Capitol 101 – Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra – 1942

June 5, 2017 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the recording of the first disc ever issued by Capitol Records (though not the earliest session).

Early in the 1940s, songwriter and singer Johnny Mercer joined forces with fellow songwriter Buddy DeSylva and record store owner Glenn E. Wallichs to form a new record company.  On March 27, 1942 they incorporated as Liberty Records, which was soon changed to Capitol Records.  On April 6, they held their first session, wherein Martha Tilton recorded “Moondreams” (issued as Capitol 138).  On July 1, Capitol’s first record was released, featuring the legendary Paul Whiteman’s orchestra swinging on “I Found a New Baby” and “The General Jumped at Dawn”.  The fledgling label had its first hit with its second release, Freddy Slack’s orchestra playing “Cow Cow Boogie”, with a vocal by Ella Mae Morse.  All was not rosy however, as only one month later, the American Federation of Musicians started their 1942-44 strike, instigating a recording ban for all union musicians.  Capitol settled with the AFM on October 11, 1943, after Decca.  The ban didn’t seem to hurt Capitol too much, and they went on to become one of the major record labels from the 1940s onward, all the way into the present day.

Capitol 101 was recorded on June 5, 1942 in Los Angeles, California, and issued the next month.  It was released less than a month later on July 1, 1942.  Some sources offer different dates of recording: Rust gives May 1942, and others say April, but Capitol’s ledgers provide the June 5 date, and they should be definitive.  The personnel, according to Paul Whiteman: Pioneer in American Music, 1930-1967 (which differs slightly from Rust’s identification), is Billy Butterfield, Monty Kelly, Larry Neill, and Don Waddilove on trumpets, Phil “Skip” Layton and Murray McEachern on trombone, Alvy West and Danny d’Andrea onalto sax, Lennie Hartman and King Guion on tenor sax, Tommy Mace on baritone sax, Dave Newman, Harry Azen, and Saul Blumenthal on violins, Buddy Weed on piano, Mike Pingitore on guitar, Artie Shapiro on string bass, and Lou Paino on drums.

First, a frenetic and modern arrangement of the jazz standard “I Found a New Baby” highlights the talents of Buddy Weed at the piano.

I Found a New Baby, recorded June 5, 1942 by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra.

“The General Jumped at Dawn” is a swell swing instrumental, one of my favorite swing sides, in fact, composed and arranged by Jimmy Mundy.  The Golden Gate Quartet sang a memorable version of this tune in the classic World War II film Hollywood Canteen in 1944: “Said the captain to the general, ‘Pops, we’re gonna cause a commotion.'”  Oddly, this side gets more and more worn and muffled as it plays through, then cleans up completely in the last five seconds or so.

The General Jumped at Dawn, recorded June 5, 1942 by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra.

Decca 1600 – Connie Boswell with Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats – 1937

Connie Boswell with ceramic cats, late 1930s.

Connie Boswell with ceramic cats, late 1930s.

The time has come once again to remember Miss Connie Boswell of the famous Boswell Sisters on the anniversary of her birth.  Last time, we celebrated the occasion with her “Washboard Blues”.  Since I’ve already covered Connie’s life, let’s instead take a look at a very important record in her career.

In 1936, the Boswell Sisters had taken their last curtain call.  Connie was the only one still singing professionally, and the Andrews Sisters came to fill the role once occupied by the Bozzies.   Though already a popular recording artist, the following year, Connie came up with something that was to make hers one of the biggest names in popular music through the 1940s.  Inspired by her childhood love of Caruso, and her sister Martha, Connie wanted to swing Friedrich von Flotow’s “M’appari tutt’amor” from the opera Martha.  At first, Decca was hesitant to release the swinging tune, worried that desecrating the operatic piece as jazz would spark outrage, but she convinced them, assuring the company that she would assume full responsibility if things turned sour.  On the contrary, “Martha” was Connie’s biggest hit since the breakup of the Boswell Sisters, and made her one of the biggest things of 1938, earning her a newspaper interview with famed reporter Ernie Pyle.  The attention Connie received even caused bandleader Larry Clinton to send an irritated letter accusing her of ripping off the idea from him.  After “Martha”, Connie held her position, making a series of hits, including a number of duets with Bing Crosby, until a 1947 hiatus took her out of the Hit Parade until her return to recording in 1951.

Decca 1600 was recorded on November 13, 1937 in Los Angeles, California.  Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats are made up of Yank Lawson on trumpet, Warren Smith on trombone, Matty Matlock on clarinet, Eddie Miller on tenor sax, Bob Zurke on piano, Nappy Lamare on guitar, Bob Haggart on string bass, and Ray Bauduc on drums.

Below, taking up more space on this page than I’d like, you can see Connie Boswell’s own lyric sheet, most likely a rough draft, for “Martha”, presumably typed by Connie herself.  It is typed on a letterhead bearing the name of Harry Leedy, Connie’s husband and manager, as can be seen through the paper near the bottom.  Evidently, she made a mistake and flipped the sheet over to type on the other side.

Lyrics for "Martha" hand typed, presumably, by Connie herself, on Harry Leedy letterhead.

Lyrics for “Martha” hand typed, presumably, by Connie herself.

Now, the much anticipated, and unfortunately under-appreciated today, “Martha (Ah So Pure [M’appari tutt’amor])” really swings, thanks in no small part to the top-of-the-line accompaniment by Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats.  As you can see, Decca took special care to label it “Swing Vocal” rather than simply “Vocal”

Martha

Martha, recorded November 13, 1937 by Connie Boswell with Bob Cats.

On the reverse, Connie swings another tune, this time the old cowboy song “Home On the Range”.  “I like the nightclub with its swinging saxes, but when it comes to payin’ taxes, I’ll take my home on the range.”

Home On the Range

Home On the Range, recorded November 13, 1937 by Connie Boswell with Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats.

MacGregor & Sollie MS 2635/6 – The Texas Drifter – 1938

On this day, we remember the Texas Drifter, Goebel Reeves, singing hobo of the 1920s and ’30s, on the anniversary of his birth.  To commemorate the occasion, here is one of the last recordings Reeves made.

Goebel Leon Reeves was born on October 9, 1899 in Sherman, Texas to a middle class family.  His father sold shoes and his mother was a music teacher.  After his father’s election to the Texas state legislature, the Reeves moved to Austin, where Goebel worked as a pageboy.  Reportedly, his first experience with hobos was in Austin; an encounter with a railroad bum left him enthralled with the lifestyle.  Reeves served as a bugler in the First World War, and was wounded on the front lines.  After the war, he turned to the life of a hobo, bumming across the nation and singing for a living.  Sometime in the 1920s, Reeves sailed to Europe as a merchant seaman.  Reeves claimed to have met and befriended Jimmie Rodgers, who at the time would have been working on the railroad as a brakeman.  He was also known to have made a variety of colorful claims that were verifiably false.  In the 1920s, Reeves performed on WFAA in Dallas, and made his first records for Okeh in 1929, spurred to do so after hearing Jimmie Rodgers on record.  Throughout the decade that followed, Reeves recorded for Gennett, Brunswick, and the American Record Corporation, under such names as “The Texas Drifter” and “George Riley.”  Throughout the 1930s, he made radio appearances on Rudy Vallée’s program, the WLS National Barn Dance, and the WSM Grand Ole Opry.  In 1933, he appeared at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago.  He made his final recordings in 1938, a series of non-commercial records for MacGregor & Sollie in Hollywood, California.  Reeves worked as a sailor again in the 1930s, and he entertained United States troops during World War II, before returning to the States to work for the government in internment camps in California, owing to the fact that he spoke Japanese.  Goebel Reeves later joined the Wobblies and retired to Bell Gardens, California, where he remained until a fatal heart attack on January 26, 1959, having lived quite a life.

MacGregor & Sollie MS 2635 and MS 2636 (or 875 and 876 depending on which number you choose to use) was recorded in 1938.  I haven’t been able to locate that actual date of recording.  It is pressed in Columbia style Royal Blue laminated shellac.

First, the Texas Drifter sings the old familiar “Pictures from Life’s Other Side”.

Pictures From Life's Other Side

Pictures From Life’s Other Side, recorded 1938 by The Texas Drifter.

On the reverse, Reeves recites his account of “The Hobo’s Convention”.

The Hobo's Convention

The Hobo’s Convention, recorded 1938 by The Texas Drifter.

Victor V-38068 – Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders – 1929

Lionel Hampton. From Esquire's Jazz Book, 1944.

Lionel Hampton, sweat pouring down his chest. From Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944.

Today we celebrate the birthday of vibraphonist and drummer Lionel Hampton with one of his earliest records.  From his time with Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders in Hollywood, these are the first two sides are from Hamp’s second session, and his first issued.

Lionel Hampton was born on April 20, 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky, and spent his childhood first in Kenosha, Wisconsin, then in Chicago.  As a teenager in Chicago, Hampton took xylophone lessons from Jimmy Bertrand, and played drum at the Holy Rosary Academy.  He began his musical career with the Chicago Defender Newsboys’ Band, and moved to California in the late 1920s.  Around 1929, Hamp joined Paul Howard’s territory band playing drums, with whom he stayed until the band broke up in 1930.  From Howard’s band, he was picked up by Les Hite, who led a band fronted at one point by Louis Armstrong during his tenure at Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in L.A.  With Armstrong, Hampton is credited with playing the first vibraphone in a popular song on record, in “Memories of You”.  After studying music at the University of South California, Hampton formed his own band in the mid-1930s, and played with Benny Goodman on the side.  Hampton continued to play and lead bands for many years, slowing down in his old age, and died of congestive heart failure in 2001, at the age of 94.

Victor V-38068 was recorded April 28, 1929 in Culver City, California, the first issued record by Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders.  The Quality Serenaders consist of George Orendorff on trumpet, Lawrence Brown on trombone, Charlie Lawrence on alto sax and clarinet, Paul Howard on tenor sax, Harvey Brooks on piano, “Kid” Thomas Valentine on banjo, James Jackson on tuba, and the young Lionel Hampton on drums.

First up is “Moonlight Blues”.  Lionel Hampton sings the scat vocal on this side, called “novelty effects” on the label.

Moonlight Blues

Moonlight Blues, recorded April 28, 1929 by Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders.

The flip, a stomp called “The Ramble”, is a masterpiece if there ever was one.

The Ramble

The Ramble, recorded April 28, 1929 by Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Victor 23503 – Jimmie Rodgers – 1930

Today I present a record that stands out particularly in the annals of history, one of the best of the one-hundred-and-some-odd songs recorded by America’s Blue Yodeler, Mr. Jimmie Rodgers: the very first recording of the classic country song “Mule Skinner Blues”.

An advertisement for Victor 23503 from a 1930 Victor promotional flyer.

I must say that this record is something of a “holy grail” to me, it’s one I sought for a long, long time, and words cannot describe the feeling of finally having it in my grasp.  I searched for what at least seemed like ages, until a nice copy finally appeared on eBay.  I managed to win the auction, and after what seemed like an eternity, this one was delivered, albeit packed woefully inadequately.  Thankfully, by what I can only describe as the grace of God, it made it into my possession safely in that LP mailer without the slightest damage, and boy is it a thing to behold.

Jimmie Rodgers recorded these two sides in California, probably around the time he made his only appearance on film in the Columbia-Victor Gem The Singing Brakeman (which can be found on Yazoo’s home video Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be, a compilation of musical film clips from the 1920s and 1930s that I wholeheartedly recommend viewing).  Also while in Hollywood, Jimmie recorded with Louis Armstrong, who was appearing at Frank Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in LA at the time.

Victor 23503 was recorded on July 10 and 11, 1930 in Hollywood, California, and issued in Victor’s 23500 series for “Old Familiar Tunes.”  As designated by the small “o” above  Nipper’s nose near the top of the label, this copy was pressed at the Victor plant in Oakland, California.  Jimmie was in exceptionally fine form at these Hollywood sessions.

Recorded in the latter session, “Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues)” is the song that introduced me to Jimmie Rodgers, and has always been one of my favorites—if not my very favorite—as well as one of Jimmie’s most enduring songs.  Around 1940, the song was resurrected by Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff, and in 1955, this song, along with a number of other Rodgers sides, was overdubbed with Hank Snow’s band and reissued in an effort to keep the music “up-to-date.”  Rodgers’ opening line, “Good mornin’, captain.  Good mornin’, shine,” appeared two years earlier in Tom Dickson’s “Labor Blues” (Okeh 8570), though the rest of the song bears no resemblance to Rodgers’ Blue Yodel, lyrically or melodically.  Whether Rodgers picked up the verse from Dickson’s song or elsewhere, I couldn’t say.

I’d first heard Dolly Parton’s 1970 recording, which was one of my favorite songs as a boy, and when I first heard Jimmie yodeling it, boy, it was a whole other world!  It not only sparked my love for Rodgers’ music, but was a major factor in starting me down the road of collecting 78 records.  I could listen to it a million times and never tire.

Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues), recorded

Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues), recorded July 11, 1930 by Jimmie Rodgers.

On the second side, “Jimmie’s Mean Mama Blues”, recorded the day before the first, Jimmie is accompanied by an outstandingly hot Hollywood-based five piece jazz band led by pianist Bob Sawyer, who co-wrote the tune with one Walter O’Neal.  I love how the band stops playing during Jimmie’s first yodel, leaving just him and his guitar.  We previously sampled Sawyer’s work with Carlyle Stevenson’s band five years prior to this.

Jimmie's Mean Mama Blues, recorded

Jimmie’s Mean Mama Blues, recorded July 10, 1930 by Jimmie Rodgers.

Updated on June 10, 2017, and with improved audio on June 20, 2017.