Monthly Archives: January 2014

78: “You’re Little But You’re Cute” b/w “Crawfish Crawl” by Link Davis. Okeh 18048. Recorded April 17, 1954 in Houston, Texas.

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

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

 

Lewis Lincoln Davis was born in Sunset, Texas and raised in Wills Point, Texas—about 25 miles east of Dallas. He was one of eight children and his interest in music was strong enough that his father bought “Link” his first fiddle at the age of ten. It didn’t take long until he was playing with two of his brothers at local parties and barn dances. It also didn’t take long for Link to broaden his instrumental knowledge, learning to play the saxophone, piano, bass, and clarinet. He was a good singer too, employing a breathy hoarseness that would serve him well when singing the cajun songs that he’d become known best for.

Link’s very first recording was in the criminally overlooked genre of Western Swing, a wonderful mix of country and jazz styles that might just qualify it as the most quintessentially American genre of music ever. Here he is on vocals (not so hoarse yet—he’s only 23) and fiddle with Ft. Worth’s Crystal Springs Ramblers, in 1937’s “Tired of Me.”

 

Link continued to play with a number of different acts both live and as a session man in the studio, in particular with Cliff Bruner and the Texas Wanderers. But it wasn’t until 1949 when Link would make his first significant solo recording, “Have You Heard the News?”

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45: “Thou Swell”/”Mad About the Boy” b/w “Gong Rock”/”Lope City” by Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson. Bethlehem Records. BEP-115. Recorded January 26th + 27th, 1955, in New York City.

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

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

J.J. Johnson (not to be confused with MTV VJ J.J. Jackson) was born in Indianapolis in 1924. He learned to play piano at the age of nine, and then picked up the trombone at 14. By the age of 18 he was playing with Benny Carter’s band and by the age of 21 he was playing with Count Basie. So he knew how to play big band music, no problem. But what about the then-ascendant bebop school of jazz? In the mid-1940’s it was commonly thought there was no place for trombone in bebop, simply because the instrument lacked the keys that allowed trumpeters and saxophonist to be so nimble. Big notes on “Sing, Sing Sing!,” no problem. Trying to keep up with Charlie Parker on “Koko,” there’s a problem. But no less a bebop authority than Dizzy Gillespie heard Johnson’s playing and told him, “I’ve always known that the trombone could be played different, that somebody’d catch on one of these days. Man, you’re elected.”

Kai Winding was born in Aarhus Denmark in 1922. His family came to the United States when he was 12 years old and settled in New York City, where Kai attended Stuyvesant High School. He started playing trombone professionally as soon as he’d finished school but had to put it on hold to do his duty in the Coast Guard. After the war, Kai played with first Benny Goodman’s and then Stan Kenton’s orchestras. Clearly, he also knew how to play big band music.

Both trombonists were tapped to play on the sessions that would become Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool. The album was recorded over the course of three sessions in 1949 and 1950, and employed a nonet. A nine member band was clearly more ambitious than the quartets that typified bebop, but this was an ambitious group, sprung from the musical discussions at salons hosted by Gil Evans. Those discussions would eventually lead to the creation of cool jazz, a sound that would come to be more associated with West Coast artists like Chet Baker. Kai played on the four songs from the first session—here he is with “Godchild.” Note the tasteful solo at the 2:35 mark.

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“I Like My Lovin’ Overtime” b/w “You’re Right” by Helen Carter. Okeh 18023. Recorded May 18, 1953 in Nashville, TN

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

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

Helen Carter was born in Poor Valley (now Maces Spring) Virginia on September 19, 1927. That was a big year for the Carters. Six weeks before they welcomed their first child into the world, they travelled 30 miles to Bristol to audition for record producer Ralph Peer. He liked what he heard and offered them $50 a song plus half a cent royalty on each copy sold. Peer was smart enough to realize that there was a market for this music of the Appalachian hills, and he was rightly impressed with Maybelle Carter’s guitar technique—she was adept at playing the melody with her thumb on the lower strings while strumming the rhythm with her other fingers. On this song from the now-legendary Bristol sessions—a 10 day stretch that also saw Jimmie Rodgers recording his first songs—you can hear the “Carter scratch” in action, particularly when Maybelle takes a solo at the 1:10 mark.

Not only were those sessions the genesis of recorded country music, but Maybelle also managed to introduce the guitar as a lead instrument to the non-blues-listening public. The Carter Family—which also included Maybelle’s cousin Sara and her brother-in-law A.P., continued to record and tour until the group’s dissolution in 1943. Along the way, Helen was joined by sisters Anita and June, and was expected to hold down the fort while her Mom was on the road. She was also expected, just as her sisters were, to carry the musical torch. Helen had a natural affinity for music, learning the guitar, autoharp, mandolin and accordion with ease. Her father, Ezra, encouraged Helen to learn classical piano as well. When Maybelle decided to keep the music going , her daughters were ready to sing and play with her. By 1950 they were making regular appearances on The Grand Old Opry radio show, and soon after, its television show.  Here they are performing a song Helen wrote, called “Sweet Talking Man.”

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