Vocalion 04727 – W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys – 1938

On this day, we celebrate the life and accomplishments of one hayseed flour salesman from Ohio whose name went down in the history books: Mr. “Pappy” O’Daniel.

“Pappy”, as pictured on the cover of “Beautiful Texas”.

Wilbert Lee O’Daniel was born in Malta, Ohio on March 11, 1890.  When he was a baby, the family relocated to Kansas following the death of the O’Daniel patriarch.  Lee entered the flour industry at the age of eighteen, and soon went on the move, eventually settling in Fort Worth, where he began working for the Burrus Mill and Elevator Company of Saginaw, Texas as sales manager.  In 1928, O’Daniel became the company’s director of advertising in the newly emerging medium of radio broadcasting.  About three years later, he hired the Wills Fiddle Band, at the time consisting of fiddler Bob Wills, guitarist Herman Arnspiger, and singer Milton Brown, to perform on the air as the Light Crust Doughboys.  Not a fan of their hillbilly music however, O’Daniel canceled their show a couple weeks later.  Fans of the show were not pleased, and soon the Light Crust Doughboys were back on the air.  By 1933, the original Doughboys had parted ways, and a new lineup of musicians had taken over the moniker, going on to achieve great radio acclaim.  In 1935, O’Daniel was fired from his position with the Burrus Mill, and he went on to found his own flour company, the W. Lee O’Daniel Flour Company, manufacturer of Hillbilly Flour.  To promote the new product, “Pappy” O’Daniel formed a new radio band: the Hillbilly Boys, which included his two sons Mike and Pat.  Broadcasting from WBAP in Fort Worth and “border blaster” XEPN in Piedras Negras, Mexico, the Hillbilly Boys also found considerable fame with their madcap radio theme “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy”.

Come 1938, W. Lee O’Daniel registered to run for Governor of Texas—his platform, the ten commandments, and his campaign slogan, the golden rule.  He took his Hillbilly Boys on the campaign trail and drew huge crowds.  Winning the election, he promised no sales tax or poll tax, an end to capital punishment, and an old-age pension.  He delivered on none.  Nonetheless, he proved popular enough and was reelected in 1940.  Shortly into his second term as Governor, O’Daniel set his sights on a more prestigious and powerful position, the United States Senate.  When Senator Morris Sheppard died in 1941, O’Daniel appointed the eighty-six year old son of Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson Houston, to fill his empty seat in the interim.  When Houston himself died several months later, O’Daniel defeated Lyndon B. Johnson in a special election and took the seat for himself.  When the next election came around, he asserted that his opponents, former governors Dan Moody and James V. Allred, were part of a communist conspiracy against him, alienating himself from some of his supporters, but nonetheless claiming the election.  In 1944, he campaigned for the Texas Regulars, opposing Roosevelt’s fourth term.  Serving ineffectively for eight years, O’Daniel declined to run for reelection in 1948—citing the hopelessness of saving America from the commies (though in reality he had simply embarrassed too many of his constituents)—and was replaced by “Landslide Lyndon”.  Thereafter, he retired to a ranch outside Fort Worth, making several ill-fated political comebacks in the 1950s and claiming that the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate schools in Brown v. Board of Education was a communist plot.  W. Lee O’Daniel died on May 12, 1969 in Dallas, at the age of 79.

Vocalion 04727 was recorded in Dallas, Texas on December 3, 1938.  The Hillbilly Boys are Mike O’Daniel on fiddle, Bundy Bratcher on the  accordion, Kermit Whalen on the steel guitar, Pat O’Daniel on tenor banjo, Leon Huff and Curly Perrin on guitars, and Wallace Griffin on string bass.  Huff sings the vocals on both sides.

First: the Hillbilly Boys’ theme song, “Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy”, really the 1933 song “I Like Mountain Music” with new words added by W. Lee O’Daniel to reflect his floury interests.

Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy (I Like Mountain Music), recorded December 3, 1938 by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys.

On the other side, the Hillbilly boys do a swell job swinging the 1927 tune “One Sweet Letter From You”.  I bought the record for “Please Pass the Biscuits Pappy”, but I do believe I like this one better.

One Sweet Letter from You, recorded December 3, 1938 by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys.

MacGregor & Sollie 875/6 – The Texas Drifter – 1938

On this day, we remember the Texas Drifter, Goebel Reeves, singing hobo of the 1920s and ’30s, on the anniversary of his birth.  To commemorate the occasion, here is one of the last recordings Reeves made.

Goebel Leon Reeves was born on October 9, 1899 in Sherman, Texas to a middle class family.  His father sold shoes and his mother was a music teacher.  After his father’s election to the Texas state legislature, the Reeves moved to Austin, where Goebel worked as a pageboy.  Reportedly, his first experience with hobos was in Austin; an encounter with a railroad bum left him enthralled with the lifestyle.  Reeves served as a bugler in the First World War, and was wounded on the front lines.  After the war, he turned to the life of a hobo, bumming across the nation and singing for a living.  Sometime in the 1920s, Reeves sailed to Europe as a merchant seaman.  Reeves claimed to have met and befriended Jimmie Rodgers, who at the time would have been working on the railroad as a brakeman.  He was also known to have made a variety of colorful claims that were verifiably false.  In the 1920s, Reeves performed on WFAA in Dallas, and made his first records for Okeh in 1929, spurred to do so after hearing Jimmie Rodgers on record.  Throughout the decade that followed, Reeves recorded for Gennett, Brunswick, and the American Record Corporation, under such names as “The Texas Drifter” and “George Riley.”  Throughout the 1930s, he made radio appearances on Rudy Vallée’s program, the WLS National Barn Dance, and the WSM Grand Ole Opry.  In 1933, he appeared at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.  He made his final recordings in 1938, a series of non-commercial records for MacGregor & Sollie in Hollywood, California.  Reeves worked as a sailor again in the 1930s, and he entertained United States troops during World War II, before returning to the States to work for the government in internment camps in California, owing to the fact that he spoke Japanese.  Goebel Reeves later joined the Wobblies and retired to Bell Gardens, California, where he remained until a fatal heart attack on January 26, 1959, having lived quite a life.

MacGregor & Sollie 875 and 876 (or MS 2635 and MS 2636 depending on which number you choose to use) was recorded in 1938.  I haven’t been able to locate that actual date of recording.  It is pressed in Columbia style Royal Blue laminated shellac.

First, the Texas Drifter sings the old familiar “Pictures from Life’s Other Side”.

Pictures From Life's Other Side

Pictures From Life’s Other Side, recorded 1938 by The Texas Drifter.

On the reverse, Reeves recites his account of “The Hobo’s Convention”, recounting an actual convention held in Portland, Oregon on June 3, 1921.

The Hobo's Convention

The Hobo’s Convention, recorded 1938 by The Texas Drifter.

Updated with improved audio on June 30, 2017.

Bluebird B-7746 – Artie Shaw and his Orchestra – 1938

Clarinetist Artie Shaw does everything his advisors tell him not to do.  He shouts down other bandleaders, kicks music publishers out the back door calling them racketeers, scowls at his admirers, refuses to turn on the charm or be civil, says he’s there to make music and not to pose.  When kids come to dance, he plays what he likes, thinks they should like it.  He plays no request numbers.  In other words, he does as he damn pleases.

— Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944

Artie Shaw, October 1939. Down Beat photo by Ray Rising.

Artie Shaw, October 1939. Down Beat photo by Ray Rising.

I’ve been meaning to try and work some more swing music into the busy schedule here on Old Time Blues, and with today (May 23) being Artie Shaw’s birthday, it seems like a prime opportunity.

Arthur Jacob Arshawsky was born on May 23, 1910 in New York City, his father hailing from Russia and his mother from Austria.  He took up the saxophone at the age of thirteen, and soon switched to clarinet.  In the mid-1920s, Shaw worked with Austin Wylie’s orchestra, before moving on to Irving Aaronson’s Commanders, and later Roger Wolfe Kahn’s orchestra and others.  Into the 1930s, he found steady work as a studio player like so many other New York jazz musicians of the day.  By the middle of the 1930s, Shaw had started his own orchestra, recording for Brunswick as “Art Shaw and his New Music”.  He began a contract with the RCA Victor Company in 1938, with whom he produced his largest volume of hits, including “Begin the Beguine”, “Back Bay Shuffle”, and his theme song “Nightmare”.  Where Benny Goodman was the “King of Swing”, many proclaimed Shaw the “King of Clarinet”, though Shaw felt it ought to have been the other way around, as “Benny Goodman played Clarinet. [He] played music.”  In 1940, Shaw made his feature film debut with Fred Astaire in Second Chorus, which Astaire considered “the worst film he ever made”, and caused Shaw to swear off movie appearances.  During World War II, Shaw enlisted in the Navy and led a band in the Pacific, while Glenn Miller was doing the same in Europe, and received a medical discharge after eighteen months.  Throughout the 1950s onward, he experimented with artistic variations on jazz music.  Artie Shaw was by his own admission “a very difficult man”, and was married eight times (probably making him the runner up for the title of “Most Married Swing Bandleader” after Charlie Barnet, who was married eleven times).  Shaw died of diabetes at the age of 94 in 2004.

Bluebird B-7746 was recorded July 24, 1938 in New York City.  The band consisted of Artie Shaw on clarinet, John Best, Claude Bowen, and Chuck Peterson on trumpets, George Arus, Ted Vesely, and Barry Rogers on trombones, Les Robinson and Hank Freeman on alto saxes, Tony Pastor and Ronnie Perry on tenor saxes, Les Burness on piano, Al Avola on guitar, Sid Weiss on string bass, and Cliff Leeman on drums.

First up is Artie Shaw’s famous rendition of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”, described by Shaw as “a nice little tune from one of Cole Porter’s very few flop shows.”

Begin the Beguine

Begin the Beguine. recorded July 24, 1938 by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra.

Tony Pastor sings the vocal on Shaw’s swing rendition of the famous “Indian Love Call”.

Indian Love Call

Indian Love Call, recorded July 24, 1938 by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra.

Decca 1840 – Chick Webb and his Orchestra – 1938

Ella Fitzgerald in the late 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1938.

Ella Fitzgerald in the late 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1939.

In the mood for a bit of swing?  I hope so, because today we celebrate birthday of the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella was born April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia.  She moved north to Yonkers during the Great Migration.  After falling on hard times as a teenager during the Great Depression, she entered an amateur night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.  Though she originally intended to dance at the show, after feeling intimidated by another dance act, she sang instead, imitating the style of her favorite singer, Connie Boswell, and won the twenty-five dollar prize.  In 1935, Chick Webb reluctantly took her on as a vocalist in his band, which she stayed with for the remainder of the decade.  When Webb succumbed to his illness in 1939, Ella took over the band, recording under her own name.  After Webb’s band broke up, she continued to record as a solo artist, and the rest as they say, is history.  After a life of music, her health declined in the 1980s, and Ella Fitzgerald died comfortably in her home on June 15, 1996, her final words were, “I’m ready to go now.”

Decca 1840 was recorded in two sessions in May of 1938, the first on the second and the second on the third.  The band consists of Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, and Taft Jordan on trumpet, George Matthews, Nat Story, and Sandy Williams on trombone, Garvin Bushell on clarinet and alto sax, Louis Jordan (yes, that Louis Jordan) on alto sax, Teddy McRae, and Wayman Carver on tenor sax, Tommy Fulford on piano, Bobby Johnson on guitar, Beverly Peer on string bass, and Chick Webb on drums.

Ella’s first big hit was “A-Tisket A-Tasket”, which she and Al Feldman adapted as a pop tune.  The arrangement was written by the recently departed Van Alexander.

A-Tisket A-Tasket

A-Tisket A-Tasket, recorded May 2, 1938 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

The label of the flip-side “Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)” bears the inscription “”To a Swell Kid, Camilla.”  Unseen in the scan is “To Marilyn From Camilla Adams 1938” engraved in the run-out with some sharp instrument.

Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)

Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away), recorded May 3, 1938 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.