This transcript of the radio show is an approximation of what I said in the show. The real spoken parts may differ slightly.
And today I will take you back to the deepest of the Great Depression, the years 1930 to '32. These years the effects of the '29 Wall Street Crash were felt at their hardest - and to the music industry the harsh economic situation was a devastating blow. Most of the twenties record companies had to either close their doors - like the legendary Paramount label - or very much slow down operations.
Only one company emerged - as a merger of several companies facing the hard times. That was the American Record Corporation, or ARC, that brought the Pathe, Cameo and Plaza companies together in 1930. Another merger in '31 brought in Brunswick and Columbia, with its Vocalion subsidiary, and the Consolidated Film Industries becoming the parent company of this conglomerate.
Some of the labels of the original companies were ended, other remained, either as store brands or as general labels. I'll spotlight the Perfect label today, once a brand of the French-international Pathe company. The releases on Perfect also got on numerous other ARC labels - I could as well have taken for instance the Banner label, or Oriole. I'll take releases from the Perfect 100 series that were released after the merger, and that combined race records with hillbilly - nowadays we would say rhythm & blues and country.
For the race records, ARC most notably was home to the Famous Hokum Boys, a loose aggregation around Georgia Tom Dorsey, Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red. They were not the only ones to use the name of Hokum Boys - on Paramount and OKeh, several ensembles had used the same name.
And I start with a record from these Famous Hokum Boys on Perfect number 147, the first that seems to have been released after the ARC merger. Here they are with the Black Cat Rag.
147 - Hokum boys - Black Cat Rag
162 - Georgia Tom - The Duck's Yas Yas Yas
Georgia Tom, one of the regular members of the Famous Hokum Boys, here under his own name with release number 162 on the Perfect label, that I spotlight today, here on the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman. You got the Duck's Yas Yas Yas.
More Georgia Tom here with a singer and she is, on the various releases among the ARC record labels, billed either as Jane Lucas or Hannah May. Who this woman is, remains unclear, that is, some think she is Mozelle Alderson, a twenties blues songster with a very own style, and I can only think that if these women are the same, well, then she definitely broke with the style she done on her sides for the Gennett and Black Patti labels. The name of Kansas City Kitty has also been linked to this mysterious Jane Lucas.
On the Perfect release she went as Hannah May. Here she is, togehter with Georgia Tom, with the hilarious Terrible Operation Blues, completely ridiculing the medical profession. The song after that, also features these two, but it's credited to the Famous Hokum Boys.
169 - Georgia Tom & Jane Lucas - Terrible Operation Blues
173 - Hokum boys - What You Call That
178 - Hokum boys - Pat That Bread
179 - Big Bill Broonzy - Tadpole Blues
The Tadpole Blues of Big Bill Broonzy and that was on number 179 of the catalog of the Perfect label. On the ARC labels he either was credited as Sammy Sampson or Big Bill, and most of his releases for Perfect list him as Sampson.
Before that you got one more of the Famous Hokum Boys, and I assume the uncredited female voice once more is this mysterious Jane Lucas or Hannah May.
Next two recordings of a duo named the Two Poor Boys, they were mandolin player Joe Evans and guitarist Arthur McClain. They were from Eastern Tennesee and their Appalachian rural style is very close the the hillbilly of the region, somewhat crossing the borders of White or Black musical styles, borders that, at a time and in a region, may not have existed as much as we think now. Well let's call it country blues. I didn't like all of the output they done for the ARC labels, some is just too much hillbilly music to my ears. So I chose two, the John Henry Blues and the Shook It This Morning Blues.
181 - Two Poor Boys - John Henry Blues
184 - Two Poor Boys - Shook It This Morning Blues
Tennesse-based Joe Evans and Arthur McClain, two country blues and country musicians, on the Perfect label from a session done in May of 1931. These two were from somewhere deep in East Tennessee, playing a style that's as close to white country music as it was to the blues.
Next the guitarist Sam Collins, with the song that gave him his later stage name - Salty Dog. Collins was among the earliest from Mississippi to be recorded, in 1927 for the Gennett label, and that was before Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson made it to the grooves. On ARC's Perfect label, that I spotlight today here on the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman, here he is with the Salty Dog.
193 - Sam Collins - New Salty Dog
196 - Beale Street Washboard Band - Forty And Tight
On the label credited as the Rampart Street Washboard Band, this combo also recorded as the Beale Street Washboard Band - indicating a completely different city - not very unusual. You got Forty and Tight, and the flip of it, Piggly Wiggly, is playing in the background right now.
The band has the Dodds brothers on board, 'Baby' Dodds was the drummer and we know him for the percussion on recordings of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. The other Dodds played the clarinet in the same combos and he is one of the greatest clarinettists of his time. Then the White pianist Frank Melrose, the brother of the important producer Lester Melrose, also known as Kansas City Frank, and often seen in the Black establishments of Chicago's South Side, and finally trumpeter Herb Morand, and we find him back in the late thirties as one of the members of the Harlem Hamfats.
The two recordings were done in '29 for Vocalion, and ever since ARC merged with Columbia, the backlog of that label is often featured in re-releases of the ARC labels. Now I guess the harsh economic situation of the early thirties made that there were no independent record companies of any importance left, actually, the only competitor to ARC was RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, when they acquired the Victor Talking Machine Company in '29 and established RCA Victor.
Depression era records were pressed in much smaller quantities than the records in the twenties and sales began to rise only in the last years of the thirties and it's surprising how many discs survived. Also, the holdings of these record companies never ceased to exist, and that means that a lot of the masters survived, now in the archives of almighty Sony music for both companies.
Next the blues singer Lucille Bogan, on the ARC labels billed as Bessie Jackson. We're talking the issue 197 of the Perfect label. Here she is with the Black Angel Blues.
197 - Lucille Bogan - Black Angel Blues
203 - Sam Collins - I'm Still Sitting On Top Of The World
Sam Collins, billed as Salty Dog on the label, with I'm Still Sitting On Top Of The World. This blues was first recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks, written by the band members Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon and it got numerous covers - some as Things About Comin' My Way.
Next the Memphis Nighthawks, and on the label they were billed as the Alabama Rascals, with the Georgia Grind.
205 - Memphis Night Hawks - Georgia Grind
207 - Big Bill Broonzy - How You Want It Done
When you look up this song on Youtube, the poster has put this up commenting it as the Roots of Rock 'n Roll - and I must say, this How You Want It Done of Big Bill Broonzy, it very much echoes the rockabilly artists of the fifties - this could well have been Johnny Cash or Elvis - or rather, makes their rockabilly echoes of this blues. It proves, once more, that the ingredients for our modern music come from far in history - you might well forget that this was recorded in 1932. And this is exactly why I dig so deep in the history of African American music - much deeper than other radio programs that say they spell out the history of Rock 'n Roll.
I wonder what the influence of this song has been. I never heard of any of the greats of the Rock & Roll era, citing this blues as a very important influence. Still I never found anything closer to rockabilly so early as this one, and it proves that the sounds that shook the nation in the second half of the fities, had been around for twenty-five years, sitting in the grooves of a forgotten record, recorded and released in the deepest of the Great Depression.
Many discussions - pretty useless ones - have been held over what would be the very first Rock 'n Roll record. Without a proper definition of Rock 'n Roll, everyone is right in their own opinion. I tend to see Rock 'n Roll as a social and cultural change in American history - where white teenagers became the new audience defining American popular culture. For that - this is of course way too early. But just stylistically - I go for this 1932 blues, as the First Rock 'n Roll Song.
I have one more artist on the ARC labels to highlight. Not just one more - and two A&R men from ARC were sent out to South Carolina to find this talented bluesman who had recorded such wonderful blues three years before for Paramount. They found him in his mother's home in Greenville recovering from a broken leg, and they persuaded his mother to bring the seventeen year old boy to New York promising he would only get to sing gospels. And they indeed recorded them, billed as Joshua White, the Singing Christian. But under the name of Pinewood Tom, he also done some of his best blues. Listen to two of them - the Downhearted Man Blues and first the Bad Depression Blues.
208 - Josh White - Bad Depression Blues
The great Josh White under the name of Pinewood Tom with the Bad Depression Blues. White would stay in New York, and work himself up to the most prestigious venue in town, the Cafe Society where he got to know the Roosevelt family and become close friends with them. In these days, he released a whole box set of historically important civil rights songs, titled Southern exposure, An Album of Jim Crow Blues, and upon request of Franklin Roosevelt, he performed them in the White House and he discussed segregation and discrimination with the President - still a very important moment in African-American history.
And so a set on a few releases of a record label became an important history lesson - apart from Josh White, today we had that remarkable blues of Bill Broonzy that sounds closer to Rock 'n Roll than anything in twenty years since. These are the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman, and that is why is dig so deep in the history of African-American music, cause I don't want the music to be forgotten, the music that shaped all of our nowadays popular music.
You can of course tell me what you think - feedback is greatly appreciated and you can send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And all of today's story, you can find it back on the website of this show, and easiest way to get there is to search the web for the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman. Once in, in that long list of episodes look for show number 246 or search for the Perfect label.
That was all for today, listeners, and please be patient, cause next week there will be more great Rhythm & Blues, here on the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman!