Columbia 14194-D – “Peg Leg” Howell – 1926

One of the great heroes of the country blues (one of R. Crumb’s Heroes of the Blues, at least) is Peg Leg Howell, a musician holding the great distinction of being among the earliest male country blues artists to make records.

Joshua Barnes Howell was born on a farm in Eatonton, Georgia on March 5, 1888, placing him in an older generation of blues songsters to record, alongside the likes of Lead Belly, Jim Jackson, and Henry Thomas.  He learned to play guitar when he was twenty-one, but continued to work on the farm until his disgruntled brother-in-law blew off his right leg with a shotgun (hence the nickname “Peg Leg”).  Thereafter, Howell found work in a fertilizer plant, and later began running bootleg liquor, which landed him in jail in 1925.  After he got out, an A&R man for Columbia Records heard him playing on Decatur Street in Atlanta, and he was invited to cut a record while they were in town.  He recorded a total of four sides on November 8, 1926, amounting to two records.  Howell returned to the Columbia microphone for a further seven sessions between April of 1927 and April of 1929 when the company made field trips to Atlanta, making for another eleven solo sides, eight with his “Gang” consisting of Howell with fiddler Eddie Anthony and guitarist Henry Williams, four with mandolin player Jim Hill, two with Anthony alone, and another two with another fiddler who may have been Ollie Griffin.  He probably also appeared on two additional sides accompanying Waymon “Sloppy” Henry on Okeh in August of ’28, and may have been the unidentified “Tampa Joe” to Eddie Anthony’s “Macon Ed” on another eight sides; if so, it would stretch Howell’s recording career another year into December of 1930.  Following his last record date, Howell continued to play around Atlanta, and went back to bootlegging.  Howell laid his guitar down in 1934 following the death of his friend and frequent musical collaborator Eddie Anthony, and he returned to bootlegging liquor.  In 1952, his other leg was lost to “sugar diabetes.”  Howell was rediscovered eleven years later by a trio of young blues aficionados and researchers—George Mitchell, Roger Brown, and Jack Boozer—who convinced him to make a few more recordings.  After a little practice to get himself back in playing condition, Howell recorded ten final sides for a Testament LP in 1964, including several “re-does” of his old 1920s recordings.  Peg Leg Howell died in Atlanta on August 11, 1966, at the age of seventy-eight.

Columbia 14194-D was recorded on November 8, 1926 in Atlanta, Georgia by “Peg Leg” Howell, accompanying himself on the guitar.  These are Peg Leg Howell’s first two recorded sides, and his second issued record.

First up, Peg Leg sings and plays in Spanish (open G) tuning on the classic “Coal Man Blues”, his first recorded side, and one of his best in my book.  This was one of the ten sides Howell re-recorded in his old age.

Coal Man Blues, recorded November 8, 1926 by “Peg Leg” Howell.

Next, Howell’s “Tishamingo Blues” bears an early utterance of those immortal words “I’m goin’ to Tishimingo to have my hambone boiled; these Atlanta women done let my hambone spoil,” that have come to pervade the blues vernacular from Cab Calloway to Milton Brown, albeit with “Tishimingo” changed to “Chicago” and “Cowtown”, respectively.

Tishamingo Blues, recorded November 8, 1926 by “Peg Leg” Howell.

Columbia 2586-D – Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra – 1931

So the time again come again to pay tribute to one of the forefathers of swing music and leader of one of the finest jazz orchestras of the 1920s and ’30s, the incomparable Fletcher Henderson.

Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr., was born on December 18, 1897 into a middle class family in Cuthbert, Georgia in a home built by his father.  Like so many, Fletcher learned to play piano as a boy, along with his brother Horace, who also went on to become a noted jazz musician and bandleader.  Henderson graduated from Atlanta University in 1920 with a bachelor’s in chemistry and mathematics, and thereafter moved to New York City with intention to attend Columbia University.  He got sidetracked soon after arriving however, and instead made his entry into the world of Harlem’s jazz music; while lodging with a riverboat musician, Fletcher filled in for him from time to time.  He soon began working as a song plugger for W.C. Handy, which led his getting his big break in 1921.  When publisher Harry Pace broke with Handy to form Black Swan Records, he made Henderson the musical director for the fledgling “race” label.  At Black Swan, Henderson led his first orchestra, and he continued to lead after the company folded in 1923.  Henderson began to record prolifically on most every record label in existence, both as a bandleader and as an accompanist to early blues singers.  In its heyday, his band often included jazz luminaries such as Don Redman, Coleman Hawkins, and, for a stretch in 1924 and ’25, Louis Armstrong.  A car accident in August of 1928 left Henderson with a few broken bones, and by some accounts a depression that caused his work to decline in quality.  Nonetheless, his orchestra continued to perform and record for another decade.  In 1931, his became the house band of Connie’s Inn, a prominent Harlem nightclub comparable to the famed Cotton Club.  As the swing era began to swing later in that decade, rising star Benny Goodman began purchasing arrangements from Henderson for his own orchestra to play; Goodman’s legendary rendition of Jelly Roll Morton’s “King Porter” is practically a recreation of Henderson’s recordings of the same from 1928, ’32, and ’33.  He continued to lead his own band as well until 1939, at which point he disbanded his group to join Goodman’s as a staff arranger, but re-formed an orchestra and recorded sporadically throughout the 1940s.  A stroke in 1950 left Henderson partially paralyzed, and he retired from music.  Fletcher Henderson died two years later on December 29, 1950.

Columbia 2586-D was recorded on December 2, 1931 in New York City.  The orchestra consists of Russell Smith, Rex Stewart, and Bobby Stark on trumpets, Jimmy Harrison and Claude Jones on trombone, Benny Carter on clarinet and alto sax, Harvey Boone on alto sax, Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Clarence Holiday (that’s Billie’s father) on banjo and guitar, John Kirby on string bass and tuba, and Walter Johnson on drums.

First up, Henderson’s orchestra plays what is in a constant struggle with “Copenhagen” for the title of my favorite of their tunes, Smack’s jazzed up fox trot arrangement of the old Paul Dresser waltz “My Gal Sal”.

My Gal Sal

My Gal Sal, recorded December 2, 1931 by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra.

On the reverse, they play “My Pretty Girl” in a similar manner as Jean Goldkette’s rendition of four years prior, with a vocal by Lois Deppe.

My Pretty Girl

My Pretty Girl, recorded December 2, 1931 by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra.

Columbia 36886 – Frank Sinatra – 1945

After exhausting some of my best patriotic material on last year’s Fourth of July, I had to deliberate considerably on what I should discuss on this year’s Independence Day.  Although it steps a bit out of Old Time Blues’ usual prewar milieu, I don’t think I could find a more beautifully patriotic record that better captures what it means to be an American than this 1945 Frank Sinatra classic.  This also marks the official debut of my new pre-owned Grado phonograph cartridge (although I’ve updated the audio on some older posts), so the sound should be a little crisper than in the past.

Columbia 36886 was recorded in two sessions, the first around 8:45 PM on August 22, 1945, the second around 9:15 PM on August 27, 1945, both in Hollywood, California.  On the first date, Axel Stordahl conducts an orchestra made up of Uan Rasey, Leonard Mach, and Bruce Hudson on trumpet, Peter Beilman, Elmer Smithers, and Carl Loeffler on trombone, James Stagliano on French horn, Fred Stulce, Heinie Beau, Don Lodice, Harold Lawson, and Leonard Hartman on reeds, Sam Freed, Jr., Nicholas Pisani, Peter Ellis, Sol Kindler, Mischa Russell, Gerald Joyce, Samuel Cytron, Howard Halbert, David Frisina, Anthony Perrotti, Walter Edelstein, and William Bloom on violins, David Sterkin, Maurice Perlmutter, and Allan Harshman on viola, Cy Bernard, Jack Sewell, and Arthur Kafton on ‘cello, Ann Mason Stockton on harp, Frank Leithner on piano, Perry Botkin on guitar, Jack Ryan on string bass, and Ray Hagan on drums.  On the second date, the orchestra is largely the same, except Charles Griffard replaces Rasey on trumpet, Jimmy Skiles replaces Beilman on trombone, John Cave replaces Stagliano on horn, Mannie Gershman replaces Stulce on reeds, Olcott Vail, Victor Arno, and George Kast replace Joyce, Halbert, and Bloom on violin, Garry White replaces Harshman on viola, Fred Goerner and Nicholas Ochi-Albi replace Bernard and Kafton on ‘cello, and Lauretta McFarland, Mark McIntyre, and Dave Barbour replace Stockton, Leithner, and Botkin on harp, piano, and guitar, respectively.

In 1945, shortly after the conclusion of the Second World War, the young Frank Sinatra, ever a hit with the bobby soxers, starred in an RKO Radio Pictures short film, written by Albert Maltz and directed by Mervyn LeRoy, titled The House I Live In.  In it, Sinatra, taking five from a recording session, breaks up a fight between a group of schoolboys, who are putting the hurt on a peer for being Jewish.  Frank steps in and teaches the boys a lesson on tolerance, and what it means to be an American, before singing the titular song.  The moving film won an honorary Academy Award and Golden Globe for its excellence, and was in later years inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

With music by Earl Robinson and words by Abel Meeropol (under the pen name Lewis Allan), “The House I Live In” made its debut in 1942 as part of the revue Let Freedom Sing, before it came to star in the film of the same name.  Although it was written by individuals whose politics would only a few years later gain them McCarthy-era ostracism, I can think of few songs so truthfully and patriotically American as “The House I Live In”.  It reflects truly timeless values that are every bit as valid today as they were then.

The House I Live In, recorded August 22, 1945 by Frank Sinatra.

Maintaining the patriotic theme, on the flip, Sinatra is joined by the Ken Lane Singers for a lovely rendition of “America, the Beautiful”.

America, the Beautiful, recorded August 27, 1945 by Frank Sinatra.

Columbia 2958-D – Benny Goodman and his Music Hall Orchestra – 1934

Benny Goodman, as pictured in Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944.

The first birthday ever celebrated on Old Time Blues was the legendary Benny Goodman’s.  Now the time has come around once again to pay tribute to one of the most important musical figures of the twentieth century, and one of my own favorites, the one and only King of Swing.

Benjamin David Goodman was born on May 30, 1909, the ninth of twelve children of David and Dora Goodman, a family of poor Jewish immigrants in Chicago, Illinois, a pivotal location in the development of jazz.  Goodman’s father took him to free concerts on the weekends, and enrolled him in twenty-five cent music lessons at the local synagogue.  He later took clarinet lessons under a classically trained professional.  Benny soon joined the boy’s club band at the Hull House.  He first played professionally in 1921, and joined Ben Pollack’s Orchestra at the age of sixteen, with whom he made his first commercial recordings in 1926.

In 1928, Goodman made his first records under his own name for Vocalion and Brunswick as “Bennie Goodman’s Boys”.  By that time, he had already recorded quite extensively, and continued to work prolifically as a studio musician until forming his own orchestra.  After making a series of dance band recordings for Brunswick’s Melotone label in 1930 and ’31, and one date with Columbia the same year, Goodman, with the help of John Hammond, who arranged for a series of sessions for Columbia, put together the first incarnation of the band that would make him famous in 1933.  With Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa, and others in-and-out, Goodman’s new band played swing.  In June of 1934, Goodman and his orchestra opened at Billy Rose’s new Music Hall at 52nd and Broadway, and secured a spot on the NBC radio show Let’s Dance.  With need to expand his repertoire as a result of his newfound success, Goodman began purchasing sophisticated arrangements from Fletcher Henderson. In 1935, Goodman’s orchestra switched from the failing Columbia to Victor Records, which soon produced a hit with “King Porter Stomp”.

On August 21, 1935, Benny Goodman’s orchestra kicked off the swing era with a famous engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California.  In 1937, Goodman and his orchestra appeared in The Big Broadcast of 1937 and Hollywood Hotel.  As Goodman’s popularity continued to soar, Goodman earned the distinction of leading the first jazz ensemble to play at Carnegie Hall, at his legendary concert on January 16, 1938.  In addition to his orchestra, Goodman also led small groups, his famous Trios, Quartets, and Sextets.  Goodman refuted segregation, employing the likes of Charlie Christian, Lionel Hampton, and Teddy Wilson, once stating, “If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice.”  At various points, his band employed the enticing vocals of Helen Ward, Martha Tilton, and Peggy Lee, among many others.  In 1939, he left Victor to return to Columbia, which had been purchased and revived by CBS, with his band appearing on first issue of the revived label.  His success did not falter through the end of the swing era in the middle of the 1940s.  Even after swing had swung, Goodman was still in demand as a revered jazz musician.  In 1947, he switched labels once again, to Johnny Mercer’s Capitol Records.  He made forays into bebop, cool jazz, and classical music.  Benny Goodman continued to play until his death from a heart attack on June 13, 1986.

Columbia 2958-D was recorded on August 16, 1934 in New York City.  In the band are Russ Case, Jerry Neary, and Sam Shapiro on trumpets, Red Ballard and Jack Lacey on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Hymie Schertzer and Ben Kantor on alto sax, Arthur Rollini on tenor sax, Claude Thornhill on piano, George Van Eps on guitar, Hank Wayland on string bass, and Sammy Weiss on drums.  As indicated by the “Music Hall” appellation, this record dates to Goodman’s stretch at Billy Rose’s Music Hall.

First up is Benny Goodman’s amazingly energetic first recording of “Bugle Call Rag”, most certainly my favorite recording of the standard.  Goodman recorded another notable version for Victor in 1936, and it remained a staple of his repertoire.

Bugle Call Rag, recorded August 16, 1934 by Benny Goodman and his Music Hall Orchestra.

On the other side, Will Hudson’s “Nitwit Serenade” borrows a famous part from the ArmstrongOliver jazz standard “Dipper Mouth Blues”.

Nitwit Serenade, recorded August 16, 1934 by Benny Goodman and his Music Hall Orchestra.

A Gene Autry Christmas Double Feature – Columbia 20377 & 38610 – 1947/1949

Old Time Blues wishes everyone a very merry Christmas! 1911 Postcard.

That special time of the year has come around once again.  Last year we celebrated with Harry Reser’s band, and what better way to celebrate this holiday season than with these four Christmas classics sung by our old pal Gene Autry.

Columbia 20377, in the hillbilly series, was recorded on August 28, 1947 and released on October 6 of the same year.  First up, Gene Autry sings his own Christmas classic, “Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane)”.  On the reverse, he sings the charming “An Old-Fashioned Tree”.

Here Comes Santa Clause (Down Santa Claus Lane) and An Old-Fashioned Tree, recorded August 28, 1947 by Gene Autry.

The first side of Columbia 38610 was recorded on June 27, 1949, the second sometime in July of the same year.  Autry is accompanied by the Pinafores on both sides.  First, Gene sings Johnny Marks’ classic song about the beloved character created for Montgomery Ward in 1939, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  Next, on “If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas” Autry ponders how Santa Claus will make out in his sleigh it there’s no snow.  Ol’ Gene seems to have forgotten that the sleigh is flight capable.

Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer and If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas, recorded June 27 and July, 1949 by Gene Autry and the Pinafores.