With it being Cinco de Mayo, it seems like an appropriate time to post one of the only authentic Mexican records in the Old Time Blues collection (at least at the time of posting)—one of numerous such recordings made within the state of Texas in the 1920s and 1930s. I can’t provide much information about this disc, as it falls outside of my typical milieu, and I don’t really know what resources to consult, but I’ll tell you what I am able to dig up.
Vocalion 8470, in their “ethnic” series, was recorded on December 5, 1932 in San Antonio, Texas, probably in the Gunter Hotel, by the Cuarteto Monterrey (or in English, shockingly enough, the “Monterrey Quartet”). The full personnel is unknown to me, but instrumentation consists of mandolin and two guitars, though that would seem to make it a trío rather than a cuarteto. Vocals are by Daniel Flores and Andrés Herrera, who likely also play the two guitars. In addition to these two sides, they recorded at least twenty-four other sides for Vocalion. A Cuarteto Monterrey also recorded for Okeh in 1930 which sounds to be the same group, but given the rather generic nature of the name, I can’t positively say whether it is.
Flores and Herrera recorded two sides previously, “Los Desocupados” and “Los Toros Puntales”, for Victor Records in 1931, also in San Antonio.
Their first tune, “La Bola”, was also issued on Brunswick 41551, and was later featured in 1996 on the Smithsonion Folkways album Orquestas de Cuerdas (The String Bands) – The End of a Tradition (1926-1938).
La Bola, grabado diciembre 5, 1932 por el Cuarteto Monterrey.
On the reverse, the quartet plays “Mancornadora de Mi Corazón”. This tune has also had its time in the spotlight as part of the album Texas-Mexican Border Music Vol. 5 – The String Bands (End Of A Tradition).
Mancornadora de Mi Corazon, grabado diciembre 5, 1932 por el Cuarteto Monterrey.
In blues and folk music, one figure that stands out among the rest is Josh White, who rose from poverty to become one of the most popular Piedmont blues players of the 1930s, and eventually a major force in the folk music scene of the 1940s.
Joshua Daniel White was born on February 11, 1914 in Greenville, South Carolina, one of four children in a religious family. When Joshua was a child, his father was beaten severely and later admitted to an asylum after evicting a white bill collector from his home. Not long after, the young Joshua began acting as a “lead man” for blind musicianer “Big Man” John Henry Arnold, and later for other blind musicians, including Blind Blake, Blind Joe Taggart, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. While on the road with those accomplished bluesmen, the young White picked up their guitar stylings, and soon became an accomplished player of the instrument. His talent was recognized in 1928 by Paramount Records’ J. Mayo “Ink” Williams, who hired him to record as a session player, backing up Taggart and white country musicians the Carver Boys. In the early 1930s, White was tracked down by the American Record Corporation to make records for their budget labels. His mother allowed him to record for them on the condition that he did not play the “devil’s music”—blues. White had his first session for the ARC on April 6, 1932, recording both blues and sacred music under his own name and the pseudonym “Pinewood Tom”. Though only a teenager, White became one of the most popular Piedmont blues musicians of the day, along with Buddy Moss and Blind Boy Fuller. Early in 1936 however, he was forced to temporarily retire from music after an injury in a bar fight, caused him to lose the use of his left hand. After a stint as a dock worker and elevator boy, White regained full use of the hand during a card game, and returned to music. By the 1940s, White’s style had shifted toward folk music, ascending to a status contemporaneous of Lead Belly, and he recorded with the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie with the Almanac Singers, and the Golden Gate Quartet. He also became an accompanist to torch singer Libby Holman in an unusual pairing. During those years, White became the closest black friend of the Roosevelts, beginning with their meeting in 1940. His left-leaning politics gained him trouble with McCarthyism in the late 1940s, harming his career. Later in life, White was plagued by a worsening painful fingernail condition. He died of heart failure in 1969.
Oriole 8159 was recorded on April 12, 1932 in New York City by Joshua White, one of his earliest sessions for the ARC. On both sides, White is accompanied by an unknown piano player. It was also issued on Perfect 0213 and Banner 32527.
First up, White sings “Lazy Black Snake Blues”, with the eighteen year old singer moaning that “he’s so doggone old.”
Lazy Black Snake Blues, recorded April 12, 1932 by Joshua White.
On the other side, White sings of woes with his woman on “Downhearted Man Blues”. A common theme in the blues.
Downhearted Man Blues, recorded April 12, 1932 by Johsua White.
With all due apologies for Old Time Blues unintended ten day hiatus, we 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 Nancy 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, and their second, “Single Girl, Married Girl” and “The Storms are On the Ocean” on Victor 20937, found even greater popularity. In May of 1928, they ventured to Victor’s facilities in Camden, New Jersey for another session, with many more coming thereafter. As the group reached their peak, Sara’s powerful singing—initially quite high, and later maturing into the deep, low voice for which she was known—provided a heart and soul to their music, perfectly complimented by Maybelle’s guitar playing.
In 1932, the Carters experienced marital strife, when Sara began having an affair with her A.P.’s cousin Coy Bayes while her husband was away on one of his many long trips to “discover” new material for the family, separating him from Sara for weeks or months at a time. They divorced in 1936, but the original Carter Family stuck together until 1943, after which Sara married A.P.’s cousin and moved to California, where she retired from music. A.P., Maybelle, and the kids returned home to Maces Spring, Virginia, where he opened a store, and she continued to pursue a musical career. Sara later made a small comeback during the folk revival of the 1960s with Maybelle, but she never regained what she had in the old days, and indeed she probably never wanted to. Sara Carter died in California 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. The trio sings while Sara plays autoharp and Maybelle plays guitar. They were originally issued on Victor 21434 and 23776. This Montgomery Ward issue was pressed from the original masters.
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, and later inscribed as the epitaph on both Sara and A.P. Carter’s gravestones. 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.
“The Church in the Wildwood” is a song that I recollect fondly from my own childhood, and unsurprisingly 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.
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 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 March 30, 1932 by Big Bill & his Jug Busters.
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, 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, recorded December 18, 1931 by Gene’s Merrymakers.
Updated on June 24 and September 24, 2016, and May 29, 2017.