Brunswick 7000 – Clarence Williams and his Washboard Band – 1927

One of the most dominant figures in jazz music in the 1920s—alongside the likes of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson—was Clarence Williams, who had his finger in just about every pie there was in the world of music for more than a decade in the 1920s and ’30s.

Clarence Williams was born on October 8, 1893 (though some sources suggest 1898, it has been suggested that that was fabricated for “vanity” purposes), in Plaquemine, Louisiana, of Creole and Choctaw descent.  He began singing and playing piano at a young age, and ran off to join Billy Kersand’s minstrels at the age of twelve.  He later settled in New Orleans, where he played professionally, and began composing songs, starting a music publishing company with fellow jazz musician Armand J. Piron.  A few of his many noted compositions include “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”, the “Royal Garden Blues”, and “Shout, Sister, Shout”.  Williams and Piron later started a touring vaudeville act, which brought him in to contact with W.C. Handy, who invited to duo to join him in an Atlanta concert.  In 1921, Williams moved to Chicago and opened a music store, and the following year married blues singer Eva Taylor, with whom he frequently collaborated.  Williams first recorded a pair of vocal sides for Okeh in September of 1921, which were unissued, but he soon followed with more successful session the next month, producing four recordings, all of which were released.  From then on, he recorded extensively, often as an accompanist for blues singers, such as Bessie Smith or his wife Eva Taylor, or as leader of studio groups such as his “Blue Five”, “Washboard Band”, “Jug Band”, or “Jazz Kings”.  The bulk of his recordings were made for Okeh, Columbia, and Vocalion, but he also appeared on Bluebird, Brunswick, and numerous other labels.  During the 1920s, Williams was supervisor of “race” records for Okeh.  With his hand in virtually every facet of the music industry, Williams became one of the most commercially successful and influential people in jazz.  He continued to record fairly prolifically throughout the 1930s, up until his retirement in 1943, at which point he sold his back-catalog to Decca Records.  Clarence Williams died in Queens, New York on November 6, 1965.  He was survived by his wife, Eva Taylor, who passed in 1977.

Brunswick 7000 was recorded on March 8, 1927 in New York City.  It was the first record released in Brunswick’s 7000-series of “race” records, before their signature “lightning bolt” styled label was introduced.  Williams’ Washboard Band was made up of Ed Allen on cornet, Carmelo Jari (or Jejo) on clarinet, Clarence Williams on piano, and Floyd Casey on washboard.  Clarence Lee sings the vocals.  Different takes of both sides were released on Vocalion 1088.

First up is the train-themed “P.D.Q. Blues”, played slow.

P.D.Q. Blues, recorded March 8, 1927 by Clarence Williams and his Washboard Band.

Next, they play a stomp, the “Cushion Foot Stomp”, to be precise.

Cushion Foot Stomp, recorded March 8, 1927 by Clarence Williams and his Washboard Band.

Brunswick 6049 – Nick Lucas and his Crooning Troubadours – 1931

Nick Lucas, as pictured on the cover of The Mastertone Guitar Method.

August 23 marks the anniversary of the birth of the “Crooning Troubadour” Nick Lucas—sometimes called the “grandfather of jazz guitar”—whose tenor crooned charmed millions spanning more than one generation.

Nick Lucas was born Dominic Nicholas Anthony Lucanese in Newark, New Jersey on August 22, 1897.  Lucas played banjo with various dance bands in the early 1920s, and in June of 1922, made his debut recordings for Pathé with “Picking the Guitar” and “Teasin’ the Frets”, both guitar solos.  He re-recorded both sides for Brunswick the next year (and again in 1932, electrically).  Before long, he was making vocal records for Brunswick as “the Crooning Troubadour,” with his pleasing tenor croon accompanied by his own guitar, sometimes with a piano or orchestra.  In 1929, Lucas appeared in the talking picture Gold Diggers of Broadway, introducing “Tip-Toe Thru The Tulips with Me”, which he also made a hit on record.  In 1930 and ’30, he recorded with his own band, the “Crooning Troubadours”, and the following year made some recordings for Hit of the Week.  Lucas’ fame faded in the 1930s, as swing became king, but he continued to perform.  In the 1940s he made a few Soundies, followed by some Snader Telescriptions in 1951.  Lucas experienced a resurgence in popularity many years later.  He appeared on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1969, for the televised wedding of Tiny Tim—a devotee of his—who had re-popularized “Tip-Toe Thru the Tulips”.  In 1974, he performed several songs for the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby.  After enjoying a career that spanned a great deal longer than half a century, Nick Lucas died of pneumonia in 1982.

Brunswick 6049 was recorded in New York on February 6 and January 31, 1931, respectively.  I respectfully disagree with Brian Rust’s assertion that “vocal records by this artist are of no interest as jazz,” as these two are quite jazzy, but as such, I am unable to provide a list of personnel for Lucas’ Crooning Troubadours.  The band is likely made up of Brunswick studio men.

First, Lucas croons the pop tune “Running Between the Rain-drops”.

Running Between the Raindrops

Running Between the Rain-drops, recorded February 6, 1931 by Nick Lucas and his Crooning Troubadours.

Next, he sings one of my favorites, “Hello! Beautiful”, a tune commonly associated with Maurice Chevalier.

Hello! Beautiful!

Hello! Beautiful!, recorded January 31, 1931 by Nick Lucas and his Crooning Troubadours.

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.