Electradisk 1919 – Bill Palmer’s Trio – 1932

One of the major hillbilly music powerhouses of the 1930s was Bob Miller—much like his contemporary Carson Robison, he was equal parts a songwriter, publisher, and musician, as well as an A&R man on the side.  Though well known throughout the Depression years for his hit songs and “hillbilly heartthrobs,” including such mainstays as “Twenty-One Years” and “Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman)”, and numerous topical songs such as “Eleven Cent Cotton (and Forty Cent Meat)”, Miller has faded into practical obscurity today.

Bob Miller was born on September 20, 1895 in Memphis, Tennessee.  He was brought up a musician, and was playing piano professionally by the age of ten.  He later graduated to playing on Mississippi steamboats, before heading to New York to work for Irving Berlin as an arranger and copyist.  In 1931, he published “Twenty-One Years”, which would become one of the biggest hillbilly song hits of the decade.  The following year, his “Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman)” was met with the same success.  Both songs inspired Miller to write numerous “answer” songs, such as “The Answer to 21 Years” and “Seven Years With the Wrong Man”.  In addition to songwriting, Miller recorded many of his own compositions with small “citybilly” groups for various record companies, including Victor, Champion (i.e. Gennett), and Grey Gull’s many labels.  In 1933, with already a large number of credits to his name, Miller founded his own music publishing company, Bob Miller Inc.  With more than a thousand copyrights to his name, to attempt to list the song hits written by Miller would make for nothing but a mess of text consisting of title after title.  His patriotic “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” (published under the pseudonym “Shelby Darnell”) became a wartime hit when it was recorded by Elton Britt in 1942.  Bob Miller died on August 26, 1955 in New York City.

Electradisk 1919 was recorded November 3, 1932 in RCA’s Studio 1 in New York City by Bob Miller’s Trio as “Bill Palmer’s Trio” and was issued in April of 1933.  It was later issued on Bluebird B-5034, Sunrise S-3132, and—with the sides split up—on Montgomery Ward M-4232 and M-4401.  The ensemble consists of Bob Miller on piano and singing, Barney Burnett on banjo and second vocal, and A. Sirillo on guitar.

Seldom do you see these Electradisks—one of RCA Victor’s early budget labels, sold at Woolworth’s—at all, and it’s even less often that you see material other than the typical dance band pop.

One of the hillbilly hits of the 1930s was Miller’s “Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman)”, and was covered by artists ranging from Cliff Carlisle to Jack Payne’s Dance Orchestra.  It was “answered” by such songs as “Seven Years with the Wrong Man” and “Seven Beers with the Wrong Woman”.

Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman)

Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman), recorded November 3, 1932 by Bill Palmer’s Trio.

On the reverse, Miller’s trio does another of his compositions of some note, “What Does the Deep Sea Say?”

What Does the Deep Sea Say?

What Does the Deep Sea Say?, recorded November 3, 1932 by Bill Palmer’s Trio.

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.

Okeh 41440 – Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours – 1930

In my never ending hunt for Texas jazz records, this one by Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours is a staple. Unfortunately, the only copy I was able to get my hands on is in rather rough condition.  I think it’s still enjoyable, but it’s no prizewinner.  Years ago, an English magazine misidentified the cornet on these records as that of the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, in what they credited as a band organized by British saxophonist Freddy Gardner, who was alleged to have been vacationing in Texas at the time. In actuality, the cornet player on this and the other record from this session was Tom Howell, and the leader was an entirely different Fred Gardner.

Cornetist Thomas Alva Howell, Jr., born in 1906, and his brother Lee learned to play by ear, and attended the University of Texas together beginning in 1921, where they played in the Howell Brothers Moonshiner Orchestra. They later joined Steve Gardner’s Hokum Kings, which recorded in 1930 under the direction of saxophonist Fred Gardner in San Antonio for Okeh Records. Howell and his brother also played in Sunny Clapp’s Band o’ Sunshine and can be heard playing on two of their San Antonio recorded sides from 1929, as well as singing on one of their Victor records.

Okeh 41440 was recorded on June 9, 1930 in San Antonio, Texas. Judging by the personnel, the band was something of a family affair, and features leader Fred Gardner on clarinet and tenor sax, Tom Howell on cornet, Lee Howell on trombone, Steve Gardner on clarinet, Chester Seekatz on clarinet and alto sax, Tommy Howell on piano, Bill Lewis on banjo and guitar, John Gardner on tuba, and Jay “Bird” Thomas on drums and vocals.

Gardner’s Troubadours play W.C. Handy’s classic song “Loveless Love” slow and with a steady beat, and it doesn’t disappoint, serving as an outstanding example of Texas-area territory jazz, with a fine vocal to top it off.

Loveless Love, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner's Texas University Troubadours.

Loveless Love, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours.

A bit worse for wear, Glen Caraway, Louis Andre, and Bob Miller’s blues song “Papa’s Gone” is played hotter and more uptempo than the previous side, with a great bounce, and is one of my favorites. Originally a blues song performed by the likes of Rosa Henderson, tThis number seems to have been something of a standard in Texas jazz in those days, as it was recorded by at least four Texas-based bands in the 1920s and 1930s: first by Jimmy Joy’s St. Anthony Hotel Orchestra as “Mama Will Be Gone” in 1924, then by Eddie and Sugar Lou’s Hotel Tyler Orchestra as “Sweet Papa Will Be Gone” in 1929, then this one in ’30, and finally (or not?) by the Nite Owls in 1937.

Papa's Gone, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner's Texas University Troubadours.

Papa’s Gone, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours.

Updated with improved audio on July 11, 2017.