlem’s Cotton Club, but he declined, hoping to hold out for more money.  Instead, the gig went to Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.  On the side, Oliver also recorded occasionally as a sidemen with jazz bands such as Clarence Williams’ various orchestras and Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang‘s Gin Bottle Five, and with blues singers like “Texas” Alexander, Victoria Spivey, and Lizzie Miles.  Thanks in no small part to his penchant for sugar sandwiches washed down with a bucket of sugar water, Oliver by this time had developed gum disease, which limited his ability to play cornet.  Nonetheless, he signed with Victor in 1929 to record with a new orchestra, which often featured his nephew Dave Nelson, though his own involvement was frequently relegated to directing.  In 1931, Oliver went back to Brunswick for three final sessions, from which the last three titles were released on Vocalion under the pseudonym “Chocolate Dandies”, and he never recorded again.  He continued to tour with a band until money ran out, leaving him broke and stranded, in a Savannah, Georgia, where he found work as a janitor in a pool hall.  Joe Oliver died penniless of arteriosclerosis on April 10, 1938

Okeh 4918 was recorded June 23, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois.  King Oliver’s (Creole) Jazz Band consists of Joseph “King” Oliver and Louis Armstrong on cornets, Honoré Dutrey on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Hardin on piano, Bud Scott on banjo, and Baby Dodds on drums.

A re-doing of the same tune King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band originally recorded for Gennett in April of 1923, “Dipper Mouth Blues”, composed by Oliver and Armstrong is certainly the group’s most famous efforts.  Oliver famous cornet solo beginning one minute and seventeen seconds into the recording was hugely influential to the genre, and frequently imitated in subsequent years.  After Louis Armstrong left the band, he took “Dipper Mouth” with him to Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, and the piece was re-arranged by Don Redman and recorded as “Sugar Foot Stomp”.  Henderson kept the piece in his repertoire after Armstrong’s departure and recorded it at least thrice more.

Dipper Mouth Blues

Dipper Mouth Blues, recorded June 23, 1923 by King Oliver’s Jazz Band.

On the reverse of this disc is Lil Hardin and Louis Armstrong’s composition: “Where Did You Stay Last Night?”.  Armstrong kept the tune in his repertoire and in later years performed it with his All-Stars.

Where Did You Stay Last Night?

Where Did You Stay Last Night?, recorded June 23, 1923 by King Oliver’s Jazz Band.

Victor 19212 – Ted Weems and his Orchestra – 1923

115 years ago today, the prolific bandleader Ted Weems was born.  He had hits with “Piccolo Pete” and “Heartaches”, and co-wrote such songs as “Oh, Mo’nah” and “Jig Time”.   In commemoration of the occasion, here is his first record.

Weems was born Wilfred Theodore Wemyes on September 26, 1901 in Pitcairn, Pennsylvania.  He began his musical path when he entered a contest to win a pony, but wound up with a violin instead.  He later took up the trombone as well.  Weems organized his first band while in school, and did so again in college with a more professional group that took professional engagements at hotels and restaurants.  In 1921, Weems’ band played at the inauguration of President Warren G. Harding.  The Weems band made their first record in 1923 for the Victor Talking Machine Company, with whom they continued to record for the next ten years.  After leaving Victor, the Weems band recorded for Columbia, and then Decca.  Like many bands and musicians of that day and age, much of their success was found on the airwaves.  During the war, Weems joined the Merchant Marines and led their band.  After a period of relative dormancy, Weems’ popularity was revived in 1947 when a North Carolina disc jockey played his uptempo rumba recording of “Heartaches” from 1933, which was met with unexpected enthusiasm from the public.  After that unexpected success, Victor reissued the record, and Decca followed suit with a reissue of their recording of the same tune that Weems had cut in 1938, both of which became hits.  Weems organized a new band, which stayed together until 1953.  Ten years later, in 1963, Ted Weems died of emphysema.

Victor 19212 was recorded on November 20, 1923 in Camden, New Jersey, the first sides ever cut by Ted Weems’ Orchestra.  Both sides were originally made as tests, but must’ve impressed the higher-ups, as they wound up being assigned masters and issued.  The band consists of Art Weems and Paul Creedon on trumpets, Ted Weems on trombone, Norman Nugent and Walter Livingston clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, and bass sax, Francis Buggy on clarinet, soprano sax, and tenor sax, Charles Gaylord on violin, Reuel Kenyon on piano, Weston Vaughan on banjo, George Barth on tuba and string bass, and Cecil Richardson on drums.

First up, Weems’ band plays the western-themed “Covered Wagon Days”.

Covered Wagon Days

Covered Wagon Days, recorded November 20, 1923 by Ted Weems and his Orchestra.

On the reverse, they play a superb instrumental rendition of the old standard “Somebody Stole My Gal”.

Somebody Stole My Gal

Somebody Stole My Gal, recorded November 20, 1923 by Ted Weems and his Orchestra.

Columbia 13001-D – Bessie Smith – 1923

I often notice that there’s no balance between the jazz and the and the blues (and country) that’s posted here, unfortunately the category for blues tunes on this site is terribly barren and bereft.  What better way to remedy that than with the aid of the Empress of the Blues herself, Madam Bessie Smith.  Here Bessie sings two fine songs on one of Columbia’s first issues in their series dedicated to “race records”, pressed with their beautiful “flags” label design.

Columbia 13001-D was recorded September 26 and October 10, 1923 in New York City and was the second issue in Columbia’s first Race series which ran only from 13000-D to 13007-D in 1923 and was soon abandoned in favor of their more successful 14000-D series.  These sides are two of Bessie’s earlier sides, her twenty-fifth and thirtieth to be precise, and her first in Columbia’s specifically designated “race” series.

First, Bessie moans her way through Sid Laney’s “Cemetery Blues”, backed by Jimmy Jones on piano, and recorded on the September 26 date.  This song was later adapted to the western swing style in 1928 by the Paradise Joy Boys of Dallas, Texas. Sid Laney was apparently a pseudonym used by prolific piano roll player J. Lawrence Cook.  Does that mean this piece was written by Cook, or was there a real Laney?

Cemetery Blues

Cemetery Blues, recorded September 26, 1923 by Bessie Smith.

On the flip, Bessie sings Lovie Austin’s “Any Woman’s Blues”, accompanied on piano by the great Fletcher Henderson, recorded on the October 10 date.

Any Woman's Blues

Any Woman’s Blues, recorded October 10, 1923 by Bessie Smith.

Gennett 5225 – William Jennings Bryan/Westminster Quartette – 1923/1922

Merry Christmas from Old Time Blues!

With 2015 being the first Christmastime we’ve had on Old Time Blues, I think it would be appropriate to start a new tradition, one record to share every Christmas Eve (much in the same way that the fine folks over at Shorpy post that same office party photograph every year). This particular record, made specially by Starr Piano Company for the Christmas season, I think is the perfect one with which to start such a tradition.

Now, on December 25, 2016, 2017, 2018—a whole three years later—Old Time Blues continues in our yuletide tradition of celebrating a very William Jennings Bryan Christmas!

Christmas Greetings from the folks at Gennett Records, and at Old Time Blues!

Christmas Greetings from the folks at Gennett Records, and here at Old Time Blues!

The Lord's Prayer.

Bryan and the Lord’s Prayer, pasted inside the card paper record sleeve.

This record is only one in a series of ten “Christmas Greetings” records issued by the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana, for Christmas of 1923; others included Bryan reciting the 23rd Psalm, a recitation of “Always Christmas” by Wilbur D. Nesbit, movie stars Bebe Daniels and Shirley Mason each extending their Christmas greetings, and the same from Mrs. Henry Gennett herself, among other, mostly spoken word, recordings by notable personalities of the day.  The “B” sides of each featured a Christmas song performed by various singers, bands, and vocal groups.

The “A” side of Gennett 5225 was recorded July 3, 1923, at the Gennett studio of the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana.  The “B” side was recorded in February of 1922, presumably in the same place.

On this very special Christmas Greetings disc, former Secretary of State, three time Democratic Presidential candidate, and esteemed orator William Jennings Bryan delivers a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.  It is one of a handful phonograph recordings made by the orator, others including eleven sides for Victor in 1908, and a couple of others for Gennett made at the same time.  I don’t know about you, but I cherish this rare opportunity to hear the voice of the “Great Commoner” on phonograph record.

The Lord's Prayer, recorded

The Lord’s Prayer, recorded July 3, 1923 by William Jennings Bryan.

On the back of this record, the Westminster Quartette sings a solemn a capella rendition of “Nearer, My God, To Thee”.

Nearer, My God, To Thee

Nearer, My God, To Thee, recorded February 1922 by the Westminster Quartette.

Updated with improved audio on July 6, 2019.