Vocalion 2587 – Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike) – 1933

Today we celebrate the birthday of Cliff Edwards, the man known as “Ukulele Ike”.  He was one of the leading figures in the proliferation of the ukulele during the roaring twenties, and made his mark on the cinematic world as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.  Edwards’ distinctive vocal style was punctuated with his trademark “effin’,” a sort of kazoo sounding scat singing of his own creation.

Cliff Edwards as illustrated in Radio Round-Ups by Gurman and Slager, 1932.

Clifton Avon Edwards was born June 14, 1895 in Hannibal, Missouri, of no particular musical background.  He took up singing in St. Louis saloons in his teenage years, and bought his first ukulele because it was the cheapest instrument he could find.  He was given the nickname “Ukulele Ike” by a bar owner who couldn’t remember his actual name.  In 1918, he made a hit in Chicago with “Ja-Da” and was hired onto the vaudeville stage by Joe Frisco.  He made his first phonograph records in 1922 with Ladd’s Black Aces and Bailey’s Lucky Seven, for Gennett, and was signed to Pathé soon after.  Over the course of the 1920s, he made his way to the top, becoming one of the most successful singing stars in America, with numerous hits on record and stage.  In 1929, Edwards was brought into the world of moving pictures by Irving Thalberg, and made his mark on the budding talking pictures with his introduction of “Singin’ in the Rain” in The Hollywood Revue of 1929.  He continued to appear in movies through the 1930s, and provided the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s production of Pinocchio in 1940.  His stardom in stage, screen, and radio faded over the course of the Great Depression, though he continued to work in show business for many years, still making sporadic appearances in the 1950s and ’60s.  In spite of his fame and success, Edwards was careless with his money, and died penniless of arteriosclerosis in 1971.  Most of his medical bills were paid by Walt Disney Productions.

Vocalion 2587 was recorded October 24 and 26, 1933 in New York City by Cliff Edwards.  Both sides feature tunes from the 1933 motion picture Take a Chance.  Edwards is accompanied by Dick McDonough on guitar on the first side, and Artie Bernstein on string bass on the second.

Here, Ukulele Ike croons the Depression-era classic, “It’s Only a Paper Moon”.  One of my personal favorites.

It's Only a Paper Moon

It’s Only a Paper Moon, recorded October 24, 1933 by Cliff Edwards “Ukulele Ike”.

Next, he sings a less remembered, but equally excellent tune, Herman “Dodo” Hupfeld’s “Night Owl”.  I can relate.

Night Owl

Night Owl, recorded October 26, 1933 by Cliff Edwards “Ukulele Ike”.

Updated with improved audio on May 11, 2017, and on May 31, 2017 and June 9, 2017.

A Crown Dance Band Double Feature – 3149 & 3281 – 1931/1932

This Dance Band Double Feature is dedicated to Smith Ballew, who was born on this day (January 21) in 1902.  Under his frequently used pseudonym, Buddy Blue and his Texans, Ballew and his band play four classic songs of the early 1930s recorded on the Crown label.

Smith Ballew was born Sykes Ballew in Palestine, Texas on January 20, 1902.  He had his education in Sherman, Texas before finishing college at the University of Texas in Austin.  While at UT, Ballew played banjo in James Maloney’s band, called Jimmie’s Joys at the time.  That band, with Ballew, made a few records in California for the Golden label in 1923.  By the late 1920s, he was working as a studio vocalist in New York, working for a plethora of different bands and labels.  After working steadily as a singer well into the 1930s, Smith turned to acting, appearing mostly in Westerns as a singing cowboy.  After retiring from music in 1967, Ballew worked in the aircraft industry, eventually settling in Fort Worth.  He died March 2, 1984 in Longview, Texas.

Crown 3149 was recorded in May of 1931.  On the first side, Smith Ballew sings Harry Warren’s 1931 hit, the timeless “I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store)”.  On the reverse, we hear “On the Beach With You”, this side claims to be a waltz, but it sounds more like a fox trot to my ear.  The vocalist on this side is allegedly Charlie Lawman, but it sounds identical to Ballew’s vocal on the flip, and I believe it’s still him.  On these 1931 recordings, the band retains much of a late 1920s sound with banjo rhythm and an accordion.

I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store) and On the Beach With You

I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store) and On the Beach With You, recorded May 1931 by Buddy Blue and his Texans.

The second disc, Crown 3281, was recorded in January of 1932.  This record feature two popular songs from Irving Berlin’s Face the Music, “Let’s Have Another Cup o’ Coffee” and Soft Lights and Sweet Music”.  Both sides feature a vocal by Ballew.  The band seems to have modernized significantly on these recordings, less than a year later, and may very well be an entirely different group.

Let's Have Another Cup o' Coffee and Soft Lights and Sweet Music

Let’s Have Another Cup o’ Coffee and Soft Lights and Sweet Music, recorded January 1932 by Buddy Blue and his Texans.