Flexo – Jack Riley’s Orchestra – 1927

This Flexo disc in its original paper sleeve.

This Flexo disc in its original paper sleeve.

The unusual disc we have here is one of those extraordinarily uncommon and equally intriguing Flexo records, a slightly smaller than usual disc pressed in flexible translucent plastic of some sort.

The first line of Flexo Records rolled off the press in Kansas City in 1925, an invention of one Jesse J. Warner.  They were originally produced by the Warner Record Company until 1927, when Warner presumably joined forces with someone with a name ending in “bine” to form the Wabine Company, which continued to produce the records until 1929.  Some of the earliest recordings feature hot jazz by Johnnie Campbell’s orchestra, and many of the Kansas City Flexos contain religious music, many of them labeled “Unity”.  The sleeve of this one mentions the Unity School of Christianity, though the music is secular.  In ’29, Warner moved the production of Flexo records to San Francisco, where they were produced by Pacific Coast Records.  The California Flexos feature recordings by dance bands such as that of Jack Coakley, and interviews with popular Hollywood personalities of the day, including one with Norma Shearer.

Flexo matrices 845 and 848 make up this disc, the record itself is not given a catalog number.  Given the titles, these two sides were most likely recorded in mid-1927, and were produced by the second entity to make Flexos, the Wabine Comapny.  The sound quality would suggest they were recorded by either an excellent acoustical recording process or a rudimentary electrical one.  Both feature instrumental fox-trots of two popular hits of ’27, played with plenty of pep and excitement.  It is plausible that this was distributed at gigs by Riley’s orchestra.

Jack Riley’s orchestra was a distinguished but scarcely recorded band from Kansas City, Missouri.  In the 1910s, Riley’s orchestra had the distinction of having a young drummer in their ranks by the name of Carleton Coon, a man that would go on to become one half of the leadership of America’s favorite radio band, Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra.  Riley’s orchestra was still active as late as 1937.

First, Jack Riley’s Kansas City territory band plays a delightful rendition of the classic tune “Side By Side”.

Side By Side

Side By Side, recorded 1927 by Jack Riley’s Orch.

Interestingly, this side is labeled differently than the first, written in Spanish, and credited to the “Mexo-Flexo Co.”  This side features “Me and My Shadow”.

Me and My Shadow

Me and My Shadow, recorded 1927 by Jack Riley’s Orch.

Updated with improved audio on May 13, 2018.

Superior 2815 – Happy Joe Hill – 1932

This record, featuring two guitar-accompanied popular songs by one Happy Joe Hill, was recorded by the Starr Piano Company quite late in their history, at a point when the Great Depression had all but killed off sales completely.  The Superior label was introduced by Starr Piano around the time their Gennett label disappeared from the market.  With the Great Depression only getting worse as time passed, all the record companies were in bad shape financially, the Starr Piano Company especially so, and as such, Superior records aren’t very commonly encountered.

Happy Joe Hill—per George Kay’s Superior Catalog published in Record Research—was a pseudonym for Harold J. Leslie.  Leslie recorded four titles for the Starr Piano Company in 1932, consisting of “‘Leven Pounds of Heaven” and “I Wanna Count Sheep (Till the Cows Come Home)”, issued on Superior 2803 and Champion 16404, and “Rhymes” and “I Could Expect it From Anyone but You”, issued on Superior 2815 and Champion 16413.  His releases on the Champion label were credited as Jack Leslie.  With a single guitar backing lending to a more rural, folksy feel, his songs differ a bit from most of the standard pop fare of the period, and make for fairly interesting listening.  Compare to Charlie Palloy’s solo recordings for Crown records in 1933, at a time when that company was near its end.  Whether or not he intentionally borrowed his performing name from the union agitator of the same name I do not know.  Outside of his brief recording career, I can find no details regarding Leslie’s life, professional or private.  If anyone out there has any information regarding “Happy Joe Hill”, please comment, I’d love to know.

Superior 2815 was recorded in March of 1932 by Happy Joe Hill, accompanied by guitar, likely his own.  Unless I’m misinterpreting the data in Kay’s Superior Catalog, it shipped out a total of only forty-two copies!

The first side of this record features Happy Joe’s very polite and sincere rendition of Leslie Sarony’s “Rhymes”, with somewhat Americanized lyrics.  I’ll eventually post the version by Jack Hylton’s Orchestra here too, so you can compare.

Rhymes, recorded March 1932 by Happy Joe Hill.

Rhymes, recorded March 1932 by Happy Joe Hill.

On the flip, and with a bit more background noise, Hill performs “I Could Expect it From Anyone But You”, written by Al Hoffman, Al Goodhart, and Ed Nelson and published by DeSylva, Brown and Henderson.  Composer Al Hoffman sued or at least threatened to sue the BMI in 1946 over similarities between this song and the pop hit “Laughing on the Outside (Crying on the Inside)”—and rightly so, the latter song “borrowed” close to the entire melody of this 1932 flop.

I Could Expect it From Anyone Else But You, recorded March 1932 by Happy Joe Hill

I Could Expect it From Anyone Else But You, recorded March 1932 by Happy Joe Hill

Updated on June 15, 2017 and with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Hello World 001 – W.K. (Old Man) Henderson/Blind Andy – 1930

WordPress automatically creates this “Hello World” post, I suppose I could delete it, but I’d rather use the opportunity to introduce the material I intend to post on this new website, and introduce a marvelous piece of recorded history from my collection…

This Okeh custom pressing, titled Hello World 001, was made in 1930 for the owner of KWKH radio in Shreveport, Louisiana, one W.K. Henderson.  The first side, by Henderson himself, was recorded on February 18, 1930 in Shreveport, Louisiana, and the second, by country artist Blind Andy, was recorded March 5, 1930 in New York.  Henderson recorded three other talks that day, but none were released.

William Kennon Henderson, Jr., was born in Bastrop, Louisiana in 1880 and made his fortune as owner and president of the Henderson Iron Works and Supply Company.  Henderson became interested in radio in 1923, when he was requested by Shreveport radio station WGAQ to help fund a replacement of their low-powered transmitter.  In 1925, he bought the station and renamed it KWKH, the callsign representing his initials.  Broadcasting across many states with his 50,000 watt station, Henderson made a name for himself with his rural brand of humor and his heated, profanity-laced political rants against chain stores, large corporations, the Federal Radio Commision, and the establishment in general.  Henderson was a long time friend and associate of governor Huey Long, who appeared as a guest on the station occasionally, along with some of his allies.  Long also aided Henderson in keeping government regulation away from his controversial broadcasts.  Henderson also founded an alliance of small business owners dubbed the Modern Minute Men (MMM), which at one point claimed around 32,000 members nationally and raised almost $375,000 for Henderson.

Despite his attempts to exploit loopholes, Henderson was an enemy of the fledgling Federal Radio Commission for his repeated and numerous violations of their policies, including his obscenity laced monologues and his reliance on “canned music”. In 1931, Governor Long had a falling out with Henderson, and the Federal Radio Commission ordered an inquiry into the affairs of KWKH.  That combined with hard times brought on by the Great Depression saw him to declare bankruptcy and sell the station in 1932.  On his death bed in 1945, Henderson said, “I was right, you know… I guess I was fighting for free speech and free enterprise.”  KWKH would later gain new fame for their “Louisiana Hayride” program beginning in 1948, which eventually featured a young singer by the name of Elvis Presley in the 1950s.

Recorded by Okeh in Shreveport, Louisiana, W.K. Henderson tones down his act considerably for the record’s first side, “Hello World”, a diatribe from Henderson about other stations interfering KWKH’s frequency of 850 kilocycles by WABC in New York, a “chain outfit,” WLS in Chicago, that “Sears-Rareback outfit,” and WENR, and the entity responsible for the interference, the Federal Radio Commission.

A 1930 special pressing made by Okeh records.

Hello World, recorded February 18, 1930 by W.K. (Old Man) Henderson.

On the flip-side, recorded March 5, 1930 in New York City, noted country and gospel artist Andrew Jenkins performs “Hello World Song (Don’t You Go ‘Way)”, a well-done country song set to the tune of his older composition, “The Death of Floyd Collins”.  Blind Andy warns listeners not to invest their money in the stock market and offers other bits of timely advice from the agenda of W.K. Henderson.

Hello World Song (Don't You Go 'Way)

Hello World Song (Don’t You Go ‘Way), recorded March 5, 1930 by Blind Andy.

Having shared that piece of history, I leave you with a final word…

Hello world, doggone ya.  Now don’t you go away!

Updated on October 21, 2015.