Archive for the ‘Vintage Music’ Category

On February 10 Long Ago

Friday, February 10th, 2017

All right, gather ’round. Here’s “Frozen Bill” by Arthur Pryor’s Band:

Not amazingly catchy, no, but then, it does come from 1909, when Arthur Pryor’s Band was big stuff. Pryor, according to Joel Whitburn’s Pop Memories, was the first trombonist in John Philip Sousa’s famous band (and actually served as conductor for many of the band’s recordings). His own band, Whitburn notes, became “a major concert attraction in its own right.”

Pryor’s first listed recording in Pop Memories, which covers the years 1900 through 1940, comes from 1904, when his band’s recording of “Bedelia,” a tune from the Broadway musical The Jersey Lily, was at one time the third-most popular recording in the U.S.

(These days, we’d say it went to No. 3, and I’ll likely use that terminology in the rest of this post, but it’s worth noting that Whitburn calculated the overall popularity of records in the book by drawing from a variety of sources. Especially complicated was the task of rating records from the years 1900 to 1909: Whitburn used fourteen different sources, some modern and some historical, to determine popularity.)

And “Bedelia” was just one of twenty-six recordings by Pryor’s band that made the back-dated Top Ten. The best-performing record that Pryor and his band released was “On The Rocky Road To Dublin,” which was assessed to have made it to No. 2 in December of 1906.

What about “Frozen Bill,” which we heard at the top of the post? Well, “Frozen Bill” didn’t make the compiled charts and is not listed in Whitburn’s book. So why am I featuring it today? Well, because it was recorded on February 10, 1909, exactly 108 years ago today.

“Frozen Bill” is one of seven tracks that I have in the digital stacks tagged with today’s date. All but one of those seven come from the years before World War II, because most of the tunes for which I have session data generally come from historical compilations, and many of the compilations I have come from that era. Here are the other six that I know (or at least believe, in a couple of cases where I’ve done some digging myself) were recorded on February 10 over the years:

“Po’ Mo’ner Got A Home At Last” by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, 1910
“The Pay Off” by the California Ramblers, 1928
“Things ’Bout Comin’ My Way” by Tampa Red, 1931
“Untrue Blues” by Blind Boy Fuller, 1937
“Deep Purple” by Jimmy Dorsey (vocal by Bob Eberly), 1939
“The House Is Rockin’” by Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, 1989

Of the five records from before World War II on that brief list, only one of them is listed in Pop Memories. Dorsey’s “Deep Purple” went to No. 2 on the Billboard charts of the time. The Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, the California Ramblers and Tampa Red, though, all had other recordings that were listed in Pop Memories. Only Blind Boy Fuller was shut out.

Then, of course, there is the Stevie Ray Vaughan tune, which I found on the two-CD set The Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble. “The House Is Rockin’” did not chart, but the album on which it was released, In Step, went to No. 33 on the Billboard 200.

And we’ll close with my favorite selection from that brief list of February 10 recordings: Tampa Red’s take on “Things ’Bout Comin’ My Way,” recorded in Chicago eighty-six years ago today. The song was originally recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks, and at Second Hand Songs, the Sheiks’ Walter Vincent is credited as its writer. The melody is, of course, similar to “Sitting On Top Of The World,” also first recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks and credited to Vinson, but I have seen a note somewhere – I cannot find it at the moment – that says that portions of the melody of “Sitting . . .” likely came from an earlier composition by Tampa Red. (And as I noted in a 2010 post, Charley Patton’s “Some Summer Day” is also similar.)

In any case, here’s “Things ’Bout Comin’ My Way,” by Tampa Red (and I’m guessing – but it’s only a guess – that the piano work comes from Georgia Tom, who became famous in gospel circles as Rev. Thomas Dorsey).

One From 12-30

Friday, December 30th, 2016

As has been our wont these past few days, we’re going to look through the digital shelves today for something that was recorded on today’s date, December 30. Long ago? In recent years? Doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the tune in question was waxed, taped or digitized on the next to last day of the year.

And we come to the King Porter Orchestra and “Chitlin’ Ball” (sometimes spelled “Chittlin’ Ball”). There’s not a lot out there about the group, just four tracks listed at a YouTube topic page and a lot of playlist references, seemingly mentioning the same four tracks. And since I scavenged the track after borrowing a 1997 Capitol collection called Jumpin’ Like Mad: Cool Cats & Hip Chicks, I have no liner notes to turn to.

All I do know is that the King Porter Orchestra recorded the track in Detroit on December 30, 1947, and it was released as a 78 on Imperial 5039. And it’s a fine piece of R&B for a cold day in December.

One From 12-28

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Well, as we edge closer and closer to the end of the year, we’re going to spend a few days listening to tunes recorded in late December over the years.

In New York City in December 1928, Mississippi John Hurt laid down a number of tracks for the Okeh label. (The question arises: How many tracks? Well, the 1996 CD in my stacks – subtitled The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings – has thirteen tracks. The YouTube page devoted to Hurt lists an album titled Spike Driver Blues: The Complete 1928 Okeh Recordings released this year that includes nineteen tracks, which tells me that six tracks have come to light in recent years.) Okeh seems to have released six records from the sessions, but they didn’t do well on the market, and Hurt went back to farming in Mississippi. He was rediscovered in 1963 and went on to record several albums until his death in 1966.

Hurt’s often called a bluesman because he was rediscovered during the years when researchers, musicians, historians and just plain fans combed the southern states for artists who had recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. But Hurt’s music, with its light-fingered picking and lilting voice, has little of the blues in it, despite the titles of many of his tunes.

That’s the case with the track below, “Got the Blues (Can’t Be Satisfied),” recorded on December 28, 1928, eighty-eight years ago today. And I wish I had a tale to hang on the track – or any of Hurt’s work – but all I can say is that anytime I hear his nimble guitar work and his mellow voice, my day is just a little bit better.

‘It’s Goin’ To Be Rainin’ . . .’

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

It’s Thanksgiving week, and although we’re not celebrating the holiday until Saturday at my sister’s place, it’s still busy around here, and my time is not entirely my own. (The holiday delay arose because my Chicago-based niece and her family won’t arrive in Minnesota until Thursday morning, and no one saw the need to squeeze their arrival and a big family dinner into one day, so we went with Saturday.)

With time at a premium, I did a little digging in the digital files this morning, looking for something that fit today at least a little bit, and I found myself in San Antonio eighty years ago today. That was when – in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel* – Robert Johnson laid down two versions each of eight songs. Seven of those tracks would be released on Vocalion and alternate versions of six of those tracks were included in the 1990 box set The Complete Recordings.

(The alternate takes of “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Terraplane Blues” have never been found, according to everything I’ve seen.)

That was Johnson’s first session; he would record for two more days in San Antonio and then spend two days recording in Dallas the next June. So, to mark the eighty-year anniversary of that first day of recording in San Antonio, here’s the alternate version of “Come On In My Kitchen.”

(Counting the two versions Johnson recorded in San Antonio, I have twenty-seven versions of “Come On In My Kitchen.” It’s been a few years since I dug into covers of the tune, and I imagine I’ve added a few since then, so I may look again in the next few weeks at all the ways one can be invited into the kitchen.)

*When I was in San Antonio nine years ago, the clerk at the desk in the Gunter Hotel said with an air of resignation that the number of the room in which Johnson recorded was lost to history. This morning, I saw that Wikipedia lists Room 414 as the location for the recordings. I don’t know if that’s something that’s been unearthed in the last nine years, or if it was known earlier but the clerk was unaware of it, or if the clerk knew but the hotel simply doesn’t want blues and history buffs wandering around the fourth floor taking photographs and perhaps other things as well. If I had to choose, I’d opt for the latter.

‘Orthophonic Joy’

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

The border between Tennessee and Virginia runs along State Street in the city of Bristol, and it was in the Tennessee portion of that divided city that the recording sessions often called the Big Bang of country music took place during the summer of 1927.

Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company set up a portable studio and over the course of two weeks recorded seventy-six songs (some with multiple takes) by nineteen acts, including the first recordings by the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. I’ve long had my eye on a five-CD box set of the complete Bristol Sessions, but with prices for a new copy currently at about ninety dollars these days, looking is all I’ll be doing for a while.

The wish for the box set ties in with my general tendency to dig back further and further into the history of American music, an effort that I hope brings me greater understanding of the roots of the rock, blues and R&B that I love. I’ve mentioned that tendency in connection with one or more blues and R&B box sets that have made their ways here over the past couple years, and even though I’m nowhere near to exhausting my exploration of blues and R&B, I’ve nevertheless added country music to my list of necessary explorations.

That exploration of country is in a nascent state. Over the years, I’ve found at one place or another six of the tracks Peer recorded in Bristol that summer (as well as many other early recordings of country music). As many vintage recordings are, they’re often hard listening, combining tales that are all too often sad and/or brutal with an unfamiliar musical aesthetic and the technological limitations of early remote recording.

I’d assume that, if I ever acquire that five-CD box set, the notes will provide a guide to its 123 tracks. So would notes in other sets of the Bristol material more limited in their scope, I assume, but where to start? And then I came across Orthophonic Joy. Subtitled “The 1927 Bristol Sessions Revisited,” the two-CD set was released last year by Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution), the Bristol Chamber of Commerce and the tourism offices of the states of Tennessee and Virginia.

The set’s title, Orthophonic Joy, comes from a promotion by the Victor Talking Machine Company for its new orthophonic Victrola, the first electronic record player, in which consumers are advised, “Don’t deny yourself the sheer joy of orthophonic music.”

The two CDs offer new recordings by current artists of eighteen of the songs recorded during the original 1927 sessions. There are also nineteen spoken interludes giving some of the history of the 1927 sessions, focusing on the artists who original recorded those eighteen songs.

As an example, here’s what historian Dr. Cindy Lovell had to say – as read by Eddie Stubbs – about the traditional tune “Pretty Polly” and the two recordings of it at hand, the 1927 version by B.F. Shelton (playing in the background) and the new version by Carl Jackson:

And here’s Jackson’s version:

The remakes, as fine as they are (and I’ve been enjoying them), are not the originals, of course, and the big box set – or perhaps several of the smaller collections – remain on my list. But in the meantime, well, I will not deny myself Orthophonic Joy.

‘Goin’ Down That Road . . .’

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Poking through the nooks and crannies of the ’Net over the weekend, I came across an album titled Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. The performances were recorded and released in 1956 on the Tradition label. (From what I can tell, the record was re-released in 1976 on the Tradition Everest label, and then released on CD at least twice in recent years.)

I didn’t recognize all the performers’ names, but one that I did recognize was that of Etta Baker (1913-2006), a North Carolina guitarist and singer whom I’ve seen mentioned as one of the main influences on Taj Mahal. And among Baker’s performances on the twenty-track album was this sprightly take on “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad.”

It’s an old song, most often listed as of traditional origins, which is how it was listed when I first came across it on Motel Shot, the 1971 album by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends:

It’s a tune I’m going to dig into more in the next few weeks, which will mean digging into the tune’s origins as “Lonesome Road Blues” as well as into the many covers of the song under either title. In the meantime, the Texas Gal is on vacation this week, so I’m going to take some time away from here. I may be back with a Saturday Single, or I may be gone all week. See you when I get back.

Saturday Single No. 427

Saturday, January 10th, 2015

So what do we know about January 10?

Well, easily enough to determine, it’s the tenth day of the year under the Julian calendar, with 355 more to come.

Wikipedia has lengthy lists of events that took place and of folks who were born on January 10, and I scanned the lists this morning without much enthusiasm until I saw in the birthdays: “1836 – Charles Ingalls, American father of author Laura Ingalls Wilder (d. 1902).”

A little bit more than a year ago, I wrote about the organization called “Pa’s Fiddle Project,” which aims to release on ten CDs modern recordings of all the music mentioned in the Little House series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, from Little House In The Big Woods onward. The CD I wrote about in December 2013, titled as well Pa’s Fiddle, was the third in the planned series.

Having been interested since first grade in the Little House series, and being interested more and more in vintage music – the music folks listened to in the years before it could be recorded – I thought that was a cool idea, and I put the three existing releases on my wish list and vowed to keep an eye open for the subsequent releases.

Then, last May, as I rummaged through the stacks of CDs at one of our local pawnshops, I came across a CD titled A Tribute To Charles “Pa” Ingalls by Bruce Hoffmann. The 2006 CD offers recordings of sixteen songs mentioned in Wilder’s book, which sounded very similar to the CDs being released by the Pa’s Fiddle Project.

The difference, though, was that Hoffman recorded the sixteen offerings on his CD in the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder in Mansfield, Missouri, and he played the tunes on Charles Ingalls’ fiddle. I grabbed the CD without delay and paid something like a dollar for it – the pawnshop was clearing its CD inventory – although I likely would have paid much more.

Joining Hoffman on the CD is a variety of other musicians – recorded elsewhere, I assume – adding banjo, mandolin, piano, tin whistle, recorder, guitar, and some vocals, including a rendition of “The Gypsy’s Warning” from country star Pam Tillis.

I’ve selected Hoffman’s performance of Stephen Foster’s “Oh Susannah” for this morning; joining him are Curt Ames on guitar and Greg Moody on banjo. So here, to mark the birth of Charles Ingalls 179 years ago today, is “Oh Susanna,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

‘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.

‘Stewball Was A Race Horse . . .’

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Now, about the song “Stewball.” We offered in this spot yesterday the version of the song recorded in 1940 by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet for the Victor label. Pretty much a work song, that was the second of several iterations of the folk song that arose in England in the late Eighteenth Century.

Second Hand Songs notes: “Skewball, born in 1741, was a racehorse bred by Francis, Second Earl of Goldolphin. The horse, a gelding, was purportedly the top earning racer in Ireland in 1752, when he was 11. The song apparently originated as a ballad about a high stakes race occurring in the Curragh in Kildare, Ireland, in March 1752, which Skewball won.” The website gives a date of 1784 for the song, noting that the date “is for the oldest broadside identified of the ballad . . . held by the Harding Collection of the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford.”

The webpage continues, “According to John and Alan Lomax in American Ballads and Folk Songs, the ballad was converted into a work song by slaves – which is supported by the version of the lyrics published in their book. ‘Skewball’ apparently became ‘Stewball’ after the song migrated to the United States.”

Beyond the work song version of “Stewball,” the original story-song continued to be recorded. A 1953 recording by Cisco Houston is the earliest listed in the on-going project at Second Hand Songs, but Woody Guthrie recorded the tale of the horse race in 1944 or 1945. His version was released in 1999 on Buffalo Skinners: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 4 on the Smithsonian Folkways label.

Then came along the Greenbriar Boys. A trio made up by 1960 of John Herald, Ralph Rinzler, and Bob Yellin, the group, says All Music Guide, was “[o]ne of the first urban bands to play bluegrass” and was “instrumental in transforming the sounds of the hill country from a Southern music to an international phenomenon.” The Greenbriar Boys released their first two albums of bluegrass tunes in 1962 and 1964, but of more import for us today is a tune that showed up on New Folks, a 1961 sampler on the Vanguard label. Herald, Rinzler and Yellin set the words of “Stewball” to a simple, folkish tune (written by Yellin, according to website Beatles Songwriting Academy) and recorded the song as their contribution to the album:

After that, covers of the new version followed: From Peter, Paul & Mary in 1963 (a single release went to No. 35 and is the only version to chart), from Joan Baez in 1964 and from the Hollies in 1966, according to Second Hand Songs. And I know there are many other covers. Most of those take on the Greenbriar’s Boys’ version (including one by Mason Proffit on its 1969 album Wanted), but there are other covers of the early folk version and the work song version as well. I didn’t go digging too deeply, though, because something else about the song grabbed my attention this week.

Now, I’ve heard the version of “Stewball” using the Greenbriar Boys’ melody several times over the years, notably the versions by Mason Proffit and Peter, Paul & Mary. Heck, I even sang it along with Peter Yarrow at a concert a year-and-a-half ago. But I’d never noticed or thought about the tune’s similarity to another famous song until this week.

Last Tuesday, I ran past Second Hand Songs while looking for an interesting cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1971 single “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, and when the results came up that put the Lennon/Ono tune in the adaptation tree for “Stewball,” I did a mild double-take. And then I thought about it, running the two tunes through my head. And yeah, John (and Yoko, to whatever degree she was involved in the writing, listed as she is as a composer) lifted the melody and chord structure from the Greenbriar Boys’ version of “Stewball.” There were a few changes, notably a key change and the addition of the “War is over if you want it” chorus, but it was essentially the same song.

And I’m not at all sure why Herald, Rinzler and Yellin didn’t complain. Does anybody know?

‘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.