Perfect 0207 – Big Bill & his Jug Busters – 1932

On June 26, we celebrate the probable birthday of blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.  As is the case with many early blues players, such as Lemon Jefferson, the exact date of his birth is disputed; Broonzy himself claimed to have been born in 1893, but family records stated a more probable date of 1903.  There is also mystery surrounding his place of birth, while Broonzy stated his hometown as Scott, Mississippi, recent research suggests he may have come from Arkansas.

Whatever the true details may be, Big Bill grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and learned from his uncle to play a homemade cigar box fiddle, which he played at local social functions.  In 1920, as many Southern black people did at the time, Broonzy emigrated to Chicago in search of new opportunity, where he switched from fiddle to guitar, mentored by Papa Charlie Jackson.  In Chicago, Broonzy worked odd jobs while trying make it as a musician.  In 1927, he got his break when Charlie Jackson helped him l get an audition with J. Mayo Williams of Paramount Records, and after several rejected tests, made his first released records with his friend John Thomas as “Big Bill and Thomps”.  Though his records sold poorly for the first few years, sales eventually began to pick up as he gained popularity in the Chicago blues scene in the 1930s, even playing in John Hammond’s From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and ’39, with his style evolving from his rural roots to a more urban style all the while.  Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Big Bill recorded steadily, both solo and as an accompanist.  In the late 1940s into the 1950s, Broonzy became a part of the folk music revival occurring at that time, and he toured abroad in the 1950s, starting in Europe in 1951.  His autobiography, written with the help of Yannick Bruynoghe, was published in 1955.  Broonzy died of throat cancer in August of 1958.

Perfect 0207 was recorded March 29 and 30, 1932 in New York City, at Big Bill’s first and second session for the American Record Corporation under his own name (excepting some 1930 recordings under the name Sammy Sampson and as a part of the Hokum Boys).  The Jug Busters side features W.E. “Buddy” Burton on kazoo, piano by Black Bob Hudson, and Jimmy Bertrand on washboard.  The identity of the jug player is unknown.

“How You Want it Done?”, recorded March 29, is a fantastic side with stupendous flatpicked guitar by Big Bill, an unusual method for blues playing.  It’s likely that Broonzy picked up this song, along with its flatpicking style, from his contemporary Louie Lasky, who later recorded it in 1935, though Bill recorded it earlier.  Big Bill first recorded this song in 1930 for Gennett, then for Paramount in ’31 (of which no copies have been located)  This recording was also featured on the last record in Vocalion’s race series (1745).  It remained in Broonzy’s repertoire for many years, and he was filmed performing it in 1957.

How You Want it Done?, recorded

How You Want it Done?, recorded March 29, 1932 by Big Bill.

Recorded one day after the first side, Big Bill is accompanied by a jug band on “M & O Blues”, referring of course to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  The authorship of this song is often credited to Walter Davis.  It’s worth noting that there was another “M & O Blues” sung by legendary Delta bluesman Willie Brown which was an entirely different song.  Though the label looks prettier, this side unfortunately has some pretty bad stripped grooves that make a lot of noise in brief but quite intrusive passages, but it does clean up a bit as it plays.  Heck, the Document Records transfer is quite noisy, so cut me a little slack!

M & O Blues, recorded

M & O Blues, recorded March 30, 1932 by Big Bill & his Jug Busters.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Banner 32551 – Gene’s Merrymakers – 1932

Born on this day 117 years ago was bandleader Gene Kardos, whose orchestra made quite a few decent selling records in the 1930s.

Eugene Kardos was born June 12, 1899 in New York City.  He formed a territory band in the early 1930s, and first recorded for Victor, with his earliest output appearing on their short-lived Timely Tunes label, a number of further issues were on Electradisk.  By 1932, he had moved to ARC, using a wide variety of pseudonyms, as well as his own name, and made a few records on the side for Crown under the name of his piano player, Joel Shaw.  Kardos’ band tended to play on the hot side, and was competent with popular songs as well as the occasional jazz piece, though they adopted a “sweeter” style later in the 1930s, as did many bands of their type.   In 1939, Kardos married and retired from music to pursue a career with the United States Post Office.  He died in 1980.

Banner 32551 was recorded August 25, 1932 and December 18, 1931, respectively.  Gene Kardos’ Orchestra assumes the name “Gene’s Merrymakers”, which they commonly used on their ARC releases.

On the first side, the Kardos band plays an excellent rendition of “High Society”.  Thanks to a tip from Mr. Paul Lindemeyer, the probable personnel for Kardos’ band on this side has been identified as Sam Caspin and Red Hymie (Rosenblum) on trumpets, Pete Salemi on trombone, Moe Cohen and Nat Brown on clarinet and alto sax, Gabe Gelinas on clarinet and tenor sax, Joel Shaw on piano, Sol Sussman on banjo, Max Goodman on tuba, and Smith Howard on drums, with an arrangement by Bernie Green.

High Society

High Society, recorded August 25, 1932 by Gene’s Merrymakers.

Strangely, though credited to Kardos, “Clarinet Marmalade” is actually played by the Casa Loma Orchestra.  I believe it was their only side issued on the ARC budget labels.  I defer to the expert below (): it’s one of at least three Casa Loma sides appearing on the ARC dimestore labels, plus a later reissue of their 1931 “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.  Rust lists the personnel as Joe Hostetter, Grady Watts, and Bobby Jones on trumpets, Pee Wee Hunt and Billy Rauch on trombones, Clarence Hutchinrider on clarinet and alto sax, Kenny Sargent and Glen Gray on alto sax, Pat Davis on tenor sax, Mel Jenssen on violin, Joe Hall on piano, Gene Gifford on banjo and guitar, Stanley Dennis on bass, and Tony Briglia on drums.

Clarinet Marmalade

Clarinet Marmalade, recorded December 18, 1931 by Gene’s Merrymakers.

Updated on June 24 and September 24, 2016, and May 29, 2017.

Columbia 2652-D – Ted Lewis and his Band – 1932

Is everybody happy?

Columbia's custom sleeve and label dedicated to Ted Lewis.

Columbia’s custom sleeve and label dedicated to Ted Lewis.

In addition to Jimmie Lunceford, June 6 also marks the 126th anniversary of Ted Lewis’ birth.  Here’s one of his most popular records of the 1930s, as well as one of my personal favorite Ted Lewis vocal performances.

Ted Lewis was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in Circleville, Ohio on June 6, 1890.  He took up playing the clarinet professionally, though some would argue that his abilities on the instrument were limited.  He first recorded with Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band, and soon began recording for Columbia with his own jazz band, switching to Decca in 1934.  With his trademark phrase, “is everybody happy?”, his schmaltzy “talk-singing” and tendency to employ top-notch musicians made him one of the most popular musical personalities of the 1920s, and into the 1930s, alongside Paul Whiteman.  However, his style faded from popularity as swing became king, and his music fell out of favor, though he continued to perform for many years.  Ted Lewis died on August 25, 1971.

Columbia 2652-D was recorded March 15 and 22, 1932 in New York City.  Ted Lewis’ band consists of Muggsy Spanier and Dave Klein on trumpets, George Brunies on trombone; Ted Lewis and Benny Goodman on clarinet and alto sax, Sam Shapiro and Sol Klein on violins, Jack Aaronson on piano, Tony Gerhardi on guitar, Harry Barth on string bass and tuba, and John Lucas on drums.

The quintessential Depression-era tune “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town”, introduced in the motion picture Crooner, became one of the most popular songs of 1932, both for Ted Lewsis and for other artists.  In my opinion, this is one of Lewis’ best vocals.

In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town

In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town, recorded March 15, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.

On the other side, Lewis and his band do a fine job with “Sweet Sue – Just You”, featuring a great clarinet solo by Benny Goodman.

Sweet Sue - Just You

Sweet Sue – Just You, recorded March 22, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.

Brunswick 6291 – The Boswell Sisters – 1932

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

May 20 marks a most important occasion, the 105th birthday of most underappreciated of the three Boswell Sisters, Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, whose quiet disposition and propensity to avoid solos would lead to her later being remembered as (and I quote verbatim from a 1938 newspaper article) “the other sister.”

Helvetia George Boswell was born on May 20, 1911 in Birmingham, Alabama.  Vet had the misfortune of entering this world around the time her sister Connie was afflicted with the ailment that left her completely paralyzed for a period of time, and without proper use of her legs for the rest of her life.  Mother Meldania devoted most of her time in that period to Connie’s rehabilitation, and could not attend to the new (as yet unnamed) infant.  The new Boswell baby was soon named Helvetia, after the condensed milk on which she was reared.  In 1914, the Boswells moved to New Orleans, out of the cradle and into the cradle of jazz.  When she started school, Helvetia was upset that the kids had nicknamed her “Hel”. Mother Boswell would have none of that, and from then on she was “Vet”.  Later, her father came to call her “Iron Horse Vet”, and she was noted for her fondness for “pig sandwiches.”  As her sisters Martha and Connie pursued their musical ambitions with vigor, Vet was along for the ride, supporting the sister act, though she preferred other artistic endeavors such as painting and drawing.  Though she never took a solo part, she was an integral part of the harmony, and every bit as talented as her more gregarious older sisters.

After touring ’round the world and then some, Vet secretly married Texas oilman John Paul Jones in 1934. They would not make the marriage known until the next year.  Vet’s marriage, combined with Martha’s soon after, created tension within the group surrounding the sisters ability to balance their professional and married lives, which was aggravated (and potentially incited) by their manager and Connie’s soon-to-be husband Harry Leedy.  Tensions came to a head in 1936, and the group disbanded.  Taking up residence in Ontario, and later on in New York, adjustment to home life was not easy for Vet, who found her new life as a housewife lonesome compared to show business.  In 1936, she gave birth to her daughter, Vet Boswell Jones, or “Chica”.  Vet never returned to the show business, though she had one final stage reunion with her sisters in 1955.  Many years later, Vet made a celebrated homecoming to New Orleans.  She passed away at the age of 77 in 1988, the last surviving and longest lived of the Boswell Sisters.

Brunswick 6291 was recorded March 21, 1932 in New York City.  The Boswell Sisters are accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, consisting of Mannie Klein on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Babe Russin on tenor sax, Martha Boswell on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, Artie Bernstein on string bass, and Stan King on drums.

I carefully selected “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” for this occasion for one reason, it’s the only one I’m aware of that features anything resembling a solo vocal by Vet Boswell.  She can be heard singing the line “you’ve got me in between…”  If you want to hear a rare recording of Vet singing solo, I recommend picking up a copy of Their Music Goes Round and Round, featuring a rare home recording of Vet singing “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love”, available at the official Boswell Sisters Store.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.

On the flip-side, the Bozzies perform one of their classic songs, the jazz standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”.

There'll Be Some Changes Made

There’ll Be Some Changes Made, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.

Victor 24193 – Leo Reisman and his Orchestra – 1932

How could we overlook the great Fred Astaire on his own 117th birthday?  (We couldn’t.)  Here’s one of his early phonograph recordings to celebrate the occasion.

Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska.  His family moved to New York in 1905, and his mother encouraged his older sister Adele’s and his own natural dancing talents, hoping to have them become a brother and sister vaudeville act.  Changing their name to Astaire, they did, and began appearing in musical theater as a dancing duo in the 1910s, singing all along the way.  After a string of successful shows on Broadway and in London, including Lady Be Good and Funny Face, Fred and Adele broke up the pair after she married.  Fred’s first show separate from his sister was Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce in 1932.  Soon after, Astaire headed off to Hollywood, where the results of his RKO screen test was reported to have said, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.”  Nevertheless, David O. Selznick signed Astaire to RKO Radio Pictures in spite of his “enormous ears and bad chin line.”  Astaire’s first picture role was in the 1933 Joan Crawford and Clark Gable vehicle Dancing Lady, in which he played “Fred Astaire”.  Not long after, Fred was teamed up with budding starlet Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio, the first of nine films in which the pair would appear.  From then on out, Astaire appeared in numerous films with a variety of partners, and eventually started into straight acting (and a couple retirements, in between).  Fred Astaire died in 1987 at the age of 88.

Victor 24193 was recorded November 22, 1932 in Victor’s Studio 1 in New York, New York, by Leo Reisman and his Orchestra featuring Fred Astaire singing the vocals on both sides.  Both sides feature songs from Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce.  This record was recorded using RCA Victor’s early 1930s microphone system, producing astounding fidelity.

First, Fred Astaire sings Cole Porter’s famous “Night and Day”.  You may notice Astaire’s voice crack a little on one line in this one.

Night and Day

Night and Day, recorded November 22, 1932 by Leo Reisman and his Orchestra.

On the reverse, Astaire sings “I’ve Got You On My Mind”.  Just listen to that high fidelity!

I've Got You On My Mind

I’ve Got You On My Mind, recorded November 22, 1932 by Leo Reisman and his Orchestra.