Tag Archives: Okeh

“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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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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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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78: “Arkansas Blues” b/w “The Wang Wang Blues” by The Goofus Five. Okeh 40817. Recorded in New York City, April 14, 1927.

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

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

The California Ramblers were a successful dance band in the mid-1920’s. Managed by Columbia Records promoter Ed Kirkeby, the band was actually based in New York City. They adopted the California association (the band was sometimes known as The Golden Gate Orchestra) to appear exotic and fresh to East Coast audiences. A good example of their sound can be found here, in the jaunty, melodic little number called “Too Many Kisses In the Summer.”

Fun stuff. But the band wanted to also play jazz music, which, at the time, meant cutting down from an orchestra to a smaller combo. This group would need a new name. They were called The Little Ramblers when they recorded for Columbia. Kirkeby was smart enough to see that the same band could record under different names to get contracts with different record companies. When he signed them to Okeh Records, The Goofus Five were born. Why Goofus? Were they endearingly buffoonish? Continue reading

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“Borneo” b/w “My Pet” by Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra. Okeh 41039. Recorded in New York City, April 10, 1928.

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

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

Frankie Trumbauer was born in 1901 to a musically-inclined mother who directed theater orchestras. His St. Louis childhood saw Frankie learning a number of instruments, including the cornet, clarinet, and bassoon. But he is perhaps best known for popularizing the C-melody saxophone, which is somewhere between an alto and tenor saxophone in size. His twenties were spent playing with groups like the Mound City Blowers, who gave “Tram” his first recording experience with some songs for Brunswick Records.

Frankie was the musical director for Jean Goldkette’s Victor Recording Orchestra when he first recruited Bix Biederbecke to play cornet.

They had a solid rapport, and kept it going through collaborations with Paul Whiteman and, by 1927, Frankie’s own recordings for Okeh. The first single was a cover of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “Singin’ The Blues.”

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78: “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” b/w “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” by Big Maybelle. Okeh 7060. Recorded 3/21/55 in New York City.

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

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

Mabel Louise Smith was born in Jackson, Tennessee in 1924. She started singing and playing piano professionally as a teenager, working with Dave Clark’s Memphis Band, the all female International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and Tiny Bradshaw’s Orchestra. Her solo career began in 1947, when she recorded a few sides for King Records with Oran “Hot Lips” Page, but it didn’t really take off until she signed with Okeh in 1952. Producer Fred Mendehlson convinced Mabel to take the stage name of Big Maybelle.

Maybelle’s debut single featured the B side “Gabbin’ Blues,” co-written and co-performed by Rose Marie McCoy. Radio play for that song pushed it up to #3 on Billboard’s R&B chart.

1954’s “My Country Man” extolled the virtues of the simple pleasures offered by country life with the right man—especially when

He’s strong as a Hick’ry tree

And he’s the right kind of man for me.

Because I need a man

With a whole lot of energy.

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78: “Look What You’ve Done With Your Dangerous Eyes” b/w “What Cha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Jazz” by Aileen Stanley. Okeh 4221. Recorded in New York City, 10/01/20.

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

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

 

Aileen Stanley was actually born Maude Elsie Aileen Muggeridge in 1897, in Chicago. She and her brother Stanley had a successful vaudeville routine for a few years but he fell in love with a chorus girl and quit the act. Thus, “Stanley and Aileen” became solo act Aileen Stanley, thereby creating the most practical invention of a stage name ever recorded.

Aileen performed in a number of different vaudeville and cabaret acts, but it was her New York City appearance in broadway revue Silks and Satins that led to her first shot as a recording artist. Here she is in 1920 for Pathe records—“I’m a Jazz Vampire.”

In October of 1920 she went to Okeh and recorded the number that I found in the archive: “What Cha Gonna Do When There Ain’t No Jazz.”

Clearly, Prohibition had folks worried about what else might be banned in the name of public decency. Continue reading

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