Alongside Chick Bullock as one of the most prolific vocalists of the 1930s, though perhaps even more so, the voice of Dick Robertson was near omnipresent during the years of the Great Depression. Though easily dismissed due to his nature as a studio vocalist, and the sheer volume of his work, Robertson was a competent singer who contributed countless excellent performances over a career stretching more than twenty years.
Dick Robertson was born on July 3, 1903, in Brooklyn, New York (though some sources assert 1900). Prior to entering the show business, he worked in construction as a foreman. Robertson began his career in music in the second half of the 1920s, entering the recording industry in 1927, partnered with recording veteran and career duet partner Ed Smalle. He continued to record with Smalle for a time before striking out on his own as a jack-of-all-trades vocalist. At different times, he played most every role a singer could: crooner, jazz singer, hillbilly, and many others. As did many, Robertson used a variety of pseudonyms throughout his career, some more memorable ones being “Bob Richardson”, “Bob Dickson”, and “Bobby Dix”. He recorded as a solo vocalist for Brunswick in the last two years of the 1920s and Victor in the first few of the 1930s. At the same time, Robertson began recording extensively with dance and jazz bands on virtually every label, with orchestras ranging from those of Leo Reisman and Ben Selvin to Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson, and frequently with Gene Kardos’ band. In the early 1930s, he began fronting various bands to record as “Dick Robertson and his Orchestra”, first on the ARC and Crown dimestore labels, then for Bluebird from 1933 to ’35, and finally graduating to Decca in 1935, for whom he recorded steadily until 1944, promoted as one of their many top artists. Still, he continued to sing as a studio vocalist with other groups all the while, up until the middle of the 1940s, racking up hundreds of vocal credits (and many more uncredited performances). Robertson also proved to be quite a capable songwriter, his most notable composition being “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)”, which became a hit for the Ink Spots in 1940. He made his last recordings in 1949 on Decca’s subsidiary label Coral, after which he disappeared into obscurity. Dick Robertson reportedly died on July 13, 1979, ten days after his seventy-sixth birthday.
Gem 3522 was recorded in July of 1933 by Dick Robertson fronting a studio band, probably that of Walter Feldkamp. It was also issued on Crown with the same catalog number. Gem was a short-lived offshoot of the Crown label, which itself only existed for three years. Much like RCA Victor’s Sunrise label, it lasted only for several months, and its purpose is uncertain. Presumably it was pressed as a client label for some retailer, though, to my knowledge, no one knows for whom they were made.
First, Robertson gives a fine delivery of Billy Hill and Peter DeRose’s “Louisville Lady”, a haunting tale about a jilted lover who threw herself into the Ohio River, sung from the perspective of her man, who comes to the riverside to beg forgiveness from his lost love. Certainly this must be one of Robertson’s best, at least of the sides he recorded under his own name.
On the “B” side, Dick croons the Andy Razaf and Reginald Foresythe penned Dixie melody “Mississippi Basin”, another jim dandy.