Spotlight: Chick Bullock

From early 1930s "Perfect" record sleeve. An illustration of the only known photograph of Bullock in his prime.

An illustration of Bullock in his prime, from 1930s “Perfect” record sleeve.

One of the most prolific male vocalists of the 1930s was Charles “Chick” Bullock. With his relaxed style and smooth tenor voice, Bullock recorded innumerable titles with groups ranging from sweet dance orchestras like Waring’s Pennsylvanians and Ed Kirkeby to hot jazz bands like Cab Calloway’s orchestra and the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, even Antobal’s Cubans as “Chiquito Bullo”, as well as his own group, the Levee Loungers.  Over the course of his career, Bullock worked with many, if not most, top musicians of the 1930s, recording hundreds of sides.  In fact, if you pulled out any record from the ARC labels (Banner, Perfect, Romeo, et al), there’s a good chance you’ll see “vocal chorus by Chick Bullock”.

Charles Sibley Bullock was born September 16, 1898 in Butte, Montana to British parents William (b.1858) and Emily Bullock (née Sibley) (b.1872), an engineer and teacher, respectively, who met and married after emigrating to the States.  Though his family wanted him to pursue a career as a doctor, he was destined for a life in the show business.  His first job in the entertainment industry had him working as an illustrated song performer between acts on the vaudeville stage.  Later, he worked his way from venue to venue into motion pictures, scoring a few small parts in silent films, but soon found he preferred singing, and left Hollywood to pursue a career in music.  In Salt Lake City, Bullock met Mary Newton, whom he would marry soon after.

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Spotlight: The Boswell Sisters

 “I am still Crazy over those Boswell Sisters. Bless their hearts. They are from my home town, you know? Fine Girls. They think I am the Last word.”

Louis Armstrong letter to friend, 1933

From 1931 sheet music cover.

From sheet music for “Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On”, 1931.

It would seem criminal to start the Spotlight feature with anyone but trio that perhaps created the jazziest interpretations of the popular music of the 1930s, the Boswell Sisters.  Stars of record, screen, and radio, those “syncopating harmonists from New Orleans” simply could not sing a bad song (and could even make a bad song good).  With over one-hundred recorded tunes and an established career in radio from 1930 until their untimely break-up in 1936, and an inimitable style that has never been matched, they were among the greatest musical stars of the Great Depression.

Martha Meldania (born July 9, 1905), Constance Foore (born December 3, 1907), and Helvetia George “Vet” (born May 20, 1911) Boswell, born to Meldania Fooré and Alfred Clyde “A.C.” Boswell made up the Boswell Sisters.  Martha and Connie were born in Kansas City, and Vet was born in Birmingham, but the family moved to New Orleans when the children were young.  The sisters had an older brother, Clydie (born 1900), who died tragically in 1918 during an influenza outbreak.  Around the time Vet was born, young Connie was either involved in a coaster wagon accident or stricken with polio, leaving her completely immobile for a short time, and unable to walk properly for the rest of her life.

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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.