Broadway 1140 – Devine’s Wisconsin Roof Orchestra – 1927

So I’m told that it’s International Jazz Day today.  I was unaware of the occasion, but I certainly can’t let it fall by the wayside, so here’s a real humdinger of a jazz record…

One of the best ways to experience the “real” jazz of the 1920s and 1930s is to seek out the oftentimes scarce records by the so-called “territory bands”, that being bands that traveled around various regions, usually by bus, gigging at dance halls, hotel ballrooms, and the occasional radio station.  I think it’s safe to assume that those bands played what the regular folks were interested in hearing.

Today’s disc comes from a fine Midwestern territory band that had the distinction of playing at Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Roof Garden, an open-air ballroom perched atop the Carpenter Building at 700 North 6th Street, owned and operated by George J. Devine, who lent his name to the band for many of their records.  The band, led by saxophone player and Kansas-native Bill Carlsen, was a hot one, playing in a style that we today might call “dixieland jazz” (at that time, of course, it was just “jazz”), with that hot and raucous sound common to Midwestern jazz bands.

Broadway 1140 was recorded in December of 1927 at Paramount’s Chicago studio by Devine’s Wisconsin Roof Orchestra, directed by Bill Carlsen (spelled Carlson on the label).  The band includes Dip Happe and Alec Alexander on trumpets, Ole Turner on trombone, Paul Peregrine, Harry Bortner and Bill Carlsen on reeds, Lee Simmons on piano, Ralph West on banjo, Chet Harding on tuba and Harry Pierce at the drums.  This record was also issued as Paramount 12599.

First, the band plays a fine rendition of the “New St. Louis Blues”, which, as it turns out, is actually the same old St. Louis Blues as always.  My speculation is that bands like this one titled it “new” to entice buyers that likely already owned a copy of the “old” St. Louis Blues.

New St. Louis Blues, recorded December 1927 by Devine's Wisconsin Roof Orchestra.

New St. Louis Blues, recorded December 1927 by Devine’s Wisconsin Roof Orchestra.

Next up, they play one of my all-time favorite versions of that classic (or as Satchmo might put it, “one of the good old good ones”), “Tiger Rag”.  This pressing is the first of two extant takes of this side.

Tiger Rag, recorded December 1927 by Devine's Wisconsin Roof Orchestra.

Tiger Rag, recorded December 1927 by Devine’s Wisconsin Roof Orchestra.

Black Swan 2005 – Lulu Whidby – 1921

In honor of Black History Month, I present to you a Black Swan phonograph record, from the first line “race records” made by and for African American people, featuring the early sounds of vaudevillian female blues, with an early appearance by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

The story of Black Swan began during the Harlem Renaissance in 1920, when few black entertainers were afforded opportunities to record for any of the major record labels.  A man by the name of Harry Herbert Pace, previously a business partner of W.C. Handy, founded the Pace Phonograph Corporation in New York, and began to produce phonographs and records.  Pace also brought in a young song plugger from Handy’s company to serve as recording director and leader of the house orchestra, Fletcher Henderson.  Early on, Pace had difficulty finding a company that would agree to press records from the masters he recorded.  Eventually, Pace was able to contract his record pressing to the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin, makers of Paramount records.  From 1921 to 1923, Black Swan offered records recorded by black entertainers and intended for black audiences.  Some of the top artists on Black Swan included Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, and W.C. Handy’s Band.  Unfortunately, the company folded at the end of 1923, and all of their assets were purchased by Paramount Records, who began their 12000 legendary race records series shortly thereafter, reissuing many recordings from Black Swan on some of the earliest releases.

Black Swan 2005 was recorded circa April 1921 in New York City by Lulu Whidby with Henderson’s Novelty Orchestra.  It was later reissued on Paramount 12127, and also appeared on Claxtonola 40055.  The early Fletcher Henderson band includes Chink Johnson or George Brashear on trombone, Edgar Campbell on clarinet, probably Cordy Williams on violin, Fletcher Henderson on piano, and possibly John Mitchell or Sam Speed on banjo; the trumpet and tuba players are unknown.  It has been suggested that Garvin Bushell played clarinet at this session, but he did not recall participating.

It has been suggested that the standard 78.26 RPM is too fast for this record, and I can agree to that.  If anyone has a suggestion as to what the correct speed may be, I’ll add new transfers with it corrected.

First, Lulu Whidby sings the classic Harry Creamer and Turner Layton song, “Strut Miss Lizzie”.

Strut Miss Lizzie

Strut Miss Lizzie, recorded circa April 1921 by Lulu Whidby.

On the reverse, Whidby sings Irving Berlin’s “Home Again Blues”.  Henderson’s orchestra really shines on this one.


Home Again Blues, recorded circa April 1921 by Lulu Whidby.

Paramount 14012 – Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra – 1927

In celebration of the 118th anniversary of Smack Henderson’s birth, here is a record I searched for long and hard, before I was fortunate enough to find this 1940s John Steiner reissue.  This near mint dub trades some of its audio fidelity for a much cleaner and smoother surface than I’d be likely to find on the original Paramount issue, which was once speculated in 78 Quarterly to have “less than ten copies.”

Paramount 14012 was recorded May 11, 1927 in New York City and was originally issued on Paramount 12486. This issue is a 1948 dub made by record collector and producer John Steiner. The band features the talent of Joe and Russell Smith on trumpet, Benny Morton on trombone, Buster Bailey and Don Redman on clarinet and alto sax, Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax and clarinet, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Charlie Dixon on banjo, June Cole on tuba, and Kaiser Marshall on drums. The label erroneously credits Tommy Ladnier, who does not play on this record.

“Swamp Blues” tops my list of all-time favorite jazz recordings, and was the reason for my purchasing the record.

Swamp Blues,

Swamp Blues, recorded May 11, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

Perhaps even hotter than the previous, “Off to Buffalo” is another superb jazz side, not to be confused with the similarly titled Warren and Dubin song “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” from Forty-Second Street.

Off To Buffalo, recorded May 11, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.

Off To Buffalo, recorded May 11, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

Updated with Improved audio on June 19, 2017.

Broadway 8114 – Harkins and Moran – 1927

I’ve been featuring a lot of jazz recently, and I think it’s about time for a change of pace, so today I offer this old time country record for your enjoyment.

When I bought my VV 4-4 Victrola a while back, along with it came a collection of about sixty or seventy records in the Victrola’s original albums.  Most of these records were standard popular fare of the 1920s: Gene Austin, Waring’s Pennsylvanians, and plenty of waltzes.  However, as I flipped to the last couple of pages in one album, I discovered three records on the Broadway label, which are always fun to find.  One of them was a popular song pairing, the other two were old time fiddle records.

This one, Broadway 8114 is credited to “Harkins and Moran”, an alliterative pseudonym for actual artists Sid Harkreader, fiddle and Grady Moore, guitar.  It was recorded in June of 1927 at the Chicago studios of the New York Recording Laboratories (of Paramount fame).  It was also issued on Paramount 3023, and “John Henry” was issued on Herwin 75532 with different backing.

The duo’s fine rendition of the old folk song “John Henry” is marred by a large edge flake that necessitated a small amount of audio restoration, but I think it cleaned up fairly well.  The same set of lyrics was sung by Harkreader’s associate Uncle Dave Macon in his memorable rendition.

John Henry, recorded June 1927 by Harkins and Moran.

John Henry, recorded June 1927 by Harkins and Moran.

On the flip side, Harkreader and Moore play the classic “Old Joe”, a track that was featured on Volume 2 of Yazoo’s compilation, “Times Ain’t Like They Used To Be: Early American Rural Music”.  Real fine fiddle music.

Old Joe, recorded in June 1927 by Harkins and Moran.

Old Joe, recorded June 1927 by Harkins and Moran.

Updated with improved audio on July 20, 2017.

Paramount 12872 – Blind Lemon Jefferson – 1929

A crop of the only known photograph of Lemon Jefferson, as was pictured in the Paramount Book of Blues.

On this day, we celebrate the probable birthday of the great blues man Blind Lemon Jefferson, so for this momentous occasion, I present to you a great treasure of the Old Time Blues collection, which happened to have been recorded on Lemon’s thirty-sixth birthday.

Lemon Henry Jefferson was born most likely on September 24, 1893 (though, as is so often the case with early blues people, this date is disputed), one of seven children born to a family of poor sharecroppers in Coutchman, Texas (or “Couchman” as the locals seem to spell it, though the former is correct according to the Texas Almanac), near Tehuacana Creek and about five miles west of Streetman, in Freestone County.  He was blind from infancy, though the full extent of his visual impairment is debatable—some, including Victoria Spivey, have suggested that he may have had limited sight, and he was reputed to have been able to fire a gun with considerable accuracy.  Lemon took up the guitar in his teens and played at picnics and rent parties, or “booger roogers” as he called them, in East Texas.  He later took up in Dallas, and in the 1910s worked frequently in Deep Ellum, often playing with fellow musicians such as Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Alger “Texas” Alexander.  In late 1925 or early ’26, a time when most of recorded blues consisted of the vaudevillian variety of women singing with a jazz band backing, Blind Lemon traveled to Chicago to record for Paramount records.  Between 1926 and 1929, Jefferson recorded around a hundred songs for Paramount, and made one additional record with Okeh.  In addition to recording, Lemon also gigged all around the southeastern United States, along the way meeting other blues musicians like King Solomon Hill, who would later record as “Blind Lemon’s Buddy”.  Blind Lemon Jefferson died under mysterious circumstances in Chicago at 10:00 AM on December 19, 1929, Paramount paid for his body to be shipped back to Texas, where he was buried in the Wortham Negro Cemetery.

Paramount 12872, featuring “Bed Springs Blues” and “Yo Yo Blues”, was recorded September 24, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois, Lemon’s birthday.  This proved to be Blind Lemon Jefferson’s final recording session.  The condition’s pretty rough on this one, but I think the music still comes through.  Now, two years after my original posting, a new Grado cartridge has facilitated a much finer quality of transfers than my originals.  Though still plagued by some groove stripping and plenty of pops and clicks, they are now much crisper and clearer, and those pesky skips have been all-but-eliminated.

First, Lemon’s “Bed Springs Blues” provides an excellent demonstration of Lemon’s unique style of playing guitar.

Bed Springs Blues, recorded September -, 1929 by Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Bed Springs Blues, recorded September 24, 1929 by Blind Lemon Jefferson.

On the flip, Lemon performs his own “Yo Yo Blues”.  A number of songs carrying the same title were recorded around the same period—most notably by Barbecue Bob—opening with “got up this morning, my yo-yo mama was gone,” but Lemon’s is a different song, instead starting with “I would go yo-yoin’, but I broke my yo-yo string.”

Yo Yo Blues, recorded September -,1929 by Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Yo Yo Blues, recorded September 24, 1929 by Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Updated with improved audio on July 28, 2017.