Okeh 05476 – Blind Boy Fuller – 1940

One of the most commercially successful blues artists of the 1930s, along with the likes of Big Bill, Josh White, and Peetie Wheatstraw, was Blind Boy Fuller, who cut 130 sides—both low down blues and peppy rags—between 1935 and 1940.

The artist who would become Blind Boy Fuller was born Fulton Allen on July 10, 1907 (or 1904, according to some sources) in Wadesboro, North Carolina, one of ten children born to May Jane Walker and Calvin Allen.  He learned field hollers and old time songs from his elders, and took up the guitar.  As a result of untreated neonatal conjunctivitis, Allen began to lose his sight in his teenage years, and was totally blind by the end of the 1920s.  Unable to continue working manual labor, he turned to performance, playing street corners, rent parties, and the like, eventually settling in Durham, North Carolina.  There, he developed a following amongst the local musicians, including Bull City Red, Sonny Terry, and Dipper Boy Council, with whom he would later record.  In 1935, J.B. Long, manager of the United Dollar Store discovered Allen, and arranged for him to record for the American Record Corporation in New York City as “Blind Boy Fuller”, along with Bull City Red and Rev. Blind Gary Davis.  Fuller made his debut in four sessions from July 23 to 26, 1935.  He would return to New York seven times, and also travel to Columbia, South Carolina, Memphis, Tennessee, and Chicago, adding up to a total of twenty-three sessions (if my count is correct) between 1935 and 1940 for the ARC, plus two in 1937 for Decca.  He was scheduled to appear in John Hammond’s From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938, but was unable to make it, as he was in jail for shooting at his wife (no small feat for a blind man).  Sonny Terry substituted for him.  Fuller’s health was in decline by the early 1940s, owing to a heavy alcohol intake causing him kidney troubles, and he had his last record date on June 19, 1940, in Chicago.  Following a period of infirmity, Fuller died of pyemia on February 13, 1941.

Okeh 05476 was recorded on March 5 and 6, 1940 in New York City by Blind Boy Fuller.  On the former, Fuller is accompanied on washboard by Bull City Red (real name George Washington, also known as “Oh Red”).  It was originally issued on Vocalion with the same catalog number.

On the first side, Fuller does one of his best remembered rag tunes, the classic boogie number “Step it Up and Go”, with some lively picking on his National Duolian.

Step It Up and Go

Step it Up and Go, recorded on March 5, 1940 by Blind Boy Fuller.

On the flip, he plays a little bluer on “Little Woman You’re So Sweet”, with a tune in the “Sitting On Top of the World” family.  If you ask me, these lyrics are nothing to write home about, but the delivery is top-notch!

Little Woman You're So Sweet

Little Woman You’re So Sweet, recorded on March 6, 1940 by Blind Boy Fuller.

Columbia 2958-D – Benny Goodman and his Music Hall Orchestra – 1934

Benny Goodman, as pictured in Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944.

The first birthday ever celebrated on Old Time Blues was the legendary Benny Goodman’s.  Now the time has come around once again to pay tribute to one of the most important musical figures of the twentieth century, and one of my own favorites, the one and only King of Swing.

Benjamin David Goodman was born on May 30, 1909, the ninth of twelve children of David and Dora Goodman, a family of poor Jewish immigrants in Chicago, Illinois, a pivotal location in the development of jazz.  Goodman’s father took him to free concerts on the weekends, and enrolled him in twenty-five cent music lessons at the local synagogue.  He later took clarinet lessons under a classically trained professional.  Benny soon joined the boy’s club band at the Hull House.  He first played professionally in 1921, and joined Ben Pollack’s Orchestra at the age of sixteen, with whom he made his first commercial recordings in 1926.

In 1928, Goodman made his first records under his own name for Vocalion and Brunswick as “Bennie Goodman’s Boys”.  By that time, he had already recorded quite extensively, and continued to work prolifically as a studio musician until forming his own orchestra.  After making a series of dance band recordings for Brunswick’s Melotone label in 1930 and ’31, and one date with Columbia the same year, Goodman, with the help of John Hammond, who arranged for a series of sessions for Columbia, put together the first incarnation of the band that would make him famous in 1933.  With Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa, and others in-and-out, Goodman’s new band played swing.  In June of 1934, Goodman and his orchestra opened at Billy Rose’s new Music Hall at 52nd and Broadway, and secured a spot on the NBC radio show Let’s Dance.  With need to expand his repertoire as a result of his newfound success, Goodman began purchasing sophisticated arrangements from Fletcher Henderson. In 1935, Goodman’s orchestra switched from the failing Columbia to Victor Records, which soon produced a hit with “King Porter Stomp”.

On August 21, 1935, Benny Goodman’s orchestra kicked off the swing era with a famous engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California.  In 1937, Goodman and his orchestra appeared in The Big Broadcast of 1937 and Hollywood Hotel.  As Goodman’s popularity continued to soar, Goodman earned the distinction of leading the first jazz ensemble to play at Carnegie Hall, at his legendary concert on January 16, 1938.  In addition to his orchestra, Goodman also led small groups, his famous Trios, Quartets, and Sextets.  Goodman refuted segregation, employing the likes of Charlie Christian, Lionel Hampton, and Teddy Wilson, once stating, “If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice.”  At various points, his band employed the enticing vocals of Helen Ward, Martha Tilton, and Peggy Lee, among many others.  In 1939, he left Victor to return to Columbia, which had been purchased and revived by CBS, with his band appearing on first issue of the revived label.  His success did not falter through the end of the swing era in the middle of the 1940s.  Even after swing had swung, Goodman was still in demand as a revered jazz musician.  In 1947, he switched labels once again, to Johnny Mercer’s Capitol Records.  He made forays into bebop, cool jazz, and classical music.  Benny Goodman continued to play until his death from a heart attack on June 13, 1986.

Columbia 2958-D was recorded on August 16, 1934 in New York City.  In the band are Russ Case, Jerry Neary, and Sam Shapiro on trumpets, Red Ballard and Jack Lacey on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Hymie Schertzer and Ben Kantor on alto sax, Arthur Rollini on tenor sax, Claude Thornhill on piano, George Van Eps on guitar, Hank Wayland on string bass, and Sammy Weiss on drums.  As indicated by the “Music Hall” appellation, this record dates to Goodman’s stretch at Billy Rose’s Music Hall.

First up is Benny Goodman’s amazingly energetic first recording of “Bugle Call Rag”, most certainly my favorite recording of the standard.  Goodman recorded another notable version for Victor in 1936, and it remained a staple of his repertoire.

Bugle Call Rag, recorded August 16, 1934 by Benny Goodman and his Music Hall Orchestra.

On the other side, Will Hudson’s “Nitwit Serenade” borrows a famous part from the ArmstrongOliver jazz standard “Dipper Mouth Blues”.

Nitwit Serenade, recorded August 16, 1934 by Benny Goodman and his Music Hall Orchestra.

Victor V-38079 – Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra – 1929

A portrait of a young Ellington.  Circa late 1920s.

Last time we commemorated the anniversary of the birth of the legendary Duke Ellington, born  April 29, 1899, with his famous “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)”; this time we celebrate with one of his classic hot jazz records of the 1920s.  Ellington’s life has already been covered in that post, so I needn’t go over it again in this one.

Duke Ellington made his motion picture debut in 1929, along with Fredi Washington of Imitation of Life fame, in the Harlem Renaissance jazz film Black and Tan (see here for an exceptional transfer of the film on YouTube).  In it, Ellington plays a down-on-his-luck bandleader, whose ailing girlfriend—played by Washington (whom he was reportedly dating in real life at the time)—finds him employment at a nightclub, where she succumbs to her illness while performing a dance routine.  Ellington and his band play such jazz classics as the titular “Black and Tan Fantasy”, “Black Beauty”, “The Duke Steps Out”, and “Cotton Club Stomp”.  Not too long after, Duke and his band traveled to Hollywood for their first “big time” movie appearance in the Amos ‘n’ Andy feature Check and Double Check.  One of only a handful of films of that type, I fully recommend viewing Black and Tan.

Victor V-38079 was recorded on May 3, 1929 in New York City.  Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra is made up of Arthur Whetsel, Cootie Williams, and Freddie Jenkins on trumpet, “Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor sax, Johnny Hodges on clarinet, alto sax, and soprano sax, Harry Carney on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, Duke Ellington on piano, Fred Guy on banjo, Wellman Braud on string bass, and Sonny Greer on drums.

First up, Ellington and the boys get hot on the outstanding “Cotton Club Stomp”.  This stomp is one of the pieces played by Ellington and his orchestra in Black and Tan, in which it is danced by Fredi Washington.

, Cotton Club Stomp, recorded May 3, 1929 by Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.

Next, they play a late oriental fox trot, “Arabian Lover”, from the Cotton Club Revue.

Arabian Lover, recorded may 3, 1929 by Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.

Oriole 8159 – Joshua White – 1932

In blues and folk music, one figure that stands out among the rest is Josh White, who rose from poverty to become one of the most popular Piedmont blues players of the 1930s, and eventually a major force in the folk music scene of the 1940s.

Joshua Daniel White was born on February 11, 1914 in Greenville, South Carolina, one of four children in a religious family.  When Joshua was a child, his father was beaten severely and later admitted to an asylum after evicting a white bill collector from his home.  Not long after, the young Joshua began acting as a “lead man” for blind musicianer “Big Man” John Henry Arnold, and later for other blind musicians, including Blind Blake, Blind Joe Taggart, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.  While on the road with those accomplished bluesmen, the young White picked up their guitar stylings, and soon became an accomplished player of the instrument.  His talent was recognized in 1928 by Paramount Records’ J. Mayo “Ink” Williams, who hired him to record as a session player, backing up Taggart and white country musicians the Carver Boys.  In the early 1930s, White was tracked down by the American Record Corporation to make records for their budget labels.  His mother allowed him to record for them on the condition that he did not play the “devil’s music”—blues.  White had his first session for the ARC on April 6, 1932, recording both blues and sacred music under his own name and the pseudonym “Pinewood Tom”.  Though only a teenager, White became one of the most popular Piedmont blues musicians of the day, along with Buddy Moss and Blind Boy Fuller.  Early in 1936 however, he was forced to temporarily retire from music after an injury in a bar fight, caused him to lose the use of his left hand.  After a stint as a dock worker and elevator boy, White regained full use of the hand during a card game, and returned to music.  By the 1940s, White’s style had shifted toward folk music, ascending to a status contemporaneous of Lead Belly, and he recorded with the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie with the Almanac Singers, and the Golden Gate Quartet.  He also became an accompanist to torch singer Libby Holman in an unusual pairing.  During those years, White became the closest black friend of the Roosevelts, beginning with their meeting in 1940.  His left-leaning politics gained him trouble with McCarthyism in the late 1940s, harming his career.  Later in life, White was plagued by a worsening painful fingernail condition.  He died of heart failure in 1969.

Oriole 8159 was recorded on April 12, 1932 in New York City by Joshua White, one of his earliest sessions for the ARC.  On both sides, White is accompanied by an unknown piano player.  It was also issued on Perfect 0213 and Banner 32527.

First up, White sings “Lazy Black Snake Blues”, with the eighteen year old singer moaning that “he’s so doggone old.”

Lazy Black Snake Blues

Lazy Black Snake Blues, recorded April 12, 1932 by Joshua White.

On the other side, White sings of woes with his woman on “Downhearted Man Blues”.  A common theme in the blues.

Downhearted Man Blues

Downhearted Man Blues, recorded April 12, 1932 by Johsua White.

A Gene Autry Christmas Double Feature – Columbia 20377 & 38610 – 1947/1949

Old Time Blues wishes everyone a very merry Christmas! 1911 Postcard.

That special time of the year has come around once again.  Last year we celebrated with Harry Reser’s band, and what better way to celebrate this holiday season than with these four Christmas classics sung by our old pal Gene Autry.

Columbia 20377, in the hillbilly series, was recorded on August 28, 1947 and released on October 6 of the same year.  First up, Gene Autry sings his own Christmas classic, “Here Comes Santa Claus (Down Santa Claus Lane)”.  On the reverse, he sings the charming “An Old-Fashioned Tree”.

Here Comes Santa Clause (Down Santa Claus Lane) and An Old-Fashioned Tree, recorded August 28, 1947 by Gene Autry.

The first side of Columbia 38610 was recorded on June 27, 1949, the second sometime in July of the same year.  Autry is accompanied by the Pinafores on both sides.  First, Gene sings Johnny Marks’ classic song about the beloved character created for Montgomery Ward in 1939, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  Next, on “If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas” Autry ponders how Santa Claus will make out in his sleigh it there’s no snow.  Ol’ Gene seems to have forgotten that the sleigh is flight capable.

Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer and If It Doesn’t Snow On Christmas, recorded June 27 and July, 1949 by Gene Autry and the Pinafores.