Vocalion 3401 – Don Albert and his Orchestra – 1936

In their heyday, Don Albert’s orchestra was called “America’s Greatest Swing Band”, a title which they perhaps deserved.  Today, their renown, however great it may have been in the 1930s, has faded.

Don Albert was born Albert Anité Dominique in New Orleans on August 5, 1908.  He was the nephew of trumpeter Natty Dominique, and also reportedly a relative of Barney Bigard.  Albert took up the trumpet to join in on the Crescent City’s famous brass bands, and was instructed on the instrument by Milford Piron, brother of the renowned bandleader Armand J. Piron.  Sometime in the middle part of the 1920s, Albert relocated to Dallas, where he joined Alphonso Trent’s orchestra at the Adolphus Hotel (later the Gunter Hotel), with whom he toured across the southwestern United States.  After departing from Trent, Albert joined Troy Floyd’s orchestra of the Plaza Hotel in San Antonio, with whom he remained until forming his own band in 1929.  Initially calling themselves “Don Albert and his Ten Pals”, Albert’s new band played the Texas State Fair in 1929, and supplanted Floyd’s band at the Shadowland speakeasy in San Antonio.  In the 1930s, Albert’s orchestra toured across twenty-four of these United States, and billed themselves as “America’s Greatest Swing Band”, but only recorded eight titles in one San Antonio session for the American Record Corporation.  In the 1940s, Albert opened an integrated club, Don’s Keyhole, in San Antonio, which closed in 1948, at which point he returned to New Orleans for a short period.  Once back in San Antonio, Albert opened another club, and following harassment from authorities, filed a restraining order against the city, taking his case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court and winning.  Aside from his musical work, Albert was also employed as a civil servant at Fort Sam Houston from the late forties or early fifties until retiring in 1974.  Don Albert retired from performance in the late 1950s, but continued to play sporadically for the rest of his life.  He died in San Antonio on March 4, 1980.

Vocalion 3401 was recorded on November 18, 1936 in San Antonio, Texas.  Don Albert directing Billy Douglas, Alvin Alcorn, and Hiram Harding on trumpets, James “Geechy” Robinson and Frank Jacquet on trombones, Herbert Hall on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, Gus Patterson and Harold “Dink” Taylor on alto sax, Louis Cottrell on clarinet and tenor sax, Lloyd Glenn on piano, Ferdinand Dejan on guitar, James Johnson on string bass, and Albert Martin on drums.

The “big” sound of Albert’s “Rockin’ and Swingin'” exemplifies that of Texas jazz in the 1930s (compare to Boots and his Buddies’ “Rose Room”).

Rockin' and Swingin'

Rockin’ and Swingin’, recorded November 18, 1936 by Don Albert and his Orchestra.

On the other side, Merle Turner sings the vocal on this band’s swinging version of the seven year old (at the time of recording, that is) popular song from The Dance of Life, “True Blue Lou”.

True Blue Lou

True Blue Lou, recorded November 18, 1936 by Don Albert and his Orchestra.

Bluebird B-6063 – Boots and his Buddies – 1935

In another entry in our series examining both the territory bands of the United States and music originating from the state of Texas, we look at Boots and his Buddies, one of the Lone Star State’s leading swing bands of the 1930s.

Clifford “Boots” Douglas was born in Temple, Texas, likely on September 7, 1906 or 1908.  He began playing drums in his teenage years, and first played professionally in 1926 as a member of Millard McNeal’s Southern Melody Boys of San Antonio.  Douglas formed his own band, called “Boots and his Buddies” (perhaps deriving their name from the comic strip Boots and her Buddies) at some point in the first half of the 1930s, and played gigs around the state of Texas, occasionally venturing into neighboring states.  Boots’ Buddies began recording in 1935 for RCA Victor, with their recordings issued on the Bluebird label.  They continued to record until late in 1938.  With Douglas arranging, they seem to have had a tendency to “borrow” music from others and play it under their own titles.  Their regional popularity rivaled that of fellow Texas swing man Don Albert, and while their phonograph records gained them some greater recognition outside of their home state, they never were never widely known outside of Texas.  Though the end of the swing era saw a steady decline in the band’s popularity, Boots and his Buddies were still playing through the end of the 1940s.  In 1950, Douglas finally disbanded his Buddies and relocated to Los Angeles, California, where he worked for the county, still playing on the side.  According to social security records, he died in 2000, at the age of either 92 or 94.

Bluebird B-6063 was recorded August 14, 1935 in San Antonio, Texas by Boots Douglas and his Buddies.  The personnel consists of Thaddeus Gilders, Percy Bush, Douglas Byers, and L.D. Harris on trumpets, Johnny Shields on trombone, Alva Brooks and Jim Wheat on alto sax, Baker Millian on tenor sax, A.J. Johnson on piano, Jeff Thomas on guitar, Walter McHenry on string bass, and Boots Douglas on drums.  It was the first issued record by Boots’ Buddies, and the first and third sides from his earliest session.  This pressing dates to the late 1930s, early pressings would have appeared on Bluebird’s “buff” label.  I purchased this copy from a local fellow in Arlington (the same guy that provided my Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours record), it has likely spent its entire life in the state, since its arrival from the pressing plant.

First up is “Wild Cherry”.  This side is pretty well beaten, but still plays well thanks to the high quality of these Bluebird records.

Wild Cherry

Wild Cherry, recorded August 14, 1935 by Boots and his Buddies.

On the other side, they play a sizzling rendition of “Rose Room” (which we last heard played by Duke Ellington’s band).  This was Boots and his Buddies’ first recorded side.  This may be the loudest side I’ve ever played, I had to turn the volume way down to transfer it properly.

Rose Room

Rose Room, recorded August 14, 1935 by Boots and his Buddies.

Bluebird B-5942 – Jimmie Rodgers/Jesse Rodgers – 1931/1935

This record is a remarkable one for a number of reasons.  One of those is that, being a Depression era release, it is quite scarce (and I don’t mean to sound braggadocious, I’m still surprised that I have it, myself).  Another is that is one of a number of records of the 1920s and 1930s to feature black and white artists performing together, in this case Jimmie Rodgers with the Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  On the downside, this copy has certainly seen better days.  The years have not been kind to it, and its sound reflects that. It’s still listenable, but has a layer of surface noise.  Another bit worth mentioning is that the flip side of this record, which was released after Rodgers’ passing, features a recording by another blue yodeler who happened to be Jimmie Rodgers’ first cousin.

Both sides of Bluebird B-5942 were recorded on separate occasions.  The “A” side was recorded on June 16, 1931 in Louisville, Kentucky, the “B” side was recorded January 28, 1935 in San Antonio, Texas.  The personnel of the jug band on the first side includes George Allen on clarinet, Clifford Hayes on violin, Cal Smith on tenor guitar, Fred Smith on guitar and Earl McDonald on jug, the same basic group as the Dixieland Jug Blowers.  One seller claimed that it sold a total of 2,757 copies, but I have no idea how they came up with that number and whether or not it’s accurate, though those numbers don’t sound out of line.

On the first side, the Blue Yodeler sings “My Good Gal’s Gone”, with outstanding accompaniment by Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  Though it was recorded in 1931, this 1935 Bluebird is the first issue of this recording.  Takes “2” and “3” of this song exist, this one is the latter.

My Good Gal’s Gone, recorded June 16, 1931 by Jimmie Rodgers.

On the “B” side, Jimmie’s first cousin, Jesse Rodgers sings “Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama” in a style that reminds me of Cliff Carlisle more than Jimmie.  Jesse stuck around for quite a while, later dropping the “d” from his name to become Jesse Rogers by the end of the 1930s.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Updated with improved audio on May 23, 2017.

Okeh 8571 – Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra – 1928

The Lone Star State in the 1920s was home to a host of fantastic territory jazz bands, such as those of Alphonso Trent, Eddie Fennell and Sugar Lou Morgan, Fred Gardner, Jimmie Joy, and Le Roy Williams.  One of the most outstanding of these territory bands, both in musical virtuosity and history, was that of Troy Floyd.  Floyd’s eleven piece orchestra played at the Plaza Hotel in San Antonio, and gigged on-the-side at the Shadowland, a notorious speakeasy and one of the most successful jazz clubs in Texas.

Troy Floyd was born around San Antonio, Texas on January 5, 1901, and learned to play the saxophone and clarinet. He organized his first group, a sextet, in 1924. The group expanded over time, and by 1928, Floyd’s orchestra was playing at the Plaza Hotel and broadcasting on KTSA.  Floyd’s band made two released records, both featuring one song broken up into two parts, plus an unissued recording of “Wabash Blues” on two of Okeh Records’ field trips to San Antonio.  Floyd’s band holds special significance in Texas’ musical legacy, for, in addition to its own merit, it helped to launch the careers of at least two musicians of note; in the 1930s, New Orleans born trumpeter Don Albert started his own Texas-based swing band, and banjoist J.H. Bragg founded a jazz group of his own, both of which made several records with Vocalion in the 1930s.  Troy Floyd disbanded his orchestra in 1932, and later worked as a pool hall operator in San Diego, California, where he died on July 16, 1953.

Okeh 8571, part of their legendary race series, was recorded March 14, 1928 in San Antonio, Texas. The personnel features future band leader and trumpet virtuoso Don Albert and Willie Long on trumpets, Benny Long providing unique solos on trombone, Troy Floyd and N.J. “Siki” Collins on clarinet and alto sax, Scott Bagby on clarinet and tenor sax, John Henry Bragg on banjo, Allen Vann on piano, Charlie Dixon (a different one from Fletcher Henderson’s banjoist) on trombone and tuba, John Humphries on drums, and the bellowing Kellough Jefferson singing the vocal refrain.

The title of “Shadowland Blues” refers to the San Antonio speakeasy of the same name, though the lyrics, sung by Kellough Jefferson, make no reference to the club. This amazing territory band recording is characterized by what has been called the “gut bucket” trombone playing of Benny Long, which some have said mars the performance, but I disagree, I think it gives it a unique and rural character, as opposed to homogenized classically-trained, Whiteman-esque jazz.

A two-parter, they play “Shadowland Blues (Part 1)” on the first side…

Shadowland Blues (Part 1), recorded March 14, 1928 by Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra.

…and “Shadowland Blues (Part 2)” on the back.

Shadowland Blues (Part 2), recorded March 14, 1928 by Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on July 9, 2017.

Okeh 41440 – Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours – 1930

In my never ending hunt for Texas jazz records, this one by Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours is a necessity.  Unfortunately, the only copy I was able to get my hands on is in rather rough condition.  I think it’s still enjoyable, but it’s no prizewinner by any stretch of the imagination.  Years ago, an English magazine misidentified the cornet on these records as that of the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, in what they credited as a band organized by British saxophonist Freddy Gardner, who was alleged to have been vacationing in Texas at the time. In actuality, the cornet player on this and the other record from this session was Tom Howell, and the leader was an entirely different Fred Gardner.

Cornetist Thomas Alva Howell, Jr., born in 1906, and his brother Lee learned to play by ear, and attended the University of Texas together beginning in 1921, where they played in the Howell Brothers Moonshiner Orchestra. They later joined Steve Gardner’s Hokum Kings, which recorded in 1930 under the direction of saxophonist Fred Gardner in San Antonio for Okeh Records. Howell and his brother also played in Sunny Clapp’s Band o’ Sunshine and can be heard playing on two of their San Antonio recorded sides from 1929, as well as singing on one of their Victor records.

Okeh 41440 was recorded on June 9, 1930 in San Antonio, Texas. Judging by the personnel, the band was something of a family affair, and features leader Fred Gardner on clarinet and tenor sax, Tom Howell on cornet, Lee Howell on trombone, Steve Gardner on clarinet, Chester Seekatz on clarinet and alto sax, Tommy Howell on piano, Bill Lewis on banjo and guitar, John Gardner on tuba, and Jay “Bird” Thomas on drums and vocals.

Gardner’s Troubadours play W.C. Handy’s classic song “Loveless Love” (a re-working of the traditional “Careless Love”) slow and with a steady beat, and it doesn’t disappoint, serving as an outstanding example of Texas-area territory jazz, with a fine vocal to top it off.

Loveless Love, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner's Texas University Troubadours.

Loveless Love, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours.

A bit worse for wear, Glen Caraway, Louis Andre, and Bob Miller’s blues song “Papa’s Gone” is played hotter and more uptempo than the previous side, with a great bounce, and is one of my favorites. Originally a blues song performed by the likes of Rosa Henderson, this number seems to have been something of a standard in Texas jazz in those days, as it was recorded by at least four Texas-based bands in the 1920s and 1930s: first by Jimmy Joy’s St. Anthony Hotel Orchestra as “Mama Will Be Gone” in 1924, then by Eddie and Sugar Lou’s Hotel Tyler Orchestra as “Sweet Papa Will Be Gone” in 1929, then this one in ’30, and finally (or not?) by the Nite Owls in 1937.

Papa's Gone, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner's Texas University Troubadours.

Papa’s Gone, recorded June 9, 1930 by Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours.

Updated with improved audio on July 11, 2017.