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.

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.

An Electradisk Dance Double Feature – 1922 & 1923 – 1932

Peter DeRose and May Singhi Breen. From 1932 publication.

May Singhi Breen and Peter DeRose. From 1932 publication.

For your hopeful enjoyment today, I offer you yet another dance band double feature, this time two Electradisks.  As with our first Bluebird double feature, these two are consecutively numbered, one catalog number falling immediately after other.

Electradisk was the RCA Victor Company’s second venture into the field of budget records, following the failure of Timely Tunes.  Electradisks were introduced in 1932 and originally offered in an eight inch format (which is very rarely seen today) along with a prototypical Bluebird of the same format and sold at Woolworth’s dimestores.  Soon, both Bluebird and Electradisk were upgraded to the standard ten inch format, which seems to have sold better, though Bluebirds of that period are still impossible to find.  The Electradisk label continued into 1933, and was discontinued in that same year.  Around that time, the “buff” label Bluebird was introduced, and began huge success and a mainstay well into the 1940s.

First is Electradisk 1922, recorded on November 22, 1932 in RCA’s Studio 1 in New York City.  On the first of the pair, the Peter De Rose Orchestra (actually Tom Berwick’s Orchestra using DeRose’s name) plays “I’m Sure of Everything but You” with a vocal by the husband and wife duo of DeRose and “the original ukulele lady” May Singhi Breen…

I’m Sure of Everything But You, recorded November 22, 1932 by Peter De Rose Orchestra.

…and on the flip, “Underneath the Harlem Moon”, with a vocal by the Marshall Sisters, no doubt trying to capitalize on the success of the Boswell Sisters (though they’re nowhere near as good, sorry to say).

Underneath the Harlem Moon, recorded November 22, 1932 by Peter De Rose Orchestra.

The second disk splits up its artist credits to Jim Harkins and his Orchestra and Sid Peltyn and his Orchestra, but once again, both are pseudonyms for Tom Berwick’s band.  Both sides of Electradisk 1923 were recorded November 23, 1932 in New York.  On the first side, “Harkins'” orchestra presents a respectable rendition of the 1932 popular song “Play, Fiddle, Play”, featured by the likes of “Street Singer” Arthur Tracy.  According to the distinguished Mr. Paul Lindemeyer, Harkins was a Boston area banjo and guitar player who doubled on the bagpipes.

Play, Fiddle, Play, recorded November 23, 1932 by Jim Harkins and his Orchestra and Sid Peltyn and his Orchestra.

On the flip, “Peltyn’s” band plays the Great Depression topical song “Here it is Monday and I’ve Still Got a Dollar”.

Here it is Monday and I’ve Still Got a Dollar, recorded November 23, 1932 by Jim Harkins and his Orchestra and Sid Peltyn and his Orchestra.

Updated on April 28, 2018.