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).

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 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.

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.