The Legends of the Rocking Dutchman - episode 253

Decca Sepia Series

This transcript of the radio show is an approximation of what I said in the show. The real spoken parts may differ slightly.

And for today you will get another show on the Sepia series of Decca, the numbers 8500 and up, that were released in the early forties as the more upscale records compared to the 7000 Race series. And you know listeners, just three weeks ago I made a vow that I would start over with spelling out that 7000 series all from the early beginnings in 1934, but much longer ago, I told you that I would do the same with the Sepia series.

So now I'm running two series on one of the most influential record labels for pre-war Rhythm & Blues, and today I start where I left you more that three months ago on the Sepia series, with number 8586 of the catalog. And that is of Skeets Tolbert and his Gentlemen Of Swing as his band was named. Here is Jumpin' In The Numbers.

8565 - Skeets Tolbert & His Gentlemen Of Swing - Jumpin' In The Numbers
8566 - Sam Price - I Know How To Do It

Sam Price was that with his band the Texas Bluesicians, rather some studio musicians than a real band, but it were some top notch musicians, including saxophonist Don Stovall and trumpeter Emmett Berry, and one session had Lester Young on board.

Next a group that were active from the late twenties. George "Bon Bon" Tunnell and his Buddies broke up in 1931, when times were tough on any musician. But he formed a new vocal group named the Three Keys that recorded sixteen songs and performed in New York and London. He also sang with the orchestra of Jan Savitt, one of the rare mixed racial combinations as Savitt's outfit was an all-white ensemble. The Bon Bon and his Buddies that recorded for Decca were another group that he led, and from his Decca sessions, here is, from a somewhat worn-out 78, Blow Gabriel Blow.

8567 - Bon Bon & His Buddies - Blow, Gabriel, Blow
8568 - Mabel Robinson - Don't Give Up The Old Love


8569 - Erskine Butterfield - You Should Live so Long
8570 - Jay McShann - Vine Street Boogie

That were four in a row - after Bon Bon Tunnell's Blow Gabriel Blow, that was Mabel Robinson backed up by a small ensemble named the Four Blackamoors with Don't Give Up The Old Love. The Blackamoors done a few vocals and four takes with Mabel Robinson that were included on a Document CD titled Jazzing The Blues. And if you wonder what a blackamoor is - it's a small sculpture of African males in European art of the 16th and 17th century.

Then after the jingle that was on Decca 8569 pianist Erskine Butterfield with You Should Live so Long. Butterfield recorded both for Decca and Joe Davis, with a mixed race combo including clarinettist Jimmy Lytell and guitarist Carmen Mastren.

And then finally you got the Vine Street Boogie of Jay McShann - and in the background you hear the flip of it, his big band goodie Swingmatism. Most of McShann's recordings included just a few members of his band, while on tour you would get his full size swing outfit.

Next on number 8571 the trio of Nat King Cole. Here is This Will Make You Laugh.

8571 - Nat King Cole - This Will Make You Laugh
8572 - Three Bits Of Rhythm - I Am Lonesome

I Am Lonesome - that were the Three Bits of Rhythm, a vocal group that had two releases on Decca - and a few more between '45 and '48 on the Modern Music label, but that was with a different lineup. It's the electrical guitar of Hurley Ramey spicing up this rare goodie.

Next on number 8573 of the catalog, the band of Buddy Johnson with his sister Ella on vocals. Here is the flip of It's the Gold, I'm my baby's baby.

8573 - Buddy Johnson - I'm my baby's baby
8575 - Sam Price - Boogie Woogie Man

The boogie woogie man of Sam Price on Decca number 8575 - with his Texas Blusicians. Price started with Decca in 1938 as a session pianist, mostly to back up many of the blues singers of the label.

Next the great pianist Art Tatum with a blues where his singing very much sounds like Walter Brown in his Confessing the blues, but the piano playing is definitely not Jay McShann's. The flip Lucille also is a good blues - I will play it in a next show. Here is Decca number 8577 of the Sepia series - Art Tatum with Rock Me Mama.

8577 - Art Tatum - Rock Me Mama
8578 - The Delta Rhythm Boys - Take the 'A' Train

A catchy tune that's been lingering in my head for a week now - Take The A Train in what's perhaps the most famous vocal version, done by the Delta Rhythm Boys.

The A-train started as an instrumental - written by Billy Strayhorn in 1938. For legal reasons, Ascap member Duke Ellington had to turn to a composer of the competing copyright organization BMI. Strayhorn initially had discarded the A-train, cause it reminded him too much of a Fletcher Henderson composition. Now Strayhorn said he had lyrics for it, but they were never used. The lyrics that the Delta Rhythm Boys used were written as vocalese over the instrumental that Ellington already had in his repertoire for three years when it was recorded in '41. A vocalese means that without actually altering the music, the melody line was done by the vocal - kinda like an arrangement, but often, and that's also the case in this one, you hear the difficulties that come from melody lines meant for instrumentals are often somewhat more complex than for songs, and also, fitting in good lyrics can be a challenge.

Later, Ellington added different lyrics to it, that was in 1944.

The A-train is about the new subway line that went from Brooklyn to Harlem - and of course you had to get out on 145 street where all the cats meet. And still you can take the A line to get to Sugar Hill - that was the home of the elite of the Harlem Renaissance, the African Americans who had made fortune in business, art and music. Both Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway were residents of Sugar Hill - an area between 145 and 155 street.

The Delta Rhythm Boys version featured in a soundie and on record - the vocal version of Duke Ellington made it to the silver screen and both you can find on Youtube.

Next the band of Skeets Tolbert with a composition of the band leader - and the first version of this song. I know several versions of it, most known is done by Saunders King. Here is the Big Fat Butterfly.

8579 - Skeets Tolbert & His Gentlemen Of Swing - Big Fat Butterfly
8580 - Mabel Robinson - You Don't Know My Mind

And that was one more of Mabel Robinson backed by the Four Blackamoors with You Don't Know My Mind, number 8580 of the Sepia series of Decca that I spotlight today, here on the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman. The series was started to give African-American musicians a headstart into the market for general audience, and that included a better marketing budget, and most of the music was somewhat more on the popular side when you compare them with the 7000 Race series that was intended for the African-American market only. Now this Mabel Robinson record, I would rather have thought it in that 7000 series.

But then the next one, it completely fits in the 8500 series. In fact, Louis Jordan eventually would move to the popular series - with his goodtime happy and light songs he became increasingly popular, also with the white public.

Here he is with Boogie Woogie Came To Town.

8581 - Louis Jordan - Boogie Woogie Came To Town
8582 - Pete Johnson - Pete's Mixture
8583 - Jay McShann - Hold 'Em Hootie

Recorded in Dallas, TX in the same session as the Vine Street Boogie that I played earlier this hour. That was Jay McShann with Hold 'em Hootie - and Hootie was the nickname of McShann. He led a full-size swing orchestra but Decca recorded only a few sides with the full band. For some reason, Jack Kapp, the executive producer of the label, rather saw Jay McShann as a good blues pianist than the qualities of his big band - in a time when those big bands definitely weren't out of fashion yet. It won't be for the qualities of the band - it had some great names on board and the three surviving recordings with the full band, they all were great tracks.

McShann was drafted to serve the military in 1944 and that meant the end of his outfit. After the war he never regrouped his band and he started to lead small combos and focus on Rhythm & Blues.

Cause that is, listeners, the Rhythm & Blues in fact can't be music from before 1948 - cause that's when the word was invented. I tend to call all of the music that I play Rhythm & Blues simply because it's much easier to say than pre-Rock 'n Roll African American music. I hope you understand and forgive, my faithful listeners, and just dig the music and the stories that come with it. Well of course you can let me know and send e-mail to - feedback is greatly appreciated.

And all of today's stories - in case you missed something there's my website to read it back, and to get there, just type Legends of the Rocking Dutchman in Google or Bing or whatever your favorite search engine is - they all know me. Once in, look for show numer 253 in that long list of episodes that I done, or the fourth on the Decca Sepia series.

For now time's up so have a rocking day, and I hope to see you next week, here on the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman!