Sheet music cover for “The Road is Open Again”, featuring Dick Powell and FDR, 1933.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated President of the United States in 1933, the vice grip of the Great Depression that was strangling the nation was at its tightest, having peaked over the winter of ’32 to ’33, and the new president got right to work trying to alleviate that condition. On June 16, 1933, only three months after taking office, Roosevelt signed into law the National Industrial Recovery Act (or NIRA), rolling out his first wave of New Deal programs, including the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works and the National Recovery Administration. The latter of those two, christened the NRA (sweet thing, sweet thing), was unveiled with great fanfare under the zealous leadership of its director Hugh S. Johnson. In addition to an enormous parade dedicated to the Administration, Hollywood churned out a number of promotional films to support the NRA. One such film saw Jimmy Durante enthusiastically pleading that employers “give a man a job.” Another starred Dick Powell (in a role reminiscent of his part in Gold Diggers of 1933) as a frustrated songwriter tasked with composing a ditty dedicated to the NRA, but unable to produce any satisfactory results until he is visited in a dream by Presidents Washington, Lincoln, and Wilson, who explain the patriotic tenets of the National Recovery Administration and provide Powell’s character the inspiration needed to come up with “The Road is Open Again”.
Bluebird B-5181 was recorded on September 15, 1933 in New York City by saxophone player Bill Scotti’s orchestra from the Hotel Montclair in Montclair, New Jersey, featuring vocals by pianist Larry Murphy, Tom Low, and Larry Lloyd.
On side “A”, Larry Murphy sings the solo refrain on an iconic Great Depression melody, Yip Harburg, Billy Rose, and Harold Arlen hit from the Paramount motion picture Take a Chance: “It’s Only a Paper Moon”.
It’s Only A Paper Moon, recorded September 15, 1933 by Bill Scotti and his Hotel Montclair Orch.
On “B”, the trio of Larry, Tom, and Larry sing the patriotic “theme song” of President Roosevelt’s NRA, “The Road is Open Again”, as featured by Dick Powell in the short film of the same name, recorded only two days after “NRA Day.”
The Road is Open Again, recorded September 15, 1933 by Bill Scotti and his Hotel Montclair Orch.
It has come time once again to pay tribute to a legend lost, to the greatest of them all, America’s Blue Yodeler, and the Father of Country Music: Jimmie Rodgers. At the time of this posting, it has been eighty-five years to the day that Jimmie walked through those pearly gates, a victim of the white plague at only thirty-five years old.
In the wake of Jimmie Rodgers’ tragic demise, numerous songwriters published melodies eulogizing him. Among the most successful of these were Bob Miller’s “The Life of Jimmie Rodgers” and “The Death of Jimmie Rodgers”, recorded by Gene Autry and Bradley Kincaid, the latter of whom also sang “Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers’ Lament”, composed by Rich Kuster. But those were far from the only ones. Songwriters Dwight Butcher and Lou Herscher, who had collaborated with Rodgers in composing “Old Love Letters”, which Jimmie cut at his last session, penned the popular “When Jimmie Rodgers Said Goodbye”, recorded by a fair number of artists, including Autry and radio yodeler Kenneth Houchins, and by Grand Ole Opry performers Asher Sizemore and his son Little Jimmie under the title “Little Jimmie’s Goodbye to Jimmie Rodgers”. Three years after Rodgers’ passing, Ernest Tubb made his recording debut backing Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers (the former Carrie Williamson) on a weepy performance of “We Miss Him When the Evening Shadows Fall”, then he sang “The Last Thoughts of Jimmie Rodgers” and “The Passing of Jimmie Rodgers” himself. Even decades later, Rodgers was still being honored in song by devotees such as Tubb and Hank Snow, two of the countless many whose lives his music had touched.
Vocalion 02605 was recorded on October 11th and 10th, 1933, respectively, in Chicago, Illinois. The Light Crust Doughboys are Herman Arnspiger and Leon Huff on guitars, Sleepy Johnson on banjo, Leon McAuliffe on steel guitar, and Ramon DeArman on string bass. Leon Huff provides lead vocals. W. Lee O’Daniel was there, too, but he didn’t do anything on this record.
Opening out with a guitar run reminiscent of Rodgers’ signature style, Leon Huff sings and yodels W. Lee O’Daniel’s own tribute to the Blue Yodeler, “Memories of Jimmy [sic] Rodgers” (though either he or the record company misspelled Rodgers’ name).
Memories of Jimmy [sic] Rodgers, recorded October 11, 1933 by the Light Crust Doughboys.
Lightening up considerably from the more solemn tone of the previous song, the Doughboys sing a humorous number on the flip, “I Want Somebody to Cry Over Me”, punctuated by Sleepy Johnson’s tenor banjo.
I Want Somebody to Cry Over Me, recorded October 10, 1933 by the Light Crust Doughboys.
The Delmore Brothers, Rabon and Alton, as pictured on a WLS Grand Ole Opry publication, circa 1935.
Now what we have here is a good old-fashioned split release; one artist on one side, a different one on the other. Not just any old split release though, these two sides happen to contain a couple of the hottest hillbilly performances of the Depression years. Two of my own personal favorites at least.
Bluebird B-5403 was recorded on December 6, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois, and November 22, 1930 in Memphis, Tennessee, respectively, and was released on April 4, 1934. The two sides also appeared together on Montgomery Ward M-4750. The Delmore Brothers are Alton on guitar and Rabon on tenor guitar, vocals by both; the Allen Brothers are Austin on tenor banjo and vocals and Lee on guitar and kazoo.
The Delmore Brothers were born into a family of poor farmers in Elkmont, Alabama—first Alton on Christmas Day in 1908, then Rabon on December 3, 1916. Their mother Mollie wrote and sang church songs, and soon Alton joined, publishing his first song with his mother in 1925. They started out their musical career singing at local fiddle contests, and cut their first record for Columbia on October 28, 1931 in Atlanta. Two years later, they secured a contract with RCA Victor’s Bluebird records, and spot on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. They found their greatest success as Opry members, playing alongside Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith and Uncle Dave Macon, and remained on the show until a dispute in 1939. After parting ways, they continued to The Delmores switched to the King label in 1944, shortly after the label’s inception, with whom they had some of their greatest record successes, including “Freight Train Boogie” in 1946 with harmonica player Wayne Raney, and “Blues Stay Away from Me” in 1949. The Delmore Brothers’ career ended with Rabon’s early death from lung cancer on December 4, 1952. Alton lived on for twelve more years, dying of a heart attack on June 8, 1964.
First up, from their first Bluebird session, Alton and Rabon Delmore sing and play up a real masterpiece on their spectacular and widely imitated hit composition “Brown’s Ferry Blues”, one of twelve sides recorded that day. The Delmores followed up two years later with “Brown’s Ferry Blues-Part 2” and “Part 3” two years after that, and re-recorded the popular tune all the way in 1946 for King Records.
Brown’s Ferry Blues, recorded December 6, 1933 by the Delmore Brothers.
Not to be confused with the Australian duo of the late 1960s, the Allen Brothers—Austin, born February 7, 1901, and Lee, born June 1, 1906—originated from Sewanee, Tennessee, and got their start in music playing in medicine shows and coal mining towns. Sometimes called the “Chattabooga Boys” for their frequent references to the Tennessee town, the duo made their first records for Columbia in April of 1927, and followed up with two further sessions for them until one of their records was mistakenly issued in their 14000-D “race” series rather than the 15000-D “Old Familiar Tunes” series, which seems to have offended the pair, because they threatened to bring a lawsuit against Columbia Records. Instead, they switched to Victor for the vast bulk of their recorded output between 1928 and ’32. They concluded their recording career with a series of sessions for Vocalion in October of 1934 (little did they know, apparently, that around that same time, Vocalion was under the same parent company as their forsaken Columbia). After that, the vice grip of the Great Depression forced them to end their musical careers, and seek employment in the construction game. Austin died on January 5, 1959, while Lee survived into the folk revival of the 1960s, when he was persuaded to perform once again, before his own death on February 24, 1981.
Here, the Chattanooga boys, Austin and Lee Allen sing their second take on this old folk ditty with “A New Salty Dog”. This one was originally issued in Victor’s “Old Familiar Tunes” series, number 23514, in 1931. Their old “Salty Dog” was recorded for Columbia in 1927; in my opinion, the “new” one’s better.
A New Salty Dog, recorded November 22, 1930 by the Allen Brothers.
Dick Powell as pictured in Stars of Radio and Things You Would Like to Know About Them.
A star of stage, screen, radio, and records, the 1930s would have been unquestionably more depressing without Dick Powell as a leading man.
Richard Ewing Powell was born on November 14, 1904 in Mountain View, Arkansas. He began singing as a child, and started out in choirs and local bands. Soon he got his big break as a vocalist with Myron Schultz’s Midwestern territory band, the Royal Peacock Orchestra. Not long after arriving in Indianapolis, he joined Charlie Davis’ orchestra. In 1927, Powell made his first records: “Beautiful” and “Is She My Girl Friend? (How-de-ow-dow)” for Vocalion. Finding success as a a master of ceremonies, he later relocated to Pittsburgh, and then off to Hollywood. When Warner Bros. bought out Brunswick Records—the parent company of Vocalion—in 1930, they offered him a motion picture contract. Thus, he began his ascent to stardom, as a “boy tenor” in musical pictures in the 1930s, then as a hard-boiled tough guy in film noir in the 1940s. He found early success paired with Ruby Keeler in a string of musicals: 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade, Dames, and Flirtation Walk, most of which were choreographed by Busby Berkeley. Later, he went on to portray Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet. The aforementioned six titles account for only a small fraction of his extensive career in films. In 1936, Powell married frequent co-star Joan Blondell, and later married June Allyson in 1945. When television came around, Powell got in on it; he hosted Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre and The Dick Powell Show, respectively, from 1956 to 1963. Dick Powell died of cancer on January 2, 1963, speculated to have been the result of radioactivity from nuclear testing near the set of the Howard Hughes film The Conqueror in 1956.
Conqueror 8183 was recorded on May 25, 1933 in New York City. According to Rust, Powell’s accompaniment includes Bunny Berigan, Mannie Klein, Charlie Margulis on trumpet, Russ Morgan or Charlie Butterfield on trombone, Chester Hazlett on clarinet, bass clarinet, and alto sax, and Larry Binyon on tenor sax and flute, among others. Both tunes are hits from one of my favorite movies, the 1933 (if that much doesn’t go without saying) Warner Bros. musical Gold Diggers of1933, in which Powell starred.
First, Powell sings a bubbly rendition of “Pettin’ in the Park”, complete with sound effects.
Pettin’ In the Park, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.
On the flip, he sings Gold Diggers’ big hit: the “Shadow Waltz”.
Shadow Waltz, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.
Art Tatum in the 1940s. Pictured in the 1944 Esquire Jazz Book.
One of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz music was Art Tatum, whose virtuosity on the piano was perhaps unparalleled. He was a favorite of almost all fellow jazz musicians, as well as such classical greats as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Leopold Stokowski.
Arthur Tatum, Jr., was born on October 13, 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, the son of a guitar playing father and piano playing mother. As a baby, he was afflicted with cataracts, which left him mostly blind for the rest of his life, in spite of surgical intervention. As a child prodigy with perfect pitch, Tatum learned to play the piano play by ear. He attended blind school in the 1920s, and later studied music. Tatum began playing on the radio in 1927, known as “Toledo’s Blind Pianist”, and soon began playing at the local Waiters & Bellman’s Club, where he was a favorite of jazz greats by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Andy Kirk, and Fletcher Henderson. In 1932, Tatum was noticed by the singer Adelaide Hall, who invited him to tour with her. He accompanied her back to New York, where he made his first recordings as a member of her backing orchestra. Not long after, he had his first solo recording session for Brunswick records, cutting the first versions of his famous arrangements of “Tea for Two” and “Tiger Rag”, among others. His subsequent recordings were made for Decca. Tatum remained in New York until the end of 1934, then went back west to the Midwest, and to Los Angeles, appearing on Rudy Vallée’s Fleischmann Hour in 1935. He returned to New York in 1937, and then embarked on the Queen Mary for a tour of England. After returning to the States, Tatum was a hit on 52nd Street throughout the 1940s, and toured around the country frequently. He also participated in concerts and sessions organized by jazz impresario Norman Granz, and was one of Esquire’s 1944 Jazz All-Stars. A chronic alcoholic, Art Tatum suffered kidney failure and died on November 5, 1956.
Brunswick 6543 was recorded in New York City on March 21, 1933. It is Art Tatum’s first issued solo record, and his second and third recorded solo sides. Both are modernistic stride improvisations on old standards.
First up is one of Art Tatum’s most famous performances, his frenetic arrangement of Nick La Rocca’s “Tiger Rag”.
Tiger Rag, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.
Next up is Tatum’s interpretation of W.C. Handy’s famous “St. Louis Blues”. Brian Rust notes two issued takes of this side, this is “A”.
St. Louis Blues, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.