Melotone M 12181 – Stripling Brothers – 1928

This record features a pair of top-notch old-time fiddle and guitar duets, by the Stripling Brothers, Charlie and Ira, of Alabama; two of the most talented and outstanding artists of that genre.  Today, I’m posting this fantastic disc in honor of the birthday of the legendary King of Record Collectors, Mr. Joe Bussard, who has for many years used “The Lost Child” as the theme for his radio program.  This is one of a number of fairly hard to find and generally excellent records that I had the great fortune of uncovering in the backroom of one of my favorite record stores.

Melotone M 12181 was recorded November 15, 1928 at the Bankhead Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama by the Stripling Brothers: Charlie on fiddle and Ira on guitar.  It was originally issued on Vocalion 5321, this issue dates to 1931.

This fine fiddlin’ tune, titled “The Lost Child” is used as the radio theme song for the esteemed collector (that’s an understatement) Joe Bussard’s radio show “Country Classics” on WREK 91.1 FM in Atlanta.  It’s a masterpiece of hillbilly fiddle music, one of the best pieces I’ve heard.

The Lost Child

The Lost Child, recorded November 15, 1928 by the Stripling Brothers.

Like the previous side, the reverse of this disc is a musical masterpiece, yet in spite of the outstanding musical content, I had some reservations about posting this record because of the unsavory and rather offensive title, “The Big Footed Nigger in the Sandy Lot”, for fear it might stir up controversy.  Unpleasant as it is, such things come with the territory of eighty-some-odd year old music; my recommendation is just enjoy the music and ignore the title.  It really is a beautiful melody, with outstanding fiddling by Charlie Stripling.

The Big Footed Nigger in the Sandy Lot

The Big Footed Nigger in the Sandy Lot, recorded November 15, 1928 by the Stripling Brothers.

Updated with improved audio on June 23, 2017.

Bluebird B-5942 – Jimmie Rodgers/Jesse Rodgers – 1931/1935

This record is a remarkable one for a number of reasons.  One of those is that, being a Depression era release, it is quite scarce (and I don’t mean to sound braggadocious, I’m still surprised that I have it, myself).  Another is that is one of a number of records of the 1920s and 1930s to feature black and white artists performing together, in this case Jimmie Rodgers with the Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  On the downside, this copy has certainly seen better days.  The years have not been kind to it, and its sound reflects that. It’s still listenable, but has a layer of surface noise.  Another bit worth mentioning is that the flip side of this record, which was released after Rodgers’ passing, features a recording by another blue yodeler who happened to be Jimmie Rodgers’ first cousin.

Both sides of Bluebird B-5942 were recorded on separate occasions.  The “A” side was recorded on June 16, 1931 in Louisville, Kentucky, the “B” side was recorded January 28, 1935 in San Antonio, Texas.  The personnel of the jug band on the first side includes George Allen on clarinet, Clifford Hayes on violin, Cal Smith on tenor guitar, Fred Smith on guitar and Earl McDonald on jug, the same basic group as the Dixieland Jug Blowers.

On the first side, the Blue Yodeler sings “My Good Gal’s Gone”, with outstanding accompaniment by Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  Though it was recorded in 1931, this 1935 Bluebird is the first issue of this recording.

My Good Gal’s Gone, recorded June 16, 1931 by Jimmie Rodgers.

On the “B” side, Jimmie’s first cousin, Jesse Rodgers sings “Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama” in a style that reminds me of Cliff Carlisle more than Jimmie.  Jesse stuck around for quite awhile, dropping the “d” from his name to become Jesse Rogers by the end of the 1930s, and later styling himself as a singing cowboy.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Updated with improved audio on May 23, 2017.

Victor 21470 – Jules Allen “The Singing Cowboy” – 1928

From 1930 Victor catalog.

From 1930 Victor catalog.

If there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s singing cowboys.  Not those Hollywood type like Roy Rogers (not that I have anything against Roy, I like him too), but the handful of real life cowboys that made recordings of songs from right there on the range in the 1920s and ’30s.  This record falls squarely into that category.  This was one of my lucky finds from a little store out in Mineral Wells, Texas, along with some other fine rural selections.  It’s likely been in Texas ever since it left the pressing plant in Camden.

Jules Verne Allen was born on April 1, 1883 in the charming little town of Waxahachie, Texas, he began working as a cowboy in the next decade, punching cattle from Montana to the Rio Grande.  He served his country in the Great War, enlisting in the Army in 1917.  For many years, Allen worked as an officer of the law, as a police officer and deputy sheriff in El Paso, and as a member of the legendary Texas Rangers.  As a cowboy, he learned the traditional songs of the West, played on the guitar, and when the Western phenomenon swept the nation in the late 1920s, Allen began performing those songs on the radio for WOAI in San Antonio and WFAA in Dallas.  Billed as “The Singing Cowboy”, he cut three sides for the Victor Talking Machine Co. on one of their field trips in El Paso in 1928, later making twenty more sides, of which all but one were issued.  One of the most popular of the early singing cowboys, in 1933, Allen wrote Cowboy Lore, a book detailing the life of a cowpuncher.  Continuing to perform on the radio into the 1940s, Allen died on July 10, 1945.

Victor 21470 was recorded April 21, 1928 by Jules Allen during one of Victor’s field trips in El Paso, Texas.  These two are Allen’s debut recordings.

First up, Allen sings N. Howard Thorp’s classic cowboy song, “Little Joe, the Wrangler”.

Little Joe, the Wrangler, recorded

Little Joe, the Wrangler, recorded April 21, 1928 by Jules Allen.

Next, Allen sings the Texas gambling song “Jack o’ Diamonds” in the old cowboy rather than the blues style associated with the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson.  The last time we heard this tune, it sung by TCU physics professor Newton Gaines, and to be honest, I believe ol’ Jules delivers a better performance.

Jack o' Diamonds, recorded

Jack o’ Diamonds, recorded April 21, 1928 by Jules Allen.

Victor 20971 – Blue Steele and his Orchestra – 1927

Blue Steele. From 1930 Victor catalog.

Blue Steele. From 1930 Victor catalog.

Perhaps the most commercially successful territory band of the 1920s was that of Blue Steele, who toured the southern United States in the 1920s and 1930s.  In addition to his success in music, Steele was also one of the more interesting characters of the 1920s territory band scene.

The man known as Blue Steele was born Eugene Staples on March 11, 1893 or 1897 in Arkansas.  According to legend, his nickname came from a metal plate he had in his head after being wounded in the Great War.  Perhaps caused by that injury, he was also known for his short temper and erratic behavior.  He started out playing trombone and mellophone in Watson’s Bell Hops, before starting his own band in 1925.  Although Steele filled his band with great musicians, because of his unstable personality and often poor treatment of his employees—he was known to have a habit of throwing punches right into the bells of his band members’ brass instruments—they tended not to stay with him for long, and we can thank Steele for bringing us a number of great talents by scaring them out of his band.  Quite a number of his musicians, including reed man and vocalist Kenny Sargent and guitarist, banjoist, and arranger Gene Gifford moved on to the Casa Loma Orchestra, a band known for their strict code of conduct, which may have been a welcome change from their prior engagement.  Nevertheless, Steele continued to lead successful bands well into the 1950s, despite becoming increasingly unstable as years passed; as legend has it, he murdered a tax agent in Atlanta “for no apparent reason.”  Blue Steele died July 7, 1971.

Victor 20971 was recorded August 26, 1927 in Savannah, Georgia, the first, and probably most successful record by Blue Steele and his Orchestra.  The personnel includes Frank Krisher and Frank Martinez on trumpets, Blue Steele on trombone and mellophone, Sunny Clapp on trombone, Kenny Sargent on clarinet, alto and baritone sax, Roger Sanford on alto sax, Pete Schmidt on tenor sax, Ted Delmarter on banjo and/or guitar, Sol Lewis on piano, Marvin Longfellow on tuba, and Tom Summers on drums.  The session was supervised by Ralph Peer.

The first side of this disk features a waltz, but all you pep-purists never fear, for it’s a good waltz, in fact it’s the first recording of Sunny Clapp’s “Girl of My Dreams, I Love You”.  Kenny Sargent sings the vocal on this side.

Girl of My Dreams, I Love You

Girl of My Dreams, I Love You, recorded August 26, 1927 by Blue Steele and his Orchestra.

On the reverse, they play a peppy tune, “Sugar Babe, I’m Leavin’!”.  In my opinion, this is just about the zenith of music, pretty much perfection.  A vocal trio consisting of Sargent, Pete Schmidt and Steele himself sings on this side.  It’s bandleader Steele that completes this side with his interjection of, “and that’s Sugar Babe.”

Sugar Babe, I'm Leavin'!

Sugar Babe, I’m Leavin’!, recorded August 26, 1927 by Blue Steele and his Orchestra.

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.