Okeh 8480 – Sylvester Weaver – 1927

Blues guitarist Sylvester Weaver bears the tremendous distinction of not only being an outstanding musician, but also a pioneer in the field of recorded blues, with his historic records impressing on artists so far and wide as Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys.

Sylvester Weaver was born on July 25 in either 1896 or ’97, in Louisville, Kentucky.  Most details surrounding his early life are lost to the march of time, but it is quite conceivable that he might have been involved in the rich jug band culture surrounding Louisville, which included groups led by Earl McDonald and Buford Threlkeld, better known as Whistler.  In 1923, he traveled to New York City with blues singer and fellow Louisvillian Sara Martin, who had been recording successfully for Okeh Records since the previous year.  With Martin, Weaver recorded on October 24, 1923 what may have been the earliest vocal blues backed by a single guitar.  He followed with his own first solo record the next month: the instrumentals “Guitar Rag” and “Guitar Blues”, which some suggest comprise the first country blues record by a male artist; though that position is contested, they probably are the earliest solo “country” blues guitar instrumentals, and they without question made an indelible mark on musical history.  Weaver ultimately recorded twenty-five or twenty-six sides between 1923 and ’25, sometimes in New York, sometimes in St. Louis and Atlanta when Okeh made field trips to those cities, before taking a hiatus from his recording career.  His triumphant return came in April of 1927, when he returned to New York with Sara Martin once again to make another series of records.  He continued to record throughout the rest of that year, sometimes joined by fellow guitarist Walter Beasley, and often in accompaniment of singers like Martin or Helen Humes, as well as waxing a few vocal takes of his own.  But in spite of his recording success, at the end of 1927, Sylvester Weaver returned home to Louisville, soon fading back behind the same veil of obscurity that surrounded his early years, and he died there on April 4, 1960.

Okeh 8480 was recorded on April 13 and 12, 1927, respectively, in New York City.  It was released that September.  Both sides are instrumental guitar solos by Sylvester Weaver.

Firstly, Weaver plays his famous “Guitar Rag”, his second recording of the signature piece—the original having been made in 1923—that would later form the basis for Leon McAuliffe’s even more famous “Steel Guitar Rag” as recorded by Bob Wills in 1936.

Guitar Rag, recorded April 13, 1927 by Sylvester Weaver.

On the rather unusually titled rag piece “Damfino Stump”, Weaver plays six-string banjo-guitar, lending to a rather Papa Charlie Jackson-esque sound.  One wonders if perhaps it was meant to be titled “Stomp” rather than “Stump”, though I prefer the latter, personally.

Damfino Stump, recorded April 12, 1927 by Sylvester Weaver.

Columbia 14258-D – Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band – 1927

Of all the hundreds of bands to record jazz, there were only a relative handful that stayed home in New Orleans instead of traveling away to Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York, and were recorded playing what might be described as pure, unadulterated jazz, perhaps akin to what was played by the legendary Buddy Bolden’s band.  Among the New Orleans hometown bands were those of Armand J. Piron, “Papa” Oscar Celestin, and among the finest of them all, Sam Morgan.

In spite of Morgan’s excellence in music, not much is known about his life.  He was born in Bertrandville, Louisiana in the late part of the nineteenth century—most sources state 1895, others offer the date of December 18, 1887.  Part of a musical family, his younger brothers Isaiah “Ike”, Al, and Andrew also turned out to be musicians.  Sam, like his brother Ike and so many New Orleans greats, took up the cornet.  Morgan grew up playing in the brass bands in Plaquemines Parish, and took up residence in New Orleans in the mid-1910s, where he became the director of the Magnolia Brass Band.  A stroke around 1925 forced a year of convalescence, but he soon returned to music as a member of Ike’s band, the leadership of which soon became his own.  With a sound characterized by a strong reed section at the forefront and a walking bass plucked out on the bullfiddle, Morgan’s band became a popular group in the Crescent City, as Morgan touted in his verse of the eponymous song: “ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout Sammy, ’cause Morgan’s got the best go here” (or something to that effect, he’s rather hard to understand).  Their repertoire consisted of both hot jazz tunes like “Mobile Stomp” and “Bogalousa Strut” (both of which incidentally drew their names from nearby towns) and traditional hymns and negro spirituals like “Over in the Glory Land” and “Down By the Riverside”.  On the side, Morgan ran some kind of a treasure-hunting service.  When the Columbia Phonograph Company made a field trip to New Orleans in April of 1927, Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band cut four sides at Werlein’s Music Store, followed by another four that October.  Morgan continued to lead his band until 1932, when he suffered a second stroke that put him out of music permanently.  Following several years of ill health, Sam Morgan died on February 25, 1936.

Columbia 14258-D—in the “race” series—was recorded on April 14, 1927 at Werlein’s Music Store on Canal Street in New Orleans.  The band consists of Sam Morgan and Isaiah “Ike” Morgan on cornets, Big Jim Robinson on trombone, Earl Fouche on alto sax, Andrew Morgan on clarinet and tenor sax, Tink Baptiste on piano, Johnny Davis on banjo, Sidney Brown on string bass, and Nolan Williams on drums.

On the first side—also the first recorded at Morgan’s first session—is “Steppin’ On the Gas”, a different piece than the 1925 tune of the same name that Jimmie O’Bryant recorded for Paramount.

Steppin’ On the Gas, recorded April 14, 1927 by Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band.

On the reverse, they play another hot Sam Morgan composition: “Mobile Stomp”.

Mobile Stomp, recorded April 14, 1927 by Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band.

Okeh 45114 – Frank Hutchison – 1927

The last time we heard from the “Pride of West Virginia”—our old pal Frank Hutchison—he gave us two fine songs, joined on one by Sherman Lawson on fiddle.  Now let’s hear from Frank again with two of his most famous performances, played on slide guitar.

Willis Franklin Hutchison was born most probably on March 20, 1897 in Beckley, Raleigh County, West Virginia, but soon relocated to Logan County.  He later dedicated his “Logan County Blues”—a re-working of the tune called “Spanish Fandango”—to that location, in which he spent most of his life.  He learned the blues from local black musicians, and was an excellent guitarist, playing in regular style and flat on his lap using a pocketknife as a slide, and also possessed formidable skill on harmonica.  Like fellow folk musician “Dock” Boggs, Hutchison made his living as a coal miner, and only musicianed on the side.  He was said to have been a large (but slim) fellow with red hair and an extroverted personality, and reportedly walked with a limp, likely a result of an injury in the mines.  In September of 1926, Hutchison became one of the pre-Bristol sessions “hillbilly” musicians on records when he traveled to New York City for a session with the Okeh record company, producing in that session but a single disc.  That was not to be all for Frank Hutchison however, he returned to the city to record again in January of the next year, producing his notable rendition of “Stackalee” included on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and eight other titles.  Thereafter, he continued to record for Okeh, in New York and “on location”, until 1929, ultimately leaving a legacy of more than forty recorded sides in all.  After the conclusion of his recording career, Hutchison moved from Logan County to Ohio, but soon settled in the small town of Lake, West Virginia, where he worked as postmaster and operated a store.  A fire claimed Hutchison’s property in 1942, after which he moved to Dayton, Ohio, reputedly entertaining on riverboats.  Frank Hutchison died from liver disease on November 9, 1945.  He was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2018, seventy-three years after his passing.

Okeh 45114 was recorded on April 29, 1927 in St. Louis, Missouri by Frank Hutchison.  It’s worthy of note that both sides are remakes of his first two sides, which were recorded acoustically on September 28, 1926 and released on Okeh 45064.  In my opinion as well as that, I’m sure, of many others, these sides are considerably better and more polished performances than that original record, in addition to being unquestionably superior quality recordings, technically speaking.

First, Hutchison plays what may well be his most famous song, which earned him the scholarly recognition of being one of the earliest white musicians to play the country blues: “Worried Blues”.

Worried Blues, recorded April 29, 1927 by Frank Hutchison.

On the other side, Frank plays another one of his finest, the classic “The Train That Carried the Girl From Town”.  “Breakfast on the table, coffee’s gettin’ cold, some old rounder stole my jelly roll.”

The Train That Carried the Girl From Town, recorded April 29, 1927 by Frank Hutchison.

Brunswick 118 – “Dock” Boggs – 1927

Recognized as one of the great luminaries of old time folk music—thanks in no small part to Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music—is “Dock” Boggs, whose blend of hillbilly style and Afro-American blues and penchant for “lonesome songs” distinguished him as a unique figure in American music, and lent a window into the melancholic soul of a rural artist.

Moran Lee Boggs was born in West Norton, Virginia on February 7, 1898, named after the town doctor who (presumably) delivered him.  His father gave him the nickname “Dock” while he was a toddler, and the name stuck, Boggs preferring it over his given name.  His music-loving father taught him how to sing, and he soon took up the banjo, which he learned to pick in a clawhammer style he called “knockdown.”  The young Boggs also learned folk songs such as “John Henry” from a local black songster called “Go Lightning” who played by the railroad tracks.  Other influences included his brother Roscoe, an itinerant musician by the name of Homer Crawford, and his brother-in-law, the Holiness preacher Lee Hansucker, as well as many phonograph records.  Like Frank Hutchison and so many of his contemporaries, Boggs was a coal miner by trade, and musician by passion.

In 1927, with a borrowed banjo, Boggs auditioned for the Brunswick-Balke-Collender company at the Hotel Norton.  Out of however many auditioned, only Boggs and John Dykes’ Magic City Trio made the cut, and thereafter he traveled to the Brunswick studios in New York City and cut eight sides, which were all issued.  After returning to Norton in 1928, Boggs organized a band, calling themselves “Dock Boggs and his Cumberland Mountain Entertainers” and playing at local functions.  In spite of his musical success, he was met with opposition from his wife, who wished for her husband to walk the straight and narrow path away from bootlegging, gambling, and the Devil’s music.  Two years after his first recordings, Boggs was contracted by music store owner W.A. Myers to record for his remarkably short-lived record label The Lonesome Ace—”Without a Yodel.”  For Myers, Dock ventured to Chicago to cut four titles, accompanied by Emry Arthur on guitar, for Paramount Records, who was doing the recording and pressing work for The Lonesome Ace. Those four, including the haunting “Old Rub Alcohol Blues”, were to be the final recordings of his original musical career.

When the Great Depression came on, records sales dropped to near zero, putting the hurt on Boggs’ music career.  He had an ill-fated attempt at a radio show in 1930, and in June of 1931, Boggs was offered the opportunity to record for Victor in Louisville, but was unable to raise funds for the journey.  He spent the rest of that decade in the coal mines, eventually giving up on his life as in music.  After living in obscurity for several decades, Dock Boggs was rediscovered in 1963 by Mike Seeger.  Seeger brought Boggs back into music as part of the burgeoning folk revival of the day.  He made appearances at such to-dos the American Folk Festival in Asheville, North Carolina and the Newport Folk Festival, and also recorded fairly extensively for Folkways Records.  Dock Boggs’ health was in decline by the 1970s, and he died on his seventy-third birthday on February 7, 1971.

Brunswick 118 was recorded on March 10, 1927 in New York City by “Dock” Boggs, accompanied on guitar by G.H. “Hub” Mahaffey, a player in John Dykes’ Magic City Trio.  It is Boggs’ first issued record, though his third and fourth recorded sides.  Though the condition of this copy is rather lacking, I’ve tried to get the most out of it, as always.  These things do tend to be quite scarce nowadays.

First up is “Down South Blues”.  Boggs once professed, “lonesome songs always appealed to me.”

Down South Blues, recorded March 10, 1927 by “Dock” Boggs.

On the designated “B” side, Boggs sings what is perhaps his most famous song, “Sugar Baby”, made legendary by its inclusion in Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.  “What more can a poor boy do?”

Sugar Baby, recorded March 10, 1927 by “Dock” Boggs.

Sentry 4011 – Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals – 1927

Generally, I hesitate to post reissues, I really do.  They’re often dubs, which offer lowers fidelity than the original, and let’s face it: original issues are just more desirable as collectors items.  Sometimes, however, original pressings may be exceedingly difficult to track down, and as nice as it might be have an original, it’s simply more practical to take the reissue.  They have the music on them, after all, and that’s what matters the most.

I’d wanted this record for quite a number of years, on any issue.  The Gennett originals are notoriously rare (and notoriously expensive)—at one time, the 78 Quarterly estimated fewer than five copies in existence—and even the reissue proved for me to be quite hard to find.  Finally, one of my favorite eBay sellers posted this one for sale, so I jumped on it.  I’d go as far as to place it as one of my favorites (though that list could easily run into the hundreds, or thousands).  Much as I’d love to own the original, this circa 1950s reissue is a quite decent dub, and in excellent condition, so it provides beautiful playback.

Hoagy Carmichael pictured in Eddie Condon’s Scrapbook of Jazz.

What makes this one remarkable, and worthy of reissue, is that it contains the first ever recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s now renowned composition “Stardust”.  That Stardust melody first haunted Carmichael while he was on the campus of Indiana University, his alma mater—inspired by the jazz music of Bix Beiderbecke, he began whistling the tune, and ran to get it written down.  After polishing it up a bit, he took it to the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, where he recorded it for their Gennett label with Emil Seidel’s orchestra.  It’s said that Gennett found the recording to be of lesser quality, and considered destroying the masters.  Fortunately, they didn’t and it was released, though the success of “Stardust” was yet to come, the record didn’t sell too well.  Two years later, Carmichael published the song as “Star Dust” (the title has appeared as both one and two words throughout its history) through Mills Music, with lyrics added by Mitchell Parrish.  McKinney’s Cotton Pickers made an early recording in 1928, and Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang cut one in ’29, around the time Carmichael published it.  Isham Jones’ orchestra made a popular recording of the tune in 1930, followed closely by the smash success of the budding Bing Crosby’s rendition in 1931.  The Crosby hit inspired a wave of new recordings of “Star Dust” in 1931.  Since then, that Star Dust melody has haunted our reverie countless times, as it elevated to become one of the most successful songs of the twentieth century.

Sentry 4011 was originally issued on Gennett 6311, recorded on October 28 and 31, 1927 in Richmond, Indiana.  The two sessions featured different bands using the identity of “Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals”: the former included Hoagy Carmichael on piano, doubling on cornet, Andy Secrest and Bob Mayhew on cornet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Nye Mayhew on tenor sax, Mischa Russell on violin, and three unidentified players of guitar, tuba, and drums; the latter session features Emil Seidel’s Orchestra with Carmichael sitting in, made up of Byron Smart on trumpet, Oscar Rossberg on trombone, Gene Woods or Dick Kent on alto sax, Maurice Bennett on tenor sax, Don Kimmell on guitar, Hoagy on piano, Paul Brown on tuba, and Cliff Williams on drums.

Although it was the “B” side of the original issue, “Stardust”, is effectively the “A” side of this reissue (it has the lower matrix number)—understandably so, as it is the tune that made the biggest hit, not only of the two on this record but practically of any two on any record.  This has always been—and I feel I can safely say always will be—my favorite version of the classic.  The original label called this a “stomp,” and while I’m not sure I’d agree with that, it is really a lovely recording, and possesses an almost dreamlike quality that is very seldom paralleled in recorded music.

Stardust, recorded October 31, 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals.

On the other side, Hoagy’s “One Night in Havana”, recorded at the earlier date with the Dorsey brothers in the band, is another really delightful tune, with a similar dreamy air to the previous.  Though it never made quite as much of a hit as “Stardust”, Hoagy thought enough of it to record it a further three times, only one of which was released on the flip-side of the original issue of his “Georgia (On My Mind)”.  This one was also issued on Champion 15420 at the time, but since then, it seems to have received little attention.

One Night in Havana, recorded October 28, 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals.