Brunswick 4597 – Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan – 1929

Billy Murray, as pictured in 1921 Victor catalog.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the birth of the “Denver Nightingale”, recording pioneer and prolific record artist Billy Murray, I present the latest record of him currently in the Old Time Blues collection.

William Thomas Murray was born on May 25, 1877—the same year Edison invented the phonograph that he later would help to proliferate—in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, son of Patrick and Julia Murray.  Murray later quipped, “I squalled for the first time in 1877, and so did the phonograph. I didn’t do very much for ten years after that, but neither did the phonograph.”  The Murrays moved to Denver in 1882, and by sixteen, Billy was performing professionally.  Murray made his first of hundreds of phonograph recordings for Peter Bacigalupi in San Francisco in 1897, and was recording regularly and professionally in the New York area by 1903.  Over the following decades, Murray recorded a huge multitude of songs, in various styles and genres, for virtually every record label in operation.  Coinciding with the advent of electrical recording in 1925, the public’s tastes were changing, and Murray began to fall from favor.  To adjust to the new recording systems, he softened his singing voice, though his work became more sporadic.  In the 1920s, he often worked as a vocalist for dance bands; he appeared on Jean Goldkette’s memorable recording of “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” in 1927, featuring Bix Beiderbecke.  Starting in the late 1920s, Murray lent his voice to animated cartoons, providing the voice of Bimbo, and others, in shorts made by Fleischer Studios.  He worked sporadically on radio through the 1930s, including appearances on the WLS National Barn Dance.  In 1940, Murray made a series of recordings for Bluebird, accompanied by Harry’s Tavern Band, and made his last recordings in 1943 for the Beacon label with fellow recording pioneer Monroe Silver, known for his “Cohen” character.  After retiring in 1944 due to heart issues, Billy Murray died suddenly of a heart attack at a Guy Lombardo show on Long Island on August 17, 1954.

Brunswick 4597 was recorded in September or October of 1929 by Billy Murray with his frequent duet partner Walter Scanlan (whose real name was Walter van Brunt).

First, the duo sings humorous number from the 1929 Sono Art-World Wide talking picture The Great Gabbo, in which it was performed by Erich von Stroheim in the titular role, with his ventriloquist dummy.

Icky, recorded September/October 1929 by Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan.

On the reverse, Murray and Scanlan sing another comic song most frequently associated with Eddie Cantor, “My Wife is On a Diet”.

My Wife is On a Diet, recorded September/October 1929 by Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan.

Brunswick 6211 – Don Redman and his Orchestra – 1931

A young Don Redman in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra around 1925.

July 29th marks the anniversary of the birth of musician and arranger extraordinaire Don Redman, whose innovative work during the Harlem Renaissance helped to usher in the era of swing jazz.

Donald Matthew Redman was born into a musical family in Piedmont, West Virginia on July 29, 1900.  He first took up the trumpet, and could play all the wind instruments before he was a teenager.  Redman first studied at Storer College in Harper’s Ferry before attending the Boston Conservatory.  After graduating, he went to New York and played with Billy Page’s Broadway Syncopators, playing primarily reed instruments, and soon began arranging.  In 1923, he joined Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, with whom he created arrangements that would develop into swing in the next decade.  After recording extensively with Henderson, Redman was invited by Jean Goldkette to take over the reigns of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in Detroit, a position which he held until 1931, when he started his own orchestra.  Redman kept his own band together until 1940, playing for the better part of the swing era, and appearing in a Vitaphone short in 1933.  After his orchestra disbanded, he continued to arrange prolifically for a number of bands, as he had done previously.  Redman died in 1964 at the age of 64.

Brunswick 6211 was recorded on September 24 and October 15, 1931 in New York City, the former being the first session by Don Redman’s newly formed orchestra under his own name.  The band includes Bill Coleman, replaced in the latter session by Langston Curl, Leonard Davis, and Henry “Red” Allen on trumpet, Claude Jones, Fred Robinson, and Benny Morton on trombone, Edward Inge and Rupert Cole on clarinet and alto sax, Don Redman on alto sax, Robert Carroll on tenor sax, Horace Henderson on piano, Talcott Reeves on banjo and guitar, Bob Ysaguirre on bass, and Manzie Johnson on drums.

Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen’s “Shakin’ the Africann”, recorded on the latter date, features a vocal by Redman, rejecting “sweet” music in favor of jazz played hot.

Shakin' the Africann

Shakin’ the Africann, recorded September 24, 1931 by Don Redman and his Orchestra.

Redman’s own “Song of the Weeds”, most commonly known as “Chant of the Weeds”, was also recorded for Columbia with a quite different sounding arrangement.

Song of the Weeds

Song of the Weeds, recorded September 24, 1931 by Don Redman and his Orchestra.

Melotone M 12052 – “Happy” Dixon’s Clod Hoppers – 1930

It’s no secret that I’m fond of folk and country songs adapted to jazz and dance arrangements (see Casey Jones, Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane/She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain, another Casey Jones), and this new arrival to my collection fits squarely in that mold.  I’ve always found the material on many of these early issues of Melotone records interesting, and looking through the discography, a few records by “‘Happy’ Dixon’s Clod Hoppers” particularly intrigued me.  Was it a country band or a dance band playing country music a la Paul Tremaine (as was apparently a passing fad around 1930).  No transfers of any of their records seemed to be available, and little information on the group seemed to exist, so I’d been keeping an eye out for one of their for quite a while.  This copy having fallen into my possession, I’m happy to finally be able to hear it, and now all of you can too.

Melotone M 12057 was recorded on October 27, 1930 in New York City by “Happy” Dixon’s Clod Hoppers, actually a pseudonym for Harry Reser’s Six Jumping Jacks with vocals by Tom Stacks, and most likely with Bill Wirges at the piano.

The first side is a fine fox trot rendition of the pseudo cowboy ballad “When the Bloom is On the Sage”, punctuated with Harry Reser’s famous banjo and an accordion near the end lends a Western touch.

When the Bloom is On the Sage

When the Bloom is On the Sage, recorded October 27, 1930 by “Happy” Dixon’s Clod Hoppers.

The flip-side is a little hotter, with a fast paced novelty arrangement of Henry Whitter’s famous “The Wreck on the Southern Old 97”, made popular by Vernon Dalhart in 1924.  In this version, specific reference is made to “Steve” Broady, the engineer of the Southern Railway 1102 pulling the Old 97 “Fast Mail” when it departed Monroe, Virginia on September 27, 1903, bound for Spencer, North Carolina.  As the song tells, the Old 97 never made it to Spencer, derailing on a trestle near Danville, Virginia as a result of Engine 1102’s excessive speed.  Unlike Steve Broady, Engine 1102 survived the accident, and was still in service when this side was recorded in 1930.

The Wreck On the Southern Old 97

The Wreck On the Southern Old 97, recorded October 27, 1930 by “Happy” Dixon’s Clod Hoppers.

Brunswick 6472 – Bing Crosby with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians – 1933

Guy Lombardo. From 1932 P&G publication.

Guy Lombardo. From 1932 P&G publication.

Today we honor the consummate bandleader Guy Lombardo, whose Royal Canadians were a staple on records and radio for many decades.

Gaetano Alberto Lombardo was born in London, Ontario on June 19, 1902.  His father had each of his children learn to play different instruments so they could accompany his singing.  The Lombardo brothers put their first orchestra together when they were still children, and they first played in public in 1914.  Ten years later, Guy Lombardo and his Orchestra made their first recordings for the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, released on the Gennett label.  After Gennett, the Royal Canadians recorded briefly for Brunswick, which yielded two issued sides on Vocalion in 1927, and then with Columbia, with whom he stayed until 1931.  Following his engagement with Columbia, he took his band to Brunswick from 1932 to ’34, then to Decca, as many Brunswick artists did after former employee Jack Kapp founded the company.  The Royal Canadians switched to Victor for a period, before returning to Decca in 1938.  Lombardo’s was perhaps most famous for his New Years Eve shows, which began at the Roosevelt Hotel in 1929, and continued until after his death, with the tradition carried on by his band, despite competition from Dick Clark.  Though Lombardo’s “sweet” style of music was derided by many jazz fans who preferred their music served hot, he was reportedly hailed by the likes of both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.  Guy Lombardo died of a heart attack on November 5, 1977.

Brunswick 6472 was recorded January 12, 1933 in New York City by Bing Crosby accompanied by Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians.  Both songs originate from the 1933 musical film 42nd Street.

First, Bing croons “Young and Healthy”, with Lombardo’s Royal Canadians in fine form.

Young and Healthy

Young and Healthy, recorded January 12, 1933 by Bing Crosby with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

On the flip-side, Lombardo takes top billing on “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me”.

You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me

You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me, recorded Janury 12, 1933 by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians with Bing Crosby.

Brunswick 4653 – Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy – 1929

Continuing in out tradition of honoring music heroes of the 1920s and ’30s, today we remember Andy Kirk, on the 118th anniversary of his birth.

Andrew Dewey Kirk was born May 28, 1898 in Kentucky, but soon relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he spent his early years.  In Denver, Kirk was instructed by Wilberforce Whiteman, father of Paul Whiteman, learning to play saxophone and tuba.  He started his career as a professional musician with George Morrison’s band, before moving on to Terrence Holder’s Dark Clouds of Joy.  Holder left the band in 1929, and Kirk assumed leadership, moving the group from Dallas to Kansas City, and renaming them the Twelve Clouds of Joy.  In Kansas City, Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy gigged at the Pla-Mor Ballroom, and made their first recordings, with Mary Lou Williams on piano, in November of 1929 during a Brunswick field trip, followed by several more the next year.  In 1931, Kirk picked up Blanche Calloway as a vocalist, and made several more records under the guise of “her Joy Boys”, after which he stopped recording for several years.  He reemerged in 1936 with a hep swing band and a lucrative contract with Decca, with the Twelve Clouds of Joy becoming one of most successful territory bands, and in some regards, the successor to a position held by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra.  When Billboard began charting hit records, his “Take It and Git” was the first to chart on the “Harlem Hit Parade”.  Kirk gave up music in 1948, instead turning to a career in real estate and hotel management.  He died in 1992 at the age of 94.

Brunswick 4653 was recorded on November 7 and 8, 1929 in Kansas City, Missouri.  From Kirk’s first and second sessions, and his first issued record.  The Twelve Clouds of Joy are comprised of Gene Prince and Harry Lawson on trumpets, Allen Durham on trombone, John Harrington on clarinet and alto sax, John Williams on alto sax and baritone sax, Lawrence ‘Slim’ Freeman on tenor sax, Andy Kirk on bass sax and tuba, Claude Williams on violin, Mary Lou Williams on piano, William Dirvin on banjo, guitar, Edward McNeil, drums.

First, the band plays Mary Lou Williams’ hot jazz arrangement of “Casey Jones”, styled here as “Casey Jones Special”.  I’ve always loved that brief interjection of country fiddle before going right back into jazz.

Casey Jones Special

Casey Jones Special, recorded November 8, 1929 by Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy.

I’m not sure if “Cloudy” was the official theme song of the Twelve Clouds of Joy, but it ought to have been if it wasn’t.  They recorded this tune again for Decca in 1936, with a vocal by Pha Terrell.

Cloudy

Cloudy, recorded November 7, 1929 by Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy.