Bluebird B-5403 – Delmore Brothers/Allen Brothers – 1933/1930

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.

Conqueror 8183 – Dick Powell – 1933

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 of 1933, in which Powell starred.

First, Powell sings a bubbly rendition of “Pettin’ in the Park”, complete with sound effects.

Pettin' In the Park

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

Shadow Waltz, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.

Brunswick 6543 – Art Tatum – 1933

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.

Okeh 6893 – Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band – 1933

Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues. From Jazzmen, 1938.

The time has come once again to honor the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith.  I’ve already covered her life in some detail previously, so this post is dedicated to her famous last session.

Bessie Smith’s career flourished throughout the roaring twenties, but was hampered by the onset of the Great Depression.  Bessie made her final recordings for the Columbia label—for whom she had recorded since her debut in 1923—near the end of 1931, as the economy continued to dive.  After two years spent touring, record producer John Hammond brought her back to the studio for a session with Okeh (a subsidiary of Columbia since 1926).  For this session, Smith was paid a non-royalty sum of $37.50 (equivalent to around $690 dollars today).  With an all-star band led by pianist Buck Washington (best known as half of the popular vaudeville duo Buck and Bubbles) assembled to accompany her, the four sides cut at that session helped bring her style into the burgeoning era of swing.  That lone Okeh session, however, proved to be her last.  Smith made no further recordings between then and her fatal car accident four years later, and in that period of time faded into obscurity; by 1936 she was working as a hostess in a Philadelphia club.

Okeh 6893 was recorded on November 24, 1933 in New York City.  It was originally issued on Okeh 8949, this reissue dates to 1952.  In the band accompanying Bessie is the almost legendary lineup of Frank Newton on trumpet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Chu Berry on tenor sax, Buck Washington on piano, Bobby Johnson on guitar, and Billy Taylor on string bass.  Benny Goodman was recording in an adjoining studio that day, and sat in for this session, but I’m not sure if he can be heard on these two sides.  The songs on both sides were composed by Wesley “Socks” Wilson.

First up, Bessie is at her all-time best on the legendary “Gimme a Pigfoot”.

Gimme a Pigfoot, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Next, she gives another great performance on the classic “Take Me For a Buggy Ride”.

Take Me For a Buggy Ride, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Updated with improved audio on October 20, 2017.

Perfect 13090 – Bill Cox – 1933/1934

A Perfect sleeve emblazoned with the NRA Blue Eagle.

A Perfect sleeve displaying the NRA Blue Eagle (to the right, above Morton Downey.)

September 13, 1933 was “NRA Day”, celebrated in New York City with one of, if not the largest parade in the city’s history, complete with an appearance by the U.S. Navy’s airship U.S.S. Macon.

With today’s politics, hearing of the NRA brings to mind the National Rifle Association, but in days of yore, it held an entirely different meaning.  In the 1930s, the abbreviation referred to the National Recovery Administration.  That NRA was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s earliest New Deal agencies, created in 1933 by the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA).  With its signature “Blue Eagle” as the logo, the NRA set forth a series of codes and regulations intended to help employ more people and get the economy back on its feet.  Though popular with many workers, the NRA was ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court, thus bringing it to an end in May of 1935.  During its existence from 1933 to 1935, NRA Blue Eagles were displayed in store windows and emblazoned on all sorts of consumer products, ranging from garments to fruit crates to record sleeves.

Perfect 13090 was recorded in two separate sessions on August 30, 1933 and September 9, 1934 at the American Record Corporation studios in New York City.  The former session was Cox’s first with the ARC, having recorded previously with the Starr Piano Company (Gennett).  Interestingly for a black label Perfect, this is a laminated pressing.

On this disc, the Dixie Songbird, Bill Cox laments to his sweetheart his employer’s delay in joining the NRA in what may just be the greatest political topical song of the Great Depression-era: “N. R. A. Blues”.  “When they gonna join the NRA?  Sweet thing, sweet thing.  When they gonna join the NRA, I never have heard the big boss say.  Sweet thing, yes baby mine.”

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox,

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Starting out with a little bit of the old “Jack o’ Diamonds”, on the flip, Cox sings a low down old time country blues tune, “Hard Luck Blues”, sounding a bit like Jimmie Rodgers in his vocals on this side.  A Great Depression-era country tune evocative of Dust Bowl times.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1934 by Bill Cox.

Updated with improved audio on June 23, 2017.