Skeletons (1918) & Ghosts (1930)

If you enjoy these recordings help us spread the word that this wonderful, forgotten music exists by sharing this page with your friends.

Image from 1906 cover of Sunday Magazine of the Minneapolis Journal


“Skeleton Jangle”
Original Dixieland Jazz Band
(Victor 18472-A)  March 25, 1918


“Swamp Ghosts”
Wayne King and his Orchestra; Burke Bivens, vocal
(Victor 22600-A)  November 5, 1930


Since it is Halloween, here are recordings of a couple of songs with Halloween-appropriate titles in which the composer appears on the record.

Today it is commonplace for popular recordings to be performed by their composers. It was not as common in the days when the Tin Pan Alley publishers dominated the music industry and every record label would issue one or more versions of successful songs.

“Skeleton Jangle” is an early jazz recording from the pre-microphone era performed by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The band’s first record from a little over a year earlier, featuring “Dixieland Jass Band” and “Livery Stable Blues,” is regarded as the very first commercially issued jazz record. It was so early that the band was credited as the “Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band” as the correct spelling of the new musical genre had not yet been settled.

The group’s leader was cornetist Nick LaRocca who was also the composer of “Skeleton Jangle.” I don’t know the story behind why he chose “Skelton Jangle” as the song’s title or whether it had anything to do with Halloween. But Halloween offers a good excuse to share a really nice early jazz recording that pre-dates the January 1920 cut-off for inclusion in Radio Dismuke’s playlist.

The Wayne King orchestra’s recording of “Swamp Ghosts” has a definite Halloween feel to it. The vocalist on the recording is Burke Bivens who also composed the song. A few years later he composed the song “Josephine,” which became one of Wayne King’s best-selling recordings.

“Swamp Ghosts” was also recorded by “Snooks” Friedman and His Memphis Ramblers and issued on the short-lived Depression-era Timely Tunes label under the pseudonym of the “Paramount Hotel Orchestra.” Unfortunately, that record is extremely hard to find, as are most Timely Tunes issues.

Wayne King’s “Swamp Ghosts” has been in Radio Dismuke’s playlist for a number of years. But Halloween was a good excuse for me to upgrade it with a new audio restoration made from a copy in better condition than the one the previous restoration was from, which was not in particularly good condition when I acquired it years ago. But that beat-up copy was how I first stumbled across the song.

And if you happen to be someone who actively welcomes trick-or-treaters, consider having Radio Dismuke playing in the background. Not only will it expose them to really cool music they aren’t likely to have heard before – you can spook them by truthfully telling them that the music they are hearing is being performed by dead people!

If you enjoy these recordings help us spread the word that this wonderful, forgotten music exists by sharing this page with your friends.
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