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.

A Gene Autry Christmas Double Feature – Columbia 20377 & 38610 – 1947/1949

Old Time Blues wishes everyone a very merry Christmas! 1911 Postcard.

That special time of the year has come around once again.  Last year we celebrated with Harry Reser’s band, and what better way to celebrate this holiday season than with these four Christmas classics sung by our old pal Gene Autry.

Columbia 20377, in the hillbilly series, was recorded on August 28, 1947 and released on October 6 of the same year.  First up, Gene Autry sings his own Christmas classic, “Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane)”.

Here Comes Santa Clause (Down Santa Claus Lane), recorded August 28, 1947 by Gene Autry.

On the reverse, he sings the charming “An Old-Fashioned Tree”.

An Old-Fashioned Tree, recorded August 28, 1947 by Gene Autry.

The first side of Columbia 38610 was recorded on June 27, 1949, the second sometime in July of the same year.  Autry is accompanied by the Pinafores on both sides.  First, Gene sings Johnny Marks’ classic song about the beloved character created for Montgomery Ward in 1939, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.

Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, recorded June 27 and July, 1949 by Gene Autry and the Pinafores.

Next, on “If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas” Autry ponders how Santa Claus will make out in his sleigh it there’s no snow.  Ol’ Gene seems to have forgotten that the sleigh is flight capable.

If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas, recorded June 27 and July, 1949 by Gene Autry and the Pinafores.

Romeo 5109 – Gene Autry & Jimmy Long – 1931

Singing cowboy and twentieth century superstar Gene Autry was born on this day 109 years ago on the twenty-ninth of September, 1907.  To commemorate the occasion, presented here is Autry’s first big hit record, featuring his early duet partner Jimmy Long.

Gene Autry and Jimmy Long pictured on the cover of their Cowboy Songs and Mountain Ballads song folio.

Gene Autry was born Orvon Grover Autry on September 29, 1907 in Grayson County, Texas, near Tioga.  After high school, he worked as a telegraph operator for St. Louis–San Francisco Railway, and would sing and play guitar on slow days.  After losing that job, Autry sang on Tulsa’s KVOO, and when Will Rogers encouraged his singing career, he went to New York for an audition with the Victor Company, which wound up producing one record with Jimmy Long and Frankie Marvin on steel guitar.  After Victor, Autry recorded for Columbia, which yielded several releases on their budget labels, in the style of the famous singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers.  After Columbia, he recorded for Gennett and the American Record Corporation, staying with the latter for many years.  In 1934, he was “discovered” by Nat Levine of Mascot Pictures and made his motion picture debut in In Old Santa Fe, becoming the original singing cowboy of the screen.  Before long, Autry became the top singing cowboy on film until he was surpassed by Roy Rogers, and his blue yodeling style was replaced with a more Western repertoire.  He had hit records with “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” in 1931 (and again in ’35), “Back in the Saddle” in 1939, and the Christmas classics “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  During World War II, Autry served in the Army Air Corps.  In the 1950s, Autry appeared in his own television program, and became involved in baseball.  He retired from show business in 1964, having made over one-hundred films and over six-hundred records.  Autry died of lymphoma on October 2, 1998.  He is the only person thusfar to be awarded stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in all five categories.

Romeo 5109 was recorded on October 29 and 30, 1931 in New York City by Gene Autry and Jimmy Long.  In addition to Autry’s guitar, the pair are accompanied by Roy Smeck on steel guitar.

Sentimental to the point of sappiness (and truly a piece of Americana) “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” was Gene Autry’s first big hit, and one of his most enduring songs, making its biggest success in 1935 when Autry sang it in Tumbling Tumbleweeds.

Silver Haired Daddy of Mine

Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, recorded October 29, 1931 by Gene Autry & Jimmy Long.

Following the same formula as the previous, on the flip, they perform “Mississippi Valley Blues”.

Mississippi Valley Blues

Mississippi Valley Blues, recorded October 30, 1931 by Gene Autry and Jimmy Long.

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.

Melotone M 12733 – Gene Autry – 1933

Eighty-three years ago today, the end came for Jimmie Rodgers.  On May 17, 1933, Jimmie traveled to New York City for what turned out to be his final recording session, during which he had to lie down in-between songs.   He cut his last recordings on the 24th, and returned to his room in the Taft Hotel.  On May 26, 1933, only two days after waxing his final song, “Years Ago”, Jimmie Rodgers finally succumbed to his tuberculosis, and died in his hotel room of a pulmonary hemorrhage at the age of 35.  He had fought T.B. since 1924.  At the time of his death, he represented a large percentage of Victor’s total sales deep in the Great Depression.  America’s Blue Yodeler left behind a legacy of more than a hundred recorded songs, later going down in history as the Father of Country Music.

After Jimmie’s passing, a wave of tributes ensued, including a number of songs by WLS artist Bradley Kincaid, and these tearjerkers by Gene Autry.

Melotone M 12733 was recorded June 22, 1933, less than one month after Jimmie Rodgers’ death, in New York City by Gene Autry.  Both songs were penned by Bob Miller.

First, Autry sings a reasonably accurate account of Jimmie Rodger’s life on “The Life of Jimmie Rodgers”.

The Life of Jimmie Rodgers

The Life of Jimmie Rodgers. recorded June 22, 1933 by Gene Autry.

On the flip, he sings a heartfelt tribute to Jimmie on “The Death of Jimmie Rodgers”.

The Death of Jimmie Rodgers

The Death of Jimmie Rodgers, recorded June 22, 1933 by Gene Autry.