“Somebody Loses – Somebody Wins”
The Three Keys (Bon Bon, Slim & Bob)
August 29, 1932 (Columbia 2706-D mx 152292)
The Three Keys (Bon Bon, Slim & Bob)
August 29, 1932 (Columbia 2706-D mx 152270)
The Three Keys were a vocal harmony group that first performed together in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1931. It was comprised of John E. “Slim” Furness, Robert “Bob” Pease and George “Bon Bon” Tunnell.
According to promotional material from the time none of the members of the group were able to read music. After broadcasting locally in Philadelphia they were able to land national exposure over NBC which led to stage appearances on what was still remaining of the old vaudeville circuits and opportunities to cut records for Columbia and Brunswick/Vocalion.
The record here was the group’s first record and their only one that was issued on Columbia. Less than two weeks later they had their first recording session on Brunswick which led to a handful of sides being made for that label in 1932 and 1933. Some of their Brunswick sides were reissued on Vocalion in 1934.
Apparently personal difficulties among the group’s members slowed down it’s professional momentum just as its fame was starting to take off. The Three Keys continued to perform and broadcast through the early 1940s but were never able to recapture their initial success.
Under the leadership of “Slim” Furness the group eventually morphed into The Four Keys and cut records backing up Ella Fitzgerald after she stepped down as the leader of the former Chick Webb Orchestra. Furness brought members of his own family into the group and by the 1950s it was making records as The Furness Brothers. A number of Furness Brothers recordings can be accessed by searching the group’s name on YouTube. One that I thought was quite nice was a doo-wop era selection which can be heard at this link. The Furness Brothers continued performing into the 1980s.
For more information about the group, Marv Goldberg has done a great job researching and documenting its evolution over the decades and what became of its original members in an article that you can access at this link.
“Who Am I”
Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra
October 8, 1931 (Okeh 41523 mx 404989)
“Good Night Sweetheart”
Coverdale Country Club Orchestra
October 2, 1931 (Okeh 41523 mx 404988)
Here are nice renditions of two songs that were popular in 1931. I thought it would be interesting to share the backstory behind the record they came from. It is a good example of some of the “smoke and mirror” techniques that the record labels of the era often employed.
The first smokescreen is the name of the group, “Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra.” In reality, there was no such orchestra. It was merely one of many pseudonyms used for recordings by Ben Selvin’s Orchestra. During this period, Selvin was an in-house music director for Columbia Records which also owned the Okeh label.
Prior to 1935 the use of pseudonyms was extremely common, especially on a label’s budget priced subsidiary labels and the so-called “dime store” labels which were specifically manufactured for various retail chains. For example, the Romeo label was made for the S. H. Kress & Co dime store chain while the Oriole label was made for McCrory Stores. It was not uncommon for a single recording to be issued on multiple labels under multiple pseudonyms.
Even the full priced flagship labels employed pseudonyms which they often heavily promoted – for example “The High Hatters” on Victor was led by in-house music director Leonard Joy and “The Knickerbockers” and “The Columbians” on Columbia were pseudonyms for Ben Selvin. It was more cost effective for a label to issue recordings by its in-house musicians than it was those of top named bands such as Paul Whiteman’s or Fred Waring’s.
The record featured here takes the smoke and mirrors one step further than usual. When Okeh was acquired by Columbia in 1926 it was allowed to continue operating separately from Columbia. It had its own roster of artists, its own marketing and its own recording sessions. The masters from Okeh’s recording sessions had an entirely different numbering system than that which was used on Columbia and its budget labels Harmony, Velvet Tone, Diva and Clarion.
1931, however, was a dismal year for the record industry as the Great Depression made it difficult for people to afford records. Companies attempted to cut costs any way that they could.
Both of the selections here were recorded for Columbia. “Who Am I” was issued on Harmony, Velvet Tone and Clarion under the pseudonym of “Lloyd Keating And His Music” and had a Columbia matrix number of W 351109. “Good Night Sweetheart” was issued on those same labels under the pseudonym of “Roy Carroll And His Sands Point Orchestra” and had a Columbia matrix number of W 351106.
To save money, the company decided to use Ben Selvin recordings originally made for Columbia on some of Okeh’s dance band releases. But it wasn’t as simple as pressing an extra batch of records from same stampers used for the Harmony/Velvet Tone/Clarion releases and slapping an Okeh label on them as they contained the Columbia matrix number in the run-out area. To to preserve consistency in the matrix numbering scheme of Okeh releases, a separate Okeh master was made by dubbing a copy from the Columbia master.
Thus the matrix numbers in the song credits above are completely different than those found for the exact same recordings on their Harmony/Velvet Tone and Clarion releases.
Was the public fooled by such smoke and mirror tactics? They certainly fooled a music critic in the January, 1932 issue of Phonograph Monthly Review who wrote:
“The Okeh annotators do a great deal of shouting about their Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra and the praises it has elicited from the New Yorker. Personally, I think it is far outdistanced by Buddy Campbell’s good humored and spirited orchestra.”
The only problem was that the “Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra” and “Buddy Campbell And His Orchestra” were the exact same orchestra and were just pseudonyms for Ben Selvin’s Orchestra for recordings originally issued on Columbia labels under a different set of pseudonyms and then dubbed over to Okeh masters for release on that label.
“I’ve Found A New Baby”
Clyde McCoy And His Orchestra
September 2, 1931 (Columbia 2531 D mx 151765)
Clyde McCoy And His Orchestra
September 2, 1931 (Columbia 2531 D mx 151764)
Clyde McCoy is best remembered for his theme song “Sugar Blues” which brought attention to his trademark “wah-wah” effects on the muted trumpet. He recorded the song in 1931 for Columbia and again in 1935 after he began recording for Decca.
The two sides here feature McCoy’s trumpet playing – but you won’t hear much in the way of “Sugar Blues” style “wah-wah.” Both are quite jazzy.
“I’ve Found A New Baby” has a very nice hot arrangement. “Mood Indigo” was popularized by Duke Ellington and many bands have performed the song through the years. I think the version here is one of the more impressive.
One bit of Clyde McCoy trivia: he was a descendant of the same family that became famous for the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
Ben Selvin And His Orchestra
August 31, 1928 (Columbia 1538-D mx 146936)
Here is a charming recording of a mostly forgotten song that was recently added to the Radio Dismuke playlist.
“Lady Whippoorwill” was introduced in the musical production Cross My Heart which opened on Broadway at the old Knickerbocker Theatre on September 17, 1928. The show closed after an eight week run and, two years later, the theater itself was demolished (though the building that replaced it is a rather impressive Ely Jacques Kahn Art Deco skyscraper).
This recording and its flip side, “Right Out Of Heaven,” which was also from Cross My Heart, was made a few weeks prior to the show’s opening. This was a common practice for record manufacturers as it gave them lead time for records to be in stores in the event that a song appearing in an upcoming production proved to be popular.
In this instance, apparently Columbia was the only record label the song’s publishers were able to convince than an advance recording was worth the risk. I am not able to find reference of it having been recorded by any other American record label besides one that Columbia itself recorded a day earlier for its budget priced Harmony, Diva and Velvet Tone subsidiary labels. That recording was made by Rudy Vallee’s Yale Collegians, though Vallee himself did not perform the vocal. Columbia continued to utilize its outdated acoustical (i.e., pre-microphone) recording equipment for its bargain labels, so, unfortunately, the Vallee recording does not have the nice fidelity that the electrically recorded “Vivia-Tonal” Ben Selvin recording has.
“There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town To-night”
Bessie Smith And Her Blue Boys
March 2, 1927 (Columbia 14219-D mx 143570)
“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”
Bessie Smith And Her Blue Boys
March 2, 1927 (Columbia 14219-D mx 143568)
Here are two recordings that I am especially pleased to add to Radio Dismuke’s playlist.
I heard this recording of “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town To-night” some years ago and was simply blown away by it. I can’t put into words the specific quality of Bessie Smith’s voice that caused this recording to have such an effect on me and made it so memorable. Let’s just say that her voice was powerful. And the jazz combo that backs her up is excellent – it included Fletcher Henderson on the piano and Buster Bailey on clarinet. On the “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” side Coleman Hawkins is the clarinet player.
Both of these songs were already “oldies” by the time Smith recorded them. “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight” was published in 1896 and was used as a marching song by Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. Irving Berlin composed “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911 and it became his first of many hit songs.
Richard Himber And His Ritz Carlton Orchestra; Joey Nash, vocal
October 23, 1934 (Victor 24757-B)
Harry Leader And His Band; Sam Browne, The Carlyle Cousins, vocal
January 1935 (Eclipse 902-A)
Here is the very first recording of “Winter Wonderland” and the story of how a now familiar and beloved holiday classic came close to having been overlooked and forgotten.
The first recording of “Winter Wonderland” was this version presented here by Richard Himber And His Ritz Carleton Orchestra. The song’s lyrics were written in early 1934 by an obscure song writer named Dick Smith after he observed children playing in the snow from his window in a Scranton, Pennsylvania sanitarium where he was sick with tuberculosis. Smith took the lyrics to his friend, pianist Felix Bernard, who composed a tune to go with them. The song might well have been lost had it not come to the attention of Joey Nash, the vocalist for Richard Himber’s popular New York City society orchestra.
Decades later in the 1970s Nash recalled:
“A fan in my neighborhood, Bernie Smith, told me about a song his brother Dick, a patient in a Pennsylvania sanitarium, had co-authored with Felix Bernard. He showed me a penciled manuscript and played a wheezy, home-made recording of “Winter Wonderland.” I liked the unique, sleigh bells-snowman romantic lyrics and its lovely melody. I learned Donaldson-Douglas-Gumble music publishers had accepted the tune and evidently forgot about its existence.
I introduced “Winter Wonderland” on the air and on this Victor date [October 23, 1934] the band and I were scheduled to record it. Due to technical difficulties, time had run out and the session ended without the song being made. Himber had left the studio and the musicians were packing up. I so wanted to do this tune, I asked the band, as a favor to me, to try for a master. They agreed, but it would be a one-shot try. If something or someone fouled it up, well, that would be just too bad. (In those days, before tape recording, a rendition had to be faultless from start to end: if not, you had to do it again – and again.) It was a perfect performance…”
Joey Nash’s performances on Richard Himber’s radio broadcasts brought the song to the attention of bandleader Guy Lombardo who recorded his own version for Decca the day following Himber’s recording session. Lombardo’s recording was released in December and it quickly climbed to number 2 on the Billboard charts. Ted Weems recorded the song for Columbia on November 11 and it reached Billboard’s number 13 position.
I do not have a copy of either the Guy Lombardo or Ted Weems version – but I have included in this posting an exceptionally nice version from Great Britain recorded in January, 1935 by Harry Leader and His Band. This recording is from an eight inch Eclipse record. Eclipse was an in-house bargain label sold through the British branch of the F. W. Woolworth dime store chain.
“I’m Worried Over You”
Nathan Glantz And His Orchestra
March 7, 1924 (Edison 51336-L mx 9409
This acoustic Edison Diamond Disc features the first recording made by the Georgia Melodians – the actual band that hailed from Savannah, Georgia which eventually cut an additional fourteen sides for Edison before breaking up by the end of 1924. The records must have sold well as, after the band broke up, Edison continued to issue recordings using a different set of musicians under the “Georgia Melodians” name through 1926.
The song’s title “Wop Blues” would be considered “politically incorrect” today as it refers to a pejorative slang term used at the time for people from Southern Italy. Regardless of any issues with its title, it is an impressive recording and quite jazzy for the Edison label of this period. Thomas Edison had a well-known dislike for jazz and, despite being deaf in one hear and having 80 percent loss of hearing in the other, personally signed off on every recording issued. The label’s output of jazzier recordings increased after Edison turned day-to-day operations over to his son Charles in 1926.
“I’m Worried Over You” is typical early 1920s dance band fare. I think this one is quite charming – yet haunting.
“Signs Of The Highway”
Eddie Deas and the Boston Brownies; Eddie Deas, vocal
October 22, 1931 (Victor 22841-A)
Eddie Deas and the Boston Brownies; Eddie Deas, vocal
October 22, 1931 (Victor 22841-B)
Eddie Deas was a drummer who led an all-black territory band based out of New England. The band only recorded four sides, all of them in this October 22, 1931 recording session for Victor. The other two sides from the session were “(Everyone In Town Loves)Little Mary Brown” and “All I Care About Is You” – both of which can be heard on Radio Dismuke.
“Signs of the Highway” cleverly weaves advertising slogans from the era’s billboards into song lyrics. The song was composed Texas-based bandleader Sunny Clapp in 1929. Sunny Clapp and His Band O’ Sunshine made a recording of the song in a June, 1929 San Antonio field recording session for the Okeh label – but, unfortunately, it was never issued.
“Jes Shufflin'” is nice and jazzy – and makes one wish that additional recording sessions could have been possible for the band. But given the hard times and slow sales faced by the record industry in 1931, we should probably be grateful for the two records that they did make.
“Ooh! Hoo! You-Hoo!”
Johnny Hamp And His Orchestra; Andrew Freeman, vocal
June 5, 1931 (Victor 22730-B)
Here’s a catchy tune from the Great Depression that didn’t seem to have enjoyed much commercial success despite having been written by Harry M. Woods, a prolific composer who was responsible for many well-known songs of the 1920s and 1930s.
Indeed, this recording by the Johnny Hamp Orchestra is the only one that I was able to find reference to in either the USA or the UK – a bit surprising for a song by a famous composer of songs as well-known as “When the Red, Red Robin (Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along),” “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” and Rudy Vallee’s theme song “Heigh-Ho, Everybody, Heigh-Ho” which was performed weekly on his top rated network radio program.
“Love For Sale”
Jack Payne And His BBC Dance Orchestra
June 27, 1931 (Columbia CB 318 mx CA 11779)
Here is an instrumental recording of a Cole Porter song that, today, is regarded as a “standard” but whose lyrics were regarded as so risque and controversial when it debuted in 1930 that they were banned from radio air play in both the United States and Great Britain.
“Love For Sale” debuted in the Broadway musical production The New Yorkers and describes prostitution from the perspective of a prostitute. The critical response was so harsh that the show’s producers replaced the original performer, Kathryn Crawford, with Elisabeth Welch on the premise that white audiences and critics would be less offended if the role of the prostitute was performed by a black actress.
At this link you can read Elisabeth Welch’s account of how she came into the part and watch an amazing video of her performing the song’s full lyrics 50 years later at the age of 76.
In Great Britain the lyrics were banned from play on the BBC. I am not sure if there was a formal ban of them being performed on records. But there might as well have been as the closest thing to a vocal version by a British band I could find was Al Bowlly performing with the Roy Fox band in which Bowlly quietly scatted “la-la la” sounds instead of words. The other British recordings of the song besides the Jack Payne version featured here included the Eddie Grossbart, Howard Goodfrey, Nat Star and Jack Hylton bands- and all of them are listed as instrumentals.
In the United States, however, several vocal recordings were issued, the most famous of which was by Libby Holman. Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians made a recording with a vocal by the Three Waring Girls – which was appropriate as the Waring band appeared in the original Broadway production. Fred Rich’s band also made a recording with a vocal by Bill Cody.
In response to the controversy surrounding the song’s lyrics, Cole Porter was quoted as saying: “I can’t understand it. You can write a novel about a harlot, paint a picture of a harlot, but you can’t write a song about a harlot.”