Champion S-16443 – Luke Baldwin – 1931

One of the outstanding folk song spinners of the 1930s was the “Dixie Songbird”, Bill Cox.  In spite of his innocuous nickname, Cox’s repertoire consisted largely of topical songs about hot-button issues of the day, including “The Trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann” (about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping), “The Fate of Will Rogers and Wiley Post”, and “N. R. A. Blues”.

William Jennings Cox was born in Eagle, West Virginia (some sources claim Kanawha County, Kentucky) on August 4, 1897.   In his youth, he took up the harmonica, and guitar, both of which he came to play with proficiency.  In 1927, Cox reportedly made his professional debut on WOBU radio in West Virginia, performing as the “Dixie Songbird,” a moniker which he retained throughout his musical career.  Two years later, in 1929, Cox ventured to Richmond, Indiana to cut his first records for the Starr Piano Company, manufacturers of Gennett Records (and their subsidiary labels such as Champion, Supertone, and so forth).  Like many of his contemporaries, his earliest recordings were covers of songs by Jimmie Rodgers, but he soon branched out into making renditions of old folk songs and his own original compositions.  Cox continued to record for Gennett until around 1931, and after an apparent hiatus, resumed his recording career in 1933 for the American Record Corporation, with whom he remained until he retired from recording.  On many of these records, he was accompanied by fellow West Virginian Cliff Hobbs.  Under the ARC, Cox’s records were issued on Conqueror, Perfect, Melotone, Oriole, Banner, Vocalion, and later Okeh.  After retiring from recording in 1940, Cox fell on hard times, and was discovered destitute and living in a converted chicken coop in 1966.  The following year, he recorded an album that would be his swan song.  Bill Cox died on December 10, 1968.

Champion S-16443 was recorded on August 17, 1931 in Richmond, Indiana by Bill Cox, released under the pseudonym Luke Baldwin.  He is accompanied by his own guitar.  It sold a total of only 301 copies!  It was also issued on Superior 2833 (which appears to have sold only 55 copies, if my interpretation of George Kay’s Superior Catalog is correct, and if it is indeed accurate), and later reissued with the sides split up, with “In 1992” on Decca 5497 and Champion 45093, and with “I Found You Among the Roses on Champion 45106 and Montgomery Ward 4942.

Cox plays harmonica on own composition “I Found You Among the Roses”, set to the tune of Edward B. Marks and Joseph W. Stern’s “My Mother Was a Lady”, or at least Jimmie Rodgers’ recording of it, which is likely where Cox found his inspiration.  Please note that this is an entirely different song than the 1916 George B. Pitman song of the same name as recorded by the Carter Family.

I Found You Among the Roses

I Found You Among the Roses, recorded August 17, 1931 by Luke Baldwin.

On the “B” side, Cox predicts the future on “In 1992”, a novelty song penned by musical duo Arthur Fields and Fred Hall.

In 1992

In 1992, recorded August 17, 1931 by Luke Baldwin.

Victor 18537 – Billy Murray/Arthur Fields – 1919

January 16, 2016 marks the 96th anniversary of the passage of the Volstead Act and the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, better known as Prohibition.  That noble experiment lasted for thirteen years, ten months, nineteen days, seventeen hours, thirty-two minutes, and thirty seconds, before it was repealed by the 21st Amendment, passed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on December 5, 1933.  To commemorate that occasion, here’s a record with two topical tunes, one for the Volstead Act, one for the end of the First World War, sung by two popular personalities of those days.

Victor 18537 was recorded February 14 and 27, 1919 in Camden, New Jersey by Billy Murray and Arthur Fields, singing two topical songs about current events of the day.  Both sides feature an orchestra directed by Josef Pasternack.

On what is actually the “B” side of the record, that consummate vaudevillian Billy Murray laments the ratification of the 18th Amendment with “How Are You Goin’ to Wet Your Whistle” (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry)”.

How Are You Goin' to Wet Your Whistle? (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry), recorded February 14, 1919 by Billy Murray.

How Are You Goin’ to Wet Your Whistle? (When the Whole Darn World Goes Dry), recorded February 14, 1919 by Billy Murray.

On the “A” side, Arthur Fields, in his vaudevillian element, sings one of his better remembered songs, “Hot Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm? (After They’ve Seen Paree)”, referring to the homecoming of our boys from the Great War.

You Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm? (After They've Seen Paree), recorded February 27, 1919 by Arthur Fields.

You Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm? (After They’ve Seen Paree), recorded February 27, 1919 by Arthur Fields.