Victor 20502 – Ernest Rogers/Vernon Dalhart – 1927/1925

Ernest Rogers, as pictured in a 1930 Victor catalog.

It’s no secret that I have sort of a thing for obscure—but excellent—musical artists of the 1920s and ’30s (also em dashes, if you haven’t noticed).  One of my most enduring favorites within that category is Mr. Ernest Rogers.  (Funny how so many of my favorite people are named “Rogers”, or some variation on that!)

William Ernest Rogers was born on October 27, 1897 in Atlanta, Georgia.  He was crippled by infantile paralysis at the age of two, but that evidently didn’t slow him down.  He attended Emory University—where he was the champion debater, a member of the glee club, mandolin club, and literary society, and founder of the campus newspaper, the Emory Wheel—and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1920.  After college, Rogers found work as an editor, reporter, arts critic, and features writer for the Atlanta Journal, with whom he remained until 1962.  He married Bertha Turnipseed and they had one child, Wallace.  On the side, Ernest sang and played the guitar, and reportedly served as a performer and announcer on the Atlanta radio station WSB.  His repertoire consisted primarily of vaudevillian material, including such songs as “Steamboat Bill”, “Waitin’ for the ‘Robert E. Lee'”, and “Willie the Weeper”, as well as a few compositions of his own, like “My Red-Haired Lady” and “Let Me Be Your Man in the Moon”.  He made his first record for the Columbia Phonograph Company in January of 1925, during their second field trip to Atlanta, cutting two sides, which were issued.  Two years later, the Victor Talking Machine company brought their recording equipment to Atlanta, and Rogers cut another two sides.  Victor must’ve liked him, because he had two more sessions with them in May of ’27 and February of ’28, producing a further eight sides.  Of the twelve sides he recorded, all but two were released.  Following the culmination of his recording career, Ernest Rogers continued to have success in the literary world, publishing relatively successful books: The Old Hokum Bucket in 1949, and Peachtree Parade, a compilation of his newspaper columns, in 1956.  Ernest Rogers died on October 9, 1967 in Atlanta.

An entirely different and unrelated Ernest Rogers recorded “Baby, Low Down, Oh, Low Down Dirty Dog” for John A. Lomax in Angola Prison Farm in July of 1934.

Victor 20502 was recorded in two quite separate sessions: the first side was at the Elyea Talking Machine Co. in Atlanta, Georgia on February 17, 1927, while the second was recorded almost two years earlier in New York City on June 25, 1925.  It was released in May of 1927, and remained Victor’s catalog all the way into 1944.

First, Ernest Rogers sings a classic vaudeville song by the name of “Willie the Weeper”, or in this case “Willie the Chimney Sweeper”.  You may notice more than a passing similarity to Cab Calloway’s famous “Minnie the Moocher”, which drew heavily on the song.  Rogers recorded “Willie the Weeper” at his first session for Columbia, as well—I’ve never heard that version, but I’d assume it’s much the same as this one.

Willie, the Chimney Sweeper, recorded February 17, 1927 by Ernest Rogers.

On the reverse, our ol’ pal Vernon Dalhart sings a perfectly solid rendition of another old vaudeville standby, “Casey Jones”, with Carson Robison on guitar, and harmonica and Jew’s harp played by Dalhart himself.  Say what you will about Dalhart, but this record—both sides—truly is a great piece of Americana.

Casey Jones, recorded June 25, 1925 by Vernon Dalhart.

Victor 19919 – Vernon Dalhart – 1925

From 1930 Victor catalog.

From 1930 Victor catalog.

Extenuating circumstances over the past several days unfortunately prevented me from publishing a tribute to Vernon Dalhart on his birthday yesterday, April 6, but here is a belated celebration today.

Vernon Dalhart was born Marion Try Slaughter, April 6, 1883 in Jefferson, Texas.  After his father was murdered behind the Kahn Saloon there, his family relocated to Dallas, where he attended a music conservatory and became an operatic tenor.  Assuming the name “Vernon Dalhart” after two Texas towns, he began recording in the 1910s.  Having previously learned cowboy songs while working on the range as a teen, in 1924, Dalhart became a pioneering figure in country music, when he recorded “Wreck of the Old 97” and “The Prisoner’s Song” for the Victor Talking Machine Company.  That record was met with huge success, and Dalhart, working frequently with guitarist and sometimes singer Carson J. Robison, became one of the most popular artists in the 1920s.  Dalhart’s success waned by the end of the decade, and he only recorded sporadically in the 1930s, making his final records in 1939.  Vernon Dalhart died of a heart attack in 1948.

Victor 19919 was recorded was recorded December 21, 1925 in New York City.  Vernon Dalhart is accompanied by Carson Robison on guitar and Murray Kellner on violin. Dalhart himself plays the harmonica.

Vernon Dalhart is best known for his ballads and tearjerkers (e.g. “The Prisoner’s Song”, “In the Baggage Coach Ahead”), but he recorded quite a number of songs outside that genre, including “Putting on the Style”.  This tune was later revived in 1957 by Lonnie Donegan.

Putting on the Style

Putting on the Style, recorded December 21, 1925 by Vernon Dalhart.

“The Little Black Moustache” is one of those songs written for a singer of the opposite sex, making it into quite a humorous affair.  Vernon sings it in good spirits, and does a good job with it if you ask me.

The Little Black Moustache

The Little Black Moustache, recorded December 21, 1925 by Vernon Dalhart.

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.

Spotlight: Vernon Dalhart

Dalhart in 1927, from the Cover of "My Blue Ridge Mountain Home"

From the 1927 cover of “My Blue Ridge Mountain Home”

One of the most popular recording artists in his day, and one of the least appreciated today, is classically trained tenor-turned-country singer Vernon Dalhart.  The first million-selling country artist, whose records enthralled the listeners of the 1920s, and sometimes annoy record collectors today because of their prevalence, a testament to his popularity.

The man who would become internationally famous as Vernon Dalhart was born Marion Try Slaughter II in the town of Jefferson, Texas on April 6, 1883 (some sources say 1881), son of Robert Marion “Bob” and Mary Jane Slaughter.  Growing up on a ranch outside town, Try, who went by his middle name, learned to play the harmonica, kazoo, and Jew’s harp.  The Slaughters, living up to their name, had a reputation as violent people, and when Try was ten in 1893, his uncle, also named Bob, shot his father following a dispute in the alley behind the Kahn Saloon in Jefferson.

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