Bluebird B-5558 – Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies – 1934

I recently learned of the passing of Milton Brown’s brother Roy Lee Brown at the age of 96 on May 26, 2017.  I had read of him and watched him discuss Milton on a television documentary.  Not long ago, I was reading about him, and wondered what had become of him as of late.  I was saddened to hear of his death.  I had already written out this article beforehand to publish soon, so I’m posting it now, dedicated to his memory…

I love hot jazz and I love hillbilly music.  If you put the two together, what do you get?  Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies.  If I had to pick one, I’d rank Brown’s Brownies as my favorite musical ensemble (I’d probably have to place my favorite singular musician as Jimmie Rodgers).  Part of that could be that they came from Fort Worth, Texas, one of my favorite places on Earth, no doubt.  But they could’ve come from Kalamazoo or Timbuktu, and I’d still love that certain sound they had, that no other Western swing band could quite capture.  I don’t recall ever hearing anything by the Brownies that I didn’t like, from their hot numbers to their waltzes, though I’d have to say my favorites are the pieces Brown adapted from blues songs.  Much as I like the music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Milton Brown just had something special that they lacked.

Despite my love of the Brownies, I’ve never to this day posted a single one of their records on Old Time Blues.  Well that’s got to change.  Thus, here is one of the best Musical Brownies records that I have the pleasure of owning.  Now don’t go thinking I’ve forgotten anything with the lack of biographical details and what-have-you in this post, there’ll be more on that later.

Bluebird B-5558 was recorded at the Texas Hotel in San Antonio, Texas on April 4, 1934 at the Musical Brownies’ first session (but not Milton Brown’s, he had first recorded two years prior with the Fort Worth Doughboys).  It was released on July 18 of the same year.  The Musical Brownies are Derwood Brown on guitar, Cecil Brower on fiddle, Ocie Stockard on tenor banjo, Wanna Coffman on string bass, Fred Calhoun on piano, and of course Milton Brown singing the vocals.

First—it’s actually the “B” side, but I don’t care—is the rollicking “Garbage Man Blues”, Brown’s scorching hot take on Luis Russell’s “Call of the Freaks” (though like a number of Musical Brownies Bluebirds, Dan Parker is credited as the songwriter).  Brown may have picked it up from the Washboard Rhythm Kings, who prefaced their rendition with a similar spoken prelude.  The frenzied, half scat chorus of “get out your cans, here comes the garbage man” is interspersed with enticing instrumental solos by Brower, Stockard, Brown, and Calhoun, in that order.  Milton sings the first verse out of key, but soon recovers.  Brown’s biographer Cary Ginell informs me that producer Eli Oberstein refused to allow a re-take, reasoning that listeners would be none the wiser.  Frankly, I don’t think Brown’s error detracts much from the excellence of the performance (to be completely honest, I never noticed until it was pointed out to me).  Roy Newman and his Boys, from Dallas, covered “Garbage Man Blues” in 1935, and in later years the song has been resurrected by Pokey LaFarge.

Since I chanced to get my hands on this record, I’ve been listening to it over and over again.  Doesn’t get much better than this!

Garbage Man Blues, recorded April 4, 1934 by Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies.

On the other side is something quite different, Milton Brown’s own composition “My Precious Sonny Boy” played as a waltz, complete with Ted Lewis style spoken interlude.  Quite a sincere and touching song, really.  Nicely orchestrated too.

My Precious Sonny Boy, recorded April 4, 1934 by Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Bluebird B-6063 – Boots and his Buddies – 1935

In out latest entry thus far in our series examining  territory bands originating from the state of Texas, we look at Boots and his Buddies, one of Texas’ leading swing bands of the 1930s.

Clifford “Boots” Douglas was born in Temple, Texas, likely on September 7, 1906 or 1908.  He began playing drums in his teenage years, and first played professionally in 1926 as a member of Millard McNeal’s Southern Melody Boys of San Antonio.  Douglas formed his own band, called “Boots and his Buddies” (perhaps deriving their name from the comic strip Boots and her Buddies) at some point in the first half of the 1930s, and played gigs around the state of Texas, occasionally venturing into neighboring states.  Boots’ Buddies began recording in 1935 for RCA Victor, with their recordings issued on the Bluebird label.  They continued to record until late in 1938.  With Douglas arranging, they seem to have had a tendency to “borrow” music from others and play it under their own titles.  Their regional popularity rivaled that of fellow Texas swing man Don Albert, and while their phonograph records gained them some greater recognition outside of their home state, they never were never widely known outside of Texas.  Though the end of the swing era saw a steady decline in the band’s popularity, Boots and his Buddies were still playing through the end of the 1940s.  In 1950, Douglas finally disbanded his Buddies and relocated to Los Angeles, California, where he worked for the county, still playing on the side.  According to social security records, he died in 2000, at the age of either 92 or 94.

Bluebird B-6063 was recorded August 14, 1935 in San Antonio, Texas by Boots Douglas and his Buddies.  The personnel consists of Thaddeus Gilders, Percy Bush, Douglas Byers, and L.D. Harris on trumpets, Johnny Shields on trombone, Alva Brooks and Jim Wheat on alto sax, Baker Millian on tenor sax, A.J. Johnson on piano, Jeff Thomas on guitar, Walter McHenry on string bass, and Boots Douglas on drums.  It was the first issued record by Boots’ Buddies, and the first and third sides from his earliest session.  This pressing dates to the late 1930s, early pressings would have appeared on Bluebird’s “buff” label.  I purchased this copy from a local fellow in Arlington (the same guy that provided my Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours record), it has likely spent its entire life in the state, since its arrival from the pressing plant.

First up is “Wild Cherry”.  This side is pretty well beaten, but still plays well thanks to the high quality of these Bluebird records.

Wild Cherry

Wild Cherry, recorded August 14, 1935 by Boots and his Buddies.

On the other side, they play a sizzling rendition of “Rose Room” (which we last heard played by Duke Ellington’s band).  This was Boots and his Buddies’ first recorded side.  This may be the loudest side I’ve ever played, I had to turn the volume way down to transfer it properly.

Rose Room

Rose Room, recorded August 14, 1935 by Boots and his Buddies.

Bluebird B-5942 – Jimmie Rodgers/Jesse Rodgers – 1931/1935

This record is a remarkable one for a number of reasons.  One of those is that, being a Depression era release, it is quite scarce (and I don’t mean to sound braggadocious, I’m still surprised that I have it, myself).  Another is that is one of a number of records of the 1920s and 1930s to feature black and white artists performing together, in this case Jimmie Rodgers with the Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  On the downside, this copy has certainly seen better days.  The years have not been kind to it, and its sound reflects that. It’s still listenable, but has a layer of surface noise.  Another bit worth mentioning is that the flip side of this record, which was released after Rodgers’ passing, features a recording by another blue yodeler who was supposedly Jimmie Rodgers’ first cousin.

Both sides of Bluebird B-5942 were recorded on separate occasions.  The “A” side was recorded on June 16, 1931 in Louisville, Kentucky, the “B” side was recorded January 28, 1935 in San Antonio, Texas.  The personnel of the jug band on the first side includes George Allen on clarinet, Clifford Hayes on violin, Cal Smith on tenor guitar, Fred Smith on guitar and Earl McDonald on jug, the same basic group as the Dixieland Jug Blowers.

On the first side, the Blue Yodeler sings “My Good Gal’s Gone”, with outstanding accompaniment by Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  Though it was recorded in 1931, this 1935 Bluebird is the first issue of this recording.

My Good Gal’s Gone, recorded June 16, 1931 by Jimmie Rodgers.

On the “B” side, Jimmie’s (supposed) first cousin, Jesse Rodgers sings “Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama” in a style that reminds me of Cliff Carlisle more than Jimmie.  Jesse stuck around for quite awhile, dropping the “d” from his name to become Jesse Rogers by the end of the 1930s, and later styling himself as a singing cowboy.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Updated with improved audio on May 23, 2017.

Montgomery Ward M-4415 – Jimmie Rodgers – 1933

On this day, the twenty-fourth of May, in the year of 1933, America’s Blue Yodeler cut his last records.  With the nation in the grip of the Great Depression in 1933, the economic state prohibited Victor from continuing to make field trips to record in the South, so Jimmie had to travel to the studios in New York.  By ’33, Jimmie was not in good health; tuberculosis had gotten the better of him, and cross country travel would do his health no favors.  During his final sessions, he had to lie down and rest in-between takes, and relied on studio musicians for accompaniment on many of his final recordings.  Only two days after making his final recordings, Jimmie Rodgers expired in his room at the Taft Hotel of a pulmonary hemorrhage.

Montgomery M-4415 was recorded May 18 and May 24, 1933 in New York City.  The latter of which turned out to be Jimmie’s final session.  It was originally issued on Bluebird B-5281, this issue was pressed from those masters and sold through the Montgomery Ward catalog.  Despite his failing health, Jimmie maintained a strong voice for most of these sides, and accompanies himself on guitar on both.

Jimmie Rodgers’ famous series of “Blue Yodels” began in 1927 with “T for Texas”, and concluded here with the thirteenth song in the series, the fittingly titled “Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel”, or “The Women Make a Fool Out of Me”.

Jimmie Rodgers' Last Blue Yodel

Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel, recorded May 18, 1933 by Jimmie Rodgers.

In 1927, Jimmie Rodgers began his recording career in Bristol, Tennessee with “The Soldier’s Sweetheart”.  In 1933, he concluded that career with “Years Ago”.

Years Ago

Years Ago, recorded May 24, 1933 by Jimmie Rodgers.

Bluebird B-7746 – Artie Shaw and his Orchestra – 1938

Clarinetist Artie Shaw does everything his advisors tell him not to do.  He shouts down other bandleaders, kicks music publishers out the back door calling them racketeers, scowls at his admirers, refuses to turn on the charm or be civil, says he’s there to make music and not to pose.  When kids come to dance, he plays what he likes, thinks they should like it.  He plays no request numbers.  In other words, he does as he damn pleases.

— Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944

Artie Shaw, October 1939. Down Beat photo by Ray Rising.

Artie Shaw, October 1939. Down Beat photo by Ray Rising.

I’ve been meaning to try and work some more swing music into the busy schedule here on Old Time Blues, and with today (May 23) being Artie Shaw’s birthday, it seems like a prime opportunity.

Arthur Jacob Arshawsky was born on May 23, 1910 in New York City, his father hailing from Russia and his mother from Austria.  He took up the saxophone at the age of thirteen, and soon switched to clarinet.  In the mid-1920s, Shaw worked with Austin Wylie’s orchestra, before moving on to Irving Aaronson’s Commanders, and later Roger Wolfe Kahn’s orchestra and others.  Into the 1930s, he found steady work as a studio player like so many other New York jazz musicians of the day.  By the middle of the 1930s, Shaw had started his own orchestra, recording for Brunswick as “Art Shaw and his New Music”.  He began a contract with the RCA Victor Company in 1938, with whom he produced his largest volume of hits, including “Begin the Beguine”, “Back Bay Shuffle”, and his theme song “Nightmare”.  Where Benny Goodman was the “King of Swing”, many proclaimed Shaw the “King of Clarinet”, though Shaw felt it ought to have been the other way around, as “Benny Goodman played Clarinet. [He] played music.”  In 1940, Shaw made his feature film debut with Fred Astaire in Second Chorus, which Astaire considered “the worst film he ever made”, and caused Shaw to swear off movie appearances.  During World War II, Shaw enlisted in the Navy and led a band in the Pacific, while Glenn Miller was doing the same in Europe, and received a medical discharge after eighteen months.  Throughout the 1950s onward, he experimented with artistic variations on jazz music.  Artie Shaw was by his own admission “a very difficult man”, and was married eight times (probably making him the runner up for the title of “Most Married Swing Bandleader” after Charlie Barnet, who was married eleven times).  Shaw died of diabetes at the age of 94 in 2004.

Bluebird B-7746 was recorded July 24, 1938 in New York City.  The band consisted of Artie Shaw on clarinet, John Best, Claude Bowen, and Chuck Peterson on trumpets, George Arus, Ted Vesely, and Barry Rogers on trombones, Les Robinson and Hank Freeman on alto saxes, Tony Pastor and Ronnie Perry on tenor saxes, Les Burness on piano, Al Avola on guitar, Sid Weiss on string bass, and Cliff Leeman on drums.

First up is Artie Shaw’s famous rendition of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”, described by Shaw as, “a nice little tune from one of Cole Porter’s very few flop shows.”

Begin the Beguine

Begin the Beguine. recorded July 24, 1938 by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra.

Tony Pastor sings the vocal on Shaw’s swing rendition of the famous “Indian Love Call”.

Indian Love Call

Indian Love Call, recorded July 24, 1938 by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra.