Velvet Tone 1759-V – Rudy Vallée Accomp. by his Yale Men – 1928

Rudy Vallée in the 1930 Victor catalog,

Rudy Vallée in the 1930 Victor catalog,

Heigh-ho everybody! 115 years ago today, the vagabond lover, Rudy Vallée was born.  Some twenty-five years later, he would become the idol of a nation.

Hubert Prior Vallée was born in Island Pond, Vermont on July 28, 1901.  At 15, he joined the navy to fight in the Great War, but was discharged after forty-one days, when his age was discovered.  With his high school band, Vallée played drums, but soon took up the saxophone, playing in local bands.  In the middle of the 1920s, he traveled to England, and made his first phonograph recordings with the Savoy Havana Band in London.  After returning home, he was educated at the University of Maine, then at Yale, and in 1928, made his first recordings under his own name for Columbia’s budget labels, with his Yale Men.  At the University of Maine, he was dubbed Rudy, after the popular saxophone player Rudy Wiedoeft, and the name stuck.  After graduating, Vallée formed his Connecticut Yankees, and secured a contract with Victor records in 1929.  It was around this time that his popularity skyrocketed, becoming one of the most popular personalities of the 1920s and ’30s, and making a string of hit records and motion pictures.  Vallée’s feature film debut in 1929’s The Vagabond Lover had him in a starring role, and was a success.  Also in ’29, he began hosting The Fleischmann Hour on NBC, staying on-the-air until 1939.  The next year, he had a smash hit with the University of Maine’s “Stein Song” for Victor, and continued to rise in his fame.  Attempting to list the bulk of Vallée’s popular songs would consume far too much space.  With his fame however, came an ego rivaling that of Al Jolson, and Vallée was known to have a short temper.

As the Depression rolled in, Vallée remained among the most popular entertainers on radio and record, and, moving to Columbia Records in 1932, was given a special picture label in an attempt to increase sales.  His association with Columbia did not last long, as he returned to Victor in 1933, first appearing on their Bluebird label, before moving back to the full-fledged Victor label.  As swing began to take off, Vallée’s popularity began to wane, though he continued to make popular records.  Vallée arranged for Louis Armstrong to host his radio program for the summer of 1937, making him the first African-American to host a major radio show.  After the 1930s, Vallée recording sporadically on a wide variety of different record labels, none of which saw the success of his earlier works.  In 1943, Victor made a hit with a reissue of Vallée’s 1931 recording of “As Time Goes By” to coincide with the release of Casablanca, as the musicians strike prevented a new recording from being made.  After his popularity had faded from its 1920s heights, Vallée continued to record and appear in films, and on television, and enjoyed moderate success all the way.  After a long career in the show business, Rudy Vallée died on July 3, 1986 at the age of 84.

Velvet Tone 1759-V on October 10, 1928 in New York.  The Yale Men are made up of Don Moore on trumpet, Hal Matthews on trombone, Rudy Vallée on clarinet and alto sax, Joe Miller on tenor sax, Manny Lowy and Jules de Vorzon on violin, Cliff Burwell on piano, Charles Peterson on banjo, Harry Patent on tuba, and Ray Toland on drums.

First Vallée and the Yale Men play a hot side on “Doin’ the Raccoon”, referencing the popular 1920s collegiate fad for raccoon coats.

Doin' the Raccoon

Doin’ the Raccoon, recorded October 10, 1928 by Rudy Vallée Accomp. by his Yale Men.

Next, Vallée sings a sweet tune on “Bye and Bye Sweetheart”.

Bye and Bye Sweetheart

Bye and Bye Sweetheart, recorded October 10, 1928 by Rudy Vallée Accomp. by his Yale Men.

Columbia 14222-D – Barbecue Bob – 1927

Up there with Blind Lemon Jefferson in the pantheon of 1920s blues music stands Robert Hicks, better known as Barbecue Bob, an Atlanta native that found fame in the late 1920s as one of the top “race” stars for Columbia records.  Over the course of his short recording career, Hicks waxed sixty-eight sides.

Born September 11, 1902 in Walnut Grove, Georgia, Robert Hicks and his brother Charlie, along with Curley Weaver, learned to play guitar from Weaver’s mother.  While working as a pitmaster at an Atlanta barbecue joint, Hicks was discovered by Columbia records talent scout Dan Hornsby (who also worked as a musician and is known for his association with Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers.)  Taking his recording name from his work, he made his first recording in March 1927, titled “Barbecue Blues”, which may have been named by the Columbia staff to fit his gimmick, as the lyrics make no reference to barbecue in any way.  Hicks went on to record many more sides between then and December 1930, both solo and as part of Georgia Cotton Pickers.  Robert Hicks died from tuberculosis and pneumonia on October 21, 1931.

Columbia 14222-D was recorded June 15, 1927 in New York City by Barbecue Bob, accompanied by his own twelve-string guitar.  The DAHR says that both takes 1 and 2 of both sides were issued, these are both first takes.  These are the first two sides from Barbecue Bob’s second recording session, and his second issues record.  This was probably one of the most successful country blues records of the 1920s.

It is said that the record of “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” was played at Hicks’ funeral in 1931.  The song makes reference to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States.  Beginning in April 1927, the floods caused widespread devastation in the Mississippi Delta, submerging more than 23,000 square miles and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.  The disaster and its widespread effects were chronicled in a number of songs of the era, including this one.  Hicks’ witty songwriting stands out in the line, “Mississippi shakin’, Lou’siana sinkin’, whole town’s a-ringin’, Robert Hicks is singing.”

Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Following a similar structure as the previous song, on “Mamma You Don’t Suit Me!”, Hicks sings of his gal, who drives a Willys-Knight and “doesn’t suit him like his other mama did.”

Mama You Don't Suit Me, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Mama You Don’t Suit Me, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Updated with improved audio on October 14, 2017.

Columbia 2652-D – Ted Lewis and his Band – 1932

Is everybody happy?

Columbia's custom sleeve and label dedicated to Ted Lewis.

Columbia’s custom sleeve and label dedicated to Ted Lewis.

In addition to Jimmie Lunceford, June 6 also marks the 126th anniversary of Ted Lewis’ birth.  Here’s one of his most popular records of the 1930s, as well as one of my personal favorite Ted Lewis vocal performances.

Ted Lewis was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in Circleville, Ohio on June 6, 1890.  He took up playing the clarinet professionally, though some would argue that his abilities on the instrument were limited.  He first recorded with Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band, and soon began recording for Columbia with his own jazz band, switching to Decca in 1934.  With his trademark phrase, “is everybody happy?”, his schmaltzy “talk-singing” and tendency to employ top-notch musicians made him one of the most popular musical personalities of the 1920s, and into the 1930s, alongside Paul Whiteman.  However, his style faded from popularity as swing became king, and his music fell out of favor, though he continued to perform for many years.  Ted Lewis died on August 25, 1971.

Columbia 2652-D was recorded March 15 and 22, 1932 in New York City.  Ted Lewis’ band consists of Muggsy Spanier and Dave Klein on trumpets, George Brunies on trombone; Ted Lewis and Benny Goodman on clarinet and alto sax, Sam Shapiro and Sol Klein on violins, Jack Aaronson on piano, Tony Gerhardi on guitar, Harry Barth on string bass and tuba, and John Lucas on drums.

The quintessential Depression-era tune “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town”, introduced in the motion picture Crooner, became one of the most popular songs of 1932, both for Ted Lewsis and for other artists.  In my opinion, this is one of Lewis’ best vocals.

In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town

In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town, recorded March 15, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.

On the other side, Lewis and his band do a fine job with “Sweet Sue – Just You”, featuring a great clarinet solo by Benny Goodman.

Sweet Sue - Just You

Sweet Sue – Just You, recorded March 22, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.

Columbia 14593-D – Thomas “Fats” Waller and His Hot Piano – 1931

Fats Waller, 1930s. Courtesy of Mills Music.

May 21 marks yet another impossible to ignore occasion, the 112th birthday of Fats Waller.  This record is Fats’ first vocal record issued under his own name, he had previously recorded a series of uncredited vocal sides with Ted Lewis and his Band the same year, and had released many piano and organ solos.

Thomas Wright Waller was born May 21, 1904 in New York City, the youngest of eleven children of Rev. Edward Martin and Adeline Locket Waller.  Instructed at first by his mother, he learned to play piano and organ as a child, playing in his father’s church, and in Harlem’s Lincoln Theater.  He later came under the tutelage of Harlem’s foremost pianist James P. Johnson, and won a contest for playing Johnson’s “Carolina Shout” in 1918.  Waller made his first recordings for Okeh in 1922, piano solos of “Muscle Shoals Blues” and “Birmingham Blues”, and his first vocal recordings for Columbia in 1931 with Ted Lewis’ Band.  By the end of the 1920s, he was one of Harlem’s leading pianists and composers, often collaborating with lyricist Andy Razaf.  In 1934, at a party thrown by George Gershwin, his playing and singing was noticed by a Victor Records bigwig, who set him up with a lucrative contract for Victor, recording as “Fats Waller and his Rhythm” (though he had, in fact, recorded for Victor a number of times prior to that).  In 1943, he appeared in the motion picture Stormy Weather, which was to be his swan song.  Fats Waller died of pneumonia on a train near Kansas City on December 15, 1943.  His ashes were scattered over Harlem.

Columbia 14593-D, issued in the race record series, was recorded March 12, 1931 in New York City.  The DAHR notes that takes “2” and “3” were issued on both sides, these are “3” and “2”, respectively.

First, Fats sings his own famous song, “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby (And My Baby’s Crazy ‘Bout Me)”, demonstrating his unique vocal styling on this early side.  Sorry about the rough start, I cleaned it up quite a bit, but there’s only so much I’m capable of doing.

I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby (And My Baby's Crazy 'Bout Me)

I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby (And My Baby’s Crazy ‘Bout Me), recorded March 13, 1931 by Thomas “Fats” Waller and His Hot Piano.

On the other side, Fats sings Alex Hill’s “Draggin’ My Heart Around”.

Draggin' My Heart Around

Draggin’ My Heart Around, recorded March 13, 1931 by Thomas “Fats” Waller and His Hot Piano.

Columbia 523-D – The Georgians – 1925

It’s time for more music for music’s sake, and it’s hard to go wrong with a Columbia Viva-Tonal, they tend to sound decent even when they’re beat to hell!

There were a number of bands to go by the name “The Georgians”.  The one in question here was a jazz ensemble made up of members of the Paul Specht Orchestra, and led by trumpet player Frank Guarente.  Guarente’s Georgians first recorded for Columbia in 1922, and traveled to Europe later in the decade at least once, making a number of recordings in Switzerland.  There seems to be some uncertainty as to when the original Georgians broke up.  Some sources indicate that they disbanded in 1924, and that Columbia later used the name for different groups.  Other sources indicate that Guarente continued to lead the band until several years later.

Columbia 523-D was recorded November 18 and December 12, 1925 in New York, New York.  According to the DAHR, this session was still under the direction of Guarente, and reportedly includes the talents of Charlie Spivak on trumpet, Al Philburn on trombone, Ernie Warren or Frank Kilduff on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, Gilbert Dutton on clarinet and tenor sax, Walker O’Neil on piano, Roy Smeck on banjo and harmonica, and Johnny Morris on drums.

First up is “Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley!” a dandy little tune, featuring a vocal by drummer Johnny Morris.  While Rust notes Smeck as doubling on harmonica on this side, the instrument has always struck my ear as sounding like a goofus (aka Couesnophone), a toy saxophone adopted in jazz music by Adrian Rollini in 1924, I’m not sure who’s playing it here.  Recorded on the latter of the two dates, the DAHR shows takes “6” and “7” as issued for this side, this is “7”.

Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley!

Clap Hands! Here Comes Charley!, recorded December 12, 1925 by The Georgians.

“Spanish Shawl” has quite a ding in the label, but on the bright side, it creates a good cross-section of the unique composition of Columbia records; coarse shellac in the middle, surrounded by a paper coating, and topped with a playing surface of smooth laminate in which the grooves are pressed.  This side was recorded on the earlier date.

Spanish Shawil

Spanish Shawl, recorded November 18, 1925 by The Georgians.

Updated on June 24, 2016.