Vocalion 14848 – Uncle Dave Macon – 1924

Uncle Dave Macon in a characteristic pose, as pictured in Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon, 1938.

With a stage persona that brought rural electrification to Tennessee early, the legendary “Dixie Dewdrop,” “King of the Hillbillies,” Uncle Dave Macon, has been called the “grandfather of country music” (Jimmie Rodgers, of course, being the “father”), and that’s no stretch; his energetic renditions of old time minstrel ditties and jubilant sacred songs made him an enduring and beloved favorite of Southern listeners from the dawn of radio entertainment until the early 1950s.

David Harrison Macon was born on October 7, 1870, five miles south of McMinnville, Tennessee in small settlement of Smartt Station, son of Martha and Confederate veteran John Macon.  In 1884, the Macons purchased a hotel and moved to Nashville.  While there, the young Dave learned banjo from circus performer Joel Davidson.  After his father was murdered in ’86, Macon and his mother sold the hotel and took up in Readyville.  His mother ran a stagecoach inn there, and Dave used his musical proclivities to entertain guests.  Soon after, Macon started a mule train, which lasted until the automobile killed off business in 1920.  The next year, Macon was hired for his first professional musical engagement.  In 1923, Macon was “discovered” by Marcus Loew of the famous theater chain of the same name, and brought into the world of processional vaudeville.  Joining with fiddler Sid Harkreader, Macon’s act became a hit, and the Sterchi Brothers Furniture Company arranged a recording session for them with Vocalion in July of 1924.  Late in 1925, the fledgling radio station WSM in Nashville started their Barn Dance program to compete the successful show of the same name on Chicago’s WLS, and Macon became one of the first stars of what would later become known as the Grand Ole Opry.  In 1927, he formed the Fruit Jar Drinkers with the McGee Brothers and Mazy Todd.  After recording for Vocalion from 1924 to 1929, Macon recorded only sporadically in the 1930s, with sessions for Okeh in 1930, the Starr Piano Company’s Champion in 1934 (try to find those records!), and Victor’s Bluebird in 1935 and 1938.  Despite slacking off in recording, Uncle Dave continued to perform live for many years.  In 1940, he appeared in the Republic Pictures film Grand Ole Opry, accompanied by his son Dorris.  Uncle Dave Macon played his last performance on March 1, 1952, and died three weeks later, on the twenty-second, at the age of eighty-one.  His life is celebrated annually with “Uncle Dave Macon Days” in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Vocalion 14848 was recorded on July 8 and 9, 1924 in New York City, “Sung and Played by Uncle Dave Macon (Banjo)”.  It was shortly afterward issued on Vocalion 5041, in their “Hillbilly” series.  It is comprised of his first and sixth recorded sides, and was his second issued record.

The first side he ever recorded, “Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy” is one of Uncle Dave’s most iconic pieces, and perhaps his best remembered in this day and age.  Fourteen years later, the song was published in his official songbook, Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon.

Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy, recorded July 8, 1924 by Uncle Dave Macon.

On the reverse, Uncle Dave plays and sings “Papa’s Billie Goat”, a cover of fellow country music pioneer Fiddlin’ John Carson’s recording of the previous year.

Papa’s Billie Goat, recorded July 9, 1924 by Uncle Dave Macon.

Vocalion 14926 – Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra – 1924

I always say, “good jazz is the best medicine¹.”  Whenever I have an ache or pain, it always helps take the edge off, and when I’m feeling blue, a hot tune will really pep me up!  Few records can do it better than this one, one of the great masterpieces from Louis Armstrong’s period with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra.  With Armstrong in the mix, the band, also consisting of greats like Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, and Don Redman, was just about unbeatable.

Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra in 1925. Pictured left to right: Howard Scott, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Dixon, Fletcher Henderson, Kaiser Marshall, Buster Bailey, Elmer Chambers, Charlie Green, Ralph Escudero, and Don Redman. From Jazzmen, 1938, courtesy of Fletcher Henderson.

Vocalion 14926 was recorded October 30, 1924 in New York and pressed in that red shellac.  The always outstanding lineup of Henderson’s orchestra consists of Louis Armstrong, Elmer Chambers, and Howard Scott in the trumpet section, Charlie Green on trombone, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Don Redman on clarinet and alto sax, Coleman Hawkins on clarinet and tenor sax, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Charlie Dixon on banjo, Ralph Escudero on tuba, and Kaiser Marshall on drums.  All band members pictured above play on this record.

“Words” is a fine tune—I have no complaints—but it cannot begin to approach the masterpiece on the other side of the disc.  (I still would recommend listening to this one too, though!)

Words

Words, recorded October 30, 1924 by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra.

Named not for the city in Denmark, but the tobacco in the States, “Copenhagen” is nothing if not a masterpiece.  Probably my all-time favorite Fletcher Henderson recording.  This is a take “B” of two existing takes, and they really get in the groove.  Is this the greatest jazz record of all time?  Maybe, maybe not, but it is up there.  (In fact, I may be crucified by some for it, but I like this one better than the Wolverines recording with Bix Beiderbecke.)

Copenhagen

Copenhagen, recorded October 30, 1924 by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra.


¹ I am not a medical doctor and therefore not qualified to dispense medical advice.

Paramount 20364 – Boyd Senter – 1924

On November 30, we commemorate the birth of the one and only “Jazzologist Supreme,” the eccentric clarinetist Boyd Senter.

Boyd Senter was born on November 30, 1898 on a farm in Nebraska.  Much like his contemporary Bix Beiderbecke, he was inspired to play jazz after hearing a record by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Like many budding jazzmen, he took up the saxophone and clarinet, and also became proficient on trumpet and banjo.  Senter built his reputation on his novelty clarinet playing, and came to be known as the “Jazzologist Supreme.”  His first session was with Jelly Roll Morton’s Steamboat Four/Stomp Kings/Jazz Kids, which, despite bearing his name, did not feature Jelly Roll Morton.  In 1924, Senter made a number of records at Orlando B. Marsh’s Chicago-based recording laboratories, where some of the earliest electrically recorded discs were being cut.  Following the Marsh recordings, Senter made a series of sides for Pathé before moving to Okeh in 1927, where he was frequently accompanied by Eddie Lang on guitar.  On one session, a redo of his “Mobile Blues”, originally recorded for Marsh, everyone in the studio was reportedly so drunk that the recording was rejected (it was released in Europe, though).  The next year he formed a jazz band dubbed the Senterpedes, which often included the talents of the Dorsey Brothers, Phil Napoleon, and Vic Berton.  Senter and his Senterpedes moved to Victor in 1929, and among other titles, cut a jazz version of Jimmie Rodgers’ “In the Jailhouse Now”.  Senter made his last recordings in Hollywood for Victor in 1930, and continued to play jazz in Detroit until the end of the Swing era, after which he turned to a life of selling sporting goods.  Boyd Senter died in Oscoda, Michigan in June of 1982.

Paramount 20364 was recorded in October of 1924 by Marsh Laboratories in Chicago, Illinois, among the earliest electrical recordings made.  Boyd Senter switches between clarinet, alto saxophone, and trumpet, and is accompanied by Jack Russell on piano and Russell Senter on drums.

First, the Jazzologist Supreme stomps through the raggy “Fat Mamma Blues”.

Fat Mamma Blues

Fat Mamma Blues, recorded October 1924 by Boyd Senter.

Another of his own compositions, Senter next plays “Gin Houn’ Blues”.

Gin Houn' Blues

Gin Houn’ Blues, recorded October 1924 by Boyd Senter.

Brunswick 2569 – Al Jolson with Isham Jones Orchestra – 1924

Al Jolson, circa 1920. From "Swanee" sheet music cover.

Al Jolson, circa 1920. From “Swanee” sheet music cover.

On May 26, we celebrate the anniversary of the “World’s Greatest Entertainer”, Al Jolson’s birth.  From the 1910s to the 1930s, Jolson was among America’s top entertainers.  Here he is with one of the finest bands of that era, that of Isham Jones.

Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in the Russian Empire, and emigrated to the United States in 1894.  His actual date of birth was never known to him, be decided to go with May 26, 1886.  The young Jolson was introduced to show business in 1895, and began performing on street corner with his brother Harry.  By the beginning of the 20th century, the Jolson brothers were working on stage in burlesque and vaudeville, but soon the team broke up, and Al was left working solo.  Jolson made his Broadway debut in 1911 in La Belle Paree, and in 1919, he appeared in Sinbad and introduced “Swanee”, “My Mammy”, and “Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody”.  Jolson also made his first records in 1911, for Victor.  He switched to Columbia Records in 1913, and then to Brunswick in 1924, with whom he remained until picking up again with Decca in the 1940s.

Though he was making hits on stage for over a decade, and in fact had a theater named after him on 59th Street in New York City, his biggest fame came in 1927, when he appeared in the Warner Brothers picture The Jazz Singer, touted as the first talkie (though in fact it was only part talking, and part silent).  After the immense success of The Jazz Singer, Jolson appeared in a string of successful motion pictures, from 1928’s The Singing Fool, to The Singing Kid in 1936, in which he appeared with Cab Calloway.  Jolson was noted for having demanded equal treatment for Calloway, his co-star, during the production of The Singing Kid.  In 1929, Jolson married the young ingenue Ruby Keeler.  Jolson entertained troops overseas during World War II His career wound down a bit in the 1930s, but was revived in 1946 with the smash hit The Jolson Story, starring Larry Parks as Jolson.  With that picture’s success, Jolson began recording again for Decca, making a string of popular discs  Parks reprised his role in 1949 in Jolson Sings Again.  When the Korean War commenced, Jolson insisted upon traveling overseas once again to entertain the troops, though his health was failing him.  Exhaustion and dust inhalation plagued in in Korea, and contributed to Jolson’s death from a heart attack in 1950, his last words were reported as, “Boys, I’m going.”

Brunswick 2569 was recorded January 17, 1924 in Chicago, Illinois by Al Jolson, accompanied by Isham Jones’ orchestra.  Both sides come from Jolson’s first session with Brunswick.  The band likely included Louis Panico on cornet, Carroll Martin and Bud Graham on trombones, Al Mauling on alto sax, clarinet, and oboe, Isham Jones on tenor sax, Artie Vanasec on soprano sax and violin, Leo Murphy on violin, Al Eldridge on piano, Joe Miller on banjo, John Kuhn on tuba and Arthur Layfield on drums.

“I’m Goin’ South” is typical Jolson fare, hammy vaudeville about going back home to Dixie.

I'm Goin' South

I’m Goin’ South, recorded January 17, 1924 by Al Jolson with Isham Jones Orchestra.

Turn the record over, however, and you’ll find one of Jolson’s all time best, one of my favorites, “California, Here I Come”.  This side also features a ukulele solo by the composer himself, Buddy DeSylva.  His 1946 Decca version has got nothing on this one!

California, Here I Come

California, Here I Come, recorded January 17, 1924 by Al Jolson with Isham Jones Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on May 26, 2017.

Regal G 8161 – William Thomas – 1924

I can’t imagine any better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day here at Old Time Blues than with authentic traditional Irish songs, recorded in Britain, and pressed on a Regal by the Columbia Graphophone Company in the United Kingdom.  These two classically Irish songs are sung by “William Thomas” which as I understand it was a pseudonym for the classical tenor Thomas Jackson.

Regal G 8161 was recorded in June of 1924 probably in London, by William Thomas, a pseudonym for tenor Thomas Jackson.  I can’t find any information on the singer, but he appears to have been quite prolific in Great Britain in the 1910s and 1920s.

First, the classic ballad set by Frederic Weatherby to the tune of Londonderry Air, now an unofficial anthem of the Irish people, “Danny Boy”.

Danny Boy

Danny Boy, recorded June 1924 by William Thomas.

Next, another Irish tune, Thomas Moore’s patriotic “The Minstrel Boy”, written in remembrance of some his friends lost in the Irish Rebellion of 1898.

The Minstrel Boy

The Minstrel Boy, recorded June 1924 by William Thomas.