Melotone 7-07-64 – Big Bill – 1937

It’s come time once again to pay tribute to blues legend Big Bill Broonzy, on the (unconfirmed) anniversary of his birth.  Last time, I posted one of his earlier records, coupling his memorable flatpicked “How You Want it Done?” with “M & O Blues”, featuring his own jug band.  This time around, I present two sides from around the time when he was shifting from his country blues roots to a more urbane style.  I biographed Big Bill in that previous post, so I feel that I needn’t go over that again here.

An ever-versatile musician, the 1930s marked a period of development and transition for Big Bill Broonzy’s music.  He started out the decade playing pure country blues from back where he came from, akin to Josh White, or Buddy Moss.  His recordings from that period, like “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “How You Want it Done?” generally feature his own guitar, sometimes backed with another guitar or a piano.  Later, around the time the swing era kicked off in the middle part of the decade, Chicago evidently had an effect on him, as he started to develop a more citified style to fit with the public’s changing tastes.  Accordingly, his recordings started to swing, often backed by an instrumental ensemble with horn and rhythm, comparable to urban blues contemporaries like Peetie Wheatstraw.  He worked extensively with fellow blues people such as pianist Black Bob, Hawaiian guitar man Casey Bill Weldon, harmonica player Bill “Jazz” Gillum, and his half brother Washboard Sam.  By the end of the decade, his work had become quite sophisticated, producing some of his most memorable work, including “Key to the Highway” and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”.  After the end of World War II, however, as interests in folk music began to bud, Bill returned to his rural roots.

Melotone 7-07-64 was recorded on January 31, 1937 in Chicago. Illinois.  Big Bill is accompanied by a rhythm band made up of “Mister Sheiks” Alfred Bell on trumpet, Black Bob Hudson on piano, Bill Settles on string bass, Fred Williams on drums, and Broonzy’s own guitar.

First up, Big Bill plays a classic mid-1930s blues side, “Mean Old World”, an entirely different piece than the T-Bone Walker hit of the 1940s, though Walker may have found some inspiration in this Broonzy tune.

Mean Old World, recorded January 31, 1937 by Big BIll.

Next, Bill does a peppy one with a hot dance accompaniment, “Barrel House When it Rains”, featuring the piano of the mysterious Black Bob, among others noted Chicago blues figures.

Barrel House When it Rains, recorded January 31, 1937 by Big BIll.

Master MA 103 – Hudson-DeLange Orchestra – 1937

Some of my very favorite music comes out of the second half of the 1930s, yet so little of that has been featured here on Old Time Blues so far.  To remedy that omission, here’s some sweet swing, courtesy of the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra.

The Hudson-DeLange Orchestra was formed in 1935 by the songwriting duo of Will Hudson and Eddie DeLange, who were responsible for the 1934 hit “Moonglow”.  As one of the multitude of bands managed by New York jazz impresario Irving Mills, the band was usually fronted by DeLange, with Hudson remaining behind the scenes.  Contracted first to the Brunswick records (at the time owned by the American Record Corporation, for whom Mills’ artists recorded at the time), the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra held their first session on January 15, 1936.  The following year, they moved to Master, one of two labels (the other being Variety) made for a brief period in 1937 by the American Record Corporation for Irving Mills’ stable of artists. The bandleaders split up in 1938, and Hudson and DeLange went separate ways.  Will Hudson continued to lead the orchestra for a period, then recorded with a different band for Decca in 1940.  Eddie DeLange started a new band, and recorded for Bluebird.

Master MA 103 was recorded on March 10 and 11, 1937 in New York City by the (Will) Hudson-(Eddie) DeLange Orchestra.  In the band are Charles Mitchell, Howard Schaumberger, and Jimmy Blake on trumpets, Edward Kolyer on trombone, George Bohn and Gus Bivona on clarinet and alto sax, Pete Brendel on alto and baritone sax, Ted Duane on clarinet and tenor sax, Mark Hyams on piano, Bus Etri on guitar, Doc Goldberg on string bass, and Nat Pollard on drums.

Recorded on the latter date, Will Hudson’s “Sophisticated Swing” perfectly captures the elegance and—appropriately—sophistication of the 1930s, as opposed to the gritty Depression captured by, say, Bill Cox’s “N. R. A. Blues” (or most anything by Woody Guthrie).

Sophisticated Swing, recorded March 11, 1937 by the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra.

On the flip-side, the band swings a little harder on “The Maid’s Night Off”, recorded on the former date.

The Maid’s Night Off, recorded on March 10, 1937 by the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra.

Oriole 8159 – Joshua White – 1932

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

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

Downhearted Man Blues, recorded April 12, 1932 by Johsua White.

Romeo 5109 – Gene Autry & Jimmy Long – 1931

Singing cowboy and 20th century superstar Gene Autry was born on this day in 1907, and to commemorate the occasion, here is Autry’s first hit, featuring his early duet partner Jimmy Long.

A depiction of Gene Autry featured on an early 1930s Perfect record sleeve.

A depiction of Gene Autry featured on an early 1930s Perfect record sleeve.

Gene Autry was born Orvon Grover Autry on September 29, 1907 in Grayson County, Texas, near Tioga.  After high school, he worked as a telegraph operator for St. Louis–San Francisco Railway, and would sing and play guitar on slow days.  After losing that job, Autry sang on Tulsa’s KVOO, and when Will Rogers encouraged his singing career, he went to New York for an audition with the Victor Company, which wound up producing one record with Jimmy Long and Frankie Marvin on steel guitar.  After Victor, Autry recorded for Columbia, which yielded several releases on their budget labels, in the style of the famous singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers.  After Columbia, he recorded for Gennett and the American Record Corporation, staying with the latter for many years.  In 1934, he was “discovered” by Nat Levine of Mascot Pictures and made his motion picture debut in In Old Santa Fe, becoming the original singing cowboy of the screen.  Before long, Autry became the top singing cowboy on film until he was surpassed by Roy Rogers, and his blue yodeling style was replaced with a more Western repertoire.  He had hit records with “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” in 1931 (and again in ’35), “Back in the Saddle” in 1939, and the Christmas classics “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  During World War II, Autry served in the Army Air Corps.  In the 1950s, Autry appeared in his own television program, and became involved in baseball.  He retired from show business in 1964, having made over one-hundred films and over six-hundred records.  Autry died of lymphoma on October 2, 1998.  He is the only person thusfar to be awarded stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in all five categories.

Romeo 5109 was recorded on October 29 and 30, 1931 in New York City by Gene Autry and Jimmy Long.  In addition to Autry’s guitar, the pair are accompanied by Roy Smeck on steel guitar.

Sentimental to the point of sappiness (and truly a part of Americana) “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” was Gene Autry’s first big hit, and one of his most enduring songs, making its biggest success in 1935 when Autry sang it in Tumbling Tumbleweeds.

Silver Haired Daddy of Mine

Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, recorded October 29, 1931 by Gene Autry & Jimmy Long.

Following the same formula as the previous, on the flip, they perform “Mississippi Valley Blues”.

Mississippi Valley Blues

Mississippi Valley Blues, recorded October 30, 1931 by Gene Autry and Jimmy Long.

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 “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.