Okeh 8794 – Little Hat Jones – 1929

Decades before the latter day country music hero, the state of Texas produced another music maker called George Jones: an outstanding early blues guitarist and singer who went by the name “Little Hat”.

George Jones (misidentified by many outdated sources as “Dennis”) was born on his formerly enslaved grandfather’s farm in Bowie County, Texas—in the farthest northeastern corner of the state bordering Arkansas—on October 5, 1899, the only child of Felix Jones.  He dropped out of school after the sixth grade to help his ailing father on the farm after a loss of the season’s crop of cotton.  Jones claimed to have started out playing piano at church, but switched instruments after his mother “done gone and found an old guitar for [him] to pick.”  Influenced by Blind Lemon Jefferson, he learned to play in a peculiar fast, melodic, and uniquely rural style rather reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt, albeit rougher, more driving and more formulaic, marked by occasional injections of a boogie-woogie beat.  His habit of starting out a song at a breakneck tempo and slowing down before beginning to sing, intentional or not, added a certain sense of tension to his recordings.  Probably around the age of seventeen, after his father and the farm recovered, Jones started making money with his music, but continued to make his living by means of various employment as a laborer throughout all of his life.  While working a construction job in Garland, Texas, Jones was nicknamed “Little Hat” by his boss (who reportedly even made out Jones’ paychecks to that name) because of the cut-down brim on his work hat.  When the Okeh record company made a field trip to San Antonio in 1929, Little Hat Jones cut his first recordings as an accompanist to fellow Texas blues man Alger “Texas” Alexander, who had been recording with Okeh since ’27.  On the fifteenth of June of that year, Jones recorded eight sides backing Alexander and a further two solo.  He was behind the microphone again six days later to cut four more solo sides, and again four more when Okeh returned to San Antonio the following year, netting a total of five records issued under his own name.  Though he never again recorded commercially after 1930, Little Hat Jones continued to play at juke joints and booger roogers in and out of the state of Texas alongside the likes of J.T. “Funny Paper” Smith and, reputedly, Jimmie Rodgers and T. Texas Tyler.  Jones claimed that Okeh invited him to record further in New York, but that evidently fell through.  He settled down with his wife in Naples, Texas in 1937, where he remained for the rest of his life, eventually finding steady employment at the nearby Red River Army Depot.  In 1964, Jones was interviewed by local newspaper man Morris G. Craig of the Naples Monitor and recorded—still in fine form though a little rusty on the guitar—playing several more songs, including a re-recording of his 1929 “New Two Sixteen Blues” and a rendition of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Waiting for a Train”.  Little Hat Jones died on March 7, 1981 in the Municipal Hospital in Linden, Texas, and is buried in the Morning Star Cemetery in Naples.

In spite of his relative obscurity, the music of Little Hat Jones was remarkably influential. Echoes of Jones’ “Two String Blues”—in particular the lyric “I’m goin’ to Lou’siana, get me a hoodoo hand…  I’m gonna stop my woman and fix it so she can’t have another man”—were heard later in Lightnin’ Hopkins’ famous song “Mojo Hand”.  Jones’ music gained later fame outside of record collecting and blues circles for the inclusion of his “Bye Bye Baby Blues” in Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 motion picture Ghost World.

Little Hat Jones recorded Okeh 8794 on June 21, 1929 in San Antonio, Texas, his second record date, a week after his first recordings accompanying Texas Alexander.  It was released in 1930.

First up, Jones plays and sings the outstanding “Rolled From Side to Side Blues”, borrowing its name from a stanza within his debut recording “New Two Sixteen Blues”, which he reused in this song.  It’s a wonder that guitar didn’t catch fire—just listen to those descending runs!

Rolled From Side to Side Blues, recorded June 21, 1929 by Little Hat Jones.

On the reverse, he combines the classic railroad song with the blues for lost love on his eponymous “Little Hat Blues”, most certainly my favorite of Jones’ recordings, and in my opinion one of the great masterworks of country blues (though that “Bye Bye Baby” is a dilly, no doubt).

Little Hat Blues, recorded June 21, 1929 by Little Hat Jones.

Columbia 1773-D – Bing Crosby – 1929

Bing Crosby in the early 1930s, as pictured in the Eveready Book of Radio Stars, c. 1932.

Old Time Blues has honored the iconic Bing Crosby before, with a look at his theme song “Where the Blue of the Night”, at which point I eulogized him quite thoroughly.  But now let us turn our attention two years earlier to Der Bingle’s first solo effort, while he was still just one of Paul Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys.

Born on May 3, 1903 in Tacoma, Washington as Harry Lillis Crosby, Bing got his nickname from a local girl, after a popular comic strip in the Spokane Spokesman-Review called The Bingville Bugle.  That is unless you’d prefer to take Bing’s own version of how he acquired the moniker: when he was “a mere broth of a lad,” he liked to play cops and robbers (or cowboys and Indians, by another account), and carried around a pair of toy six-guns all the time, saying “bing! bing! bing!” in imitation of firing.  One way or the other, Crosby was inspired by Al Jolson to turn from binging to singing.  While he was in college at Gonzaga University, Bing joined a band of high school students, including Al Rinker, called the Musicaladers.  Later, Bing dropped out of college to go with Rinker south to California (he got the last laugh though, when Gonzaga U awarded him an honorary doctorate), where the duo cut their first record in 1926: “I’ve Got the Girl” and another unissued title with Don Clark’s Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel Orchestra (evidently before Earl Burtnett took over the gig), albeit recorded a bit too slow.  With help from Rinker’s big sister Mildred Bailey, the pair got their big break later that year when they were hired by Paul Whiteman to sing—with the addition of singer and songwriter Harry Barris—as the Rhythm Boys.  Though the Rhythm Boys made several records of their own, Bing didn’t make his solo recording debut until 1929.  Crosby remained with Whiteman’s troupe, recording for Victor and Columbia, until 1930; the band had traveled to California to make their blockbuster motion picture King of Jazz, and the Rhythm boys decided to stick around afterward to try and make it big in Hollywood.  They made one record with Gus Arnheim’s Cocoanut Grove Orchestra for Victor—”Them There Eyes”—but parted ways thereafter, so Bing embarked upon his solo career in earnest.  He continued to sing with Arnheim’s orchestra until 1931, when he signed with Brunswick.  He continued to record for Brunswick until producer and manager Jack Kapp “poached” him for his new Decca label in 1934.  The rest (as they so often say) is history, Bing continued to skyrocket to stardom through the 1930s and 1940s, securing his position as one of pop-culture’s first “superstars,” which he maintained until his death on October 14, 1977.

Columbia 1773-D was recorded on March 14, 1929 in New York City.  It is Bing Crosby’s first solo record, though many more preceded it with Bing taking a secondary role.  Bing is backed by Matty Malneck on violin, Roy Bargy on piano, and the seldom heard Ed “Snoozer” Quinn on guitar.

First up, Bing sings the charming Jo Trent and Louis Alter composition “My Kinda Love”, delivering a performance quite a bit jazzier than he would later become known for.

My Kinda Love, recorded March 14, 1929 by Bing Crosby.

He backs it up with “Till We Meet”, another fine performance.  You may note that Bing in these earlier days tended to sing in a higher register than in his “crooner” days.

Till We Meet, recorded March 14, 1929 by Bing Crosby.

An Edison Needle Type Electric Dance Band Double Feature – 14003 & 14041 – 1929

B.A. Rolfe, as pictured in a 1932 publication.

Thomas A. Edison’s “Needle Type Electric” records—sometimes called “thin” Edisons for reasons self explanatory—were his last hurrah in the record business, before bidding the industry farewell forever.  Unlike his vertically cut, quarter-of-an-inch thick Diamond Discs, they were plain, ordinary shellac 78s, which could be played on any Victrola or like talking machine.  The completely redesigned labels—with an array of lightning bolts striking from the top, framing the name “Edison”, emblazoned in bold, block lettering—represent the pinnacle of late-1920s commercial art.  Thus, like any of the countless extremely short-lived record lines (e.g. Black Patti, Timely Tunes, Sunrise, etc.—all of which, incidentally, also had beautifully designed labels), they are quite uncommon today.

First up, the famed B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra plays “Dance of the Paper Dolls” and “Fioretta”, both sides featuring vocals provided by an uncredited Jack Parker.  Born on October 24, 1879, Benjamin Albert Rolfe, known in earlier life as the “Boy Trumpet Wonder” was a trumpet prodigy who went on to become a popular radio bandleader and Edison recording artist.  During the 1910s and ’20s, Rolfe spent a stretch as a Hollywood movie producer, following which he established his distinguished career as a bandleader.  Notably. he directed his “Palais D’or Orchestra”—named for his own Broadway cabaret—from 1926 until 1928, at which point it became the “Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra” for the remainder of his time with Edison.  Rolfe remained a radio mainstay into the 1930s, appearing in a pair of Vitaphone short films, and leading the B.F. Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra in 1935 and ’36.  B.A. Rolfe died of cancer on April 23, 1956.

Edison 14003 was recorded on March 19, 1929 in New York City.  Both tunes also appeared on separate Diamond Discs, as the “R” side of their respective discs.  This Needle Type record provides a somewhat uncommon opportunity to hear Rolfe’s orchestra on a standard laterally cut phonograph record. First up is “Dance of the Paper Dolls”, which also appeared on Diamond Disc 52548, backed with “Hello Sweetie”.

Dance of the Paper Dolls, recorded on March 19, 1929 by B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra.

On the “R” side, Rolfe’s orchestra plays “Fioretta”, from the 1929 Broadway musical of the same name.  This disc, unfortunately, is a little moisture damaged, causing some noticeable “swishing.”  This one was also issued on Diamond Disc 52531, backed with “If I Had You”.

Fioretta, recorded on March 19, 1929 by B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra.

Next up is another Edison dance band on Edison 14041, recorded on July 18, 1929, also in New York City.  The Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra (under the direction of violinist Bernhard Lewitow) first plays “Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember” I’m not sure who the vocalist is on this one, so if anyone could tip me off, I’d be much obliged.

Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember, recorded July 18, 1929 by Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra Under the Direction of Bernhard Levitow.

On the reverse, they play “Smiling Irish Eyes”, from the 1929 Warner Bros. Vitaphone talkie of the same name, starring Colleen Moore, now a lost film.  This tune also appeared on Diamond Disc number 52637.  These two are in better shape than the previous, and if you ask me, the music is too; those last two are just too darned dainty.

Smiling Irish Eyes, recorded July 18, 1929 by Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra Under the Direction of Bernhard Levitow.

Updated on April 28, 2018.

Victor V-40160 – Phil Baxter and his Orchestra – 1929

An MCA promotional photo of Baxter, circa 1927 by Bert Studios, Kansas City, Missouri.

Though perhaps best known as the man who brought into this world such memorable ditties as “Piccolo Pete”, “Harmonica Harry”, and “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (from Dumas)”, among others, maestro Phil Baxter was also a capable pianist and vocalist, and the leader of a successful Southern-based territory jazz band in the 1920s.

Philip Kerley Baxter was born in the small settlement of Rural Shade in Navarro County, Texas on September 5, 1896, twenty miles southeast of Corsicana, the son of Thomas and Lila Baxter, who were at the time making their way via horse and buggy to Palestine (Texas, that is).  He served his country in the First World War, and was writing music by 1921 and leading his own jazz band later in the decade.  Baxter’s orchestra first recorded in St. Louis, Missouri on October 24, 1925, cutting four titles for Okeh Records, three of which were issued.  Around that time, he and Carl Moore published a version of “St. James Infirmary” as “Gambler’s Blues”—Baxter claimed to have co-written the song, but neglected to file for a copyright, which Irving Mills did in 1929 under the pseudonym “Joe Primrose”.  Baxter’s orchestra, previously called the “Texas Tommies”, became the house band for El Torrean Ballroom in Kansas City in 1927, broadcasting on KMBC, a post which they retained until 1933.  He returned to the recording studio four Octobers after his first session in 1929, when he waxed four further sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, all of which were released that time around, including the noted “I Ain’t Got No Gal Now”.  Following the Dallas session, Baxter made no further commercial recordings, though a few home recordings have turned up (which are, most unfortunately, not part of the Old Time Blues collection).  The Baxter orchestra continued into the middle of the 1930s.  In his later years, his music was hindered by arthritis.  Phil Baxter died on November 21, 1972 in Dallas.

Victor V-40160 was recorded on October 20, 1929 in the ballroom of the Park Hotel in Dallas, Texas.  The band’s roster includes Ray Nooner and Al Hann on trumpets, Al Jennings on trombone, Ken Naylor on clarinet and alto saxophone, Jack Jones on alto sax, Thurmond Rotroff on tenor sax, Davy Crocker on accordion, Phil Baxter on piano, Joe Price on banjo and guitar, Pop Estep on tuba, and Marion Flickinger on drums.  Baxter sings the vocals on both sides.  Perhaps only a regional release without nationwide distribution—though it appeared in Victor’s catalog for Old Familiar Tunes—it is said to have sold only a few hundred copies.  As such, it—along with the other Baxter Victor—made it into the honorable mentions (or rather “Conspicuous Omissions”) section of 78 Quarterly’s series on the “Rarest 78s.”

First, the band plays the magnificent “I Ain’t Got No Gal Now”, a real tour de force, perhaps my favorite jazz side of them all.  The band plays here in a style all their own, mellow yet hot, with a loose sort of sound, with accordion that was obligatory in Texas dance bands of the era.  Simply a masterpiece!

I Ain't Got No Gal Now

I Ain’t Got No Gal Now, recorded October 20, 1929 by Phil Baxter and his Orchestra.

On the reverse, they play a delightful Texas themed number: “Down Where the Blue Bonnets Grow”, another excellent ditty, and with even more accordion!

Down Where the Blue Bonnets Grow

Down Where the Blue Bonnets Grow, recorded Octiber 20, 1929 by Phil Baxter and his Orchestra.

Brunswick 4597 – Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan – 1929

Billy Murray, as pictured in 1921 Victor catalog.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the birth of the “Denver Nightingale”, recording pioneer and prolific record artist Billy Murray, I present the latest record of him currently in the Old Time Blues collection.

William Thomas Murray was born on May 25, 1877—the same year Edison invented the phonograph that he later would help to proliferate—in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, son of Patrick and Julia Murray.  Murray later quipped, “I squalled for the first time in 1877, and so did the phonograph. I didn’t do very much for ten years after that, but neither did the phonograph.”  The Murrays moved to Denver in 1882, and by sixteen, Billy was performing professionally.  Murray made his first of hundreds of phonograph recordings for Peter Bacigalupi in San Francisco in 1897, and was recording regularly and professionally in the New York area by 1903.  Over the following decades, Murray recorded a huge multitude of songs, in various styles and genres, for virtually every record label in operation.  Coinciding with the advent of electrical recording in 1925, the public’s tastes were changing, and Murray began to fall from favor.  To adjust to the new recording systems, he softened his singing voice, though his work became more sporadic.  In the 1920s, he often worked as a vocalist for dance bands; he appeared on Jean Goldkette’s memorable recording of “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” in 1927, featuring Bix Beiderbecke.  Starting in the late 1920s, Murray lent his voice to animated cartoons, providing the voice of Bimbo, and others, in shorts made by Fleischer Studios.  He worked sporadically on radio through the 1930s, including appearances on the WLS National Barn Dance.  In 1940, Murray made a series of recordings for Bluebird, accompanied by Harry’s Tavern Band, and made his last recordings in 1943 for the Beacon label with fellow recording pioneer Monroe Silver, known for his “Cohen” character.  After retiring in 1944 due to heart issues, Billy Murray died suddenly of a heart attack at a Guy Lombardo show on Long Island on August 17, 1954.

Brunswick 4597 was recorded in September or October of 1929 by Billy Murray with his frequent duet partner Walter Scanlan (whose real name was Walter van Brunt).

First, the duo sings humorous number from the 1929 Sono Art-World Wide talking picture The Great Gabbo, in which it was performed by Erich von Stroheim in the titular role, with his ventriloquist dummy.

Icky, recorded September/October 1929 by Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan.

On the reverse, Murray and Scanlan sing another comic song most frequently associated with Eddie Cantor, “My Wife is On a Diet”.

My Wife is On a Diet, recorded September/October 1929 by Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan.