Discographical Update • Re-Dating the Kid Ory “Sunshine” Recordings (1922)

MSP_sunshine-3003-B

KID ORY’S CREOLE JAZZ BAND (as Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra): Society Blues

Santa Monica, CA: c. Late May, 1922
Sunshine 3003 (label pasted over Nordskog 3009)

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Kid Ory’s Nordskog / Sunshine title are important as the first issued recordings by a black New Orleans band. For decades, they have been listed in the standard discographies as the product of a single June 1922 session (others list 1921, which will be ruled out below). However, evidence in The Chicago Defender suggests that there were actually two dates involved: One session, c. early April 1922, for singers Ruth Lee and Roberta Dudley, accompanied by Ory’s band; and a second session, c. late May 1922, for the two Ory band sides.

There have been many conflicting anecdotal accounts of the business arrangement between the Spikes brothers and Nordskog. What is known for certain is that the records were pressed a continent away, at the Arto Company plant on Orange, New Jersey. A portion of the pressing run was allocated to the Nordskog label; the balance (5,000 copies, according to Reb Spikes’ recollections) were to have Sunshine labels pasted over the Nordskog originals, for sale by the Spikes Brothers’ music shop in Los Angeles. All three Sunshine releases also appeared in the Nordskog catalog, using Nordskog’s own catalog numbers and artist credits (Ory’s band became “Spikes Seven Pods of Pepper Orchestra” on Nordskog)  — rebutting the assertion in at least one classic-jazz history that all of the Nordskog specimens are simply Sunshine issues from which the Sunshine label have fallen off. (The Sunshine labels often do peel away to varying degrees, particularly at the edges, but not very cleanly.)

Several published accounts have claimed that Andrae Nordskog  made the Ory recordings during a single session in his living room in 1921 — a colorful tale, but nothing more. The 1921 date has long-since been debunked, with 1922 now well-established, and Nordskog’s storefront Santa Monica studio was operating by that time. Reb Spikes recalled in a 1951 interview that the Ory recordings were made in that studio.

Local cabaret-blues singers Ruth Lee and Roberta Dudley appeared on the first Sunshine releases, backed by members of Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band from the Creole Cafe in Oakland, California. The Chicago Defender for May 22, 1922, confirmed that Lee and Dudley had already recorded “Maybe Someday” and “Krooked Blues,” respectively, which the paper reported were expected to release on or about June 1. [1] We know from comparing confirmed Arto recording dates (listed in Ed Kirkeby’s logs) to those records’ release dates that the Arto pressing plant’s usual production cycle was six to eight weeks from receipt of masters to release (about average for the period). Add another five or six days for master shipment by rail from LA to New Jersey, and five or six more days for return of the finished pressings, and early April 1922 becomes the most likely recording date.

The projected June 1 release turned out to have been an accurate prediction. The Defender reported that on June 2, the Spikes Brothers hosted a gala event at the Gaumet Auditorium in Los Angeles to celebrate the first two Sunshine releases. After a lengthy program, the Sunshine artists finally took the stage. Ragtime Billy Tucker, the Defender’s California correspondent, reported:

“Hon. Frederick M. Roberts, member of the California legislature, thanked the audience on behalf of the Spikes Bros. while the stage was being set for Kid Ory’s famous Creole band, which made the first records for the Spikes Bros. The band offered a number from the pen of Mr. Ory, entitled, “Ory’s Creole Trombone.” Then they played “Maybe Some Day,” which was successfully featured by Miss Ruth Lee, who is after the laurels of Mamie Smith… Dainty little Roberta Dudley was the next little “mite” of personality to grace the boards. She rendered the “Krooked Blues”… She started a panic with her number, and it was a long time before she could break into the song, the applause came so fast.” [2]

Note that although the title of one Ory band releases is mentioned (“Ory’s Creole Trombone”), there’s no mention of it having yet been recorded. The reason can be found in a May 27 Defender report that the Spikes Brothers a week earlier had “sent to Oakland for ‘Kid Ory’s Famous Creole Jazz Band’ to make their first records,” presumably meaning the first records in their own right, rather than in just an accompanying role. (The same article repeats that Dudley and Lee had already recorded their numbers — further proof that these could not have been June recordings).

The earliest mention we’ve found of the Ory band release (Sunshine 3003) is in the Defender for July 29, 1922. [3] Using the same turnaround time outlined above, that fits perfectly with a late May recording session. In addition, there was a production error on this release that did not occur with the earlier releases (the Sunshine labels were not applied at the factory, requiring the Spikes brothers to apply them by hand), suggesting the records were not pressed at the same time as the two vocal releases.

Based on the above evidence, we feel that two separate sessions were involved for the 1922 Ory recordings, for which the following are more accurate dates than the customarily cited June 1922:

Santa Monica, CA: c. Early April 1922 (released June 1, 1922)
Roberta Dudley, acc. by Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band:

Krooked Blues / When You’re Alone Blues
Nordskog 3007, Sunshine 3001

Santa Monica, CA: c. Early April 1922 (released June 1, 1922)
Ruth Lee, acc. by Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band:

Maybe Someday / That Sweet Something, Dear
Nordskog 3008, Sunshine 3002

Santa Monica, CA: c. Late May 1922 (released August, 1922)
Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band:
Ory’s Creole Trombine / Society Blues
Nordskog 3009 (as Spikes Seven Pods of Pepper Orchestra)
Sunshine 3003 (as Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra)


[1] Tucker, Ragtime Billy. “Coast Dope.” Chicago Defender (May 27, 1922), p. 8.
[2] Tucker, Ragtime Billy. “Coast Dope.” Chicago Defender (June 24, 1922), p. 8.
[3] Tucker, Ragtime Billy. “Coast Dope.” Chicago Defender (July 29, 1922), p. 6.