Brunswick 6047 – Harris Brothers Texans – 1930

One of several outstanding Texas-based jazz and dance bands to make records in the years preceding World War II, the Harris Brothers Texans demonstrated themselves to be formidable music-makers, but with only three records to their name, all of which are rarely encountered today, the band is shrouded by a veil of near total obscurity, unknown to most outside of a small cadre of vintage jazz aficionados.  Previously, scarcely any information regarding them was available.  Now, following intensive research, I have endeavored to piece together a short but relatively comprehensive history of the band herein (at least the most extensive one hitherto published; with special thanks to the research of the late Murray L. Pfeffer and his Big Bands Database).

The three Harris Brothers were Abraham “Abe” Harris, born October 12, 1890 or ’91, Louis Joseph “Lou” Harris, born in October of 1891, and Myer Isadore “Monk” Harris, born January 9, 1894, the sons of Emanuel and Sarah Harris of Navasota, Texas, descendants of Jewish Prussian immigrants who arrived in Texas in the 1870s, by way of South Carolina.  Abe Harris was a drummer in the First World War, and after his completing his service, he started a jazz band with his brothers, Lou playing trumpet and Monk playing trombone and euphonium.  Originally directed by Abe, Lou Harris assumed leadership of the band by the late 1920s onward, and it was apparently fronted for a time around 1926 by reed and violin player and singer Harry Samuels, who had been a childhood friend of the Harris brothers.  The Harris Brothers Orchestra played in Corsicana in 1922, before taking up in the Houston area the following year, making them contemporaries of Lloyd Finlay’s orchestra, and in 1923 and ’24, they played in the ballroom of the Crystal Palace in Galveston.  In the middle part of the decade, the Harris Brothers Orchestra relocated to north Texas, where they broadcasted from WFAA in Dallas and were engaged at the roof ballroom of the Baker Hotel in Dallas beginning in 1926 and at least as late as 1929.

When the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company made their field trips to record in Texas, the orchestra cut records, resulting in three sessions, all in Dallas, yielding a grand total of eight sides, six of which were released.  First in October of 1928, they recorded the hot jazz tunes “Somebody Stole My Gal” and “The Pay Off”, released on the Vocalion label. The following year, they cut “Gut Bucket Shuffle”, “Louisiana, That’s My Home”, and two unknown unissued titles.  Finally, they concluded their brief recorded legacy with two pop-styled songs: “Oh How I Cried the Morning After” and “The South’s Been a Mother to Me”.  Though credited on their records as the “Harris Brothers Texans”, at home the band was simply called the “Harris Brothers Orchestra”.  By this time, the Harris Brothers’ musical style was comparable to that of the contemporary Phil Baxter’s orchestra and other Texas dance bands of the era, featuring a rather loose instrumentation and a “big” sound punctuated by strong “oom-pah” bass rhythm, with occasional use of accordion, somewhat evocative of Texas’ polka bands.  Much of their recorded material displayed a certain uniquely Texan character.  An unidentified group called “The Harris Brothers” had two test sessions for Gennett in 1928—prior to any of the Harris Brothers’ Brunswick recordings—but given that they are believed to have been a vocal group, it is doubtful that they were one and the same.

Around the same time as their Brunswick engagement, the Harris Brothers Orchestra played at the Dallas Country Club, and they were engaged at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas in 1929 following Alphonso Trent’s tenure there.  During their time at the Adolphus, bandleader Lou Harris gave a large quantity of arrangements to New Orleans expatriate Don Albert, who had recently parted ways with Troy Floyd’s orchestra and was starting up his own band.  The band remained together under the directorship of Lou Harris at least into the late 1930s, playing in Dallas and Abilene—perhaps even venturing all the way to Hollywood on a 1935 tour—and they provided music at the Greater Texas and Pan-American Exposition at Dallas’ Fair Park in 1937.  Myer Harris eventually retired from music and built homes in Dallas.  Abe Harris died on May 23, 1960, Lou in 1969, and Monk on November 8, 1990, all three in Dallas.

Brunswick 6047 was recorded in November of 1930 (though some sources suggest a January 1931 date) in Dallas, Texas.  The personnel of the band probably includes at least some of the following members: Lou Harris and Paul Skinner on trumpets, Myer “Monk” Harris on trombone, Harry Samuels, Gene Hammel, and probably at least one other—possibly Robert Dean—on reeds (clarinet, two alto saxophones, and tenor sax), Murray Lambert on piano, Liebling Mayo on banjo (though Johnson and Shirley’s American Dance Bands suggests a possible Lester Peacock), an unknown tuba player, and Abe Harris on drums.  The vocalist may be reed man Harry Samuels.

First up, the Texans play a hot jazz arrangement of “The South’s Been a Mother to Me”, apparently the only recording of this song.

The South's Been a Mother to Me

The South’s Been a Mother to Me, recorded November 1930 by the Harris Brothers Texans.

On the flip, they maintain their booming sound on William Gould and Joey Ray’s popular song “Oh How I Cried the Morning After (The Night Before With You)”.

Oh, How I Cried the Morning After (The Night Before With You)

Oh How I Cried the Morning After (The Night Before With You), recorded November 1930 by the Harris Brothers Texans.

Okeh 41470 – The Three Boswell Sisters – 1930

The Boswell Sisters in 1930 or early 1931. Pictured on the sheet music cover for “Roll On, Misissippi, Roll On”.

It seems that it’s been far too long since we last heard from our good friends the Boswell Sisters.  I try to give both the sisters’ works and Connie’s solos equal attention in accordance with the fairness doctrine, and it’s already been more than a year since I last posted one of the trio’s records, so here are those syncopating harmonists from New Orleans with one of their earliest records.

The years of 1929 and ’30 saw the Boswell Sisters on the West Coast.  They had settled in Los Angeles following a vaudeville tour of the States, residing in an apartment at El Pueblo Court in Hollywood.  They became popular local radio artists, even recording around fifty titles for a series of transcription discs made by the Continental Broadcasting Corporation to be shipped out for broadcast in Hawaii.  They also “side-miked” for some motion pictures, to have their voices dubbed over those of movie actors that couldn’t sing, notably for the number “Harlem Hop” in the film Under Montana Skies.  In 1930, they hadn’t made a commercial record in five years, not since their first one made in New Orleans in 1925, but that was soon to change.  That July, the sisters teamed with Jackie Taylor’s Los Angeles-based dance band to record two sides, “We’re On the Highway to Heaven” from Oh Sailor Behave and “That’s What I Like About You”, though only the former was released.  Later, that October, Okeh recorded them solo, singing four songs including the first commercial take of their signature song “Heebie Jeebies”.  All four sides were released, essentially constituting the beginning of their solo recording career.  Not long after, with Harry Leedy hired as their manager, they moved to New York and began their fruitful engagement with Brunswick, often accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, that resulted in their vibrant and prolific legacy.

Okeh 41470 was recorded on October 3 and 31, 1930 in Los Angeles, California, the second of their two Okeh records.  The instrumentation consists solely of Martha Boswell’s piano and the trio’s vocal effects.  This is the pure, unadulterated Boswell Sisters sound of their early days, before the influence of manager Harry Leedy, record bigwig Jack Kapp, and their ilk.

On the first side, the Bozzies sing “Gee, But I’d Like to Make You Happy” from the musical picture Good News (it was written for the movie and did not appear in the 1927 stage production).

Gee, But I'd Like to Make You Happy

Gee, But I’d Like to Make You Happy, recorded October 3, 1930 by The Three Boswell Sisters.

On the flip, recorded at the later date, they sing one of my favorite Boswell performances, “Don’t Tell Her What’s Happened to Me”, rendered as “Don’t Tell Him“.

Don't Tell Her What's Happened to Me

Don’t Tell Her What’s Happened to Me, recorded October 31, 1930 by The Three Boswell Sisters.

Bluebird B-8621 – Riley Puckett – 1940

Riley Puckett in the late 1930s or early 1940s. His most frequently published portrait.

With euphonious singing voice, enticing guitar playing, and a wide and diverse repertoire ranging from old folk ballads to modern pop songs, Riley Puckett, dubbed the “Bald Mountain Caruso” or sometimes “King of the Hillbillies” (an honorific contested by Uncle Dave Macon), was one of the most popular and prolific rural musicians of the pre-World War II era, both solo and as a member of Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers.

George Riley Puckett was born either in Alpharetta, Georgia or thrity-five miles away in Dallas on May 7, 1894.  He was blinded in infancy by a treatment for an eye infection gone awry, though those who knew him suggested that he could still tell light from dark.  Subsequently, he attended the Georgia School for the Blind in Macon, at which Blind Willie McTell would later enroll.  Taking up the banjo at twelve and later switching to guitar, Puckett soon made a name for himself at fiddler’s conventions with his playing and singing, his beautiful voice and exceptional range earning him the nickname the “Bald Mountain Caruso”.  He was also noted for his unique method of guitar playing, relying on dynamic runs.  On September 28, 1922, Puckett made his radio debut with Clayton McMichen’s Home Town Band on Atlanta’s WSB.  In February of 1924, Riley Puckett and fiddle player Gid Tanner cut test recordings for Columbia, and in March they pair traveled to New York to record for the first time in two sessions.  His “Rock All Our Babies to Sleep” has often been cited as the first “country” record to feature yodeling, a full three years before Jimmie Rodgers made his first records.  After those two sessions, boy did the floodgates open; from 1924 to 1931, Puckett recorded nearly two-hundred titles for Columbia, notwithstanding the eighty-five plus he made as a member of the Skillet Lickers, with hits like “My Carolina Home” cementing him as one of their best-selling artists in the Old Familiar Tunes series.  After a break from recording during the Great Depression, Riley made his triumphant return in 1934 when he signed with Bluebird, ultimately producing nearly another hundred titles, including perhaps his best known song “Ragged but Right”.  A 1937 side venture took him to Decca for a further twelve.  Riley also sang on radio stations all around the South and Midwest; by the end of the 1930s, he was singing on WNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee.  After ten sessions for Bluebird, he had his final record date on October 2, 1941 in Atlanta.  Riley Puckett died from blood poisoning, the result of an infected boil, on July 13, 1946.

Bluebird B-8621 was recorded on October 1, 1940 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Riley Puckett is accompanied by his own guitar and an unknown woman mandolin player.  It was concurrently issued on Montgomery Ward M-8885.

First up, Riley sings one of my favorites, a song that got its start in Tin Pan Alley with Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins’ “‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do” in 1922, which through some twists and turns and lyrical adjustments, found its way—perhaps by way of the medicine show circuit—into Southern folk and blues repertoires as “Nobody’s Business” or some variation on that, seeing recordings by Earl Johnson’s Dixie Entertainers in 1927, Mississippi John Hurt in 1928, and many others.  Riley himself recorded it three times, first on an unissued recording for Columbia in 1924, then twice more for Bluebird, in 1935 and—this one—in 1940.

Nobody’s Business, recorded October 1, 1940 by Riley Puckett.

On the flip, Puckett does his version of a popular big band hit of the day, Saxie Dowell’s “Playmates”—the melody of which was lifted from Charles L. Johnson’s 1904 intermezzo “Iola”—and gives a heck of a good delivery to boot.  Perhaps I just have my mind in the gutter, but with all the “climb up my apple tree, look down my rain barrel, slide down my cellar door,” this sure sounds like a lot of double entendre to me!

Playmates, recorded October 1, 1940 by Riley Puckett.

Columbia 1773-D – Bing Crosby – 1929

Bing Crosby in the early 1930s, as pictured in the Eveready Book of Radio Stars, c. 1932.

Old Time Blues has honored the iconic Bing Crosby before, with a look at his theme song “Where the Blue of the Night”, at which point I eulogized him quite thoroughly.  But now let us turn our attention two years earlier to Der Bingle’s first solo effort, while he was still just one of Paul Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys.

Born on May 3, 1903 in Tacoma, Washington as Harry Lillis Crosby, Bing got his nickname from a local girl, after a popular comic strip in the Spokane Spokesman-Review called The Bingville Bugle.  That is unless you’d prefer to take Bing’s own version of how he acquired the moniker: when he was “a mere broth of a lad,” he liked to play cops and robbers (or cowboys and Indians, by another account), and carried around a pair of toy six-guns all the time, saying “bing! bing! bing!” in imitation of firing.  One way or the other, Crosby was inspired by Al Jolson to turn from binging to singing.  While he was in college at Gonzaga University, Bing joined a band of high school students, including Al Rinker, called the Musicaladers.  Later, Bing dropped out of college to go with Rinker south to California (he got the last laugh though, when Gonzaga U awarded him an honorary doctorate), where the duo cut their first record in 1926: “I’ve Got the Girl” and another unissued title with Don Clark’s Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel Orchestra (evidently before Earl Burtnett took over the gig), albeit recorded a bit too slow.  With help from Rinker’s big sister Mildred Bailey, the pair got their big break later that year when they were hired by Paul Whiteman to sing—with the addition of singer and songwriter Harry Barris—as the Rhythm Boys.  Though the Rhythm Boys made several records of their own, Bing didn’t make his solo recording debut until 1929.  Crosby remained with Whiteman’s troupe, recording for Victor and Columbia, until 1930; the band had traveled to California to make their blockbuster motion picture King of Jazz, and the Rhythm boys decided to stick around afterward to try and make it big in Hollywood.  They made one record with Gus Arnheim’s Cocoanut Grove Orchestra for Victor—”Them There Eyes”—but parted ways thereafter, so Bing embarked upon his solo career in earnest.  He continued to sing with Arnheim’s orchestra until 1931, when he signed with Brunswick.  He continued to record for Brunswick until producer and manager Jack Kapp “poached” him for his new Decca label in 1934.  The rest (as they so often say) is history, Bing continued to skyrocket to stardom through the 1930s and 1940s, securing his position as one of pop-culture’s first “superstars,” which he maintained until his death on October 14, 1977.

Columbia 1773-D was recorded on March 14, 1929 in New York City.  It is Bing Crosby’s first solo record, though many more preceded it with Bing taking a secondary role.  Bing is backed by Matty Malneck on violin, Roy Bargy on piano, and the seldom heard Ed “Snoozer” Quinn on guitar.

First up, Bing sings the charming Jo Trent and Louis Alter composition “My Kinda Love”, delivering a performance quite a bit jazzier than he would later become known for.

My Kinda Love, recorded March 14, 1929 by Bing Crosby.

He backs it up with “Till We Meet”, another fine performance.  You may note that Bing in these earlier days tended to sing in a higher register than in his “crooner” days.

Till We Meet, recorded March 14, 1929 by Bing Crosby.

An Edison Needle Type Electric Dance Band Double Feature – 14003 & 14041 – 1929

B.A. Rolfe, as pictured in a 1932 publication.

Thomas A. Edison’s “Needle Type Electric” records—sometimes called “thin” Edisons for reasons self explanatory—were his last hurrah in the record business, before bidding the industry farewell forever.  Unlike his vertically cut, quarter-of-an-inch thick Diamond Discs, they were plain, ordinary shellac 78s, which could be played on any Victrola or like talking machine.  The completely redesigned labels—with an array of lightning bolts striking from the top, framing the name “Edison”, emblazoned in bold, block lettering—represent the pinnacle of late-1920s commercial art.  Thus, like any of the countless extremely short-lived record lines (e.g. Black Patti, Timely Tunes, Sunrise, etc.—all of which, incidentally, also had beautifully designed labels), they are quite uncommon today.

First up, the famed B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra plays “Dance of the Paper Dolls” and “Fioretta”, both sides featuring vocals provided by an uncredited Jack Parker.  Born on October 24, 1879, Benjamin Albert Rolfe, known in earlier life as the “Boy Trumpet Wonder” was a trumpet prodigy who went on to become a popular radio bandleader and Edison recording artist.  During the 1910s and ’20s, Rolfe spent a stretch as a Hollywood movie producer, following which he established his distinguished career as a bandleader.  Notably. he directed his “Palais D’or Orchestra”—named for his own Broadway cabaret—from 1926 until 1928, at which point it became the “Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra” for the remainder of his time with Edison.  Rolfe remained a radio mainstay into the 1930s, appearing in a pair of Vitaphone short films, and leading the B.F. Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra in 1935 and ’36.  B.A. Rolfe died of cancer on April 23, 1956.

Edison 14003 was recorded on March 19, 1929 in New York City.  Both tunes also appeared on separate Diamond Discs, as the “R” side of their respective discs.  This Needle Type record provides a somewhat uncommon opportunity to hear Rolfe’s orchestra on a standard laterally cut phonograph record. First up is “Dance of the Paper Dolls”, which also appeared on Diamond Disc 52548, backed with “Hello Sweetie”.

Dance of the Paper Dolls, recorded on March 19, 1929 by B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra.

On the “R” side, Rolfe’s orchestra plays “Fioretta”, from the 1929 Broadway musical of the same name.  This disc, unfortunately, is a little moisture damaged, causing some noticeable “swishing.”  This one was also issued on Diamond Disc 52531, backed with “If I Had You”.

Fioretta, recorded on March 19, 1929 by B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra.

Next up is another Edison dance band on Edison 14041, recorded on July 18, 1929, also in New York City.  The Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra (under the direction of violinist Bernhard Lewitow) first plays “Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember” I’m not sure who the vocalist is on this one, so if anyone could tip me off, I’d be much obliged.

Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember, recorded July 18, 1929 by Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra Under the Direction of Bernhard Levitow.

On the reverse, they play “Smiling Irish Eyes”, from the 1929 Warner Bros. Vitaphone talkie of the same name, starring Colleen Moore, now a lost film.  This tune also appeared on Diamond Disc number 52637.  These two are in better shape than the previous, and if you ask me, the music is too; those last two are just too darned dainty.

Smiling Irish Eyes, recorded July 18, 1929 by Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra Under the Direction of Bernhard Levitow.

Updated on April 28, 2018.