Melotone 7-02-61 – Bill Cox and Cliff Hobbs (The Dixie Songbirds) – 1936

By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt won his first reelection in 1936, he had already done a great deal for his country, including the rolling out his second wave of New Deal programs, including the WPA, the SSA, the NYA, and the RA.  But hailed by some as FDR’s crowning achievement was his fulfillment of one particular campaign promise: the repeal of the eighteenth amendment—prohibition.  Less than a year into his first term, on December 5, 1933, Roosevelt signed the twenty-first amendment into law, thus putting an end to the thirteen years dry years that had loomed over America’s head as it drank itself into a stupor like never seen before, and the whole nation celebrated with a round of beer.

The “Dixie Songbird” Bill Cox brought us the “N. R. A. Blues” in 1933, in celebration of the recently elected Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first New Deal.  Come FDR’s reelection three years later, Cox—ever the loyal Democrat—wasn’t about to let the occasion pass without a song.  This time around, he was joined by Cliff Hobbs, a young man whom Cox had earlier hired to accompany him on guitar after being temporarily incapacitated by a hand injury, and later joined him permanently as a singing partner at the suggestion of record producer Art Satherley.  Ultimately, the tribute that the two created turned out to be one of the most charming and enduring of the Depression-era topical songs.

Melotone 7-02-61 was recorded in New York, New York on November 28, 1936, less than a month after the election of ’36 that saw FDR’s reelection, and represents the entirety of Cox and Hobbs’ session that day.  Both Cox and Hobbs sing and play guitars; Cox doubles on harmonica on a rack.  It was also issued on Conqueror 8771 and later on Okeh 05896.

First up, the Dixie Songbirds celebrate Roosevelt’s 1936 reelection with their lively performance of “Franklin Roosevelt’s Back Again”, perhaps among the most memorable Great Depression-era topical songs.  “Since Roosevelt’s been elected, moonshine liquor’s been corrected; we’ve got legal wine, whiskey, beer, and gin!”  (“Hallelujah!”)

Franklin Roosevelt’s Back Again, recorded November 28, 1936 by Bill Cox and Cliff Hobbs (The Dixie Songbirds).

Next, Cox and Hobbs commemorate the first Democrat in the White House since Woodrow Wilson left office in 1921.  “Hee-haw hallelujah!  hee-haw hallelujah!  I’m back in old ‘Columby’ in the same old stall again!”

The Democratic Donkey (Is in His Stall Again), recorded November 28, 1936 by Bill Cox and Cliff Hobbs (The Dixie Songbirds).

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.

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.