Monthly Archives: April 2013

78: “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine” b/w “Tip Toe Through the Tulips With Me” by Smith Ballew and his Orchestra. Okeh 41299. Recorded in New York City, 9/11/29.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Smith Ballew was born in Palestine, Texas in 1902—the youngest of five children. He studied music at the University of Texas, and while there he and his brother Charlie joined Jimmy’s Joys, a jazz group led by their friend Jimmy Maloney. They recorded some songs for Golden Records in California; the songs sold well, but Smith decided to form his own group, The Texajazzers. When that proved to be only a regional success, he joined forces with pianist Dick Voynow to form the Wolverines Orchestra. Ben Pollack, a more successful band leader, invited Ballew to join his group after seeing the Wolverines play in Chicago. It was only at this point that Smith Ballew was encouraged to sing; he had only played banjo until then.

An unfulfilled offer to play in Ted Fio Rito’s new group in New York City found Ballew stuck in a new town with no job and no money. While busking in 1928, he was discovered by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, who introduced him to other notables like Joe Venuti, and soon Smith was on his way to singing with Fred Rich’s orchestra at the Astor Hotel, followed by radio appearances and, by 1929, recording with his own orchestra for Okeh Records.

“Painting the Clouds With Sunshine” is a perfect example of the popular culture’s urge to always look on the bright side, of faking happiness until you make it. Continue reading

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45: “Princess” b/w “The Last Bus Left at Midnight” by Frank Gari. Crusade Records 1022. Recorded in New York City, 1961.

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Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in 1942 in Paramus, NJ, Frank Gari got into the business early—he had three top 40 hits before reaching the age of 20. Those were the days of the teen idol—Elvis was in the army, Little Richard had found Jesus, Jerry Lee Lewis had run off with his 13 year old cousin and a plane crash had taken Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper from us. So the record executives got busy and gave the world the likes of Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and yes, Frank Gari—teenage boys with smoldering good looks and lyrics that spoke of perfect, idealized, undying, fairy tale love.

Don’t believe me? Well, just listen to “Princess.” Continue reading

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78: “You Can’t Insure a House of Dreams” b/w “Just For Fooling Around” by Carl Butler. Okeh 18003. Recorded in Nashville, TN, November 9, 1952.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1924, Carl Butler started singing at local dances and events at the age of 12. After serving in the military he sang with bluegrass bands like the Bailey Brothers and the Sauceman Brothers, eventually moving on to a solo career that found him making appearances on regional radio stations; it was one such appearance in 1950 that led to his being signed by Capitol Records. Somewhere along the way from Capitol to Columbia, Carl recorded 12 songs for Okeh, including the two found here.

“You Can’t Insure a House of Dreams” is a sweet and steady number that tells of just how unsteady the foundation of a couple’s love can be. Continue reading

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45: “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” b/w “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band. Epic/Cleveland International 8-50374. Recorded in New York City, January, 1977.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born Veronica Yvette Bennett in New York City, Ronnie Spector was the lead vocalist of The Ronettes, with her sister Estelle and cousin Nedra on backing vocals. They had some massive hits in the 1960’s, including “Walking In the Rain,” “Baby, I Love You” and, of course, “Be My Baby.” That last number is possibly the best known example of producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”, a recording formula that incorporated multiple guitarists playing in unison, full string and horn sections, the unusually reverberant echo chamber of L.A.’s Gold Star Studios, and a band of the best studio musicians in the business—The Wrecking Crew. It all came together to create mono recordings that didn’t lose their grandeur, even when played through the tinny speakers of transistor radios. That sound would have a profound influence on the Beach Boys, The Beatles, and countless others.

Phil Spector was a genius, but a mad one. The Ronettes broke up in 1967 and Ronnie married Phil in 1968. It didn’t take long for his possessive, threatening type of madness to surface.  Continue reading

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45: “Dreamin’ About You” b/w “Strummin’ Song” by Annette. Buena Vista Records F-388. Recorded in Burbank, 1961.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

By now, you’ve probably heard that Annette Funicello died this week, though perhaps the news was eclipsed by the death of Margaret Thatcher. Obviously, the passing of Britain’s first female Prime Minister should get more press than that of our most successful Mouseketeer. Still, Annette Funicello (or Annette Funny Jello, as she was affectionately known in the pages of Mad Magazine) was, in her time, a cultural force to be reckoned with. As a Mouseketeer, she received 6,000 letters a week and was the only star of that beloved show to continue on to further stardom, as a cinematic ambassador of surf culture. The six “Beach” movies she made with Frankie Avalon were frothy delights—innocent and flirtatious idealizations of southern California life that made the rest of the country’s teenagers want to live there. Annette’s mix of feminine pulchritude and girl next door sensibility was a huge part of the equation; she was one of the few starlets that both teenage boys and their protective mothers could heartily agree upon.

This single finds her in the years between the Mickey Mouse Club and the “Beach” films. Still on contract with Disney, she continued to star in movies like Babes in Toyland and record albums for Disney’s Buena Vista Records. Released in 1961, Annette (note the lack of a last name on the sleeve, probably meant to maintain the first name basis rapport fans felt with her) had already recorded five LPs by the time this single was released. “Strummin’ Song” would appear on the sixth: The Story of My Teens…And the Sixteen Songs That Tell It! and was featured in the 1961 movie The Horsemasters.

All well and good, but kind of “It’s a Small World” in its need to please. Continue reading

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78: “Makin’ Frien’s” b/w “I’m Sorry I Made You Cry” by Eddie Condon and his Footwarmers. Okeh 41142. Recorded in New York City, October 30, 1928.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in 1905 in Indiana but raised in the Chicagoland area, Eddie Condon cut his musical teeth on the ukulele. He soon switched to banjo and had turned pro by the age of sixteen. Guitar, piano and singing were soon added to his repertoire, and it wasn’t long until Condon found himself playing alongside such greats as Jack Teagarden and Bix Beiderbecke.

We hear Jack Teagarden singing and playing trombone on “Makin’ Frien’s,” with Condon providing able support on banjo.

Teagarden was black and Condon was white, and in 1928 it was still pretty unusual to have a “mixed” band. Continue reading

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78: “I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago” b/w “Wild Bill Jones” by Kelly Harrell w/ Henry Whitter on Harmonica and Guitar. Okeh 40486. Recorded in New York City, January 7, 1925.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Kelly Harrell was born in Draper’s Valley, Virginia in 1889. He spent most of his adult life working in textile mills, but by the age of 35 his local reputation as a singer lead to him getting the chance to record some songs for Victor Records, and then Okeh Records soon after.

One wonders what rural Virginians made of Jazz Age New York City. If anyone has links to songs that convey how country folk felt about their first visit to the Big Apple, let me know.

“I Was Born About 10,000 Years Ago” is a traditional song that has gone by many different titles, including “I Was Born 4,000 Years Ago” and “When Abraham and Isaac Rushed the Can.” That last title was recorded by Fiddlin’ John Carson in 1924, one year before this version was cut. Continue reading

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45: “Mom (Can I Talk to You?)” b/w “Chasin’ Honey” by Jan Rhodes. Blue Records 1001. Recorded in 1968.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

This one is mysterious. For one thing, the label, according to a few different sources, only released this one single right here. But it had distribution through Atlantic Records, so it clearly had more of a shot at chart success than that of the typical vanity label. Then you have the singer, Miss Jan Rhodes, who was all of sixteen years old when she recorded these two songs, and apparently, she never recorded anything else. Then you have that glorious sleeve: A serious, questioning girl looks towards the future, or her boyfriend, or her mom, for counsel. Just below her chin, the copy reads:

This is Jan Rhodes.

She is 16 years old.

This is her first record.

We believe it is an important record. Continue reading

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