To me, the records made in the 1920s and 1930s on labels like Gennett and Paramount (manufactured by the Starr Piano Company and the Wisconsin Chair Company, respectively) seem to be a part of Americana. They were distinctively American companies made in America’s heartland, and recorded a large amount of music by and for the American common man. While today’s record, though indeed a Gennett, is not one of those vernacular types, it is a “New Electrobeam” by an excellent New York dance band.
Gennett 6506 was recorded June 18, 1928 in New York City by the New Yorkers, a Carl Fenton orchestra. The vocal refrains are by Carl Mathieu, who also sang as a member of the Peerless Quartet.
“Carl Fenton” was, however, not a real person. Fenton began “life” in the early 1920s as a pseudonym for Gus Haenschen, an executive and studio band leader with Brunswick Records, whose name was “ill-suited” for record labels given attitudes toward Germans following World War I (plus, just look at it, it’s like a mess of letters). This “Carl Fenton” recorded for Brunswick between 1920 and 1927. In 1927, Reuben Greenberg, who had been a member of the band, bought the name from Haenschen and began using it to lead his own band, which recorded with Gennett and later had a pivotal role with the QRS label made by Cova around 1930. In 1932, Greenberg legally changed his name to Carl Fenton, thus bringing the fictional bandleader into reality.
The band first plays a very nice syncopated version of “You’re a Real Sweetheart”, strangely credited to “Kahn-Fioritta”, even though the song was actually written by Irving Caesar and Cliff Friend. Vocalist Carl Mathieu seems to miss his cue a little bit on this side.
You’re a Real Sweetheart, recorded June 18, 1928 by The New Yorkers.
On the reverse, they play another great one, the 1928 hit “Dusky Stevedore”, this time correctly credited to Andy Razaf and J.C. Johnson.
Dusky Stevedore, recorded June 18, 1928 by The New Yorkers.
Details regarding the life of territory band leader Slim Lamar are scarce, and there doesn’t appear to be any biography of him available on the web. As such, I’ve rewritten and republished this article in an effort to shed some light on the obscure musician’s life. A special thanks goes out to Messrs. Joseph Scott and Paul Lindemeyer for their research on Lamar, without which this article would not have been possible.
Slim was in fact Henry Elbert Lamar, born in Galveston, Texas on October 27, 1905, the son of John and Lucille Lamar. By the 1920s, the Lamars had taken up residence in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans. Slim played reeds, and apparently moonlighted selling musical instruments. At least as early as 1927, Lamar was leading the Southerners, an exceptional territory jazz band which included the talents of Tony Almerico and Sunny Clapp among its ranks. He would seem to have been associated with the cabal of influential territory band leaders that included Clapp and Blue Steele. In September of 1927, the Southerners played the Edgewater Gulf Hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi, and made their first recordings a year later, during a Victor field trip in Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, Lamar also recorded with Mart Britt’s orchestra, and may have accompanied Irene Beasley on one session that yielded no issued recordings. Following those sessions, Lamar’s Southerners ventured to Indianapolis for a two week engagement at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, reported in the Indianapolis Star as the band’s first trip north of the Mason-Dixon Line. After Indianapolis, they played at the Egyptian Room of the Kosair Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Lamar’s band recorded several more sides in February of 1929 in Camden, New Jersey, after which Slim Lamar is not known to have made any further recordings. In 1938, he relocated to Florence, Alabama, where he married Edna Reams and started the Lamar Furniture Company. Henry “Slim” Lamar remained in Florence until his death on June 3, 1989.
In the 1930s, Henry Lamar’s younger brother Ewell Ayars Lamar (1911-1992), a pianist known as the “Greyhound of the Ivories,” took up the moniker of “Slim” and led a dance band called the Music Gentlemen in Indianapolis, which reportedly included some former members of Joe Sanders’ orchestra, and featured a vocalist named Helen Folk. Ewell had composed “My Castle of Love”, recorded by the Southerners in 1928, but not issued, and played piano in his older brother’s band in its first year.
Victor 21710 was recorded on September 6 and 4, 1928, respectively, at the Memphis Auditorium in Memphis, Tennessee, the Southerners’ first and third sessions. In the band are Tony Almerico and Irwin Kunz on cornets, Sunny Clapp on trombone, Slim Lamar and Jim Rush on clarinet and alto sax, Bedford Brown on clarinet and tenor sax, Dick Wilson on violin, Adrian J. Larroque on piano, Jack Cohen on banjo and guitar, Bonnie Pottle on string bass, and Bobby Turley on drums. The band is directed by Bob Nolan, composer of “Goofus”, and the band’s usual vocalist (though he doesn’t sing on these sides). It was issued in January of 1929.
“Goofus” was immortalized in a comic by R. Crumb, in which he describes his saga of finding the record, only to have it snatched away, leaving him hunting for years before winning a copy in an auction. He aptly descries it as “crazy, eccentric jazz.” The scat quartet is made up of Tony Almerico, Jim Rush, Dick Wilson, and Jack Cohen.
Goofus, recorded September 6, 1928 by Slim Lamar’s Southerners.
On the other side, though “Happy” may not be as well known as the previous, it doesn’t disappoint, offering an encore performance of more of this band’s unique hot style, with hot solos by Wilson and one of the cornetists, not to mention more wild bass work by that Bonnie Pottle.
Happy, recorded September 4, 1928 by Slim Lamar’s Southerners.
This record was originally posted on August 16, 2016 in honor of cornetist Tony Almerico’s birthday. The article has been rewritten and republished with content relevant to bandleader Slim Lamar. Updated with improved audio on April 30, 2018.
In honor of “King” Benny Carter’s birthday, here’s an outstanding Harlem jazz record featuring one of his earliest recorded appearances, as well as a taste of his arranging talent.
Bennett Lester Carter was born in Harlem on August 8, 1907. As a child, he was taught piano by his mother, and was later inspired to by Bubber Miley to buy a trumpet. When he couldn’t play like Miley, he decided to take up the saxophone instead. Growing up playing jazz with the Harlem greats, Carter first recorded in 1928 with Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten, and played with Fletcher Henderson in the early 1930s. In 1931, he took over leadership of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers from Don Redman, who left to form his own orchestra, and followed in his footsteps the next year with a band of his own. In the 1930s, he began recording with a band under the moniker of the Chocolate Dandies, which had been previously used by a number of others. In 1935, as Louis Armstrong and a number of other jazz musicians had done previously, Carter traveled to Europe, where he played with the Ramblers, Django Reinhardt, and others before returning to the States in 1938. After returning home, he led another band and arranged prolifically. In 1942, Freddie Slack’s Orchestra made a hit with “Cow Cow Boogie”, which Carter wrote with Gene de Paul and Don Raye, and he moved to the West Coast in 1943. In 1973, Carter was a visiting professor at Princeton University for a semester. He continued to play until his retirement in 1997, bringing an end to an eight decade career, and he died in 2003 at the age of 95.
Victor 21491 was recorded January 24 and 10, 1928, respectively, in New York City. The Paradise Ten are made up of Jabbo Smith and Leonard Davis on trumpets Charlie Irvis on trombone, Benny Carter and Edgar Sampson on clarinet and alto sax, Elmer Harrell on clarinet and tenor sax, Charlie Johnson on piano, Bobby Johnson on banjo, Cyrus St. Clair on tuba, George Stafford on drums. Lloyd Scott’s orchestra on the flip-side consists of Gus McClung and Kenneth A. Roane on trumpet, Dicky Wells on trombone John Williams and Fletcher Allen on clarinet and alto sax, Cecil Scott on clarinet, tenor sax, and baritone sax, Don Frye on piano, Hubert Mann on piano, Chester Campbell on tuba, and Lloyd Scott on drums.
Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten took their name from Small’s Paradise in Harlem, where they played. Among their alumni were such luminaries as Jabbo Smith and Benny Carter, who made his first recordings with the band. Their superb “Charleston is the Best Dance After All” was arranged by Benny Carter.
Charleston is the Best Dance After All, recorded January 24, 1928 by Charles Johnson’s Paradise Ten.
Lloyd Scott’s Orchestra was another excellent Harlem band, that featured John Williams (husband of Mary Lou Williams) and Dicky Wells. Here they play trumpeter Kenneth A. Roane’s “Harlem Shuffle”.
Harlem Shuffle, recorded January 10, 1928 by Lloyd Scott’s Orchestra.
Heigh-ho everybody! 115 years ago today, the vagabond lover, Rudy Vallée was born. Some twenty-five years later, he would become the idol of a nation.
Hubert Prior Vallée was born in Island Pond, Vermont on July 28, 1901. At 15, he joined the navy to fight in the Great War, but was discharged after forty-one days, when his age was discovered. With his high school band, Vallée played drums, but soon took up the saxophone, playing in local bands. In the middle of the 1920s, he traveled to England, and made his first phonograph recordings with the Savoy Havana Band in London. After returning home, he was educated at the University of Maine, then at Yale, and in 1928, made his first recordings under his own name for Columbia’s budget labels, with his Yale Men. At the University of Maine, he was dubbed Rudy, after the popular saxophone player Rudy Wiedoeft, and the name stuck. After graduating, Vallée formed his Connecticut Yankees, and secured a contract with Victor records in 1929. It was around this time that his popularity skyrocketed, becoming one of the most popular personalities of the 1920s and ’30s, and making a string of hit records and motion pictures. Vallée’s feature film debut in 1929’s The Vagabond Lover had him in a starring role, and was a success. Also in ’29, he began hosting The Fleischmann Hour on NBC, staying on-the-air until 1939. The next year, he had a smash hit with the University of Maine’s “Stein Song” for Victor, and continued to rise in his fame. Attempting to list the bulk of Vallée’s popular songs would consume far too much space. With his fame however, came an ego rivaling that of Al Jolson, and Vallée was known to have a short temper.
As the Depression rolled in, Vallée remained among the most popular entertainers on radio and record, and, moving to Columbia Records in 1932, was given a special picture label in an attempt to increase sales. His association with Columbia did not last long, as he returned to Victor in 1933, first appearing on their Bluebird label, before moving back to the full-fledged Victor label. As swing began to take off, Vallée’s popularity began to wane, though he continued to make popular records. Vallée arranged for Louis Armstrong to host his radio program for the summer of 1937, making him the first African-American to host a major radio show. After the 1930s, Vallée recording sporadically on a wide variety of different record labels, none of which saw the success of his earlier works. In 1943, Victor made a hit with a reissue of Vallée’s 1931 recording of “As Time Goes By” to coincide with the release of Casablanca, as the musicians strike prevented a new recording from being made. After his popularity had faded from its 1920s heights, Vallée continued to record and appear in films, and on television, and enjoyed moderate success all the way. After a long career in the show business, Rudy Vallée died on July 3, 1986 at the age of 84.
Velvet Tone 1759-V on October 10, 1928 in New York. The Yale Men are made up of Don Moore on trumpet, Hal Matthews on trombone, Rudy Vallée on clarinet and alto sax, Joe Miller on tenor sax, Manny Lowy and Jules de Vorzon on violin, Cliff Burwell on piano, Charles Peterson on banjo, Harry Patent on tuba, and Ray Toland on drums.
First Vallée and the Yale Men play a hot side on “Doin’ the Raccoon”, referencing the popular 1920s collegiate fad for raccoon coats.
Doin’ the Raccoon, recorded October 10, 1928 by Rudy Vallée Accomp. by his Yale Men.
Next, Vallée sings a sweet tune on “Bye and Bye Sweetheart”.
Bye and Bye Sweetheart, recorded October 10, 1928 by Rudy Vallée Accomp. by his Yale Men.
The Carter Family in the late 1920s. Left to right: Maybelle, A.P., Sara.
With all due apologies for my unintended ten day hiatus, I hope now to return to regular posting. And what better a note to return on than these great classics by the one and only Carter Family, in honor of Sara Carter, born on this day 118 years ago.
Sara Elizabeth Dougherty was born in Copper Creek, Virginia on July 21, 1898 to William and Nacy Dougherty. In 1915, she married Alvin Pleasant (A.P.) Carter, with whom she had three children, Gladys, Janette, and Joe. In the 1920s, Sara began performing traditional folk songs with her husband and cousin Maybelle as the Carter Family. In August of 1927, they came to Bristol, Tennessee to record for the first time in a series of sessions organized by Ralph S. Peer for the Victor Talking Machine Company. At the Bristol Sessions, the Carter Family recorded six sides, four on the first and two on the second of August. Their first record, “Poor Orphan Child” and “The Wandering Boy” was issued on Victor 20877 in December of 1927, with considerable success. In May of 1928, they ventured to Victor’s facilities in Camden, New Jersey to record again.
In 1932, the Carter’s experienced marital strife, with Sara having an affair with her husband’s cousin, while he was away on one of his many efforts to “discover” new material for the family. They divorced in 1939, and the original Carter Family disbanded in 1943, after which Sara married A.P.’s cousin and moved to California, where she retired from music. She later made a comeback during the folk revival of the 1960s with Maybelle. Sara died at the age of 80 on January 8, 1979.
Montgomery Ward M-4225 was recorded in two separate sessions, the first on May 9, 1928, and the second on October 14, 1932, both in Camden, New Jersey. They were originally issued on Victor 21434 and 23776. This Montgomery Ward issue was pressed from the original masters.
“The Church in the Wildwood” is a song that I recollect fondly from my own childhood, and the Carters’ rendition is a pleasure to hear. Fittingly, this side was recorded in Victor’s Camden, New Jersey church studio.
The Church in the Wildwood, recorded October 14, 1932 by the Carter Family.
The Carter Family’s classic rendition of the old standard “Keep On the Sunny Side” could be compared to Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” as a song that became indelibly associated with them, serving as their theme song when they performed on border blaster radio. Also like Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel”, it was recorded at the Carters’ first session after the Bristol Sessions.
Keep On the Sunny Side, recorded May 9, 1928 by the Carter Family.