Hit of the Week L 3 – Gene Austin and Hit of the Week Orchestra – 1931

The original sleeve of this Hit of the Week.

The original sleeve of this Hit of the Week.

Thanks to the release of the free version of Brian Rust’s Jazz Records 1917-1934, I found myself preoccupied yesterday, and neglected to post in honor of Gene Austin’s birthday, so I’ll have to offer this a little belatedly.

Gene Austin was born Lemuel Eugene Lucas in Gainesville, Texas on June 24, 1900.  He grew up in Minden, Louisiana, and learned to play guitar and piano before leaving home at fifteen to join a vaudeville troupe in Houston, Texas.  When he got on stage, his voice wooed the audience so that he was offered a job on the spot.  In 1917, he joined the Army to fight in the War and wound up in New Orleans, playing piano in Storyville before shipping off.  When he got back home, he planned to become a dentist, but ended up going back to vaudeville.  Austin first began recording with country musician George Reneau, the “Blind Musician of the Smoky Mountains” for Vocalion and Edison, singing and playing piano, and soon switched to Victor.  With the advent of electrical recording, Gene Austin was among the first singers to exploit the more sensitive technique as a “crooner”.  His 1927 recording of “My Blue Heaven” was one the best selling and most popular records of the decade.  As the ominous clouds of the Great Depression rolled in, Austin was relegated to the budget labels, and as swing became prominent, his style soon began to sound dated.  In the mid-1930s, he began appearing in minor roles in motion pictures.  Austin continue to sing professionally for many years after falling from the spotlight, and in 1964, ran for governor of Nevada.  Besides his singing, Gene Austin was also a songwriter, and originated such standards as “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street”, “How Come You Do Me Like You Do?”, and “The Lonesome Road”.  Austin died January 24, 1972 at the age of 71.

Hit of the Week L 3 was recorded in October of 1931 in New York, and released at the newsstands on November 19, 1931.  It was Gene Austin’s only Hit of the Week release.  These Hit of the Week records were pressed in coated paper and sold for fifteen cents at newsstands.  We previously heard Duke Ellington’s band on one of these unusual flexible discs.  As part of the latter half of Hit of the Week’s releases, this disc has narrower grooves to accommodate a five minute recording on one side.

On this single sided cardboard record, Gene Austin croons “Now That You’re Gone”.  The second tune, “La Paloma” is an instrumental by the Hit of the Week Orchestra.

Now That You're Gone

Now That You’re Gone, recorded October 1931 by Gene Austin and Hit of the Week Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on May 11, 2017.

Hit of the Week 1046 – Harlem Hot Chocolates – 1930

To coincide with the beginning of economic downturn in 1930, a company called Durium began producing a line of one-sided laminated paper records known as “Hit of the Week”, which were sold at newsstands rather than traditional stores.  These new creations sold fairly well initially and featured some top name artists including Rudy Vallée and Morton Downey.  On this particular Hit of the Week, Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra plays under the moniker “Harlem Hot Chocolates”

Hit of the Week 1046 was recorded sometime in March of 1930, the exact date is unknown, in New York City.  It went to the newsstands on May 15, 1930.  The all-star Ellington lineup includes Duke on piano and directing, Arthur Whetsel, Cootie Williams, and Freddie Jenkins on trumpets, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, and Juan Tizol on trombones, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor sax, Johnny Hodges on clarinet, soprano sax, and alto sax, Harry Carney on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, Fred Guy on banjo, Wellman Braud on string bass, and Sonny Greer on the drums.  Ellington’s manager, the music mogul Irving Mills sings the vocal.  This session also produced a recording of “Sing You Sinners”, and was Ellington’s sole session for Hit of the Week.

Here Ellington and the boys play a fine rendition of “St. James Infirmary”, this record’s only side.

St. James Infirmary, recorded March 1930 by the Harlem Hot Chocolates.

St. James Infirmary, recorded March 1930 by the Harlem Hot Chocolates.

Updated with improved audio on March 31, 2018.