A rare snapshot of Jimmie Rodgers in the early 1930s, atop a ’31 Chrysler and holding a puppy.
As Jimmie Rodgers’ successful recording career entered its fifth year, he was at the height of his fame, and times had never been better—or worse—for the Blue Yodeler.
In 1932, Jimmie Rodgers was living in Texas, “a state he dearly loved.” He had moved into his custom built brick manor in Kerrville in 1929 to help ease his tuberculosis with the fresh hill country air, but left for a modest home at 142 Montclair Avenue in San Antonio only three years later, where he hosted a weekly radio program on KMAC. Progressively declining health had forced him to curtail his touring schedule, but staying put just wasn’t in his nature, and he continued to motor around the region in his blue Cadillac. At the same time, the record industry—which had made Rodgers a star five years earlier—was too in ill health; the Great Depression, combined with the emerging medium of radio, had record sales dropping fast. By the time the industry hit bottom, Jimmie Rodgers was Victor’s best-selling record artist, hence the Depression-era adage that a typical Southerner’s shopping list was “pound of butter, a slab of bacon, a sack of flour, and the new Jimmie Rodgers record.” In spite of the circumstances against his favor, Rodgers kept up his recording schedule during 1932, producing a total of twenty-one sides over course of the year. In February, he was in Dallas to cut seven sides at the Jefferson Hotel, accompanied first by a hillbilly band including future western swinger Bill Boyd on such tracks as “Hobo’s Meditation”, and then by a Hawaiian quartet with his longtime collaborators Billy and Weldon Burkes. On the thirty-first of July, he departed for Camden, New Jersey for a productive session with Clayton McMichen, Slim Bryant, and Oddie McWinders, that resulted in such memorable numbers as “Peach Pickin’ Time Down in Georgia” and “Whippin’ That Old T. B.”. Afterward, he traveled on to New York for an audition with NBC, which resulted in a pilot on WEAF but did not materialize further, and another session that produced four sides, including “Miss the Mississippi and You”. With talks of a tour of England with McMichen—as Carson Robison had done earlier the same year—Jimmie had big plans, and didn’t intend on stopping, but the dire state of the economy and direr yet state of his health put a damper on such lofty ambitions.
Victor 23696 was recorded on February 6 and 4, 1932, respectively, at the Jefferson Hotel in Dallas, Texas. It was issued on August 12 of that year, and sold only 7,746 copies—not bad for Depression-era sales, but still, not too many for their best-selling artist.
First, Jimmie sings another installment in his famous series, “Blue Yodel No. 10 (Ground Hog Rootin’ in My Back Yard)”, and a blues song it truly is. Previously on Old Time Blues, we’ve heard Jimmie’s first, second, eighth, ninth, and last Blue Yodels. Maybe we’ll eventually get them all on here.
Blue Yodel No. 10 (Ground Hog Rootin’ In My Back Yard), recorded February 6, 1932 by Jimmie Rodgers.
On the flip, Jimmie croons a tune about the moon in June predicting the country music styles yet to come in the decade, such as might have appealed to a common Depression-era record buyer’s sensibilities—and it does appeal to my own Depression-era sensibilities—”Mississippi Moon”. He is accompanied by a Hawaiian style string band made up of Billy Burkes on steel guitar, and Weldon Burkes and Fred Koone on guitars.
Mississippi Moon, recorded February 4, 1932 by Jimmie Rodgers.
One of the foremost exponents of the ukulele craze in the 1920s, Wendell Hall—the Red Headed Music Maker—enjoyed a fruitful career beginning with his introduction of the wildly popular “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'”, and could perhaps be viewed among the earliest artists to “cross over” from popular to hillbilly style music.
Wendell Woods Hall was born on August 23, 1896, the youngest of three sons born to minister George and church organist Laura Hall of St. George, Kansas. His family moved to Chicago around the turn of the century, and there young Wendell got his start in music. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1917, but fell ill during the flu epidemic the following year and did not see combat; instead, he spent some time entertaining his fellow troops following his recovery. Following his return home, he found work as a song plugger for the sheet music industry. Before long, he struck out on the vaudeville circuit singing and playing the xylophone, but soon—like his contemporary Cliff Edwards—switched to the more inexpensive and portable ukulele. On occasion, he was known to double on guitar or tiple. He began publishing popular songs in the early 1920s, and by 1923 he’d arrived in New York to embark on a successful career as a radio and recording artist. He made his debut on September 28, 1923, in a session for Gennett records, cutting the first of several versions of his big hit “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'”. The following month, he re-did the number for Edison and Victor, beginning a successful engagement with the latter which produced a string of popular records and lasted until 1933, interrupted by brief stints for Brunswick in 1925 and ’26 and for Columbia in 1927. Hall’s rural-flavored novelty songs often blurred the line between popular and “hillbilly” music, and he frequently collaborated with the country guitarist, whistler, and fellow Kansan Carson J. Robison, who made his first records with Hall. With the smash success of “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'” and other successful records behind his belt, Hall introduced and marketed a signature “Red Head” model of ukulele, manufactured by the Regal Musical Instrument Company, and instructional booklets on “Wendell Hall’s Ukulele Method”. He remained a popular radio artist into the 1930s after the Great Depression had killed off his record career, but began to falter as the ukulele fell from favor later in the decade. Nonetheless, he remained an active musician and music publisher, and made a brief comeback in the early 1950s. Wendell Hall died on April 2, 1969 in Mobile, Alabama, and was buried in Manhattan, Kansas.
Victor 19171 was recorded in New York City on October 12, 1923. It was released on the twenty-third of the following month. It reportedly sold more than two million copies, and Hall later re-recorded both sides electrically on July 29, 1925, to keep them technologically up-to-date. This record was transferred at 76.59 RPM, as is widely accepted for acoustical Victor records of this era.
Firstly, the Pineapple Picador sings his biggest hit composition, that old chestnut “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'”. Hall later followed up with the “Second Installment” in 1925 and “Part 3” in 1933. The simple but humorous ditty proved enormously popular with artists in a wide range of genres.
It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’, recorded October 12, 1923 by Wendell Hall.
Actually recorded first at the session, Hall sings his “theme” song “Red Headed Music Maker” on the “B” side, interpolating “Red Hot Blues”.
Red Headed Music Maker, recorded October 12, 1923 by Wendell Hall.
There are fair number of artists who might have achieved the success of Jimmie Rodgers, but, for whatever reason, did not. Some, like Atlanta’s Ernest Rogers, were not musicians by profession, and only recorded a few songs on the side. Others perhaps lacked something that Rodgers had, be it talent, charisma, ambition, or maybe simply luck. Regardless of the circumstances, in the wake of the Singing Brakeman’s monumental success were a drove of excellent-yet-underappreciated artists who left behind recorded legacies ranging from one song to dozens. One such artist is “Buddy” Baker, a vaudevillian performer who made only two records for Victor in 1928, about whom there have previously existed nary any publicized biographical details, and about the same number of decent sounding recordings of his work.
Baker pictured in the 1930 Victor “Old Familiar Tunes” catalog.
Research reveals that “Buddy” was in fact Ernest H. Baker, and was born on May 17, 1902, in Escambia County, Alabama, the son of John and Rebecca Baker. In his teenage years he worked in a mill, but he pursued a career in music when he came of age. He traveled to Chicago in June of 1928 to record for the Victor Talking Machine Company, and cut six sides on the twenty-first and two more the following day. Of those eight, only four were released: “Penitentiary Blues” and “Box Car Blues” on Victor 21549, and “Matrimonial Intentions” and “Alimony Blues” on Victor V-40017. Of the four unissued sides were “I Want My Mammy”, “Nobody Knows What’s On My Mind Blues”, and “Razor Jim”. Baker returned to the Victor studio one year later in Camden, New Jersey to wax four more, including “It’s Tough on Everybody” and “The Rambling Cowboy”, but this time, none were released. His four surviving recordings depict an artist with a clever sense of diction and a penchant for simplistic scat singing, and a unique approach to a guitar method typical of his time. At the time of his recording career, he was living with his family in Mobile, Alabama, and began performing on radio station WODX around the time of its inauguration in 1930. Later, he seems to have taken up in Ohio, where he found work as a welder for Babcock and Wilcox. Probably in 1932, he married a woman named Jessie. Baker died from peritonitis, resulting from a perforated ulcer, in Barberton, Ohio, on May 24, 1937, and his body was shipped back home to Alabama to be buried in his family’s plot in Mobile’s Magnolia Cemetery. Like Jimmie Rodgers, Buddy Baker was gone from the world at only thirty-five.
Victor 21549 and V-40017 were recorded on June 21, 1928 at 952 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. On both, Ernest “Buddy” Baker sings and accompanies himself on guitar. 21549 purportedly sold a total of about 9,400 copies, while sales figures for V-40017 are not available.
Baker’s “Penitentiary Blues” is one of many renditions of the old folk ballad “Little Sadie”—also known as “Bad Lee Brown”—which was later adapted into the western swing repertoire as “Cocaine Blues” (not to be confused with the unrelated Luke Jordan and Dick Justice song of the 1920s). Preceding Clarence Ashley’s “Little Sadie” (which used a different melody) by more than a year, this version is likely the earliest recording of the classic folk song, though the song itself existed for at least several decades prior to first being recorded. Other early (pre-“Cocaine”) recordings of the song include “Seven Foot Dilly” John Dilleshaw’s unissued “Bad Lee Brown” for Okeh in 1929 and Riley Puckett’s “Chain Gang Blues” for Bluebird in 1934. Woody Guthrie must have had a copy of Baker’s record, because he recorded a nearly identical version under the title “Bad Lee Brown” in 1944. As “Cocaine Blues”, it was introduced in 1947 by T.J. “Red” Arnall as a member of W.A. Nichol’s Western Aces on the S & G label. It inspired contemporary covers by Roy Hogsed on both Coast and Capitol and Billy Hughes on King, and was famously revived by Johnny Cash in his 1968 Folsom Prison concert.
Penitentiary Blues, recorded June 21, 1928 by “Buddy” Baker.
On the reverse, Baker sings a real blues number, “Box Car Blues”, with some clever songwriting and a little Emmett Miller style yodeling added in for flavor.
Box Car Blues, recorded June 21, 1928 by “Buddy” Baker.
On the first side of his second (and final) record, Baker sings “Matrimonial Intentions”, showcasing more of his guitar playing. This song was covered by Jack White in the 2017 American Epic Sessions, which saw modern artists recording covers of 1920s and ’30s songs on 78 RPM with acoustic instrumentation. White put together a fine performance of it, and he’ll always have my respect for digging up such an obscure old title.
Matrimonial Intentions, recorded June 21, 1928 by Buddy Baker.
Finally, Baker concludes his brief career on records with “Alimony Blues”, bemoaning divorce with some fairly inventive guitar work. Guess those matrimonial intentions didn’t turn out too well for old Buddy, after all.
Alimony Blues, recorded June 21, 1928 by Buddy Baker.
On the fifth of May—Cinco de Mayo—we here in the United States celebrate General Ignacio Zaragoza’s 1862 victory over the French invaders at Puebla, for some reason. I’d like to use the opportunity to dedicate a moment of time at Old Time Blues to a culture that I truly appreciate and admire—that of our neighbors south of the border, down Mexico way.
On this record, the Orquesta Típica Mexicana “Anahuac”, from Mexico City, plays two instrumental melodies of their homeland. As such, it is in typical orquesta típica style, that is to say a small orchestra, usually comparable in size and function to an American dance band, albeit with different instrumentation. Numerous típica orchestras representing various Hispanic nations made hundreds of records for Victor and other American record labels during the 1910s to 1930s. The “Anahuac” orchestra made a total of eight sides, all recorded on two consecutive days in 1926. Unlike the countless Mexican recordings made within the borders of the United States, such as the one featured here two years ago today. these were actually cut in Mexico and exported to the United States for pressing, only to be exported back to Mexico. Unfortunately, original documentation for these recordings is lost, so I can offer precious little information regarding their history.
Victor 79174—in their 70000 “export” or “ethnic” series—was recorded on December 14 and 15, 1926, in Mexico City. It was released in 1927 and remained in Victor’s catalog all the way until 1949. This particular pressing dates to around the late 1930s or early 1940s.
Firstly, the Orquesta Típica Mexicana “Anahuac” plays a rather dramatic marcha (march) composed by José Briseño, titled “Patria”, or “Native Country”.
Patria, grabado diciembre 14, 1926 by Orquesta Típica Mexicana “Anahuac”.
On the reverse, they play a melody which you may recognize, a baile mexicano (Mexican dance) titled “Jarabe Tapatío”, better known to anglophone audiences as the “Mexican Hat Dance”.
Jarabe Tapatío, grabado diciembre 14, 1926 by Orquesta Típica Mexicana “Anahuac”.
The Carter Family—Maybelle, Sara, and A.P.—in the late 1920s, pictured in the Victor catalog.
I have written of the illustrious Carter Family before, more than once, but nothing I’ve so far published has done justice to their tremendous impact and legacy. In fact, I doubt whether I would be able to write anything that could honor their legend sufficiently. Nonetheless, I will do my best to pay them a worthy tribute, and I cannot think of a better record to accompany that attempt than the one herein. Not only is it without question among their finest works, but it contains, according to legend, the song that brought the Carters together, and the song that tore them apart.
The saga of the original Carter Family begins with the birth of Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter in Maces Spring, Virginia, on December 15, 1891. The son of Robert C. Carter and Mollie Arvelle Bays, growing up ‘midst the Blue Ridge Mountaintops fostered in the young Carter a love for music, and he took up the fiddle, but never achieved much note for his musicianship on the instrument. Music making did not put food on the table however, and so Carter found work as a traveling salesman, peddling fruit trees. It was in this line of work that he encountered the youthful Sara Elizabeth Dougherty, sitting on her porch and strumming her auto-harp. Far A.P. Carter, it was love at first sight, and they were married on June 18, 1915. In the following decade, Sara’s cousin Maybelle (who was also married to Carter’s brother Ezra) joined the couple and they formed a music group—the Carter Family.
Come the summer of 1927, A.P. got word of a record session to be held in Bristol, Tennessee, about twenty-five miles away from their homeplace in Maces Spring. He convinced Sara and Maybelle to make the journey, and they arrived late on the night of August first, and auditioned for Mr. Ralph S. Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company. That day and the next, the Carter Family cut six sides: “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow”, “Little Log Cabin By the Sea”, “The Poor Orphan Child”, “The Storms are On the Ocean”, “Single Girl, Married Girl”, and “The Wandering Boy”. Their first records were released that November, and proved successful enough to bring the Carters back to the Victor studio for further recordings, and they did so prolifically. Between then and the end of 1934, they waxed over one-hundred-fifty sides for the Victor company. To ensure that the group had enough material to ensure continued financial success, A.P. set out to canvas the mountains in search of good songs, which he then copyrighted in his own name. In one such travel, Carter encountered the black musician Lesley Riddle, and the two became friends. Riddle impressed both his folk repertoire and his method of guitar playing upon the Carters.
In 1935, the Carter Family began recording for the American Record Corporation, but all was not well behind the microphone, for A.P.’s long song-hunting stretches away from his family drove Sara into the arms of A.P.’s cousin Coy Bayes. Sara and A.P.’s marriage dissolved in 1936, but the Carter Family stuck together as a music group for the time being. From 1936 until 1938, they recorded for Decca, before returning to the ARC for a string of records on their Okeh label in 1940. In the meantime, the Carter Family had relocated to Del Rio, Texas, from where they commuted to Mexico to perform on “border blaster” radio station XERA in Villa Acuña, Coahuila. The 500,000 watt station could be heard across most of the United States, and put the sounds of the Carters on the hearth of countless American homes, inspiring a wave of up-and-coming musicians. In some of these radio appearances, they were joined by the Carter children: Janette, Joe, Helen, June, and Anita. In October of 1941, the original Carter Family traveled to New York City to record one final session with the RCA Victor Company, for their Bluebird label. Around that time, they were photographed for a spread in Life magazine, scheduled to be published on December 8, 1941. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurring the very day before, needless to say it was bumped from the publication. And thus, as the war broke out, the original Carter Family broke apart; Sara moved to California with her new husband, A.P. and Maybelle returned to Maces Spring, where he opened a general store.
That was not the end of their story however, Maybelle Carter continued the musical tradition with her children—Helen, Anita, and June—performing as “Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters” in the years to come, landing a place on the Grand Ole Opry in 1950 and remaining active until the 1970s. The original member reunited occasionally, as well, resulting in several sessions for Acme Records in the 1950s. A.P. Carter died on November 7, 1960, his dying wish to keep the music alive. Maybelle passed on October 23, 1978. The last surviving member of the original trio, Sara Carter Bayes died on January 8, 1979. A.P. Carter’s last wishes were fulfilled with the establishment of the Carter Family Fold in Maces Spring, Virginia, founded by his daughter Janette in 1979 and devoted to the preservation of old-time Appalachian folk music. The beloved legacy of music put forth by the Carter Family remains indelibly attached to the American experience, and shows no sign of faltering as the years go by.
Victor V-40089 was recorded on February 15th and 14th of 1929, respectively, at Victor’s home in Camden, New Jersey. The Carter Family consists of Sara on auto-harp and Maybelle on guitar, both of course singing. A.P. joins in singing on side “B”.
The story goes that when A.P. Carter met Sara while traveling door-to-door peddling fruit trees, she was sitting out on her porch singing “Engine One-Forty-Three” and playing her auto-harp, and he fell in love at first sight and approached with matrimonial intentions. The song tells the true story of a wreck on the C & O line on October 23, 1890 near Hinton, West Virginia. This recording also bears the distinction of being one of the five songs by the Carter Family that were included by Harry Smith in his seminal Anthology of American Folk Music.
Engine One-Forty-Three, recorded February 15, 1929 by the Carter Family.
While the previous is said to be the song that birthed the Carter Family, the following is said to have eventually broken them up. After her divorce, Sara Carter wasn’t happy performing on border radio with her ex-husband, while her lover Coy Bayes was in California. One show, she dedicated a performance of “I’m Thinking To-Night of My Blue Eyes” to Bayes, and he rushed down to Del Rio to sweep her off her feet and back west, leaving A.P., Maybelle, and the children to return home to Maces Spring, and thus bringing the story of the original Carter Family to its close. A standard of the Carters’ repertoire, they recorded it twice, and many other artists covered it subsequently.
I’m Thinking To-Night of My Blue Eyes, recorded February 14, 1929 by the Carter Family.