Brunswick 6074 – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra – 1931

It’s been quite a while since we’ve last heard from our old friend Cab Calloway here on Old Time Blues, but has come time to turn out attention to what may well be his greatest claim to fame—”Minnie the Moocher”.

Cab Calloway and his Orchestra in the early 1930s. Pictured in Of Minnie the Moocher & Me, photograph from Frank Driggs Collection.

With a career spanning more than half a century, it’s no stretch to say that Cab Calloway sang hundreds of songs on record, radio, stage, and screen, but no song is so indelibly identified with him as his own composition “Minnie the Moocher”.  Minnie “messed around with a bloke named Smokey” who “showed her how to kick the gong around”—a euphemism for smoking opium.  Cab wrote “Minnie” early in his career, around 1930, based heavily on “Willie the Weeper”, a popular folk tune and vaudeville favorite that originated in the early twentieth century.  He first recorded it early in 1931, and it became an instant success, spawning close to a dozen covers in the first year.  Becoming his theme song, Cab reprised “Minnie” in Fleischer Studios’ eponymous Betty Boop cartoon the following year, appearing both as himself and rotoscoped as a ghost walrus.  Such a sensation it was that sequels followed, like “Kickin’ the Gong Around”, “Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day”.  Cab’s original Brunswick recording was reissued all throughout the 1930s and onward, and he made new recording more than once, including an unissued Victor recording in 1933, and another for Okeh in 1942 (not to mention recordings made after the 78 era, upon which I’m not qualified to comment).

Brunswick 6074 was recorded on March 3, 1931 in New York City.  Still following the basic roster of their predecessor, the Missourians, Cab’s orchestra is made up of R.Q. Dickerson, Lammar Wright, and Reuben Reeves on trumpets, De Priest Wheeler and Harry White on trombones, Arville Harris on clarinet and alto sax, Andrew Brown on bass clarinet and tenor sax, Walter “Foots” Thomas on alto, tenor, and baritone sax and flute, Earres Prince on piano, Morris White on banjo, Jimmy Smith on string bass and tuba, and Leroy Maxey on drums.

And so now here it is, Cab Calloway’s first ever recording of his theme song, “Minnie the Moocher (The Ho-De-Ho Song)”.  “Minnie had a heart as big as a ‘hay-wale’.”

Minnie the Moocher (The Ho-De-Ho Song), recorded March 3, 1931 by Cab Calloway.

Unlike “Minnie”, Cab’s “Doin’ the Rumba” on the flip-side is all but forgotten.  Nonetheless, it’s still a fine song, with hot, Spanish tinged, playing from the former Missourians.

Doin’ the Rumba, recorded March 3, 1931 by Cab Calloway.

Brunswick 4936 – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra – 1930

Cab Calloway in his early years as a bandleader, circa 1930. Pictured in Of Minnie the Moocher & Me.

Besides Christmas, December 25 marks another important date in history, the birthday of Cab Calloway.  As a belated celebration of that anniversary, here is Cab’s first record, with two takes of his first recordings.  This record was made soon after Cab took control of the excellent Harlem band, the Missourians, who had played at the Cotton Club under Andy Preer in the middle of the 1920s.  After departing from their Cotton Club engagement when Preer died and Duke Ellington replaced them in 1927, they returned in the early 1930s under the leadership of Cab Calloway.

Brunswick 4936 was recorded July 24, 1930 in New York City.  The band includes the same basic personnel as the Missourians, with R.Q. Dickerson, Wendell Culley, and Lammar Wright on trumpets, De Priest Wheeler on trombone, William Thornton Blue on clarinet and alto sax, Andrew Brown on clarinet, alto sax, and bass-clarinet, Walter “Foots” Thomas on tenor sax, alto sax, and baritone sax, Earres Prince on piano, Morris White on banjo, Jimmy Smith on tuba, and Leroy Maxey on the drums.  This record stayed “in print” for many years, I even have a 1938-39 silver label Brunswick issue of it.  Also recorded at this session was an unissued take of “I’ll Be a Friend (With Pleasure)”; I don’t know of any surviving copies of that recording.  You may note that the first issue label credits “The Jungle Band”, a pseudonym that was typically given to Duke Ellington’s recordings on Brunswick, the only exceptions that I know of being this one and Chick Webb’s first recording.

Two takes were recorded of Cab Calloway’s very first recording, “Gotta Darn Good Reason Now (For Bein’ Good)”.  The second take was released first, presumably because either Cab or the producers at Brunswick preferred that take, and it seems more polished than the first, where Cab seems more hesitant.  Later pressings used the first take, likely because the original stamper was beginning to wear out.  Here, the sound files are included in order of release, with the second take first.

Gotta Darn Good Reason Now (For Bein' Good), recorded July 24, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Gotta Darn Good Reason Now (For Bein’ Good), recorded July 24, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Only one take is known to exist of Cab Calloway’s famous rendition of “St. Louis Blues”, so the better sounding of the two records is featured here.  Just listen to how long he holds that note!

St. Louis Blues, recorded July 24, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

St. Louis Blues, recorded July 24, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Melotone M 12639 – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra – 1930

I think it’s about time I featured a Cab Calloway record, so here it is, one of his earliest records, as well as one of his best.  At such an early recording date, Calloway’s band retained the most of the members, and hot sound of their predecessor, the Missourians.

Melotone M 12639, originally issued as Brunswick 6020, was recorded on December 23, 1930 in New York, two days before Cab’s birthday, in New York City, this Melotone was issued around early to mid 1933.  These sides feature Cab singing and directing the band, and includes R.Q. Dickerson, Lammar Wright, and Reuben “River” Reeves on trumpets, De Priest Wheeler and Harry White on trombones, William Thornton Blue on clarinet and alto sax, Andrew Brown on bass clarinet and tenor sax, Walter “Foots” Thomas on alto, tenor and baritone saxes, Earres Prince on piano, Morris White on banjo, Jimmy Smith on bass, and Leroy Maxey on drums.

The band’s energetic performance of the evergreen classic “Some of These Days” is one of Cab’s hottest tunes ever recorded, with the (ex-)Missourians playing as hot as ever.  This side has a few small needle digs that cause slight disruption near the end, please try to excuse them.

Some of These Days, recorded December 23, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Some of These Days, recorded December 23, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Maceo Pinkard’s “Is That Religion” is performed in the form of a mock-sacred song, with a chorus singing in the background, and Cab preaching.

Is That Religion?, recorded December 23, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Is That Religion?, recorded December 23, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.