The James A. Drake Interviews • Walter Gustave (Gus) Haenschen: The Brunswick Years — Part 2

The James A. Drake Interviews
Gus Haenschen: The Brunswick Years — Part 2

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Were actual bleachers used for recordings that were made in the studio?

Yes, depending on the size of the orchestra we were using for a particular session. A typical studio orchestra for us would be twelve or thirteen men. The brass players would usually be placed either on the sides of the bleachers or, in the case of the tuba, standing next to the bleachers. The strings were always placed as close to the horn as possible because the volume of the violin and viola was lower than the reed and brass sections.

In the reed section, the clarinets were placed in front of the saxophones because the saxes were much louder than the clarinets. Now, if the arrangement I approved called for a small group of instruments—say, a clarinet and two saxophones—to play several measures of this song being recorded, those players would rush toward the horn. As soon as they were finished playing their part, they would move away so that they wouldn’t be blocking the horn.

 

About the violins, did you use the so-called Stroh violins, or was the recording diaphragm sensitive enough to pick up a true violin? And did all of Brunswick’s studio orchestras use the banjo for rhythm?

We used Stroh violins in our earliest recordings. And, yes, banjos were used for rhythm—usually just one banjo place near the horn. We had excellent banjoists who played multiple string instruments. Probably the best banjoist we had was Harry Reser, who went on to lead the Clicquot Club Eskimos on radio. Harry played banjo, mandolin, lute, ukulele and guitar.

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Horned Stroh instruments, like this violin, provided the volume needed to register well on acoustical recording equipment. (National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)

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So did Nick Lucas, who was a regular in our studio orchestra.  Nick played the mandolin principally, but he was also an excellent acoustic guitarist. Nick became a real student of the recording process, and convinced me to let him play the guitar rather than the mandolin, and to position himself and his guitar very near the horn—literally, almost touching the bottom edge of the horn.

 

Did he sing then, or was he playing in the studio orchestra?

Well, there came a time in 1923 or 1924 when Nick asked me to consider letting him sing, although his voice was a rather high tenor, and a very small voice at that. But around 1924 or maybe in early 1925, before we switched to electrical recording, Gene Austin made some records that sold very well for Victor. Gene was really the first “crooner.”  [1]

Well, I decided to have Nick become Brunswick’s crooner.  I thought it was a great idea, but Nick didn’t. When I told him that we would bill him as a crooner, he balked and said, “But I’m Italian and I’m from the trovatore tradition.  I can’t be a crooner!”  So we compromised, and Nick became Brunswick’s “crooning troubadour.”

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Nick Lucas

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Nick had a terrific sense of humor, and he used to kid me all the time about how he nearly had to stick his entire head into the acoustical recording horn for his voice to register. I can still hear him saying to me, “My head was so far into that horn that I could feel my lips kissing that damned diaphragm!”  Of all the singers I can think of, Nick Lucas was the happiest when electrical recording came in. He could stand in front of a microphone and sing naturally.

 

During the acoustical period, singers seem to have used various “tricks,” for want of a better word, that they had to use to record consonants and sibilants that the recording diaphragm did not always pick up.  I’m thinking, for example, of the “S” sound.  How was that insensitivity of the recording diaphragm overcome?

That was gotten around by having the singer put a consonant with the “S.” The early recording artists, and we had all of them under contract under pseudonyms, knew exactly how to create the effect I am trying to describe. As an example, when Henry Burr, as Harry McClaskey or one of his other pseudonyms, would record “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree,“ the “sh“ in the word “shade” would not record most of the time. So he would put a “J” after the “S” and sing “s-jade,” which the diaphragm would pick up.

 

When Brunswick began making and issuing its own recordings, did you have almost all of those same singers that Victor and Columbia had—singers like Henry Burr, Albert Campbell, Elliot Shaw, Lewis James, Royal Dadmun, and Billy Murray?

We had all of them except Billy Murray, whose voice we felt was too well known because he had recorded for everybody since almost the very beginning of the industry.  But we had all the others [2], and they were easy to work with because they were professional recording artists. That was their income.

We recorded them under pseudonyms, and each one of them had about three pseudonyms that he used for different companies.

The same for the women singers like Elsie Baker, who recorded under about three different names at Victor alone. Victor and Columbia used most of the male singers I mentioned in trios and quartets with different names—the Sterling trio, the Shannon Four, and so on. Individually, none of those singers was what anyone would call a great vocalist. But when they sang together in small groups, the effect was very, very good.

 

You recorded under pseudonyms yourself, correct?

Yes, mainly as Carl Fenton. I came up with that name by combining the St. Louis suburb where I grew up, which is called Fenton, with the first name of one of my mother’s relatives. He spelled his name with a “K,” and I changed it to a “C.” That was sort of a carryover from the songwriting and arranging I did before I joined Brunswick. Over the years I have written about fifty songs under assumed names.

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The fictitious Carl Fenton’s Orchestra was Brunswick’s house dance band. Haenschen managed the group and wrote many of its arrangements, but he did not play on the recordings. [3]
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Bandleaders sometimes sent surrogate groups on the road under their names in the 1920s. Here, a “Carl Fenton” orchestra plays Muncie, Indiana, on December 15, 1926 — the same day the actual orchestra was recording in New York.

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For example, I got a call from Charlie Chaplin, whom I had gotten to know quite well, telling me that Mary Pickford needed a song for a United Artists movie she was making called “Rosita.” I wrote the melody under the name “Paul Dupont.”  Two others I used from time to time were “Paul Krane” and “Walter Holliday.” One of the reasons I used pseudonyms was because I was associated by name with Brunswick, so if a song like “Rosita“ was scheduled to be recorded by Victor, my counterpart there—I should say my competitor there—would kill the song because my name was on it.

The person I’m talking about, incidentally, is Nat [Nathaniel] Shilkret, who was my counterpart at Victor.  Shilkret was an excellent arranger and a very fine musician, but he was very difficult as a person and he took competition to a frankly silly degree. Because of that, any song that I had anything to do with was not going to be recorded by anybody and Victor.  But since “Rosita” was written by “Paul Dupont,” the song sneaked by Shilkret and was recorded by several singers at Victor.

Recently I found out that even Rosa Ponselle had recorded that song for Victor. Now to be fair, that could be because Shilkret was not the director of Red Seal recordings. That was Rosario Bourdon, not Shilkret.  And Ponselle, of course, was one of the biggest stars in the Victor Red Seal catalog, so if she wanted to sing it, they weren’t likely to say no to her.

 

Speaking of Ponselle, did Walter Rogers ever try to lure her or other Victor Red Seal vocalists to Brunswick as far as you know?

Yes, several of them. Walter knew Rosa Ponselle personally, so it was not hard for him to get to her with an offer. Although she had a manager, a wonderful woman named Libbie Miller, Rosa made all of her own decisions. What I heard was that she was being paid so well by Victor, and that she had had a bad experience when she recorded for Columbia, that she would not leave Victor because of the status of the Red Seal recording label and the amount of money they were paying her.

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Although Brunswick’s Hall of Fame series boasted some stellar artists, Haenschen admitted it was “no match for the Victor Red Seal label.”

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We could have more than matched what Victor was paying her, but our “Hall of Fame” series, which was what we called our classical recordings, was no match for the Victor Red Seal label.  We did try to get Carmela Ponselle, her older sister, to leave Columbia for Brunswick. Walter [Rogers] talked to her privately several times, but she was quite indecisive, as I recall, and I think she was hoping to become a Red Seal artist like her sister.  But as I said earlier, we had Elisabeth Rethberg, Sigrid Onegin, Maria Ivogun and others, so we did very well with them.

 

Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, whom you mentioned earlier, was also an exclusive Brunswick artist. Later in the 1920s he went to Victor, but his start was with Brunswick.  I realize that Walter Rogers was responsible for recording him, but do you remember any of the sessions with Lauri-Volpi?

It’s funny you should mention that because I had a small role in dealing with Lauri-Volpi.  Our negotiations with him had gone smoothly, although he was rumored to be a very difficult person.  It wasn’t that he was difficult, just that he would get very frustrated because didn’t speak English.  Walter understood some Italian but could not speak the language, so he couldn’t communicate with Lauri-Volpi except through a translator.

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Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, from the 1924 Brunswick catalog

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As you probably know, Lauri-Volpi was an erudite man.  He was a trial lawyer in Italy, and was also one of the most decorated soldiers in the Italian army during World War One.  As it turned out, he spoke German and French fluently, and since German was my first language, I was able to talk with him as if we were both speaking English.  That put him at ease, and almost every time he came for a recording session, Walter asked me to be there as a sort of intermediary.

The recording sessions went very smoothly, and Lauri-Volpi was always fully prepared and learned how to sing into the recording horn very ably. Yet his was one of the voices which simply did not register well in acoustic recordings.  He was, so to say, the polar opposite of Mario Chamlee, whose voice was relatively small, as I explained earlier.  Lauri-Volpi’s [Brunswick] records, on the other hand, sounded almost nothing like he did in person.  His voice had incredible squillo—what singers call “ping”—especially in his high range, but our recording diaphragms didn’t capture it.

 

Let me ask you for your recollections about singers and instrumentalists who recorded for Brunswick during your years there.  Please tell me what come to your mind when you hear their names.  I’ll begin with Paul Ash.

I had known Paul from some of his tours on the West Coast, and from St. Louis.  At the time we signed him he was leading a theater orchestra in San Francisco, at the Granada theater. I think we began recording him in 1922 or 1923, I’m not sure.  Paul couldn’t use his theater arrangements in the recording studio because of the acoustic process, we did arrangements for him that approximated the style of his dance band, which he called “Synchro-Symphony.“  He did well for Brunswick, and Brunswick did well for him.

 

One of the most famous bands that Brunswick had was Red Nichols and His Five Pennies.  The “Pennies” [at various times] included Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and others who became famous on their own in the late-1930s.  Did you put together the “Five Pennies”?

No, they recorded for Brunswick after I left. [4]  I used Red a lot in our studio sessions, but just as a member of our studio band.   Although the name he picked for his group, Red Nichols and His Five Pennies, is an obvious one, when I was at Brunswick we had a suggestion box in our outer office.  We encouraged anybody who worked there to come up with names for new bands.  If we ended up using one of the names, whoever suggested it got a cash bonus.

Some of the names were of non-existent hotels and cafés—but if they sounded good, we used them and then made up arrangements to give the new band a distinctive sound.  The actual “band” was nothing more than the same dozen or so musicians that we used in every other [acoustical] session—but the arrangement and the made-up name usually worked, and the records sold well enough.

 

You also had Gene Rodemich’s orchestra under contract at Brunswick.

Yes, Gene was one of the first we signed at Brunswick.  I had known Gene in St. Louis, where he had an orchestra exchange.  I worked for him at that exchange, and I bought it from him when he decided to go to Chicago and then to New York with his band.

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Gene Rodemich’s Orchestra, from the 1924 Brunswick catalog

 

Next, Al Bernard.  What do you recall of him?

Al Bernard was more of a novelty singer, rather like Frank Crumit was. He could do songs in different styles and did them well.  Most of what he did were blues like “Memphis Blues” and “Beale Street Blues” and such.  And he did a lot of novelty songs—for instance, “Lindy Lou,” songs like that. He recorded for Columbia and may have recorded for Victor, but I’m not sure about that. [5]  In the mid-1920s we also paired Al [Bernard] with Russell Robinson, and gave them the name “The Dixie Stars.” They did some of the same types of routines that Billy Jones and Ernie Hare did.

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Al Bernard (left), and with Ernest Hare (right), Bernard’s performing partner before Hare joined Billy Jones. (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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What do you recall of the Brox Sisters? 

They were a popular group that did three-part harmony on novelty songs and some blues and southern songs.  They were actual sisters, siblings, which you might already know. They were only a couple of years apart.  Lorayne was the eldest, then Bobbe, and the youngest was Patty.  They had a good run in vaudeville on the Orpheum circuit.  We signed them when they were performing in one of Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revues in the early 1920s, and we backed them with Gene Rodemich’s band. [6]

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The Brox Sisters, c. 1924 (G. G. Bain Collection,
Library of Congress)

 

Next, the Capitol Grand Orchestra. What do you recall of that orchestra?

It was the pit orchestra of the Capitol Grand Theater in Manhattan. The conductor at that time was a fellow named Dave [David] Mendoza, a very good conductor and arranger.  A little later, Erno Rapee became the band’s conductor.  As a pit band for a large theater, this was a sizable group, although we had to pare it down because of the limitations of the acoustical process.  So we used mainly their brass, reeds, and some of their violas and cellos for their recordings.

By the way, the acoustical process was problematic for some instruments.  For some reason, our recording diaphragms, both in the studio and in our field-recording machines, would vibrate excessively on one note played on a cello. We would have to get around that by having our cellists play that particular note one octave higher or one octave lower, depending on the arrangement.

Back to the Capitol Grand Orchestra, when they were at the Capitol Grand Theater they played all sorts of instrumental music, but we recorded them in classical pieces only—the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, Peer Gynt Suite, and overtures from Traviata and a few other operas.

 

You also signed a group called the Castlewood Marimba Band.  What do you recall about them?

That was just the Yerkes [Jazzarimba] group under a different name.  Marimba bands were very popular, and the Yerkes band had a distinctive sound. [7]  Now, as the Castlewood group, they didn’t play jazz music.  We had them record mainly Hawaiian songs, which were popular back then.  Before I went to Brunswick and made “personal records” of my banjo orchestra at the Columbia studios in New York, I made one called “I Left Her on the Beach at Waikiki” [sic; “at Honolulu”]. There must’ve been twenty songs with the word “Waikiki“ in the titles.  The Castlewood, or Yerkes, marimba band recorded a couple of those Waikiki pseudo-Hawaiian songs for us.

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Haenschen and some popular Brunswick bandleaders gather on the roof of the recording studio for a publicity shot. (Talking Machine World, February 1923)

 

Among the major symphony orchestra is you had under contract at Brunswick was the Cleveland Orchestra, correct?

Yes, but we didn’t do much with them until electrical recording came in.  The limitations of the acoustical process made symphonic recordings very difficult, very challenging. The conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra at that time was Nikolai Sololoff, who was born in Russia but emigrated as a teenager to this country and studied music at Yale University.

 

Do you know what percentage of Brunswick’s sales came from popular-music recordings as opposed to classical recordings?

Somebody in the company once calculated the percentage on a fifteen-part basis.  Why fifteen was the number they chose, I have no idea, but I remember that thirteen-fifteenths of our revenue came from popular-music recordings.  Only two-fifteenths, then, came from our classical recordings.  But there was a prestige market in classical recording—the Victor Red Seal was the epitome of prestige back then—so at Brunswick, as long as our popular releases kept the profits up, we were able to sustain our classical wing.

 

During the 1920s, so-called “collegiate bands“ were very popular.  Is it true that you tried to sign several of those groups including Waring’s Pennsylvanians and the Yale Collegians?

Yes, but we weren’t successful in either case.  Fred Waring and I were very good friends, and I did everything in my power to get him to sign with Brunswick.  But Fred had a very lucrative contract at Victor, so we weren’t successful.  We played a lot of golf together, especially on the West Coast when I went there to record and set up a temporary studio in Los Angeles.  I tried every tactic I could think of to get Fred to sign with Brunswick, but I could never get him to come with us.

 

His brother, Tom Waring, was more popular for a while than Fred, if I’m correct.  Tom Waring wrote some beautiful songs, and was one of the early pop singers and pianists who made Vitaphone short films.  Did you try to get both Warings under contract with Brunswick?

No, and that’s a touchy subject because the relationship between Fred and Tom wasn’t the best after their banjo orchestra became popular.  This was before Waring’s Pennsylvanians, when it was just Tom and Fred and one or two other boys that they had grown up with.  Tom wrote “Sleep,” which was the Warings’ theme song for years, and he also wrote “So Beats My Heart for You,” which is a great song, almost a classical song.  Tom wasn’t a good pianist, nor was he much of a singer, but he got popular on his own.  But there was a rift between them after a while, and Fred went his own way—very, very successfully.

 

Some of the singers and musicians who were with the Pennsylvanians almost since the beginning have said that the rift was because Tom was gay and that Fred couldn’t accept it.  That was rumored, but is there anything to that?

As I say, the relationship between Tom and Fred was strained—and yes, that was rumored.  But I have no idea personally, and even if [Tom Waring] was, it has nothing to do with his music or anything else for that matter.  Like Fred, Tom was a very nice guy, and his songs are his legacy.  But let me talk about Fred, because there are things about him that not a lot of people would know.

First of all, Fred doesn’t play any musical instrument.  Tom was a self-taught pianist, but Fred didn’t play an instrument.  In their banjo-orchestra days, he played the musical saw, but that doesn’t count that as a musical instrument.  Fred never had any formal training as a conductor either, yet he became one of the best choral and orchestral conductors in the music industry.  Robert Shaw credits Fred with convincing him to become a choral conductor.

Fred was also a “tinkerer.”  He didn’t have any formal training as a machinist or an engineer, but he was intrigued by gadgets of any kind, and would always try to improve them.  One of the reasons we became such good friends was because I was a machinist and a mechanical engineer.   Fred often came to my little “factory“ on my acreage in Norwalk, and I designed and made gears and other parts for some of his inventions.

You might know this because you mentioned the Yale Collegians, but there’s a connection between Fred and Rudy Vallée and me.   In the 1930s Rudy developed quite a liking for daiquiris.  He also developed a disdain for having to wait so long for a bartender to chip enough ice with a hand pick to be able mix a daiquiri.  We were at an American Federation of Musicians event when Rudy mentioned this to Fred Waring.  That sparked Fred’s interest in developing what became known as the Waring blender [which Waring spelled “Blendor”].

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Fred Waring and his “Blendor”

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Fred talked about that blender design with me several times because he was trying to develop a combined electric motor and high-torque gearing system, or transmission, that would fit into the base of his blender.  He had already designed the glass pitcher that would contain the ice and ingredients in daiquiris, and he designed a configuration of blades that was entirely his own.  I had suggested something like propeller blades in miniature, but Fred tried that and the blades didn’t work very well.  So he designed a bi-level set of blades—two near the bottom of the pitcher, and two more blades about an inch higher than the lower pair.  That turned out to be much more efficient.

When he finally arrived at the ideal combination of an armature, field coils, and a transmission that gave the motor more than enough power to crush ice, he had “invented“ one of the best-selling appliances of all time. I still have one of the very first ones and that he gave me.  Naturally, the very first one off the production line went to Rudy.

 

In his autobiography, Rudy Vallée maintains that the vocal trio which sang the chorus in George Olsen’s recording of “Who?” was responsible for the rise of jazz vocal trios such as the Rhythm Boys.  Do you remember that recording, and what its impact was at that time?

I know Rudy has said that, but I tend to think it had an impact on him, and possibly [Bing] Crosby when he and Al Rinker and Harry Barris became [Paul] Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys, but I don’t remember that particular recording having any impact on us at Brunswick.  But it may have had an impact on Rudy, who was singing in a trio himself at that time.  He was the saxophonist of the Yale Collegians and he also doubled on clarinet—he was a very good clarinetist—but the leader of the Collegians at that time was a fellow named Les Laden.  Rudy succeeded him, if I remember rightly.

 

Today, Rudy Vallée is associated nostalgically with the “Roaring Twenties” of flappers, bathtub gin, raccoon coats and such.  The year 1920 is now associated with the beginning of jazz on recordings, and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band is credited with making the first ones.  Other sources maintain that either Ted Lewis or Paul Whiteman were the first to make jazz recordings.  What do you recall of that time period?

It depends on what you define as “first.”  In my opinion, it was Ted Lewis who was the first to make jazz recordings.  He had an exclusive contract with Columbia, and he had made a name for himself and his band at Rector’s restaurant before Nick LaRocca and his group [the Original Dixieland Jazz Band] were playing at Reisenweber’s Café. [8]

 

Where would you place Paul Whiteman, who was billed as “King of Jazz” and made two recordings for Victor, “Whispering” and “The Japanese Sandman,” that seem to have sold over 100,000 copies. 

Well, first of all, Ben Selvin had some big-selling records for Columbia, so Paul [Whiteman] wasn’t the only one who was recording “syncopated jazz,” as it was called then.  Ben also recorded for Brunswick and sold a lot of records for us.  But Ted Lewis, not Paul Whiteman, was the first to record jazz for a major label. [9]

 

What was your relationship with Paul Whiteman like?  How would you describe it?

We knew each other through mutual friends when Paul began recording for Victor.  When he announced the Aeolian Hall concert where Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was introduced, he hadn’t told George [Gershwin] about it, so Paul had to get an orchestral arrangement together pretty fast because George had written the “Rhapsody” for piano, not an orchestra.  I was one of about a dozen or more arrangers who were invited by Paul to review the arrangement that Ferde Grofé was writing for the “Rhapsody.”  We would meet in the late afternoons or after dinner at different venues where Paul, George and Ferde Grofé would hold these meetings.

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Paul Whiteman (center, standing), with Ferde Grofé at the piano
(G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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Do you recall the other arrangers who were part of the group that Whiteman invited to review Grofé’s emerging score?

Not all of them, but I remember that Frank Black, Robert Russell Bennett, Isham Jones, Ben Selvin and I think Harry Akst were part of the group.

 

Who was more involved in those sessions—Whiteman, Gershwin or Grofé?  And who had the final say in the resulting arrangement?

Ferde Grofé was the center of it because he was writing the arrangement.  George was there during most of the sessions, but he didn’t say much.  It was Paul who was in charge—it was his orchestra—and he handled those sessions wonderfully.  I remember how he would take each of us aside as these sessions went on.  He would lean over my shoulder and say, “How do you think it‘s going, Gus?  Do you see any part that could be better?”  He really “fathered” the “Rhapsody” as it was first played at Aeolian Hall.

 

Was the orchestra present for those sessions?

No.  None of us needed the orchestra because we were hearing the arrangement as we were reading the copies that were handed to us at the start of each session.  No professional arranger needs to hear an orchestra, or any instrument in an orchestra, because he knows the timbre and range of every instrument, and which ones go together better than others.

 

Were you at that now-famous Aeolian Hall concert?

No, but I was at two of the orchestral rehearsals of the “Rhapsody” after Ferde Grofé completed the arrangement.  I don’t think he scored all of the piano passages that George [Gershwin] played in that premiere.  George did a lot of improvising, from what I was told.

 

When I interviewed Elizabeth Lennox, she told me about an incident that happened between you and Paul Whiteman when you conducted a performance of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

That was the strangest thing that ever happened to me during a performance.  I was asked to conduct the “Rhapsody,” which I had done on other occasions, so I was glad to do it again.  Frank Black was the pianist, by the way.  I was about a fourth of the way into the performance when suddenly I felt myself being lifted off the podium—lifted by Paul Whiteman, who was drunk.  He hoisted me with his big arms wrapped around my chest.  As he was lifting me, all he said was, “Sorry, Gus, this is my baby!”

 

How did the orchestra and the audience react?

The guys in the orchestra could see him coming to the podium, so they sensed that he was going to do something but they just kept playing and didn’t miss a beat.  There was a kind of gasp in the audience, some murmuring that I could hear, but when the performance was over they applauded loudly.  My guess is that many of them thought the whole thing was a stunt that had been planned so that Paul could make a surprise appearance and conduct his “baby.”

I do want to say about Paul that he was the first bandleader I know of who insisted on written arrangements for his recordings.  During my first years at Brunswick, if somebody played a good “lick,” we’d use it on other recordings but we never wrote it down, never put it on score paper.  We could have, because all of the guys in our bands were sight-readers.  But we were only using about a dozen players for our [acoustical] recording sessions, so we didn’t use formal arrangements.

 

As the years went on, Paul Whiteman seemed to denigrate you whenever you did something new—for example, when you formed an all-string orchestra. 

Yes, he said in some interviews that he was the first to have an all-string orchestra, the “Swinging Strings,” and that he was a violinist and cellist but I was a pianist and didn’t know how to arrange for an all-string orchestra.

 

Why do you think he reacted that way?  He was still a top name in popular music, so it’s hard to understand what his motive was.

He was still a big name, but not like he had been in the 1920s.  During the late-1930s and throughout the [Second World] War, the Dorsey brothers [Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey], [Benny] Goodman and [Artie] Shaw, Glenn Miller, and so many other bands eclipsed Paul’s popularity.  Paul was still trying to establish himself as a “serious” conductor and was fronting what he called a “concert orchestra.”

Paul did everything to excess, including his drinking, which got worse after the War.  I think he felt that these other bands had surpassed him with the public, and that he needed to make sure they [the public] knew that he had been the “King of Jazz” who started it all, and who had made the “Rhapsody in Blue” famous.

You probably know that he became a disc jockey on network radio, and he used those broadcasts to tell his version of the history of jazz—especially how he introduced the “Rhapsody” to the public.  George [Gershwin] was dead, and Ferde Grofé had written “The Grand Canyon Suite” and was famous on his own by then, so the other principals in the birth of the “Rhapsody in Blue” weren’t there to tell their stories of how it came to be.

 

Going back to collegiate groups for a moment, at Brunswick you had a group called the Collegiate Choir. Was that group affiliated with a particular college or university?

No, not at all. It was just a group of vocalists we had under contract, ones we used for any number of groups like that.  I doubt that many of them ever saw the inside of a college. [10]

 

You had a number of very well-known pianists under contract, including Zez Confrey.  Did you direct and conduct his recordings?

Well, I directed them but there was nothing to conduct really.  Zez was a very good novelty pianist who is known for “Kitten on the Keys,” which became a very popular piano piece. We would like to have had Felix Arndt under an exclusive contract, but we couldn’t get him. [Arndt had died in 1918]  Yet we certainly made the most of his very popular composition “Nola,” which he named after his wife.  I had my Brunswick band, the Carl Fenton Orchestra, record an arrangement of it.

 

Did you play the piano part yourself?

No.  I was the recording director and in this case the bandleader, but I didn’t play on the recording.  There was a sort of unwritten rule that Walter [Rogers] and I were not allowed to play in any of the recordings we directed.  We had all sorts of great commercial pianists at Brunswick, including some in the administrative staff like Bill Wirges.  So we had no trouble getting very good pianist for all of our recording sessions.  But I did play in some of our first recordings—I remember playing piano on Rudy Wiedoeft’s first recordings with [Brunswick] soon after I joined the company in 1919.

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Rudy Wiedoeft in the early 1920s
(G. G. Bain Collection,
Library of Congress)

 

You also recorded one of the very popular dance bands of the World War One era, the Joseph C. Smith orchestra, which was associated with Victor for the most part.  Some have wondered whether there was an actual musician and band leader named Joseph C. Smith.  Was that a pseudonym or was this a real person?

Sure, he was real all right, and a very capable ensemble leader.  He recorded for us, he recorded for Columbia under different names, and of course his band was a good-selling outfit for Victor. But his style was eclipsed by [Paul] Whiteman’s by the time we signed [Smith]. If I remember correctly, we just used him as the leader of a trio.  I don’t think we ever used him as a bandleader like Victor did. [11]

 

You also recorded Bennie Krueger’s orchestra, correct?

Oh, yes.  Bennie was one of the great saxophonists of all time, on a par with Rudy Wiedoeft.  We were so pleased to have both of them under contract at Brunswick. They were good friends, by the way. Although Bennie didn’t write songs like Rudy did, they were pretty much equal so I would say as far as the instrument.

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Bennie Krueger’s Orchestra, from the 1924 Brunswick catalog

.

You also had Herb Wiedoeft, Rudy’s brother, under contract at Brunswick, am I right?

Yes, Herb came with us, and he was an excellent brass player and a very fine bandleader too.  During the acoustic [recording] days, he brought a handful of his men to the studio and they sat in with our players.  Later on, he got a lucrative contract at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, and he called his group “The Cinderella Roof Orchestra,” from the rooftop dance floor at the Biltmore.  I recorded Herb in Los Angeles when I went there to set up a temporary studio for Brunswick in the summer of 1923.  You may know this, but Herb was killed in a car accident when he and his band were at the top of their popularity [in 1928].

________________

© 2019 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved.

 

Editor’s Notes (Added with interviewer’s approval)

[1] Lucas’ first vocal Brunswick recordings were made on December 23, 1924; Austin did not begin recording for Victor until January 1925.

[2] Burr, Campbell, and Dadmun made only vertical-cut Brunswicks, presumably before Haenschen’s arrival. Of that group, only Burr appeared under a “pseudonym” (as Harry McClaskey, his actual name) on Brunswick.

[3] Personnel of the “Fenton” orchestra varied by session. Full personnel were not listed in the Brunswick files, but “extras” were, including at various times Hymie Faberman and Red Nichols (cornet), Bennie Krueger and Rudy Wiedoeft (saxophones), Phil Ohman and Frank Black (piano), John Cali and Harry Reser (banjo), Joe and George Hamilton Green (xylophone, marimba), Edmund Thiele and Rubie Greenberg (violin), and John Helleberg (tuba).

[4] The Five Pennies recorded several sides for Brunswick prior to Haenschen’s departure, beginning on December 8, 1926 (Haenschen’s orchestra was recording in another studio on the same morning). Most of the Five Pennies’ many Brunswick recordings were made after Haenschen’s departure.

[5] Bernard made several recordings for Victor in 1919 and 1921, including vocal choruses with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

[6] Accompaniments were by Bennie Krueger’s Orchestra (sometimes with arrangements by Arthur Johnson, the sisters’ pianist), not Gene Rodemich’s Orchestra, according to the Brunswick files.

[7] Haenschen is referring to Harry A. Yerkes, who managed several bands that performed under his name. (This was  not the same individual as Columbia executive H. [Hulbert] A. Yerkes, as has been erroneously claimed in some works.) Yerkes left the band-management business in early 1925, and subsequent Castlewood recordings were made by a group that usually included Joe and/or George Hamilton Green, according to the Brunswick files.

[8] Haenschen apparently is referring to the band that recorded as Earl Fuller’s Rector Novelty Orchestra, a unit from which (including Ted Lewis) recorded for Victor as Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band. The Rector orchestra did not begin recording until June 1917, by which time Victor had already released the first true jazz recordings, by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

[9] Haenschen is in error here; see footnote 8. Whether the music Whiteman’s orchestra was performing in the early 1920s constitutes jazz in even the loosest sense of the word remains a topic for debate.

[10] Participants at various times included Rose Bryant, Wilfred Glenn, Charles Harrison, Theo Karle, Elizabeth Lennox, Virginia Rea, and Marie Tiffany, among others, according to the Brunswick files.

[11] Brunswick did record a number of titles by the full orchestra during 1922–1923, in addition to the trio selections.

 

> Part 1  | > Part 3

 

 

 

Red Nichols’ Early Years: A Clipping Archive (1911 – 1926)

Red Nichols’ Early Years: A Clipping Archive
(1911 – 1926)

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Ogden, Utah, March 1911

 

Ogden, Utah, December 1920

 

Ogden, Utah, September 1921

 

Brigham City, Utah, February 1922

 

Brigham City, Utah, September 1922. Nichols’ 1922 stay with Paul Whiteman is virtually undocumented, and there is no evidence that he made any recordings with the band at that time. He rejoined Whiteman in 1927 but left after approximately five weeks.

 

Fort Wayne, Indiana, January 1923. The Syncopating Five made several Gennett specials in Richmond, Indiana, in November 1922 (private recordings paid for by the performers and not listed in the Gennett catalog). “Dore” is Clyde Doerr, whose orchestra made some unremarkable Victor records in 1922.

 

Indianapolis, May 1924. The personnel listed here differ somewhat from the listing in Brian Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works, which don’t cite their sources.

 

Scranton, Pennsylvania, January 1925 (with Lanin’s name  misspelled). Among the members of the Scranton Sirens was clarinetist Jimmy Dorsey, whom Nichols tapped for his Five Pennies in 1926.

 

Nichols with the Earl Carroll’s Vanities orchestra (Pittsburgh, September 1925). This was the band’s initial line-up; personnel changed considerably over the course of the show’s run.

 

Hartford, Connecticut, July 1926. There had been frequent personnel changes in the Vanities band by this time, including the substitution of Don Voorhees for Ross Gorman as director. Nichols’ first Five Pennies line-up was drawn largely from this group (note the misspelling of Miff Mole as “Miff Molso”).

 

_________

Some Early Red Nichols Favorites

 


CALIFORNIA RAMBLERS (as VARSITY EIGHT): Charleston

New York: May 13, 1925
Cameo 741 (mx. 1448 – C)

 


RED & MIFF’S STOMPERS: Stampede

New York: October 13, 1926
Edison 51854 (mx. 11246 – C)

 


RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: That’s No Bargain

New York: December 8, 1926
Brunswick 3407 (mx. E 20995)

 

Collectors’ Corner (MP3): Some January Finds – Sophie Tucker, Fletcher Henderson, Curtis Mosby, Wingy Mannone, Jelly Roll Morton, Luis Russell

Collectors’ Corner (MP3): Some January Finds – Sophie Tucker, Fletcher Henderson, Curtis Mosby, Wingy Mannone, Jelly Roll Morton, Luis Russell

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Some good jazz and personality pickings in January, plus another bumper-crop of cylinders that we’ll get around to posting when time allows. In the meantime, here are a few electrical-era favorites from this month’s finds:

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SOPHIE TUCKER: I Never Can Think of the Words (EE-)

London: October 1930
Broadcast Twelve 5195 (L-0763 – 1)
With Ted Shapiro (piano) and the Winter Garden Theatre Orchestra (Sydney Baynes, cond.)

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FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA (June Cole, vocal):
Sweet Thing (E- to V++)

New York: December 13, 1926
Columbia (British) 4417 (W 143125 – 6)

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CURTIS MOSBY & HIS DIXIELAND BLUE BLOWERS (Henry Starr, vocal):
In My Dreams (I’m Jealous of You)
(V++)

Los Angeles: October 14, 1927 (Pacific Coast regional release, June 1928)
Columbia 1191-D (mx. W 144763 – 3)

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CURTIS MOSBY & HIS DIXIELAND BLUE BLOWERS: Weary Stomp (E- to V++)

Los Angeles: October 14, 1927 (Pacific Coast regional release, June 1928)
Columbia 1191-D (mx. W 144761 – 2)

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JOE [WINGY] MANNONE’S HARMONY KINGS (Mannone, vocal):
Ringside Stomp
(V++)

New Orleans: April 11, 1927
Columbia 1044-D (mx. W 143952 – 2)

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JELLY ROLL MORTON & HIS RED HOT PEPPERS: Georgia Swing (V+)

Liederkranz Hall, New York: June 11, 1928 (released February 22, 1929)
Victor V-38024 (mx. BVE 45619 – 2)

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LUIS RUSSELL & HIS ORCHESTRA (as Dixie Jazz Band): The Way He Loves Is Just Too Bad (E- to V+)

New York: September 13, 1929
Oriole 1726 (American Record Corp. mx. 9007 – 1, as control 2533 – 1)

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Collector’s Corner • Some January Finds (Arcadian Serenaders, Bennie Moten, The Missourians, William McCoy, Fleming & Townsend)

Pretty good pickings in January – Here are a few favorites from this month’s additions to the collection:

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ARCADIAN SERENADERS [WINGY MANNONE]: San Sue Strut  (E-)

St. Louis: November 1924
Okeh 40378

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BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Get Low-Down Blues  (E)

Camden, NJ: September 7, 1928
Victor 21693

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BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Kansas City Breakdown  (E)

Camden, NJ: September 7, 1928
Victor 21693

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THE MISSOURIANS: Missouri Moan  (E)

New York: June 3, 1929
Victor V-38067

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THE MISSOURIANS: Market Street Stomp  (E)

New York: June 3, 1929
Victor V-38067

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WILLIAM McCOY: Mama Blues  (EE-)

Dallas: December 6, 1927
Columbia 15269-D

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WILLIAM McCOY: Train Imitation and The Fox Chase  (EE-)

Dallas: December 6, 1927
Columbia 15269-D

An unusual example of a record issued in both the race  (14290-D) and country series (15269-D, which is missing from Brian Rust’s Columbia Master Book Discography [Greenwood Press]). The artist is African-American.

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REECE FLEMING & RESPERS TOWNSEND: She’s Just That Kind  (V+)

Memphis: June 6, 1930
Victor V-40297

 

Gennett Odd-and-Ends • How to Pronounce “Gennett” (1920) / H. Ross Franklin Orchestra Personnel (1922)

We’ve heard “Gennett” pronounced every which-way over the years, and apparently so had the Gennett family, who finally placed an ad in 1920 to set the record straight. Here you have it, from the folks who knew best:

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Muncie [IN] Evening Post, January 16, 1920

_____________

For anyone owning the H. Ross Franklin Orchestra’s Gennett personal record — all two of you, perhaps? — here are the rather obscure personnel (not listed in the American Dance Band Discography and derivative works) who were present at that session on March 6, 1922. This list is transcribed verbatim from The Fort Wayne [IN] Journal-Gazette for April 2, 1922, and probably contains some misspellings:

H. Ross Franklin [piano] directing: Vern C. McDermitt (trumpet); Benjamin West (trombone); Glendon C. Davis (clarinet); Harold D. Smith (alto saxophone); Lawrence G. Pape (oboe); Steward C. Loranze (violin); Edward Melching (banjo); Paul E. Dickerson (brass bass); John Kehne (percussion).

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.

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The Journal-Gazette reported that this session entailed “eight hours of strenuous effort.” A third title, “You Know,” was also recorded, but so far we’ve not found any reliable evidence that it was issued. Let us know if you have a copy, and be sure to include a photo or scan for confirmation. Franklin’s orchestras cut two additional sides for Gennett in October 1928, but both were rejected.

For more on Franklin and several of his musicians, see Duncan Schiedt’s superb The Jazz State of Indiana (Indiana Historical Society, 1999).

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The Playlist • Walter Barnes & his Royal Creolians (1929)

MSP_bwk-4480_C-3941

The Royal Creolians were a fixture at the Chicago Cotton Club in the late 1920s. The band was led by Walter Barnes, a diminutive saxophonist with an oversized ego, who was dubbed “The Midget Maestro” by The Chicago Defender. Barnes also took over Dave Peyton’s “Musical Bunch” column in the Defender in the late 1920s, and he continued to write for that paper for the next  decade. His columns are a treasure-trove of tour listings, biographical tidbits, and band personnel changes, often with a healthy dose of self-promotion tossed in.

In the off-seasons, the Royal Creolians toured widely. Like many other black bands in the 1920s, one of their stop-overs was Denver, which probably explains why these fairly scarce records have turned up here surprisingly often over the years. (Lest anyone be tempted to pack their bags for Colorado, a quick reality-check: The state was a goldmine for rare and unusual records of all kinds when we arrived here 25 years ago, but those days are long-gone. You might still find an occasional rare gem with some persistence and luck, but the unexpectedly rich pickings we enjoyed in the 1990s are pretty much just a memory.)

The 1928–1929 Brunswick sessions comprise Barnes’ total recorded output. After the Depression hit, he spent much of his time touring the Southern states, eventually renaming the band Walter Barnes and his Kings of Swing. He died in Natchez, Mississippi, on April 23, 1940, at age thirty-four, in a dance-hall fire that claimed 209 lives. His adventures on the road, and his tragic end, are beautifully recounted in The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ’n’ Roll, by Preston Lauterbach (W. W. Norton, 2011) — a great read.

 

WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS: Buffalo Rhythm

Chicago: February 27, 1929
Brunswick 7072 (mx. C 3009 – )

 

WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS: Third Rail

Chicago: February 27, 1929
Brunswick 7072 (mx. C 3010 – )

 

WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS (with uncredited vocalist): Birmingham Bertha

Chicago: July 25, 1929
Brunswick 4480 (mx. C 3942 – )
Identification of May Alix as the vocalist in some discographies is based on aural evidence; the vocalist is not credited in the Brunswick files or on the labels. An alternate version (mx. C 3942 – G) was recorded without vocal, for export to Germany.

 

WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS: If You’re Thinking of Me (When I’m Thinking of You)

Chicago: July 25, 1929
Brunswick 4480 (mx. C 3941 – )

___________________

Three takes were recorded for each selection (two, in the case of C 3941); the selected takes are not indicated in the Brunswick files or on the pressings. At least two takes of C 3010 are known to have been issued, although the differences are rather insignificant. Personnel listed for these records in Jazz Records and other discographies are undocumented; they are not from the Brunswick files.

The Playlist • Gennett in Birmingham, Alabama (Summer 1927)

MSP_gnt-birmingham-composit

A sampling from Gennett’s summer 1927 trip to Birmingham, Alabama. A temporary studio was set up in the Starr Piano Company store at 1820 Third Avenue. It was an exceptionally productive stay from a historical (if not commercial) standpoint, preserving a rich cross-section of Birmingham’s musical heritage.

MSP_gnt-ledger_770-772

Many discographies show incorrect recording dates for these sessions because their compilers misunderstood the Gennett ledger sheets. The dates given in the ledgers (in the “From N.Y.” column, which was used regardless of the actual origination point) are those on which the masters were received at the Richmond, Indiana, facility. Masters — the original waxes (indicated by a “W” in the ledgers) rather than metal parts, in the case of the Birmingham sessions — were shipped in batches by rail, so the actual recording dates, with allowance for packing, transport, etc., are probably at least a week prior to the Richmond receipt dates.

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REV. J. F. FOREST & CONGREGATION:
Revival for Sinners

Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. receipt date not entered (c. August 29)
Silvertone 5143 (Gennett mx. GEX 849 – A)
Estimated receipt date based on entered dates for other mx’s

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JAYBIRD COLEMAN (as Rabbits Foot Williams):
Man Trouble Blues

Birmingham: July–August 1927 — Mx. received in Richmond August 5
Champion 15379 (Gennett mx. GEX 771 – [replacing rejected GEX 694])
The pianist is not credited in the Gennett ledger

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GEORGE H. TREMER: Spirit of ’49

Birmingham: July–August 1927 — Mx. received in Richmond August 8
Champion 15436 (Gennett mx. GEX 779 – A)

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FRANK BUNCH & HIS FUZZY WUZZIES (as New Orleans Strutters): Fourth Avenue Stomp

Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. receipt date not entered (c. August 20)
Champion 15398 (Gennett mx. GEX 832 – A)
Estimated receipt date based on entered dates for other mx’s

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TRIANGLE HARMONY BOYS (as Alabama Harmony Boys): Chicken Supper Strut

Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. receipt date not entered (c. August 20)
Champion 15398 (Gennett mx. GEX 838 – A)
Estimated receipt date based on entered dates for other mx’s

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DUNK RENDELMAN & HIS ORCHESTRA (as Down Home Serenaders): Mean Dog Blues

Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. receipt date not entered (c. August 29)
Champion 15399 (Gennett mx. GEX 852 – A)
Estimated receipt date based on entered dates for other mx’s

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EVA QUARTETTE (W. J. Smith, organ; as Ellington Sacred Quartette): You Can’t Make a Monkey Out of Me

Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. received in Richmond August 11
Challenge 404 (Gennett mx. GEX 792 – A)
An anti-evolution song. This is one of the few Birmingham sides that is relatively easy to find, appearing on seven different labels under various names.

The Playlist / Discographical Update: Correct Date and Personnel for George E. Lee’s Meritt 2206

MSP_lee-wonder-orch

George E. Lee’s Singing Novelty Orchestra, with Julia Lee (piano)
and George E. Lee (saxophone)

 

Another update to the Meritt label data: Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works date George E. Lee’s very rare Meritt 2206 as “c. 1927,” which puts them in the right general vicinity — But with help from one of Dave Peyton’s weekly columns in The Chicago Defender (“The Musical Bunch,” April 30, 1927, p. 6), we can narrow that down a bit:

MSP_CD-04-30-1927-p6_lee-me

Based on our ongoing study of the Defender’s own record-release reports vs. confirmed company-reported release dates on other labels, we know that the Defender new-release reports during this period generally lagged the actual release dates by 3–4 weeks, making early April 1927 the most likely release date for Meritt 2206. Subtract the usual 4–6 weeks for master processing, pressing, and shipping, and we have a likely recording date of late February or early March 1927.

According to Winston Holmes’ widow, in her interview with John Randolph, the recordings were made in Holmes’ own Kansas City studio. The exact address is uncertain; Mrs. Holmes recalled that the store moved from 1636 E. 18th Street to 1704 E. 18th Street at some point in 1927, but she did not give a specific date. (In the same interview, Mrs. Holmes also reported that some unissued George E. Lee masters had been stolen from her several years earlier — In case anyone’s seen these…)

Which brings us to the dreaded “Who Says?” Department. The late Brian Rust, up to and including the latest edition of Jazz Records, credited Jesse Stone as pianist and arranger on these sides, with no source cited (nor master numbers, for some reason). However, after a thorough search of the Defender and other period publications, we’ve found no mention of Stone (who had his own band at this time) working with Lee in the spring of 1927; as far as we’ve been able to establish with any degree of certainty, Stone did not join the Lee band until 1929. Then there are the primitive “arrangements” (if they can even be called that), which certainly don’t suggest the work that Stone was doing with his own band.

The current consensus is that Julia Lee, not Stone, is the likely pianist on this session. If anyone out there has credible, primary-source documentation that proves otherwise, please be sure send us the evidence (anyone citing Lords, Wikipedia, and the like will be awarded a digital dunce-cap).
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MSP_meritt-2206A

..

GEORGE E. LEE & HIS NOVELTY SINGING ORCHESTRA (George E. Lee
& Julia Lee, vocals):
Down Home Syncopated Blues

Winston Holmes Music Co., Kansas City: c. Late February — Early March 1927
Meritt 2206 (mx. 578)

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GEORGE E. LEE & HIS NOVELTY SINGING ORCHESTRA: Meritt Stomp

Winston Holmes Music Co.: Kansas City: c. Late February — Early March 1927
Meritt 2206 (mx. 579)

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Three ARSC 2015 Awards for Mainspring Press Books: Eli Oberstein, Victor Special Labels, Ajax Records

We’re honored to announce that three Mainspring Press titles have received 2015 awards from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Details and secure online ordering are available on the Mainspring Press website.

The ARSC Award for Excellence—Best Label Discography went to Eli Oberstein’s United States Record Corporation: A History and Discography, 1939–1940:

cover-USRC

2015 Certificates of Merit were awarded to The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1941; and Ajax Records: A History and Discography:

COVER_victor-specialsAJAX-COVER-x252

ORDER SOON if you’re interested in Oberstein or Victor Special Labels. Both titles have been on the market for a while, so supplies are running low (and in addition, there’s recently been a big library run on USRC). We won’t be reprinting either title once our current supplies are gone.

Sorry, Ajax has already sold out (it was a 2013 title — the wheels sometimes turn very slowly at ARSC), although we might consider reprinting this one if there’s sufficient interest — Let us know.

The Playlist • Okeh Jazz Odds-and-Ends (1923–1926)

MSP_OK-8217-A_creath.

CHARLES CREATH’S JAZZ-O-MANAICS (Floyd Campbell, vocal):
I Woke Up Cold in Hand

St. Louis: March 1925
Okeh 8217 (mx. 9018 – A)

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GEORGE McCLENNON’S JAZZ DEVILS: New Orleans Wiggle

New York: May 1924
Okeh 8150 (mx. S 72524 – B)

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GUYON’S PARADISE ORCHESTRA (Jules R. Herbuveaux, director):
Henpecked Blues

New York: May 1923
Okeh 4862 (mx. S 71514 – B)

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BUDDY CHRISTIAN’S CREOLE FIVE: Sugar House Stomp

New York: March 1926
Okeh 8342 (mx. 74059 – A)

 

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.

The Playlist • Bill Brown & his Brownies: Complete Recordings (1927, 1929)

MSP_brown-b_composite(Top) Chicago Defender ad for the Vocalion version of “Bill Brown’s Blues” (sic; the possessive form doesn’t  appear on the labels or in the Brunswick files). The Vocalion uses the same master as the Brunswick release (renumbered as E 6444, assigned on September 9, 1927), but has a different coupling.

(Bottom) The very rare alternate take of “Hot Lips” (mx. E 21990), showing the telltale “90” at the three-o’clock position.

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES: Bill Brown Blues

New York: March 17, 1927
Brunswick 7003 (mx. E 21986)

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES: Hot Lips [-89]

New York: March 17, 1927
Brunswick 7003 (mx. E 21989)

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES: Hot Lips [-90]

New York: March 17, 1927
Brunswick 7003 (mx. E 21990)
This very rare take is shown in error as unissued in Laird’s Brunswick Records Discography (Greenwood Press), although listed correctly in Rust’s Jazz Records. We found this copy a few years ago in an Englewood, Colorado, thrift store.

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES (Ovie Alston, vocal): Zonky

New York: December 26, 1929
Brunswick 7142 (mx. 31743 – A or –B*)

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES: What Kind of Rhythm Is That?

New York: December 26, 1929
Brunswick 7142 (mx. 31744 – A or –B*)

*The selected takes are not shown in the surviving Brunswick files or on inspected pressings.

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The Playlist • Snooks Friedman’s Memphis Stompers (1928)

VIC-21270


THE MEMPHIS STOMPERS: Hold It Still

Memphis Auditorium: February 4, 1928
Victor 21270 (mx. BVE 41841 – 2)
Released: April 20, 1928 — Deleted: 1931

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THE MEMPHIS STOMPERS: Memphis Stomp

Memphis Auditorium: February 4, 1928
Victor 21641 (mx. BVE 41840 – 1)
Released: October 19, 1928 — Deleted: 1930

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THE MEMPHIS STOMPERS: Goofer Feathers Blues

Memphis Auditorium: February 11, 1928
Victor 21641 (mx. BVE 41883 – 1)
Released: October 19, 1928 — Deleted: 1930
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Discographical data are from the original Victor recording ledgers and production files at the Sony archive (New York), courtesy of John Bolig. All of the above are marked as “Race” releases in the Victor files, although the band was white.