Melotone 7-02-61 – Bill Cox and Cliff Hobbs (The Dixie Songbirds) – 1936

By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt won his first reelection in 1936, he had already done a great deal for his country, including the rolling out his second wave of New Deal programs, including the WPA, the SSA, the NYA, and the RA.  But hailed by some as FDR’s crowning achievement was his fulfillment of one particular campaign promise: the repeal of the eighteenth amendment—prohibition.  Less than a year into his first term, on December 5, 1933, Roosevelt signed the twenty-first amendment into law, thus putting an end to the thirteen years dry years that had loomed over America’s head as it drank itself into a stupor like never seen before, and the whole nation celebrated with a round of beer.

The “Dixie Songbird” Bill Cox brought us the “N. R. A. Blues” in 1933, in celebration of the recently elected Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first New Deal.  Come FDR’s reelection three years later, Cox—ever the loyal Democrat—wasn’t about to let the occasion pass without a song.  This time around, he was joined by Cliff Hobbs, a young man whom Cox had earlier hired to accompany him on guitar after being temporarily incapacitated by a hand injury, and later joined him permanently as a singing partner at the suggestion of record producer Art Satherley.  Ultimately, the tribute that the two created turned out to be one of the most charming and enduring of the Depression-era topical songs.

Melotone 7-02-61 was recorded in New York, New York on November 28, 1936, less than a month after the election of ’36 that saw FDR’s reelection, and represents the entirety of Cox and Hobbs’ session that day.  Both Cox and Hobbs sing and play guitars; Cox doubles on harmonica on a rack.  It was also issued on Conqueror 8771 and later on Okeh 05896.

First up, the Dixie Songbirds celebrate Roosevelt’s 1936 reelection with their lively performance of “Franklin Roosevelt’s Back Again”, perhaps among the most memorable Great Depression-era topical songs.  “Since Roosevelt’s been elected, moonshine liquor’s been corrected; we’ve got legal wine, whiskey, beer, and gin!”  (“Hallelujah!”)

Franklin Roosevelt’s Back Again, recorded November 28, 1936 by Bill Cox and Cliff Hobbs (The Dixie Songbirds).

Next, Cox and Hobbs commemorate the first Democrat in the White House since Woodrow Wilson left office in 1921.  “Hee-haw hallelujah!  hee-haw hallelujah!  I’m back in old ‘Columby’ in the same old stall again!”

The Democratic Donkey (Is in His Stall Again), recorded November 28, 1936 by Bill Cox and Cliff Hobbs (The Dixie Songbirds).

Durium De Luxe K6 – Eddie Cantor with Phil Spitalny’s Music – 1931

Eddie Cantor in the 1930s.  Pictured in Stars of Radio and Things You Would Like to Know About Them.

On Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market on Wall Street crashed, catalyzing an economic descent into a Great Depression.  The economy had been in decline prior to the crash, but that event proved to be the point of no return, and the economy dipped continuously until hitting bottom in the winter of 1932-’33.  Economists, historians, and economic historians can argue about what caused the crash ’til the cows come home, but whatever set it off, “that’s when we started sliding in the fall of ’29,” as the Light Crust Doughboys once put it, “‘Twas a fall of fifty-fifty, you lost yours and I lost mine, but it made us all more human since the fall of ’29.”

As always, the world of music adhered to the current events, and almost immediately responded to the crash with a wave of new songs.  In an effort to cheer the Depression, peppy optimism filled many compositions of the day, such as 1930’s “Cheer Up (Good Times Are Comin’), or 1931’s “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and “Headin’ for Better Times”.  As the hard times dragged on however, the pep began to run out, and—although it always persisted in the music of Ted Lewis and a few others—the optimism began to turn to cynicism, exuded from such songs as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” from Americana and “Remember My Forgotten Man” from Gold Diggers of 1933 (not to mention the countless blues and hillbilly complaining songs).  In 1931, the recently launched satire magazine Ballyhoo took that cynicism to a humorous extreme when they published their theme song, parodying the contemporary “cheer up” songs.  Perhaps because its lyrics were quite inflammatory (“let’s hang the fat-head to a tree”)—or perhaps not—their song was recorded by the rather B-list Durium Products Corporation, makers of the fifteen cent Hit-of-the-Week paper records, albeit sung by very A-list talent, old Banjo Eyes himself: Eddie Cantor.

Durium De Luxe K6 was recorded in September of 1931 in New York City.  The full personnel of Phil Spitalny’s Music is not known, at least by any source I’ve examined, but is said to include Bunny Berigan and Bob Effros on trumpets and Joe Venuti on violin.  Its label is printed with a bold colorblock pattern matching that of the eponymous magazine; it originally came with a sleeve to match, which, unfortunately, has been separated from this copy by the passage of time.  These Durium recordings had outstanding fidelity for their time, unfortunately, the paper and celluloid-like material on which they were pressed doesn’t always hold up as well as shellac, and this copy is not in pristine condition, causing some background rumble and some clicks and pops.  Nonetheless, the music is still strong, and I hope you’ll find this transfer satisfactory.

On this one-sided, two track paper record, Eddie Cantor sings “Cheer Up”, Mischa and Wesley Portnoff and Norman Anthony’s theme song of Ballyhoo.  Then, Phil Spitalny’s Music plays an absolutely fantastic instrumental arrangement of the same tune.  Be sure to not confuse this song with “Cheer Up (Good Times Are Comin’)” from the previous year—doing that would be a grave mistake.

Ballyhoo – Theme Song “Cheer Up”, recorded September 1931 by Eddie Cantor with Phil Spitalny’s Music.

Nertz.

Perfect 13090 – Bill Cox – 1933/1934

A Perfect sleeve emblazoned with the NRA Blue Eagle.

A Perfect sleeve displaying the NRA Blue Eagle (to the right, above Morton Downey.)

September 13, 1933 was “NRA Day”, celebrated in New York City with one of, if not the largest parade in the city’s history, complete with an appearance by the U.S. Navy’s airship U.S.S. Macon.

With today’s politics, hearing of the NRA brings to mind the National Rifle Association, but in days of yore, it held an entirely different meaning.  In the 1930s, the abbreviation referred to the National Recovery Administration.  That NRA was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s earliest New Deal agencies, created in 1933 by the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA).  With its signature “Blue Eagle” as the logo, the NRA set forth a series of codes and regulations intended to help employ more people and get the economy back on its feet.  Though popular with many workers, the NRA was ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court, thus bringing it to an end in May of 1935.  During its existence from 1933 to 1935, NRA Blue Eagles were displayed in store windows and emblazoned on all sorts of consumer products, ranging from garments to fruit crates to record sleeves.

Perfect 13090 was recorded in two separate sessions on August 30, 1933 and September 9, 1934 at the American Record Corporation studios in New York City.  The former session was Cox’s first with the ARC, having recorded previously with the Starr Piano Company (Gennett).  Interestingly for a black label Perfect, this is a laminated pressing.

On this disc, the Dixie Songbird, Bill Cox laments to his sweetheart his employer’s delay in joining the NRA in “N. R. A. Blues”.  “When they gonna join the NRA?  Sweet thing, sweet thing.  When they gonna join the NRA, I never have heard the big boss say.  Sweet thing, yes baby mine.”

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox,

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Starting out with a little bit of the old “Jack o’ Diamonds”, on the flip, Cox sings a low down old time country blues tune, “Hard Luck Blues”, sounding a bit like Jimmie Rodgers in his vocals on this side.  A Great Depression-era country tune evocative of Dust Bowl times.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1934 by Bill Cox.

Updated with improved audio on June 23, 2017.

Columbia 2652-D – Ted Lewis and his Band – 1932

Is everybody happy?

Columbia's custom sleeve and label dedicated to Ted Lewis.

Columbia’s custom sleeve and label dedicated to Ted Lewis.

In addition to Jimmie Lunceford, June 6 also marks the 126th anniversary of Ted Lewis’ birth.  Here’s one of his most popular records of the 1930s, as well as one of my personal favorite Ted Lewis vocal performances.

Ted Lewis was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in Circleville, Ohio on June 6, 1890.  He took up playing the clarinet professionally, though some would argue that his abilities on the instrument were limited.  He first recorded with Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band, and soon began recording for Columbia with his own jazz band, switching to Decca in 1934.  With his trademark phrase, “is everybody happy?”, his schmaltzy “talk-singing” and tendency to employ top-notch musicians made him one of the most popular musical personalities of the 1920s, and into the 1930s, alongside Paul Whiteman.  However, his style faded from popularity as swing became king, and his music fell out of favor, though he continued to perform for many years.  Ted Lewis died on August 25, 1971.

Columbia 2652-D was recorded March 15 and 22, 1932 in New York City.  Ted Lewis’ band consists of Muggsy Spanier and Dave Klein on trumpets, George Brunies on trombone; Ted Lewis and Benny Goodman on clarinet and alto sax, Sam Shapiro and Sol Klein on violins, Jack Aaronson on piano, Tony Gerhardi on guitar, Harry Barth on string bass and tuba, and John Lucas on drums.

The quintessential Depression-era tune “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town”, introduced in the motion picture Crooner, became one of the most popular songs of 1932, both for Ted Lewsis and for other artists.  In my opinion, this is one of Lewis’ best vocals.

In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town

In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town, recorded March 15, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.

On the other side, Lewis and his band do a fine job with “Sweet Sue – Just You”, featuring a great clarinet solo by Benny Goodman.

Sweet Sue - Just You

Sweet Sue – Just You, recorded March 22, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.

Columbia 2745-D – Art Kassel and his Kassels in the Air – 1933

1933WorldsFair

A flyer from the fair.

November 12 marks the eighty-second anniversary of the date that the 1933 Chicago “Century of Progress” World’s Fair was intended to close, though it proved so popular that it was continued through October 31, 1934.  It ran for more than seventeen months from its opening on May 27, 1933.  This beautiful Royal Blue Columbia record (pressed in blue shellac) was presumably sold as one of the enormous multitude of souvenirs available at the fair (which I also collect, in addition to all these phonograph records).

Columbia 2745-D was recorded on January 10, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois, about four months before the World’s Fair opened to the public.  Art Kassel was a popular Chicago-based bandleader recording somewhat extensively, beginning in the 1920s and continuing until at least the 1940s.

The official song of the Century of Progress Exposition is fully titled “(Where Will You Be) In 1933”, though the label only lists the latter part of that.  This side is somewhat typical of the “cheer up” songs so prevalent in the first few years of the Great Depression, complete with Ted Lewis imitator.

In 1933,

In 1933, recorded January 10, 1933 by Art Kassel and his Kassels in the Air.

John Philip Sousa’s “A Century of Progress March” bears the additional historical distinction of being the great march composer’s last composition before his death in 1932.

A Century of Progress March,

A Century of Progress March, recorded January 10, 1933 by Art Kassel and his Kassels in the Air.

Updated on May 27, 2017.