The Legends of the Rocking Dutchman - episode 269

Paramount, 1930

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'll bring you to the year 1930, with releases from the legendary Paramount label. This for sure was a hard time because the effects of the stock market crash of '29 were now to be felt, with wages cut, workers laid off and a rapidly growing unemployment.

1930 and '31 were the last years for the Paramount corporation. I'll tell you more about the circumstances but first some music, and for that I start with number 13,000 of the Paramount Race series catalog, and that is Tommy Johnson with the Black Mare Blues.

13000 - Tommy Johnson - Black Mare Blues
13002 - Oliver Cobb - Cornet Pleading Blues

A double-sider of trumpeter Oliver Cobb - the Cornet Pleading Blues and the catalog of Paramount had quite some records that has split the song over the two sides of the disc. Of course that was a convenient way to work around the limit of three minutes and some twenty seconds, but halfway you had to flip the record over, so in most cases the band made it to somewhat of an end after the first half and a start-over on the flip.

Now Oliver Cobb was a St. Louis based trumpeter and the leader of an ensemble named His Rhythm Kings and Louis Armstrong was his great idol. Cobb died young, at age 25 shortly after his last session - he drowned in the Mississippi river in Davenport, IA during an epileptic seizure.

Also from the St. Louis scene was Roosevelt Sykes and his recordings for Paramount went under the name of Dobby Bragg. Sykes recorded for several labels at the same time, hence his nicknames. In 1930 he was just at the beginning of his recording career. Later he moved to Chicago and there he became one of the leading bluesmen.

Here he is, under the name of Dobby Bragg, on Paramount 13004 with Three, Six & Nine.

13004 - Roosevelt Sykes - Three, Six & Nine
13005 - Charlie Spand - Big Fat Mama Blues


13006 - Little Brother Montgomery - No Special Rider Blues
13010 - Frances Wallace & Clara Burston - Frankie And Clara

Now that was a whole lotta music, four in a row with the last one again a double-sider. But I'll tell you what I brought you in sequence, so after Roosevelt Sykes' Three, Six & Nine, you got the Big Fat Mama Blues of Charlie Spand - a boogie woogie pianist who'd earned a living on Detroit's Hastings Street during the twenties, but in '29 he moved to Chicago and he teamed up with Blind Blake. Blake's guitar work is heard on many of Spand's recordings.

Then after the jingle, that was Little Brother Montgomery with the No Special Rider Blues. Eurreal Wilford Montgomery as his real name was, went by the nickname of Little Brother when he started to play in New Orleans barrelhouses at age eleven - highly influenced by Jelly Roll Morton, a friend of the family. From 1928 to '31 he stayed in Chicago and that's when he did his early recordings.

And then finally you got Frankie and Clara, a double-sider that Frances Wallace and Clara Burston named after themselves. Both women had a small output on Paramount and other labels - Brunswick, Gennett. Frances Wallace later showed up as the vocalist of the band of Speed Webb - a popular band in the twenties and thirties, but from their only recording session nothing ever was released.

Next another double-sider, of guitarist and bluesman Son House. Not that he'd always been a bluesman, he started his career as a pastor. At age 25 he suddenly made a career switch to the blues - maybe after finding out that his drinking and womanizing habits conflicted with his religious work, but for sure after he heard a bluesman play the bottleneck guitar. He seemed to have a talent for guitar playing, and within a short time he was a professional bluesman but his career soon was interrupted by a few years serving in the Parchman Farm prison, and upon his release he was told to stay away from his hometown Clarksdale, MS. He met Charlie Patton and his musical friends and together they headed North to Grafton, WI to record for Paramount.

From this session is, on Paramount 13013, his Preaching The Blues.

13013 - Son House - Preachin' The Blues
13014 - Charley Patton - Going To Move To Alabama

Going to Move to Alabama - that was Charlie Patton on Paramount 13014, released in 1930 and that was the last year that Paramount commecially was succesful. Paramount was founded as a brand by a company that manufactured chairs in 1917. In 1922 they pressed the records for the Black Swan label, the first Black-owned record label, and when that folded, they started their own Race series recording the artists of their former business partner.

Now the 12000 and 13000 Race series, it was by far the most lucrative business part of Paramount - in fact the only department that made profit. It was somewhat headed by J. Mayo Williams - the succesful producer had no official position with Paramount but he was crucial to its succes.

But by 1927 Williams quit working for the label, and left the Race series in the hands of his secretary Aletha Dickerson - that is, without any notice. She suddenly found herself being the de facto recording manager of Paramount, but soon she fit the job well, and kept the department, and with that the label afloat for a few years. She quit in '31 after the management of the label had to cut on her wage - not realizing how bad the Depression had hit the country.

Now I doubt if Aletha Dickerson would have been able to keep the label in business in such hard times, but the absence of a recording manager for the only profitable part of the company, now I guess it will have sped up the demise of Paramount. At the deepest of the Great Depression, Paramount stopped recording in 1932. On a very small scale, the company continued up to 1935 when it finally collapsed.

Legend has it that angry former employees have thrown the masters into the Milwaukee river, but divers never found anything. More likely they've been sold for scrap metal. Since no masters survived, re-issuers of Paramount material have to rely on surviving 78s. You'll notice a lot of shellac hiss, cracks and pops in this show. Also, quite some numbers in Paramount's catalog, I've not been able to play them, simply because they're lost to history.

In the tiny town of Grafton, Winconsin, once the headquarters of the company, the only thing left to remind us of that once so glorious company is a blues train marker and the Paramount Plaza at the heart of the village. And I suppose, the constant invasion of blues singers and jazz musicians in this small community, it will well have created a special atmosphere. The musicians didn't stay in Grafton though - Paramount boarded their musicians in Milwaukee's Brewers Hill neighborhood, a 25-mile drive from their headquarters.

Time for some music now. On Paramount 13015 we find Blind Leroy Garnett & Marie Griffin. Here is Blue and Disgusted.

13015 - Blind Leroy Garnett & Marie Griffin - Blue and Disgusted
13016 - Blind Blake - Ain't Gonna Do That No More

Ain't Gonna Do That No More - you got Blind Blake, one of Paramount's most recorded and most succesful musicians. Blind Blake probably was born blind in Jacksonville, FL, and seems to have moved back and forth between his hometown and Chicago. He made his last recordings for Paramount in 1932, just before the demise of the label, and he died of tuberculosis in 1934.

Next a mainstay of the Chicago blues scene - Roosevelt Sykes. Here he is with Bee Turner with the Jivin' Jelly Roll Blues.

13017 - Roosevelt Sykes with Bee Turner - Jivin' Jelly Roll Blues
13018 - Edward Thompson - Showers Of Rain
13022 - Charlie Spand - Soon This Morning No. 2

You got another three in a row - after Roosevelt Sykes that were the Showers Of Rain of the obscure Alabama bluesman Edward Thompson. That is, if he came from Alabama, cause there's no indication at all of his origins, but for some reason he was included in several Alabama blues compilations. Thompson done six recordings for Paramount.

And last for today's show was This Morning No. 2 of Charlie Spand, and the no. 2 in the title tells us, this is a re-recording. At Paramount they were not uncommon, re-recordings, as a lot of takes, also released ones, they had serious sound quality issues. Ever after the acoustic era, Paramount's sound and shellac quality has been below average. Still, having released about a quarter of all African-American records in the years their 12000/13000 race series existed, they've been a very important factor in twenties blues.

Now - in this program you'll get that authentic shellac sound more often - it's either playing these survived records, or playing none at all. You tell me - and you can leave comments at Feedback is greatly appreciated.

Today's story, you can read it again in case you missed something - easiest way to get to the website is to search Google for the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman, and it will show up first. Once in, look for episode number 269 - or for the name of Paramount in that sheer endless list of episodes I don up to now.

Well for now I'm done. There's more to come next week. Until then, stay at this station, and I hope to see you again, here on the Legends of the Rocking Dutchman!