Archive for the ‘1940’ Category

‘Another Man Done Gone . . .’

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

So, what do we know about “Another Man Done Gone”? The tune has led me on a merry chase (well, maybe not so merry, considering the subject matter of the song) since I posted the version of the song that Jorma Kaukonen recorded for his 1974 album Quah. The first item on my list was to find out where the song came from.

In the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of Quah, Jeff Tamarkin writes that “Another Man Done Gone” is “another one of those ancient blues standards whose origin is shrouded in mystery. Although credited on Quah to Ruby Pickens Tart, Vera Hall and folklorists John and Alan Lomax, other versions have assigned its authorship to any number of persons, among them Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson, C.C. Carter and Woody Guthrie – or Public Domain.”

The earliest version I’ve been able to find of the tune is the one performed by Vera Hall that was recorded by John Lomax in Livingston, Alabama, on October 31, 1940.

I believe that’s the Lomax recording. According to the information at Discogs, Alan Lomax also recorded two versions of the tune during visits to prisons in the south around the same time, but I’ve not heard those or seen the documentation. Someday, maybe.

In the meantime, we have Hall’s haunting a capella version as a starting point. Odetta offered a similar version on her 1957 album Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues. I was puzzled by the last verse of Hall’s version of the song, which sounds like “I’m going to walk your log.” A discussion at the Southern music board WeenieCampbell.com, where folks better informed than I share their ideas, seemed to come to no conclusions as to what the verse means. The phrase “walk your log,” the discussion said, sometimes appears in blues and folk songs as meaning “I’ll get the better of you” (perhaps from log-walking and -rolling contests, one poster theorized), while another poster thought the line might be “a tribute from a fellow prisoner, who will pick up the workload/log of his departed comrade.”

As versions of the song multiplied during the folk/blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, some other lyrical elements showed up along the way. The spare version that Johnny Cash offered on his 1963 album Blood, Sweat and Tears includes the additional lines “They hung him from a tree/ they let his children see” and “When he was hangin’ dead/ the captain turned his head.” By the time Kaukonen recorded “Another Man Done Gone” for Quah, the lines “They set the dogs on him/they tore him limb from limb” had become part of the song.

As I wandered through discography websites and versions of the tune this week, I came across a couple of head-scratchers. The spooky and somewhat weird 1959 version by Lorrie Collins turns the tune into a song of lost love and credits Johnny Cash as the writer. (Lyrically, it is a different song, though the melody remains the same.) I don’t know who Cash originally credited in 1963, but the current listing for Cash’s version at AllMusic Guide now credits the quartet of Tart, Hall and the Lomaxes. (Tart, if you’re wondering, was an Alabama folklorist whose work was similar to that of the Lomaxes and who assisted them during their travels in that state.) The other puzzle I found came from the credits of Harry Belafonte’s 1960 album, Swing Dat Hammer, on which the writing credit goes to Anita Carter of the Carter Family, which I find odd, as the Carters never recorded the song, as far as I can see.

Well, anyway, it’s a haunting song still, and versions of it keep showing up. The bluesman Sugar Blue included a nice version on his 1979 album Cross Roads; Irma Thomas added some lyrics for a post-Katrina version that was included in the Paste Magazine Sampler Issue 24 in September 2006; the Mercy Brothers, a Boston duo, recorded an intriguing version of the song for their 2008 album, Strange Adventure; and there are no doubt others out there worth hearing that I missed.

One of my favorite current versions of the tune hews pretty closely to Hall’s version from 1940. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group from Durham, North Carolina, described by Wikipedia as “an old-time string band,” included the song on their 2007 album, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind.

‘Way Out In California . . .’

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Post-Christmas busyness is taking over my schedule this Boxing Day, but come tomorrow, I’m going to dig a little into the history of a song that began as an English folk song, stopped off as a work song/chant and eventually morphed into a couple different things.

Here, from what I know, is how “Stewball” sounded as a work chant, as performed in 1940 by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.

Instrumental Digging: 1900-1949

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Having caught the instrumental bug with Tuesday’s post about Paul Mauriat’s “Love is Blue,” I’ve continued in the past few days to dig into A Century of Pop Music, Joel Whitburn’s cataloging of the top records for each of the hundred years from 1900 through 1999. I wondered which instrumentals had ranked highest in the year-end listings in each of the decades of those hundred years.

So I did some digging in the book and at YouTube to satisfy my curiosity, and I thought I’d share the results here. We’ll look at the years from 1900 to 1949 today, and early next week, we’ll pick up the much more familiar years of 1950 through 1999.

There won’t be any in-depth commentary here today, because I really wouldn’t know what to say about, for example, Paul Whiteman, whose name shows up a couple of times in the 1920s. I know a very little about Artie Shaw, who shows up in the 1930s, and I know a bit more than that about Glenn Miller, who had (utterly unsurprisingly) the highest ranking instrumental of the 1940s, but I thought it better to leave this as simply a listing.

I will note that, again unsurprisingly, the music generally becomes more interesting to my ears the closer we get to mid-century. The one exception to that might be “Dardanella,” from 1920, which is a charming piece of music (and I found the photos used in the “Dardanella” video embedded below to be fascinating).

Here, then, are Billboard’s highest ranking instrumental from each decade’s year-by-year listings. Each record is also, I believe, the most popular instrumental of its decade (with the exception of the two Whiteman records listed below, which ranked second and third for the decade of the 1920s), but I’m not entirely sure; I’ve cross-checked the lists in Whitburn’s book, but I could have missed something. I’ve added in parentheses each record’s ranking for the decade if it showed up in Whitburn’s listing of that decade’s Top 25.

1900-1909
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” by [John Philip] Sousa’s Band, No. 7 in 1901*.

1910-1919
“Poor Butterfly” by the Victor Military Band, No. 3 in 1917 (No. 32).

1920-1929
“Dardanella” by Selvin’s Novelty Orchestra, No. 1 for 1920 (No. 2).
“Wang Wang Blues” by Paul Whiteman, No. 1 for 1921 (No. 24).
“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” by Paul Whiteman, No. 1 for 1923 (No. 18).

1930-1939
“Begin the Beguine” by Artie Shaw, No. 3 for 1938** (No. 20).

1940-1949
“In the Mood” by Glenn Miller, No. 1 for 1940 (No. 3).

I believe the videos all offer the original recordings, though I cannot be certain as there could be multiple versions. For example, Miller and his band seem to have recorded “In the Mood” several times, and Miller’s band also recorded the song after Miller’s death in 1944. I’ve dug through my library and compared versions, and I think that the version of “In the Mood” linked here is the original version, recorded in August 1939. I would not swear in court the same for the other tunes.

*I could not find a video at YouTube that offers the 1901 version of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” There are versions of the march from a recording session in 1911 and from a few other years available there. One thing I learned about the 1901 version – at several websites and forums – is that the recording is credited to “Sousa’s Band” and not to “John Philip Sousa” because Sousa disliked recording and was rarely present to conduct when his band and his works were being recorded.

**“Good-night, Sweetheart” by Wayne King, the No. 2 record for 1931, is listed by Whitburn as an instrumental, but the listings also credit Ernie Birchill for a vocal. I gave it a listen, and the record does close with a vocal, so that’s a rare error by Whitburn.

Amended slightly after first posting.

A Few Tunes From An Earlier Time

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I figured it was time to make sure that my family and I knew the names of all the folks in all the pictures my dad took over the years. So I went to the storage unit where we keep all the stuff Mom couldn’t fit into her apartment and found a cardboard box full of slides. Mom and I have been spending a couple of afternoons each week, looking at slides, identifying who was pictured and jotting all the information into a notebook. (Luckily, Dad wrote the date and place on most slides over the years; that information would be more difficult to figure out.)

I’m (slowly) entering the information into a database – one spreadsheet for each large box of slides – and just as slowly converting the slides to digital images. The boxes we’re looking at right now hold slides from the late 1950s and the early and mid-1960s, so we’ve seen some terrific pictures of friends and relatives long gone. And there have been a few laughs, as well. (I may post one or two of the images here, if they seem to help illustrate a post.)

As well as finding the first of the boxes of slides at the storage unit, I also found a box marked CDs. So I dug into it, and I found some CDs that Dad bought in – I would guess – the early 1990s. There were a few that intrigued me, collections of music from the time of World War II and the years that bracketed that war. So for the last week, when I haven’t been looking at slides or working on the photo project, my spare time has been filled with ripping those CDs and then digging for original release data about the tunes. (The CD sets have poor, if any, notes. The best source for that information has been the Online Discographical Project and its associated search site.)

And I got to thinking as I was listening to the music of my father’s youth and young adulthood: what if I’d pushed the starting date for the Ultimate Jukebox back ten years, starting in the late 1930s instead of the late 1940s? Don’t worry. I’m not going to do that. But wondered for a few minutes about what recordings might have been contenders.

Here’s the first one I thought of: Tommy Dorsey’s version of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” with vocals from a young Frank Sinatra. It was recorded, I believe, on February 26, 1940, in New York City.

Next, I thought of something by Benny Goodman, and after dithering for a while, I settled on the studio version of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” with the amazing Gene Krupa on drums. (The version from Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert is great, as well.) The studio version in the video below was recorded, as far as I can tell, on July 6, 1937, in Hollywood.

The third song I thought about – and this is as far as I went – was one for my Dad. We were talking once years ago about his time in the Army and the Army Air Corps – he enlisted sometime in the late 1930s, before World War II, and served through the war’s end in 1945 – and I asked him where he’d traveled during those years. He told me a few tales about his wartime service in India and China, but he said he’d also been to a few more pleasant places. One that he recalled with a smile was Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean just off the coast of Venezuela.

He was there during the early months of 1941 for a military air show, and he said that one of his favorite memories of Trinidad was sitting in a waterfront establishment, drinking the local favorite: rum and Coca-Cola. “Just like in the song,” he said. The Andrews Sisters’ song, titled simply “Rum and Coca-Cola,” was a hit in 1945 and evidently provided my dad with good memories. So here it is, recorded – I think – on October 23, 1944.

Song ticker replaced June 13, 2011, with a video that I hope has the right recording.