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).