Champion 15714 – Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions – 1929

Recorded on this day in 1929, herein is one of my favorite discs, though the condition is rather lacking, owing to a heavily scratched surface from many years of unsleeved storage. “Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions” is a pseudonym for Zack Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels, a fine Midwestern territory band.  The 78 Quarterly estimated “at least 15” copies of this record in their “Rarest 78s” article.  While it may likely not be quite that scarce (although there surely are at least fifteen copies), it’s still far from a common disc.

Zack Whyte was born in 1898 in Richmond, Kentucky, and attended Wilberforce College, where he played banjo with Horace Henderson’s Collegians. He started leading his own Cincinnati-based bands in 1923, and eventually formed the Chocolate Beau Brummels, a territory band that recorded six sides with Gennett in 1929, and helped to bring several greats including Sy Oliver and Herman Chittison to prominence. Whyte retired from music in 1939 and died in 1967.

These two superb sides of Champion 15714 were recorded in Richmond, Indiana on February 26, 1929.  This Champion issue sold around 8,000 copies.  It was also issued on Gennett 6797 and Supertone 9368 under the pseudonym “Eddie Walker and his Band.”  The Chocolate Beau Brummels consist of the star-studded lineup of Zack Whyte directing and playing banjo, Bubber Whyte (his brother?), Henry Savage, and the great Sy Oliver on trumpets, Floyd Brady on trombone, Clarence Paige, Ben “Snake” Richardson, and Earl Tribble on alto saxes, Al Sears on tenor and baritone sax, the always excellent Herman Chittison on piano, Montgomery Morrison on tuba, and William Benton on drums.

Beginning with side “A”, the Chocolate Beau Brummels play a stomping rendition of Hudson Whittaker and Thomas A. Dorsey’s (a.k.a. Tampa Red and Georgia Tom) hit “It’s Tight Like That”. I believe this is the second take, and it really gets in the groove.

It's Tight Like That, recorded February 26, 1929 by Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels.

It’s Tight Like That, recorded February 26, 1929 by Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions.

A bit worse for wear than the previous, on the flip-side they play a masterful rendition of Joe “King” Oliver’s “West End Blues”, with a beautiful piano intro by Herman Chittison and some fine banjo by the leader.  The label splits the composer’s credit between Oliver and publisher Clarence Williams.  I believe this one is the third take, but with Gennett’s lack of any identifying marks in the “dead wax”, it’s hard to be sure.

West End Blues, recorded February 26, 1929 by Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels.

West End Blues, recorded February 26, 1929 by Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions.

Updated with improved audio on April 22, 2018.

Victor 22641 – Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys – 1931

Blanche Calloway. From Cab's autobiography.

Blanche Calloway. From Cab’s autobiography.

On February 9, 1902, 114 years ago to the day, Blanche Calloway came into this world.  Her career is overshadowed by the fame of her brother, Cab Calloway, but she easily possessed just as much musical talent as her better known sibling.  Here are two first-rate jazz songs in honor of Ms. Calloway.

Born into a middle class family of Baltimore, Maryland, Blanche Calloway made her first professional appearance in the local production of Sissle and Blake’s Shuffle Along, against the wishes of her parents.  Beginning in 1923, she toured in Plantation Days, starring Florence Mills, which wound her up in Chicago.  Sometime during her time with Plantation Days, she was joined by her brother Cab.  In 1925, Blanche made her recording debut on Okeh records, singing a pair of blues songs with accompaniment by Louis Armstrong and Richard M. Jones.  Later in the 1920s, she recorded several songs with Ruben Reeves’ River Boys before joining Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy as a vocalist.  After attempting and failing to take control of the Twelve Clouds of Joy (Andy would have none of that), Blanche formed her own band, the Joy Boys, with some of Kirk’s former band mates, and at times had in her ranks Ben Webster and Cozy Cole.  The Joy Boys toured and recorded sporadically throughout the 1930s until she and a band member were arrested in Yazoo, Mississippi for using a whites-only restroom, and while incarcerated, another member of the band absconded with all the group’s money and hightailed it.  After retiring from music in the late 1930s, Blanche went on to a variety of occupations, including founding a cosmetics company in the late 1960s.  Blanche Calloway died of breast cancer on December 16, 1978, at the age of seventy-six.

Victor 22641 was recorded March 2, 1931 in Camden, New Jersey, at Blanche Calloway’s first Victor session.  The band is actually Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy under Blanche’s name, and consists of Harry Lawson, Edgar Battle, and Clarence E. Smith on trumpets, Floyd Brady on trombone, John Harrington on clarinet and alto sax, John Williams on alto sax, Lawrence Freeman on tenor sax, Mary Lou Williams on piano, Bill Dirvin on banjo, Andy Kirk on tuba, and Ben Thigpen on drums.  Blanche Calloway of course provides the vocals on both sides.

First, Blanche sings “There’s Rhythm in the River”, with Andy Kirk’s always excellent Twelve Clouds of Joy backing her.

There's Rhythm in the River

There’s Rhythm in the River, recorded March 2, 1931 by Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys.

On the flip she sings “I Need Lovin'”, with an even better performance by both Blanche and the band.  Interestingly, this issue has the song incorrectly listed as “All I Need is Lovin'” though some labels show the correct title.

All I Need Is Lovin'

I Need Lovin’, recorded March 2, 1931 by Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys.