The Band O’Sunshine, during their tenure with Victor. From 1930 Victor catalog.
One of the top names in the territory band game was Sunny Clapp, who led bands all across the southeastern United States in the 1920s and 1930s. However, Clapp’s greatest claim to fame was his 1927 composition of “Girl of My Dreams”, a waltz song introduced by Blue Steele’s orchestra, that made a huge hit in that year, and continues to be sung to this day. In spite of Clapp’s success in his day, surprisingly few details about his life are known today.
Charles Franklin “Sunny” Clapp (not “Sonny”, though frequently called such) was born on February 5, 1899 in either Battle Creek, Michigan or Galesburg, Illinois. A trombonist like his contemporary Blue Steele, he was also skilled on saxophone and clarinet. Clapp played with Ross Gorman’s band in 1926, with Blue Steele in 1927, Jimmy McHugh’s Bostonians and Slim Lamar’s Southerners in 1928 and ’29, and possibly Roy Wilson’s Georgia Crackers in 1931, alongside an impressive array of important jazzmen including Jack Teagarden, Red Nichols, and Benny Goodman. Brian Rust also suggested that he may have played tenor saxophone with the Six Brown Brothers in 1916, at the age of seventeen, though that seems rather dubious to say the least. His composition “Girl of My Dreams” became a major hit in 1927. Around the end of 1928, Clapp organized a territory dance band of his own, dubbed his “Band o’ Sunshine”, which featured the talents of Texas cornetist Tom Howell and New Orleans clarinettist Sidney Arodin, and for one session, Hoagy Carmichael. They recorded in San Antonio, Texas, Camden, New Jersey, and in New York, first for Okeh in 1929, then for Victor until July of 1931, with some of his later records appearing on the short-lived Timely Tunes label, and presumably also toured across the Texas region. During the years of the Great Depression, Sunny Clapp disappeared from the recording industry, and whatever became of him thereafter is now lost to time. All that is known of Sunny Clapp’s later life is that he died on December 9, 1962 in San Fernando, California.
Okeh 41283 was recorded June 20, 1929 in San Antonio, Texas by Sunny Clapp and his Band O’Sunshine. The Band O’Sunshine consists of Bob Hutchingson on trumpet, Sunny Clapp on trombone and alto sax, Sidney Arodin on clarinet and alto sax, Mac McCracken on tenor sax, Dick Dickerson on baritone sax, Cliff Brewton on piano, Lew Bray on banjo, guitar, and violin, Francis Palmer on tuba, and Joe Hudson on drums. Trumpet player Bob Huchingson provides the vocal on both sides.
On the first side, “they made her sweeter than sweetest of sweet things”, and made “A Bundle of Southern Sunshine”, played in a style quite reminiscent of Blue Steele’s, and capped off with Clapp himself exclaiming at the end, “let the sun shine.” If this wasn’t their theme song, it should have been.
A Bundle of Southern Sunshine, recorded June 20, 1929 by Sunny Clapp and his Band O’Sunshine.
The flip side, “I Found the Girl of My Dreams”, is not Clapp’s famous composition, but rather another of his compositions in the same vein. In fact, if these two sides are anything to go by, he really loved to write songs about girls of one’s dreams.
I Found the Girl of My Dreams, recorded June 20, 1929 by Sunny Clapp and his Band O’Sunshine.
The Carter Family—Maybelle, Sara, and A.P.—in the late 1920s, pictured in the Victor catalog.
I have written of the illustrious Carter Family before, more than once, but nothing I’ve so far published has done justice to their tremendous impact and legacy. In fact, I doubt whether I would be able to write anything that could honor their legend sufficiently. Nonetheless, I will do my best to pay them a worthy tribute, and I cannot think of a better record to accompany that attempt than the one herein. Not only is it without question among their finest works, but it contains, according to legend, the song that brought the Carters together, and the song that tore them apart.
The saga of the original Carter Family begins with the birth of Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter in Maces Spring, Virginia, on December 15, 1891. The son of Robert C. Carter and Mollie Arvelle Bays, growing up ‘midst the Blue Ridge Mountaintops fostered in the young Carter a love for music, and he took up the fiddle, but never achieved much note for his musicianship on the instrument. Music making did not put food on the table however, and so Carter found work as a traveling salesman, peddling fruit trees. It was in this line of work that he encountered the youthful Sara Elizabeth Dougherty, sitting on her porch and strumming her auto-harp. Far A.P. Carter, it was love at first sight, and they were married on June 18, 1915. In the following decade, Sara’s cousin Maybelle (who was also married to Carter’s brother Ezra) joined the couple and they formed a music group—the Carter Family.
Come the summer of 1927, A.P. got word of a record session to be held in Bristol, Tennessee, about twenty-five miles away from their homeplace in Maces Spring. He convinced Sara and Maybelle to make the journey, and they arrived late on the night of August first, and auditioned for Mr. Ralph S. Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company. That day and the next, the Carter Family cut six sides: “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow”, “Little Log Cabin By the Sea”, “The Poor Orphan Child”, “The Storms are On the Ocean”, “Single Girl, Married Girl”, and “The Wandering Boy”. Their first records were released that November, and proved successful enough to bring the Carters back to the Victor studio for further recordings, and they did so prolifically. Between then and the end of 1934, they waxed over one-hundred-fifty sides for the Victor company. To ensure that the group had enough material to ensure continued financial success, A.P. set out to canvas the mountains in search of good songs, which he then copyrighted in his own name. In one such travel, Carter encountered the black musician Lesley Riddle, and the two became friends. Riddle impressed both his folk repertoire and his method of guitar playing upon the Carters.
In 1935, the Carter Family began recording for the American Record Corporation, but all was not well behind the microphone, for A.P.’s long song-hunting stretches away from his family drove Sara into the arms of A.P.’s cousin Coy Bayes. Sara and A.P.’s marriage dissolved in 1936, but the Carter Family stuck together as a music group for the time being. From 1936 until 1938, they recorded for Decca, before returning to the ARC for a string of records on their Okeh label in 1940. In the meantime, the Carter Family had relocated to Del Rio, Texas, from where they commuted to Mexico to perform on “border blaster” radio station XERA in Villa Acuña, Coahuila. The 500,000 watt station could be heard across most of the United States, and put the sounds of the Carters on the hearth of countless American homes, inspiring a wave of up-and-coming musicians. In some of these radio appearances, they were joined by the Carter children: Janette, Joe, Helen, June, and Anita. In October of 1941, the original Carter Family traveled to New York City to record one final session with the RCA Victor Company, for their Bluebird label. Around that time, they were photographed for a spread in Life magazine, scheduled to be published on December 8, 1941. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurring the very day before, needless to say it was bumped from the publication. And thus, as the war broke out, the original Carter Family broke apart; Sara moved to California with her new husband, A.P. and Maybelle returned to Maces Spring, where he opened a general store.
That was not the end of their story however, Maybelle Carter continued the musical tradition with her children—Helen, Anita, and June—performing as “Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters” in the years to come, landing a place on the Grand Ole Opry in 1950 and remaining active until the 1970s. The original member reunited occasionally, as well, resulting in several sessions for Acme Records in the 1950s. A.P. Carter died on November 7, 1960, his dying wish to keep the music alive. Maybelle passed on October 23, 1978. The last surviving member of the original trio, Sara Carter Bayes died on January 8, 1979. A.P. Carter’s last wishes were fulfilled with the establishment of the Carter Family Fold in Maces Spring, Virginia, founded by his daughter Janette in 1979 and devoted to the preservation of old-time Appalachian folk music. The beloved legacy of music put forth by the Carter Family remains indelibly attached to the American experience, and shows no sign of faltering as the years go by.
Victor V-40089 was recorded on February 15th and 14th of 1929, respectively, at Victor’s home in Camden, New Jersey. The Carter Family consists of Sara on auto-harp and Maybelle on guitar, both of course singing. A.P. joins in singing on side “B”.
The story goes that when A.P. Carter met Sara while traveling door-to-door peddling fruit trees, she was sitting out on her porch singing “Engine One-Forty-Three” and playing her auto-harp, and he fell in love at first sight and approached with matrimonial intentions. The song tells the true story of a wreck on the C & O line on October 23, 1890 near Hinton, West Virginia. This recording also bears the distinction of being one of the five songs by the Carter Family that were included by Harry Smith in his seminal Anthology of American Folk Music.
Engine One-Forty-Three, recorded February 15, 1929 by the Carter Family.
While the previous is said to be the song that birthed the Carter Family, the following is said to have eventually broken them up. After her divorce, Sara Carter wasn’t happy performing on border radio with her ex-husband, while her lover Coy Bayes was in California. One show, she dedicated a performance of “I’m Thinking To-Night of My Blue Eyes” to Bayes, and he rushed down to Del Rio to sweep her off her feet and back west, leaving A.P., Maybelle, and the children to return home to Maces Spring, and thus bringing the story of the original Carter Family to its close. A standard of the Carters’ repertoire, they recorded it twice, and many other artists covered it subsequently.
I’m Thinking To-Night of My Blue Eyes, recorded February 14, 1929 by the Carter Family.
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.
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.
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.