Perfect 11580 – Miss Lee Morse and her Blue Grass Boys – 1925

The lovely Miss Lee Morse, pictured in a 1932 publication.

Long before Bill Monroe ever had his Blue Grass Boys, Lee Morse had him beat to the punch, though with music not remotely similar.  She sang, she yodeled, she played guitar—what’s not to love?

Lee Morse was born Lena Corinne Taylor on November 30, 1897 to to Pleasant John—a Texas Ranger-turned-traveling preacher—and Olive Taylor, the only girl of twelve children.  Her younger brother Glen would go on to be a U.S. Senator of Idaho and run for Vice President in 1948 on the Progressive ticket.  She was touted professionally for her Southern upbringing, but she was born Cove, Oregon, though her family did have roots south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  She made her professional debut in an Idaho movie house in 1918, and later sang at the 1920 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.   Thereafter, Morse was discovered by vaudeville big shot Will King, and left her domestic life behind for a career in show business, adopting “Lee Morse” as her professional name.  Though only five feet and under a hundred pounds, Morse possessed a deep singing voice—much like her younger contemporary Connie Boswell—which recorded well using the acoustical technology that preceded the advent of electric recording, and on her earliest records was credited as “Miss Lee Morse” to ensure that listeners would not confuse her for a male singer.  In 1923, Morse signed with Pathé and began making records, staying with them until switching to Columbia four years later.  On stage, she appeared in the musicals Hitchy-Koo of 1922, and Artists and Models in 1923.  She was slated to appear in 1930’s Simple Simon, but her alcoholism—a problem she may have developed in an effort to combat crippling stage fright—caused her to lose the part to Ruth Etting.  On the silver screen, Morse starred in three shorts, two Paramount: A Million Me’s [sic] and Song Service, and one Warner Bros.: The Music Racket, all in 1930.  Her career slowed down as the Great Depression killed off record sales, and she switched from Columbia to Bluebird in 1933, making two discs for the fledgling dimestore label, then to Decca in 1938, producing another two.  The rest of that decade was largely spent singing in nightclubs to make ends meet.  In the 1940s, Lee hosted a local radio program in Rochester, New York, and she made her final phonograph records for Decca in 1950.  Lee Morse died suddenly and unexpectedly on December 16, 1954.

Perfect 11580 was recorded on May 7, 1925 in New York City.  It was also issued on Pathé 25146.  These mid-1920s acoustic Pathé pressings are afflicted with a background rumble  as a result of their recording process, which entailed mastering it first on a large cylinder, then dubbing it to a disc.  I’ve tried to equalize out most of the rumble without detriment to the quality of the music, I hope the transfers will be pleasing to your ears.

First, Lee sings a jubilant rendition of a “roaring twenties” classic, Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson’s timeless “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby”.  This is perhaps my personal favorite Lee Morse side, and certainly my favorite version of this song.

Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby, recorded May 7, 1925 by Miss Lee Morse and her Blue Grass Boys.

On the “B” side, Morse sings one of her own compositions, “An Old-Fashioned Romance”, and it’s a darn good one at that!  On top of that, what a fine orchestration, topped off with a nice little Chicago-style ride out at the end.  Morse recorded this tune again in 1927, after moving to Columbia Records.  In my opinion, this one is the better of the two.

An Old-Fashioned Romance, recorded May 7, 1925 by Miss Lee Morse and her Blue Grass Boys.

Victor 20502 – Ernest Rogers/Vernon Dalhart – 1927/1925

Ernest Rogers, as pictured in a 1930 Victor catalog.

It’s no secret that I have sort of a thing for obscure—but excellent—musical artists of the 1920s and ’30s (also em dashes, if you haven’t noticed).  One of my most enduring favorites within that category is Mr. Ernest Rogers.  (Funny how so many of my favorite people are named “Rogers”, or some variation on that!)

William Ernest Rogers was born on October 27, 1897 in Atlanta, Georgia.  He was crippled by infantile paralysis at the age of two, but that evidently didn’t slow him down.  He attended Emory University—where he was the champion debater, a member of the glee club, mandolin club, and literary society, and founder of the campus newspaper, the Emory Wheel—and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1920.  After college, Rogers found work as an editor, reporter, arts critic, and features writer for the Atlanta Journal, with whom he remained until 1962.  He married Bertha Turnipseed and they had one child, Wallace.  On the side, Ernest sang and played the guitar, and reportedly served as a performer and announcer on the Atlanta radio station WSB.  His repertoire consisted primarily of vaudevillian material, including such songs as “Steamboat Bill”, “Waitin’ for the ‘Robert E. Lee'”, and “Willie the Weeper”, as well as a few compositions of his own, like “My Red-Haired Lady” and “Let Me Be Your Man in the Moon”.  He made his first record for the Columbia Phonograph Company in January of 1925, during their second field trip to Atlanta, cutting two sides, which were issued.  Two years later, the Victor Talking Machine company brought their recording equipment to Atlanta, and Rogers cut another two sides.  Victor must’ve liked him, because he had two more sessions with them in May of ’27 and February of ’28, producing a further eight sides.  Of the twelve sides he recorded, all but two were released.  Following the culmination of his recording career, Ernest Rogers continued to have success in the literary world, publishing relatively successful books: The Old Hokum Bucket in 1949, and Peachtree Parade in 1956, both compilations of his newspaper columns.  Ernest Rogers died on October 9, 1967 in Atlanta.

An entirely different and unrelated Ernest Rogers recorded “Baby, Low Down, Oh, Low Down Dirty Dog” for John A. Lomax in Angola Prison Farm in July of 1934.

Victor 20502 was recorded in two quite separate sessions: the first side was at the Elyea Talking Machine Co. in Atlanta, Georgia on February 17, 1927, while the second was recorded almost two years earlier in New York City on June 25, 1925.  It was released in May of 1927, and remained Victor’s catalog all the way into 1944.

First, Ernest Rogers sings a classic vaudeville song by the name of “Willie the Weeper”, or in this case “Willie the Chimney Sweeper”.  You may notice more than a passing similarity to Cab Calloway’s famous “Minnie the Moocher”, which drew heavily on the song.  Rogers recorded “Willie the Weeper” at his first session for Columbia, as well—I’ve never heard that version, but I’d assume it’s much the same as this one.

Willie, the Chimney Sweeper, recorded February 17, 1927 by Ernest Rogers.

On the reverse, our ol’ pal Vernon Dalhart sings a perfectly solid rendition of another old vaudeville standby, “Casey Jones”, with Carson Robison on guitar, and harmonica and Jew’s harp played by Dalhart himself.  Say what you will about Dalhart, but this record—both sides—truly is a great piece of Americana.

Casey Jones, recorded June 25, 1925 by Vernon Dalhart.

Victor 19639 – Connie Boswell/Boswell Sisters – 1925

In 1925, the Boswell Sisters had made quite a name for themselves in their hometown of New Orleans.  Three years prior, they had won a talent contest for WAAB radio, which earned them a three day gig at the Palace Theatre.  They were regularly engaged around town, particularly at functions of the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club, whose promotive director had taken a shine to the Bozzies.  It was a YMGC function where the sisters were noticed by vaudeville headliners Van and Schenck, who were at the time playing at the Orpheum.  They loved the Boswells’ act, and promised to pull some strings in their favor when they returned to New York.  Very soon after that, they cut their first record.  E.T. King of the Victor Talking Machine Company was in town with mobile recording equipment, just in from Houston on the first such “field trip” they ever made (though not the first recording session held in New Orleans).  The Boswell Sisters were the first artists to record for Victor in New Orleans, they cut three sides, “You Can Call Me Baby All the Time”, “I’m Gonna Cry (The Cryin’ Blues)”, and “Pal o’ Mine” on March 22, 1925, followed by “Dad” and “Nights When I Am Lonely” on the 25th.  Only two of those five were issued.  Other artists to record on the historic New Orleans field trip were Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys, Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings.  Reportedly the Boswells’ record was mistaken for a “race” record, and as a result kept out of many record stores.  Nonetheless, the sisters were eager to head to Camden and cut a few more, though fate held them in New Orleans until 1928.

Victor 19639 was recorded on March 22 and 25, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  These recordings were made acoustically, shortly before Victor commenced mainstream electrical recording (though they had made several prior to these).  It is the Boswell Sisters first record, as well as their only record made in the 1920s.

Tragically, this record arrived in my possession broken in three pieces, the result of incompetent packing (one of the worst jobs I’ve ever seen), and can be seen on the “wall of shame” on Old Time Blues’ guide to packing 78s.  I couldn’t allow a record this rare and this great to remain in pieces however, so I set about repairing it.  After warming up by repairing two other broken discs, I carefully lined up the grooves, setting the pieces as tightly together as possible, and superglued the edges and run-out to hold it together.  Fortunately, it tracked, and played with clicks.  After transferring, I painstakingly removed every click the cracks caused, and equalized out the rest of the thumps.  The end result exceeded my every expectation of what this broken record could sound like.  A few slight clicks still remain, but I believe you’ll find that it sounds quite clean, all things considered (seeing as it has the equivalent of four cracks to the label in it).

First, in the style of her idol Mamie Smith, seventeen-year-old Connie belts out “I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues)”, accompanied on piano by her sister Martha.  Young Vet joins in later on to help Connie vocally imitate a hot instrumental break.

I'm Gonna Cry (Cryin' Blues)

I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues), recorded March 22, 1925 by Connie Boswell.

Next, all the sisters join in on “Nights When I Am Lonely”, which features the Bozzies’ trademark style of scat known as “-ggling” (that’s pronounced “gulling”).  On this side, they are accompanied on piano by Vitaly Lubowski, who had recorded the previous day with Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys.

Nights When I Am Lonely

Nights When I Am Lonely, recorded March 25, 1925 by the Boswell Sisters.

Regal 9791 – Harry Richman – 1925

Harry Richman around the mid-1920s.

Harry Richman around the mid-1920s.

August 10 once again marks the birthday of one of Old Time Blues’ favorite vaudevillians, Harry Richman.  Last year, we celebrated the occasion with his famous “Puttin’ on the Ritz”.  This time, I offer to you Richman’s first recording ever.

Harry Richman was born Harold Reichman on August 10, 1895 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He began performing by the age of eleven, and was working the vaudeville circuits by eighteen.  After striking out as an act of his own in the early 1920s, he worked his way up, appearing as the star of George White’s Scandals in 1926.  In 1930, he made his motion picture debut in Puttin’ on the Ritz, in which he introduced the famous Irving Berlin song of the same name.  Though his acting career failed to take off, he appeared in four more pictures from 1930 to ’38.  Throughout the 1930s, Richman hosted a radio program, and made a number of popular records.   He was also noted as a record setting aviator, making a famous round-trip flight across the Atlantic in 1936 with Dick Merrill.  In 1938, he married former Ziegfeld girl Hazel Forbes, though they had divorced by 1942.  After his career slowed down in the 1940s, Richman made a number of brief comeback appearances, largely in a nostalgic context.  He published an autobiography titled A Hell of a Life in 1966, and died in 1972.

Regal 9791 was recorded January 30, 1925, most likely in New York.  Unfortunately, though it appears to be in decent condition, it suffers from a very thin, quiet signal, and sounds generally lousy.  In spite of that, the music is still plainly audible.

First, Harry croons “Will You Remember Me”, with guitar accompaniment adding a charming, folksy effect.

Will You Remember Me

Will You Remember Me, recorded January 30, 1925 by Harry Richman.

Richman seems to put on his best Jolson for “California Poppy”.

California Poppy

California Poppy, recorded January 30, 1925 by Harry Richman.

Updated with improved audio on November 13, 2016.

Paramount 12287 – O’Bryant’s Washboard Band – 1925

May 15 marks the possible 120th anniversary of clarinetist Jimmie O’Bryant’s birth, and May 20th will mark the 115th anniversary of pianist Jimmy Blythe’s birth.  Both those musicians play on this record, so I can’t think of a better time to post it.

Like a number of artists in his era and genre, details regarding the life and times of clarinetist Jimmie O’Bryant are few and far between, and the true birth date of the “mystery man of jazz” is uncertain, but when a date is ventured, it is most often cited as May 15, 1896.  O’Bryant was born in either Louisville, Kentucky or somewhere in Arkansas.  He took up the clarinet, playing in a style often compared to Johnny Dodds, and also played saxophone.  In 1920 and ’21, he played with a band called the Tennesee Ten, and later worked with Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, and W.C. Handy.  By the mid-1920s, O’Bryant was in Chicago, where he played with Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders and with his own washboard band, both producing records for Paramount.  On Paramount, he was called “The Clarinet Wizard”.  Jimmie O’Bryant’s promising career was cut short when he died of apparently unknown causes on June 24, 1928.

Paramount 12287 was recorded in June of 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. The outstanding but minimal personnel features the likes Jimmie O’Bryant on clarinet, James Blythe on piano, and Jasper Taylor on washboard.  This disc has a fairly serious crack about half way into the playing surface, but I’ve done my best to digitally remove all traces of the interruption.

“Clarinet Get Away” has been cited as the earliest recorded track to use a riff resembling the one used in Joe Garland’s 1938 composition “In the Mood”, popularized by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra in 1939, which was in turn borrowed from Wingy Manone’s 1930 “Tar Paper Stomp”, but when I mentioned that tidbit on my YouTube upload of this tune, I get chewed out by a commenter calling it a “hoax” and saying that the recording “sounds very derivative”, so you be the judge.  This is take 2, of two issued takes.

Clarinet Get Away,

Clarinet Get Away, recorded June 1925 by O’Bryant’s Washboard Band.

James Blythe’s composition “Back Alley Rub” is more of a slow drag, and for better or worse, sounds nothing like “In the Mood”.  This one is also take 2.

Back Alley Rub, recorded June 1925 by O'Bryant's Washboard Band.

Back Alley Rub, recorded June 1925 by O’Bryant’s Washboard Band.

Updated with improved audio on May 29, 2017.