Montgomery Ward M-4244 – Gene Autry – 1931

Gene Autry, pictured in his Sensational Collection of Famous Original Cowboy Songs and Mountain Ballads, 1932.

It would not be exaggeration in the slightest to call Gene Autry a true American hero.  From humble roots, he got his start in the show business covering Jimmie Rodgers’ hits for other record labels, but soon proved his own merit as a prolific songwriter and talented musician.  Before long, he broke into Hollywood in a series B-Westerns and rose not only to become one of America’s earliest “superstars”, but the idolization of millions of adoring fans.  His shrewd business sense made him a multi-millionaire by the time of his retirement at the age of only fifty-seven, and surely one of the only twentieth century entertainers to have a town named after him.

Gene was born Orvon Grover Eugene Autry in Tioga, Texas, on September 29, 1907, son of Delbert and Elnora Autry.  The family moved a few miles north to the towns of Achille and Ravia, Oklahoma, when Gene was a child, and when not preoccupied with song he spent time in his youth helping out on his father’s farm.  In 1941, the nearby town of Berwyn was renamed “Gene Autry” in his honor.  Autry took up the guitar at the age of twelve on a model from the Sears-Roebuck catalog.  After graduating from high school, he got a job working as a telegrapher for the Frisco Line.  He often played his guitar and sang to pass the time during slow hours on the job, a habit which gained him the attention of a notable passer-through: Will Rogers.  Rogers liked Autry’s music, and recommended that he go to New York to make records.  Autry did just that in the fall of 1928, but he was turned down by Victor A&R man Nat Shilkret on the grounds that the company had only just signed two similar artists (one of whom may have been Jimmie Rodgers, who had only begun his recording career the previous summer).  Shilkret suggested that Autry seek work on the radio instead, and that he did.  Upon his return home to Oklahoma, Autry began singing on KVOO in Tulsa as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy”.  He made his triumphant return to New York the very next fall, and this time he found success.  With Frankie and Johnny Marvin accompanying, he cut two sides for Victor in duet with frequent collaborator Jimmy Long.  Thereafter, he began recording prolifically for a variety of record labels, beginning with a session for Gennett, the masters of which were sold to Grey Gull and Cova’s QRS label.  He then signed on with Columbia for a short time, mostly appearing on their budget labels singing dimestore imitations of Jimmie Rodgers’ songs.  In 1930, he joined the cast of the National Barn Dance on Sears-Roebuck’s radio station WLS in Chicago.  The same year, he began his long association with the American Record Corporation, appearing on their many dimestore labels and still covering Rodgers, but increasingly producing his own original material.  It was that arrangement that brought him his first big hit in 1931: “That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine”.  Meanwhile, he continued to record occasionally for Victor and Gennett until going exclusive with the ARC in 1933.  The following year, while singing on the radio with Smiley Burnette, he was “discovered” by Hollywood big-shot Nat Levine and selected to appear in an uncredited role in the Ken Maynard western picture In Old Santa Fe.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Montgomery Ward M-4244 was recorded in two sessions in New York City, the first on February 12, 1931, and the second on March 31 of the same year.  Side “A” was originally issued on Victor 23548 (which sold 1,901 copies) and “B” on Victor 23589 (which sold only 1,537).  Autry accompanies himself on guitar on both sides, and his joined on steel guitar by his friend Frankie Marvin on the first.

The rollicking and raunchy “Do Right Daddy Blues” is a distant cry from Autry’s typically mild and genial cowboy songs of later years, instead more resembling one of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” songs with their characteristic braggadocio and hint of machismo.  Two takes of this number exist, though this one—take “1”—was the only issued originally; the second take was released as part of Bluebird/BMG’s 2004 compilation East Virginia Blues, in their When the Sun Goes Down series examining the “secret history” of rock ‘n’ roll.  Autry also recorded a version of the song for the American Record Corporation’s dimestore labels (Perfect, Banner, Romeo, etc.) two months later, and he followed up with a different version for Victor’s short lived Timely Tunes offshoot and sequel titled “Don’t Do Me That Way” (and subtitled “Do Right Daddy Blues No. 2”) at the same session in which he recorded the “B” side of the record presented herein.  The song was later picked up by western swinger Leon Chappelear, who recorded it first as “New Do Right Daddy” in 1937, and again as “I’m a Do Right Daddy” in 1951.

Do Right Daddy Blues, recorded February 18, 1931 by Gene Autry.

On “High Steppin’ Mama”, Autry shows us just how much inspiration he drew from Jimmie Rodgers in his early career, presenting a song that sounds like it could have come straight from the Blue Yodeler himself—equally in content as in style.

High Steppin’ Mama, recorded March 31, 1931 by Gene Autry.

Montgomery Ward M-7085 – Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers/Bolick Bros. – 1936

In the city of New York, on the twenty-sixth of May, 1933, the famous Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers, met his untimely end at the age of only thirty-five.  Suffering a fatal pulmonary hemorrhage in his room in the Taft Hotel, he had finally succumbed to the T.B. that had dogged him since 1924.  He had completed his final recording session only two days earlier.

Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers, pictured in the 1937 Bluebird catalog.

In the wake of Jimmie Rodgers’ demise, the spirit of great Blue Yodeler was eulogized in a considerable volume of tribute songs.  Among them, cowboy star and former Rodgers cover artist Gene Autry made a two part record honoring his late inspiration, future Texas governor and senator W. Lee O’Daniel penned another one that was recorded by his Light Crust Doughboys, but surely the most heartfelt of all the tributes was by Rodgers’ own widow, Mrs. Carrie Williamson Rodgers.

It was three years after her husband’s death when she first entered a recording studio, one operated by the same company for whom her husband had made so many records—RCA Victor—set up temporarily in a hotel in San Antonio, the city Rodgers had called home in the last years of his life.  She brought with her a burgeoning young radio singer, one of the legion of devotees of her late husband, whom she had befriended after he contacted her for an autographed picture of the famed singer; his name was Ernest Tubb.  He made six sides at those sessions, his first; she made only one.  Her lone recording was a touching original composition dedicated to Jimmie, with Tubb backing on Rodgers’ famous custom Martin 000-45 guitar, emblazoned with “Jimmie Rodgers” in pearl lettering inlaid across the fretboard, and “Blue Yodel” on the headstock.  The following year, Mrs. Rodgers returned to the microphone with Tubb—and his buddy Merwyn Buffington—accompanying to make one more side: “My Rainbow Trail Keeps Winding On”, only tangentially related to Jimmie.  She bookended her scant recording career many years later, all the way in 1956, when she met with the reunited original Carter Family at the site of the famous Bristol Sessions, where Jimmie and the Carters made their first records, to record “Mrs. Jimmy [sic] Rodgers Visits the Carter Family”, a sequel to 1931’s “Jimmie Rodgers Visits the Carter Family”.  Carrie remained in San Antonio for the rest of her years, and never remarried.  She died there from complications of colon cancer on November 28, 1961, at the age of fifty-nine.

Montgomery Ward M-7085, a split release, was recorded in two separate sessions: the first side on October 26, 1936, in San Antonio, Texas, and the second on the thirteenth of the same month and year in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Side “A” was also issued on Bluebird B-6698, backed with Jimmie Rodgers and Sara Carter duetting on “Why There’s a Tear in My Eye”, and a year or so later on another Montgomery Ward, M-7279, backed with Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers’ only other song.  Side “B” was also released on Bluebird B-6808 with another side by the same artists.

Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers, by her own admission, was no singer, but she succeeded nonetheless in delivering a heartrending performance on her tribute to her late husband: “We Miss Him When the Evening Shadows Fall”.  Whatever she may have lacked in ability, she made up for with sincerity.  Carrie is accompanied, as the label states, “on Jimmie Rodgers’ own guitar,” played by the Blue Yodeler’s posthumous protégé Ernest Tubb.

We Miss Him When the Evening Shadows Fall, recorded October 26, 1936 by Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers.

On the reverse, the Bolick Brothers—Earl, on guitar, and Bill, on mandolin—better known as the proto-bluegrass duo the Blue Sky Boys, deliver an inspirational message in the gospel song “I Believe It”.

I Believe It, recorded October 13, 1936 by the Bolick Bros.

Montgomery Ward M-4225 – The Carter Family – 1932/1928

With all due apologies for Old Time Blues unintended ten day hiatus, we hope now to return to regular posting. And what better a note to return on than these great classics by the one and only Carter Family, in honor of Sara Carter, born on this day 118 years ago.

Sara Elizabeth Dougherty was born in Copper Creek, Virginia on July 21, 1898 to William and Nancy Dougherty.  In 1915, she married Alvin Pleasant (A.P.) Carter, with whom she had three children, Gladys, Janette, and Joe.  In the 1920s, Sara began performing traditional folk songs with her husband and cousin Maybelle as the Carter Family.  In August of 1927, they came to Bristol, Tennessee to record for the first time in a series of sessions organized by Ralph S. Peer for the Victor Talking Machine Company.  At the Bristol Sessions, the Carter Family recorded six sides, four on the first and two on the second of August.  Their first record, “Poor Orphan Child” and “The Wandering Boy” was issued on Victor 20877 in December of 1927, with considerable success, and their second, “Single Girl, Married Girl” and “The Storms are On the Ocean” on Victor 20937, found even greater popularity.  In May of 1928, they ventured to Victor’s facilities in Camden, New Jersey for another session, with many more coming thereafter.  As the group reached their peak, Sara’s powerful singing—initially quite high, and later maturing into the deep, low voice for which she was known—provided a heart and soul to their music, perfectly complimented by Maybelle’s guitar playing.

In 1932, the Carters experienced marital strife, when Sara began having an affair with her A.P.’s cousin Coy Bayes while her husband was away on one of his many long trips to “discover” new material for the family, separating him from Sara for weeks or months at a time.  They divorced in 1936, but the original Carter Family stuck together until 1943, after which Sara married A.P.’s cousin and moved to California, where she retired from music.  A.P., Maybelle, and the kids returned home to Maces Spring, Virginia, where he opened a store, and she continued to pursue a musical career.  Sara later made a small comeback during the folk revival of the 1960s with Maybelle, but she never regained what she had in the old days, and indeed she probably never wanted to.  Sara Carter died in California at the age of 80 on January 8, 1979.

Montgomery Ward M-4225 was recorded in two separate sessions, the first on May 9, 1928, and the second on October 14, 1932, both in Camden, New Jersey.  The trio sings while Sara plays autoharp and Maybelle plays guitar.  They were originally issued on Victor 21434 and 23776.  This Montgomery Ward issue was pressed from the original masters.

The Carter Family’s classic rendition of the old standard “Keep On the Sunny Side” could be compared to Jimmie Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel” as a song that became indelibly associated with them, serving as their theme song when they performed on border blaster radio, and later inscribed as the epitaph on both Sara and A.P. Carter’s gravestones. Also like Rodgers’ “Blue Yodel”, it was recorded at the Carters’ first session after the Bristol Sessions.

Keep On the Sunny Side

Keep On the Sunny Side, recorded May 9, 1928 by the Carter Family.

“The Church in the Wildwood” is a song that I recollect fondly from my own childhood, and unsurprisingly the Carters’ rendition is a pleasure to hear.  Fittingly, this side was recorded in Victor’s Camden, New Jersey church studio.

The Church in the Wildwood

The Church in the Wildwood, recorded October 14, 1932 by the Carter Family.

Updated on June 1, 2018.

Montgomery Ward M-4415 – Jimmie Rodgers – 1933

On this day, the twenty-fourth of May, in the year of 1933, America’s Blue Yodeler cut his last records.  With the nation in the grip of the Great Depression in 1933, the economic state prohibited Victor from continuing to make field trips to record in the South, so Jimmie had to travel to the studios in New York.  By ’33, Jimmie was not in good health; tuberculosis had gotten the better of him, and cross country travel would do his health no favors.  During his final sessions, he had to lie down and rest in-between takes, and relied on studio musicians for accompaniment on many of his final recordings.  Only two days after making his final recordings, Jimmie Rodgers expired in his room at the Taft Hotel of a pulmonary hemorrhage.

Montgomery M-4415 was recorded May 18 and May 24, 1933 in New York City.  The latter of which turned out to be Jimmie’s final session.  It was originally issued on Bluebird B-5281, this issue was pressed from those masters and sold through the Montgomery Ward catalog.  Despite his failing health, Jimmie maintained a strong voice for most of these sides, and accompanies himself on guitar on both.

Jimmie Rodgers’ famous series of “Blue Yodels” began in 1927 with “T for Texas”, and concluded here with the thirteenth song in the series, the fittingly titled “Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel”, or “The Women Make a Fool Out of Me”.

Jimmie Rodgers' Last Blue Yodel

Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel, recorded May 18, 1933 by Jimmie Rodgers.

In 1927, Jimmie Rodgers began his recording career in Bristol, Tennessee with “The Soldier’s Sweetheart”.  In 1933, he concluded that career with “Years Ago”.

Years Ago

Years Ago, recorded May 24, 1933 by Jimmie Rodgers.