Champion S-16443 – Luke Baldwin – 1931

One of the outstanding folk song spinners of the 1930s was the “Dixie Songbird”, Bill Cox.  In spite of his innocuous nickname, Cox’s repertoire consisted largely of topical songs about hot-button issues of the day, including “The Trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann” (about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping), “The Fate of Will Rogers and Wiley Post”, and “N. R. A. Blues”.

William Jennings Cox was born in Eagle, West Virginia (some sources claim Kanawha County, Kentucky) on August 4, 1897.   In his youth, he took up the harmonica, and guitar, both of which he came to play with proficiency.  In 1927, Cox reportedly made his professional debut on WOBU radio in West Virginia, performing as the “Dixie Songbird,” a moniker which he retained throughout his musical career.  Two years later, in 1929, Cox ventured to Richmond, Indiana to cut his first records for the Starr Piano Company, manufacturers of Gennett Records (and their subsidiary labels such as Champion, Supertone, and so forth).  Like many of his contemporaries, his earliest recordings were covers of songs by Jimmie Rodgers, but he soon branched out into making renditions of old folk songs and his own original compositions.  Cox continued to record for Gennett until around 1931, and after an apparent hiatus, resumed his recording career in 1933 for the American Record Corporation, with whom he remained until he retired from recording.  On many of these records, he was accompanied by fellow West Virginian Cliff Hobbs.  Under the ARC, Cox’s records were issued on Conqueror, Perfect, Melotone, Oriole, Banner, Vocalion, and later Okeh.  After retiring from recording in 1940, Cox fell on hard times, and was discovered destitute and living in a converted chicken coop in 1966.  The following year, he recorded an album that would be his swan song.  Bill Cox died on December 10, 1968.

Champion S-16443 was recorded on August 17, 1931 in Richmond, Indiana by Bill Cox, released under the pseudonym Luke Baldwin.  He is accompanied by his own guitar.  It sold a total of only 301 copies!  It was also issued on Superior 2833 (which appears to have sold only 55 copies, if my interpretation of George Kay’s Superior Catalog is correct, and if it is indeed accurate), and later reissued with the sides split up, with “In 1992” on Decca 5497 and Champion 45093, and with “I Found You Among the Roses on Champion 45106 and Montgomery Ward 4942.

Cox plays harmonica on own composition “I Found You Among the Roses”, set to the tune of Edward B. Marks and Joseph W. Stern’s “My Mother Was a Lady”, or at least Jimmie Rodgers’ recording of it, which is likely where Cox found his inspiration.  Please note that this is an entirely different song than the 1916 George B. Pitman song of the same name as recorded by the Carter Family.

I Found You Among the Roses

I Found You Among the Roses, recorded August 17, 1931 by Luke Baldwin.

On the “B” side, Cox predicts the future on “In 1992”, a novelty song penned by musical duo Arthur Fields and Fred Hall.

In 1992

In 1992, recorded August 17, 1931 by Luke Baldwin.

Gennett 6505 – The New Yorkers – 1928

An original “New Electrobeam” record sleeve.

To me, the records made in the 1920s and 1930s on labels like Gennett and Paramount (manufactured by the Starr Piano Company and the Wisconsin Chair Company, respectively) seem to be a part of Americana.  They were distinctively American companies made in America’s heartland, and recorded a large amount of music by and for the American common man.  While today’s record, though indeed a Gennett, is not one of those vernacular types, it is a “New Electrobeam” by an excellent New York dance band.

Gennett 6506 was recorded June 18, 1928 in New York City by the New Yorkers, a Carl Fenton orchestra. The vocal refrains are by Carl Mathieu, who also sang as a member of the Peerless Quartet.

“Carl Fenton” was, however, not a real person.  Fenton began “life” in the early 1920s as a pseudonym for Gus Haenschen, an executive and studio band leader with Brunswick Records, whose name was “ill-suited” for record labels given attitudes toward Germans following World War I (plus, just look at it, it’s like a mess of letters).  This “Carl Fenton” recorded for Brunswick between 1920 and 1927.  In 1927, Reuben Greenberg, who had been a member of the band, bought the name from Haenschen and began using it to lead his own band, which recorded with Gennett and later had a pivotal role with the QRS label made by Cova around 1930.  In 1932, Greenberg legally changed his name to Carl Fenton, thus bringing the fictional bandleader into reality.

The band first plays a very nice syncopated version of “You’re a Real Sweetheart”, strangely credited to “Kahn-Fioritta”, even though the song was actually written by Irving Caesar and Cliff Friend.  Vocalist Carl Mathieu seems to miss his cue a little bit on this side.

You're a Real Sweetheart, recorded 1938 by The New Yorkers.

You’re a Real Sweetheart, recorded June 18, 1928 by The New Yorkers.

On the reverse, they play another great one, the 1928 hit “Dusky Stevedore”, this time correctly credited to Andy Razaf and J.C. Johnson.

Dusky Stevedore, recorded 1928 by The New Yorkers.

Dusky Stevedore, recorded June 18, 1928 by The New Yorkers.

Gennett 3005 – Straun’s Pullman Porters – 1925

Come all you rounders if you want to hear, a story about a brave engineer.  Casey Jones was the rounder’s name.  On a six-eight wheeler, boys, he won his fame.  Exactly one-hundred-sixteen years ago, on April 30, 1900, the brave engineer mounted to his cabin and he took his farewell trip into the promised land.

Casey Jones was born Jonathan Luther Jones in 1863.  He got the nickname “Cayce” from his hometown in Kentucky, and he restyled it as “Casey”.  Jones married Mary Brady in 1886 and raised three children.  He worked for the M&O and the IC railroads, and eventually rose to his dream of being an engineer, becoming one of the most able and respected in the profession, famous for his unique sound with the train whistle.  In 1893, Casey’s services were employed at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

On April 30, 1900, Casey Jones made his final run.  It was a foggy night, and Casey departed in the Old 362, behind schedule at 12:50 am, pulling the No. 1.  Despite several delays, Casey was able to get the train running on schedule for a time.  The end of the run came for Casey, however, when his fireman Sim Webb spotted something on the tracks ahead.  It was a stalled freight train.  Casey slammed on his airbrakes, but it was too late, and the Old 362 plowed into the rear of the freight train, going through several cars before derailing.  Thanks to his heroic actions that night, Casey’s life was the only loss in the accident.  His story was immortalized in song by IC engine-wiper Wallace Saunders.  Casey Jones went down in history as an American folk hero, he was a teetotaler, a family man, a baseball lover, and a brave engineer.

Gennett 3005 was recorded March 24 and April 5, 1925 in Gennett’s New York studio.  “Straun’s Pullman Porters” is a pseudonym for Nathan Glantz and his Orchestra, fronted by vocalist “Chick” Straun, apparently yet another a pseudonym, this time for Jack Kaufman.  I’m not entirely sure what you’d call these old folk songs reworked as jazz, if there even is a name for them, but I know I like them.  Much like Paul Tremaine’s hot dance renditions of “She’ll Be Comin ‘Round the Mountain” (and so forth), but these two are much earlier.

The first song on this disc is Wallace Saunders’ famous tale of the brave engineer, “Casey Jones”, sung by “Chick” Straun/Jack Kaufman.  Songwriting credit is given on the label to vaudevillians T. Lawrence Seibert and Eddie Newton, who popularized the song as a comedy act, with lyrics alleging infidelity on the part of Mrs. Jones, which she opposed for many years.  I selected this version specifically to avoid those lines, in order to maintain some respect toward Casey.

Casey Jones

Casey Jones, recorded March 24, 1925 by Straun’s Pullman Porters.

Unfortunately for us, the old classic tune, “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”, is marred by some skips, but it’s still a neat little side.

A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight, recorded April 5, 1925 by Straun’s Pullman Porters.

Champion 15687 – Dan Hughey – 1929

Before there were folk singers like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, there was “The Kentucky Mountain Boy”, Bradley Kincaid (who performs under a pseudonym on this disc).  Equally comfortable in hillbilly attire as with round framed spectacles, tidy hair, and pressed suits, Kincaid was of a decidedly more sophisticated mold than many of the more “hillbilly” folk singers of his day, while still not succumbing to the urbanity that has in some eyes damaged the credibility of such performers as Vernon Dalhart.

Bradley Kincaid was born in Point Level, Kentucky on July 13, 1895 and made his radio debut on Chicago’s WLS National Barn Dance in 1926 and later became a member of the Grand Ole Opry on WSM in Nashville in 1945.  After a long and successful career which included giving future Grand Ole Opry star Marshall Jones the nickname “Grandpa” while working with him at a Boston radio station in 1935, Kincaid died following injuries sustained in a car accident at the ripe old age of 94 on September 23, 1989.

Champion 15687 was recorded January 28, 1929 in Richmond, Indiana by Bradley Kincaid, given the nom de disque “Dan Hughey” on this release.  It was also issued on Gennett 6761 and Supertone 9362, and later reissued on Champion 45057 by Decca.  The “A” side also appeared on Superior 2656.

One of the great classic American folk songs, Kincaid first sings “Four Thousand Years Ago”, called “The Highly Educated Man” by John A. Lomax in his American Ballads and Folk Songs.

Four Thousand Years Ago

Four Thousand Years Ago, recorded January 28, 1929 by Dan Hughey.

On the reverse, Kincaid sings “Liza Up In the ‘Simmon Tree”.  This is one of those folk songs that bears great lyrical similarity to other songs; for example, “shoes and stockings in her hand and her feet all over the floor” can be heard in Wendell Hall’s “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'”, and “well, I wouldn’t marry a poor girl, I’ll tell you the reason why…” is similar to the lyrics of “Chewing Gum”, as sung by the Carter Family.

Liza Up in the Simmon Tree

Liza Up in the ‘Simmon Tree, recorded January 28, 1929 by Dan Hughey.

Updated on June 15, 2017.

Gennett 5395 – Bernie Cummins and his Toadstool Inn Orchestra – 1924

Today, March 14, we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the prolific bandleader Bernie Cummins with his first record.

Bernie Cummins, Circa 1930.

Bernie Cummins, circa 1926.

Born in Akron, Ohio in 1900, drummer Bernie Cummins had an extraordinarily long career as a bandleader, he organized his first band in 1919, and recorded fairly steadily from the middle of the 1920s until the 1940s, and working until the demise of the big band in the late 1950s.  This record, I believe, was the first of those many.  Cummins recorded first with Gennett in his native Midwest, switching to Brunswick later, and moving to Victor at the end of the 1920s, then Columbia in the mid-1930s, recording on the side for the Plaza/ARC budget labels along the way.  I believe he was with Vocalion in the late 1930s, and I’m not certain where he went after that.  At one point early in his career, Cummins served briefly as manager of the Wolverine Orchestra, most famous for featuring the talent of a young Bix Beiderbecke, and recommended the Wolverines to replace his band following his engagement with the Cinderella Roof ballroom in New York City.  Cummins died in 1986.

Gennett 5395 was recorded January 28, 1924 in Richmond, Indiana by Bernie Cummins and his Toadstool Inn Orchestra.  The full personnel of the band is unclear, but it included Bernie on drums, his brother Walter on banjo, and Karl Radlach on piano.  The Toadstool Inn was a speakeasy in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Home Folks Blues” is an energetic jazz number with plenty of “doo wacka doo” in it.

Home Folks Blues

Home Folks Blues, recorded January 28, 1924 by Bernie Cummins and his Toadstool Inn Orchestra.

On the flip, the play an instrumental of “Ida” (Sweet as Apple Cider), every bit as fine as the first side, though I believe I prefer the former.

Ida

Ida, recorded January 28, 1924 by Bernie Cummins and his Toadstool Inn Orchestra.