Decca 5070 – Milton Brown and his Brownies – 1935

Milton Brown was one of the founders of that marvelous fusion of hot jazz and hillbilly string band music that we now call Western Swing, yet a tragically early demise led his name into near-obscurity today.  Not only did Brown’s music lay the foundations of Western swing music, it also served to inspire such subsequent luminaries as Django Reinhardt.

William Milton Brown was born in Stephenville, Texas on September 7, 1903 to Barty and Martha Brown, a family of poor sharecroppers.  Ma and Pa Brown determined that Milton and his sister Era would get an education to live a better life, and so they did.  Singing old standards and church songs, Milton’s musical talent showed itself at an early age.  Tragedy struck in 1918 when his sister died, and the Browns relocated to Fort Worth.  Milton finished high school late, as helping to support his family made his attendance sporadic, and after graduating, he pursued a career in music.  In 1927, he sang in a local group called the Rock Island Rockets, and his younger brother Derwood soon joined him on guitar.  Nonetheless, Brown made his living as a cigar salesman until the Great Depression left him unemployed.

Brown’s big break came in 1930, when he crossed paths with the Wills Fiddle Band at a dance in Fort Worth and joined in a chorus of the “St. Louis Blues”.  Leader Bob Wills was impressed and asked him—and his brother Derwood—to join the band.  After a stretch on Fort Worth’s WBAP as the “Aladdin Laddies,” the Wills Fiddle Band was contracted by W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel of the Burrus Mill and Elavator Company of Saginaw, Texas, producer of Light Crust Flour, thus becoming the first generation of the prolific Light Crust Doughboys.  In 1932, the Doughboys cut two sides for the Victor Company in Dallas, as the “Fort Worth Doughboys”, producing one of the finest—and earliest—Western Swing records made.  Not too long after, Milton had a spat with Pappy, and left to form his own band: the Musical Brownies.

For the Brownies, Brown hired jazz musician Bob Dunn, the first player to electrify his steel guitar, and fiddlers Cecil Brower and Cliff Bruner.  Their regular spot was the Crystal Springs Dance Pavilion in Fort Worth, buy they also toured Waco, Corsicana, Weatherford, and Mineral Wells.  They’d a play a hot tune, then follow with a waltz to let the dancers cool off.  After two 1934 sessions for Bluebird, the Brownies secured a spot on Decca Records’ roster, which produced a string of successful records.  Tragically— perhaps as much for the world to be deprived of his talent as for his own misfortune—the end came too soon for Milton Brown when he fell asleep behind the wheel while driving a young lady home one night, and wrapped his car around a telephone pole on the Jacksboro Highway.  Although he was expected to make a full recovery from the accident, Brown died of pneumonia on April 18, 1936, at the young age of thirty-two.

Decca 5070 was recorded on January 27, 1935 at the Furniture Mart Building at 666 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, the Brownies’ first Decca session.  Brown’s Musical Brownies consist of Cecil Brower on fiddle, Derwood Brown on guitar, Ocie Stockard on tenor banjo, Bob Dunn on his famous electrified steel guitar, Wanna Coffman on string bass, and Fred Calhoun on piano.  Milton, of course, sings the lead vocals, with Derwood and Dunn backing.

First up is Milt’s recording of the tune that launched his career, W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues”.  A signature piece, at the Crystal Springs Dance Pavilion the Brownies were known to stretch this one out to a full fifteen minutes.  Even limited to a three-and-a-half minute phonograph record, Brown makes a tour-de-force performance out of it.  Make note of Bob Dunn’s idiosyncratic steel guitar solo.

St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues, recorded January 27, 1935 by Milton Brown and his Brownies.

Next, the Brownies swing Eddie Green’s blues standard “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

A Good Man is Hard to Find, recorded January 27, 1935 by Milton Brown and his Brownies.

Decca 1600 – Connie Boswell with Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats – 1937

Connie Boswell with ceramic cats, late 1930s.

Connie Boswell with ceramic cats, late 1930s.

The time has come once again to remember Miss Connie Boswell of the famous Boswell Sisters on the anniversary of her birth.  Last time, we celebrated the occasion with her “Washboard Blues”.  Since I’ve already covered Connie’s life, let’s instead take a look at a very important record in her career.

In 1936, the Boswell Sisters had taken their last curtain call.  Connie was the only one still singing professionally, and the Andrews Sisters came to fill the role once occupied by the Bozzies.   Though already a popular recording artist, the following year, Connie came up with something that was to make hers one of the biggest names in popular music through the 1940s.  Inspired by her childhood love for Caruso, as well as that for her sister Martha, Connie wanted to swing Friedrich von Flotow’s “M’appari tutt’amor” from the opera Martha.  At first, Decca was hesitant to release the swinging tune, worried that desecrating the operatic piece as jazz would spark outrage, but she convinced them, assuring the company that she would assume full responsibility if things turned sour.  On the contrary, “Martha” was Connie’s biggest hit since the breakup of the Boswell Sisters, and made her one of the biggest things of 1938, earning her a newspaper interview with famed reporter Ernie Pyle.  The attention Connie received even caused bandleader Larry Clinton to send an irritated letter accusing her of ripping off the idea from him.  After “Martha”, Connie held her position, making a series of hits, including a number of duets with Bing Crosby, until a 1947 hiatus took her out of the Hit Parade until her return to recording in 1951, at which point she revived “Martha” in “soundie” format for Snader Telescriptions.

Decca 1600 was recorded on November 13, 1937 in Los Angeles, California.  Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats are made up of Yank Lawson on trumpet, Warren Smith on trombone, Matty Matlock on clarinet, Eddie Miller on tenor sax, Bob Zurke on piano, Nappy Lamare on guitar, Bob Haggart on string bass, and Ray Bauduc on drums.

Below, taking up more space on this page than I’d like, you can see Connie Boswell’s own lyric sheet, most likely a rough draft, for “Martha”, presumably typed by Connie herself.  It is typed on a letterhead bearing the name of Harry Leedy, Connie’s husband and manager, as can be seen through the paper near the bottom.  Evidently, she made a mistake and flipped the sheet over to type on the other side.

Lyrics for "Martha" hand typed, presumably, by Connie herself, on Harry Leedy letterhead.

Lyrics for “Martha” hand typed, presumably, by Connie herself.

Now, the much anticipated, and unfortunately under-appreciated today, “Martha (Ah So Pure [M’appari tutt’amor])” really swings, thanks in no small part to the top-of-the-line accompaniment by Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats.  As you can see, Decca took special care to label it “Swing Vocal” rather than simply “Vocal”

Martha

Martha, recorded November 13, 1937 by Connie Boswell with Bob Cats.

On the reverse, Connie swings another tune, this time the old cowboy song “Home On the Range”.  “I like the nightclub with its swinging saxes, but when it comes to payin’ taxes, I’ll take my home on the range.”

Home On the Range

Home On the Range, recorded November 13, 1937 by Connie Boswell with Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats.

Decca 8659 – Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five – 1944

I was finally able to get a computer working to transfer my records, after the one I was using kicked the bucket, so I’m now able to post this iconic record of the 1940s.  Consider it an encore to yesterday’s performance.  However, I must ask one kind favor from all of you people, if you think this audio has a sort of high-pitched tone or crackle (other than the record’s own noise) in the background, or otherwise sounds inferior from my usual transfers, please tell me, so I can take action in bringing it back up to par should it be necessary.

Decca 8659 was recorded on March 15, 1944 and October 4, 1943, respectively.  Recordings made in 1943 are fairly uncommon, as the American Federation of Musicians began a strike that resulted in a recording ban on July 31, 1942, and lasted through most of 1943.  Decca had only settled with the union the month before this recording was made.

First up, it’s Louis Jordan’s take on Johnny Mercer’s World War II classic, “G. I. Jive”.

G.I. Jive

G. I. Jive, recorded March 14, 1944 by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

Next is Jordan’s famous “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (Ma’ Baby)”, another classic song of that era, and carried on to many in younger generations by way of the 1946 Tom and Jerry cartoon Solid Serenade.

Is You Is or Is You Ain't (Ma' Baby)

Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (Ma’ Baby), recorded October 4, 1943 by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

Decca 23741 – Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five – 1946

Well, I had planned to put up “G.I. Jive”, backed with “Is You is or is You Ain’t (My Baby)” for Louis Jordan’s birthday today, but tragically, my transferring computer met its untimely demise.  Since I haven’t been able to repair it or procure a functioning replacement, here’s the only Louis Jordan record I already had transferred, it’s a good one, too.

Louis Thomas Jordan was born July 8, 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas, his father was a music teacher and bandleader with the famous Rabbit Foot Minstrels.  He learned to play clarinet as a child and played in his father’s band.  Jordan majored in music at Arkansas Baptist College, and eventually made his way to New York, where he played with Clarence Williams in 1932.  In 1936, Jordan began playing in Chick Webb’s orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom, sometimes performing as a vocalist.  He was kicked out of the band in 1938 for attempting to poach members for his own band.  That same year, he started the band that would become his famous Tympany Five, which first recorded for Decca as “Louie Jordon’s Elks Rendezvous Band”.  During and after World War II, Jordan and his Tympany Five became a driving force in the development of the jump blues and rhythm and blues genres, as well as one of the top-selling “race” artists.  Changing tastes in the 1950s brought about a decline in his popularity, though he continued to record and perform into the 1960s.  Louis Jordan died from a heart attack in 1975.

Decca 23741 was recorded June 26, 1946 in New York City by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

The classic “Let the Good Times Roll” is credited on the label as being composed by Spo-de-ode and Fleecie Moore.  Spo-de-ode was a pseudonym for the song’s co-writer, Sam Theard, who was also responsible for “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You” fifteen years earlier (though the authorship of that song was contested by Cow Cow Davenport).  Fleecie Moore was Louis Jordan’s wife, who was credited in order to circumvent his contractual restrictions on publishing songs.

Let the Good Times Roll

Let the Good Times Roll, recorded June 26, 1946 by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

On the reverse, Louis sings another classic, “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens”.  This song was popularized in the latter day by its inclusion in the video game L.A. Noire.

Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens

Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens, recorded June 26, 1946 by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

 

Decca 129 – Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra – 1934

Today, June 6, we remember the great bandleader Jimmie Lunceford on the 114th anniversary of his birth.  This record was his first to be released on Decca, swingin’ in 1934.

James Melvin Lunceford was born June 6, 1902 in Fulton, Mississippi.  Like Andy Kirk, Lunceford studied under Wilberforce Whiteman in Denver, learning to play reeds.  He went on to attend Fisk University and became a phys-ed instructor at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee, where he organized a student band called the Chickasaw Syncopators.  The Chickasaw Syncopators cut two sides for Columbia in 1927, and two more for Victor in 1930.  By 1934, Lunceford’s orchestra had evolved into a hep swing band, and he landed a gig at the Cotton Club in Harlem, following in the footsteps of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.  By the height of the swing era, Lunceford’s was one of the leading swing bands in the nation, equal to that of Ellington or Calloway.  On July 12, 1947, after playing McElroy’s Spanish Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, Lunceford collapsed and died during an autograph session in a record store.  He had been suffering from high blood pressure, though some suggest he may have been poisoned deliberately by a restaurateur who was displeased to be serving black people, as some of his band members also fell ill after dining at said restaurant.

Decca 129 was recorded September 4 and 5, 1934 in New York, Jimmie Lunceford’s first and second sessions for Decca.  The band features Jimmie Lunceford directing Eddie Tompkins, Tommy Stevenson, and Sy Oliver on trumpets, Henry Wells and Russell Bowles on trombones, Willie Smith and Earl Carruthers on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, LaForest Dent on alto sax, Joe Thomas on clarinet and tenor sax, Edwin Wilcox on piano, Al Norris on guitar, Moses Allen on string bass, and Jimmy Crawford on drums and vibraphone.

First, they play Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”.

Sophisticated Lady

Sophisticated Lady, recorded September 4, 1934 by Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra.

Next, seemingly as an answer to the previous side, they play “Unsophisticated Sue”.

Unsophisticated Sue

Unsophisticated Sue, recorded September 5, 1934 by Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra.