Crown 3058 – Frankie Marvin and his Guitar – 1931

One of the few independent record labels to spring up during the Great Depression was Crown, founded in 1930 by the Plaza Record Company after the merger that created the American Record Corporation, leaving them without their flagship label, Banner.  Most of Crown’s output consisted of popular and jazz music, but they also issued some interesting country recordings, such as this one.

Frankie Marvin was born January 27, 1904 in Butler, Indian Territory, where he grew up with his brother, the future popular singer and ukulele man Johnny Marvin.  At some point in the mid-1920s, Frankie came to New York to begin a recording career like his brother.  Frankie Marvin sang variously as a studio vocalist for dance and jazz bands (he can be heard singing “St. James Infirmary” with King Oliver’s Orchestra) and a country singer a la Jimmie Rodgers, often accompanying himself on guitar.  Marvin also worked as an accompanist to Gene Autry on some of his early records.

Crown 3058, recorded in New York by Frankie Marvin in January 1931 features two off-brand versions of country hits of the day.

First, Marvin sings Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 8”, better known today as “Mule Skinner Blues”.  Based on my own research, this is likely the first of many covers of Rodgers’ classic song.

Blue Yodel No. 8, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin.

Blue Yodel No. 8, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin and his Guitar.

Next, Marvin sings his, Gene Autry, and George Rainey’s composition “True Blue Bill”, occasionally known as “I’m a Truthful Fellow”.  He seems to be channeling “Ukulele Ike” Cliff Edwards’ trademark form of scatting, known as “effin'”, here.

True Blue Bill, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin and his Guitar.

True Blue Bill, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin and his Guitar.

A Crown Dance Band Double Feature – 3149 & 3281 – 1931/1932

This Dance Band Double Feature is dedicated to Smith Ballew, who was born on this day (January 21) in 1902.  Under his frequently used pseudonym, Buddy Blue and his Texans, Ballew and his band play four classic songs of the early 1930s recorded on the Crown label.

Smith Ballew was born Sykes Ballew in Palestine, Texas on January 20, 1902.  He had his education in Sherman, Texas before finishing college at the University of Texas in Austin.  While at UT, Ballew played banjo in James Maloney’s band, called Jimmie’s Joys at the time.  That band, with Ballew, made a few records in California for the Golden label in 1923.  By the late 1920s, he was working as a studio vocalist in New York, working for a plethora of different bands and labels.  After working steadily as a singer well into the 1930s, Smith turned to acting, appearing mostly in Westerns as a singing cowboy.  After retiring from music in 1967, Ballew worked in the aircraft industry, eventually settling in Fort Worth.  He died March 2, 1984 in Longview, Texas.

Crown 3149 was recorded in May of 1931.  On the first side, Smith Ballew sings Harry Warren’s 1931 hit, the timeless “I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store)”.  On the reverse, we hear “On the Beach With You”, this side claims to be a waltz, but it sounds more like a fox trot to my ear.  The vocalist on this side is allegedly Charlie Lawman, but it sounds identical to Ballew’s vocal on the flip, and I believe it’s still him.  On these 1931 recordings, the band retains much of a late 1920s sound with banjo rhythm and an accordion.

I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store) and On the Beach With You

I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store) and On the Beach With You, recorded May 1931 by Buddy Blue and his Texans.

The second disc, Crown 3281, was recorded in January of 1932.  This record feature two popular songs from Irving Berlin’s Face the Music, “Let’s Have Another Cup o’ Coffee” and Soft Lights and Sweet Music”.  Both sides feature a vocal by Ballew.  The band seems to have modernized significantly on these recordings, less than a year later, and may very well be an entirely different group.

Let's Have Another Cup o' Coffee and Soft Lights and Sweet Music

Let’s Have Another Cup o’ Coffee and Soft Lights and Sweet Music, recorded January 1932 by Buddy Blue and his Texans.