Perfect 13090 – Bill Cox – 1933/1934

A Perfect sleeve emblazoned with the NRA Blue Eagle.

A Perfect sleeve displaying the NRA Blue Eagle (to the right, above Morton Downey.)

September 13, 1933 was “NRA Day”, celebrated in New York City with one of, if not the largest parade in the city’s history, complete with an appearance by the U.S. Navy’s airship U.S.S. Macon.

With today’s politics, hearing of the NRA brings to mind the National Rifle Association, but in days of yore, it held an entirely different meaning.  In the 1930s, the abbreviation referred to the National Recovery Administration.  That NRA was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s earliest New Deal agencies, created in 1933 by the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA).  With its signature “Blue Eagle” as the logo, the NRA set forth a series of codes and regulations intended to help employ more people and get the economy back on its feet.  Though popular with many workers, the NRA was ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court, thus bringing it to an end in May of 1935.  During its existence from 1933 to 1935, NRA Blue Eagles were displayed in store windows and emblazoned on all sorts of consumer products, ranging from garments to fruit crates to record sleeves.

Perfect 13090 was recorded in two separate sessions on August 30, 1933 and September 9, 1934 at the American Record Corporation studios in New York City.  The former session was Cox’s first with the ARC, having recorded previously with the Starr Piano Company (Gennett).  Interestingly for a black label Perfect, this is a laminated pressing.

On this disc, the Dixie Songbird, Bill Cox laments to his sweetheart his employer’s delay in joining the NRA in “N. R. A. Blues”.  “When they gonna join the NRA?  Sweet thing, sweet thing.  When they gonna join the NRA, I never have heard the big boss say.  Sweet thing, yes baby mine.”

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox,

N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Starting out with a little bit of the old “Jack o’ Diamonds”, on the flip, Cox sings a low down old time country blues tune, “Hard Luck Blues”, sounding a bit like Jimmie Rodgers in his vocals on this side.  A Great Depression-era country tune evocative of Dust Bowl times.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1934 by Bill Cox.

Updated with improved audio on June 23, 2017.

Columbia 14222-D – Barbecue Bob – 1927

Up there with Blind Lemon Jefferson in the pantheon of 1920s blues music stands Robert Hicks, better known as Barbecue Bob, an Atlanta native that found fame in the late 1920s as one of the top “race” stars for Columbia records.  Over the course of his short recording career, Hicks waxed sixty-eight sides.

Born September 11, 1902 in Walnut Grove, Georgia, Robert Hicks and his brother Charlie, along with Curley Weaver, learned to play guitar from Weaver’s mother.  While working as a pitmaster at an Atlanta barbecue joint, Hicks was discovered by Columbia records talent scout Dan Hornsby (who also worked as a musician and is known for his association with Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers.)  Taking his recording name from his work, he made his first recording in March 1927, titled “Barbecue Blues”, which may have been named by the Columbia staff to fit his gimmick, as the lyrics make no reference to barbecue in any way.  Hicks went on to record many more sides between then and December 1930, both solo and as part of Georgia Cotton Pickers.  Robert Hicks died from tuberculosis and pneumonia on October 21, 1931.

Columbia 14222-D was recorded June 15, 1927 in New York City by Barbecue Bob, accompanied by his own twelve-string guitar.  The DAHR says that both takes 1 and 2 of both sides were issued, these are both first takes.  These are the first two sides from Barbecue Bob’s second recording session, and his second issues record.  This was probably one of the most successful country blues records of the 1920s.

It is said that the record of “Mississippi Heavy Water Blues” was played at Hicks’ funeral in 1931.  The song makes reference to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States.  Beginning in April 1927, the floods caused widespread devastation in the Mississippi Delta, submerging more than 23,000 square miles and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.  The disaster and its widespread effects were chronicled in a number of songs of the era, including this one.  Hicks’ witty songwriting stands out in the line, “Mississippi shakin’, Lou’siana sinkin’, whole town’s a-ringin’, Robert Hicks is singing.”

Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Following a similar structure as the previous song, on “Mamma You Don’t Suit Me!”, Hicks sings of his gal, who drives a Willys-Knight and “doesn’t suit him like his other mama did.”

Mama You Don't Suit Me, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Mama You Don’t Suit Me, recorded June 15, 1927 by Barbecue Bob.

Updated with improved audio on October 14, 2017.

Herwin 75555 – Ernest Hare – 1927

Chas. A. Lindbergh, from Victor catalog.

Chas. A. Lindbergh.  From Victor catalog.

On May 21, 1927, Charles Augustus Lindbergh completed the first non-stop flight from Long Island’s Roosevelt Field to Paris’ Le Bourget Field.  Thus, he was catapulted to international fame, and to quote the Howard Johnson and Al Sherman song, “like an eagle, he flew into everyone’s heart.”

An air mail pilot, the twenty-five year old Lindbergh took an offer from the French-born New York hotelier Raymond Orteig to award $25,000 to the first pilot to successfully complete a non-stop flight across the Atlantic ocean.  Procuring a custom built Ryan airplane dubbed the Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh, the dark horse of the contenders for the prize, left Roosevelt Field on Long Island on the morning of May 20, 1927, and arrived in Paris on the night of the next day, creating what was dubbed the largest traffic jam in Parisian history.  Becoming an overnight sensation, the hype surrounding Lindbergh was the largest media event of the inter-war years (we covered the third largest previously), Lindy was the 1927 “Man of the Year” for Time magazine, the topic of songs, and the likely namesake of that wildly popular dance craze, the Lindy Hop.

Herwin 75555 was recorded in May of 1927, mere days after Lindy’s flight, by Ernest Hare, and features two songs in celebration of Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight.  It is a Paramount pressing leased from Plaza masters, and was also issued on Banner 1994, Broadway 1078, Regal 8326, Oriole 921 and 922 (with the sides split up), and possibly others.  Hare was a very successful singer in the 1910s and 1920s, and is best known for his association with Billy Jones, who, as a pair, were known as the “Happiness Boys”, among many other names.  The Herwin label was a St. Louis, Missouri label produced from 1924 to 1930 by brothers Herbert and Edwin Schiele, mostly using masters leased from Gennett and Paramount.

On the first of the two Lindy songs sung by our Happiness Boy, Hare sings, “Lindbergh (The Eagle of the U.S.A.)”.

Lindbergh (The Eagle of the USA)

Lindbergh (The Eagle of the U.S.A.), recorded May 1927 by Ernest Hare.

On the second, he sings L. Wolfe Gilbert and Abel Baer’s similar composition, “Lucky Lindy”.  It’s been said that just about every song made about Lindbergh’s flight is terribly cheesy, and that’s about true, but I believe this one, as performed by Hare, is my favorite of the bunch.

Lucky Lindy

Lucky Lindy, recorded May 1927 by Ernest Hare.

Updated with improved audio on June 29, 2017.

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.

Victor 19779 – Vernon Dalhart – 1925

Around February 13—the exact day and moment is uncertain, in 1925—the Kentucky spelunker Floyd Collins met his end in what is now called Sand Cave after being trapped there for about fourteen days.  In early twentieth century Kentucky, many former farmers, disillusioned from their craft by the poor soil, took to exploring the extensive cave system beneath them, in hopes of creating a prosperous tourist attraction.  Having discovered Crystal Cave in 1917, now part of Mammoth National Park, which lay on his family’s property, but attracted few tourists because of its remote location, Collins attempted to find an alternate, more convenient entrance.  On January 30, 1925, Collins dug his way through the narrow passageways of Sand Cave, but became pinned there by a rock that had become wedged near his leg.  Friends found him the next day, and a rescue effort was mounted.  Digging a new tunnel to reach Collins, by the time the his would-be rescuers made it to the chamber where he was located, he was already dead from exposure.  The attempted rescue of Floyd Collins created the third largest media sensation between the World Wars (the other two involved Lindbergh), and the first major news event to be covered on the radio.  On Collins’ grave reads the epitaph, “Greatest Cave Explorer Ever Known.”

Victor 19779 was recorded September 9, 1925 in New York by Vernon Dalhart, accompanied on guitar by Carson Robison and violin by Lou Raderman.  This issue was pulled from the Victor catalog several weeks after it was issued following complaints that Victor was profiting from the USS Shenandoah disaster, “Floyd Collins” was reissued on number 19821 the following month, paired with a different flip-side; apparently no one had a problem with profiting off Floyd Collins’ death.

On what was actually intended as the “B” side of this disc, but served as the “A” on the reissue, Vernon Dalhart sings Rev. Andrew Jenkins famous tribute, “Death of Floyd Collins”.

Death of Floyd Collins, recorded

Death of Floyd Collins, recorded September 9, 1925 by Vernon Dalhart.

The flip-side, “Wreck of the Shenandoah”, refers to another major event that occurred in 1925, the crash of the USS Shenandoah, a US Navy airship (from those amazing science fiction-esque days when the Navy took to the sky). After embarking on a promotional tour of the Midwest, the airship crashed during a storm in Noble County, Ohio on September 3, 1925.

Wreck of the Shenandoah, recorded

Wreck of the Shenandoah, recorded September 9, 1925.