Montgomery Ward M-4244 – Gene Autry – 1931

Gene Autry, pictured in his Sensational Collection of Famous Original Cowboy Songs and Mountain Ballads, 1932.

It would not be exaggeration in the slightest to call Gene Autry a true American hero.  From humble roots, he got his start in the show business covering Jimmie Rodgers’ hits for other record labels, but soon proved his own merit as a prolific songwriter and talented musician.  Before long, he broke into Hollywood in a series B-Westerns and rose not only to become one of America’s earliest “superstars”, but the idolization of millions of adoring fans.  His shrewd business sense made him a multi-millionaire by the time of his retirement at the age of only fifty-seven, and surely one of the only twentieth century entertainers to have a town named after him.

Gene was born Orvon Grover Eugene Autry in Tioga, Texas, on September 29, 1907, son of Delbert and Elnora Autry.  The family moved a few miles north to the towns of Achille and Ravia, Oklahoma, when Gene was a child, and when not preoccupied with song he spent time in his youth helping out on his father’s farm.  In 1941, the nearby town of Berwyn was renamed “Gene Autry” in his honor.  Autry took up the guitar at the age of twelve on a model from the Sears-Roebuck catalog.  After graduating from high school, he got a job working as a telegrapher for the Frisco Line.  He often played his guitar and sang to pass the time during slow hours on the job, a habit which gained him the attention of a notable passer-through: Will Rogers.  Rogers liked Autry’s music, and recommended that he go to New York to make records.  Autry did just that in the fall of 1928, but he was turned down by Victor A&R man Nat Shilkret on the grounds that the company had only just signed two similar artists (one of whom may have been Jimmie Rodgers, who had only begun his recording career the previous summer).  Shilkret suggested that Autry seek work on the radio instead, and that he did.  Upon his return home to Oklahoma, Autry began singing on KVOO in Tulsa as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy”.  He made his triumphant return to New York the very next fall, and this time he found success.  With Frankie and Johnny Marvin accompanying, he cut two sides for Victor in duet with frequent collaborator Jimmy Long.  Thereafter, he began recording prolifically for a variety of record labels, beginning with a session for Gennett, the masters of which were sold to Grey Gull and Cova’s QRS label.  He then signed on with Columbia for a short time, mostly appearing on their budget labels singing dimestore imitations of Jimmie Rodgers’ songs.  In 1930, he joined the cast of the National Barn Dance on Sears-Roebuck’s radio station WLS in Chicago.  The same year, he began his long association with the American Record Corporation, appearing on their many dimestore labels and still covering Rodgers, but increasingly producing his own original material.  It was that arrangement that brought him his first big hit in 1931: “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”.  Meanwhile, he continued to record occasionally for Victor and Gennett until going exclusive with the ARC in 1933.  The following year, while singing on the radio with Smiley Burnette, he was “discovered” by Hollywood big-shot Nat Levine and selected to appear in an uncredited role in the Ken Maynard western picture In Old Santa Fe.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Montgomery Ward M-4244 was recorded in two sessions in New York City, the first on February 12, 1931, and the second on March 31 of the same year.  Side “A” was originally issued on Victor 23548 (which sold 1,901 copies) and “B” on Victor 23589 (which sold only 1,537).  Autry accompanies himself on guitar on both sides, and his joined on steel guitar by his friend Frankie Marvin on the first.

The rollicking and raunchy “Do Right Daddy Blues” is a distant cry from Autry’s typically mild and genial cowboy songs of later years, instead more resembling one of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” songs with their characteristic braggadocio and hint of machismo.  Two takes of this number exist, though this one—take “1”—was the only issued originally; the second take was released as part of Bluebird/BMG’s 2004 compilation East Virginia Blues, in their When the Sun Goes Down series examining the “secret history” of rock ‘n’ roll.  Autry also recorded a version of the song for the American Record Corporation’s dimestore labels (Perfect, Banner, Romeo, etc.) two months later, and he followed up with a different version for Victor’s short lived Timely Tunes offshoot and sequel titled “Don’t Do Me That Way” (and subtitled “Do Right Daddy Blues No. 2”) at the same session in which he recorded the “B” side of the record presented herein.  The song was later picked up by western swinger Leon Chappelear, who recorded it first as “New Do Right Daddy” in 1937, and again as “I’m a Do Right Daddy” in 1951.

Do Right Daddy Blues, recorded February 18, 1931 by Gene Autry.

On “High Steppin’ Mama”, Autry shows us just how much inspiration he drew from Jimmie Rodgers in his early career, presenting a song that sounds like it could have come straight from the Blue Yodeler himself—equally in content as in style.

High Steppin’ Mama, recorded March 31, 1931 by Gene Autry.

Crown 3058 – Frankie Marvin and his Guitar – 1931

One of the few independent record labels to spring up during the Great Depression was Crown, founded in 1930 by the Plaza Record Company after the merger that created the American Record Corporation, leaving them without their flagship label, Banner.  Most of Crown’s output consisted of popular and jazz music, but they also issued some interesting country recordings, such as this one.

Frankie Marvin was born January 27, 1904 in Butler, Indian Territory, where he grew up with his brother, the future popular singer and ukulele man Johnny Marvin.  At some point in the mid-1920s, Frankie came to New York to begin a recording career like his brother.  Frankie Marvin sang variously as a studio vocalist for dance and jazz bands (he can be heard singing “St. James Infirmary” with King Oliver’s Orchestra) and a country singer a la Jimmie Rodgers, often accompanying himself on guitar.  Marvin also worked as an accompanist to Gene Autry on some of his early records.

Crown 3058, recorded in New York by Frankie Marvin in January 1931 features two off-brand versions of country hits of the day.

First, Marvin sings Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel No. 8”, better known today as “Mule Skinner Blues”.  Based on my own research, this is likely the first of many covers of Rodgers’ classic song.

Blue Yodel No. 8, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin.

Blue Yodel No. 8, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin and his Guitar.

Next, Marvin sings his, Gene Autry, and George Rainey’s composition “True Blue Bill”, occasionally known as “I’m a Truthful Fellow”.  He seems to be channeling “Ukulele Ike” Cliff Edwards’ trademark form of scatting, known as “effin'”, here.

True Blue Bill, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin and his Guitar.

True Blue Bill, recorded January 1931 by Frankie Marvin and his Guitar.

Romeo 5052 – Gene Autry – 1931

I think it’s time to we pulled ourselves out of this, “on this day, this happened” rut we’ve been in for some time and put something up for no particular occasion, so here’s a good one, for no reason other than the music itself.  I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

Autry as pictured on a 1930s Perfect Records sleeve.

Autry as pictured on a 1930s Perfect Records sleeve.

The iconic Gene Autry made his fame in the 1930s as a singing cowboy, much like his contemporary Roy Rogers, but he started his career in the late 1920s imitating another popular singer by the name of Rodgers, Jimmie Rodgers.  By the early 1930s, Autry was starting to come into his own, but he still tended very closely to the style of song forth by the Singing Brakeman, as in fact did a great many country singers of that era.  On these 1931 sides, you’ll hear Autry perform songs much like those by Jimmie Rodgers.

Romeo 5052 (in their country and race series) was recorded February 25, 1931 in New York City by Gene Autry, accompanied on steel guitar and harmonica by Frankie Marvin.  It was also issued on Banner 32132, Jewel 20052, Oriole 8052, Perfect 12695, Regal 10310, and Conqueror 7843.

The first song is of a solemn tone, a warning to stay on the straight and narrow path, with the singer lamenting his falling in with the wrong crowd and into a life of crime, “’till it led to the use of a gun”, on “A Gangster’s Warning”.

A Gangster's Warning

A Gangster’s Warning, recorded February 25, 1931 by Gene Autry.

Now, this next side is one of my favorites of Autry’s songs, “True Blue Bill”, also called “I’m a Truthful Fellow”.  This song strikes me as a sort of a twentieth century re-hashing of the old “Four Thousand Years Ago”.  It seems that this side was a favorite of a previous owner as well, as it’s been quite well played.

True Blue Bill

True Blue Bill, recorded February 25, 1931 by Gene Autry.

Updated with improved audio on July 17, 2017.

Victor 22298 – King Oliver and his Orchestra – 1930

...hang a twenty dollar gold piece on my watch chain, the the boys'll know I died standing pat...

…put a twenty dollar gold piece on my watch chain, so the boys’ll know I died standing pat… (Illustration from 1930 Victor catalog.)

“Here’s a treat!  Hot playing, hot singing, and rhythm that will make you squirm when you hear it,” is what Victor said of this record in their April 1930 supplemental catalog, “It’s one of the meanest, hottest, most irresistible dance records ever.  It’s the kind that breaks down all inhibitions!”  This was actually the first King Oliver record I ever owned.  I got it by accidentally bidding more than I’d intended to in an online auction.  In spite of that, I was thrilled to have such a great record in my clutches, and I still get a thrill thinking of this outstanding hot jazz record.  Since it was my first, I think it’s fair for it to be the first King Oliver record uploaded here.

By this late time in his career, King Joe was suffering from gum disease, and took far fewer solos on his trumpet than he did in years prior, and did not play on many of his Victor recordings at all.  On this one however, Oliver does in fact play, though not a whole lot.

Victor 22298 was recorded January 28, 1930 at 28 West 44th Street in New York by King Oliver and his Orchestra.  There seems to be some confusion as to the personnel, it features either Bubber Miley and Henry “Red” Allen, Jr. or Dave Nelson and Oliver on trumpet, Jimmy Archey on trombone, Bobby Holmes on clarinet and soprano sax, Glyn Paque and possibly Hilton Jefferson on clarinet and alto sax, Walter Wheeler on tenor sax, Carroll Dickerson on violin, Arthur Taylor on banjo, Jean Stultz on guitar, Clinton Walker on tuba, Don Frye or Hank Duncan on piano, and possibly Fred Moore on drums.  Dickerson directed this session under Oliver’s name.  Studio vocalist and occasional Jimmie Rodgers imitator Frankie Marvin provides the vocals.  If anyone out there could tell me which personnel is definitively correct, I’d be much appreciative.

Of the first track, the Victor catalog says, “the ‘St. James Infirmary’ has created a sensation among dance enthusiasts.  This record by King Oliver has capped the climax,” later continuing, “the song is taken from the old-time ‘Gambler’s Blues’.”  Old time blues, they say, can’t say I have any complaints about that!  While I couldn’t say for sure, many of the trumpet solos in this one do sound a lot like Bubber Miley’s style.

St. James Infirmary

St. James Infirmary, recorded January 28, 1930 by King Oliver and his Orchestra.

“King Oliver’s second number is a fox trot, ‘When You’re Smiling’.  [This record] should be under your arm, carefully wrapped, the next time you come from a shopping excursion… And after that, you’ll have many moments in which to praise your buying instinct!”  If you hadn’t guessed, that’s how Victor finished their marketing ploy for this record.  Can’t say I really disagree with them, but thanks to Old Time Blues, you won’t have to wait ’till your next shopping trip in 1930 to hear it!

When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)

When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You), recorded January 28, 1930 by King Oliver and his Orchestra.