Tag Archives: New Orleans

78: “No Wine, No Women” b/w “Rough and Rocky Road” by Mr. Google-Eyes. Okeh 6820. Recorded in New Orleans, 11/21/49.

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

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

 

Joe “Mr. Google Eyes” August was born on September 13, 1931, in New Orleans. He cut his musical teeth as a member of the First Emmanuel Baptist Church choir, but it was the blues that really called to him. As a teenager, Joe worked as a delivery boy for Dooky Chase’s restaurant.  According to Dr. John’s autobiography, Under a Hoodoo Moon: The Life of The Night Tripper, “…he loved to eye the ladies; one night a waiter called him “the googlest-eyed motherfucker” he’d ever seen, and the name stuck.” Mr. Google Eyes it was.

Joe would sometimes sit in with bands that played at Dooky Chase’s, and he used the money he earned to buy his own P.A. system, which proved to be a great way to get seasoned vets to give him a shot.  He soon got a steady gig at the Downbeat Club, playing with Roy Brown, who proved to be an influence on his vocal style. August made his debut for the black-owned Coleman Records with 1946’s “Poppa Stoppa’s Be-Bop Blues,” a song paying homage to New Orleans DJ Poppa Stoppa, aka Vernon Winslow. Louisiana wouldn’t allow black DJ’s on the air at that time, so it was Vernon’s job to teach the white DJ’s how to sound more hip; it must have worked, because three different white DJ’s at the same station would use the name Poppa Stoppa over the years. Also: apparently, Poppa Stoppa was a slang term for condoms. Makes sense to me.

He sounds a lot older than fifteen years old here, doesn’t he? Coleman capitalized on the novelty of Joe’s youth by proclaiming him “Mr. Google Eyes — the world’s youngest blues singer.”  Continue reading

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45: “Gloomy Sunday,” “Am I Blue” b/w “Body and Soul,” “Long Gone Blues” by Billie Holiday and her Orchestra. Columbia B-2534. Recorded 08/07/41, 05/09/41, 02/29/40, and 03/21/39 in New York City.

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

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

When I find a 45 from an obscure Dutch progressive rock band, it isn’t that difficult to pick five or six songs that give a good sense of that band’s career arc. For other artists, that simply can’t be done—their influence is too strong, their lives too compelling, or their catalog simply runs too deep to attempt such an abbreviated presentation of their work. All of those conditions are met by Billie Holiday. So I’m going to include the songs on this 45 EP, and a couple of others of note, but as any fan of Billie’s will tell you, I’ll only be scratching the surface.

A little background. Billie was born Eleanora Fagan, in 1915, and raised by distant relatives in Philadelphia while her mother worked as a server on passenger trains. Her absent father was most likely Clarence Holiday, a musician who played with Fletcher Henderson’s band—Billie and Clarence would reconnect later in her life. She was in reform school for truancy at the age of 10, raped by a neighbor at the age of 11, and, after moving with her mother to Harlem, forced to join her as a prostitute at the age of 14. A childhood spent listening to Louis Armstrong and King Oliver gave her the confidence to develop a singing style that allowed for non-traditional phrasing and intonation, as if her voice was a cornet. She recorded songs for 26 years and sold out Carnegie Hall multiple times, but was hampered by addiction, racism and bad management. Her rendition of “Strange Fruit” is a stark cry against lynching and was one of the very first popular protest songs. She died in New York City in 1959 of cirrhosis of the liver, with police guarding her room in hopes of trying her for narcotics possession if she got better. She was an early example of the romantic doomed-addict-musician-whose-light-burned-too-bright-to-last notion, an idea which, ultimately, gets in the way of appreciating exactly how good she was as a singer and how painful her life must have actually been.

Here’s her very first single, “Your Mother’s Son-in-Law.” It was recorded with Benny Goodman and his orchestra for Columbia on November 27, 1933. Note how she had yet to settle into the higher register that would later become her trademark.

Fun, jaunty stuff. Continue reading

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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.

Continue reading

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78: “Basin Street Blues” b/w “No” by Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra. Okeh 41241. Recorded in Chicago, December 4, 1928.

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

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

The casual fan of jazz could be forgiven for thinking that Louis Armstrong invented the musical form. His early recordings were so influential and his later recordings so popular that it just seems a given. While it’s difficult to be absolutely certain who invented jazz—though most historians give credit to Buddy Bolden, a fellow son of New Orleans whose band started playing the music in 1895—it is certain that Louis Armstrong’s combination of musical innovation and likability made him an ambassador for the music.

Armstrong’s earliest recordings were made with King Oliver’s band in Chicago, in the early 1920’s. This song was recorded in 1928, just before the now-divorced Armstrong had moved to New York City. Continue reading

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