Brunswick 6074 – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra – 1931

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.

Hit 7119 – Cootie Williams and his Orchestra – 1944

October 10 marks ninety-nine years since the birth of Thelonious Monk, and what better way to commemorate that event than with the first recording of his famous “‘Round Midnight”, performed by Cootie Williams and his Orchestra.  (Please do not confuse that photograph of Cootie Williams on the left of the page with Monk, it is not.)  I will admit that while I usually tend to prefer earlier music, this is one of my favorite records.

Cootie Williams, 1940s. From Esquire's 1944 Jazz Book.

Cootie Williams, 1940s. From Esquire’s 1944 Jazz Book.

Thelonious Sphere Monk was born on October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.  From 1922, the Monks lived in New York City, where Thelonious was exposed to jazz music.  He taught himself to play piano when he was six years old, and accompanied a touring evangelist in his teenage years.  In the 1940s, Monk played at Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem, and was with Lucky Millinder’s orchestra for a period in 1942, and Cootie Williams’ in 1944.  He made his first recordings as bandleader in 1947 for Blue Note.  With a unique approach to music, and life, Monk’s work lacked public appeal initially, and his recordings sold poorly for some years, though he was regarded highly by fellow musicians and jazz aficionados.  In 1951, police confiscated his cabaret card, and he was unable to play in nightclubs until he regained it in 1957.  Eventually, Monk became regarded as one of the greats of jazz music, having composed such standards as “‘Round Midnight”, “Straight, No Chaser”, and “Blue Monk”.  Monk left the music scene in the 1970s, and died in 1982.

Hit 7119 was recorded October 22, 1944 in New York by Cootie Williams and his Orchestra.  The band features Williams, Ermit V. Perry, George Treadwell, Lammar Wright, and Tommy Stevenson on trumpet, Ed Burke, Ed Glover, and Robert Horton on trombone,  Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Frank Powell on alto sax, Sam “The Man” Taylor and Lee Pope on tenor sax, Eddie de Verteuil on baritone sax, Bud Powell on piano, Leroy Kirkland on guitar, Carl Pruitt on bass, and Sylvester “Vess” Payne on drums.

First, Cootie and the band play the first ever recording made of Thelonious Monk’s famous “‘Round Midnight”, claimed to be the most recorded standard composed by a jazz musician.

'Round Midnight

‘Round Midnight, recorded October 22, 1944 by Cootie Williams and his Orchestra.

Next up, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson shouts the blues on “Somebody’s Gotta Go”.

Somebody's Gotta Go

Somebody’s Gotta Go, recorded October 22, 1944 by Cootie Williams and his Orchestra.

Brunswick 4936 – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra – 1930

Cab Calloway in his early years as a bandleader, circa 1930. Pictured in Of Minnie the Moocher & Me.

Besides Christmas, December 25 marks another important date in history, the birthday of Cab Calloway.  As a belated celebration of that anniversary, here is Cab’s first record, with two takes of his first recordings.  This record was made soon after Cab took control of the excellent Harlem band, the Missourians, who had played at the Cotton Club under Andy Preer in the middle of the 1920s.  After departing from their Cotton Club engagement when Preer died and Duke Ellington replaced them in 1927, they returned in the early 1930s under the leadership of Cab Calloway.

Brunswick 4936 was recorded July 24, 1930 in New York City.  The band includes the same basic personnel as the Missourians, with R.Q. Dickerson, Wendell Culley, and Lammar Wright on trumpets, De Priest Wheeler on trombone, William Thornton Blue on clarinet and alto sax, Andrew Brown on clarinet, alto sax, and bass-clarinet, Walter “Foots” Thomas on tenor sax, alto sax, and baritone sax, Earres Prince on piano, Morris White on banjo, Jimmy Smith on tuba, and Leroy Maxey on the drums.  This record stayed “in print” for many years, I even have a 1938-39 silver label Brunswick issue of it.  Also recorded at this session was an unissued take of “I’ll Be a Friend (With Pleasure)”; I don’t know of any surviving copies of that recording.  You may note that the first issue label credits “The Jungle Band”, a pseudonym that was typically given to Duke Ellington’s recordings on Brunswick, the only exceptions that I know of being this one and Chick Webb’s first recording.

Two takes were recorded of Cab Calloway’s very first recording, “Gotta Darn Good Reason Now (For Bein’ Good)”.  The second take was released first, presumably because either Cab or the producers at Brunswick preferred that take, and it seems more polished than the first, where Cab seems more hesitant.  Later pressings used the first take, likely because the original stamper was beginning to wear out.  Here, the sound files are included in order of release, with the second take first.

Gotta Darn Good Reason Now (For Bein’ Good) (take 2), recorded July 24, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Gotta Darn Good Reason Now (For Bein’ Good) (take 1), recorded July 24, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Only one take is known to exist of Cab Calloway’s famous rendition of “St. Louis Blues”, so the better sounding of the two records is featured here.  Just listen to how long he holds that note!

St. Louis Blues, recorded July 24, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

St. Louis Blues, recorded July 24, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Okeh 8242 – Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra – 1925

November 13, 2015 marks the 121st anniversary of the birthday of jazz great Bennie Moten, who led one of the most excellent bands in the United States in the 1920s and early 1930s, his Kansas City Orchestra.  Given that I haven’t yet featured one of Moten’s records here, I think a good place to start would be with his earliest record currently in my collection, and one of his earliest overall.

Bennie Moten was born and raised in 1894 in Kansas City, Missouri.  He formed his famous Kansas City Orchestra in the early 1920s and made his first recordings for Okeh in 1923, with whom he continued to record through 1925, before moving to Victor in 1926.  In 1929, Moten hired a number of musicians away from Walter Page’s Blue Devils, including William “Count” Basie and Oran “Hot Lips” Page.  Basie would take over Moten’s orchestra after his untimely death following a botched tonsillectomy (the same fate that befell Eddie Lang) in 1935.

Okeh 8242 was recorded May 15, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The band features the talented musicianship of Harry Cooper, and Lammar Wright on cornets, Thamon Hayes on trombone, Harlan Leonard on clarinet and alto sax, Woody Walder on clarinet and tenor sax, leader Bennie Moten on piano, LaForest Dent on banjo, Vernon Page on tuba, and Willie Hall on drums.

“18th Street Strut” starts out a bit rough and weak, but the jazz still comes through just fine for most of the record, and it certainly is a hot one!

18th Street Strut, recorded May

18th Street Strut, recorded May 15, 1925 by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra.

On the reverse, they play “Things Seem So Blue to Me”, which sounds a little cleaner than the previous.

Things Seem So Blue to Me, recorded May 27, 1925 by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra.

Things Seem So Blue to Me, recorded May 15, 1925 by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on June 12, 2018.

Melotone M 12639 – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra – 1930

I think it’s about time I featured a Cab Calloway record, so here it is, one of his earliest records, as well as one of his best.  At such an early recording date, Calloway’s band retained the most of the members, and hot sound of their predecessor, the Missourians.

Melotone M 12639, originally issued as Brunswick 6020, was recorded on December 23, 1930 in New York, two days before Cab’s birthday, in New York City, this Melotone was issued around early to mid 1933.  These sides feature Cab singing and directing the band, and includes R.Q. Dickerson, Lammar Wright, and Reuben “River” Reeves on trumpets, De Priest Wheeler and Harry White on trombones, William Thornton Blue on clarinet and alto sax, Andrew Brown on bass clarinet and tenor sax, Walter “Foots” Thomas on alto, tenor and baritone saxes, Earres Prince on piano, Morris White on banjo, Jimmy Smith on bass, and Leroy Maxey on drums.

The band’s energetic performance of the evergreen classic “Some of These Days” is one of Cab’s hottest tunes ever recorded, with the (ex-)Missourians playing as hot as ever.  This side has a few small needle digs that cause slight disruption near the end, please try to excuse them.

Some of These Days, recorded December 23, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Some of These Days, recorded December 23, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Maceo Pinkard’s “Is That Religion” is performed in the form of a mock-sacred song, with a chorus singing in the background, and Cab preaching.

Is That Religion?, recorded December 23, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.

Is That Religion?, recorded December 23, 1930 by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra.