Vocalion 14848 – Uncle Dave Macon – 1924

Uncle Dave Macon in a characteristic pose, as pictured in Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon, 1938.

With a stage persona that brought rural electrification to Tennessee early, the legendary “Dixie Dewdrop,” “King of the Hillbillies,” Uncle Dave Macon, has been called the “grandfather of country music” (Jimmie Rodgers, of course, being the “father”), and that’s no stretch; his energetic renditions of old time minstrel ditties and jubilant sacred songs made him an enduring and beloved favorite of Southern listeners from the dawn of radio entertainment until the early 1950s.

David Harrison Macon was born on October 7, 1870, five miles south of McMinnville, Tennessee in small settlement of Smartt Station, son of Martha and Confederate veteran John Macon.  In 1884, the Macons purchased a hotel and moved to Nashville.  While there, the young Dave learned banjo from circus performer Joel Davidson.  After his father was murdered in ’86, Macon and his mother sold the hotel and took up in Readyville.  His mother ran a stagecoach inn there, and Dave used his musical proclivities to entertain guests.  Soon after, Macon started a mule train, which lasted until the automobile killed off business in 1920.  The next year, Macon was hired for his first professional musical engagement.  In 1923, Macon was “discovered” by Marcus Loew of the famous theater chain of the same name, and brought into the world of processional vaudeville.  Joining with fiddler Sid Harkreader, Macon’s act became a hit, and the Sterchi Brothers Furniture Company arranged a recording session for them with Vocalion in July of 1924.  Late in 1925, the fledgling radio station WSM in Nashville started their Barn Dance program to compete the successful show of the same name on Chicago’s WLS, and Macon became one of the first stars of what would later become known as the Grand Ole Opry.  In 1927, he formed the Fruit Jar Drinkers with the McGee Brothers and Mazy Todd.  After recording for Vocalion from 1924 to 1929, Macon recorded only sporadically in the 1930s, with sessions for Okeh in 1930, the Starr Piano Company’s Champion in 1934 (try to find those records!), and Victor’s Bluebird in 1935 and 1938.  Despite slacking off in recording, Uncle Dave continued to perform live for many years.  In 1940, he appeared in the Republic Pictures film Grand Ole Opry, accompanied by his son Dorris.  Uncle Dave Macon played his last performance on March 1, 1952, and died three weeks later, on the twenty-second, at the age of 81.  His life is celebrated annually with “Uncle Dave Macon Days” in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Vocalion 14848 was recorded on July 8 and 9, 1924 in New York City, “Sung and Played by Uncle Dave Macon (Banjo)”.  It was shortly afterward issued on Vocalion 5041, in their “Hillbilly” series.  It is comprised of his first and sixth recorded sides, and was his second issued record.

The first side he ever recorded, “Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy” is one of Uncle Dave’s most iconic pieces, and perhaps his best remembered in this day and age.  Fourteen years later, the song was published in his official songbook, Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon.

Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy, recorded July 8, 1924 by Uncle Dave Macon.

On the reverse, Uncle Dave plays and sings “Papa’s Billie Goat”, a cover of fellow country music pioneer Fiddlin’ John Carson’s recording of the previous year.

Papa’s Billie Goat, recorded July 9, 1924 by Uncle Dave Macon.

Asch A 345 – The Wayfaring Stranger – 1944

On June 14, we commemorate anniversary of the birth of Burl Ives, star of stage, screen, radio, and records.

"The Wayfaring Stranger" by Burl Ives. Cover photograph bu Gjon Mili.

“The Wayfaring Stranger” by Burl Ives. Cover photograph bu Gjon Mili.

Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives (what a name) was born on June 14, 1909 near Hunt City in rural Illinois, one of seven children of Scots-Irish farmers Levi and Cordelia Ives.  As a child, while singing in his mother’s garden, he was discovered by his uncle, who invited him to sing at his old soldiers reunion.  Ives made his first recording in 1929, a test for the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana, makers of Gennett Records, though no record was issued, and the masters were destroyed.  After dropping out of college, Ives hoboed across the states as an itinerant folk songster during the Great Depression.  He began appearing on Terra Haute, Indiana’s WBOW around 1931, and in 1940, began hosting a radio show of his own, called The Wayfaring Stranger.  In 1938, he made his Broadway debut in Rodgers and Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse.  After working with the left leaning Almanac Singers in the early 1940s, Ives was drafted into the United States Army in 1942, receiving a medical discharge the following year.  Ives began his long career in motion pictures, appearing in the 1946 Western Smoky as a singing cowboy.  In the early 1950s, Ives was blacklisted as a suspected communist, and testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Throughout the 1950s onward, he continued to have a prolific career in music and pictures.  In 1964, he made his most enduring appearance in the Rankin/Bass television special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, narrating the program as Sam the Snowman.  Burl Ives died of cancer on April 14, 1995, at the age of eighty-five.

Asch album A 345 was recorded in 1944 and edited by Alan Lomax.  Try as I might, I can’t seem to locate a source giving the exact date.  Going by the matrix numbers, I’d venture it was recorded sometime early in that year, January or February, possibly even late in 1943.  It was re-issued on the Stinson label in 1947.

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Another Bluebird Dance Band Double Feature – B-5049 & B-5053 – 1933/1931

As I’m in the process of uploading this duo of early Bluebirds to my YouTube channel (which you should most definitely take a look at if you like this kind of music), it seems like a fine time to do another Bluebird Dance Band Double Feature.  Last time, I featured some of the sweet style of music that dominated pop music in the early 1930s, but this time I’ve got a couple of hotter bands for you, led by Paul Tremaine and Gene Kardos.

Bluebird B-5049 was recorded April 14, 1933 in New York City by Paul Tremaine and his Orchestra.  On the first side, they play sweeter on Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s “Stormy Weather”, which had recently been debuted in the Cotton Club Parade of 1933.  On the reverse, they play “Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane”, a remake of the rendition they had recorded for Columbia in February of 1930 (I’ll post the original sometime, too).

Bluebird B-5049, recorded April 14, 1933 by Paul Tremaine and his Orchestra.

Stormy Weather & Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane, recorded April 14, 1933 by Paul Tremaine and his Orchestra.

The two sides of Bluebird B-5053 were recorded on two different occasions.  The first side is another by Paul Tremaine, a wild “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain”, recorded at the same April 14, 1933 session.  That one is also a (considerably more frenetic) redo of one of their 1930 Columbia recordings. Be sure to listen for the little bit of “hinkle dinkle rooty too” between two of the choruses.

On the flip-side, Gene Kardos and his Orchestra play a hot rendition of Carson Robison’s “Left My Gal in the Mountains”, recorded June 10, 1931 and originally issued on Victor’s short-lived Timely Tunes budget label.  This was Kardos’ first session.  The band consists of Sammy Castin and Willie Mayer on trumpets, Milt Shaw on trombone, Gene Kardos on alto sax, Joe Sagora on clarinet and alto sax, Morris Cohen or Nat Brown on clarinet, alto sax, and tenor sax, Joel Shaw on piano, Albert Julian on guitar, Danny Bono or Ben Goldberg on tuba, and Saul Howard on drums.  The vocalist is Albert Julian

Bluebird B-5053, recorded

She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain & Left My Gal in the Mountains, recorded April 14, 1933 and June 10, 1931 by Paul Tremaine and his Orchestra and Gene Kardos and his Orchestra.

Updated on June 24, 2016.