Okeh 45231 – Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater – 1928

This occasion’s serenade is provided by the obscure but outstanding string duo of Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater, who play here a couple of snappy rag numbers on mandolin and guitar.

Napoleon “Nap” Hayes and Matthew Prater were a pair of black musicians hailing from Vicksburg, in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.  Hayes was likely born in 1885 in West Corinth, Mississippi, and Prater in New Albany in either 1886 or on June 30, 1889.  With Hayes on guitar and Prater on mandolin, the two played raggy music in a style not too disparate from that of the Dallas String Band.  In February of 1928, they traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to record a total of eight sides for Okeh Records, out of which all but two were issued.  Half of those eight featured vocals and violin by Lonnie Johnson (though some sources, including Discography of Okeh Records, cite a different Johnson—T.C. Johnson—who recorded at the same field trip as part of the minstrel-esque trio Johnson-Nelson-Porkchop).  Out of those three discs, only one was released in the 8000 “race” series, while the other two were in the 45000 “hillbilly” series.  Each record was credited differently, one under their own names as Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater, another as “The Blue Boys”, and one with Johnson as “The Johnson Boys”.  Of note, those sides included a piece titled “Easy Winner”, which, despite taking the name of another of his rags, was in fact a take on Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”.  That session accounted for the entirety of Hayes and Prater’s recorded legacy, and their later lives are as yet undocumented.

Okeh 45231 was recorded February 15, 1928 in Memphis, Tennessee by Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater.  Hayes plays guitar, while Prater takes the raggy mandolin.  I picked this record up in a junk shop, and it’s not in the most wonderful condition, but it plays quite well in spite of it.  Not bad for a record that made the 78 Quarterly’s list of “The Rarest 78s”!

The duo first play a peppy rendition of Scott Joplin’s 1903 rag “Something Doing”, here styled as “Somethin’ Doin'”.

Somethin’ Doin’, recorded February 15, 1928 by Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater.

As an answer to the first tune, on the flip they play the folk rag “Nothin’ Doin'”, a little bluer—and a little cleaner playing—than the previous side.  I’m hearing a bit of Lemon Jefferson’s “Black Snake Moan” interpolated in this tune (“oh-oh, honey what’s the matter now”).

Nothin’ Doin, recorded February 28, 1928 by Nap Hayes and Matthew Prater.

Bluebird B-5558 – Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies – 1934

I recently learned of the passing of western swing legend Milton Brown’s little brother Roy Lee Brown at the age of 96 on May 26, 2017.  I had read of him and watched him discuss Milton on a television documentary.  Not long ago, I was reading about him, and wondered what had become of him as of late.  I was saddened to hear of his death.  I had already written out this article beforehand to publish soon, so I’m posting it now, dedicated to his memory…

I love hot jazz and I love hillbilly music.  If you put the two together, what do you get?  Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies.  If I had to pick one, I’d rank Brown’s Brownies as my favorite musical ensemble (I’d probably have to place my favorite singular musician as Jimmie Rodgers).  Part of that could be that they came from Fort Worth, Texas, one of my favorite places on Earth, no doubt.  But they could’ve come from Kalamazoo or Timbuktu, and I’d still love that certain sound they had, that no other western swing band could quite capture.  I don’t recall ever hearing anything by the Brownies that I didn’t like, from their hot numbers to their waltzes, though I’d have to say my favorites are the pieces Brown adapted from blues songs.  Much as I like the music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Milton Brown just had something special that they lacked.

Despite my love of the Brownies, I’ve never to this day posted a single one of their records on Old Time Blues.  Well that’s got to change.  Thus, here is one of the best Musical Brownies records that I have the pleasure of owning.  Now don’t go thinking I’ve forgotten anything with the lack of biographical details and what-have-you in this post, there’ll be more on that later.

Bluebird B-5558 was recorded at the Texas Hotel in San Antonio, Texas on April 4, 1934 at the Musical Brownies’ first session (but not Milton Brown’s, he had first recorded two years prior with the Fort Worth Doughboys).  It was released on July 18 of the same year.  The Musical Brownies are Derwood Brown on guitar, Cecil Brower on fiddle, Ocie Stockard on tenor banjo, Wanna Coffman on string bass, Fred Calhoun on piano, and of course Milton Brown singing the vocals.

First—it’s actually the “B” side, but I don’t care—is the rollicking “Garbage Man Blues”, Brown’s scorching hot take on Luis Russell’s “Call of the Freaks” (though like a number of Musical Brownies Bluebirds, Dan Parker is credited as the songwriter).  Brown may have picked it up from the Washboard Rhythm Kings, who prefaced their rendition with a similar spoken prelude.  The frenzied, half scat chorus of “get out your cans, here comes the garbage man” is interspersed with enticing instrumental solos by Brower, Stockard, Brown, and Calhoun, in that order.  Milton sings the first verse out of key, but soon recovers.  Brown’s biographer Cary Ginell informs me that producer Eli Oberstein refused to allow a re-take, reasoning that listeners would be none the wiser.  Frankly, I don’t think Brown’s error detracts much from the excellence of the performance (to be completely honest, I never noticed until it was pointed out to me).  Roy Newman and his Boys, from Dallas, covered “Garbage Man Blues” in 1935, and in later years the song has been resurrected by Pokey LaFarge.

Since I chanced to get my hands on this record, I’ve been listening to it over and over again.  Doesn’t get much better than this!

Garbage Man Blues, recorded April 4, 1934 by Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies.

On the other side is something quite different, Milton Brown’s own composition “My Precious Sonny Boy” played as a waltz, complete with Ted Lewis style spoken interlude.  Quite a sincere and touching song, really.  Nicely orchestrated too.

My Precious Sonny Boy, recorded April 4, 1934 by Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Vocalion 8470 – Cuarteto Monterrey – 1932

With it being Cinco de Mayo, it seems like an appropriate time to post the one of the only authentic Mexican records in the Old Time Blues collection (at least at the time of posting).  I can’t provide much information about this disc, as it falls outside of my typical milieu, and I don’t really know what resources to consult, but I’ll tell you what I am able to dig up.

Vocalion 8470, in their “ethnic” series, was recorded on December 5, 1932 in San Antonio, Texas, probably in the Gunter Hotel, by the Cuarteto Monterrey (or in English, shockingly enough, the “Monterrey Quartet”).  The full personnel is unknown to me, but instrumentation consists of mandolin and two guitars, though that would seem to make it a trío rather than a cuarteto.  Vocals are by Daniel Flores and Andrés Herrera, who likely also play the two guitars.  In addition to these two sides, they recorded at least twenty-four other sides for Vocalion.  A Cuarteto Monterrey also recorded for Okeh in 1930 which sounds to be the same group, but given the rather generic nature of the name, I can’t positively say whether it is.

Flores and Herrera recorded two sides previously, “Los Desocupados” and “Los Toros Puntales”, for Victor Records in 1931, also in San Antonio.

Their first tune, “La Bola”, was also issued on Brunswick 41551, and was later featured in 1996 on the Smithsonion Folkways album Orquestas de Cuerdas (The String Bands) – The End of a Tradition (1926-1938).

La Bola, grabado diciembre 5, 1932 por el Cuarteto Monterrey.

On the reverse, the quartet plays “Mancornadora de Mi Corazón”.  This tune has also had its time in the spotlight as part of the album Texas-Mexican Border Music Vol. 5 – The String Bands (End Of A Tradition).

Mancornadora de Mi Corazon, grabado diciembre 5, 1932 por el Cuarteto Monterrey.

Melotone M 12181 – Stripling Brothers – 1928

Thanks a million, Mr. Bussard!

This record features a pair of top-notch fiddle and guitar duets—so top-notch in fact, that it is regarded as one of the finest old-time records of all time—played by the Stripling Brothers, Charlie and Ira, of Pickens County, Alabama; two of the most talented and outstanding artists of that genre.  Today, I’m posting this fantastic disc in honor of one man who’s done more for the preservation of these old shellac records than most anybody else, the legendary King of Record Collectors, Mr. Joe Bussard, who has for many years used it for the theme of his radio program.  I’ll dedicate a post to the Striplings later on sometime, but this one here’s for Joe.  This is one of a number of fairly hard to find and generally excellent records that I had the great fortune of uncovering in the backroom of one of my favorite record stores.

Melotone M 12181 was recorded on November 15, 1928 at the Bankhead Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama by the Stripling Brothers: Charlie on fiddle and Ira on guitar—the entirety of their first session.  It was originally issued on Vocalion 5321, which was their first record, this issue dates to 1931.

This fine fiddlin’ tune, titled “The Lost Child” is used as the radio theme song for the esteemed collector (that’s an understatement) Joe Bussard’s radio show “Country Classics” on WREK 91.1 FM in Atlanta, and it also appeared as the first track on his compilation Down in the Basement: Joe Bussard’s Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s, 1926-1937 (Old Hat RCD-1004), in which it is described in Marshall Wyatt’s liner notes as a “brilliant showpiece.”  It’s a masterpiece of hillbilly fiddle music, one of the best pieces I (and many others) have ever heard.

The Lost Child

The Lost Child, recorded November 15, 1928 by the Stripling Brothers.

Like the previous side, the reverse of this disc is a musical masterpiece, yet in spite of the outstanding musical content, I had some reservations about posting this record because of fears that its rather unsavory title, “The Big Footed Nigger in the Sandy Lot”, might not go over so well nowadays.  Offensive as it is, such things come with the territory of ninety-plus year old music; my recommendation is just enjoy the music and pay little mind to the title.  It really is a beautiful melody, with outstanding fiddling by Charlie Stripling.

The Big Footed Nigger in the Sandy Lot

The Big Footed Nigger in the Sandy Lot, recorded November 15, 1928 by the Stripling Brothers.

Updated with improved audio on June 23, 2017, and on May 1, 2018.

Vocalion 02621 – W. Lee O’Daniel and his Light Crust Doughboys – 1933

1933 Sheet music for Beautiful Texas, words and music by W. Lee O’Daniel.

On March 2, 2016, Texas celebrates the 180th anniversary of its independence from Mexico, and the creation of the Republic of Texas.  After ten years as an independent nation, and a hot button issue in United States politics, Texas was admitted to the Union as the 28th state.  To celebrate and remember the occasion, here’s two fiercely Texas-themed tunes by the Fort Worth-based Light Crust Doughboys, under the leadership of W. Lee O’Daniel, the radio advertising director for  Burrus Mills, makers of Light Crust Flour and future Governor of Texas.

Vocalion 02621 was recorded on October 10, 1933 at Vocalion’s studio in the Furniture Mart Building at 666 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, Illinois, the first recorded (but not first issued) sides at the Doughboys’ first Vocalion session, and only second overall session, after their 1932 Victor session, which yielded one disc.  The band members on these sides include Herman Arnspiger and Leon Huff on guitars, Clifford Gross on fiddle, Sleepy Johnson on banjo and fiddle, Leon McAuliffe on steel guitar, and Ramon DeArman on string bass.

Guitar player Leon Huff sings lead vocal on W. Lee O’Daniel’s song, “Beautiful Texas”, proudly boasting of “about six million people who’re glad that they’re here to stay.”  A truer song has never been written.

Beautiful Texas

Beautiful Texas, recorded October 10, 1933 by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Light Crust Doughboys.

On the reverse, the Doughboys play an instrumental number, “Blue Bonnet Waltz”, taking its name from the official flower of the State of Texas.

Blue Bonnet Waltz,

Blue Bonnet Waltz, recorded October 10, 1933 by W. Lee O’Daniel and his Light Crust Doughboys.

Updated with improved audio on July 11, 2017.