Brunswick 4597 – Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan – 1929

Billy Murray, as pictured in 1921 Victor catalog.

In commemoration of the anniversary of the birth of the “Denver Nightingale”, recording pioneer and prolific record artist Billy Murray, I present the latest record of him currently in the Old Time Blues collection.

William Thomas Murray was born on May 25, 1877—the same year Edison invented the phonograph that he later would help to proliferate—in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, son of Patrick and Julia Murray.  Murray later quipped, “I squalled for the first time in 1877, and so did the phonograph. I didn’t do very much for ten years after that, but neither did the phonograph.”  The Murrays moved to Denver in 1882, and by sixteen, Billy was performing professionally.  Murray made his first of hundreds of phonograph recordings for Peter Bacigalupi in San Francisco in 1897, and was recording regularly and professionally in the New York area by 1903.  Over the following decades, Murray recorded a huge multitude of songs, in various styles and genres, for virtually every record label in operation.  Coinciding with the advent of electrical recording in 1925, the public’s tastes were changing, and Murray began to fall from favor.  To adjust to the new recording systems, he softened his singing voice, though his work became more sporadic.  In the 1920s, he often worked as a vocalist for dance bands; he appeared on Jean Goldkette’s memorable recording of “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover” in 1927, featuring Bix Beiderbecke.  Starting in the late 1920s, Murray lent his voice to animated cartoons, providing the voice of Bimbo, and others, in shorts made by Fleischer Studios.  He worked sporadically on radio through the 1930s, including appearances on the WLS National Barn Dance.  In 1940, Murray made a series of recordings for Bluebird, accompanied by Harry’s Tavern Band, and made his last recordings in 1943 for the Beacon label with fellow recording pioneer Monroe Silver, known for his “Cohen” character.  After retiring in 1944 due to heart issues, Billy Murray died suddenly of a heart attack at a Guy Lombardo show on Long Island on August 17, 1954.

Brunswick 4597 was recorded in September or October of 1929 by Billy Murray with his frequent duet partner Walter Scanlan (whose real name was Walter van Brunt).

First, the duo sings humorous number from the 1929 Sono Art-World Wide talking picture The Great Gabbo, in which it was performed by Erich von Stroheim in the titular role, with his ventriloquist dummy.

Icky, recorded September/October 1929 by Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan.

On the reverse, Murray and Scanlan sing another comic song most frequently associated with Eddie Cantor, “My Wife is On a Diet”.

My Wife is On a Diet, recorded September/October 1929 by Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan.

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.

Madison 6002 – Cosmopolitan Dance Players/Levee Syncopators – 1930

My sincere apologies for the long delay in posting here, I was preoccupied with other matters and couldn’t find the time nor the inspiration to come up with anything good to say.  But, in the words of Douglas MacArthur, I have returned, and I will do my best to keep things moving along once again, starting with this rather obscure and mysterious jazz record.

The overwhelming bulk of material commonly seen on the Grey Gull labels (Grey Gull, Radiex, Madison, Van Dyke, etc.) consists of relatively uninteresting popular songs and old standards by singers or their own studio band, usually released under pseudonyms.  That isn’t to say they’re not good, I’m personally quite fond of the Grey Gull studio band with their wild and unusual arrangements, they’re just not terribly thrilling.  However, don’t be fooled, there are a few exceptional jazz gems to be found on those labels.  Many of these “sleeper” jazz tunes occupy the “B” side of popular songs.  We previously heard Cliff Jackson’s Krazy Kats play their unbelievably hot “Horse Feathers” on the back of an ordinary dimestore rendition of “Confessin’ (That I Love You)”.  This disc falls into the same category, featuring a hit pop song on the “A” side, and hot jazz on the reverse.

The “A” side of Madison 6002 was recorded in November of 1930, the “B” side was recorded on January 17, 1930, both in New York.  The first side features a standard Grey Gull studio band, while the flip is a little more interesting.

The “Cosmopolitan Dance Players” version of “The Little Things in Life”, featuring a vocal by Irving Kaufman, is really quite nice, certainly nothing to complain about.  A fine rendition of a fine Irving Berlin tune.

The Little Things in Life

The Little Things in Life, recorded November 1930 by the Cosmopolitan Dance Players.

It is generally accepted that the personnel of the “Levee Syncopators” is unknown, aside from the tune’s composer Claude Austin, who likely serves as pianist.  Brian Rust listed it as a studio group with Mike Mosiello and Andy Sannella, though the style doesn’t fit with theirs, and that hypothesis has often been dismissed.  At least one source suggests that it (along with several other hot and unknown Grey Gull bands) may have been made up of Walter Bennett on trumpet, Alberto Socarras on alto sax, Walter Edwards on clarinet and tenor sax, Austin on piano, and an unknown banjo player, similar to the lineups of Bennett’s Swamplanders and Gerald Clark’s Night Owls around the same time.  Listening to other sides featuring those musicians, it sounds plausible, but I cannot confirm one way or the other with any degree of certainty.  With Grey Gull’s ledgers presumably no longer in existence, it will likely remain shrouded in mystery.

The Rackett

The Rackett, recorded January 17, 1930 by the Levee Syncopators.

Regal 9791 – Harry Richman – 1925

Harry Richman around the mid-1920s.

Harry Richman around the mid-1920s.

August 10 once again marks the birthday of one of Old Time Blues’ favorite vaudevillians, Harry Richman.  Last year, we celebrated the occasion with his famous “Puttin’ on the Ritz”.  This time, I offer to you Richman’s first recording ever.

Harry Richman was born Harold Reichman on August 10, 1895 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He began performing by the age of eleven, and was working the vaudeville circuits by eighteen.  After striking out as an act of his own in the early 1920s, he worked his way up, appearing as the star of George White’s Scandals in 1926.  In 1930, he made his motion picture debut in Puttin’ on the Ritz, in which he introduced the famous Irving Berlin song of the same name.  Though his acting career failed to take off, he appeared in four more pictures from 1930 to ’38.  Throughout the 1930s, Richman hosted a radio program, and made a number of popular records.   He was also noted as a record setting aviator, making a famous round-trip flight across the Atlantic in 1936 with Dick Merrill.  In 1938, he married former Ziegfeld girl Hazel Forbes, though they had divorced by 1942.  After his career slowed down in the 1940s, Richman made a number of brief comeback appearances, largely in a nostalgic context.  He published an autobiography titled A Hell of a Life in 1966, and died in 1972.

Regal 9791 was recorded January 30, 1925, most likely in New York.  Unfortunately, though it appears to be in decent condition, it suffers from a very thin, quiet signal, and sounds generally lousy.  In spite of that, the music is still plainly audible.

First, Harry croons “Will You Remember Me”, with guitar accompaniment adding a charming, folksy effect.

Will You Remember Me

Will You Remember Me, recorded January 30, 1925 by Harry Richman.

Richman seems to put on his best Jolson for “California Poppy”.

California Poppy

California Poppy, recorded January 30, 1925 by Harry Richman.

Updated with improved audio on November 13, 2016.

Velvet Tone 1759-V – Rudy Vallée Accomp. by his Yale Men – 1928

Rudy Vallée in the 1930 Victor catalog,

Rudy Vallée in the 1930 Victor catalog,

Heigh-ho everybody! 115 years ago today, the vagabond lover, Rudy Vallée was born.  Some twenty-five years later, he would become the idol of a nation.

Hubert Prior Vallée was born in Island Pond, Vermont on July 28, 1901.  At 15, he joined the navy to fight in the Great War, but was discharged after forty-one days, when his age was discovered.  With his high school band, Vallée played drums, but soon took up the saxophone, playing in local bands.  In the middle of the 1920s, he traveled to England, and made his first phonograph recordings with the Savoy Havana Band in London.  After returning home, he was educated at the University of Maine, then at Yale, and in 1928, made his first recordings under his own name for Columbia’s budget labels, with his Yale Men.  At the University of Maine, he was dubbed Rudy, after the popular saxophone player Rudy Wiedoeft, and the name stuck.  After graduating, Vallée formed his Connecticut Yankees, and secured a contract with Victor records in 1929.  It was around this time that his popularity skyrocketed, becoming one of the most popular personalities of the 1920s and ’30s, and making a string of hit records and motion pictures.  Vallée’s feature film debut in 1929’s The Vagabond Lover had him in a starring role, and was a success.  Also in ’29, he began hosting The Fleischmann Hour on NBC, staying on-the-air until 1939.  The next year, he had a smash hit with the University of Maine’s “Stein Song” for Victor, and continued to rise in his fame.  Attempting to list the bulk of Vallée’s popular songs would consume far too much space.  With his fame however, came an ego rivaling that of Al Jolson, and Vallée was known to have a short temper.

As the Depression rolled in, Vallée remained among the most popular entertainers on radio and record, and, moving to Columbia Records in 1932, was given a special picture label in an attempt to increase sales.  His association with Columbia did not last long, as he returned to Victor in 1933, first appearing on their Bluebird label, before moving back to the full-fledged Victor label.  As swing began to take off, Vallée’s popularity began to wane, though he continued to make popular records.  Vallée arranged for Louis Armstrong to host his radio program for the summer of 1937, making him the first African-American to host a major radio show.  After the 1930s, Vallée recording sporadically on a wide variety of different record labels, none of which saw the success of his earlier works.  In 1943, Victor made a hit with a reissue of Vallée’s 1931 recording of “As Time Goes By” to coincide with the release of Casablanca, as the musicians strike prevented a new recording from being made.  After his popularity had faded from its 1920s heights, Vallée continued to record and appear in films, and on television, and enjoyed moderate success all the way.  After a long career in the show business, Rudy Vallée died on July 3, 1986 at the age of 84.

Velvet Tone 1759-V on October 10, 1928 in New York.  The Yale Men are made up of Don Moore on trumpet, Hal Matthews on trombone, Rudy Vallée on clarinet and alto sax, Joe Miller on tenor sax, Manny Lowy and Jules de Vorzon on violin, Cliff Burwell on piano, Charles Peterson on banjo, Harry Patent on tuba, and Ray Toland on drums.

First Vallée and the Yale Men play a hot side on “Doin’ the Raccoon”, referencing the popular 1920s collegiate fad for raccoon coats.

Doin' the Raccoon

Doin’ the Raccoon, recorded October 10, 1928 by Rudy Vallée Accomp. by his Yale Men.

Next, Vallée sings a sweet tune on “Bye and Bye Sweetheart”.

Bye and Bye Sweetheart

Bye and Bye Sweetheart, recorded October 10, 1928 by Rudy Vallée Accomp. by his Yale Men.