“Thumbs Up—On the Spot.” Jimmie Rodgers donning his brakeman attire for a famous studio pose. Circa 1930.
This is the first Jimmie Rodgers record I ever owned, I picked it up at a little record store down in Austin that unfortunately no longer bothers stocking 78s. I hadn’t been collecting for long at the time—mostly I just had a bunch of records inherited from my great-great-grandfather and some junk from used bookstores—and that was one of my first forays into record stores to look for 78s. My musical knowledge wasn’t so vast then, but I’d heard Jimmie’s “Blue Yodel No. 8 (Mule Skinner Blues)” and I wanted to find a copy of that one. When I picked up this one, I couldn’t really recall which number of Blue Yodel that one was, and I hoped this one might’ve been it. I took it to the listening station in the store, and it wasn’t, but that was okay, it was only $3.99, and I wanted it anyway. When I got home, I listened to it over and over and—though the sound was a little rough, especially on the cheap equipment I had at the time—I fell in love with both sides just the same as I had with “Mule Skinner Blues”, and so began my quest to find more.
Victor 21291 was recorded in Camden, New Jersey on February 15 and 14, 1928, respectively. It was issued that June and remained in the catalog until 1936. Jimmie Rodgers is accompanied by his own guitar, and by Ellsworth T. Cozzens on steel guitar on the “A” side and on ukulele on “B”.
On the “A” side, Jimmie sings the second installment in his Blue Yodel series, “Blue Yodel No. II (My Lovin’ Gal, Lucille)”. I’d argue it’s one of his best, but then, aren’t they all?
Blue Yodel No. II (My Lovin’ Gal, Lucille), recorded February 15, 1928 by Jimmie Rodgers.
On the “B” side is another of Singing Brakeman’s classics, his eponymous “The Brakeman’s Blues (Yodeling the Blues Away)”.
The Brakeman’s Blues (Yodeling the Blues Away), recorded February 14, 1928 by Jimmie Rodgers.
A portrait of a young Ellington. Circa late 1920s.
Last time we commemorated the anniversary of the birth of the legendary Duke Ellington, born April 29, 1899, with his famous “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)”; this time we celebrate with one of his classic hot jazz records of the 1920s. Ellington’s life has already been covered in that post, so I needn’t go over it again in this one.
Duke Ellington made his motion picture debut in 1929, along with Fredi Washington of Imitation of Life fame, in the Harlem Renaissance jazz film Black and Tan (see here for an exceptional transfer of the film on YouTube). In it, Ellington plays a down-on-his-luck bandleader, whose ailing girlfriend—played by Washington (whom he was reportedly dating in real life at the time)—finds him employment at a nightclub, where she succumbs to her illness while performing a dance routine. Ellington and his band play such jazz classics as the titular “Black and Tan Fantasy”, “Black Beauty”, “The Duke Steps Out”, and “Cotton Club Stomp”. Not too long after, Duke and his band traveled to Hollywood for their first “big time” movie appearance in the Amos ‘n’ Andy feature Check and Double Check. One of only a handful of films of that type, I fully recommend viewing Black and Tan.
Victor V-38079 was recorded on May 3, 1929 in New York City. Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra is made up of Arthur Whetsel, Cootie Williams, and Freddie Jenkins on trumpet, “Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor sax, Johnny Hodges on clarinet, alto sax, and soprano sax, Harry Carney on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, Duke Ellington on piano, Fred Guy on banjo, Wellman Braud on string bass, and Sonny Greer on drums.
First up, Ellington and the boys get hot on the outstanding “Cotton Club Stomp”. This stomp is one of the pieces played by Ellington and his orchestra in Black and Tan, in which it is danced by Fredi Washington.
, Cotton Club Stomp, recorded May 3, 1929 by Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.
Next, they play a late oriental fox trot, “Arabian Lover”, from the Cotton Club Revue.
Arabian Lover, recorded may 3, 1929 by Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.
In 1925, the Boswell Sisters had made quite a name for themselves in their hometown of New Orleans. Three years prior, they had won a talent contest for WAAB radio, which earned them a three day gig at the Palace Theatre. They were regularly engaged around town, particularly at functions of the Young Men’s Gymnastic Club, whose promotive director had taken a shine to the Bozzies. It was a YMGC function where the sisters were noticed by vaudeville headliners Van and Schenck, who were at the time playing at the Orpheum. They loved the Boswells’ act, and promised to pull some strings in their favor when they returned to New York. Very soon after that, they cut their first record. E.T. King of the Victor Talking Machine Company was in town with mobile recording equipment, just in from Houston on the first such “field trip” they ever made (though not the first recording session held in New Orleans). The Boswell Sisters were the first artists to record for Victor in New Orleans, they cut three sides, “You Can Call Me Baby All the Time”, “I’m Gonna Cry (The Cryin’ Blues)”, and “Pal o’ Mine” on March 22, 1925, followed by “Dad” and “Nights When I Am Lonely” on the 25th. Only two of those five were issued. Other artists to record on the historic New Orleans field trip were Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys, Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Reportedly the Boswells’ record was mistaken for a “race” record, and as a result kept out of many record stores. Nonetheless, the sisters were eager to head to Camden and cut a few more, though fate held them in New Orleans until 1928.
Victor 19639 was recorded on March 22 and 25, 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana. These recordings were made acoustically, shortly before Victor commenced mainstream electrical recording (though they had made several prior to these). It is the Boswell Sisters first record, as well as their only record made in the 1920s.
Tragically, this record arrived in my possession broken in three pieces, the result of incompetent packing (one of the worst jobs I’ve ever seen), and can be seen on the “wall of shame” on Old Time Blues’ guide to packing 78s. I couldn’t allow a record this rare and this great to remain in pieces however, so I set about repairing it. After warming up by repairing two other broken discs, I carefully lined up the grooves, setting the pieces as tightly together as possible, and superglued the edges and run-out to hold it together. Fortunately, it tracked, and played with clicks. After transferring, I painstakingly removed every click the cracks caused, and equalized out the rest of the thumps. The end result exceeded my every expectation of what this broken record could sound like. A few slight clicks still remain, but I believe you’ll find that it sounds quite clean, all things considered (seeing as it has the equivalent of four cracks to the label in it).
First, in the style of her idol Mamie Smith, seventeen-year-old Connie belts out “I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues)”, accompanied on piano by her sister Martha. Young Vet joins in later on to help Connie vocally imitate a hot instrumental break.
I’m Gonna Cry (Cryin’ Blues), recorded March 22, 1925 by Connie Boswell.
Next, all the sisters join in on “Nights When I Am Lonely”, which features the Bozzies’ trademark style of scat known as “-ggling” (that’s pronounced “gulling”). On this side, they are accompanied on piano by Vitaly Lubowski, who had recorded the previous day with Tony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys.
Nights When I Am Lonely, recorded March 25, 1925 by the Boswell Sisters.
Blanche Calloway. late 1920s or early ’30s. Pictured in Of Minnie the Moocher and Me.
We last heard from Cab’s underappreciated sister Blanche Calloway the previous time we celebrated her birthday, with her “There’s Rhythm In the River”/”I Need Lovin'” with Andy Kirk’s band. Now the time of year has come around once again that we celebrate the birthday of the late Blanche with her music. As I’ve already gone in to some detail on Blanche’s life in the aforementioned post, I won’t rewrite my biography of her here.
When the band calling themselves “Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys” began recording for the RCA Victor Company on March 2, 1931, it was essentially as a pseudonym for Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy, fronted by vocalist Blanche. Not long after that session, before their next, Blanche tried to take over leadership of the Twelve Clouds of Joy for her own. Andy Kirk however, would have none of that, and so Blanche was left to put together a band of her own, and that she did. With Kirk band trumpeters Edgar Battle and Clarence Smith still along, Blanche assembled a new “Joy Boys”, with a few future swing era stars—Cozy Cole and Ben Webster most notably—sitting in along the way. The new Joy Boys, with occasional changes in personnel, continued to record into the middle of the 1930s, cutting seventeen sides for Victor in 1931, four for the American Record Corporation in 1934, followed by a fifth unissued recording the next year, and four more for Vocalion in 1935. The organization come to an end in 1936, when Blanche and a band member were locked up for disorderly conduct in Yazoo, Mississippi after trying to use a whites only restroom, and another bandmate ran off with all their money.
Victor 22866 was recorded on November 18, 1931 at the Church Building studio in Camden, New Jersey. It sold a mere 3,233 copies. Blanche’s Joy Boys are made up of Henry Mason, Clarence E. Smith, and Edgar Battle on trumpets, Alton Moore on trombone, Ernest Purce on clarinet and alto sax, Leroy Hardy on alto sax, Charlie Frazer on tenor sax, Clyde Hart on piano, Andy Jackson on banjo, Joe Durham on tuba, and Cozy Cole on drums.
First, Blanche sings one of her characteristic songs, her own composition, “Growling Dan”, featuring a mention of her brother’s famous Minnie the Moocher.
Growling Dan, recorded November 18, 1931 by Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys.
On the flip, she sings a blues song popularized by Bessie Smith, the Clarence Williams and Hezekiah Jenkins (!) composition, “I Got What it Takes (But it Breaks My Heart to Give it Away)”.
I Got What It Takes (But it Breaks My Heart to Give it Away), recorded November 18, 1931 by Blanche Calloway and her Joy Boys.
Details regarding the life of territory band leader Slim Lamar are scarce, and there doesn’t appear to be any biography of him available on the web. As such, I’ve rewritten and republished this article in an effort to shed some light on the obscure musician’s life. A special thanks goes out to Messrs. Joseph Scott and Paul Lindemeyer for their research on Lamar, without which this article would not have been possible.
Slim was in fact Henry Elbert Lamar, born in Galveston, Texas on October 27, 1905, the son of John and Lucille Lamar. By the 1920s, the Lamars had taken up residence in the cradle of jazz, New Orleans. Slim played reeds, and apparently moonlighted selling musical instruments. At least as early as 1927, Lamar was leading the Southerners, an exceptional territory jazz band which included the talents of Tony Almerico and Sunny Clapp among its ranks. He would seem to have been associated with the cabal of influential territory band leaders that included Clapp and Blue Steele. In September of 1927, the Southerners played the Edgewater Gulf Hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi, and made their first recordings a year later, during a Victor field trip in Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, Lamar also recorded with Mart Britt’s orchestra, and may have accompanied Irene Beasley on one session that yielded no issued recordings. Following those sessions, Lamar’s Southerners ventured to Indianapolis for a two week engagement at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, reported in the Indianapolis Star as the band’s first trip north of the Mason-Dixon Line. After Indianapolis, they played at the Egyptian Room of the Kosair Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. Lamar’s band recorded several more sides in February of 1929 in Camden, New Jersey, after which Slim Lamar is not known to have made any further recordings. In 1938, he relocated to Florence, Alabama, where he married Edna Reams and started the Lamar Furniture Company. Henry “Slim” Lamar remained in Florence until his death on June 3, 1989.
In the 1930s, Henry Lamar’s younger brother Ewell Ayars Lamar (1911-1992), a pianist known as the “Greyhound of the Ivories,” took up the moniker of “Slim” and led a dance band called the Music Gentlemen in Indianapolis, which reportedly included some former members of Joe Sanders’ orchestra, and featured a vocalist named Helen Folk. Ewell had composed “My Castle of Love”, recorded by the Southerners in 1928, but not issued, and played piano in his older brother’s band in its first year.
Victor 21710 was recorded on September 6 and 4, 1928, respectively, at the Memphis Auditorium in Memphis, Tennessee, the Southerners’ first and third sessions. In the band are Tony Almerico and Irwin Kunz on cornets, Sunny Clapp on trombone, Slim Lamar and Jim Rush on clarinet and alto sax, Bedford Brown on clarinet and tenor sax, Dick Wilson on violin, Adrian J. Larroque on piano, Jack Cohen on banjo and guitar, Bonnie Pottle on string bass, and Bobby Turley on drums. The band is directed by Bob Nolan, composer of “Goofus”, and the band’s usual vocalist (though he doesn’t sing on these sides). It was issued in January of 1929.
“Goofus” was immortalized in a comic by R. Crumb, in which he describes his saga of finding the record, only to have it snatched away, leaving him hunting for years before winning a copy in an auction. He aptly descries it as “crazy, eccentric jazz.” The scat quartet is made up of Tony Almerico, Jim Rush, Dick Wilson, and Jack Cohen.
Goofus, recorded September 6, 1928 by Slim Lamar’s Southerners.
On the other side, though “Happy” may not be as well known as the previous, it doesn’t disappoint, offering an encore performance of more of this band’s unique hot style.
Happy, recorded September 4, 1928 by Slim Lamar’s Southerners.
This record was originally posted on August 16, 2016 in honor of cornetist Tony Almerico’s birthday. The article has been rewritten and republished with content relevant to bandleader Slim Lamar.