An Edison Needle Type Electric Dance Band Double Feature – 14003 & 14041 – 1929

B.A. Rolfe, as pictured in a 1932 publication.

Thomas A. Edison’s “Needle Type Electric” records—sometimes called “thin” Edisons for reasons self explanatory—were his last hurrah in the record business, before bidding the industry farewell forever.  Unlike his vertically cut, quarter-of-an-inch thick Diamond Discs, they were plain, ordinary shellac 78s, which could be played on any Victrola or like talking machine.  The completely redesigned labels—with an array of lightning bolts striking from the top, framing the name “Edison”, emblazoned in bold, block lettering—represent the pinnacle of late-1920s commercial art.  Thus, like any of the countless extremely short-lived record lines (e.g. Black Patti, Timely Tunes, Sunrise, etc.—all of which, incidentally, also had beautifully designed labels), they are quite uncommon today.

First up, the famed B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra plays “Dance of the Paper Dolls” and “Fioretta”, both sides featuring vocals provided by an uncredited Jack Parker.  Born on October 24, 1879, Benjamin Albert Rolfe, known in earlier life as the “Boy Trumpet Wonder” was a trumpet prodigy who went on to become a popular radio bandleader and Edison recording artist.  During the 1910s and ’20s, Rolfe spent a stretch as a Hollywood movie producer, following which he established his distinguished career as a bandleader.  Notably. he directed his “Palais D’or Orchestra”—named for his own Broadway cabaret—from 1926 until 1928, at which point it became the “Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra” for the remainder of his time with Edison.  Rolfe remained a radio mainstay into the 1930s, appearing in a pair of Vitaphone short films, and leading the B.F. Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra in 1935 and ’36.  B.A. Rolfe died of cancer on April 23, 1956.

Edison 14003 was recorded on March 19, 1929 in New York City.  Both tunes also appeared on separate Diamond Discs, as the “R” side of their respective discs.  This Needle Type record provides a somewhat uncommon opportunity to hear Rolfe’s orchestra on a standard laterally cut phonograph record. First up is “Dance of the Paper Dolls”, which also appeared on Diamond Disc 52548, backed with “Hello Sweetie”.

Dance of the Paper Dolls, recorded on March 19, 1929 by B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra.

On the “R” side, Rolfe’s orchestra plays “Fioretta”, from the 1929 Broadway musical of the same name.  This disc, unfortunately, is a little moisture damaged, causing some noticeable “swishing.”  This one was also issued on Diamond Disc 52531, backed with “If I Had You”.

Fioretta, recorded on March 19, 1929 by B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra.

Next up is another Edison dance band on Edison 14041, recorded on July 18, 1929, also in New York City.  The Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra (under the direction of violinist Bernhard Lewitow) first plays “Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember” I’m not sure who the vocalist is on this one, so if anyone could tip me off, I’d be much obliged.

Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember, recorded July 18, 1929 by Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra Under the Direction of Bernhard Levitow.

On the reverse, they play “Smiling Irish Eyes”, from the 1929 Warner Bros. Vitaphone talkie of the same name, starring Colleen Moore, now a lost film.  This tune also appeared on Diamond Disc number 52637.  These two are in better shape than the previous, and if you ask me, the music is too; those last two are just too darned dainty.

Smiling Irish Eyes, recorded July 18, 1929 by Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra Under the Direction of Bernhard Levitow.

Updated on April 28, 2018.

Durium De Luxe K6 – Eddie Cantor with Phil Spitalny’s Music – 1931

Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.  Pictured in Stars of Radio and Things You Would Like to Know About Them.

On Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market on Wall Street crashed, catalyzing an economic descent into a Great Depression.  The economy had been in decline prior to the crash, but that event proved to be the point of no return, and the economy dipped continuously until hitting bottom in the winter of 1932-’33.  Economists, historians, and economic historians can argue about what caused the crash ’til the cows come home, but whatever set it off, “that’s when we started sliding in the fall of ’29,” as the Light Crust Doughboys once put it, “‘Twas a fall of fifty-fifty, you lost yours and I lost mine, but it made us all more human since the fall of ’29.”

As always, the world of music adhered to the current events, and almost immediately responded to the crash with a wave of new songs.  In an effort to cheer the Depression, peppy optimism filled many compositions of the day, such as 1930’s “Cheer Up (Good Times Are Comin’), or 1931’s “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and “Headin’ for Better Times”.  As the hard times dragged on however, the pep began to run out, and—although it always persisted in the music of Ted Lewis and a few others—the optimism began to turn to cynicism, exuded from such songs as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” from Americana and “Remember My Forgotten Man” from Gold Diggers of 1933 (not to mention the countless blues and hillbilly complaining songs).  In 1931, the recently launched satire magazine Ballyhoo took that cynicism to a humorous extreme when they published their theme song, parodying the contemporary “cheer up” songs.  Perhaps because its lyrics were quite inflammatory (“let’s hang the fat-head to a tree”)—or perhaps not—their song was recorded by the rather B-list Durium Products Corporation, makers of the fifteen cent Hit-of-the-Week paper records, albeit sung by very A-list talent, old Banjo Eyes himself: Eddie Cantor.

Durium De Luxe K6 was recorded in September of 1931 in New York City.  The full personnel of Phil Spitalny’s Music is not known, at least by any source I’ve examined, but is said to include Bunny Berigan and Bob Effros on trumpets and Joe Venuti on violin.  Its label is printed with a bold colorblock pattern matching that of the eponymous magazine; it originally came with a sleeve to match, which, unfortunately, has been separated from this copy by the passage of time.  These Durium recordings had outstanding fidelity for their time, unfortunately, the paper and celluloid-like material on which they were pressed doesn’t always hold up as well as shellac, and this copy is not in pristine condition, causing some background rumble and some clicks and pops.  Nonetheless, the music is still strong, and I hope you’ll find this transfer satisfactory.

On this one-sided, two track paper record, Eddie Cantor sings “Cheer Up”, Mischa and Wesley Portnoff and Norman Anthony’s theme song of Ballyhoo.  Then, Phil Spitalny’s Music plays an absolutely fantastic instrumental arrangement of the same tune.  Be sure to not confuse this song with “Cheer Up (Good Times Are Comin’)” from the previous year—doing that would be a grave mistake.

Ballyhoo – Theme Song “Cheer Up”, recorded September 1931 by Eddie Cantor with Phil Spitalny’s Music.

Nertz.

Updated with improved audio on March 31, 2018.

Gennett 6505 – The New Yorkers – 1928

An original “New Electrobeam” record sleeve.

To me, the records made in the 1920s and 1930s on labels like Gennett and Paramount (manufactured by the Starr Piano Company and the Wisconsin Chair Company, respectively) seem to be a part of Americana.  They were distinctively American companies made in America’s heartland, and recorded a large amount of music by and for the American common man.  While today’s record, though indeed a Gennett, is not one of those vernacular types, it is a “New Electrobeam” by an excellent New York dance band.

Gennett 6506 was recorded June 18, 1928 in New York City by the New Yorkers, a Carl Fenton orchestra. The vocal refrains are by Carl Mathieu, who also sang as a member of the Peerless Quartet.

“Carl Fenton” was, however, not a real person.  Fenton began “life” in the early 1920s as a pseudonym for Gus Haenschen, an executive and studio band leader with Brunswick Records, whose name was “ill-suited” for record labels given attitudes toward Germans following World War I (plus, just look at it, it’s like a mess of letters).  This “Carl Fenton” recorded for Brunswick between 1920 and 1927.  In 1927, Reuben Greenberg, who had been a member of the band, bought the name from Haenschen and began using it to lead his own band, which recorded with Gennett and later had a pivotal role with the QRS label made by Cova around 1930.  In 1932, Greenberg legally changed his name to Carl Fenton, thus bringing the fictional bandleader into reality.

The band first plays a very nice syncopated version of “You’re a Real Sweetheart”, strangely credited to “Kahn-Fioritta”, even though the song was actually written by Irving Caesar and Cliff Friend.  Vocalist Carl Mathieu seems to miss his cue a little bit on this side.

You're a Real Sweetheart, recorded 1938 by The New Yorkers.

You’re a Real Sweetheart, recorded June 18, 1928 by The New Yorkers.

On the reverse, they play another great one, the 1928 hit “Dusky Stevedore”, this time correctly credited to Andy Razaf and J.C. Johnson.

Dusky Stevedore, recorded 1928 by The New Yorkers.

Dusky Stevedore, recorded June 18, 1928 by The New Yorkers.

Victor 24193 – Leo Reisman and his Orchestra – 1932

How could we overlook the great Fred Astaire on his own 117th birthday?  (We couldn’t.)  Here’s one of his early phonograph recordings to celebrate the occasion.

Fred Astaire was born Frederick Austerlitz on May 10, 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska.  His family moved to New York in 1905, and his mother encouraged his older sister Adele’s and his own natural dancing talents, hoping to have them become a brother and sister vaudeville act.  Changing their name to Astaire, they did, and began appearing in musical theater as a dancing duo in the 1910s, singing all along the way.  After a string of successful shows on Broadway and in London, including Lady Be Good and Funny Face, Fred and Adele broke up the pair after she married.  Fred’s first show separate from his sister was Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce in 1932.  Soon after, Astaire headed off to Hollywood, where the results of his RKO screen test was reported to have said, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little.”  Nevertheless, David O. Selznick signed Astaire to RKO Radio Pictures in spite of his “enormous ears and bad chin line.”  Astaire’s first picture role was in the 1933 Joan Crawford and Clark Gable vehicle Dancing Lady, in which he played “Fred Astaire”.  Not long after, Fred was teamed up with budding starlet Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio, the first of nine films in which the pair would appear.  From then on out, Astaire appeared in numerous films with a variety of partners, and eventually started into straight acting (and a couple retirements, in between).  Fred Astaire died in 1987 at the age of 88.

Victor 24193 was recorded November 22, 1932 in Victor’s Studio 1 in New York, New York, by Leo Reisman and his Orchestra featuring Fred Astaire singing the vocals on both sides.  Both sides feature songs from Cole Porter’s Gay Divorce.  This record was recorded using RCA Victor’s early 1930s microphone system, producing astounding fidelity.

First, Fred Astaire sings Cole Porter’s famous “Night and Day”.  You may notice Astaire’s voice crack a little on one line in this one.

Night and Day

Night and Day, recorded November 22, 1932 by Leo Reisman and his Orchestra.

On the reverse, Astaire sings “I’ve Got You On My Mind”.  Just listen to that high fidelity!

I've Got You On My Mind

I’ve Got You On My Mind, recorded November 22, 1932 by Leo Reisman and his Orchestra.

Gennett 3005 – Straun’s Pullman Porters – 1925

Come all you rounders if you want to hear, a story about a brave engineer.  Casey Jones was the rounder’s name.  On a six-eight wheeler, boys, he won his fame.  Exactly one-hundred-sixteen years ago, on April 30, 1900, the brave engineer mounted to his cabin and he took his farewell trip into the promised land.

Casey Jones was born Jonathan Luther Jones in 1863.  He got the nickname “Cayce” from his hometown in Kentucky, and he restyled it as “Casey”.  Jones married Mary Brady in 1886 and raised three children.  He worked for the M&O and the IC railroads, and eventually rose to his dream of being an engineer, becoming one of the most able and respected in the profession, famous for his unique sound with the train whistle.  In 1893, Casey’s services were employed at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

On April 30, 1900, Casey Jones made his final run.  It was a foggy night, and Casey departed in the Old 362, behind schedule at 12:50 am, pulling the No. 1.  Despite several delays, Casey was able to get the train running on schedule for a time.  The end of the run came for Casey, however, when his fireman Sim Webb spotted something on the tracks ahead.  It was a stalled freight train.  Casey slammed on his airbrakes, but it was too late, and the Old 362 plowed into the rear of the freight train, going through several cars before derailing.  Thanks to his heroic actions that night, Casey’s life was the only loss in the accident.  His story was immortalized in song by IC engine-wiper Wallace Saunders.  Casey Jones went down in history as an American folk hero, he was a teetotaler, a family man, a baseball lover, and a brave engineer.

Gennett 3005 was recorded March 24 and April 5, 1925 in Gennett’s New York studio.  “Straun’s Pullman Porters” is a pseudonym for Nathan Glantz and his Orchestra, fronted by vocalist “Chick” Straun, apparently yet another a pseudonym, this time for Jack Kaufman.  I’m not entirely sure what you’d call these old folk songs reworked as jazz, if there even is a name for them, but I know I like them.  Much like Paul Tremaine’s hot dance renditions of “She’ll Be Comin ‘Round the Mountain” (and so forth), but these two are much earlier.

The first song on this disc is Wallace Saunders’ famous tale of the brave engineer, “Casey Jones”, sung by “Chick” Straun/Jack Kaufman.  Songwriting credit is given on the label to vaudevillians T. Lawrence Seibert and Eddie Newton, who popularized the song as a comedy act, with lyrics alleging infidelity on the part of Mrs. Jones, which she opposed for many years.  I selected this version specifically to avoid those lines, in order to maintain some respect toward poor old Casey.

Casey Jones

Casey Jones, recorded March 24, 1925 by Straun’s Pullman Porters.

Unfortunately for us, the old classic tune, “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”, is marred by some skips, but it’s still a neat little side.

A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight, recorded April 5, 1925 by Straun’s Pullman Porters.