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).

Conqueror 8183 – Dick Powell – 1933

Dick Powell as pictured in Stars of Radio and Things You Would Like to Know About Them.

A star of stage, screen, radio, and records, the 1930s would have been unquestionably more depressing without Dick Powell as a leading man.

Richard Ewing Powell was born on November 14, 1904 in Mountain View, Arkansas.  He began singing as a child, and started out in choirs and local bands.  Soon he got his big break as a vocalist with Myron Schultz’s Midwestern territory band, the Royal Peacock Orchestra.  Not long after arriving in Indianapolis, he joined Charlie Davis’ orchestra.  In 1927, Powell made his first records: “Beautiful” and “Is She My Girl Friend? (How-de-ow-dow)” for Vocalion.  Finding success as a a master of ceremonies, he later relocated to Pittsburgh, and then off to Hollywood.  When Warner Bros. bought out Brunswick Records—the parent company of Vocalion—in 1930, they offered him a motion picture contract.  Thus, he began his ascent to stardom, as a “boy tenor” in musical pictures in the 1930s, then as a hard-boiled tough guy in film noir in the 1940s.  He found early success paired with Ruby Keeler in a string of  musicals: 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade, Dames, and Flirtation Walk, most of which were choreographed by Busby Berkeley.  Later, he went on to portray Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet.  The aforementioned six titles account for only a small fraction of his extensive career in films.  In 1936, Powell married frequent co-star Joan Blondell, and later married June Allyson in 1945.  When television came around, Powell got in on it; he hosted Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre and The Dick Powell Show, respectively, from 1956 to 1963.  Dick Powell died of cancer on January 2, 1963, speculated to have been the result of radioactivity from nuclear testing near the set of the Howard Hughes film The Conqueror in 1956.

Conqueror 8183 was recorded on May 25, 1933 in New York City.  According to Rust, Powell’s accompaniment includes Bunny Berigan, Mannie Klein, Charlie Margulis on trumpet, Russ Morgan or Charlie Butterfield on trombone, Chester Hazlett on clarinet, bass clarinet, and alto sax, and Larry Binyon on tenor sax and flute, among others.  Both tunes are hits from one of my favorite movies, the 1933 (if that much doesn’t go without saying) Warner Bros. musical Gold Diggers of 1933, in which Powell starred.

First, Powell sings a bubbly rendition of “Pettin’ in the Park”, complete with sound effects.

Pettin' In the Park

Pettin’ In the Park, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.

On the flip, he sings Gold Diggers’ big hit: the “Shadow Waltz”.

Shadow Waltz

Shadow Waltz, recorded May 25, 1933 by Dick Powell.

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.

Updated with improved audio on March 31, 2018.

Electradisk 1919 – Bill Palmer’s Trio – 1932

One of the major hillbilly music powerhouses of the 1930s was Bob Miller—much like his contemporary Carson Robison, he was equal parts a songwriter, publisher, and musician, as well as an A&R man on the side.  Though well known throughout the Depression years for his hit songs and “hillbilly heartthrobs,” including such mainstays as “Twenty-One Years” and “Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman)”, and numerous topical songs such as “Eleven Cent Cotton (and Forty Cent Meat)”, Miller has faded into practical obscurity today.

Bob Miller was born on September 20, 1895 in Memphis, Tennessee.  He was brought up a musician, and was playing piano professionally by the age of ten.  He later graduated to playing on Mississippi steamboats, before heading to New York to work for Irving Berlin as an arranger and copyist.  In 1931, he published “Twenty-One Years”, which would become one of the biggest hillbilly song hits of the decade.  The following year, his “Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman)” was met with the same success.  Both songs inspired Miller to write numerous “answer” songs, such as “The Answer to 21 Years” and “Seven Years With the Wrong Man”.  In addition to songwriting, Miller recorded many of his own compositions with small “citybilly” groups for various record companies, including Victor, Champion (i.e. Gennett), and Grey Gull’s many labels.  In 1933, with already a large number of credits to his name, Miller founded his own music publishing company, Bob Miller Inc.  With more than a thousand copyrights to his name, to attempt to list the song hits written by Miller would make for nothing but a mess of text consisting of title after title.  His patriotic “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” (published under the pseudonym “Shelby Darnell”) became a wartime hit when it was recorded by Elton Britt in 1942.  Bob Miller died on August 26, 1955 in New York City.

Electradisk 1919 was recorded November 3, 1932 in RCA’s Studio 1 in New York City by Bob Miller’s Trio as “Bill Palmer’s Trio” and was issued in April of 1933.  It was later issued on Bluebird B-5034, Sunrise S-3132, and—with the sides split up—on Montgomery Ward M-4232 and M-4401.  The ensemble consists of Bob Miller on piano and singing, Barney Burnett on banjo and second vocal, and A. Sirillo on guitar.

Seldom do you see these Electradisks—one of RCA Victor’s early budget labels, sold at Woolworth’s—at all, and it’s even less often that you see material other than the typical dance band pop.

One of the hillbilly hits of the 1930s was Miller’s “Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman)”, and was covered by artists ranging from Cliff Carlisle to Jack Payne’s Dance Orchestra.  It was “answered” by such songs as “Seven Years with the Wrong Man” and “Seven Beers with the Wrong Woman”.

Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman)

Seven Years (With the Wrong Woman), recorded November 3, 1932 by Bill Palmer’s Trio.

On the reverse, Miller’s trio does another of his compositions of some note, “What Does the Deep Sea Say?”

What Does the Deep Sea Say?

What Does the Deep Sea Say?, recorded November 3, 1932 by Bill Palmer’s Trio.

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 what may just be the greatest political topical song of the Great Depression-era: “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.