Romeo 5025 – Sammy Sampson/Georgia Tom – 1930

Big Bill with his Gibson Style O guitar, as pictured in the 1941 Okeh race records catalog.

Previously on Old Time Blues, we took a look at one of the earliest records made by the illustrious Big Bill Broonzy, featuring the two rambunctious rags “Saturday Night Rub” and “Pig Meat Strut”.  Now that the time to pay birthday tributes to Mr. Broonzy has rolled around yet again, we turn our attention to another piece of work dating to one month earlier in Big Bill’s long and extensive career.

After his first 1927 and ’28 Paramount records brought little commercial success, Big Bill took a hiatus from recording.  Come 1930 however, he made his triumphant return, sitting in on an American Record Corporation session on April 8th, backing Frank Brasswell on two characteristic blues sides, then joining with the “Famous Hokum Boys”, under the auspices of founding member Georgia Tom Dorsey, to cut a re-do of the classic “Somebody’s Been Using That Thing” and three hot guitar rags.  The following day, Bill got his own time in the limelight—after a fashion—when he recorded three solo efforts of his own, “I Can’t Be Satisfied”, “Grandma’s Farm”, and “Skoodle Do Do”, all released under the pseudonym “Sammy Sampson”.  Bill continued to record under that name—excluding the results his three or four excursions to Richmond, and one to Grafton—until 1932, when the ARC (and Bluebird, for a time) finally decided to start putting out his records under his own name, albeit without his last name credited, which didn’t make it onto labels until he started recording for Mercury in 1949 (save for composer credits, which were often attributed to “Willie Broonzy” of “Williard Broonzy”).

Romeo 5025 was recorded on April 9 and 10, 1930 in New York City.  “Sammy Sampson” is, of course, a pseudonym for Big Bill Broonzy. It was also issued on Oriole 8025 and Jewel 20025, and side “A” also appeared on Perfect 157 backed with “Skoodle Do Do”.  The 78 Quarterly speculated “more than thirty [copies] on all labels,” making it perhaps not quite rare, but rather scarce nonetheless (if we’re going to split hairs), while the Perfect issue was estimated at “less than fifteen”.

On his outstanding “I Can’t Be Satisfied”, Big Bill is accompanied by his usual partner in his early days, the flatpicking Frank Brasswell, on second guitar.  To be frank, Big Bill’s earliest works were sometimes rather hit or miss; this one’s a hit—enough of one that it was covered by Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys about six years later.  It’s like rock ‘n’ roll twenty years early, only better—one of Bill’s best recordings, in my opinion.

I Can’t Be Satisfied, recorded April 9, 1930 bu Sammy Sampson.

On the flip-side, Georgia Tom Dorsey sings “Mama’s Leaving Town” in a characteristic style much in the same vein as his “Grievin’ Me Blues”—in fact, the two have very similar melodies.  He is accompanied by Broonzy on guitar.  If the song was a little peppier and hokumier, it probably would’ve been credited to the “Famous Hokum Boys”.

Mama’s Leaving Town, recorded April 10, 1930 by Georgia Tom.

Romeo 5109 – Gene Autry & Jimmy Long – 1931

Singing cowboy and 20th century superstar Gene Autry was born on this day in 1907, and to commemorate the occasion, here is Autry’s first hit, featuring his early duet partner Jimmy Long.

A depiction of Gene Autry featured on an early 1930s Perfect record sleeve.

A depiction of Gene Autry featured on an early 1930s Perfect record sleeve.

Gene Autry was born Orvon Grover Autry on September 29, 1907 in Grayson County, Texas, near Tioga.  After high school, he worked as a telegraph operator for St. Louis–San Francisco Railway, and would sing and play guitar on slow days.  After losing that job, Autry sang on Tulsa’s KVOO, and when Will Rogers encouraged his singing career, he went to New York for an audition with the Victor Company, which wound up producing one record with Jimmy Long and Frankie Marvin on steel guitar.  After Victor, Autry recorded for Columbia, which yielded several releases on their budget labels, in the style of the famous singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers.  After Columbia, he recorded for Gennett and the American Record Corporation, staying with the latter for many years.  In 1934, he was “discovered” by Nat Levine of Mascot Pictures and made his motion picture debut in In Old Santa Fe, becoming the original singing cowboy of the screen.  Before long, Autry became the top singing cowboy on film until he was surpassed by Roy Rogers, and his blue yodeling style was replaced with a more Western repertoire.  He had hit records with “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” in 1931 (and again in ’35), “Back in the Saddle” in 1939, and the Christmas classics “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  During World War II, Autry served in the Army Air Corps.  In the 1950s, Autry appeared in his own television program, and became involved in baseball.  He retired from show business in 1964, having made over one-hundred films and over six-hundred records.  Autry died of lymphoma on October 2, 1998.  He is the only person thusfar to be awarded stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in all five categories.

Romeo 5109 was recorded on October 29 and 30, 1931 in New York City by Gene Autry and Jimmy Long.  In addition to Autry’s guitar, the pair are accompanied by Roy Smeck on steel guitar.

Sentimental to the point of sappiness (and truly a piece of Americana) “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine” was Gene Autry’s first big hit, and one of his most enduring songs, making its biggest success in 1935 when Autry sang it in Tumbling Tumbleweeds.

Silver Haired Daddy of Mine

Silver Haired Daddy of Mine, recorded October 29, 1931 by Gene Autry & Jimmy Long.

Following the same formula as the previous, on the flip, they perform “Mississippi Valley Blues”.

Mississippi Valley Blues

Mississippi Valley Blues, recorded October 30, 1931 by Gene Autry and Jimmy Long.

Romeo 5052 – Gene Autry – 1931

I think it’s time to we pulled ourselves out of this, “on this day, this happened” rut we’ve been in for some time and put something up for no particular occasion, so here’s a good one, for no reason other than the music itself.  I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

Autry as pictured on a 1930s Perfect Records sleeve.

Autry as pictured on a 1930s Perfect Records sleeve.

The iconic Gene Autry made his fame in the 1930s as a singing cowboy, much like his contemporary Roy Rogers, but he started his career in the late 1920s imitating another popular singer by the name of Rodgers, Jimmie Rodgers.  By the early 1930s, Autry was starting to come into his own, but he still tended very closely to the style of song forth by the Singing Brakeman, as in fact did a great many country singers of that era.  On these 1931 sides, you’ll hear Autry perform songs much like those by Jimmie Rodgers.

Romeo 5052 (in their country and race series) was recorded February 25, 1931 in New York City by Gene Autry, accompanied on steel guitar and harmonica by Frankie Marvin.  It was also issued on Banner 32132, Jewel 20052, Oriole 8052, Perfect 12695, Regal 10310, and Conqueror 7843.

The first song is of a solemn tone, a warning to stay on the straight and narrow path, with the singer lamenting his falling in with the wrong crowd and into a life of crime, “’till it led to the use of a gun”, on “A Gangster’s Warning”.

A Gangster's Warning

A Gangster’s Warning, recorded February 25, 1931 by Gene Autry.

Now, this next side is one of my favorites of Autry’s songs, “True Blue Bill”, also called “I’m a Truthful Fellow”.  This song strikes me as a sort of a twentieth century re-hashing of the old “Four Thousand Years Ago”.  It seems that this side was a favorite of a previous owner as well, as it’s been quite well played.

True Blue Bill

True Blue Bill, recorded February 25, 1931 by Gene Autry.

Updated with improved audio on July 17, 2017.

A Brief Guide to the ARC Numbering System

Around September of 1935, the American Record Corporation (ARC) revamped their catalog numbering system for most of their budget labels.  Prior to this change, all of the multitude of labels made by the ARC used different numbering schemes for their cataloging, and this new system created a unified system of numbers.

This new cataloging system involved a five digit code consisting of three numbers separated by hyphens.  The first number represents the year of release, the second the month of release, and the third the release number and series (e.g. popular, race).

The first number used a single digit code for the release year.  For example: 6 would equate to 1936, 7 to ’37, and so on.  The first two months of releases using this system used 35 as the first number before changing to the single digit system in November of that year.

The second, two digit number, quite straightforwardly, refers to the month of release, 01 for January, 04 for April, 11 for November, and so on.

The third number refers to the release number of the record, 01 would be the first issue, 12 for the twelfth, etc.  Beginning around November 1935, releases in the popular series used numbers beginning at 01 for the final number, and releases in the Race/Country & Western series began at 51.

For example: 7-04-18 would be the eighteenth issue in the popular series for April of 1937, 7-04-68 would be the eighteenth in the Race/Country series.

Romeo 1936In the case of the record pictured, Romeo 6-06-03, the numbers equate to the following:

  • 6: the year of release, 1936
  • 06: the month of release, June
  • 03: the release number, third in the popular series

That means the above record is the third record released in the popular series in June of 1936.

The ARC used this system for Banner, Melotone, Oriole, Perfect, and Romeo.  Conqueror and many of the ARC’s small client labels did not adopt the system.