Vocalion 03046 – Memphis Minnie, Black Bob, Bill Settles – 1935

The time has come to pay tribute to the consummate blues woman Memphis Minnie, on the 120th anniversary of her birth.

Memphis Minnie came into the world as Lizzie Douglas, one of thirteen children born to Abe and Gerturde Douglas in Algiers, New Orleans, on June 3, 1897.  She didn’t care for the name Lizzie, and took to using the name “Kid” Douglas, a nickname given by her parents, when performing.  Before she was a teenager, she learned to play banjo and guitar, and ran away to Beale Street at thirteen.  Taking to a life of music, she played street corners and toured the South with the Ringling Brothers Circus.  In 1929, she was given the moniker of “Memphis Minnie” by a Columbia record man while making her first records with her second husband Joe McCoy, who was dubbed “Kansas Joe”.  The next year saw the release of one of her most famous songs, “Bumble Bee”, of which she recorded a number of different versions.  Minnie and Kansas Joe went on to make a series of records together for Vocalion and Decca before their divorce in 1935.  Relocating to Chicago, Minnie became a staple of the nightclubs, joined Lester Melrose’s stable of blues artists, and beat Big Bill Broonzy in a cutting contest.  In the late 1930s, Minnie married Ernest Lawlars, better known as Little Son Joe, another blues artist, and they performed together as she had with her previous husband.  In 1941, she recorded some of her biggest hits, “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” and “Looking the World Over”.  Minnie continued to perform and record into the 1950s, but ill health forced her to retire thereafter.  Memphis Minnie died of a stroke, the last of several, on August 6, 1973.

Vocalion 03046 was recorded on August 22, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois.  As the label would suggest, the instrumentation features Memphis Minnie on guitar, Black Bob Hudson on piano, and Bill Settles on string bass.

The identity of pianist “Black Bob” is surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty and confusion.  He is known to have been a prolific sideman for Big Bill Broonzy, Washboard Sam, Memphis Minnie, and others, and he recorded extensively for Bluebird and the American Record Corporation between 1932 and 1942, yet his real name and identity are not verified.  A number of names have been put forth, including Bob Hudson, boogie-woogie man Bob Call, Chicago pianist Bob Robinson, and others.  The most likely candidate seems to be Hudson, who recorded with the Memphis Nighthawks on the same day as Black Bob’s session with Big Bill’s Jug Busters, and made one unissued side under his own name two days later, which is reported to match stylistically with Black Bob’s playing.  Most sources, when a last name is given at all, identify Black Bob as Hudson.

First up, Minnie, Bob, and Bill beat out the swing number “Joe Louis Strut”, one of a number of tunes dedicated to the world heavyweight champion of the same name.

Joe Louis Strut, recorded August 22, 1935 by Memphis Minnie, Black Bob, Bill Settles.

One of those “number of tunes” is on the flip, on which Minnie sings solo on her tribute/plea for love to Louis, the classic “He’s in the Ring (Doing that Same Old Thing)”.  This is take “2” of the song; I prefer the first take myself, but to my knowledge, it wasn’t released commercially on 78.

He’s in the Ring (Doing that Same Old Thing), recorded August 22, 1935 by Memphis Minnie

Vocalion 1144 – Jim Jackson – 1927

On of the great blues songsters of yesteryear was Jim Jackson.  With a strong voice and a wide repertoire ranging from blues to popular songs to hokum, he one of the most prominent blues figures of his day.

Jim Jackson was born on a farm in Hernando, Mississippi, twenty miles south of Memphis, most likely in June of 1876, though 1884 and 1890 have also been ventured as possible years.  Sometime around 1905, Jackson began playing, singing, and dancing in medicine shows around the South.  He was later a member of the famed Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and ran the Red Rose Minstrels himself.  By the 1910s, Jackson worked primarily on Memphis, Tenessee, like contemporary Frank Stokes.  His success on Beale Street was enough that he was reportedly residing in the luxurious Peabody Hotel by 1919.  In 1927, store owner and talent broker H.C. Speir secured a contract for Jackson with Vocalion records.  He made his recording debut on October 10, 1927, recording the first two parts of his “Kansas City Blues” series, which were issued as his first record.  In addition to recording for Vocalion, Jackson also worked as a talent scout for the company, notably “discovering” boogie woogie piano man Speckled Red (Rufus Perryman).  As one of Vocalions most popular race artists, the company released a “descriptive novelty” record titled “Jim Jackson’s Jamboree” featuring Tampa Red and Georgia Tom and Speckled Red, and “hosted” by Jackson. Jackson continued to record for Vocalion until 1930, and held several sessions for Victor in 1928.  He supposedly played a bit part in King Vidor’s 1929 film Hallelujah, though it’s unknown what role he played, and indeed if he appeared in the film at all.  Jackson’s last session was held in February of 1930, after which he returned to his home in Mississippi, where he continued to perform.  Jim Jackson died on December 18, 1933.

Vocalion 1144 was recorded in Chicago on October 10, 1927.  Jackson’s “Kansas City Blues” songs were among the most successful and influential blues records of their time, inspiring numerous covers by contemporaries like William Harris and Charley Patton, and latter day artists like Janis Joplin.  Some have cited it as one of the first rock ‘n’ roll records, though the musical style bears only a passing resemblance.

First, Jackson sings the first of his four part series, “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City BluesPart 1″.

Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues–Part 1, recorded October 10, 1927 by Jim Jackson.

He concludes the disc with “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City BluesPart 2″.  This is the second take of this side (“34” in the runoff), which may be more scarce than the more commonly heard first take.

Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues - Part 2

Jim Jackson’s Kansas City BluesPart 2, recorded October 10, 1927 by Jim Jackson.

Vocalion 03394 – Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys – 1936

Look out friends, here’s Leon! Take it away, boys, take it away!

The last thing we heard from ol’ Bob Wills was his famous “New San Antonio Rose” of 1940.  Now, let’s get a little hotter with an early side by the King of Western Swing (and if you ask me, that Spade Cooley never deserved the title).

Following a pair of unissued recordings with his “Wills Fiddle Band” for Vocalion, and a stretch with the Light Crust Doughboys of Burrus Mill, Bob Wills first organized his Texas Playboys in Waco, Texas in 1933.  The next year, they relocated to Oklahoma, where they began a radio program broadcast from Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa.  In September of 1935, Will’s Texas Playboys recorded for the first time in a series of sessions held in Dallas that included “Osage Stomp”, I Ain’t Got Nobody”, and “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World”, as well as four sides with only Wills and guitarist Sleepy Jackon, highlighting his own merits as a fiddler.  They followed up the next September in Chicago, cutting such classics as “Trouble in Mind” and the famous “Steel Guitar Rag”.  Wills built his band around such talents as steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe and singer Tommy Duncan, all of whom he helped make famous with his “hollers,” announcing their solo and other quips.  Over the years, Wills developed his Texas Playboys from a fairly small string band into a full-fledged swing orchestra that drew larger crowds than Benny Goodman and both Dorsey brothers’ orchestras.  In the 1940s, the Texas Playboys toured across the states, and eventually settled in California.  Throughout that decade, they made a series of film appearances, and their popularity soared, to the point that they were a national sensation.  During the War, Wills made a number of patriotic records such as “Smoke on the Water” and “Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima”.  The popularity of the Texas Playboys continued through the postwar era, and into the early 1950s, when they recorded Wills’ famous “Faded Love”.  As 1950 turned to 1955 however, musical trends shifted, and their popularity began to wane.  Nonetheless, the Texas Playboys continued to perform until 1965.  Wills continued his solo career until a stroke in 1969.  Bob Wills and many of the former Texas Playboys were reunited in 1973 at a tribute concert with Merle Haggard.  After the first day of that concert Wills suffered a stroke that led to his death two years later, in 1975.

Vocalion 03394 was recorded in the Furniture Mart Building at 666 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago on Tuesday, September 29 and Wednesday the 30 of 1936, just over a year after their first sessions in Dallas, and their first return to the studio since.  The Texas Playboys are made up of Bob Wills, Jesse Ashlock, and Sleepy Johnson—who doubles on guitar—on fiddles, Everett Stover on trumpet, Ray DeGeer on clarinet and saxophone, Robert “Zeb” McNally on alto sax, Leon McAuliffe on steel guitar, Johnnie Lee Wills on tenor banjo, Herman Arnspiger on guitar, Al Stricklin on piano, Joe Ferguson on string bass, and William “Smokey” Dacus on drums.  I don’t know why it is, but these “scroll” label Vocalions tend to be some of the most enticing records out there!  Lots o’ great stuff to be found on ’em.

Leon McAulliffe’s famous “Steel Guitar Rag” was derived from blues guitarist Sylvester Weaver’s “Guitar Rag” of the previous decade, which he recorded first in 1923, and again in 1927.  Wills’ Texas Playboys heat up on this side a helluva lot more than Weaver ever did, with a healthy dose of hot jazz injected in it.  Becoming one of the Texas Playboys’ best-sellers, the success of “Steel Guitar Rag” made “take it away, Leon” a household phrase in the Depression era South.  That saxophone solo at around a minute-and-a-half in is just sublime!

Steel Guitar Rag

Steel Guitar Rag, recorded September 29, 1936 by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

Next, cut the following day, the Texas Playboys get low-down with a vocal duet between Wills and Tommy Duncan on “Swing Blues No. 1” (yes, there was a “Swing Blues No. 2”, too).

Swing Blues No. 1

Swing Blues No. 1, recorded September 30, 1936 by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

Paramount 20364 – Boyd Senter – 1924

On November 30, we commemorate the birth of the one and only “Jazzologist Supreme,” the eccentric clarinetist Boyd Senter.

Boyd Senter was born on November 30, 1898 on a farm in Nebraska.  Much like his contemporary Bix Beiderbecke, he was inspired to play jazz after hearing a record by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Like many budding jazzmen, he took up the saxophone and clarinet, and also became proficient on trumpet and banjo.  Senter built his reputation on his novelty clarinet playing, and came to be known as the “Jazzologist Supreme.”  His first session was with Jelly Roll Morton’s Steamboat Four/Stomp Kings/Jazz Kids, which, despite bearing his name, did not feature Jelly Roll Morton.  In 1924, Senter made a number of records at Orlando B. Marsh’s Chicago-based recording laboratories, where some of the earliest electrically recorded discs were being cut.  Following the Marsh recordings, Senter made a series of sides for Pathé before moving to Okeh in 1927, where he was frequently accompanied by Eddie Lang on guitar.  On one session, a redo of his “Mobile Blues”, originally recorded for Marsh, everyone in the studio was reportedly so drunk that the recording was rejected (it was released in Europe, though).  The next year he formed a jazz band dubbed the Senterpedes, which often included the talents of the Dorsey Brothers, Phil Napoleon, and Vic Berton.  Senter and his Senterpedes moved to Victor in 1929, and among other titles, cut a jazz version of Jimmie Rodgers’ “In the Jailhouse Now”.  Senter made his last recordings in Hollywood for Victor in 1930, and continued to play jazz in Detroit until the end of the Swing era, after which he turned to a life of selling sporting goods.  Boyd Senter died in Oscoda, Michigan in June of 1982.

Paramount 20364 was recorded in October of 1924 by Marsh Laboratories in Chicago, Illinois, among the earliest electrical recordings made.  Boyd Senter switches between clarinet, alto saxophone, and trumpet, and is accompanied by Jack Russell on piano and Russell Senter on drums.

First, the Jazzologist Supreme stomps through the raggy “Fat Mamma Blues”.

Fat Mamma Blues

Fat Mamma Blues, recorded October 1924 by Boyd Senter.

Another of his own compositions, Senter next plays “Gin Houn’ Blues”.

Gin Houn' Blues

Gin Houn’ Blues, recorded October 1924 by Boyd Senter.

Okeh 8535 – Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five – 1927

That special time of year has come again that we celebrate the birth of the great Louis Armstrong, on the event of his 115th birthday.  Last year, we commemorated the occasion with his theme song, Sleepy Time Down South”.  This time around, we have even more excellence from Armstrong’s original Hot Five.

Louis Armstrong's Hot Five.

Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five (autographed to Muggsy Spanier).  Left to right: Armstrong, Johnny St. Cyr, Johnny Dodds, Kid Ory, Lil Armstrong.  From Jazzmen, 1939.

Louis Armstrong was born in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 4, 1901.  He grew up in a poor family in Storyville, and played witness to jazz in its infancy.  As a child, he made money working for a Jewish family by the name of Karnofsky, who came to treat him as one of their own.  Armstrong played as a youngster with the band of the New Orleans Colored Waif’s Home, and was instructed in cornet by Professor Peter Davis.  After leaving the home, Louis hauled coal by day and played by night, with all the jazz greats of New Orleans. “King of Cornet”, Joe Oliver, “Papa Joe” as Louis called him, came to be Armstrong’s mentor before heading north to play in Chicago in 1919.  He soon began playing in the famous brass bands of New Orleans, and on riverboats on the Mississippi.

In 1922, Armstrong received a request from Oliver to join him in Chicago.  Nervously, he obliged, and in that April, Armstrong made his first recordings with King Olivier’s Creole Jazz Band for Gennett Records.  With the Creole Jazz Band, Louis met piano player Lil Hardin, and before long the two were married.  It was Lil’s idea that Louis should leave King Oliver’s band; she believed his potential was wasted as a sideman to Oliver, and so he did.  In 1924, Armstrong left to work briefly with Ollie Powers’ band, before spending a year with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, and then with Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra (not to mention a number of other ventures on the side).  His biggest break came in 1925, when he formed his first Hot Five, and thus the first time he appeared on records as leader.  Through the rest of the 1920s, Armstrong kept busy playing and recording prolifically.  After some work with Carroll Dickerson’s orchestra in ’29, Louis left for California in 1930 to play a gig at Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in Los Angeles, California, fronting Les Hite’s orchestra.

Following that engagement, he traveled from place-to-place for a period, from back to Chicago, to home in New Orleans, to California again, before embarked on a much celebrated tour of Europe in 1933.  When he returned to the states in 1935, his fame was only on the rise.  After playing swing and jazz into the post-war era, and in 1947, he assembled his All-Stars, as a revival in “dixieland” came about.  Armstrong remained steadily popular until his death in 1971.  From the 1920s into the 1960s, Armstrong his inimitable mark on music, and cemented his place as one of the greatest jazz musicians, and most beloved American icons, of all time.

Okeh 8535 was recorded December 13, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois.  The Hot Five consists of Louis Armstrong on cornet, Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Armstrong on piano, and Lonnie Johnson on guitar.  This was the last session by the “original” Hot Five, in 1928 Armstrong organized a new group made up from members of Carroll Dickerson’s orchestra, including Earl Hines and Zutty Singleton.

Now, no matter what the question may be, the answer is right here for you, “Hotter than That”.

Hotter than That

Hotter than That, recorded December 13, 1927 by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.

On the flip-side, they play Kid Ory’s composition, “Savoy Blues”.

Savoy Blues

Savoy Blues, recorded December 13, 1927 by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.