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

Here Comes Santa Clause (Down Santa Claus Lane) and 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”.  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.

Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer and 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 20th century superstar Gene Autry was born on this day in 1907, and to commemorate the occasion, here is Autry’s first hit, featuring his early duet partner Jimmy Long.

A depiction of Gene Autry featured on an early 1930s Perfect record sleeve.

A depiction of Gene Autry featured on an early 1930s Perfect record sleeve.

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.

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.