MacGregor & Sollie 875/6 – The Texas Drifter – 1938

On this day, the anniversary of his birth, we remember the Texas Drifter, Goebel Reeves, renowned singing hobo of the Great Depression days.  To commemorate the occasion, here is one of the last recordings Reeves made, and perhaps one of the most exceptional.

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 875 and 876 (or matrices MS 2635 and MS 2636 depending on which number you choose to use) was recorded in 1938 at 729 S. Western Avenue in Hollywood, California.  I haven’t been able to locate the actual date of recording.  It is pressed in Columbia style Royal Blue colored laminated shellac.

First, Reeves 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, the Texas Drifter recites his account of “The Hobo’s Convention”, recounting an actual convention held in Portland, Oregon on June 3, 1921, closing out with some wild and exuberant yodeling like only he could do.

The Hobo's Convention

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

Updated with improved audio on June 30, 2017.

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 eagerly present to you valued readers a record that stands out particularly in the annals of history (as well as in my collection), one of the unquestionably 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.

Before delving into its history, I must digress to say that this record is something of a “holy grail” to me, it’s one I sought for a long, long time, and no tongue can tell the joy 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 thin LP mailer without the slightest damage—and boy is it a thing to behold.

Victor 23503 was recorded on the tenth and eleventh of July, 1930 in Hollywood, California, and released on January 16, 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 labels, 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 appearing at the time 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, resulting in a total of fourteen sides cut between thirtieth of June and the sixteenth of July—plus the unusual and unreleased test recording of an Amos ‘n’ Andy style comedy sketch with one I.N. Bronson, titled “The Pullman Porters”.

In the latter of the two sessions, after warming up with the railroad ballad “The Mystery of Number Five” (Victor 23518), Jimmie cut the eight installment in his series of thirteen “Blue Yodel” songs, “Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues)”, in only one take (though second and third takes were recorded, the first was released), with those being the only two sides he recorded that day.  It was originally slated to be released as the ninth Blue Yodel song, with another being the eighth, but that recording was deemed inferior and held back until after Rodgers’ passing, at which time it was released as “Blue Yodel Number Eleven”.

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.  The song was resurrected at the beginning of the next decade by Grand Ole Opry players Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff (separately), which in turn inspired many times subsequent covers.  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.”  While remarkably tastefully executed, the re-do cut down Rodgers’ guitar solo significantly, supposedly because Chet Atkins—who led the band—could not figure it out.  In later years, the song has been covered by numerous others in many different genres, such as the Fendermen’s rockabilly version.

In addition to being one of Jimmie’s most enduring songs, this number holds a special place in my heart as the song that introduced me to Jimmie Rodgers, and it has always been one of my favorites—if not my very favorite.  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

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

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, and May 31, 2019.

Sunset 1136 – Carlyle Stevenson’s El Patio Orchestra – 1925

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

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

Lonesomest Gal in Town, recorded July 1925 by Carlyle Stevenson’s El Patio Orchestra.

Atomic A-215 – Slim Gaillard Quartette – 1945

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

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

Yep-Roc-Heresay, recorded December 15, 1945 by the Slim Gaillard Quartette.