It’s been quite a while since we’ve last heard from our old friend Cab Calloway here on Old Time Blues, but has come time to turn out attention to what may well be his greatest claim to fame—”Minnie the Moocher”.
Cab Calloway and his Orchestra in the early 1930s. Pictured in Of Minnie the Moocher & Me, photograph from Frank Driggs Collection.
With a career spanning more than half a century, it’s no stretch to say that Cab Calloway sang hundreds of songs on record, radio, stage, and screen, but no song is so indelibly identified with him as his own composition “Minnie the Moocher”. Minnie “messed around with a bloke named Smokey” who “showed her how to kick the gong around”—a euphemism for smoking opium. Cab wrote “Minnie” early in his career, around 1930, based heavily on “Willie the Weeper”, a popular folk tune and vaudeville favorite that originated in the early twentieth century. He first recorded it early in 1931, and it became an instant success, spawning close to a dozen covers in the first year. Becoming his theme song, Cab reprised “Minnie” in Fleischer Studios’ eponymous Betty Boop cartoon the following year, appearing both as himself and rotoscoped as a ghost walrus. Such a sensation it was that sequels followed, like “Kickin’ the Gong Around”, “Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day”. Cab’s original Brunswick recording was reissued all throughout the 1930s and onward, and he made new recording more than once, including an unissued Victor recording in 1933, and another for Okeh in 1942 (not to mention recordings made after the 78 era, upon which I’m not qualified to comment).
Brunswick 6074 was recorded on March 3, 1931 in New York City. Still following the basic roster of their predecessor, the Missourians, Cab’s orchestra is made up of R.Q. Dickerson, Lammar Wright, and Reuben Reeves on trumpets, De Priest Wheeler and Harry White on trombones, Arville Harris on clarinet and alto sax, Andrew Brown on bass clarinet and tenor sax, Walter “Foots” Thomas on alto, tenor, and baritone sax and flute, Earres Prince on piano, Morris White on banjo, Jimmy Smith on string bass and tuba, and Leroy Maxey on drums.
And so now here it is, Cab Calloway’s first ever recording of his theme song, “Minnie the Moocher (The Ho-De-Ho Song)”. “Minnie had a heart as big as a ‘hay-wale’.”
Minnie the Moocher (The Ho-De-Ho Song), recorded March 3, 1931 by Cab Calloway.
Unlike “Minnie”, Cab’s “Doin’ the Rumba” on the flip-side is all but forgotten. Nonetheless, it’s still a fine song, with hot, Spanish tinged, playing from the former Missourians.
Doin’ the Rumba, recorded March 3, 1931 by Cab Calloway.
Generally, I hesitate to post reissues, I really do. They’re often dubs, which offer lowers fidelity than the original, and let’s face it: original issues are just more desirable as collectors items. Sometimes, however, original pressings may be exceedingly difficult to track down, and as nice as it might be have an original, it’s simply more practical to take the reissue. They have the music on them, after all, and that’s what matters the most.
I’d wanted this record for quite a number of years, on any issue. The Gennett originals are notoriously rare (and notoriously expensive)—at one time, the 78 Quarterly estimated fewer than five copies in existence—and even the reissue proved for me to be quite hard to find. Finally, one of my favorite eBay sellers posted this one for sale, so I jumped on it. I’d go as far as to place it as one of my favorites (though that list could easily run into the hundreds, or thousands). Much as I’d love to own the original, this circa 1950s reissue is a quite decent dub, and in excellent condition, so it provides beautiful playback.
Hoagy Carmichael pictured in Eddie Condon’s Scrapbook of Jazz.
What makes this one remarkable, and worthy of reissue, is that it contains the first ever recording of Hoagy Carmichael’s now renowned composition “Stardust”. That Stardust melody first haunted Carmichael while he was on the campus of Indiana University, his alma mater—inspired by the jazz music of Bix Beiderbecke, he began whistling the tune, and ran to get it written down. After polishing it up a bit, he took it to the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, where he recorded it for their Gennett label with Emil Seidel’s orchestra. It’s said that Gennett found the recording to be of lesser quality, and considered destroying the masters. Fortunately, they didn’t and it was released, though the success of “Stardust” was yet to come, the record didn’t sell too well. Two years later, Carmichael published the song as “Star Dust” (the title has appeared as both one and two words throughout its history) through Mills Music, with lyrics added by Mitchell Parrish. McKinney’s Cotton Pickers made an early recording in 1928, and Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang cut one in ’29, around the time Carmichael published it. Isham Jones’ orchestra made a popular recording of the tune in 1930, followed closely by the smash success of the budding Bing Crosby’s rendition in 1931. The Crosby hit inspired a wave of new recordings of “Star Dust” in 1931. Since then, that Star Dust melody has haunted our reverie countless times, as it elevated to become one of the most successful songs of the twentieth century.
Sentry 4011 was originally issued on Gennett 6311, recorded on October 28 and 31, 1927 in Richmond, Indiana. The two sessions featured different bands using the identity of “Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals”: the former included Hoagy Carmichael on piano, doubling on cornet, Andy Secrest and Bob Mayhew on cornet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Nye Mayhew on tenor sax, Mischa Russell on violin, and three unidentified players of guitar, tuba, and drums; the latter session features Emil Seidel’s Orchestra with Carmichael sitting in, made up of Byron Smart on trumpet, Oscar Rossberg on trombone, Gene Woods or Dick Kent on alto sax, Maurice Bennett on tenor sax, Don Kimmell on guitar, Hoagy on piano, Paul Brown on tuba, and Cliff Williams on drums.
Although it was the “B” side of the original issue, “Stardust”, is effectively the “A” side of this reissue (it has the lower matrix number)—understandably so, as it is the tune that made the biggest hit, not only of the two on this record but practically of any two on any record. This has always been—and I feel I can safely say always will be—my favorite version of the classic. The original label called this a “stomp,” and while I’m not sure I’d agree with that, it is really a lovely recording, and possesses an almost dreamlike quality that is very seldom paralleled in recorded music.
Stardust, recorded October 31, 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals.
On the other side, Hoagy’s “One Night in Havana”, recorded at the earlier date with the Dorsey brothers in the band, is another really delightful tune, with a similar dreamy air to the previous. Though it never made quite as much of a hit as “Stardust”, Hoagy thought enough of it to record it a further three times, only one of which was released on the flip-side of the original issue of his “Georgia (On My Mind)”. This one was also issued on Champion 15420 at the time, but since then, it seems to have received little attention.
One Night in Havana, recorded October 28, 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Pals.
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.
Though perhaps best known as the man who brought into this world such memorable ditties as “Piccolo Pete”, “Harmonica Harry”, and “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy (from Dumas)”, among others, maestro Phil Baxter was also a capable pianist and vocalist, and the leader of a successful Southern-based territory jazz band in the 1920s.
Philip Kerley Baxter was born in the small settlement of Rural Shade in Navarro County, Texas on September 5, 1896, twenty miles southeast of Corsicana, the son of Thomas and Lila Baxter, who were at the time making their way via horse and buggy to Palestine (Texas, that is). He served his country in the First World War, and was writing music by 1921 and leading his own jazz band later in the decade. Baxter’s orchestra first recorded in St. Louis, Missouri on October 24, 1925, cutting four titles for Okeh Records, three of which were issued. Around that time, he and Carl Moore published a version of “St. James Infirmary” as “Gambler’s Blues”—Baxter claimed to have co-written the song, but neglected to file for a copyright, which Irving Mills did in 1929 under the pseudonym “Joe Primrose”. Baxter’s orchestra, previously called the “Texas Tommies”, became the house band for El Torrean Ballroom in Kansas City in 1927, broadcasting on KMBC, a post which they retained until 1933. He returned to the recording studio four Octobers after his first session in 1929, when he waxed four further sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, all of which were released that time around, including the noted “I Ain’t Got No Gal Now”. Following the Dallas session, Baxter made no further commercial recordings, though a few home recordings have turned up (which are, most unfortunately, not part of the Old Time Blues collection). The Baxter orchestra continued into the middle of the 1930s. In his later years, his music was hindered by arthritis. Phil Baxter died on November 21, 1972 in Dallas.
Victor V-40160 was recorded on October 20, 1929 in the ballroom of the Park Hotel in Dallas, Texas. The band’s roster includes Ray Nooner and Al Hann on trumpets, Al Jennings on trombone, Ken Naylor on clarinet and alto saxophone, Jack Jones on alto sax, Thurmond Rotroff on tenor sax, Davy Crocker on accordion, Phil Baxter on piano, Joe Price on banjo and guitar, Pop Estep on tuba, and Marion Flickinger on drums. Baxter sings the vocals on both sides. Perhaps only a regional release without nationwide distribution—though it appeared in Victor’s catalog for Old Familiar Tunes—it is said to have sold only a few hundred copies. As such, it—along with the other Baxter Victor—made it into the honorable mentions (or rather “Conspicuous Omissions”) section of 78 Quarterly’s series on the “Rarest 78s.”
First, the band plays the magnificent “I Ain’t Got No Gal Now”, a real tour de force, perhaps my favorite jazz side of them all. The band plays here in a style all their own, mellow yet hot, with a loose sort of sound, with accordion that was obligatory in Texas dance bands of the era. Simply a masterpiece!
I Ain’t Got No Gal Now, recorded October 20, 1929 by Phil Baxter and his Orchestra.
On the reverse, they play a delightful Texas themed number: “Down Where the Blue Bonnets Grow”, another excellent ditty, and with even more accordion!
Down Where the Blue Bonnets Grow, recorded Octiber 20, 1929 by Phil Baxter and his Orchestra.
Art Tatum in the 1940s. Pictured in the 1944 Esquire Jazz Book.
One of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz music was Art Tatum, whose virtuosity on the piano was perhaps unparalleled. He was a favorite of almost all fellow jazz musicians, as well as such classical greats as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Leopold Stokowski.
Arthur Tatum, Jr., was born on October 13, 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, the son of a guitar playing father and piano playing mother. As a baby, he was afflicted with cataracts, which left him mostly blind for the rest of his life, in spite of surgical intervention. As a child prodigy with perfect pitch, Tatum learned to play the piano play by ear. He attended blind school in the 1920s, and later studied music. Tatum began playing on the radio in 1927, known as “Toledo’s Blind Pianist”, and soon began playing at the local Waiters & Bellman’s Club, where he was a favorite of jazz greats by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Andy Kirk, and Fletcher Henderson. In 1932, Tatum was noticed by the singer Adelaide Hall, who invited him to tour with her. He accompanied her back to New York, where he made his first recordings as a member of her backing orchestra. Not long after, he had his first solo recording session for Brunswick records, cutting the first versions of his famous arrangements of “Tea for Two” and “Tiger Rag”, among others. His subsequent recordings were made for Decca. Tatum remained in New York until the end of 1934, then went back west to the Midwest, and to Los Angeles, appearing on Rudy Vallée’s Fleischmann Hour in 1935. He returned to New York in 1937, and then embarked on the Queen Mary for a tour of England. After returning to the States, Tatum was a hit on 52nd Street throughout the 1940s, and toured around the country frequently. He also participated in concerts and sessions organized by jazz impresario Norman Granz, and was one of Esquire’s 1944 Jazz All-Stars. A chronic alcoholic, Art Tatum suffered kidney failure and died on November 5, 1956.
Brunswick 6543 was recorded in New York City on March 21, 1933. It is Art Tatum’s first issued solo record, and his second and third recorded solo sides. Both are modernistic stride improvisations on old standards.
First up is one of Art Tatum’s most famous performances, his frenetic arrangement of Nick La Rocca’s “Tiger Rag”.
Tiger Rag, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.
Next up is Tatum’s interpretation of W.C. Handy’s famous “St. Louis Blues”. Brian Rust notes two issued takes of this side, this is “A”.
St. Louis Blues, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.