Victor V-40160 – Phil Baxter and his Orchestra – 1929

Though perhaps best known as the man who brought into this world such memorable ditties as “Piccolo Pete”, “Harmonica Harry”, and “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (from Dumas)”, among others, maestro Phil Baxter was also a capable pianist and vocalist, and the leader of a successful Southern-based territory jazz band in the 1920s.

Philip Kerley Baxter was born in the small settlement of Rural Shade in Navarro County, Texas on September 5, 1896, twenty miles southeast of Corsicana, the son of Thomas and Lila Baxter, who were at the time making their way via horse and buggy to Palestine (Texas, that is).  He served his country in the First World War, and was writing music by 1921 and leading his own jazz band later in the decade.  Baxter’s orchestra first recorded in St. Louis, Missouri on October 24, 1925, cutting four titles for Okeh Records, three of which were issued.  Around that time, he and Carl Moore published a version of “St. James Infirmary” as “Gambler’s Blues”—Baxter claimed to have co-written the song, but neglected to file for a copyright, which Irving Mills did in 1929 under the pseudonym “Joe Primrose”.  Baxter’s orchestra, previously called the “Texas Tommies”, became the house band for El Torrean Ballroom in Kansas City in 1927, broadcasting on KMBC, a post which they retained until 1933.  He returned to the recording studio four Octobers after his first session in 1929, when he waxed four further sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, all of which were released that time around, including the noted “I Ain’t Got No Gal Now”.  Following the Dallas session, Baxter made no further commercial recordings, though a few home recordings have turned up (which are, most unfortunately, not part of the Old Time Blues collection).  The Baxter orchestra continued into the middle of the 1930s.  In his later years, his music was hindered by arthritis.  Phil Baxter died on November 21, 1972 in Dallas.

Victor V-40160 was recorded on October 20, 1929 in the ballroom of the Park Hotel in Dallas, Texas.  The band’s roster includes Ray Nooner and Al Hann on trumpets, Al Jennings on trombone, Ken Naylor on clarinet and alto saxophone, Jack Jones on alto sax, Thurmond Rotroff on tenor sax, Davy Crocker on accordion, Phil Baxter on piano, Joe Price on banjo and guitar, Pop Estep on tuba, and Marion Flickinger on drums.  Baxter sings the vocals on both sides.  Perhaps only a regional release without nationwide distribution—though it appeared in Victor’s catalog for Old Familiar Tunes—it is said to have sold only a few hundred copies.  As such, it—along with the other Baxter Victor—made it into the honorable mentions (or rather “Conspicuous Omissions”) section of 78 Quarterly’s series on the “Rarest 78s.”

First, the band plays the magnificent “I Ain’t Got No Gal Now”, a real tour de force, perhaps my favorite jazz side of them all.  The band plays here in a style all their own, mellow yet hot, with a loose sort of sound, with accordion that was obligatory in Texas dance bands of the era.  Simply a masterpiece!

I Ain't Got No Gal Now

I Ain’t Got No Gal Now, recorded October 20, 1929 by Phil Baxter and his Orchestra.

On the reverse, they play a delightful Texas themed number: “Down Where the Blue Bonnets Grow”, another excellent ditty, and with even more accordion!

Down Where the Blue Bonnets Grow

Down Where the Blue Bonnets Grow, recorded Octiber 20, 1929 by Phil Baxter and his Orchestra.

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.

Vocalion 03174 – J. H. Bragg and his Rhythm Five – 1935

Today’s selections highlights banjo picker J.H. Bragg, who was quite a prolific player in the Texas jazz scene of the 1920s and ’30s, but like many of his contemporaries, has fallen into near total obscurity in the present day.

John Henry Bragg was born in Fort Worth, Texas on August 10, 1898 into a family of musicians.  His father was a medicine show entertainer in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and later taught all of his family to play instruments.  John Bragg learned to play guitar and piano, but later switched to banjo because it could be better heard over a band.  Bragg’s first professional engagement was with the Sadie Smith Jazz Band in Fort Worth around 1918.  He was married to blues singer Ardell “Shelly” Bragg, who recorded several sides for Paramount Records in 1926 and ’27.  In 1927, he went to San Antonio to play in Troy Floyd’s orchestra at the Plaza Hotel (and the Shadowland speakeasy), with whom he remained until the band broke up in the early ’30s.  In his later years, he claimed to have been responsible for introducing Don Albert to Floyd.  In late 1928, Bragg, along with some other members of Floyd’s orchestra, accompanied blues singers Hattie Burleson, Ben Norsingle, Jewell Nelson, and Ollie Ross in a series of sessions held by Brunswick and Columbia in Dallas.  Like his former band mate Don Albert, Bragg formed his own band in the 1930s, his Rhythm Five, though it never found the same notoriety as Albert’s famous swing band.  The Rhythm Five recorded but one session for Vocalion in 1935, which yielded four sides, all of which were issued.  During World War II, Bragg was hired to play at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, and he retired in 1968.  In 1980, he was interviewed by Sterlin Holmesly.  John Henry Bragg died on January 1, 1988, and was presumably buried next to his wife Ardell in San Antonio’s Eastview Cemetery, though no date was ever chiseled into his tombstone.

Vocalion 03174 was recorded on August 28, 1935 in San Antonio, Texas, the only session by Bragg’s Rhythm Five.  In the band are Joe Hathaway on alto sax, Al Freeman on piano, John Henry Bragg on banjo, and Walter Warden on string bass.  Israel Wicks sings the vocals.

First, one of more commonly reissued of the four sides waxed by Bragg’s Rhythm Five, “Frisky Honey” was featured on the CD compilation That Devilin’ Tune – A Jazz History (1895-1950).

Frisky Honey

Frisky Honey, recorded August 28, 1935 by J. H. Bragg and his Rhythm Five.

In their last side cut at the session, they play an energetic rendition of Cow Cow Davenport’s “Mama Don’t Allow” as “Mama Don’t Like Music”, with their “mama don’t allow no [what have you] played in here” verses allowing for ample solos from each musician.  I can’t find that this side has ever been commercially reissued, though I can’t understand why, it’s a fine tune.

Mama Don't Like Music

Mama Don’t Like Music, recorded August 28, 1935 by J. H. Bragg and his Rhythm Five.

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 commemorates 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, though he upon  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 8571 – Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra – 1928

The Lone Star State in the 1920s was home to a host of fantastic territory jazz bands, such as those of Alphonso Trent, Eddie Fennell and Sugar Lou Morgan, Fred Gardner, Jimmie Joy, and Le Roy Williams. One of the most outstanding of these territory bands, both in musical virtuosity and history, was that of Troy Floyd. Floyd’s eleven piece orchestra played at the Plaza Hotel in San Antonio, and gigged on-the-side at the Shadowland, a notorious speakeasy and one of the most successful jazz clubs in Texas.

Troy Floyd was born around San Antonio, Texas on January 5, 1901, and learned to play the saxophone and clarinet. He organized his first group, a sextet, in 1924. The group expanded over time, and by 1928, Floyd’s orchestra was playing at the Plaza Hotel and broadcasting on KTSA. Floyd’s band made two released records, both featuring one song broken up into two parts, plus an unissued recording of “Wabash Blues” on two of Okeh Records’ field trips to San Antonio. In the 1930s, one of Floyd’s band members, New Orleans born trumpeter Don Albert, later started his own Texas-based swing band, which made several records with Vocalion in the 1930s. Troy Floyd disbanded his orchestra in 1932, and later worked as a pool hall operator in San Diego, California, where he died on July 16, 1953.

Okeh 8571, part of their legendary race series, was recorded March 14, 1928 in San Antonio, Texas. The personnel features future band leader and trumpet virtuoso Don Albert and Willie Long on trumpets, Benny Long providing unique solos on trombone, Troy Floyd and N.J. “Siki” Collins on clarinet and alto sax, Scott Bagby on clarinet and tenor sax, John Henry Bragg on banjo, Allen Vann on piano, Charlie Dixon (a different one from Fletcher Henderson’s banjoist) on trombone and tuba, John Humphries on drums, and the bellowing Kellough Jefferson singing the vocal refrain.

The title of “Shadowland Blues” refers to the San Antonio speakeasy of the same name, though the lyrics, sung by Kellough Jefferson, make no reference to the club. This amazing territory band recording is characterized by what has been called the “gut bucket” trombone playing of Benny Long, which some have said mars the performance, but I disagree, I think it gives it a unique, slightly rural character, as opposed to homogenized classically-trained Whiteman-esque jazz.

Shadowland Blues (Part 1) and (Part 2), recorded March 14, 1928 by Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra.

Shadowland Blues (Part 1) and (Part 2), recorded March 14, 1928 by Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on July 9, 2017.