Vocalion 1198 – Cow Cow Davenport and Ivy Smith – 1928

Cow Cow Davenport, circa 1940s.

Cow Cow Davenport, circa 1940s.  Magazine clipping from “The Jazz Record”.

April 23 marks the 122nd anniversary of the birth of the Man that Gave America Boogie Woogie, Charles “Cow Cow” Davenport.  Since it also marks my own birthday, that makes it a very special occasion, and thusly, I hope to offer a very special presentation.

Charles Edward Davenport was born in Anniston, Alabama on April 23, 1894.  He took up the piano at the age of twelve.  Davenport’s father was a pastor, and opposed his son’s musical interests, sending him away to a seminary to continue in his father’s work.  The young Charles was kicked out the the seminary for playing ragtime.  He began his professional career playing boogie woogie piano in medicine shows and touring the TOBA vaudeville circuit.  In 1924, Davenport made his debut recordings as an accompanist for his vaudeville partner Dora Carr for Okeh Records, recording his trademark composition, “Cow Cow Blues”, one of the earliest instances of boogie woogie piano on record, from which he got his nickname.  After Okeh, Cow Cow several records for Paramount, and recorded fairly prolifically, solo and as an accompanist.  By the later 1920s, he was working with a new partner, Ivy Smith, and recording for Vocalion records, with whom he made a larger number of sides.  He also worked as a talent scout for Vocalion, bringing in such talent as Clarence “Pine Top” Smith. Composed by Davenport were such classics as “Mama Don’t Allow It” and supposedly “You Rascal You”, which he claimed to have sold to Sam Theard.  In the early 1930s, he took up in Cleveland, Ohio, which remained his home for the rest of his life.  In 1938, Davenport suffered a stroke that caused minor paralysis in his right hand that forced him to temporarily retire from music and take menial jobs, and impeded his playing for the rest of his life.  Nevertheless, he continued to perform and record.  In 1942, his name was put up in lights when Freddie Slack’s Orchestra had a smash hit with “Cow Cow Boogie”, no doubt taking its name from the aging piano man.  His final years plagued by ill health, Cow Cow Davenport died of heart failure on December 12, 1955 in Cleveland.

Vocalion 1198 was recorded in Chicago on July 16, 1928 featuring Cow Cow Davenport on piano assisted by his vaudeville partner, Ivy Smith on one side.  Two known takes of each side were recorded that day, and both are presented here.  Takes “A” come from the original issue, and takes “B” are from the 1943 reissue on Brunswick 80022.

Davenport first plays solo on his eponymous song “Cow Cow Blues”, deriving its name from the cowcatchers mounted on the front of old steam engines.

Cow Cow Blues

Cow Cow Blues, recorded July 16, 1928 by Cow Cow Davenport.

On the reverse, Davenport is joined by the vocals of his stage partner Ivy Smith on “State Street Jive”.  “What kinda piano player is this?” Smith asks on take “B” of this tune.

State Street Jive

State Street Jive, recorded July 16, 1928 by Cow Cow Davenport and Ivy Smith.

Okeh 41504 – Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra – 1931

Normally, I wouldn’t make two consecutive posts of records by the same artist, but today, August 4, marks the great Louis Armstrong’s 114th birthday, so I’m making an exception.  To celebrate the momentous occasion, I present to you Armstrong’s theme song, and one of his most popular early records.

Okeh 41504, recorded April 20 and 28, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois, features Louis Armstrong on trumpet and vocals, backed by Zilner Randolph on second trumpet, Preston Jackson on trombone, Lester Boone (on clarinet and alto sax), Albert Washington (on clarinet and tenor sax), and George James in the reed section, Charlie Alexander on piano, Mike McKendrick on banjo and guitar, John Lindsay on bass, and Tubby Hall on drums.

First up is “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South”, recorded April 20, a composition by brothers Otis and Leon René and Clarence Muse which would become his theme song.  Louis starts by striking up a conversation with pianist Charlie Alexander (who actually hailed from Ohio) about their home back in New Orleans before segueing into the song.

When It's Sleepy Time Down South, recorded April 20, 1931 by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra.

When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, recorded April 20, 1931 by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra.

On the flip, recorded April 28, Louis and the band play “I’ll Be Glad When Your Dead, You Rascal You”, written by “Lovin’ Sam” Theard (though Cow Cow Davenport claimed to have written it), one of his most popular songs of the day, which he would replay twice over the following year for Paramount Pictures and Fleischer Studios.

I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You, recorded April 28, 1931 by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra

I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You, recorded April 28, 1931 by Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra