Columbia 14194-D – “Peg Leg” Howell – 1926

One of the great heroes of the country blues (one of R. Crumb’s Heroes of the Blues, at least) is Peg Leg Howell, a musician holding the great distinction of being among the earliest male country blues artists to make records.

Joshua Barnes Howell was born on a farm in Eatonton, Georgia on March 5, 1888, placing him in an older generation of blues songsters to record, alongside the likes of Lead Belly, Jim Jackson, and Henry Thomas.  He learned to play guitar when he was twenty-one, but continued to work on the farm until his disgruntled brother-in-law blew off his right leg with a shotgun (hence the nickname “Peg Leg”).  Thereafter, Howell found work in a fertilizer plant, and later began running bootleg liquor, which landed him in jail in 1925.  After he got out, an A&R man for Columbia Records heard him playing on Decatur Street in Atlanta, and he was invited to cut a record while they were in town.  He recorded a total of four sides on November 8, 1926, amounting to two records.  Howell returned to the Columbia microphone for a further seven sessions between April of 1927 and April of 1929 when the company made field trips to Atlanta, making for another eleven solo sides, eight with his “Gang” consisting of Howell with fiddler Eddie Anthony and guitarist Henry Williams, four with mandolin player Jim Hill, two with Anthony alone, and another two with another fiddler who may have been Ollie Griffin.  He probably also appeared on two additional sides accompanying Waymon “Sloppy” Henry on Okeh in August of ’28, and may have been the unidentified “Tampa Joe” to Eddie Anthony’s “Macon Ed” on another eight sides; if so, it would stretch Howell’s recording career another year into December of 1930.  Following his last record date, Howell continued to play around Atlanta, and went back to bootlegging.  Howell laid his guitar down in 1934 following the death of his friend and frequent musical collaborator Eddie Anthony, and he returned to bootlegging liquor.  In 1952, his other leg was lost to “sugar diabetes.”  Howell was rediscovered eleven years later by a trio of young blues aficionados and researchers—George Mitchell, Roger Brown, and Jack Boozer—who convinced him to make a few more recordings.  After a little practice to get himself back in playing condition, Howell recorded ten final sides for a Testament LP in 1964, including several “re-does” of his old 1920s recordings.  Peg Leg Howell died in Atlanta on August 11, 1966, at the age of seventy-eight.

Columbia 14194-D was recorded on November 8, 1926 in Atlanta, Georgia by “Peg Leg” Howell, accompanying himself on the guitar.  These are Peg Leg Howell’s first two recorded sides, and his second issued record.

First up, Peg Leg sings and plays in Spanish (open G) tuning on the classic “Coal Man Blues”, his first recorded side, and one of his best in my book.  This was one of the ten sides Howell re-recorded in his old age.

Coal Man Blues, recorded November 8, 1926 by “Peg Leg” Howell.

Next, Howell’s “Tishamingo Blues” bears an early utterance of those immortal words “I’m goin’ to Tishimingo to have my hambone boiled; these Atlanta women done let my hambone spoil,” that have come to pervade the blues vernacular from Cab Calloway to Milton Brown, albeit with “Tishimingo” changed to “Chicago” and “Cowtown”, respectively.

Tishamingo Blues, recorded November 8, 1926 by “Peg Leg” Howell.

Victor 20293 & 20507 – Five Harmaniacs – 1926/1927

Styling themselves as cowboys, the Five Harmaniacs were a novelty jug band that had a short-lived but apparently successful run on vaudeville in the middle part of the 1920s.  During that run, they also made a series of recordings for a number of companies in 1926 and ’27.  The group cut their first side, titled “Harmaniac Blues”, in Chicago for Paramount in June of ’26 as the Harmaniac Five.  They followed with four sides for Victor, two for Brunswick, two for Edison, and one for Gennett, all of them recorded in New York.  They also made radio appearances across the United States.

There is conflicting information surrounding the identities of the members of the Five Harmaniacs.  Brian Rust lists Claude Shugart as the jug and washboard player, Jerry Adams on comb, Percy Stoner on kazoo and banjo, with Wade Hampton Durand, Walter Howard, and Ned Nestor filling out the rest of the band, each taking some part on banjo, guitar, harmonica, and ukulele.  The 1978 LP release The Five Harmaniacs – 1926-27 (Puritan 3004) lists an entirely different personnel including Syd Newman on harmonica, kazoo, and washboard, Dave Robertson on harmonica and washboard, Roy King on banjo, ukulele, and jug, Jerry Adams on comb, Walter Howard on guitar, and Claude Shugart on ukulele. Claude Shugart is incorrectly identified in some sources as Clyde, and Wade Durand (incorrectly) as Wayne.  The Mainspring Press asserts that “the usual members of this group were Jerry Adams, Hampton Durand, Walter Howard, Ned Nestor, Clyde Shugart, and Percy Stoner,” with that information apparently recorded in Brunswick ledgers from their session with that company.

C. Shugart is listed as the vocalist on the label of “Sadie Green Vamp of New Orleans”, confirming his presence in the Harmaniacs.  He may have also played kazoo and possibly banjo.  Rust’s identification of Shugart as playing jug is likely incorrect, as jug can be heard during his vocal on “Sadie Green”.  It is also certain that Walter Howard was the vocalist on “What Makes My Baby Cry?”, and surviving evidence indicates that he played the guitar as well.  With Jerry Adams listed on comb in both sources, he most likely did in fact fill that role, and may have doubled on banjo.  It would not have been uncommon in this type of band for each member to have played more than one instrument, and they may have switched back and forth periodically.  As all sources confirm Howard, Shugart, and Adams as members, there is little evidence to cast doubt on their presence, but the identities of the other members are unconfirmed, at least in my research.

Walter Howard was born in 1897 and hailed from Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.  His brother Edgar, who played banjo, was also a musician of some merit.  Wade Hampton Durand was born in Indiana in 1877, and was working in music as early as the turn of the century.  In 1918, he worked as a musical director in Los Angeles, and by 1940, he was an arranger in New York, living in a hotel that played host to a host of other musicians.  Durand died in 1964.  While Durand is confirmed as the co-composer of “Coney Island Washboard” and “Sleepy Blues”, his instrumental role in the Harmaniacs, if any, is uncertain.  It has also been posited that Jerry Adams real name was Harold Whitacre.

The two discs, four sides, featured in this post account for the Five Harmaniacs’ full recorded output for the Victor Talking Machine Company.

Victor 20293 was recorded September 17, 1926 in New York City.  C. Shugart (be it Clyde or Claude) provides the vocals on “Sadie Green Vamp of New Orleans”.  On the other side, they play the first ever recording of the now classic “Coney Island Washboard”, composed by Durand and Adams, with words by Shugart and Ned Nestor, as an instrumental.

Sadie Green Vamp of New Orleans and Coney Island Washboard

Sadie Green Vamp of New Orleans and Coney Island Washboard, recorded September 17, 1926 by the Five Harmaniacs.

The Harmaniacs returned to the Victor studio five months later and recorded Victor 20507 on February 5, 1927.  Walter Howard recites the vocal on the rollicking “What Makes My Baby Cry?”, backed up on the flip with the little bit bluer sounding instrumental “It Takes a Good Woman (To Keep a Good Man at Home)”.

What Makes My Baby Cry? and It Takes a Good Woman (To Keep a Good Man at Home)

What Makes My Baby Cry? and It Takes a Good Woman (To Keep a Good Man at Home), recorded February 8, 1927 by the Five Harmaniacs.

Updated on December 1, 2016 and June 24, 2017.

Vocalion 15498 – Red Nichols and his Five Pennies – 1926

Red Nichols, late 1930s/early 1940s. Down Beat photo by Gordon Sullivan.

Red Nichols, late 1930s/early 1940s. Down Beat photo by Gordon Sullivan.

The eighth of May, 2016 marks exactly 111 years after the birth of jazz cornetist Red Nichols.  Nichols was one of the most popular and prolific jazz musicians of the roaring twenties.  I believe this disc was his first record with his famous “Five Pennies.”

Loring “Red” Nichols was born May 8, 1905 in Ogden, Utah.  Nichols took up the cornet, the primary “jazz” instrument of the day, and was a child prodigy.  Nichols joined a Midwestern jazz band in the early 1920s, and moved on to New York by 1923.  In New York, he met trombonist Miff Mole, with whom he played for many years.  In 1926, Nichols signed with the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, and recorded prolifically with his band, the “Five Pennies,” which often consisted of some of the best white jazz musicians in New York.  Although his records were among the best-selling hot jazz records of the 1920s, musical styles began to change as the Great Depression rolled in, and Brunswick dropped Nichols in 1932.  He continued to record throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, but never saw such fame as he had known in his days of yore.  In 1959, Danny Kaye starred in The Five Pennies, a biographical picture loosely based on Nichols’ life.  At the end of his life, Red Nichols played in Las Vegas, where he died of a heart attack in 1965.

Now this here is one fine jazz record, a real classic.  Unfortunately, it has definitely seen better days.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still got plenty of life left in it, but it’s seen more than its fair share of (probably worn) steel needles.  Nevertheless, I got it on the cheap, and I’m putting it up anyway.

Vocalion 15498 was recorded December 8, 1926 in New York City by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.  It was also issued on Brunswick 3407 and in the “race” series on Vocalion 1069.  The band includes Nichols on cornet, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Arthur Schutt on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, and Vic Berton on the drums.  Though many of his “Five Pennies” groups were actually much larger, this one is true to its name.

First, the Five Pennies play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Washboard Blues”, a tune we last heard sung by the lovely Connie Boswell seven years after this side was cut.  This side starts out a little rough, but never fear, it gets better a little farther on.

Washboard Blues, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

Washboard Blues, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

Nichols’ composition “That’s No Bargain” is a sizzling hot side marred only by some stressed grooves during a loud section in the middle.  Fine modernistic jazz.

That's No Bargain, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

That’s No Bargain, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

Brunswick 3351 – Bud Jackson’s Swanee Serenaders – 1926

On April 10, we celebrate the birthday of Fess Williams, a mainstay of the jazz scene, both in Harlem and Chicago, for the bulk of the Jazz Age.  While Duke Ellington (or maybe Fletcher Henderson) could easily be compared to Paul Whiteman, saxophone player Fess patterned his act more after Ted Lewis, with his “gas pipe” style of playing clarinet.

Fess began life as Stanley R. Williams in Danville, Kentucky in 1894.  He was educated at the Tuskegee Institute, and started his first band in 1919.  In 1923, Fess went to Chicago, and to New York the next year.  His nickname coming from “Professor”, by ’26, he had begun leading his most popular outfit, the Royal Flush Orchestra, with whom he recorded until 1930.  Though he continued to lead bands into the 1930s, his style fell out of fashion with the coming of swing, and he began selling real estate, though he remained sporadically involved in music.  In 1962, his nephew Charles Mingus set up a reunion of sorts for the Fess and the Royal Flush Orchestra in his Town Hall Concert in New York.  Fess Williams died in 1975.

Brunswick 3351 was recorded October 1, 1926 in New York by Fess Williams’ Royal Flush Orchestra under the pseudonym “Bud Jackson’s Swanee Serenaders”.  It was also issued on Vocalion 1054.  The band features George Temple on trumpet, David “Jelly” James on trombone, Fess Williams on clarinet and alto sax, Perry Smith on clarinet and tenor sax, Hank Duncan on piano, Ollie Blackwell on banjo, and Ralph Bedell on drums.  Fess provides the vocals on both sides.

One of the finest sides by Fess Williams’ band (and one of the finest sides in general, if you ask me) is “Messin’ Around”.

Messin' Around

Messin’ Around, recorded October 1, 1926 by Bud Jackson’s Swanee Serenaders.

On the reverse, they play that enduring little ditty, “Heebie Jeebies”.

Heebie Jeebies

Heebie Jeebies, recorded October 1, 1926 by Bud Jackson’s Swanee Serenaders.

Okeh 8312 – Bertha “Chippie” Hill – 1926

It seems wrong that this place called “Old Time Blues” has featured staggeringly few blues records thus far, and after that previous incursion of popular music, I think it’s high time to work some actual old time blues into the schedule.  Here’s a classic record by Bertha “Chippie” Hill featuring the work of a very familiar trumpeter.

Bertha Hill was born in 1905 in Charleston, South Carolina, she entered vaudeville in the 1910s, working with “Ma” Rainey and Ethel Waters in the TOBA circuit and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.  Hill was given the nickname “Chippie” at age 14, referring to her young age at the time.  She entered the recording industry in 1925 and only recorded until 1929, making 23 sides total.  After retiring from music in the 1930s to raise her children, Hill made a comeback in the late 1940s.  Tragically, she was struck and killed by a hit and run driver in New York City in 1950.

On Okeh 8312, a laminated “TrueTone” recorded February 23, 1926 in Chicago, Bertha “Chippie” Hill sings “Trouble In Mind” and “Georgia Man”, accompanied by Richard M. Jones on piano and the incomparable Louis Armstrong on trumpet.

Richard M. Jones’ “Trouble In Mind” is an excellent (albeit melancholy) song, delivered wonderfully by Hill.  The label on this side looks pretty darn bad, but fortunately what actually matters, the playing surface that is, is not too bad at all.

Trouble In Mind, recorded February 23, 1926 by Bertha "Chippie" Hill.

Trouble In Mind, recorded February 23, 1926 by Bertha “Chippie” Hill.

“Georgia Man” is a much lighter-hearted piece, trading the dreary theme of laying one’s head on a railroad line for a more raunchy one involving “jelly roll”.  The label’s a lot prettier on this side, and it might play just a little bit better, too.

Georgia Man, recorded February 23, 1926 by Bertha "Chippie Hill.

Georgia Man, recorded February 23, 1926 by Bertha “Chippie” Hill.