Vocalion 1216 – Tampa Red and Georgia Tom – 1928

On July 1, we commemorate the the 117th anniversary of the birth of Thomas A. Dorsey, known in different phases of his career as “Georgia Tom”, and as the “father of gospel music.”  In his long life, he was a prolific songwriter and recording artist of both religious and secular songs.

Thomas Andrew Dorsey was born July 1, 1899 in Villa Rica, Georgia, the son of a preacher and a piano teacher.  He began playing piano as a young man, and relocated to Chicago in 1916, where he was educated in music at the Chicago School of Composition and Arranging.  He began working for Paramount Records as an agent and accompanist, and made his name in the blues world as “Georgia Tom.”  During his time at Paramount, he worked with Ma Rainey and the Pace Jubilee Singers.  In 1921, he heard W.M. Nix sing at the National Baptist Convention, and by the end of the 1920s, Dorsey had begun his life’s work as a composer of gospel songs, though he continued to play blues primarily at that time.  In 1928, he teamed up with guitarist Hudson Whittaker, better known as Tampa Red, and made a hit with “It’s Tight Like That”.  Following that success, he and Tampa Red became the first of many combinations of musicians to record as the “Hokum Boys,” making music in a similar vein as “Tight Like That”, and the duo remained popular into the early 1930s.  After the hokum craze ended in the 1930s, Dorsey primarily worked writing sacred songs, and worked as a musical director at several churches.  By the end of his life, his blues work was largely forgotten, and he was renowned for his sacred songs as the “father of gospel music.”  After a long career, Dorsey died in Chicago in 1993, at the age of 93.

There are a number of different versions of the hokum blues classic “It’s Tight Like That” that will pop up here at some point.  We last heard it played by Zack Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels, now here’s original recording, done on in 1928 by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom, the original Hokum Boys.  This record set of a craze for so called hokum songs, that is mostly peppy songs with humorously raunchy lyrics and often very thinly veiled innuendo, which reigned in popularity over more serious blues songs for a period in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Vocalion 1216 was recorded in Chicago on two separate dates, October 16, and November 6, 1928.  It features the guitar of Hudson Whittaker: “Tampa Red”, and the piano of Thomas A. Dorsey: “Georgia Tom”, with both singing the vocals.

Recorded on the latter date, “It’s Tight Like That” was one of the biggest blues hits of the 1920s, and remains a hokum blues staple.  The label rather humorously (at least I think so) lists the composer credits for Hudson Whittaker and Thomas A. Dorsey as “Tampa – Dorsey”, some later issues corrected this error.

It's Tight Like That, recorded

It’s Tight Like That, recorded November 6, 1928 by Tampa Red and Georgia Tom.

Next, Georgia Tom sings solo, accompanied by Tampa Red on guitar on “Grievin’ Me Blues”,  one of those songs that I feel just emanates the essence of blues music.  This one was recorded on the earlier date.

Grievin' Me Blues, recorded

Grievin’ Me Blues, recorded October 16, 1928 by Georgia Tom.

Updated with improved audio on May 23, 2017.

Champion 15714 – Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions – 1929

Recorded on this day in 1929, here’s 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’s most likely not quite that scarce, 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.”  According to the Red Hot Jazz Archive, includes 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.

On the flip-side, which is a little worse for wear, 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 January 15, 2017 (for “It’s Tight Like That”).