Perfect 0207 – Big Bill & his Jug Busters – 1932

On June 26, we celebrate the probable birthday of blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.  As is the case with many early blues players, such as Lemon Jefferson, the exact date of his birth is disputed; Broonzy himself claimed to have been born in 1893, but family records stated a more probable date of 1903.  There is also mystery surrounding his place of birth, while Broonzy stated his hometown as Scott, Mississippi, recent research suggests he may have come from Arkansas.

Whatever the true details may be, Big Bill grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and learned from his uncle to play a homemade cigar box fiddle, which he played at local social functions.  In 1920, as many Southern black people did at the time, Broonzy emigrated to Chicago in search of new opportunity, where he switched from fiddle to guitar, mentored by Papa Charlie Jackson.  In Chicago, Broonzy worked odd jobs while trying make it as a musician.  In 1927, he got his break when Charlie Jackson helped him l get an audition with J. Mayo Williams of Paramount Records, and after several rejected tests, made his first released records with his friend John Thomas as “Big Bill and Thomps”.  Though his records sold poorly for the first few years, sales eventually began to pick up as he gained popularity in the Chicago blues scene in the 1930s, even playing in John Hammond’s From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and ’39, with his style evolving from his rural roots to a more urban style all the while.  Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Big Bill recorded steadily, both solo and as an accompanist.  In the late 1940s into the 1950s, Broonzy became a part of the folk music revival occurring at that time, and he toured abroad in the 1950s, starting in Europe in 1951.  His autobiography, written with the help of Yannick Bruynoghe, was published in 1955.  Broonzy died of throat cancer in August of 1958.

Perfect 0207 was recorded March 29 and 30, 1932 in New York City, at Big Bill’s first and second session for the American Record Corporation under his own name (excepting some 1930 recordings under the name Sammy Sampson and as a part of the Hokum Boys).  The Jug Busters side features W.E. “Buddy” Burton on kazoo, piano by Black Bob Hudson, and Jimmy Bertrand on washboard.  The identity of the jug player is unknown.

“How You Want it Done?”, recorded March 29, is a fantastic side with stupendous flatpicked guitar by Big Bill, an unusual method for blues playing.  It’s likely that Broonzy picked up this song, along with its flatpicking style, from his contemporary Louie Lasky, who later recorded it in 1935, though Bill recorded it earlier.  Big Bill first recorded this song in 1930 for Gennett, then for Paramount in ’31 (of which no copies have been located)  This recording was also featured on the last record in Vocalion’s race series (1745).  It remained in Broonzy’s repertoire for many years, and he was filmed performing it in 1957.

How You Want it Done?, recorded

How You Want it Done?, recorded March 29, 1932 by Big Bill.

Recorded one day after the first side, Big Bill is accompanied by a jug band on “M & O Blues”, referring of course to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  The authorship of this song is often credited to Walter Davis.  It’s worth noting that there was another “M & O Blues” sung by legendary Delta bluesman Willie Brown which was an entirely different song.  Though the label looks prettier, this side unfortunately has some pretty bad stripped grooves that make a lot of noise in brief but quite intrusive passages, but it does clean up a bit as it plays.  Heck, the Document Records transfer is quite noisy, so cut me a little slack!

M & O Blues, recorded

M & O Blues, recorded March 30, 1932 by Big Bill & his Jug Busters.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Banner 32551 – Gene’s Merrymakers – 1932

Born on this day 117 years ago was bandleader Gene Kardos, whose orchestra made quite a few decent selling records in the 1930s.

Eugene Kardos was born June 12, 1899 in New York City.  He formed a territory band in the early 1930s, and first recorded for Victor, with his earliest output appearing on their short-lived Timely Tunes label, a number of further issues were on Electradisk.  By 1932, he had moved to ARC, using a wide variety of pseudonyms, as well as his own name, and made a few records on the side for Crown under the name of his piano player, Joel Shaw.  Kardos’ band tended to play on the hot side, and was competent with popular songs as well as the occasional jazz piece, though they adopted a “sweeter” style later in the 1930s, as did many bands of their type.   In 1939, Kardos married and retired from music to pursue a career with the United States Post Office.  He died in 1980.

Banner 32551 was recorded August 25, 1932 and December 18, 1931, respectively.  Gene Kardos’ Orchestra assumes the name “Gene’s Merrymakers”, which they commonly used on their ARC releases.

On the first side, the Kardos band plays an excellent rendition of “High Society”.  Thanks to a tip from Mr. Paul Lindemeyer, the probable personnel for Kardos’ band on this side has been identified as Sam Caspin and Red Hymie (Rosenblum) on trumpets, Pete Salemi on trombone, Moe Cohen and Nat Brown on clarinet and alto sax, Gabe Gelinas on clarinet and tenor sax, Joel Shaw on piano, Sol Sussman on banjo, Max Goodman on tuba, and Smith Howard on drums, with an arrangement by Bernie Green.

High Society

High Society, recorded August 25, 1932 by Gene’s Merrymakers.

Strangely, though credited to Kardos, “Clarinet Marmalade” is actually played by the Casa Loma Orchestra.  I believe it was their only side issued on the ARC budget labels.  I defer to the expert below (): it’s one of at least three Casa Loma sides appearing on the ARC dimestore labels, plus a later reissue of their 1931 “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.  Rust lists the personnel as Joe Hostetter, Grady Watts, and Bobby Jones on trumpets, Pee Wee Hunt and Billy Rauch on trombones, Clarence Hutchinrider on clarinet and alto sax, Kenny Sargent and Glen Gray on alto sax, Pat Davis on tenor sax, Mel Jenssen on violin, Joe Hall on piano, Gene Gifford on banjo and guitar, Stanley Dennis on bass, and Tony Briglia on drums.

Clarinet Marmalade

Clarinet Marmalade, recorded December 18, 1931 by Gene’s Merrymakers.

Updated on June 24 and September 24, 2016, and May 29, 2017.

Melotone M 12733 – Gene Autry – 1933

Eighty-three years ago today, the end came for Jimmie Rodgers.  On May 17, 1933, Jimmie traveled to New York City for what turned out to be his final recording session, during which he had to lie down in-between songs.   He cut his last recordings on the 24th, and returned to his room in the Taft Hotel.  On May 26, 1933, only two days after waxing his final song, “Years Ago”, Jimmie Rodgers finally succumbed to his tuberculosis, and died in his hotel room of a pulmonary hemorrhage at the age of 35.  He had fought T.B. since 1924.  At the time of his death, he represented a large percentage of Victor’s total sales deep in the Great Depression.  America’s Blue Yodeler left behind a legacy of more than a hundred recorded songs, later going down in history as the Father of Country Music.

After Jimmie’s passing, a wave of tributes ensued, including a number of songs by WLS artist Bradley Kincaid, and these tearjerkers by Gene Autry.

Melotone M 12733 was recorded June 22, 1933, less than one month after Jimmie Rodgers’ death, in New York City by Gene Autry.  Both songs were penned by Bob Miller.

First, Autry sings a reasonably accurate account of Jimmie Rodger’s life on “The Life of Jimmie Rodgers”.

The Life of Jimmie Rodgers

The Life of Jimmie Rodgers. recorded June 22, 1933 by Gene Autry.

On the flip, he sings a heartfelt tribute to Jimmie on “The Death of Jimmie Rodgers”.

The Death of Jimmie Rodgers

The Death of Jimmie Rodgers, recorded June 22, 1933 by Gene Autry.

Romeo 5052 – Gene Autry – 1931

I think it’s time to we pulled ourselves out of this, “on this day, this happened” rut we’ve been in for some time and put something up for no particular occasion, so here’s a good one, for no reason other than the music itself.  I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

Autry as pictured on a 1930s Perfect Records sleeve.

Autry as pictured on a 1930s Perfect Records sleeve.

The iconic Gene Autry made his fame in the 1930s as a singing cowboy, much like his contemporary Roy Rogers, but he started his career in the late 1920s imitating another popular singer by the name of Rodgers, Jimmie Rodgers.  By the early 1930s, Autry was starting to come into his own, but he still tended very closely to the style of song forth by the Singing Brakeman, as in fact did a great many country singers of that era.  On these 1931 sides, you’ll hear Autry perform songs much like those by Jimmie Rodgers.

Romeo 5052 (in their country and race series) was recorded February 25, 1931 in New York City by Gene Autry, accompanied on steel guitar and harmonica by Frankie Marvin.  It was also issued on Banner 32132, Jewel 20052, Oriole 8052, Perfect 12695, Regal 10310, and Conqueror 7843.

The first song is of a solemn tone, a warning to stay on the straight and narrow path, with the singer lamenting his falling in with the wrong crowd and into a life of crime, “’till it led to the use of a gun”, on “A Gangster’s Warning”.

A Gangster's Warning

A Gangster’s Warning, recorded February 25, 1931 by Gene Autry.

Now, this next side is one of my favorites of Autry’s songs, “True Blue Bill”, also called “I’m a Truthful Fellow”.  This song strikes me as a sort of a twentieth century re-hashing of the old “Four Thousand Years Ago”.  It seems that this side was a favorite of a previous owner as well, as it’s been quite well played.

True Blue Bill

True Blue Bill, recorded February 25, 1931 by Gene Autry.

Updated with improved audio on July 17, 2017.

Oriole 8122 – Bessie Jackson – 1930

Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama was the blues singer Lucille Anderson, better known by her married name Lucille Bogan, or her commonly used pseudonym, Bessie Jackson.  Born on April Fools’ Day of 1897 in Amory, Mississippi, Bogan is sometimes considered among the “big three” of blues singing, along with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith (though I would argue that Lizzie Miles deserves a position among them).  She was known for her unadulterated singing with lyrics ranging from raunchy to downright filthy, often much more so than those of her contemporaries.  This record contains some of her tamer material, but there’s one record floating around out there with lyrics that would put some of the present day’s songs to shame for their “explicit content”.  However, this is a family website, so I’m not going to go into detail on that one.  Bogan died of coronary sclerosis in 1948.

Oriole 8122, issued in their “race records” series, was recorded in Chicago sometime in March of 1930.  It features Lucille Bogan under her typical pseudonym Bessie Jackson, accompanied by boogie woogie piano player Charles Avery.  This record was originally issued as Brunswick 7210, this issue likely dates to 1931.

First up, Bogan sings on the boogie woogie piece “Alley Boogie”, probably one of the earliest instances of a song title using the term “boogie”, following “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie”.

Alley Boogie, recorded March 1930 by Bessie Jackson.

Alley Boogie, recorded March 1930 by Bessie Jackson.

Labeled here as the “B” side, but generally and more properly serving as the “A” side on most issues of this pair is the quintessential “Sloppy Drunk Blues”, one of Bogan’s signature numbers.

Sloppy Drunk Blues

Sloppy Drunk Blues, recorded March 1930 by Bessie Jackson.