Brunswick 7062 – Kansas City Frank – 1929

For a portion of the 1930s and 1940s, the pianist on this pair of solos was mistakenly believed to be that of Jelly Roll Morton.  In actuality, it was a friend of Jelly Roll’s, Frank Melrose, a Chicago jazz and blues piano man.  Last time we here heard from Frank, he was tearing it up with E.C. Cobb and his Corn-Eaters on Victor.

Franklyn Taft Melrose, the second youngest of the Melrose siblings that included the music publishers (and part-time shysters) Walter and Lester, was born November 26, 1907 in Sumner, Illinois.  As a teenager, Frank left home and drifted to Missouri, where he took up in St. Louis, and later Kansas City.  An admirer of Jelly Roll Morton, through his brothers’ business Frank was able to meet his idol, and the two reportedly befriended each other and played together on occasion.  Melrose recorded sporadically in the 1920s and 1930s, making solo records for Brunswick, Gennett, and Paramount, and with bands such as the Kansas City Tin Roof Stompers, the Beale Street Washboard band, and Wingy Manone’s Cellar Boys, frequently a part of racially integrated groups.  On Labor Day of 1941, Frank was found dead on a Chicago street corner, cause uncertain, with his face beat up beyond recognition.  His last words were reported as “Bud Jacobson”, with whom he made his last recordings, earlier that year.

Brunswick 7062, part of the 7000 race record series, easily recognizable by their distinctive lightning bolt styled labels (not to mention the record number), was recorded March 8, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois, by Frank Melrose on piano, using the nom de disque “Kansas City Frank”.  Frank had recorded these two of his own compositions a month earlier in Richmond, Indiana for Gennett.  According to Brian Rust, the drummer was Tommy Taylor, who had previously accompanied Melrose on his Gennett session of the same tunes.  The 78 Quarterly estimates “less than 20” copies of this record, though the accuracy of that claim is dubious.

The famous cartoonist and record collector R. Crumb made a comic, published in 1979’s Best Buy Comics about Melrose named after “Pass the Jug”, which Frank plays on this record.  If you listen real closely to the brief drum solo at at one minute, fifty-five seconds, you can hear a whistle in the background that sounds like a bird chirping.

Pass the Jug, recorded

Pass the Jug, recorded March 8, 1929 by Kansas City Frank.

Presumably composed as a tribute to his friend and idol, Jelly Roll Morton, on the flip-side, Frank plays “Jelly Roll Stomp”.  I’m not sure whether you could technically call this boogie woogie or not, but it’s not far off.

Jelly Roll Stomp, recorded

Jelly Roll Stomp, recorded March 8, 1929 by Kansas City Frank.

Updated on June 24, 2016.

Vocalion 1245 – “Pine Top” Smith – 1928

Last Thursday, June 11, marked the 111th birthday of boogie woogie pioneer Clarence “Pine Top” Smith, who was born on that day in 1904.  While Smith was not the first pianist to play in that style, his “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie” is believed to be the first recorded song to use the term “boogie woogie” in its title*.

Clarence Smith was born in Troy, Alabama, and got his nickname from his childhood fondness for tree-climbing.  In 1928, Cow Cow Davenport recommended him to Vocalion Records, and he recorded eight sides with them in three sessions in December 1928 and January 1929.  On March 15, 1929, Pine Top Smith was shot dead at the age of 24 during a fight in a dance-hall a day before he had a recording session scheduled.  Whether or not the bullet was intended for him is disputed.

On the first side of Vocalion 1245, Pine Top Smith plays his famous “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie”, take “A”, with his spoken instructions to dancers, recorded December 29, 1928 in Chicago, his first recording session.  Just the sort of a performance that you’d hear at a 1920s rent party.

Contrary to what he might have had us believe, Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins was not the originator of “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie”, he got his name from playing Clarence Smith’s composition, which Smith claimed he came up with at a house-rent party in St. Louis, Missouri.  It also made a hit in 1938 when it was recorded by Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra as simply “Boogie Woogie”.  Please read Mr. Brad Kay’s comment for a definitive explanation.

Pine Top's Boogie Woogie, recorded December 29, 1928 by "Pine Top" Smith

Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie, recorded December 29, 1928 by “Pine Top” Smith.

On the flip, Pine Top sings on another fine boogie woogie number, “Pine Top Blues”, take “B”, recorded on the same day, which lifts some of its lyrics from other popular blues songs of the day.

Pine Top Blues, recorded December 29, 1928 by "Pine Top" Smith.

Pine Top Blues, recorded December 29, 1928 by “Pine Top” Smith.