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.

Victor 19919 – Vernon Dalhart – 1925

From 1930 Victor catalog.

From 1930 Victor catalog.

Extenuating circumstances over the past several days unfortunately prevented me from publishing a tribute to Vernon Dalhart on his birthday yesterday, April 6, but here is a belated celebration today.

Vernon Dalhart was born Marion Try Slaughter, April 6, 1883 in Jefferson, Texas.  After his father was murdered behind the Kahn Saloon there, his family relocated to Dallas, where he attended a music conservatory and became an operatic tenor.  Assuming the name “Vernon Dalhart” after two Texas towns, he began recording in the 1910s.  Having previously learned cowboy songs while working on the range as a teen, in 1924, Dalhart became a pioneering figure in country music, when he recorded “Wreck of the Old 97” and “The Prisoner’s Song” for the Victor Talking Machine Company.  That record was met with huge success, and Dalhart, working frequently with guitarist and sometimes singer Carson J. Robison, became one of the most popular artists in the 1920s.  Dalhart’s success waned by the end of the decade, and he only recorded sporadically in the 1930s, making his final records in 1939.  Vernon Dalhart died of a heart attack in 1948.

Victor 19919 was recorded was recorded December 21, 1925 in New York City.  Vernon Dalhart is accompanied by Carson Robison on guitar and Murray Kellner on violin. Dalhart himself plays the harmonica.

Vernon Dalhart is best known for his ballads and tearjerkers (e.g. “The Prisoner’s Song”, “In the Baggage Coach Ahead”), but he recorded quite a number of songs outside that genre, including “Putting on the Style”.  This tune was later revived in 1957 by Lonnie Donegan.

Putting on the Style

Putting on the Style, recorded December 21, 1925 by Vernon Dalhart.

“The Little Black Moustache” is one of those songs written for a singer of the opposite sex, making it into quite a humorous affair.  Vernon sings it in good spirits, and does a good job with it if you ask me.

The Little Black Moustache

The Little Black Moustache, recorded December 21, 1925 by Vernon Dalhart.

 

Broadcast Twelve 3203 – Carson Robison and his Pioneers – 1932

The other day I had the pleasure of acquiring a small selection of British records, which are always a treat for their diversity of content.  Among my souvenirs was this one on the Broadcast Twelve label.  Given that it is by an American artist, I first presumed that it was recorded in the United States and exported to the UK for pressing.  However, I questioned whether Broadcast Twelve had ever even used imported masters, as some labels did, and I began to remember hearing about Carson Robison visiting Europe around the time the record was made.

Sure enough, in 1932, Carson Robison and his Pioneers embarked on one of the first country music tours of the British Isles, and Broadcast Twelve 3203 was recorded in London, England in May of 1932.  Personnel includes Carson Robison on guitar, harmonica and vocal with John and Bill Mitchell on banjos and guitars, Frank Novak on string bass, and an unknown fiddle.

I don’t know why it is, but it seems like somehow American artists played with more vigor and gusto in recordings made while touring overseas.

On the first side, Robison’s Pioneers don’t disappoint with Stephen Foster’s “Oh! Susannah”, which features the Mitchell Brothers really tearing it up on their banjos.  Seems to me, Carson Robison doesn’t get enough credit, the more I hear of him, the better I like his work.

Oh! Susannah, recorded May 1932 by Carson Robison and his Pioneers.

Oh! Susannah, recorded May 1932 by Carson Robison and his Pioneers.

“Sweet Virginia” can’t live up to the standard set by the “A” side, though it does feature a nice piece of Carson Robison’s whistling, and a vocal by Pearl Pickens.

Sweet Virginia, recorded May 1932 by Carson Robison and his Pioneers.

Sweet Virginia, recorded May 1932 by Carson Robison and his Pioneers.

Updated with improved audio on May 8, 2017, and on October 13, 2017.

Spotlight: Vernon Dalhart

Dalhart in 1927, from the Cover of "My Blue Ridge Mountain Home"

From the 1927 cover of “My Blue Ridge Mountain Home”

One of the most popular recording artists in his day, and one of the least appreciated today, is classically trained tenor-turned-country singer Vernon Dalhart.  The first million-selling country artist, whose records enthralled the listeners of the 1920s, and sometimes annoy record collectors today because of their prevalence, a testament to his popularity.

The man who would become internationally famous as Vernon Dalhart was born Marion Try Slaughter II in the town of Jefferson, Texas on April 6, 1883 (some sources say 1881), son of Robert Marion “Bob” and Mary Jane Slaughter.  Growing up on a ranch outside town, Try, who went by his middle name, learned to play the harmonica, kazoo, and Jew’s harp.  The Slaughters, living up to their name, had a reputation as violent people, and when Try was ten in 1893, his uncle, also named Bob, shot his father following a dispute in the alley behind the Kahn Saloon in Jefferson.

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Supertone S2061 – Frank Luther and Carson Robison – 1929/1928

Carson Robison and Frank Luther as “Bud and Joe Billings”. From Victor catalog, 1930.

So far I’ve mostly shared jazz records, so I think it’s about time I broke the monotony with something a bit different, so here’s one of my favorite country records, by Frank Luther and Carson Robison.

Carson Robison started out his lengthy and prolific recording career as a guitar player for vaudevillian Wendell Hall in 1924, becoming a studio guitarist and whistler for Victor records.  Later that year, he was teamed up with the classically trained hillbilly singer Vernon Dalhart, beginning a partnership that lasted until an acrimonious parting in 1928, and would define “citybilly” music.  Soon after, Robison joined forces with minister-turned-singer and fellow Kansan Frank Luther, who had previously sung with the Revelers and as a popular dance band vocalist, and the pair went on to supersede Dalhart as some of the nation’s foremost country recording artists.  Their partnership lasted until 1932, when Robison set sail with a new group to bring hillbilly music to the British Isles.  Luther continued to record domestically.

Supertone S2061 was recorded on May 21, 1929 and December 10, 1928, respectively, in New York City.  The two sides were originally issued apart, with the first side on Brunswick 425 and the second on Vocalion 5278.  This Supertone was released around 1931, and draws its masters from the Brunswick/Vocalion catalog rather than the original Gennett masters, after the Brunswick Radio Corporation (a subsidiary of Warner Brothers Pictures) acquired the contract from the Starr Piano Company.

On the first side of Supertone S2061, Frank Luther and Carson Robison perform “Left My Gal in the Mountains”, one of many country songs written by Robison and recorded by the duo on numerous labels.  The accompaniment—made up of Earl Oliver on cornet, probably Roy Smeck on steel guitar, and an unknown clarinettist and guitarist—adds a little jazz to the song.

Left My Gal in the Mountains, recorded May 21, 1929 by Frank Luther and Carson Robison.

On the flip-side, Luther, accompanied by Robison on guitar, sings Harry McClintock’s famous “Big Rock Candy Mountains” in an almost flawless imitation of Mac.

BigRockCandy

The Big Rock Candy Mountains, recorded December 13, 1928 by Frank Luther.

Updated on October 2, 2016, and June 10, 2017.