Category Archives: 78s

“Three Ball Blues” b/w “Blue and Worried Man” by Blind Boy Fuller. Okeh 05540. Recorded 04/06/40 & 04/05/40 in New York City.

 

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

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

 

The nice thing about writing a music blog about particular artists is that it gives you an opportunity to research questions that you’ve long had about whole genres of music. Such as: Why were so many classic blues artists blind? Think about it: Blind Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell. And Blind Boy Fuller, the artist who recorded this week’s 78.

As one might guess, there is more than one reason for the preponderance of the blind in the blues. Childhood malnutrition is one factor. Bad moonshine ingested as a young man  is another. And then there is the simple fact that playing guitar and singing was a potentially decent way for a blind person to make a living; and if you were African American during the Depression, chances are good that you had a hard time finding decent work even if you were sighted. Growing up in the Jim Crow South just made matters worse.

Fulton Allen was born in Wadesboro, North Carolina in 1907, one of ten children. He learned to play guitar early in his childhood. When he lost his sight in his teens to the delayed effects of neonatal conjunctivitis, he took to playing in front of tobacco warehouses and on street corners and in house parties in Winston-Salem. By the 1930’s, Fulton and his wife Cora had settled in Durham, where he played with guitarist Floyd Council, harmonica player Sonny Terry, and washboard player George Washington. They were discovered by a talent scout named James Baxter Long and a recording session with American Recording Company soon followed. But first, Gorge had to change his name to Bull City Red, and Fulton to Blind Boy Fuller.

Their first single was more ragtime than blues and is all the more fun for it. From 1935, here’s “Rag, Mama, Rag.”

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“Last Mile Blues” b/w “I Can’t Quit That Man” by Ida Cox and her All-Star Orchestra. Okeh 6405. Recorded in New York City, 12/20/40.

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

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

 

Ida Cox didn’t run away and join the circus as a teenager. Instead, the small-town Georgia girl ran away and joined a traveling minstrel tent show at the age of fourteen. Experience in that field lead to the better-paying vaudeville circuit as a singer and comedienne. She had her Paramount Records debut in 1923, with fellow female musician Lovie Austin accompanying her on piano. This is her very first record, “Graveyard Dream Blues.”

 

Ida was especially good at bringing songs about death to life. 1925’s “Coffin Blues” is an excellent example. This song features future husband Jesse Crump on harmonium, adding an especially funereal element to the sound.

 

 

Ida was able to parlay her touring experience into managing her own road show, which was pretty unusual for a woman at that time. And she either wrote or co-wrote most of the songs she recorded, including this number that, had she lived long enough, would have earned her a fortune in bumper sticker royalties. This is “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues.”

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78: “Black and Tan Fantasy” b/w “What Can a Poor Fellow Do?” by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra. Okeh 40955. Recorded 11/03/27 in New York City.

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

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

Anyone out there expecting a comprehensive, biographical take on Duke Ellington from me can forget it. I’d have no time to listen to music or make music if I were to attempt to do the man justice, and it’s hard enough getting people to read a 1,000 word blogpost, let alone a 1,000 page blogpost. Big fans of Ellington’s who happen to read this will, understandably, be disappointed by the glaring omissions—both canonical and those subject to personal taste. Righteous anger at the seemingly inaccurate way another person describes a favorite musician or songwriter is, of course, a sign of love for the person being described.

With that in mind, a brief biography: Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born in Washington, D.C. in 1899. His parents were both pianists, and he started taking lessons at the age of seven, though baseball was of greater interest at the time. Apparently, President Teddy Roosevelt used to pass by on his horse and watch Duke and his friends play. He took music more seriously in his teens and was leading bands in D.C. and Virginia by his early twenties, playing to both black and white audiences, which was pretty unusual at that time. He soon moved to New York City and took the coveted Cotton Club house band engagement when King Oliver turned it down, and the exposure from the club’s radio show helped introduce him to the rest of America. He was a master at making three minute songs—that’s as much as a 78 side would generally allow—as tonally and structurally sophisticated as possible. That knowledge would pay off years later when LPs allowed for more ambitious pieces.

Ellington continued to make music into the 1970’s, just before his death. Over the course of over 50 years of recordings and performances he stretched the boundaries of popular music and blurred the lines between swing, bop, and even classical music. He rightly believed that jazz was a limiting descriptor, and he preferred that his work simply be referred to as American music. Fair enough.

So. The disc in question was released in 1928, hot on the heels of Duke’s first big hit, “Creole Love Call.” That one proved to be a big hit for collaborator Adelaide Hall, as well.

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“You Belong to Me” b/w “I Feel So Right Tonight” by Annie Laurie. Okeh 6915. Recorded in New Orleans, 11/01/1951.

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

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

I first noticed this disc because of the rhyme in the title. As someone who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, I heard rockers rhyme “tonight” with “feels so right” way, way too often. Very lazy rhyming, like rhyming “love” with “angels up above.” But maybe this was the first time anyone had rhymed the offending words? I didn’t know, and I still don’t.

But that doesn’t matter, because documenting this disc piqued my curiosity about Annie Laurie, and I’m very glad that I did. And no, this is not regarding the Scottish poem about a lass named Annie Laurie that was set to music. James Dunn’s rendition from the film adaptation of  A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is pretty great, though.

No, this is about Annie Laurie the Jump Blues/R&B singer, a.k.a Dinah Washington’s favorite singer. She was born in Atlanta but moved to New Orleans in the mid-40’s, where she met bandleader/songwriter Paul Gayten, who helped get her early songs off the ground. Her highest-charting song, “Since I Fell For You,” was a Gayten production from 1947. It went to #3 on the R&B charts and #20 on the Pop, and yet an online clip of the tune doesn’t seem to exist. Why? Multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement, most likely from a company that bought the rights to the song decades ago and has no plans of re-releasing it. Thanks a lot, guys.

Fortunately, some of the other songs that she recorded for the Regal label still exist on the internet, including this slow and sultry duet with Paul Gayten from 1950: “I’ll Never Be Free.”

 

That one made it up to #4 on the R&B charts. Unfortunately, Regal folded in 1951, so Annie moved on to Okeh in 1952. Over the course of three years, they released six of her singles. All of them are good and some of them are great. None of them managed to chart, unfortunately. I’m not sure why, though it could have been a problem in with how the songs were promoted. The A side (the side radio stations were encouraged to play) of the disc in question, for example, is good but not great. Here’s “You Belong to Me.”

 

The B side, though, is fantastic. The exuberance and raw energy just pops right through the speakers. This is “I Feel So Right Tonight.”

 

Of course, lyrics like “You don’t have to tell me what you’re gonna do/’ll leave it up to you/Close  all the windows, stop all the doors/Take me daddy and make me yours” might have something to do with this song’s relegation to B side status.

And  if that man starts closing windows and stopping doors in the homes of other women? 1953’s “Stop Talkin’ and Start Walkin’” is the swinging answer, with a killer saxophone solo halfway through.

 

1954’s “I’m In the Mood For You” is a sign of things to come. The sound is a little cleaner, Annie’s vocal is less rowdy—more Sarah Vaughn than Big Maybelle—and the saxophone is replaced by electric guitar. Still a lot better than 90% of what was on the radio at the time.

 

By 1957, Annie had moved on from Okeh to DeLuxe, and scored a #3 on the R&B charts with “It Hurts To Be In Love.” It’s a decent song, but it’s hard not to wonder what it would have sounded like if Annie had recorded it five or six years earlier. The corny backing harmonies wouldn’t have been included, that’s for sure.

 

Annie’s last hit came in 1960, with “If You’re Lonely,” a lovely slow burn of a number that makes good use of reverb on her vocals. And that high note at 2:06 seems to come out of nowhere, yet it also makes perfect sense. This song, no doubt, reunited many a  squabbling teen couple when it was played at the school dance.

 

A few years later, Annie said goodbye to Rhythm and Blues and devoted herself to Gospel music and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to hear more from her, and that the success she deserved was sporadic at best. But I’m glad to have discovered what there is to be found, even if I still don’t know if she was the first singer to rhyme “tonight” with “feels so right.”

 

 

 

 

 

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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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“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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78: “Are You Hep to the Jive?” b/w “Sunset” by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra. Okeh 5804. Recorded in New York City, 08/05/40

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

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

 

Cab Calloway was born in 1907, in my hometown of Rochester, NY. We also gave the world Lou Gramm, Wendy O. Williams and Lydia Lunch. You’re welcome, world.

Cab’s mother was a teacher and his father a lawyer. They relocated to Baltimore in 1918, and it was there that Cab’s interest in music began. His parents encouraged this interest, though they weren’t thrilled with the idea of their son playing jazz. Blanche, Cab’s older sister, was also musically inclined and was the first woman to lead an all-male orchestra. She was a big influence on her little brother, and even got him his first break with the show Plantation Days, in 1925. While attending college, Cab went out to hear and perform music as much as he could. Supposedly Louis Armstrong taught him how to scat at one of those early shows.

By 1930, Cab had put together an orchestra and was gaining such prominence in New York City that his group became one of two house bands at The Cotton Club. The other group? Duke Ellington’s band. Calloway’s reputation for putting on dazzling, flamboyant shows might have been seen as a commercially viable way to balance Duke’s more ambitious sophistication. When one group was on tour, the other stayed home; apparently Cab adopted Duke’s plan to get past racist Jim Crow laws when traveling: just buy a railroad car for the whole band.

Calloway’s biggest hit was also his first: 1931’s “Minnie the Moocher.” The song told the  comically grandiose tale of a good-time girl doing what she could to keep living the high life. And I do mean high—the song made reference to “kick(ing) the gong around,” slang for smoking opium. Most listeners had no idea.

Minnie is being saved for the big finish. In the meantime, here is one of three Betty Boop cartoons Cab made with the Fleischer brothers. This one features three songs, and like the other two cartoons, has a character whose motion is provided by Cab himself, via the magic of rotoscoping. Here he is, as “The Old Man of the Mountain.”

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78: “Hambone” b/w “Boot ‘Em Up” by Red Saunders and His Orchestra with Dolores Hawkins and the Hambone Kids/Red Saunders and His Orchestra. Okeh 6862. Recorded 1/18/52 and 8/24/51 in Chicago.

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

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

Theodore “Red” Saunders was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1912. His mother died in 1913, so his sister brought him up to Chicago to live with her. At the age of 13, Red took his first drum lesson while attending school at St. Benedict’s. Three years later he’d get his first gig, playing with Stomp King. A few years later he was drumming for Ira Coffey’s Walkathonians. What’s a Walkathonian? Why, that’s a musician who plays for walkathons, which in the thirties was not a way to raise money for charities, but rather a contest in which the last couple standing won a prize after walking a loop ad nauseum. The events used to draw big crowds, believe it or not. A 1933 gig in Atlantic City was disrupted by the all-white Musicians Union local, who did not want a black orchestra supporting white walkers. Red found a gig with Curtis Mosby’s Harlem Scandals revue and did not look back.

Red continued to tour with different acts for the next couple of years, until he found himself back home and in the orchestra for the Delisa Club, a happening venue that billed itself as “The Harlem of Chicago.” By July, the leader had left and Red filled the vacancy. With the exception of a couple of short periods away, he stayed there until the club closed in 1958.

Red recorded with a number of labels and acts throughout the 1940’s, including many sides with his own orchestra. These are pretty hard to track down online, but one of his early songs on Okeh was available, and it’s a hoot. Here’s “Boot ‘Em Up.”

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78: “Black Woman Swing” b/w “Cabbage Greens No. 1” by Champion Jack Dupree. Okeh 05713. Recorded in Chicago, June 13, 1940.

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

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

William Thomas Dupree’s date of birth is debatable—sometime in July of either 1909 or 1910. And the cause of the fire that left him an orphan at the age of two is also sketchy—sometimes he said it had been an accident, and sometimes he said that it had been set by the Ku Klux Klan. What is known is that from then on, Dupree grew up in the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, where Louis Armstrong had also spent his childhood. He taught himself to play piano and was later apprenticed by Tuts Washington and Willie Hall. As if that wasn’t enough New Orleans childhood cred, Dupree was also Spy Boy for the Yellow Pocahantas tribe of Mardi Gras Indians.

The 1930’s were spent traveling around the midwest, living in Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit, where he met Joe Louis. Joe encouraged him to pursue professional boxing, which Dupree did, with gusto—he fought in 107 bouts and won the Golden Gloves. He earned the nickname “Champion Jack” and kept it for the rest of his life.

Dupree moved back to Chicago in 1940, where he was introduced to Okeh record producer Lester Melrose. He liked Dupree’s boogie-woogie take on the blues, and set him up to record eight songs in one day. The disc I found in the archive was the second release from that session. With able, at times percussive, accompaniment from Wilson Swain on bass, here’s “Black Woman Swing,” a story of being down on your luck, being taken in by a good woman, and then finding out maybe she isn’t so good after all.

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“Railroad Boomer” b/w “I’ve Got You (Right Out of my Mind)” by Tex Morton. Okeh 18020. Recorded in Nashville, TN, March 6th, 1953.

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

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

Tex Morton was not from Texas. He is not the only country star to illegitimately adopt the name Tex, of course; Tex Williams, for example is from Illinois. Mr. Morton was born in 1916, in Nelson, New Zealand. That beats Illinois for distance from one’s namesake, as does Sydney, Australia.—that’s where Nelson emigrated when he was 18 to pursue a recording career. Legend has it that that  wasn’t Morton’s first time leaving home, having attempted to do so when he was 14 with aims to join the circus; he was found busking on the street and sent back home.

By 1936, he was recording with Columbia Record’s Regal Zonophone, for whom he’d record 93 discs over the course of the next seven years. His version of “Barnacle Bill, the Sailor” is a good example of Morton’s vocal ingenuity, what with his “fair young maiden” voice and whistling.

1940’s “Beautiful Queensland” was a clever cover of “Beautiful Texas,” which was first made popular by Lee O’Daniel and then later by Willie Nelson. Note the yodeling at the end. More of that coming right up.

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