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.  Floyd’s band holds special significance in Texas’ musical legacy, for, in addition to its own merit, it helped to launch the careers of at least two musicians of note; in the 1930s, New Orleans born trumpeter Don Albert started his own Texas-based swing band, and banjoist J.H. Bragg founded a jazz group of his own, both of 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 and rural character, as opposed to homogenized classically-trained, Whiteman-esque jazz.

A two-parter, they play “Shadowland Blues (Part 1)” on the first side…

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

…and “Shadowland Blues (Part 2)” on the back.

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

Updated with improved audio on July 9, 2017.

Okeh 41440 – Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours – 1930

In my never ending hunt for Texas jazz records, this one by Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours is a staple. Unfortunately, the only copy I was able to get my hands on is in rather rough condition.  I think it’s still enjoyable, but it’s no prizewinner.  Years ago, an English magazine misidentified the cornet on these records as that of the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, in what they credited as a band organized by British saxophonist Freddy Gardner, who was alleged to have been vacationing in Texas at the time. In actuality, the cornet player on this and the other record from this session was Tom Howell, and the leader was an entirely different Fred Gardner.

Cornetist Thomas Alva Howell, Jr., born in 1906, and his brother Lee learned to play by ear, and attended the University of Texas together beginning in 1921, where they played in the Howell Brothers Moonshiner Orchestra. They later joined Steve Gardner’s Hokum Kings, which recorded in 1930 under the direction of saxophonist Fred Gardner in San Antonio for Okeh Records. Howell and his brother also played in Sunny Clapp’s Band o’ Sunshine and can be heard playing on two of their San Antonio recorded sides from 1929, as well as singing on one of their Victor records.

Okeh 41440 was recorded on June 9, 1930 in San Antonio, Texas. Judging by the personnel, the band was something of a family affair, and features leader Fred Gardner on clarinet and tenor sax, Tom Howell on cornet, Lee Howell on trombone, Steve Gardner on clarinet, Chester Seekatz on clarinet and alto sax, Tommy Howell on piano, Bill Lewis on banjo and guitar, John Gardner on tuba, and Jay “Bird” Thomas on drums and vocals.

Gardner’s Troubadours play W.C. Handy’s classic song “Loveless Love” (a re-working of the traditional “Careless Love”) slow and with a steady beat, and it doesn’t disappoint, serving as an outstanding example of Texas-area territory jazz, with a fine vocal to top it off.

Loveless Love, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner's Texas University Troubadours.

Loveless Love, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours.

A bit worse for wear, Glen Caraway, Louis Andre, and Bob Miller’s blues song “Papa’s Gone” is played hotter and more uptempo than the previous side, with a great bounce, and is one of my favorites. Originally a blues song performed by the likes of Rosa Henderson, this number seems to have been something of a standard in Texas jazz in those days, as it was recorded by at least four Texas-based bands in the 1920s and 1930s: first by Jimmy Joy’s St. Anthony Hotel Orchestra as “Mama Will Be Gone” in 1924, then by Eddie and Sugar Lou’s Hotel Tyler Orchestra as “Sweet Papa Will Be Gone” in 1929, then this one in ’30, and finally (or not?) by the Nite Owls in 1937.

Papa's Gone, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner's Texas University Troubadours.

Papa’s Gone, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours.

Updated with improved audio on July 11, 2017.

Victor 20552 – Memphis Jug Band – 1927

On this day, February 5, we remember Will Shade, leader of the Memphis Jug Band, on the 118th anniversary of his birth on that day in 1898.  Unfortunately, this disc by his illustrious Memphis Jug Band has seen a lot of action in its eighty-nine years of existence, and is in pretty poor condition, but, as is the case with many jug band records, it’s quite uncommon, and this is the best copy I was able to procure.  “Audible but muffled” is the description given to the record by its previous owner, and the music sort of fades between “almost decent” and “downright lousy”.  Oh well.  Nonetheless, here it is.

Victor 20552 was recorded February 24, 1927 at the McCall Building in Memphis, Tennessee, the first two sides from the Memphis Jug Band’s first recording session, and their first issued record.  The band includes Will Shade on guitar and harmonica, Will Weldon on guitar, Charlie Polk on jug, and Ben Ramey on kazoo.

“Stingy Woman” may or may not play a little cleaner than the flip side, which unfortunately isn’t saying a whole lot, and was recorded second in the session.  Apparently the original owner wasn’t a fan of Will Weldon, going by their defacement of the label.

Stingy Woman, recorded

Stingy Woman, recorded February 24, 1927 by the Memphis Jug Band.

“Sun Brimmers” takes its name from Will Shade’s nickname, Son Brimmer, and perhaps was intended to be titled “Son Brimmer’s Blues”.  This was the first side recorded by the Memphis Jug Band.

Sun Brimmers, recorded

Sun Brimmers, recorded February 24, 1927 by the Memphis Jug Band.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.