Perfect 15754 – Gene’s Merrymakers/Hollywood Dance Orchestra – 1932/1930

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the early 1930s. As pictured in Man’s Advancing Civilization, 1934.

On March 4, 1933, former Governor of New York Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated thirty-second President of the United States of America, having won the election of 1932 by a wide margin.  Following more than a decade of Republican control, Roosevelt ushered in an era of Liberal Democrat presidencies (most of them his own) that would last nearly twenty years.  His marked the last inauguration to be held on that date, as the twentieth amendment to the United States Constitution had been ratified earlier in the year, moving the event to its current January 20th date.  Over the preceding winter, the Great Depression had driven the United States’ economy to its lowest depths, with unemployment rated peaking at almost twenty-five percent.  President Hoover, to his credit, was trying in his own way to stimulate recovery, but his efforts proved rather slow to work at best.  Roosevelt offered America a New Deal, and he delivered it.  Mere months after assuming office, Roosevelt got right on it, pushing passage of his first “alphabet soup” New Deal programs, including the TVA, the CCC, the PWA, and the NRA, soon to be followed by the WPA, the FSA, and others.  Granted, Roosevelt’s New Deal was far from a perfect be-all and end-all solution, some programs worked better than others, some were pretty poorly conceived, but they did provide a “Band-Aid” (to quote a former history professor of mine) to the economic ruin, and give thousands of men a job.—and ol’ FDR proved popular enough to be re-elected an unprecedented three times.

Perfect 15754 was recorded in New York on March 16, 1933 (less than two weeks after Roosevelt’s inauguration) and March 4, 1930 (exactly three years prior to the inauguration), respectively.  The personnel of the Gene’s Merrymakers side includes Bunny Berigan on trumpet, bandleader Gene Kardos on alto sax, and Sam Weiss on drums.  The Hollywood Dance Orchestra is a pseudonym for Adrian Schubert’s Salon Orchestra, which may include Bob Effros on trumpet, Miff Mole on trombone, Tony Parenti on clarinet and alto sax, and Charlie Magnante on accordion.  The identities of the remainders of both bands (pianos, basses, etc.) are unknown.

The 1929 song “Happy Days are Here Again”—originally featured in the 1930 M-G-M motion picture Chasing Rainbows—became associated with F.D.R. when his staff made the impromptu decision to play it at the 1932 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  After that, it became his official campaign song, and thereafter became indelibly associated with New Deal Democrats.  In apparent celebration of Roosevelt’s election, the American Record Corporation opted not to reissue Vincent Lopez’s January, 1930 recording of the song (a rather odd, highly syncopated rendition with a “Lopez speaking” introduction which would have sounded somewhat dated a whole three years later), but rather to record a very jubilant new version, albeit a stock arrangement, played by Gene Kardos’ excellent New York-based dance orchestra, with a vocal by studio guy Dick Robertson.

Happy Days are Here Again, recorded March 16, 1933 by Gene’s Merrymakers.

In keeping with the Rooseveltian theme, the reverse features “The Stein Song (University of Maine)”, no doubt celebrating Roosevelt’s promised repeal of the much reviled eighteenth amendment.  Irving Kaufman sings the vocals on this 1930 reissued side.

The Stein Song (University of Maine), recorded March 4, 1930 by Hollywood Dance Orchestra.

Perfect 11580 – Miss Lee Morse and her Blue Grass Boys – 1925

The lovely Miss Lee Morse, pictured in a 1932 publication.

Long before Bill Monroe ever had his Blue Grass Boys, Lee Morse had him beat to the punch, though with music not remotely similar.  She sang, she yodeled, she played guitar—what’s not to love?

Lee Morse was born Lena Corinne Taylor on November 30, 1897 to to Pleasant John—a Texas Ranger-turned-traveling preacher—and Olive Taylor, the only girl of twelve children.  Her younger brother Glen would go on to be a U.S. Senator of Idaho and run for Vice President in 1948 on the Progressive ticket.  She was touted professionally for her Southern upbringing, but she was born Cove, Oregon, though her family did have roots south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  She made her professional debut in an Idaho movie house in 1918, and later sang at the 1920 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.   Thereafter, Morse was discovered by vaudeville big shot Will King, and left her domestic life behind for a career in show business, adopting “Lee Morse” as her professional name.  Though only five feet and under a hundred pounds, Morse possessed a deep singing voice—much like her younger contemporary Connie Boswell—which recorded well using the acoustical technology that preceded the advent of electric recording, and on her earliest records was credited as “Miss Lee Morse” to ensure that listeners would not confuse her for a male singer.  In 1923, Morse signed with Pathé and began making records, staying with them until switching to Columbia four years later.  On stage, she appeared in the musicals Hitchy-Koo of 1922, and Artists and Models in 1923.  She was slated to appear in 1930’s Simple Simon, but her alcoholism—a problem she may have developed in an effort to combat crippling stage fright—caused her to lose the part to Ruth Etting.  On the silver screen, Morse starred in three shorts, two Paramount: A Million Me’s [sic] and Song Service, and one Warner Bros.: The Music Racket, all in 1930.  Her career slowed down as the Great Depression killed off record sales, and she switched from Columbia to Bluebird in 1933, making two discs for the fledgling dimestore label, then to Decca in 1938, producing another two.  The rest of that decade was largely spent singing in nightclubs to make ends meet.  In the 1940s, Lee hosted a local radio program in Rochester, New York, and she made her final phonograph records for Decca in 1950.  Lee Morse died suddenly and unexpectedly on December 16, 1954.

Perfect 11580 was recorded on May 7, 1925 in New York City.  It was also issued on Pathé 25146.  These mid-1920s acoustic Pathé pressings are afflicted with a background rumble  as a result of their recording process, which entailed mastering it first on a large cylinder, then dubbing it to a disc.  I’ve tried to equalize out most of the rumble without detriment to the quality of the music, I hope the transfers will be pleasing to your ears.

First, Lee sings a jubilant rendition of a “roaring twenties” classic, Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson’s timeless “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby”.  This is perhaps my personal favorite Lee Morse side, and certainly my favorite version of this song.

Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby, recorded May 7, 1925 by Miss Lee Morse and her Blue Grass Boys.

On the “B” side, Morse sings one of her own compositions, “An Old-Fashioned Romance”, and it’s a darn good one at that!  On top of that, what a fine orchestration, topped off with a nice little Chicago-style ride out at the end.  Morse recorded this tune again in 1927, after moving to Columbia Records.  In my opinion, this one is the better of the two.

An Old-Fashioned Romance, recorded May 7, 1925 by Miss Lee Morse and her Blue Grass Boys.

Perfect 13090 – Bill Cox – 1933/1934

A Perfect sleeve emblazoned with the NRA Blue Eagle.

A Perfect sleeve displaying the NRA Blue Eagle (to the right, above Morton Downey.)

September 13, 1933 was “NRA Day”, celebrated in New York City with one of, if not the largest parade in the city’s history, complete with an appearance by the U.S. Navy’s airship U.S.S. Macon.

With today’s politics, hearing of the NRA brings to mind the National Rifle Association, but in days of yore, it held an entirely different meaning.  In the 1930s, the abbreviation referred to the National Recovery Administration.  That NRA was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s earliest New Deal agencies, created in 1933 by the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA).  With its signature “Blue Eagle” as the logo, the NRA set forth a series of codes and regulations intended to help employ more people and get the economy back on its feet.  Though popular with many workers, the NRA was ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court, thus bringing it to an end in May of 1935.  During its existence from 1933 to 1935, NRA Blue Eagles were displayed in store windows and emblazoned on all sorts of consumer products, ranging from garments to fruit crates to record sleeves.

Perfect 13090 was recorded in two separate sessions on August 30, 1933 and September 9, 1934 at the American Record Corporation studios in New York City.  The former session was Cox’s first with the ARC, having recorded previously with the Starr Piano Company (Gennett).  Interestingly for a black label Perfect, this is a laminated pressing.

On this disc, the Dixie Songbird, Bill Cox laments to his sweetheart his employer’s delay in joining the NRA in what may just be the greatest political topical song of the Great Depression-era: “N. R. A. Blues”.  “When they gonna join the NRA?  Sweet thing, sweet thing.  When they gonna join the NRA, I never have heard the big boss say.  Sweet thing, yes baby mine.”

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox,

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Starting out with a little bit of the old “Jack o’ Diamonds”, on the flip, Cox sings a low down old time country blues tune, “Hard Luck Blues”, sounding a bit like Jimmie Rodgers in his vocals on this side.  A Great Depression-era country tune evocative of Dust Bowl times.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1934 by Bill Cox.

Updated with improved audio on June 23, 2017.

Perfect 0207 – Big Bill & his Jug Busters – 1932

On June 26, we celebrate the probable birthday of blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.  As is the case with many early blues players, such as Lemon Jefferson, the exact date of his birth is disputed; Broonzy himself claimed to have been born in 1893, but family records stated a more probable date of 1903.  There is also mystery surrounding his place of birth, while Broonzy stated his hometown as Scott, Mississippi, recent research suggests he may have come from Arkansas.

Whatever the true details may be, he grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and learned from his uncle to play a homemade cigar box fiddle, which he played at local social functions.  In 1920, as many Southern black people did at the time, Broonzy emigrated to Chicago in search of new opportunity, where he switched from fiddle to guitar, mentored by Papa Charlie Jackson.  In Chicago, Broonzy worked odd jobs while trying make it as a musician.  In 1927, he got his break when Charlie Jackson helped him l get an audition with J. Mayo Williams of Paramount Records, and after several rejected tests, made his first released records with his friend John Thomas as “Big Bill and Thomps”.  Though his records sold poorly for the first few years, sales eventually began to pick up as he gained popularity in the Chicago blues scene in the 1930s, even playing in John Hammond’s From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and ’39, with his style evolving from his rural roots to a more urban style all the while.  Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Big Bill recorded steadily, both solo and as an accompanist.  In the late 1940s into the 1950s, Broonzy became a part of the folk music revival occurring at that time, and he toured abroad in the 1950s, starting in Europe in 1951.  His autobiography, written with the help of Yannick Bruynoghe, was published in 1955.  Broonzy died of throat cancer in August of 1958.

Perfect 0207 was recorded March 29 and 30, 1932 in New York City, at Big Bill’s first and second session for the American Record Corporation under his own name (excepting some 1930 recordings under the name Sammy Sampson and as a part of the Hokum Boys).  The Jug Busters side features W.E. “Buddy” Burton on kazoo, piano by Black Bob Hudson, and Jimmy Bertrand on washboard.  The identity of the jug player is unknown.

“How You Want it Done?”, recorded March 29, is a fantastic side with stupendous flatpicked guitar by Big Bill, an unusual method for blues playing.  It’s likely that Broonzy picked up this song, along with its flatpicking style, from his contemporary Louie Lasky, who later recorded it in 1935, though Bill recorded it earlier.  Big Bill first recorded this song in 1930 for Gennett, then for Paramount in ’31 (of which no copies have been located)  This recording was also featured on the last record in Vocalion’s race series (1745).  It remained in Broonzy’s repertoire for many years, and he was filmed performing it in 1957.

How You Want it Done?, recorded

How You Want it Done?, recorded March 29, 1932 by Big Bill.

Recorded one day after the first side, Big Bill is accompanied by a jug band on “M & O Blues”, referring of course to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  The authorship of this song is often credited to Walter Davis.  It’s worth noting that there was another “M & O Blues” sung by legendary Delta bluesman Willie Brown which was an entirely different song.  Though the label looks prettier, this side unfortunately has some pretty bad stripped grooves that make a lot of noise in brief but quite intrusive passages, but it does clean up a bit as it plays.  Heck, the Document Records transfer is quite noisy, so cut me a little slack!

M & O Blues, recorded

M & O Blues, recorded March 30, 1932 by Big Bill & his Jug Busters.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Perfect 0252 – Walter Roland – 1933

Recorded in the deepest depths of the Great Depression, I offer to you these two boogie woogie piano tunes from the brief recording career of the skilled Alabama blues man Walter Roland.

Walter Roland was born in December of either 1902 or 1903 in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, and was working as a musician by the 1920s, playing piano and guitar and singing.  Though Roland remained an active musician until the end of his life, he recorded only a few times in the 1930s.  In 1933, Roland traveled to New York to record for the American Record Corporation, and would return twice between then and 1935.  During those trips, he recorded solo, and also played as an accompanist with Lucille Bogan and Joshua White.  His guitar records were released under the pseudonym Alabama Sam.  After returning home, Roland did not make another recording, but continued to play music.  By the 1950s, he was a farmer, but sometimes worked as a street musician.  Sometime in the 1960s, he was blinded by buckshot after trying to break up an altercation between neighbors, and he retired in the later part of that decade.  Roland died of lung cancer October 12, 1972 in Fairfield, Alabama.

Perfect 0252 was recorded over two consecutive days on July 19 and 20, 1933 in New York City, Roland’s second released disc from his ARC sessions.  These ARC race records seldom turn up in very good condition, and this one is no exception, but thankfully, despite a few brief blasts of noise, the music is still prominent.

Roland’s first number is the classic “Early This Morning (‘Bout Break of Day)”, his own version of Charlie Spand’s “Soon This Morning”.  Unfortunately, the text on the label has faded away completely, leaving only the faintest trace of what was originally printed.  This side was recorded on the July 20 date.

Early This Morning

Early This Morning (‘Bout Break of Day), recorded July 20, 1933 by Walter Roland.

On the flip side, Roland plays and sings “House Lady Blues”, a piano blues masterpiece.  This one was recorded on the earlier date of July 19.

House Lady Blues

House Lady Blues, recorded July 19, 1933 by Walter Roland.