Archive for the ‘1949’ Category

Lookin’ At July 20

Friday, July 20th, 2018

So what do we have on the digital shelves that was recorded on July 20?

The three members of the Mississippi Jook Band had a busy day eighty-two years ago in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The band – made up of Blind Roosevelt Graves on guitar, his brother Uaroy Graves (who was almost blind himself) on tambourine, and Cooney Vaughn on piano – recorded four tracks that day. All of them were released on the Melotone label, and three of the four are on my digital shelves. All three came to me via the four-CD box set When The Levee Breaks, issued in 2000 by the British label JSP; one of the three was also released on the fourth volume of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, released in 2013.

The three tracks here are “Barbeque Bust,” “Hittin’ The Bottle Stomp,” and “Skippy Whippy.” The fourth track the trio recorded on that long-ago July 20 was “Dangerous Woman.”

Heading onward, we drop into a session in 1949, with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers – augmented by guitarist Oscar Moore – recording “How Blue Can You Get (Downhearted)” in New York City. Fans of B.B. King or of the blues in general will recognize the song; this – according to the album notes – is the original version. The track was evidently not released until 1960, when it showed up on an RCA Camden compilation called Singin’ the Blues. I found the track on Volume 4, “That’s All Right,” of the thirteen-CD series When The Sun Goes Down, an extensive look at the deep roots of rock ’n’ roll.

Regular visitors here are no doubt aware of my fondness for the work of Big Maybelle, born Mabel Louise Smith in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1924. She pops up today because of her session in New York City on July 20, 1956, sixty years ago today. Among the tracks recorded that day was “Mean To Me,” which was released on the Savoy label. It came to me on the two-LP collection The Roots of Rock ’n Roll: The Savoy Sessions, which I bought for $1.25 during a record-digging session in Golden Valley, Minnesota, in April 1999. A CD version of the set arrived here in 2012 as a gift from friend and regular reader Yah Shure.

The traditional British folk song “Blackwaterside” shows up next, telling the tale of a woman seduced and then spurned. The song and several variants, including “Down by Blackwaterside” among others, are thought to have originated near the River Blackwater in Ulster. (One of those variants is the instrumental “Black Mountain Side” on Led Zeppelin’s 1969 debut album.) Here, it’s a live 1983 performance by Linda Thompson for the (presumably British) television show Music On The Move. The track was included on the 1996 Hannibal compilation Dreams Fly Away (A History Of Linda Thompson).

Then we come to an entire CD recorded on July 20, 1991, when the trio of Rick Danko, Eric Andersen and Jonas Fjeld played a gig at the Molde Jazz Festival. The trio’s music is certainly not jazz and might be more accurately described as folk rock or roots or Americana with a slight Norwegian twist. However you describe it, their music is a delight. The live performance was released in 2002 on the Appleseed label as part of a two-CD package; the other CD was a remastered version of the trio’s 1991 release Danko/Fjeld/Andersen.

So now we sort these out. For all my historical interest in groups like the Mississippi Jook Band, I don’t listen much to those box sets. When the tunes come up when the RealPlayer is set on random, that’s fine, but I don’t often seek them out. So we’ll pass the Jook Band by. We’ll do the same, with some regrets, with Big Maybelle and Linda Thompson. And our regrets are greater when we pass on Danko/Fjeld/Andersen; their slender catalog has been among my favorites ever since I found their second album, Ridin’ On The Blinds. It was among the first CDs I ever bought.

But the work of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, augmented by the guitar work of his brother Oscar, is too good to pass up, especially since the track is the original version of one of the classic blues songs. So here’s “How Blue Can You Get (Downhearted).”

Hucklebucking

Friday, December 15th, 2017

So, I thought, what do I have in the digital stacks that was recorded on December 15?

And the RealPlayer brought me a few tracks: Lena Horne’s “Stormy Weather” from 1941, the King Cole Trio’s version of “Sweet Lorraine” from 1943, Deanna Durbin’s “Always” from 1944, Dion’s “Ruby Baby” from 1962 and three copies of “The Huckle-Buck” by Paul Williams & His Hucklebuckers, recorded in 1948.

And I stopped right there, because the tag on one of those three copies said the track was recorded in New York, while the tag on another said Detroit. The third had no location listed. And between the three copies of the same track, I had four catalog numbers, all on the Savoy label. But before we go any further, let’s listen to “The Huckle-Buck” as Williams and his band recorded it in December of 1948:

The record was a major hit in 1949, topping the Billboard Best Seller chart for twelve weeks and the magazine’s Juke Box chart for fourteen weeks. You’ll note that the catalog number in the video is Savoy 683, and that’s the number that Joel Whitburn has listed in Top 40 R&B and Hip-Hop Hits, so we’ll go with that. But according to the data at The Online Discographical Project, Savoy did in fact issue the record with three other catalog numbers as well.

But where was it recorded? Where did I find Detroit and New York mentioned? Well, I found New York listed as the recording site on the two-LP set The Roots Of Rock ’N Roll, a 1977 release on the Savoy label. And Detroit was listed as the site in the very detailed notes supplied with The Big Horn, a four-CD set from England of 106 tracks featuring saxophone, released in 2003 by Proper Records.

And I’m uncertain. Part of me says that the New York location make sense, because Savoy should know where one of its biggest hits was recorded. And part of me tends to think that Detroit is correct, because the notes in the booklet accompanying The Big Horn are so very detailed and could contain information found during the intervening years. I’d like to know, but I’m not going to let the discrepancy get in the way of the music. Because there’s a lot of stuff about “The Huckle-Buck” that I found interesting.

First, Paul Williams pretty much stole the song. The website Second Hand Songs notes that the tune was first called “D’ Natural Blues.” It was written by Andy Gibson and it was first performed by Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra in September of 1948. The website then notes:

Paul Williams heard Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra perform “D’ Natural Blues” and decided to perform this song too. He called it “The Huckle-Buck.” The reactions turned out to be very positive and he decided to record it (December 15th, 1948). Lucky Millinder recorded it a few weeks later (beginning of January 1949) . . .

Here’s Millinder’s “D’ Natural Blues.”

Soon enough, lyricist (and occasional composer) Roy Alfred wrote some words for the tune, and Roy Milton & His Solid Senders recorded a vocal version in January 1949 that went to No. 5 on the R&B chart. And the covers kept on coming: Big Sis Andrews & Her Huckle-Busters, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton (No. 12, R&B), Homer & Jethro with June Carter (as the B-side of a 1949 record titled “The Wedding of Hillbilly Lily Marlene”), Benny Goodman, Pearl Bailey and on through the 1950s until we get to the 1960s and the only version of the tune that’s been a hit in the Billboard Hot 100: Chubby Checker’s cover went to No. 14 (and No. 15 on the R&B chart) in the autumn of 1960, just months after “The Twist” went to No. 1 for the first time:

The list of covers at Second Hand Songs – instrumentals and vocals alike – is pretty lengthy, and includes a lame 1961 vocal version by Annette Funicello, an instrumental version by a 1988 edition of Canned Heat*, and a wicked version by Otis Redding, recorded in September 1967 and released post-humously on The Dock of the Bay in 1968. And that’s where we’ll close today’s proceedings. Hucklebuck, ya’ll!

*That 1988 edition of the band has two original members, according to Wikipedia: Fito de la Parra and Larry Taylor. That’s pretty thin gruel from this side of the table. My sense is that once Al Wilson and Bob Hite were gone (1970 and 1981, respectively), so was Canned Heat.

‘It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More’

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

Okay, follow the bouncing ball and – if you wish – sing along with this cartoon from 1949:

I recall seeing short features like this – sing-a-longs with the bouncing ball – before movies during the late 1950s and early 1960s. I’d go – maybe with Rick and Rob or maybe with my sister – to kids’ matinees at the Paramount (or the Eastman or the Hays) here in St. Cloud, and there would be two or three animated features before the main event.

And I think I saw bouncing ball sing-a-longs on TV on Saturday mornings, watching and trying to keep the volume down on the old Zenith set while my parents slept in.

Anyway, what caught my ear about this particular sing-a-long was the song itself, “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More,” which I’ve heard here and there forever. But I never thought about the song’s origins until this morning. Why this morning?

Because a search through the 97,000 mp3s in the RealPlayer brought up Wendell Hall’s version of “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’,” which he recorded for Victor in New York City on October 12, 1923, ninety-four years ago today. And Hall’s recording was a success: It was the No. 1 record in the U.S. in 1924, according to Josh Whitburn’s A Century of Pop Music.

The song itself, according to a brief entry at Wikipedia, had been around in various forms since some time during the 19th Century. Poet and folk musician Carl Sandburg included verses of the song in his 1927 volume American Songbook and suggested, Wikipedia says, that the song had been around since the 1870s. As with almost all folk songs, there are multiple variants, and the verses offered in the cartoon above are not all the same as those recorded by Wendell Hall in October 1923.

(I should note that the second line of the chorus also has variants. Hall sang, “How in the world can the old folks tell that it ain’t gonna rain no mo’?” The one I recall most clearly, perhaps from Boy Scout camp or Bible camp, went, “Now how in the heck can I wash my neck if it ain’t gonna rain no mo’?”)

Here are the verses as Hall recorded them:

Oh, the night was dark and dreary,
And the air was full of leaks.
Well the old man stood out in the storm,
And his shoes were full of feet.

Well the buttererfly flits on wings of gold,
The junebug wings of flame.
The bedbug has no wings at all,
But he gets there just the same.

Oh, mosquitee he fly high,
Oh, mosquitee he fly low.
If ol’ Mr. Skeeter light on me,
He ain’t a gonna fly no mo’.

Well, a bull frog sittin’ on a lily pad,
Looking up at the skies.
Oh, the lily pad broke and the frog fell in,
Got water all in his eyes.

Well, here’s a verse about a man and a trombone.
Well, the words to it are few.
He blew, he blew, he blew, he blew,
He blew, he blew, he blew.

Well, a man lay down by a sewer,
And by the sewer he died, he died.
And at the coroner’s request,
They called it sewer-cide.

A little black and white animal out in the woods.
I says, “Ain’t that little cat pretty?”
I went right over to pick it up,
But it wasn’t that kind of a kitty.

Oddly enough, Wendell Hall’s version of the song is the only one on the digital shelves here, even though a cursory search at YouTube turns up numerous versions of the song – old, modern and in between, including a take on the song by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Some of those versions may yet show up on the shelves here, but for today, we’ll content ourselves with Hall’s version, recorded ninety-four years ago today.

Back In ’49

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

When I searched the RealPlayer this morning for tracks recorded on April 13, it tossed back three titles, one of which I know well and two that were recorded on the same day four years and a few months before I was born.

The one I know well is the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” According to notes I found somewhere – possibly even accompanying the Mono Masters set that came with The Beatles in Mono box set – the group began work on “Paperback Writer” at Abbey Road fifty years ago today. As it happens, “Paperback Writer” is one of my favorite Beatles tracks, maybe because of the lyrics but more likely because of the bass line. But there’s little point in featuring a record so well known, so I turned my eyes and ears back to April 13, 1949.

That’s when two very different singles were recorded for Columbia: “Room Full of Roses,” by a country singer named George Morgan and “Elevation” by a jazz group, Elliot Lawrence & His Orchestra. We’ll stay on the country side today.

Morgan was a Tennessee-born and Ohio-raised singer who joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1948, the year he turned twenty-four. By the time he recorded “Room Full of Roses” sixty-seven years ago today, he’d released two major hits: “Candy Kisses” spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Best Seller chart, and “Please Don’t Let Me Love You” went to No. 4 on the magazine’s Best Seller and Juke Box charts.

“Room Full of Roses” was destined to go to No. 4 on the Best Seller chart, but before it reached the chart in August, Morgan had two more records make their marks: “Rainbow In My Heart” went to No. 8 on the Best Seller chart, and “All I Need Is Some More Lovin’” went to No. 11 there as well.

Morgan would go on to have nineteen more records reach the various country charts Billboard offered, with his last hit, “Red Rose From The Blue Side Of Town,” going to No. 21 in 1974. Morgan, who was the father of country single Lorrie Morgan, died in 1975 at the age of fifty-one. Here’s “Room Full of Roses,” recorded sixty-seven years ago today.

‘I Am A Schoolboy, Too . . .’

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

It’s the day after Labor Day, and here in St. Cloud, as in most of Minnesota – and most of the U.S., I imagine – the school buses roll. Teachers plan lessons and welcome new students. Students scan schedules and consider – sometimes covertly and sometimes not – who’s changed the most over what now seems to have been a brief summer.

And a new nine-month school year starts.

I could go several ways here. I thought about digging into the memory banks for a first-day-of-school story, but I’m not sure there are any left untold. So I went looking for a record about the first day of school. I didn’t find one that specific, but as I scanned the list of records the RealPlayer provided about “school,” I realized that I’ve never written about one of the great songs in the blues catalog.

It first showed up as “Good Morning School Girl” by John Lee Williamson, the first Sonny Boy. He wrote and recorded the song for the Bluebird label in Aurora, Illinois, on May 5, 1937.

From there, the song moved on (with varying punctuation, the addition of the word “little” and mixed use of “schoolgirl” or “school girl”). The first cover version noted at Second Hand Songs – a site that’s not always complete but comes pretty close – is by Leroy Dallas & His Guitar in 1948, followed by Smokey Hogg in 1949 and L.C. Green in 1952. I should perhaps know those names, but I don’t. The version I found by Hogg at YouTube this morning is pretty good.

When we get to 1958, we see some familiar names beginning to pop up: Big Joe Williams, Lightning Hopkins, Rod Stewart, Junior Wells, the Grateful Dead, Jim Kweskin, Taj Mahal, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Geoff Muldaur recorded the song through the 1970s.

In 1964, we also find the Yardbirds, but their record is not the same song. Wikipedia explains: “In 1961, Don Level and Bob Love, as the R&B duo ‘Don and Bob,’ recorded a different version of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ for Argo Records, a Chess subsidiary. Although it uses the phrase ‘good morning little schoolgirl’, the song has different chord changes and lyrics, including references to popular dance styles of the time. The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton later covered this version of ‘Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl’ for their second UK single in 1964.”

My friend Larry, who hangs his hat at the great blog 16 Funky Corners, disputes this in a note below, saying that both the Yardbirds and Don & Bob singles are the Williamson song. It’s close, and I’ll acknowledge inspiration,  but I agree with Wikipedia. They are different songs. The clincher to me is the lack of the “I am a schoolboy, too.”

Muddy Waters recorded the song for his 1964 album Folk Singer, and his version of “Good Morning Little School Girl” is striking for its acoustic approach, rather than Waters’ usual electric arrangement. (That holds true for the entire album, of course, an early version of the “unplugged” phenomenon.)

A few years later, Mississippi Fred McDowell included “Good Morning Little School Girl” on one of my favorite blues albums, his 1969 effort I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll.

A few covers are listed in the 1980s, and in 1993, another great version of the tune came, unsurprisingly, from Van Morrison, who tackled “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” on his album Too Long In Exile.

(I haven’t decided: Is it creepy or just an adjustment when Waters and Morrison – and likely others who’ve recorded the song – sing “I once was a schoolboy, too,” and make the song’s narrator older than the schoolgirl to whom he’s singing?)

We skip a few more years and a few more covers and move on to 2011, when Rory Block gender-flipped the song’s lyrics for her 2011 album, Shake ’Em on Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell. I love Block’s work, and I think her version is my favorite, challenged by only Morrison’s and McDowell’s itself (acknowledging that there are many, many versions of the song I have not yet heard).

Chart Digging: March 6, 1961

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Having disposed with March of 1963 briefly last week, I dropped back two more years this morning to see what was going out over the airwaves during the first week of March 1961. The Billboard Top Ten for March 6 of that year – fifty-one years ago today – is at least somewhat familiar today:

“Pony Time” by Chubby Checker
“Surrender” by Elvis Presley
“Wheels” by the String-A-Longs
“Don’t Worry” by Marty Robbins
“Where The Boys Are” by Connie Francis
“Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk
“Baby Sittin’ Boogie” by Buzz Clifford
“Dedicated To The One I Love” by the Shirelles
“There’s A Moon Out Tonight” by the Capris
“Ebony Eyes” by the Everly Brothers

I think that two of those – the singles by the Shirelles and the Capris – rank as all-time classics although I’m certain I didn’t hear them in early 1961. The only one of those I remember hearing at the time is “Where The Boys Are,” which was the title song to a movie starring Francis and George Hamilton. Most of the rest are familiar now, of course, although I had to listen to “Wheels” and “Baby Sittin’ Boogie” for reminders. (And I was reminded how much I dislike maudlin songs about death when I listened this morning to “Ebony Eyes” for the first time in many years.)

And, then, of course, I dipped down further in the Billboard Hot 100 from fifty-one years ago to see what might be lurking in the spots below No. 60 or so.

One of the most familiar songs in country western music – at least to my ears – is “Ghost Riders In The Sky: A Cowboy Legend.” Written in 1948 by Stan Jones, the song has been recorded more than fifty times, according to Wikipedia, with the first recording coming from Burl Ives in 1949; that version went to No. 21 on the pop chart and to No. 8 on the country chart. Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles begins in 1955, so Ives’ single isn’t listed. The highest-placing cover Whitburn lists is the one I found at No. 62: The Ramrods’ instrumental take titled simply “Ghost Riders In The Sky” without the subtitle. The Ramrods – a quartet from Connecticut – had seen their version go to No. 30 two weeks earlier. It was their only Hot 100 hit. (Other  notable versions of the tune include the Outlaws’ 1981 release that went to No. 31 and Johnny Cash’s 1979 take on the tune that didn’t hit the pop chart but went to No. 2 on the country chart, matching Vaughn Monroe’s 1949 version.)

With Chubby Checker’s “Pony Time” in the middle of a three-week stay at No. 1, another version of the song, this one by the Goodtimers, was sitting at No. 69, on its way to No. 60. One of the members of the Goodtimers was Don Covay, the writer of Checker’s single as well as a good number of other R&B hits, including “Chain of Fools,” “Mercy Mercy” and “Letter Full Of Tears.” “Pony Time” was the first of several hits for Covay, with and without the Goodtimers; the highest-placing were “Mercy Mercy,” which went to No. 35 in 1964 (with, Whitburn notes, Jimi Hendrix on guitar), and “I Was Checkin’ Out, She Was Checkin’ In,” which went to No. 29 in 1973. (On the R&B chart, those two records went to No. 1 – for two weeks – and to No. 6, respectively.)

After Aretha Franklin became a star at Atlantic in the late 1960s, the idea that Columbia hadn’t known what to do with her when she was there hardened from opinion into accepted musical wisdom. And it’s true that a lot of the stuff Franklin recorded at Columbia through 1966 wasn’t a good fit for her. So I was a little leery when I saw that her “Won’t Be Long” was sitting at No. 83 fifty-one years ago today. But the record, which was on its way to No. 76, is better by far than I expected it to be. And it’s a piece of history, too: “Won’t Be Long” was the first of eighty-eight singles that Franklin placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1961 and 1998. (It was her second hit in the R&B Top 40, going to No. 7.)

I haven’t had many reasons to share a record by Edith Piaf (I think it’s happened only two other times so far in five years), so when I saw her name pop up on the Hot 100 from March 6, 1961, the decision was easy. Sitting at No. 95, Piaf’s single “Milord” was the first and only single the legendary French singer ever placed in the Hot 100. (Her take on the theme to the movie “Exodus” bubbled under at No. 116 in the spring of 1961.) “Milord,” recorded in New York City, would peak at No. 88 in mid-March. (Another version of “Milord,” this one an instrumental by Frank Pourcel & His Orchestra, was bubbling under at No. 118 during that first week of March in 1961; it would peak at No. 112.)

Among my vivid memories from the early 1960s is the annual recognition of the incoming freshman class at St. Cloud State that took place at halftime of the first home football game. The announcer would ask the freshmen to stand as the marching band saluted them, and I recall seeing those young people stand, most seeming embarrassed and a few wearing their freshman beanies, as the band played “Hey Look Me Over” from the 1961 Broadway musical Wildcat. The version of the tune in the Hot 100 during the first week of March in 1961 was by the Pete King Chorale & Orchestra. The record – the only hit for Pete King and his musicians and the only version of the tune to ever hit the pop charts – would peak at No. 108. (For those wondering what a freshman beanie is, here’s a picture of the beanie from Ricker College in Maine. As was true at many colleges, for many years freshmen at St. Cloud State were required to wear their red and black beanies on campus and at college events during the first part of the academic year.  According to a 1998 note at St. Cloud State’s website, “the beanie requirement was abolished in 1961, but for the next few years, freshmen were encouraged to wear them.”)

A Mix: Spree VI, Friendship & Johnny Otis

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

I find myself swamped today, so this will be brief.

As mentioned in progress Saturday, the Texas Gal and I had a wonderful visit with jb – proprietor of The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ – and his Mrs. last weekend in what was billed as Midwest Blog Summit and Beer Spree VI. Activities added since I wrote last Saturday included Saturday lunch at the Old Creamery restaurant in the little burg of Rice, Minnesota, a Saturday evening visit with music expert and friend Yah Shure and a Sunday morning egg bake (with bacon on the side). As the years roll on, the Texas Gal and I realize more and more clearly how rare it is in this life to find true friends, and all three of those folks – jb, the Mrs. and Yah Shure – qualify, and we’re grateful we have them in our lives.

Planning will no doubt begin soon for Spree VII.

I did buy a few 45s during our Saturday road trip, but the true music jewel of the weekend was a CD copy of a long-enjoyed two-LP set, The Roots of Rock ’N Roll: The Savoy Sessions, courtesy of Yah Shure. One of the better-represented artists on that set is Johnny Otis, who passed on a week ago. 

Others have no doubt done a far better job at summing up Otis’ importance to R&B and rock ’n’ roll than I can, so I’ll just exit this morning with a quiet tribute to the man. Here’s “Head Hunter,” which was recorded in Los Angeles on December 19, 1949, and was released on Savoy 774.