Collector’s Corner • Some March 2020 Finds: Theodore Shaw, Oliver Naylor, Duke Ellington, Bumble Bee Slim & Memphis Minnie, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five without Louis

Collector’s Corner • Some March 2020 Finds
Theodore Shaw, Oliver Naylor, Duke Ellington,
Bumble Bee Slim & Memphis Minnie,
Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five sans Louis

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A few favorite new additions to the collection for March (so far), for your enjoyment in case you’re stuck at home and being driven up the wall by the endless coverage of Covid-19. (It has a real name, and it’s not “China Virus.” Anyone who thinks calling it “China Virus” is clever or appropriate is invited to go get their free music elsewhere. Enough with the childish shit, and with the sorry losers who perpetuate it.)

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THEODORE SHAW: Hold ’Er Newt (They’re After Us)
(V+)

Richmond, IN: April 17, 1924
Vaughan 825 (Gennett mx. 11831 – B)
Shown in error as mx. 11881 in Brian Rust’s Jazz Records (Sixth Edition). Shaw’s first name is not shown on the labels but is listed in the Gennett files. This was one of James D. Vaughan’s Ku Klux Klan records, with Shaw accompanying the Vaughan Quartet’s “Wake Up America and Kluck, Kluck, Kluck” on the reverse side.

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OLIVER NAYLOR’S SEVEN ACES: Ain’t That Hateful
(V++)

New York: February 22, 1924
Gennett 5393 (mx. 8748 – A)
“They have that distinctive New Orleans rhythm that can only be developed by living in the South…” — Gennett Record Gazette I:3 (see the full article at the end of this post)

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NEW ORLEANS WANDERERS: Perdido Street Blues
(EE–)

Chicago: July 13, 1926
Columbia 698-D (mx. W 142426 – 1)

The band is Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, with George Mitchell subbing for Armstrong (who was exclusive to Okeh at the time and had recently been apprehended and chastised after he was caught recording  surreptitiously for Vocalion).

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DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA (as ­Joe Turner & his Memphis Men): Mississippi Moan  (E––)

New York: April 24, 1929
Columbia 1813-D (mx. W 148172 – 3)

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BUMBLE BEE SLIM & MEMPHIS MINNIE: New Orleans Stop Time  (E–)

Chicago: February 6, 1936
Vocalion 03197 (mx. C 1227 – 2)

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110 Years Ago at Victor: Introducing the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet (Plus Photographs from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “When Malindy Sings”)

110 Years Ago at Victor: Introducing the
Fisk University Jubilee Quartet

With Photographs from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s
When Malindy Sings

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Victor announces the first Fisk Jubilee Singers releases
(catalog courtesy of John Bolig)

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On February 19, 1910, the Victor Talking Machine Company released the first recordings by a quartet from the Fisk Jubilee Singers — a widely celebrated group that nevertheless had been ignored thus far by the recording companies. They were not the first black vocal group to record, by any means (see Tim Brooks’ Lost Sounds for more on that), but those groups had failed to gain traction in the record market, and their names were mostly dim memories by the time Victor released its first Fisk records.

Blues-and-gospel purists often dismiss these records as pandering to white audiences with “sanitized” or “Europeanized” treatment of traditional spirituals. But that was precisely the strategy — to present black music and performers in a concert setting, in a bid to attract white audiences who might otherwise have never considered attending a performance or purchasing a record by a black artist — and it succeeded wonderfully. Victor’s initial Fisk offerings were outstanding sellers and are still among the most commonly encountered records of the period. The Fisk singers, with periodic personnel changes, went on to make dozens of recordings for Victor, Edison, and Columbia from 1910 to early 1926.

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FISK UNIVERSITY JUBILEE QUARTET: I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray

Camden NJ: December 8, 1909
Victor 16448 (mx. B 8422 – 2)
Released February 10, 1909; Deleted 1923.

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For their other February 1910 Fisk release, Victor slipped into more typical “good-old-plantation-days” mode, having the group record Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe,” and backing it with J. A. Myers’ recitation of the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem, “When Malindy Sings.” Although Dunbar was African-American, and his work can be deeply moving at times, he employed stereotypical minstrel-show dialect that is almost unreadable, and difficult to stomach,  today. Myers’ recitation is an anomaly among the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ recorded output.

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From Paul Laurence Dunbar’s When Malindy Sings (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1903). The book is notable for its photographs by members of the Hampton Institute Camera Club, headed by Leigh Richard Miner; names of the individual photographers unfortunately were not given. (Mainspring Press collection):

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Collector’s Corner (Free MP3 Downloads) • Some Early February Additions — Collins & Harlan, Van Eps Banjo Orchestra, Sammy Stewart’s Orchestra, Lottie Kimbrough, Hayes & Prater, Seven Gallon Jug Band

Collector’s Corner (Free MP3 Downloads) • Some Early February Additions
Collins & Harlan, Van Eps Banjo Orchestra, Sammy Stewart’s Orchestra, Lottie Kimbrough, Hayes & Prater, Seven Gallon Jug Band

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The past few weeks have seen a real hodge-podge come in, everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here are a few new favorite additions to the collection, for your enjoyment:

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ARTHUR COLLINS & BYRON G. HARLAN: Cohan’s Rag Babe  (E–)

New York: c. May 1908
Columbia A583 (mx. 3906 – 2)
With studio orchestra (probably Charles A. Prince, director)

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VAN EPS BANJO ORCHESTRA: Old Folks Rag  (E)

New York: September 25, 1914
Columbia A5618 (mx. 37042 – 2)
Fred Van Eps (banjo); others unlisted in the Columbia files.

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SAMMY STEWART & HIS ORCHESTRA: Copenhagen  (EE–)

Chicago: c. September 1924
Paramount 20359 (mx. 1891 – 1)

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LOTTIE KIMBROUGH (BEAMAN) (as LOTTIE EVERSON): Rolling Log Blues  (V++)

Richmond, IN: August 21, 1928
Champion 15636  (mx. GE 14162)
The Gennett matrix ledger states, “Use plain [take].” The guitarist is not identified.

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NAP HAYES & MATTHEW PRATER: Nothin’ Doin’  (V++)

Memphis: February 15, 1928
Okeh 45231 (mx. W 400243 – B)

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NAP HAYES & MATTHEW PRATER: Somethin’ Doin’  (V+)

Memphis: February 15, 1928
Okeh 45231 (mx. W 400241 – B)

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SEVEN GALLON JUG BAND: What If I Do  (E–)

New York: December 6, 1929
Columbia 2087-D (mx. W 149691 – 3)

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SEVEN GALLON JUG BAND: Wipe ’Em Off  (E–)

New York: January 3, 1930­
Columbia 2087-D (mx. W 149690 – 6)
No personnel listed in the Columbia files, other than Clarence Williams.

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Worth Reading and Hearing: “The Blue Sky Boys” and “Black Swans”

Looking for a gift for that hard-to-shop-for vintage-record fan? Here are a couple of recent releases we’ve enjoyed:

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THE BLUE SKY BOYS

Dick Spottswood
ISBN 978-1-4968-1641-2
University Press of Mississippi

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Legendary musicologist, historian, and producer Dick Spottswood turns his attention to Bill and Earl Bollick, two brothers from Hickory, North Carolina, who as the Blue Sky Boys captivated record buyers and radio audiences in the 1930s.

The Bolicks bucked the latest trends in country music during the years leading up to World War II, preferring close-harmony renditions of southern folk tunes, old-time songs, hymns, and new compositions in a similar mold. Self-accompanied on guitar and mandolin, they developed a low-key, distinctive and readily recognizable sound that was sometimes imitated but never quite duplicated.

Their story is told in part by Bill Bolick himself, whose recollections are skillfully interwoven with Dick Spottswood’s perceptive commentary. Even if the Blue Sky Boys are not your cup of tea, you’ll find much of interest here, such as the role that radio played in disseminating country music, and how sponsors and station owners of the period treated or mistreated their artists. There are numerous illustrations (many of them rarely seen or previously unpublished), a detailed discography, and other useful backmatter.

Dick Spottswood is the author of numerous important works, the most monumental being his five-volume Ethnic Music on Records. He now lives in Naples, Florida, where he produces and hosts Bluegrass Country’s online version of “The Dick Spottswood Show” (aka “The Obsolete Music Hour”). The Blue Sky Boys has won a well-deserved 2019 Award for Excellence from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections.

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BLACK SWANS

Leslie Gerber, Tim Brooks, and Steve Smolian, producers
Parnassus PACD-96067 (CD)
Parnassus Records

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This ground-breaking CD focuses on black classical and operatic performers of the early twentieth century, a group largely overlooked by modern writers (a notable exception being co-producer Tim Brooks, whose Lost Sounds explored many of them in depth for the first time).

The recordings fall into three basic groups: Roland Hayes’ privately made Columbias; the 1919 Broome Specials (Broome having been the first black-owned record label); and the Black Swan operatic series of 1921–1922. As experienced collectors know, these records range from scarce to extraordinarily rare, and assembling them all is a notable achievement. Twenty of the twenty-five selections are reissued here for the first time.

Understand that this is not an “easy listening” compilation, from either a musical or a technological standpoint. Steve Smolian has been diligent in his sound-restoration work, but clean copies do not always exist of records this rare (some of which were poorly recorded to begin with), and the sound quality varies accordingly. Musically, there are some gems here, as well as some failures that nevertheless are worth hearing, for historical perspective if nothing else.

Black Swan’s Harry Pace misjudged his audience, stubbornly clinging to the belief that they would flock to what he called “numbers of a higher standard,” even as meager sales proved him wrong. Although it might be true that some of these artists failed to gain wider recognition because of their color, voices and technique that fell short of the demands of their material certainly are also to blame. The Harlem Renaissance, like any cultural movement, had its share of the mediocre and the pretentious, some of whom are on display here.

As expected, Roland Hayes emerges as the most promising performer of the lot. The fact that he had to pay Columbia to record him — only to move to England, where he was welcomed by the Vocalion label and went on to achieve international acclaim — speaks volumes about the times. Perhaps the most musically interesting items are the two piano solos by R. Nathaniel Dett, playing his own compositions. Co-producer Leslie Gerber has provided excellent program notes, including biographical sketches based in part on Lost Sounds.

While not for the casual listener, Black Swans can be a rewarding experience if approached with an open mind and some knowledge and appreciation of black history.

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Correcting “Country Music” (PBS) • Jimmie Rodgers’ Record Royalties: The Actual Story

Correcting Country Music (PBS)
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Jimmie Rodgers’ Record Royalties: The Actual Story
By Allan Sutton

 

Ken Burns’ Country Music (PBS) offers up its share of errors and hoary, now-debunked anecdotes, some of which are sufficiently egregious that they’re worth addressing here. For starters, there’s the matter of the royalties paid on Jimmie Rodgers’ Victor record sales.

As the Burns team would have, Rodgers enjoyed sudden wealth from the royalties on sale of his records — but that was not the case. In fact, during his first two years with Victor, Rodgers not only received no royalties on his record sales, but was one of Victor’s lowest-paid artists.

Any sudden wealth that might have come Rodgers’ way from 1927 into early 1929 would have come from live-performance fees and sales of his sheet music (which Ralph Peer published, and on which he held the copyrights), not from record-sale royalties — because none were paid during that time.

Fortunately, there is reliable, primary-source documentation concerning this matter, in the official minutes of the Victor Talking Machine Company’s Managers’ Committee — a source with which the Burns team was obviously unfamiliar and in which, had they looked, they would have found some fascinating glimpses into the workings of Ralph Peer and the nascent market for country music records.

As the minutes make clear, in three separate entries at various times, Rodgers was paid no royalties on sales of his records from 1927 until mid-February 1929. During that period, he received only a flat payment of $75 per approved title, with an agreement to  raise that figure to $100 in July 1929 and to $150 in July 1930, but still without a royalties provision. By comparison, Victor at the time was paying pseudo-hillbilly Vernon Dalhart a $400 advance per title, against an artist royalty of 1¢ per side (½¢ for duets) on his record sales.

In early 1929, Rodgers finally “expressed dissatisfaction” with the existing pay agreement, and Victor executives approved a revised package, superseding the original agreement. Beginning on February 15, 1929, Rodgers was to receive a $100 advance per approved selection, against an artist royalty of ½¢ per side. The change was reported in the Managers’ Committee’s minutes for March 6, 1929:

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That still fell far short of what Victor had been paying Dalhart. However, Dalhart had priced himself out Victor’s good graces some months earlier, insisting on a $25,000 annual guarantee and the right to record for any other companies he chose. (Managers’ Committee minutes, June 6, 1928). Estimating that Victor would have to sell 2.5 million records a year just to meet that guarantee, management decided not to renew Dalhart, who soon began a long downward spiral.

Dalhart’s loss of his Victor contract almost certainly worked to Rodgers’ advantage, with Victor officials noting, “While [Dalhart] is practically the leading artist of his type, we have other artists which we can build up to take his place… .”  And build they certainly did, in Rodgers’ case.

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For the stories behind the many country music labels and producers you won’t hear mentioned on Ken Burns’ Country Music, be sure to check out American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950, a special limited edition available exclusively from Mainspring Press and Nauck’s Vintage Records.

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Samantha Bumgarner: Newspaper Highlights (1924 – 1960)

Samantha Bumgarner: Newspaper Highlights
(1924 – 1960)

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North Carolina native Samantha Bumgarner inspired Pete Seeger to take up the banjo, performed for British royalty, and (with Eva Davis) was the first female country music performer to make records.

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The team of Bumgarner and Davis cut five titles in Columbia’s New York studio on April 22, 1924, three of which were released. Bumgarner returned to the studio the following day, without Davis, to record seven more titles, five of which were released.

Bumgarner’s records appear to have sold reasonably well throughout the Appalachian region; we’ve found copies as far north as the South Mountain area in Pennsylvania, and as far west as the Alleghenies in West Virginia. But Bumgarner failed to attract a national following, and Columbia did not invite her or Davis back.

However, Bumgarner would remain active in the Asheville, North Carolina, area for several decades. Beginning in 1928 she was a star attraction at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, an annual Asheville event founded and managed by folklorist/performer Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Pete Seeger, who heard Bumgarner perform there in the mid-1930s, claimed her as his inspiration for taking up the five-string string banjo.

In June 1939, Lunsford took Bumgarner to perform for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at a White House concert staged by the WPA, which featured such diverse talent as Marian Anderson, Kate Smith, Josh White, the Golden Gate Quartet, and the Coon Creek Girls. Bumgarner continued to perform into the late 1950s.

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Asheville, North Carolina (July 1924). The caption is reversed; Bumgarner is on the right.

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August 1940

.Bumgarner (with Bill McCanlass, top) performing at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville (August 1942)

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At the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival (Asheville,
September 1949)

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Asheville (March 1960)

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December 25, 1960

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April 23, 1924, was a busy date at the Columbia studio, with Bumgarner recording in the morning, followed that afternoon by  Bessie and Clara Smith. Here are two historic sides from that day:

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SAMANTHA BUMGARNER: Fly Around, My Pretty Little Miss

New York: April 23, 1924
Columbia 146-D (mx. 81716 – 1)

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SAMANTHA BUMGARNER: Georgia Blues

New York: April 23, 1924
Columbia 166-D (mx. 81719 – 1)

 

 

Sam Moore’s “Guitar Accordion Pipe Organ”

Sam Moore was noted for playing unconventional musical instruments, but this one surely tops them all. It’s his “Guitar Accordion Pipe Organ,” from the collection of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Unfortunately, he don’t know of any recordings he made with it.

Our thanks to Music Maker Relief Foundation program manager Aaron Greenhood for supplying the photographs. The MMRF website and blog are well worth a visit if you’re a fan of American roots music. Based in Hillsborough, North Carolina, the organization was founded “to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time. Music Maker will give future generations access to their heritage through documentation and performance programs that build knowledge and appreciation of America’s musical traditions.”

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Courtesy of Music Maker Relief Foundation

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© Timothy Duffy, 2013. Used with permission of MMRF.

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© Timothy Duffy, 2013. Used with permission of MMRF.

 

Related Post: Sam Moore: From “Laughing Rag” to
“Spooning and Ballooning”

 

Riley Puckett, Gid Tanner, and The Skillet Lickers: Newspaper Highlights (1915 – 1951)

Riley Puckett, Gid Tanner, and The Skillet Lickers:
Newspaper Highlights (1915 – 1951)

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Among the first superstars of real country music (as opposed to the synthetic stuff cranked out by the likes of Vernon Dalhart), Riley Puckett and Gid Tanner worked their way up from humble beginnings in Georgia — Puckett performing for spare change on the streets of Atlanta, and Tanner competing at the “old-time fiddlers’ conventions” that were so popular at the time. Here’s a glimpse of their stories, from newspaper clippings of the period:

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Riley Puckett appeals for aid (Atlanta Constitution,
October 22, 1915)

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One of the earliest mentions of Gid Tanner, getting ready to perform at the spring convention of the Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association
(January 17, 1915)

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Another early mention of Tanner (Atlanta, April 1916)

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Hillbilly hubris (February 1919)

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Gainesville, Georgia (July 1924). The Skillet Lickers had yet to be formed at this point, leaving the makeup of Tanner’s Famous Orchestra an intriguing mystery.

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Columbia’s first full-page ad for Tanner and Puckett (May 1924), pre-dating formation of the Skillet Lickers

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Montgomery, Alabama, with Puckett misidentified as a fiddler
(April 1927)

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Greenville, South Carolina (May 1928)

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Centreville, Alabama (July 1928)

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Election night before the advent of television. Note the mention of Puckett also playing piano. (Alexander City, Alabama,
November 1, 1928)

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Ashville, Alabama (November 21, 1929). Note the absence of fiddler Clayton McMichen and the substitution of Claude Davis for Riley Puckett.

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At the movies: The Skillet Lickers share a bill with “Working Girls”
(Chillicothe, Ohio, December 1931)

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Puckett, Tanner, and friends on Bluebird records
(November 1934)

One of the last ads for the Skillet Lickers, with only Tanner remaining from the original group (Jasper, Alabama, April 1951)

 

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And a few favorites from their vast output:

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GID TANNER & HIS SKILLET LICKERS
(Riley Puckett, lead vocal): Dixie

Atlanta: March 29, 1927
Columbia 15158-D (mx. W 143795 – 2)

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GID TANNER & HIS SKILLET LICKERS (Riley Puckett, vocal):
Alabama Jubilee

Atlanta: April 17, 1926
Columbia 15104-D (mx. W 142037 – 2)

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GID TANNER & HIS SKILLET LICKERS (Gid Tanner, vocal):
Soldier’s Joy

San Antonio (Texas Hotel): March 30, 1935
Bluebird B-5658 (mx. BVE 82722 – 1)

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GID TANNER & HIS SKILLET LICKERS (Ted Hawkins, mandolin):
Hawkins’ Rag

San Antonio (Texas Hotel): March 29, 1934
Bluebird B-5435 (mx. BVE 82677 – 1)

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CLAYTON McMICHEN, RILEY PUCKETT, GID TANNER, LOWE STOKES, FATE NORRIS, BOB NICHOLS & BILL BROWN:
A Corn Licker Still in Georgia — Part 4

Atlanta: April 12, 1928
Columbia 15258-D (mx. W  140322 – 2)
Bill Brown (playing the hapless visitor on this side) was a manager in Columbia’s Atlanta office. This was not a pseudonym for Harry C. Browne, as columnist Jim Walsh once claimed.

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GID TANNER (vocal with own banjo): You’ve Got to Stop Drinking Shine

Atlanta: December 6, 1930
Columbia 15716-D (mx. W 151062 – 1)

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Sam Moore: From “Laughing Rag” to “Spooning and Ballooning”

Sam Moore: From “Laughing Rag”
to “Spooning and Ballooning”
By Allan Sutton

 

Related Post: Sam Moore’s “Guitar Accordion Pipe Organ”

 

Sam Moore’s 1921 Victor recording of “Laughing Rag” is an astonishing record for the period, blending Southern folk, Hawaiian, and ragtime influences in a way unlike anything that had been heard on records up to that time. Music historian Dick Spottswood has praised Moore’s performance on that record for its “aggressive mainland verve…which stands halfway between Hawaiian and the 1920s country guitar rags of Sam McGee, Blind Blake, Roy Harvey, and Sylvester Weaver.”

The Moores had already established a reputation as musical family when Samuel Pasco Moore was born in Monticello, Florida, on June 28, 1887. His father, Samuel Lewis Moore, was a Civil War veteran and holder of a Confederate Cross of Honor. Music, however, was only an avocation for the family, which operated a successful construction business.

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Sam Moore with his family and banjo, both circa 1895
(courtesy of  Betsy Loar)

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Proficient on the violin by age seven, Sam was later sent to Macon, Georgia, to study under Professor W. C. Kaler. After a badly healed broken arm ended his aspirations as a violinist, Moore turned to the banjo and guitar and also began to experiment with everyday objects — most notably, the ordinary hand-saw — as musical instruments.

In 1919, Moore left home to audition for Florenz Ziegfeld in New York. The result was a six-moth run at Ziegfeld’s Roof Garden. For a time, the newly arrived Georgian was the toast of New York society, even serving as guest of honor at a reception hosted by the editors of The   Musical Courier that was attended by Enrico Caruso and other luminaries. “Those eminent artists,” a New York paper reported, “were so delighted by Mr. Moore’s playing on a carpenter’s hand-saw, that they hovered so closely around him that he hardly had room to play.”

Moore traveled to Chicago during the summer of 1920. There he met Harry Skinner, an employee of Lyon & Healy, the city’s leading music retailer. In September, Moore made a well-advertised appearance in Lyon & Healy’s  auditorium, at which he played his hand-saw.

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Moore’s appearance at Lyon & Healy (Chicago, September 1920)

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Skinner introduced Moore to his new invention, an eight-string steel guitar named the octo-chorda. (Although several accounts credit Moore with its invention, a 1926 news article confirms that Moore’s eight-string steel guitar was “the recent invention of Harry Skinner of Lyons & Healy in Chicago.”) Together, Moore and Skinner composed a showpiece for the octo-chorda, titled “Laughing Rag.”

Moore was soon traveling on the Keith and Orpheum vaudeville circuits, sometimes with Horace D. Davis. A great-grandson of Robert E. Lee, who also performed under the name of John Powell, Davis was an accomplished guitarist.

During the summer of 1921, Moore recorded “Laughing Rag” as an octo-chorda solo for the Gennett, Okeh, and Victor labels. Gennett 4747 was the first to be recorded, in New York on June 11, 1921, with piano accompaniment by Frank Banta. The recording was erroneously entered in the Gennett files as a hand-saw solo, and was even advertised as such in some newspapers, but the records are correctly labeled.

Okeh 4412 was released in November, coupled with Moore’s “Chain Gang Blues,” using an uncredited accompanist. Moore recorded two more octo-chorda solos for Okeh at about the same time — “Wang Wang Blues” and  “Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old ‘Tucky Home” (the latter with Davis, coupled on Okeh 4423).

But Moore’s most successful recording of “Laughing Rag,” musically as well as in terms of sales, was made for the Victor Talking Machine Company in their New York studio on August 24, 1921, originally as part of a trial session. For this version,  Moore used Horace Davis to accompany on the harp-guitar, an odd hybrid instrument with six primary strings plus an additional set of strings that resonated sympathetically.

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SAM MOORE & HORACE DAVIS: Laughing Rag

New York: August 24, 1921  (Released March 1922)
Victor 18849 (mx. B 25543 – 1)
Recorded as a test and later accepted for commercial release, per the Victor files. Originally scheduled for release on Victor 18846, coupled with Moore & Davis’ “Cry Baby Blues,” which was canceled before release.

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Victor inexplicably delayed its release of “Laughing Rag” for seven months, only to discover that they had a hit on their hands. The guitar interplay between Moore and Davis proved to be irresistible. Victor’s version remains a perennial favorite with collectors and has been commercially reissued several times, most recently on RCA’s “Classic Ragtime” CD. But of the fourteen titles Moore and Davis recorded for Victor between August 1921 and September 1922, only three were issued, the other two being straightforward “Hawaiian” numbers.

Unfortunately for modern listeners, “Laughing Rag” was an anomaly. In 1922, Moore and Davis split, and Moore teamed with Carl Freed, a ukulele- and guitar-playing comedian who also played the musical spoons. Together, they developed a novelty vaudeville act entitled “Spooning and Ballooning,” in which Moore played an inflated rubber balloon and other gadgets to Freed’s spoon accompaniment. The Columbus [Georgia] Ledger for April 9, 1924, reported that “Among the most appreciative of Sam Moore’s audiences are the negroes who go north… [they] often talk to the performer from the galleries, which makes the act ‘go big’…”

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An early review of “Spooning and Ballooning” (Altoona, Pennsylvania, October 1922)

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The long-running “Spooning and Ballooning” plays Allentown, Pennsylvania
(March 1924)

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Although Moore’s guitar work is what interests most modern collectors, his use of offbeat instruments is what captivated audiences in the 1920s. In April 1924 Moore’s father told the Columbus Courier, “That boy can music out of anything. When he was a small boy, I’ve seen him get music out of a pitchfork.” Moore didn’t leave any known recordings on the pitchfork, but he made a number of hand-saw records, beginning with “Mother Machree” for Gennett, on the reverse side of “Laughing Rag.”

By the time Moore recorded for Columbia in 1922, however, the musical-saw fad was fading in New York. Moore’s April 7, 1922, Columbia session yielded a single release (A3750), which appears to have sold poorly. A few Moore saw-solo releases followed during 1923–1924 on Brunswick and Vocalion, on some of  which Horace Davis made a reappearance, but again, sales appear to have been small.

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From a 1924 Vocalion supplement

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By the mid-1920s, with several firms marketing cheap musical saws and instruction courses, the hand-saw was largely relegated to the status of an amateur’s novelty instrument. Moore carried on, championing the hand-saw as well as a host of other instruments that had fallen from (or, in the case of the rubber balloon, never attained) grace. Interest in “Spooning and Ballooning” faded, and Moore and Freed eventually went their own ways.

By 1927, Moore was once again working with Horace Davis, but no issued recording resulted. Together, they recorded Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” for Brunswick on November 8, which was to have been coupled with a remake of “Laughing Rag” on Brunswick 3713. However, there is no evidence in the Brunswick files that the latter title was recorded, and Brunswick 3713 was canceled before release. Two October 1928 Brunswick duets with ukulele player Edmund Evans were  rejected.

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A formal 1920s portrait of Sam Moore (left), and a snapshot taken during his stint with KFSO radio’s “Country Store” (courtesy of  Betsy Loar)

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In the 1930s, Moore left the stage for radio work, writing for and performing on several NBC shows into the 1940s. For a time he teamed with his wife, Carolyn, in a stereotypical “blackface” act called “Sambo & Mandy” for local radio broadcasts and personal appearances.

Moore suffered from asthma, and eventually he settled in San Francisco for health reasons. There he was featured in the cast of KFSO’s “Country Store.” He died in San Francisco on November 13, 1959, at the age of 72.

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© 2019 by Allan R. Sutton. Portions of this article previously appeared on the Mainspring Press website as “Rediscovering Sam Moore.”

Thanks to Betsy (Moore) Loar, the grand-daughter of Sam Moore, for sharing her rare photos and other source materials. Discographical data are from the original company files, via the University of California–Santa Barbara’s Discography of American Historical Recordings site and John R. Bolig.

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RCA Enters the Cheap-Record Market (1931 -1934)

RCA Enters the Cheap-Record Market (1931 – 1934)
By Allan Sutton

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In early 1931, RCA Victor executives took what was, for them, an unprecedented plunge into the budget-label market. It was a move that would have been unimaginable to Victor founder Eldridge Johnson, who had adamantly opposed cheap records from the start. By 1931, however, Johnson had been retired for five years, and the former Victor Talking Machine Company — now just a division within the sprawling Radio Corporation of America — was in the hands of executives who were more interested in radio, and the commercial development of television, than in a struggling record business.

The minutes of RCA’s management committee tell the tale. At meeting after meeting, it was reported that record sales were continuing to plunge. At the same time, the company was accumulating a mountain of scrap records that needed recycling. The solution, first proposed on February 11, 1931, was to put some of that scrap to use in a cheap disc that had been developed by RCA’s Engineering Department, to be sold in “chain store outlets such as Kresge, Grant, etc.”

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The initial “cheap record” proposal: Minutes of the RCA Victor Management Committee, February 11, 1931.
(Hagley Museum, Wilmington, DE)

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The result was RCA Victor’s first attempt to produce a cheap label — the 35¢ Timely Tunes, for sale by Montgomery Ward. Some recordings were made exclusively for the new label, using special ABRC- and BRC- master-number prefixes that usually aren’t shown in modern discographies. Most of the artists on the newly made recordings were masked by pseudonyms, with Gene Autry masquerading as “Gene Johnson” and “Jimmy Smith,” Frank Luther as “Eddie Bell,” Johnny Hamp as “Carl Graub,” and Nathaniel Shilkret as “Ronald Sachs,” to name but a few.

The remainder comprised reissues of deleted Victor recordings, usually with the artists correctly credited. The entire Timely Tunes catalog, consisting of forty records, was released in a single batch on July 1, 1931, after which the label was quietly retired. Timely Tunes made virtually no impact, and little more was heard of the “cheap record” idea at RCA until early 1932.

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Pseudonym use was rampant on Timely Tunes. “Jim New” was country singer Newton Gaines.

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In February 1932, RCA took over pressing for the Crown Record Company in an attempt to put some of its idled factory capacity to use. A struggling start-up cobbled together by former Plaza Music Company executives, Crown marketed a mediocre 25¢ record that at the time was bring pressed in a former Edison facility. RCA’s involvement was limited to pressing the discs, under the supervision of Eli Oberstein, with Crown supplying its own masters. However marginal the venture, it at least signaled RCA’s continued willingness to be involved with budget-label production.

In June 1932, RCA Victor started making recordings expressly for sale at cut-rate prices in the Woolworth Company’s department stores. The timing could not have been better for RCA. In the same month, Columbia suspended production of its budget-priced line, which included the once-popular Clarion, Harmony, and Velvet Tone labels. Crown was already flirting with bankruptcy, and the few other budget labels that had survived the early Depression years, including Cameo and Perfect, had been absorbed by the American Record Corporation, a division of Herbert Yates’ Consolidated Film Industries.

A July 15 report to RCA’s board of directors noted, “We are making a definite drive to obtain as much of the cheap record business as is possible. Durium [Hit of the Week] have closed their American business, and the American Record Company [sic] is constantly becoming weaker.* We have hopes of obtaining a very big part of what may be left of the cheap record business.”

RCA maintained a separate ledger for the Woolworth recordings, which, like the earlier Timely Tunes recordings, were not intended for release on the full-priced Victor label. The master numbers were given special prefixes (ESHQ- for 8”, BSHQ- for 10”). To keep costs low, pressings consisted of 50% recycled scrap, and RCA employed its in-house recording equipment rather than the superior Western Electric system, which would have required royalty payments to WE.

A June 15 report to RCA’s board directors contains the curious claim that the company had already placed “experimental” 10¢ and 20¢ records in selected Woolworth stores. What these records might have been remains unclear. Documented recording sessions for Woolworth’s had begun just two days earlier, on the morning of June 13, in Victor’s New York Studio 1. The day began with four titles by Graham Prince and his Palais d’ Or Orchestra and ended with a three-hour marathon by Gene Kardos and his Orchestra, the latter yielding a dozen titles in mixed 8” and 10” formats. Another full day of recording followed on June 14. Clearly, these records could not have arrived at Woolworth’s in time to have been mentioned in the June 15 report, leaving us to wonder what that “experimental” batch might have comprised.

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RCA’s Electradisk label, produced for Woolworth’s. Sunrise, RCA’s fourth budget label, was largely redundant, using the same material as Bluebird (note the Bluebird catalog number under the Sunrise number).

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The June 13–14 recordings were in fact released in July, according to the Victor files, and bore Electradisk labels. Woolworth’s sold out initial run by the end of August, at which time the 8” series was dropped. The experiment was pronounced a success, and in September, Woolworth’s executives decided to place the 10” Electradiscs in a minimum of fifty stores. With that go-ahead from the chain store, recording activity (which had stalled after June 14) resumed on September 28, now under the direction of Eli Oberstein. The disappearance of Woolworth’s special BSHQ- master prefix at that time suggests that RCA might have already been looking ahead to “repurposing” some of these recordings on other labels — which is exactly what happened.

Electradisk proved to be a hit for Woolworth’s, mixing newly made recordings with reissues of deleted Victor and Timely Tunes material. Use of artist pseudonyms was rampant on the new recordings. Tom Berwick’s Orchestra (with Oberstein conducting per the RCA files, and not Sid Peltyn, as some discographies claim) appeared as “Rex Blaine and his Orchestra,” “The New Yorkers, “The Pennsylvania Collegians,” “Sid Peltyn and his Orchestra,” “Harold Mooney and his Orchestra,” and “Bob Miller’s Memphis Orchestra,” among others. The real Bob Miller (a country-style singer) appeared as “Bill Palmer.” However, much of the reissued Victor material appeared with correct artist credits.

Electradisc was quickly joined by another new budget label that would do much to halt and then reverse RCA Victor’s downward slide. Bluebird — RCA’s third attempt to crack the budget-label market — proved to be the charm. Launched without fanfare in the summer of 1932, it was destined to become one of RCA Victor’s most popular brands. Initially, however, Bluebird was just a companion label to Electradisk, and was also made exclusively for Woolworth’s.

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(Left) The original 1932 Bluebird client-label design for Woolworth’s, lacking any mention of RCA Victor. (Right) The 1933 redesign, reflecting Bluebird’s transition to an RCA-owned brand.

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Bluebird’s belated 1937 trademark application declared April 5, 1933 as the date of brand’s first use. That date, approximately eight months after Bluebird was actually launched, apparently reflects its transition from a Woolworth’s client label to a fully owned RCA brand. The earliest indication in the ledgers of a change in Bluebird’s status appears on May 18, 1933, which for the first time lists “recordings for Woolworth and Bluebird.” The label had proven public appeal, and in the spring of 1933, Bluebird was reintroduced to the public as RCA’s flagship budget label. The original label design was retained, but the RCA and Victor trademarks (missing from the Woolworth issues) were added, and the rather dull black-on-blue color scheme was replaced by light-blue on buff.

Initially, management of the Bluebird division fell largely to Ralph Peer, who had signed Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family for Victor in 1927. Peer had begun his relationship with Victor as an independent talent scout, making a good living by publishing his artists’ songs, controlling their copyrights, and earning a commission on their record sales. However, his position within the company eventually changed from independent contractor to employee. By the time Bluebird was introduced, he was just another RCA manager, quietly plotting his transition to full-time music publisher. Nevertheless, his influence is still apparent in the early Bluebird catalog, which was largely aimed at the same lower-income markets he had developed so successfully for Victor. Under Peer’s control, much of the early Bluebird catalog was cobbled together from deleted Victor recordings by the likes of Rodgers, the Carters, and others he had discovered.

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Ralph Peer’s influence is evident in these 1934 Bluebird ads.

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RCA’s executives at first seemed hesitant to promote Bluebird. The first known advertisements of the records as RCA Victor products, which appeared in May and June 1933, were placed not by RCA, but by local merchants. The company itself did little to publicize the label until early 1934, when it began touting Bluebirds as “The fastest-selling low-priced records.” The Radio-Music Merchant (successor to The Talking Machine World) did not begin publishing Bluebird advance listings until May of that year.

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Although Bluebird records were officially priced at 35¢, some discounting was allowed in the label’s early days. These Bluebird ads — among the earliest to appear after the Woolworth connection was severed — ran in the summer of 1933.

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Sunrise, yet another RCA budget brand, was launched in August 1933, for reasons unknown. It simply duplicated portions of the Bluebird catalog; the corresponding Bluebird catalog numbers even appeared on the labels, in small type below the Sunrise numbers. A month later, the first RCA-produced Montgomery Ward records appeared in that retailer’s Fall catalog.

The label was the creation of Ward’s executive Sewell Avery, who had approached RCA with a proposal for an ultra-cheap disc that could be advantageous for both companies: Ward’s would obtain high-quality, low-cost records featuring nationally recognized artists, while RCA would generate business for its pressing plant (which was still operating well below capacity), and wring out some additional revenue by recycling previously issued Victor and Bluebird recordings. The discs were openly credited to RCA Victor in Ward’s advertising, but never on the labels. Well-pressed and retailing for only 21¢ each, or 10 for $1.79, Montgomery Ward records were an undeniable bargain for consumers, although RCA’s margins must have been razor-thin.

RCA was now suffering from a case of label bloat, producing three largely redundant budget brands of its own, in addition to pressing for Montgomery Ward. The company continued to produce the latter through 1941 (aside from several short-lived dalliances with other producers), but Electradisk and Sunrise were targeted for elimination. After allowing Electradisk to languish for several months, RCA finally scuttled the label in February 1934. Sunrise somehow survived until May of that year. With the passing of those labels, Bluebird claimed its place as RCA’s sole budget brand.

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* The RCA executives were mistaken in their assessment of the American Record Corporation. ARC had recently been licensed to produce the Brunswick and Vocalion labels (along with Brunswick’s cut-rate Melotone line), and its acquisition of Columbia in April 1934 would elevate the company to the nation’s second-largest record producer.

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Selected References

“Bluebird.” U.S. trademark filing (June 8, 1937). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Bolig, John R. The Bluebird Discography, Vol. 1. Denver: Mainspring Press (2015).

— . The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1942. Denver: Mainspring Press (2014).

“RCA Victor” (advertisement, with first known trade-publication listing of new Bluebird releases). Radio-Music Merchant (May 1934), p. 14.

RCA Victor Co., Inc. Crown Records production-history cards. New York: Sony Music Archives.

—. Minutes of the Management Committee (1931). Hagley Museum, Wilmington, DE.

—. President’s Reports to the Board of Directors (1931–1932). Hagley Museum, Wilmington, DE.

—. Recording ledgers and production history cards. New York: Sony Music Archives.

 

For more on RCA Victor and its predecessor companies, see American Record Companies and Producers, 1888 – 1950: An Encyclopedic History, newly released by Mainspring Press

 

© 2019 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

The Louisville Jug Band Gets Arrested (1914), and Other Earl McDonald Snippets

The earliest known personnel listing for the Louisville Jug Band, 1914. “Colvin” presumably is a typo for Ben Calvin, who worked on-and-off with McDonald for many years; could “John Smith” be a typo for Cal Smith, a long-time McDonald associate? (Louisville Courier-Journal, October 20, 1914)

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A 1918 iteration of the Louisville Jug Band, interrupting their Chicago engagement for a week’s appearance at the Antler cabaret in Dayton, Ohio. Can anyone identify the members? (Dayton Daily News, April 14, 1918)

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McDonald and company fared far better than most race-record artists during the early Depression years, thanks to their popular “Ballard Chefs” broadcasts. Originating in Louisville, the program aired in many major cities. (What’s on the Air, April 1930)

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Earl McDonald entertains at the University Kentucky. (Louisville Courier-Journal, February 15, 1948)

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(Louisville Courier-Journal, April 29, 1949)

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SARA MARTIN & HER JUG BAND: I’m Gonna Be a Lovin’ Old Soul

New York: September 1924
Okeh 8211 (mx. S 72837-b)

Clifford Hayes, violin; Curtis Hayes, banjo; Earl McDonald, jug

 

Victor on the Road: Ralph Peer Goes to El Paso (Summer 1929)

Press coverage of Ralph Peer’s summer 1929 visit to El Paso, Texas, gives a taste of the excitement that was generated when  Victor and other large East Coast record companies came to far-flung locations seeking talent. Three local El Paso artists had already been chosen to record by the end of June, in advance of the Victor team’s arrival, and auditions continued through the second week of July:

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El Paso Herald (June 28, 1929)

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Among those whose recordings were issued were M. S. Dillehay, the Rodeo Trio (D. A. Champaigne, Kenneth Deshazo, and Phil Smith), and the Maxwell family string band from New Mexico, which someone at Victor named the “White Mountain Orchestra.” But the artist who got the most attention from the local press was another member of the Maxwell family, Billie Maxwell Warner, whose records were released under her maiden name:

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El Paso Herald (July 2, 1929)

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The local reporters poked a little fun at a couple of unnamed cowboys who came to audition:
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El Paso Herald (July 11, 1929)

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In the end, four of Billie Maxwell’ songs were released in the  Victor V-40000 country-music series. True to form, Peer had her listed as the “arranger” of these numbers, enabling him to file for copyright on what were actually public-domain folk tunes. Here’s her “Haunted Hunter,” which was also issued in Canada on the Aurora label. Both editions are rare:

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BILLIE MAXWELL, “THE COWGIRL SINGER” (vocal and guitar):
Haunted Hunter

El Paso, TX: July 11, 1929 — Released May 16, 1930
Victor V-40241 (mx. BVE 55234 – 1)
From a tape dubbing, courtesy of the late Gilbert Louey

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El Paso Evening Post (Decemebr 5, 1929)

From the “Gennett Record Gazette” – Joie Lichter, Bob Tamm, and the Questionable “Gene Bailey” (1924)

The Gennett Record Gazette was a nifty promo publication filled with photos, release lists, facts, and “alternative facts.” Here are a couple of excepts from Vol. I, No. 4 (April 1924) — one correcting a likely error in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Records and Film, and the other opening a discographical can of worms.

Joie Lichter’s and Bob Tamm’s Milwaukee orchestras visited Gennett’s Richmond, Indiana, studio on March 4, 1924 — Lichter recording five sides, with Tamm squeezing in a single title midway through the session, according to the Gennett ledgers. (“Tamm” or “Tamms”? It appears both ways in press reports and ads of the period, but “Tamm” is favored by a good margin.)

For god-only-knows what reason (since its compilers give none), ADBRF lists the Tamm side as a pseudonymous Lichter recording, even though the ledger, and the detailed information reported below, make that seem unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Rust credited the Tamm side to Tamm in his earlier  American Dance Band Discography, from which ADBRF was largely taken. If anyone can offer any credible reason for the change in ADBRF (credible excluding things like “so-and-so is sure he hears such-and-such” or “Joe Blow remembers that somebody said…”), please let us know, and of course be sure to cite the source. If it checks out, we’ll be happy to post it.

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Our next excerpt involves the ubiquitous Bailey’s Lucky Seven. For years it’s been taken for granted that this was a Sam Lanin group, and aural evidence does strongly suggest that was the case on many sides. Many others, however, are more generic-sounding. Unfortunately, the Gennett ledgers offer no clues in either case. (Note that the Bailey’s personnel listings in the various Rust and Johnson & Shirley discographies are all conjectural, even if the authors don’t make that clear. None of it is from file data or other primary-source documentation.)

But here we have one “Gene Bailey, of Bailey’s Lucky Seven” running a question-and-answer column in the Gennett Record Gazette. Not surprisingly, “Bailey” gave no answer whatsoever to the fan’s question concerning the Lucky Seven’s personnel, or where the band was performing, other than a vague reference later in the column to one “Saxophone Joe.”

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So, was there a real Gene Bailey involved with these recordings, and if so, in what capacity? Or was this just yet another case of the Gennett folks having fun with pseudonyms? We favor the latter, since we’ve found no trace of a Gene Bailey having been  active on the New York-area musical scene, either as a musician or a manager, at the time. (These were all New York recordings.  The cartoon above, by the way, is based on a well-known 1923 photo taken in the New York studio, which was configured differently than the Indiana facility).

There’s an old anecdote about Gennett borrowing the names of employees or other locals for its artist pseudonyms. And a Gene Bailey does turns up in the social notices of several eastern Indiana newspapers at the time, although with no mention of any musical connection. But just to muck things up a bit, Gennett once issued a record credited to “Jene Bailey’s Orchestra,” claiming (in the ledger as well as in their ads) that Mr. Bailey personally conducted the side:

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Of course, much of Gennett’s promotional material should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. This was, after all, a  company whose “Colored Records” catalog included a photo of an unknown black band that was captioned “Ladd’s Black Aces” — a confirmed pseudonym on Gennett for the all-white Original Memphis Five.

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While we’re on subject, here’s a terrific book that all Gennett fans should own, by Charlie Dahan and Linda Gennett Irmscher (Arcadia Publishing). It’s available on Amazon.com, and a real  bargain at just $21.99 — crammed with rare photos and little-known facts, and covering a much broader scope than the earlier Kennedy tome. Highly recommended!
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(That’s Art Landry’s Call of the North Orchestra on the cover. At the top, you can see the heavy drapes that contributed to the Indiana studio’s notoriously muddy acoustics.)

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