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, 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, recorded April 28, 1929 by Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders.
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.
Victor 23503 was recorded on July 10 and 11, 1930 in Hollywood, California, and issued on February 6, 1931 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. Several days later, while still in Hollywood, Jimmie recorded with Louis Armstrong, who was at the time appearing at Frank Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in Los Angeles. Jimmie was in exceptionally fine form at these Hollywood sessions, and they turned out to be quite productive.
In the latter of the two sessions, Jimmie cut his renowned “Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues)” in only one take, just after recording his railroad tune “The Mystery of Number Five” (Victor 23518), the only two sides he recorded that day. 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. This recording stands out as one of a relative few that Rodgers made during the later phase of his career to feature self-accompaniment on his own guitar (fewer than half of his recordings feature his own accompaniment, and the bulk of those were made prior to 1930), and his playing is at his finest, with a rare guitar solo midway through.
Around 1940, the song was resurrected by Grand Ole Opry players Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff (separately), and many times subsequently. In 1955, Rodgers’ recording—along with a number of his other sides—was overdubbed with Hank Snow’s band and reissued in an effort to keep the music “up-to-date.”
This was 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. I was first familiar with Dolly Parton’s 1970 recording, which was one of my favorites as a boy—when I first heard Jimmie yodeling it, boy, it was a whole other world! Not only did it spark my love for Rodgers’ music, but it 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 July 11, 1930 by Jimmie Rodgers.
On the “B” side, “Jimmie’s Mean Mama Blues”, recorded the previous day, 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. Another Rodgers classic, this tune was later covered by Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys in 1936, sung by Tommy Duncan. 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 July 10, 1930 by Jimmie Rodgers.
Updated with improved audio on June 20, 2017, and on July 10, 2017.
Today, I offer for your listening pleasure the sounds of mid-1920s, as played by this regional dance band from Los Angeles, California. The somewhat seldom seen Sunset label was made in California in the mid-1920s, as early as 1923 to about 1926, and features an attractive illustration of the Western landscape. Among other interesting content, such as the record featured here, Sunset recorded a young Morey Amsterdam in pair of songs with ukulele.
Sunset 1136 was recorded in July of 1925 by Carlyle Stevenson’s El Patio Orchestra in Los Angeles, California. The Red Hot Jazz Archive lists the personnel as Ralph Marky and Leslie Moe on trumpets, Doc Garrison and Harley Luse on trombones, Leslie Lyman and Harry Vaile on clarinet, alto sax, and tenor sax, leader Carlyle Stevenson on alto sax, Bob Sawyer on piano (who later went on to lead an outstanding jazz band), Carol McManus on banjo, Oscar Martin on brass bass, and Buddy Johnson on drums. According to that listing, the vocalist would be either Carl Edwards or Walter Dupre. However, I can’t guarantee that any or all of those musicians played on these recordings. Leader Carlyle Stevenson recorded previously with Jan Garber’s orchestra.
First up, the band plays a fine version of the big hit of 1925, “Sleepy Time Gal”.
Sleepy Time Gal, recorded July 1925 by Carlyle Stevenson’s El Patio Orchestra.
Next, keeping in a similar theme, they play “Lonesomest Gal in Town”.
Lonesomest Gal in Town, recorded July 1925 by Carlyle Stevenson’s El Patio Orchestra.
One-hundred years ago today, on January 4, 1916, pianist, guitarist, and singer Bulee “Slim” Gaillard was born. Though the details of his early life are disputed, he claimed to have been born in Cuba and spent his childhood picking bananas and sugar-cane there before embarking on a world-round voyage with his Greek father where he was accidentally left on Crete from where he worked his way to America. Whatever his origins, Gaillard first found fame in the 1930s performing with bassist Slam Stewart as half of “Slim and Slam”, who had a hit in 1938 with “Flat Fleet Floogee” (as it was originally titled, better known as “Flat Foot Floogee”). By the 1940s, Gaillard had become a leading bebopper and hepster supreme, famous for a scat language of his own creation called “Vout”, which involved interjecting a lot of the word “vout” and suffixing just about everything with “o’reenie” or “o’roonie”. He had a smash hit in 1946 with “Cement Mixer (Put-Ti-Put-Ti)”. Gaillard died February 26, 1991.
Atomic A-215 was recorded December 15, 1945 in Hollywood, California. The band includes Slim Gaillard on guitar, the always distinguished Zutty Singleton on drums, “Tiny” (aka “Bam”) Brown on bass, and Dodo Marmarosa on piano. These Atomic records had a very distinctive label design didn’t they, one of my favorites, artistically.
Mere months after the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending World War II in the Pacific Theater, Slim Gaillard’s Quartette cut “Atomic Cocktail”. In the rather esoteric genre of “atomic music” that appeared in the late 1940s and early 1950s as the atomic era began, with such songs as “Atom and Evil” and “Old Man Atom”, this one, in my opinion, stands out as one of the best.
Atomic Cocktail, recorded December 15, 1945 by the Slim Gaillard Quartette.
According to legend, “Yep-Roc-Heresay” (pronounced “yep rock ha-reesy”) has Gaillard and Tiny Brown reading the names of Arabic dishes from the menu of a Middle Eastern restaurant offering such fare as yabra, stuffed grape leaves, harisseh, an Arabian dessert, kibbeh bil sanieh, a meat dish, and lahem meshwi, lamb kebabs. “That’s a good deal McNeil” is, of course, not in Arabic. Despite its innocuous nature in reality, it was reportedly banned from airplay by several radio stations for fear of carrying secret messages promoting drugs and crime.
Yep-Roc-Heresay, recorded December 15, 1945 by the Slim Gaillard Quartette.
On December 11th in 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry the American Wallis Simpson, becoming the Duke of Windsor. After revealing his plans to marry Simpson to British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, his cabinet informed him that the people would not tolerate the divorced woman as queen, as remarriage was opposed by the Church of England. King Edward was faced with three options: to dump Wallis, to go against the wishes of the British government, or to abdicate the throne. Unwilling to give up his fiancée, Edward chose to abdicate. He signed the papers on December 10, and on the evening of December 11, 1936, King Edward VIII, in a speech broadcast around the world via radio, formally abdicated the throne of England, and his brother, George VI became king thereafter. After the change, George granted Edward the title of “Duke of Windsor”. George would be the king that would see England into World War II.
This unnumbered Electro-Vox record was recorded December 11, 1936 in Los Angeles, California from the live radio broadcast of King Edward VIII’s abdication speech in London. This speech was also issued on a variety of other labels, including Brunswick and Columbia. Many of those other issues were on standard sized ten-inch records; this one is a twelve-inch.
Besides the speech, one highlight of this recording is a chance to hear the tolling of Big Ben, all the way back in ’36.
Farewell Message, recorded December 11, 1936 by King Edward VIII.