In another installment in Old Time Blues continuing series on territory jazz bands, let us turn our attentions to a hot little group from deep down south: Jack Linx’s Society Serenaders.
Scarcely any information seems to be available regarding Jack Linx and his Society Serenaders. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, they formed in the first half of the 1920s and played gigs around town. In 1924, they traveled to Atlanta for the first of several sessions for the Okeh record company. They returned to Atlanta every subsequent year until 1927—twice in 1925. In that three year recording career, they cut a total of twenty-three sides for Okeh—including jazz standards like “Tiger Rag” and “Sweet Georgia Brown”, and original compositions like “Don’t You Try To High-Hat Me“—of which all but four were released. When the Starr Piano Company brought their Gennett mobile recording laboratory down to Birmingham, Linx’s band cut three more sides, though all were rejected, this time calling themselves the “West Lake Ramblers”. In 1929, the band secured a position as the house band of Birmingham’s stately new Thomas Jefferson Hotel and adopted the name “Jeffersonians” accordingly, and they played on local radio station WAPI the same year.
Okeh 40188 was recorded in Atlanta, Georgia on August 28, 1924 by Jack Linx and his Society Serenaders, their first released record from their first session, consisting of their second and third recorded sides. It was also released in the United Kingdom on Parlophone E 5263. The Society Serenaders consist of Coleman Sachs on cornet, Jack Linx on clarinet, soprano sax, and alto sax, Sidney Patterson on clarinet and alto sax, Seibert Traxler on clarinet, tenor sax, and baritone sax, Eph Tunkle on piano, Maurice Sigler on banjo, Frank Manning on tuba, and Carroll Gardner on drums.
First up, they play hotter than you might expect from a band called the “Society Serenaders” on an out-of-this-world rendition of Wendell Hall’s hit “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'”, with a low-down and slightly raunchy vocal by banjoist Maurice Sigler. Interestingly, it seems to be the only side they recorded to have a vocal.
It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’, recorded August 28, 1924 by Jack Linx and his Society Serenaders.
On the “B” side, they play the Art Kassel and Mel Stitzel novelty composition “Doodle Doo Doo”—which served as the theme song for the former’s Chicago-area band—featuring a dandy rag-style piano solo by Tunkle.
Doodle Doo Doo, recorded August 28, 1924 by Jack Linx and his Society Serenaders.
In Old Time Blues’ continuing series honoring the musical heritage of Texas, we pay due tribute to the bandleader whose orchestra bears the distinction of producing the earliest commercial recordings made within the borders of the Lone Star State: the Dallas-based pianist and songwriter Jack Gardner.
Jack Gardner and his Orchestra, pictured on 1925 sheet music for “Dallas, I Love You”.
Jack was born Francis Henry Gardner on August 14, 1903, in Joliet, Illinois. He took up playing piano while a young boy, and began playing professionally after the family relocated to Denver, Colorado, reportedly appearing with Boyd Senter’s band. He was also a competent and relatively prolific songwriter best remembered for the 1927 hit “Bye-Bye, Pretty Baby”. Many sources state that Gardner moved to Chicago in 1923 and remained there until 1937, but, unless there were two different pianists named Jack Gardner, that cannot be accurate as at least in the middle years of that decade, he was director of the house band at the stately Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, Texas. When Ralph S. Peer of the Okeh record company brought mobile recording equipment to a dealer’s warehouse in Dallas in 1924, Gardner and his orchestra had the special privilege of being the first to make commercial recordings in the state of Texas. Upon Okeh’s return to Dallas the following year, his orchestra had another session, this time introducing the talent of local singer Irene Taylor, who would later go on to be featured by the most popular orchestra in the United States: Paul Whiteman’s. Gardner may have been in Chicago as early as the end of 1925, at which time he is suggested as a possible instrumentalist with Fred Hamm’s orchestra, one of a number of groups managed by Chicago impresario Edgar A. Benson. He had definitely made it to the toddling town by 1928, at which time he began sitting in with jazz bands such as those of Wingy Manone and Jimmy McPartland. In 1939, Gardner went to New York City to assume the role of pianist first with Sandy Williams, then in Texas-raised trumpeter Harry James’s orchestra, a position which he held for around a year before returning to Chicago. After an active period there, Jack Gardner returned to Dallas, where he remained until his death on November 26, 1957.
Okeh 40339 was recorded in September or October of 1924, in Dallas, Texas, the Gardner band’s first session. Though the orchestra’s personnel is only tentatively identified, it probably includes at least some of the following members: Johnnie Mills and Charlie Willison cornets, Stanton Crocker on trombone, Robert B. Dean, Robert K. Harris, and Bernie Dillon on reeds, Jack Gardner on piano, Earl D. McMahan on banjo, Ralph W. “Cricket” Brown on tuba, and Bob Blassingame on drums. Dillon White sings the vocal on side “A”, and may also be an instrumentalist.
First, Dillon White sings the vocal on “Who? You?”, one of Jack Gardner’s own compositions. I must admit that White’s vocal gives me a little chuckle every time I listen to it (“Who?Yoouu!“), but that band sure could play!
Who? You?, recorded c.September-October 1924 by Jack Gardner’s Orchestra.
They follow with a wild, eccentric jazz tune, another Gardner original: “Who’d a Thunk It”. One thing you can say for certain: the folks in Texas did like their jazz played hot!
Who’d a Thunk It, recorded c.September-October 1924 by Jack Gardner’s Orchestra.
A somber looking Kay Kyser in a promotional photo from the 1930s.
Well before Kay Kyser’s fame as the “Ol’ Perfessor” of his “Kollege of Musical Knowledge” in the swing era of the 1930s and ’40s, he directed a respectable territory dance band out of his home state of North Carolina which recorded three Victor records in the late 1920s; this one is his first.
Kay was born James Kern Kyser in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on June 18, 1905. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a cheerleader and theatrical producer. Though expected to follow in his family’s footsteps of academic achievement, Kyser was persuaded around 1927 by Hal Kemp to take over leadership of his Carolina Club Orchestra at UNC when Kemp went off to strike it big as a bandleader, though he didn’t know a lick about music. To better perform his band directing duties, he took some clarinet lessons, but mostly “fronted” the band, making use of his exuberant cheerleading skills. As bandleader, he adopted his middle initial as his professional name, becoming “Kay” Kyser. After Kyser graduated from UNC in 1928, he took the orchestra touring as a “territory band”, and on November 26th of 1928 and 1929, the band recorded a total of eight sides for Victor in Camden and Chicago, respectively, six of which were released. In 1933, Hal Kemp recommended Kyser’s band to perform at Chicago’s Blackhawk Restaurant, a position earlier filled by Coon-Sanders’ Original Nighthawk Orchestra, which proved to be their big break, and they held that gig for several years. There, Kyser developed the format that was soon to make him famous on radio: the Kollege of Musical Knowledge, with Kay at the helm as the “Ol’ Perfessor”. The band secured a new recording contract with Brunswick in 1935, and during those years, they were joined by popular vocalists Ginny Simms and Harry Babbitt, as well as cornet player Merwin Bogue, better known as “Ish Kabibble”. The “Kollege” made its radio debut in 1938 to great popular acclaim, and soon Kyser and the band were starring in motion pictures, beginning with That’s Right—You’re Wrong in 1939. When the war came on, Kyser and his band got right to entertaining the troops, and once it was through, his popularity endured through the slow demise of the swing era. Though he continued to have hits in the latter half of the 1940s, the Kollege of Musical Knowledge radio show ended in 1949 and was followed by a brief run on television. Afterward, Kyser, who had been suffering from arthritis, used the lull as an opportunity to retire from public life. In his later years, he became involved in Christian Science, to which he had converted in hopes of relieving his arthritis, and served as the denomination’s president in 1983. At the age of eighty, Kay Kyser died on July 23, 1985 in his home state of North Carolina.
Victor V-40028 was recorded on November 26, 1928 in Camden, New Jersey and issued in the “Native American Melodies” series, as they called their V-40000 series prior to May of 1930, which was usually reserved for “hillbilly” music, but also included some regional dance bands. Kay Kyser’s orchestra consists of Marion Reed, Frank Fleming, and Charles Kraft on trumpets, George Weatherwax on trombone, John White and Sully Mason on clarinet and alto saxes, Art Walters on clarinet and tenor sax, George Duning and/or Benny Cash on piano, George Sturm on banjo, Bill Rhoads on tuba, and Muddy Berry on drums.
First off, the boys play a peppy fox trot titled “Tell Her (You Really Love Her)”, an original composition by Kyser, Hal James, and Saxie Dowell. Though not noted as such, the vocalist here sounds to me like reed man Sully Mason.
Tell Her (You Really Love Her), recorded November 26, 1928 by Kay Kyser and his Orchestra.
On the reverse, they play their first side recorded, a waltz of Kyser’s own composition: “Broken Dreams of Yesterday”—not bad for a guy with no musical background!
Broken Dreams of Yesterday, recorded November 26, 1928 by Kay Kyser and his Orchestra.
One of several outstanding Texas-based jazz and dance bands to make records in the years preceding World War II, the Harris Brothers Texans demonstrated themselves to be formidable music-makers, but with only three records to their name, all of which are rarely encountered today, the band is shrouded by a veil of near total obscurity, unknown to most outside of a small cadre of vintage jazz aficionados. Previously, scarcely any information regarding them was available. Now, following intensive research, I have endeavored to piece together a short but relatively comprehensive history of the band herein (at least the most extensive one hitherto published; with special thanks to the research of the late Murray L. Pfeffer and his Big Bands Database).
The three Harris Brothers were Abraham “Abe” Harris, born October 12, 1890 or ’91, Louis Joseph “Lou” Harris, born in October of 1891, and Myer Isadore “Monk” Harris, born January 9, 1894, the sons of Emanuel and Sarah Harris of Navasota, Texas, descendants of Jewish Prussian immigrants who arrived in Texas in the 1870s, by way of South Carolina. Abe Harris was a drummer in the First World War, and after his completing his service, he started a jazz band with his brothers, Lou playing trumpet and Monk playing trombone and euphonium. Originally directed by Abe, Lou Harris assumed leadership of the band by the late 1920s onward, and it was apparently fronted for a time around 1926 by reed and violin player and singer Harry Samuels, who had been a childhood friend of the Harris brothers. The Harris Brothers Orchestra played in Corsicana in 1922, before taking up in the Houston area the following year, making them contemporaries of Lloyd Finlay’s orchestra, and in 1923 and ’24, they played in the ballroom of the Crystal Palace in Galveston. In the middle part of the decade, the Harris Brothers Orchestra relocated to north Texas, where they broadcasted from WFAA in Dallas and were engaged at the roof ballroom of the Baker Hotel in Dallas beginning in 1926 and at least as late as 1929.
When the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company made their field trips to record in Texas, the orchestra cut records, resulting in three sessions, all in Dallas, yielding a grand total of eight sides, six of which were released. First in October of 1928, they recorded the hot jazz tunes “Somebody Stole My Gal” and “The Pay Off”, released on the Vocalion label. The following year, they cut “Gut Bucket Shuffle”, “Louisiana, That’s My Home”, and two unknown unissued titles. Finally, they concluded their brief recorded legacy with two pop-styled songs: “Oh How I Cried the Morning After” and “The South’s Been a Mother to Me”. Though credited on their records as the “Harris Brothers Texans”, at home the band was simply called the “Harris Brothers Orchestra”. By this time, the Harris Brothers’ musical style was comparable to that of the contemporary Phil Baxter’s orchestra and other Texas dance bands of the era, featuring a rather loose instrumentation and a “big” sound punctuated by strong “oom-pah” bass rhythm, with occasional use of accordion, somewhat evocative of Texas’ polka bands. Much of their recorded material displayed a certain uniquely Texan character. An unidentified group called “The Harris Brothers” had two test sessions for Gennett in 1928—prior to any of the Harris Brothers’ Brunswick recordings—but given that they are believed to have been a vocal group, it is doubtful that they were one and the same.
Around the same time as their Brunswick engagement, the Harris Brothers Orchestra played at the Dallas Country Club, and they were engaged at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas in 1929 following Alphonso Trent’s tenure there. During their time at the Adolphus, bandleader Lou Harris gave a large quantity of arrangements to New Orleans expatriate Don Albert, who had recently parted ways with Troy Floyd’s orchestra and was starting up his own band. The band remained together under the directorship of Lou Harris at least into the late 1930s, playing in Dallas and Abilene—perhaps even venturing all the way to Hollywood on a 1935 tour—and they provided music at the Greater Texas and Pan-American Exposition at Dallas’ Fair Park in 1937. Myer Harris eventually retired from music and built homes in Dallas. Abe Harris died on May 23, 1960, Lou in 1969, and Monk on November 8, 1990, all three in Dallas.
Brunswick 6047 was recorded in November of 1930 (though some sources suggest a January 1931 date) in Dallas, Texas. The personnel of the band probably includes at least some of the following members: Lou Harris and Paul Skinner on trumpets, Myer “Monk” Harris on trombone, Harry Samuels, Gene Hammel, and probably at least one other—possibly Robert Dean—on reeds (clarinet, two alto saxophones, and tenor sax), Murray Lambert on piano, Liebling Mayo on banjo (though Johnson and Shirley’s American Dance Bands suggests a possible Lester Peacock), an unknown tuba player, and Abe Harris on drums. The vocalist may be reed man Harry Samuels.
First up, the Texans play a hot jazz arrangement of “The South’s Been a Mother to Me”, apparently the only recording of this song.
The South’s Been a Mother to Me, recorded November 1930 by the Harris Brothers Texans.
On the flip, they maintain their booming sound on William Gould and Joey Ray’s popular song “Oh How I Cried the Morning After (The Night Before With You)”.
Oh How I Cried the Morning After (The Night Before With You), recorded November 1930 by the Harris Brothers Texans.
The following disc comes from the Old Time Blues Collection’s selection of rare and unusual record labels. It is one that while seldom encountered holds a unique and important place in the history of the recording industry, and bears a rather unusual, Scandinavian name: Nordskog.
The Nordskog Phonograph Company was founded by Andrae Nordskog in 1921 in Santa Monica, California. As was emblazoned so proudly on their labels, they were the first record label based on the United States’ West Coast. Although their material was recorded locally in Los Angeles, they contracted an East Coast company, The Arto Company, to take care of pressing. This setup meant they had to ship their wax master from one coast to the other, by railroad. Unfortunately, many masters didn’t survive the journey. In spite of their rather makeshift manufacturing process, Nordskog managed to attract some significant talent, including “Queen of Vaudeville” Eva Tanguay and jazz legend Kid Ory and his Sunshine Band, and they had the distinction of producing the first recordings of several notable West Coast dance bands, such as those of Abe Lyman, Henry Halstead, and Herb Wiedoeft. Others included material by popular East Coast artists like Arthur Fields and Charles Harrison, drawing from Arto’s catalog. Trouble came in 1923, when Arto went out of business while in possession of all Nordskog’s masters. The company filed suit for the return of their property, but nothing materialized, and it was all too little and too late for Nordskog, for they too folded soon after, having released little more than fifty records.
Nordskog 3004, the fourth release on the fledgling label, was recorded early in 1922 in Los Angeles, California. Herb Wiedoeft’s name is misspelled “Weidoeft” on the label. Although not listed in either Rust’s Jazz and Ragtime Records or American Dance Band Discography, the personnel probably resembles that of Wiedoeft’s recordings for Brunswick the following year, which featured Herb Wiedoeft on trumpet, Joseph Nemoli on cornet and viola, Jesse Stafford on trombone and baritone horn, Larry Abbott, Gene Siegrist, and Fred Bibesheimer on reeds (clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, and oboe), Vincent Rose on piano, Jose Sucedo on banjo, Guy Wiedoeft on tuba and string bass, and, Adolph Wiedoeft on drums and xylophone.
First up, they play a nicely orchestrated rendition of the popular 1922 jazz hit, “Virginia Blues”, perhaps most famously recorded by Ladd’s Black Aces featuring the recording debut of Cliff Edwards.
Virginia Blues, recorded in 1922 by Herb Weidoeft’s [sic] Famous Orchestra.
On the “B” side, they play Nacio Herb Brown and Gene Rose’s oriental fox trot “Persian Nights”. This appears to be the only version of this tune to have been recorded.
Persian Nights, recorded in 1922 by Herb Weidoeft’s [sic] Famous Orchestra.