The Playlist (Free MP3s) • Grey Gull’s Mystery Black Bands (1929 – 1930)

The Playlist (Free MP3s)
Grey Gull’s Mystery Black Bands (1929 – 1930)

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Amongst all the garbage that was Grey Gull are these often-overlooked gems by some unknown black groups. The band names are meaningless; they were also used to cover groups ranging from Clarence Williams’ Orchestra to several obviously white groups, including the so-called Grey Gull house band. Several bear some resemblance to 1929–1930 sides by known J. C. Johnson and Walter Bennett bands on other labels.

We don’t know who the musicians are, despite countless published guesses — some of them reasonable, and some so far off the mark as to be real head-scratchers (such as Brian Rust attributing the January 1930 titles to Grey Gull’s coarse and buffoonish house band). The only clue is that the composers are the same for all titles in each group — J. C. Johnson for the August 1929 sides, Porter Grainger for November 1929, and Claude Austin for January 1930 — so it’s likely that they and/or their publishers had a hand in booking these sessions.

You can see what else Rust had to say about them in our free downloadable edition of Jazz Records, 1892-1942 (the sixth and final edition). But like so much else you’ll find there, take it with the proverbial grain of salt. In early editions of JR, Rust attributed the cornet on “Harlem’s Araby” to King Oliver. Then, in Edition 4, he did a complete flip-flop and changed it to white novelty trumpeter Mike Mosiello. Finally, he changed it to Unknown in Edition 6, after some prodding by his editor — which of course was the correct answer all along.

So, enjoy these on their own terms, whoever they’re by.

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MOONLIGHT REVELERS”):
Alabama Shuffle

New York: c. August 1929
Grey Gull 1767

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MOONLIGHT REVELERS”):
Baby Know How

New York: c. August 1929
Grey Gull 1775

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “JAZZOPATORS”):
Don’t Know and Don’t Care
New York: c. November 1929
Grey Gull 1803

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MEMPHIS JAZZERS”):
In Harlem’s Araby
New York: c. November 1929
Grey Gull 1804

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “LEVEE SYNCOPATORS”):
The Rackett
New York: c. January 1930
Grey Gull 1843 (take A)

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “NEW ORLEANS PEPSTERS”):
The Rackett
New York: c. January 1930
Van Dyke 81843 (take B)

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “NEW ORLEANS PEPSTERS”):
Harlem Stomp Down

New York: c. January 1930
Grey Gull 1836

 

Hide the Band: The Coon-Sanders “Castle Farms Serenaders” Paramounts (1928)

Hide the Band: The Coon-Sanders “Castle Farms Serenaders” Paramounts (1928)

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MSP_bwy-1227b

Broadway pressing from NYRL mx. 20924 (with Joe Sanders’ last name misspelled), originally issued on Paramount 20668

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Here’s a bit of “hide the band” activity that escaped Brian Rust and those who have copied his work —  In November 1928, the Coon-Sanders Orchestra recorded Joe Sanders’ “Tennessee Lazy” for Paramount at Chicago’s Marsh Laboratories — on the sly, since they were under exclusive contract to Victor at the time — as the “Castle Farms Serenaders.” The alias had at least a bit of basis in fact, since the Coon-Sanders band  occasionally played at Cincinnati’s Castle Farms (the name was used to cover other bands as well).

Three other titles on adjacent master numbers (preceded by a Big Bill & Thomps session, and followed by Richard Jones’ Jazz Wizards), were variously issued as the “Castle Farms Serenaders” and “Manhattan Entertainers.” Unfortunately, there are no Victor versions of these three titles for comparison.

Chronologically, there is no possibility that the Paramount was copied from the Victor by some cover band (not that any cover band could have produced such a perfect sound-alike anyway). Aside from the addition of Joe Sanders’ vocal, and the slightly slower tempo, the arrangement and solos are identical.

Brian Rust somehow missed the correlation in Jazz Records 6th Edition, listing the “Castle Farms Serenaders” on this session as an entirely unknown band. American Dance Bands on Record and Film erroneously credits the record to a Bill Haid group, with no source cited (banjoist Haid had been in and out of the Coon-Sanders Orchestra over the years, but by this time he had his own band, a so-so outfit). Earlier Paramount issues under the “Castle Farms” name still bear further investigation; the undocumented personnel listed by Rust and others for those sessions, although not disclosed as such, appear to be purely speculative.

Here are both versions of “Tennessee Lazy” for side-by-side comparison:

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COON-SANDERS ORCHESTRA (as Castle Farms Serenaders): Tennessee Lazy

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): November 1928
Broadway 1227 (mx. 20924 – 2)
Paramount release: c. January 1929
Broadway release: Spring 1929 Montgomery Ward list

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COON-SANDERS ORCHESTRA (Joe Sanders, director and vocal): Tennessee Lazy

Chicago (Victor Lab, 925 N. Michigan Ave.): February 12, 1929
Victor 21939 (mx. BVE 48880 – 2)
Released: May 17, 1929 — Deleted: 1931

Discography Update • Correct Identification and Personnel for “Lloyd Newton & his Varsity Eleven” (Crown, 1930)

Another long-standing mystery solved, thanks to band contractor Ed Kirkeby’s files. The guesswork personnel listings for “Lloyd Newton & his Varsity Eleven”  in Jazz Records and the new edition of American Dance Bands — the latter being basically just a re-run of the undocumented JR listing — should be disregarded. The group is actually Ed Kirkeby’s Orchestra; here are the correct personnel, studio location, and recording date (JR’s and ADB’s guesses are off by a month), from Mr. Kirkeby’s session and payroll files:

New York: November 17, 1930
Crown — Sol Kronberg — 122 5 [Fifth] Ave. — Date O.K.”

Mx. 1066 (St. Louis Blues)
Mx. 1067 (Sweet Jennie Lee)
Mx. 1068 (I Got Rhythm)

Personnel per Ed Kirkeby’s files: Jack Purvis, Fred Van Eps Jr. (trumpets); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Bobby Davis, Joe Gillespie (reeds); (M.?) Dickson, Sidney Harris, Sam Hoffman (violins); Ed Sexton (guitar); Lew Cobey (piano); Ward Lay (bass); Jack Powers (percussion); Dick Dixon (usually a pseudonym for Dick Robertson), unidentified trio (vocals).

(Kirkeby listed this as a “Banner” session in his payroll book, perhaps from force of habit. Sol Kronberg, who is credited in the session log as shown above, was co-owner of the Plaza Music Company, which marketed Banner records until it was left out of the American Record Corporation merger in 1929. ARC kept the Banner brand, however, and Kronberg went on to launch Crown with several other Plaza executives.)