The Chicago Express
Music by: Percy Wenrich
Lyrics by: none, piano solo
Cover artist: unknown
From midnight trains to express trains, we move on to one of Percy Wenrich's
masterpiece March Two-Step works. Similar in construction to the Paull
Midnight Flyer, we have another stirring march that seems to fit nicely
with the express train image. For many of you, the steam engine is nothing
but history, for those of us who grew up in the age of steam engines,
there is something special and nostalgic about them. In the late 40's,
we lived at my Grandmother's house. Right at the back of the yard was
a main rail line and I can still remember laying in bed listening to the
wail of the steam train whistles and the chug-chug of the steam trains
as they went by every night. There is no sound as haunting as a distant
steam whistle on a quiet night (click on the link and you can listen
to a wav file of one). The most trouble I ever got into was playing on
the train tracks, in fact, I still remember that my sister and I were
planning on going to see "The Wake of The Red Witch" (1948) at the theater
down the street but I got grounded and didn't get to go because mom caught
me walking the rails. Isn't it funny how memory works (or doesn't sometimes).
The good news is, I eventually did get to see the movie.
One of our loyal ParlorSongs fans, Jim Dening of Michigan also tells
of wonderful memories of trains; "some of my happiest times have
been when riding trains and I surely was sorry to see the advent of diesels
and eventually the extinction of the great railroad passenger trains.
Whether it was an Electroliner from Chicago to Milwaukee, a "400" on the
Chicago & Northwestern, the Super Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles, the
Columbian to Washington, DC, the James Whitcomb Riley to Cincinnati or
whatever, they were all wonderful; the Pullmans, the Diners, the Club
Cars, the Vista Domes, and especially the crews on the trains!. I often
travelled with my mother and younger brother and when we got out of the
taxi at the station I remember how glad we were when we found a "Redcap"
to help us with our bags. Those guys worked hard and were genuine good
will ambassadors for the railroads." We have another great Wenrich
work, The Auto Race, appearing in this
month's essay about collecting sheet music.
Percy Wenrich. (b. Jan. 23, 1887, Joplin, Mo, d. 1952, NYC). Wenrich
wrote a number of hit songs many of which were of the rag genre (see The
Smiler in our catalog for one of his best). Wenrich, came from a musical
family. His mother taught him to play the organ and the piano while he
was still a child. A little later, he would write melodies and his father
would write the lyrics. Often, his songs were heard at conventions and
political rallies. When he was 21 years old, he enrolled in the Chicago
Music College, and while there had two of his songs published by a Chicago
publisher; Ashy Africa and Just Because I'm From Missour" Among
his biggest hits were: 1909, Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet, lyric
Stanley Murphy, 1912 Moonlight Bay, lyric by Edward Madden, 1914
When You Wore A Tulip, lyric by Jack Mahoney. In 1914 he scored
the Broadway show Crinoline Girl and in 1921 the Broadway show
The Right Girl, 1926 the Broadway show Castles in the Air and
in 1930 scored the Broadway show Who Cares?. He was married
to the famous performer, Dolly Connelly and performed with her in vaudeville.
My Merry Oldsmobile
Music by: Gus Edwards
Lyrics by: Vincent Bryan
Cover artist: unknown
Perhaps no other song epitomizes the automobile themed song as this one.
Used in commercials, shows and just for fun, this song is in my opinion,
the defining song for automobile related transportation theme music. Much
sought after as a collectors item, this song can easily fetch $25 or more
in auction. I managed to find my copy buried in among some rather unattractive
music in an estate sale and paid next to nothing for it; sometimes you
get lucky. Not only is this song one of the earliest automobile related
songs, but it is also one of the first to point out the love attraction
value of the auto which has continued to this day. A wonderful waltz with
a memorable tune and lovely lyrics, there is no way this song could have
avoided being a huge hit. The Oldsmobile brand is one of the oldest still
in production. In 1895, Ransom Eli Olds, a manufacturer of stationary
gasoline engines, teamed up with Frank Clark, the son of a small carriage
shop operator, to achieve what many believed impossible. They successfully
produced a self contained, gasoline-powered carriage. Hoping to capitalize
on the innovation, R.E. Olds and a group of Lansing businessmen invested
$50,000 to create the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897. At the first
board meeting, Olds was named general manager, and the mission was set
"to build one carriage in as nearly perfect a manner as possible." (From
the history of the oldsmobile found at
http://www.oldsmobile.com/) Sadly, late last year,
General Motors announced that the brand would be discontinued soon so
it looks like the song will outlive the car, not unusual in automotive
Gus Edwards b. Aug. 18, 1887, Hohensalza, Germany d. Nov. 7, 1945 Los
Angeles, CA. (nee: Gus Simon). Gus is remembered today not only as a songwriter,
but as one of our greatest vaudevillians. Gus' life is, perhaps, the quintessential
story of an entertainer's career. His family emigrated to the Williamsburg
section of Brooklyn, NY when Gus was just 7 years old. During the day,
he worked in the family cigar store, and in the evenings, he wandered
looking for any sort of show business job. He found work as a singer at
various lodge halls, on ferry boat lounges, in saloons, and even between
bouts at the athletic clubs. He worked as a song plugger at Koster and
Bial's; Tony Pastor's and the Bowery Theater. In 1898, while performing
in a vaudeville act, Gus wrote his first song, to a lyric by Tom Daly,
All I Want is My Black Baby Back. Gus couldn't write music at that
time, so he hired Charles Previn to write down the notes. 1905 Gus formed
his own music publishing company. Over the years, Gus scoured the country
looking for new, young talent to star in these revues. He found such future
stars as Lila Lee; Groucho Marx; Eddie Cantor; Eddie Buzzell; George Jessel;
The Duncan Sister; George Price, and many more. He became known as "The
Star Maker". In 1940, Paramount Pictures starred Bing Crosby in a film
biography of Gus' life, The Star Maker.
Music by: George L. Cobb
Lyrics by: none, piano solo
Cover artist: unknown
Just a year after the Oldsmobile song, the great ragtime composer George
L. Cobb produced this wonderful March Two-step that honors the chauffeur.
From the looks of the cover art, I doubt any of us would want to ride
with this maniac for it appears as though he is about to lose control
of his speeding vehicle. Musically, Cobb has done a magnificent job of
depicting velocity and the excitement of a fast automobile ride. I have
been somewhat critical of the march formula as being rather repetitive
but in the hands of a master composer who can devise a good melody and
add drama to the music, a march two-step can be an exciting work to listen
to. Cobb has done that with this work in my opinion.
Last month we featured another of Cobb's works and provided this biography:
"George Linus Cobb ( b. Mexico, New York on August 31,
1886, d. Brookline, Mass. December 25, 1942) was best known for his Ragtime
works such as Russian Rag (featured in our Ragtime
Edition in June, 1999). Educated at Syracuse University, he won a
composition contest in Buffalo with the song Buffalo Means Business.
He started out writing mostly Rags then moved to NYC and started writing
songs in Tin Pan Alley. He went to work for Boston publisher Walter Jacobs
and later became editor for Jacob's music magazine The Tuneful Yankee,
later changed to Melody. and wrote a monthly column giving advice
to would be songwriters. His first published rag was Rubber Plant Rag,
in 1909. That was followed by Canned Corn Rag in 1910 and Bunny
Hug Rag in 1913. That same year he collaborated with the great Jack
Yellen and wrote the hit song All Aboard For Dixieland. Cobb seemed
to find a "zone" with the Dixie songs and wrote several other
big hits with Dixie themes including the million seller, Alabama Jubilee
in 1913 and a later hit Are You From Dixie? in 1915. The afore
mentioned Russian Rag was written in 1918 and it too sold over
a million copies and became a perennial vaudeville virtuoso favorite for
many years. The song was such a hit that the publisher asked Cobb to write
another Rag using the same Rachmaninoff prelude as a basis. Cobb then
penned The New Russian Rag. Both Russian Rags are considered masterpieces
and are still favorites of skilled pianists the world around."
Have To Get Under - Get Out And Get Under
Music by: Maurice Abrahams
Lyrics by: Grant Clarke & Edgar Leslie
Cover artist: E.H. Pfeiffer
By 1908, the auto was more ubiquitous and was becoming a common sight
on the roads. It still had its love attraction but by then we had learned
the downside of owning an automobile; they break. At that time, they broke
more often than not and as such, the driver needed to be both driver and
mechanic in order to complete even the most routine of trips. This song
presented us with a musical reality check. We hear the story of Johnny
O'Connor who dressed up in his Sunday best to take his sweetheart out
for a ride and then:
Things were just dandy 'till he got down the road,
Then something happened to the old machinery,
That engine got his goat, Off went his hat and coat,
Ev'rything needed repairs.
Sadly for Johnny, things just went downhill from there for "he
was dying to cuddle his queen, but ev'ry minute when he'd begin it, He'd
have to get under, get out and get under." The best laid plans
oft go astray, and it was pretty much guaranteed back then.
Maurice Abrahams was born in Russia in 1883 and died in NYC in 1931.
He was a popular composer and lyricist, writing a number of popular songs
including some we have featured in past issues such as The Pullman
Porters On Parade in our February,
2000 issue about the artist E.H. Pfeiffer. Some of his other hits
include, Hitchy Koo, 1912, Oh, You Million Dollar Doll,
1913 and Cowboy Joe. He started his own publishing company in 1923
and was married to the popular singer Belle Baker.
The Old Grey Mare
(The Whiffle Tree)
Music by: Frank Panella
Lyrics by: unknown, traditional
Cover artist: unknown
We have spent a great deal of time looking at the mechanized transports
but how can we leave out the grad-daddy of all transportation, the dependable
horse. Here we have one of the most remembered horse songs of all time.
This song is sung in the armed forces and is a fireside song for the Boy
Scouts as well. An interesting bit of trivia here is; what is a whiffle
tree? I'll bet plenty of farmers know and I'll bet horse trainers know,
but to most of us, it is some sort of odd vegitation. Maybe it is the
source of gopherwood? Actually a whiffle tree is the wooden members and
cross members that harness animals to a cart or wagon. The next great
mystery is the origins of the words to the song. Some attribute it to
Banjo Anderson, a late 19th century, early 20th century poet, but I cannot
find any confirmation of that. It is clear from the words that the words
had their origins during a war (Oh! The Old Grey Mare was fighting at
the front) and some attribute it to the first world war but given the
date of the song, I doubt the WWI connection, it would be more likely
to be associated with an earlier war. The composer, Frank Panella does
not take credit for the words and they are actually published on the inside
cover of the sheet music, separate from the music.
As for the origins of the melody, we have some solid evidence to indicate
Panella was not the creator of it. According to A History of Popular
Music in America (1948 by Sigmund Spaeth), , the song actually has
its origins in an 1858 song by J. Warner titled, Down in Alabam'.
According to Spaeth, "this song was the original version of what
is now known as the Old Grey Mare. Its words dealt with an "old hoss"
that "came tearin' out de wilderness" and the tune is very nearly
identical with what has become one of the world's most familiar basic
melodies." Other resources credit the final version of the melody
we know today to Panella but the origins of the words are still shrouded
in mystery. If any of our readers can settle the question of origins,
we would be delighted to hear from you. In the meanwhile, click here to
see and listen to our scorch
version of Down In Alabam' from 1858 and decide for yourself,
is this the original Old Grey Mare melody? The lyrics of this original
don't quite match up to Spaeth's but it was not uncommon for Minstrels
to change lyrics. I believe the version we have scored is the true original.
(Web TV viewers, click here for the MIDI
version). I think it just might be that Mr. Panella borrowed a tune
from the past.
Frank Panella is also a mystery. All of my references only mention this
one popular song though I am sure he must have written others given the
success of this one. We do know however that he published 39 marches of
which On The Square is his best known and is still in print and
is regularly performed by school and brass bands. This arrangement of
the Old Grey Mare is unlike any I have heard before and is very
unusual containing a trio in the middle. It is also interesting to see
the original lyrics, most of which are not sung anymore. The song is a
little long as presented here but I recommend listening to it completely
through so you can see how the original compares to what we hear today.
Since our original publication of this issue, we were contacted by one
of the lyricists Panella worked with, Mr. Joseph Keating who related this
interesting anecdote and personal insight into Panella to us:
"I was about 12 or 13 when I met Frank in the early 1940's. He
was in his 60's and was the boyfriend of my aunt Hester O'Toole who
was about 35. Hester showed Frank some poems that I had written and
he asked me to write words to his music. World War II had just started
and he wanted a song about Hitler, something that would make fun of
him. I wrote the words to Heel Hitler Heel. Frank liked them
and had it copyrighted and published. He had copies distributed to army
camps all over the country. My name was on the single sheet. There was
no picture. Frank gave me $20.(a week's pay for my mother at the time),
and said I stood to make money if it caught on, which unfortunately
it didn't. I've often regretted that I was so young and he was so old
when I knew him. I think I could have colaborated successfully with
him if I were older. I've always had a knack for making up words to
current hit songs.
He (Panella) was a good looking man, conservatively well dressed, almost
aristocratic in appearance. There was a quiet gentleness about him.
I don't think there were any other songs (composed by him, ed.) other
than Heel Hitler Heel. Incidentally, the music for Hitler,
he took from one of his own already published marches: The Mothers
Of Democracy march. From things that my aunt Hester told me I,
think Frank was conflicted about the success of the clonky Old Grey
Mare. He made a lot of money from it; more than all his other serious
works together. It was a cause of chagrin for him. He was a serious
musician. During the years I knew him, old as he was, he played saxophone
in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra when the famous, nasty tempered,
genius Fritz Reiner was the conductor. You had to be (very) good to
play for Reiner. Reiner developed Leonard Bernstein as a conductor.
Bernstein considered Reiner one of the all time greatest,but also one
of most humourless, meanest of conductors. (you can find this on the
web). Reiner was known to stop in the middle of a composition and demand
someone in the orchestra to identify a note or the key played by an
I sometimes think Frank Panella didn't especially like popular music.
My aunt Hester played great popular piano jazz, blues, pop, honky-tonk,
you hum it, she could play it. Hester played in movie houses when the
films were silent. She was 15 or so. Sheet music came with every new
movie. She accompanied the story of the movie on the piano. At our family
parlor singalongs over the years Hester could get everyone laughing
by playing from memory any movie scene you could think of. Say villain
and she played villain music, say storm, she played storm, say drunk,
say sad, say scary, say anything she played it. It was great. But she
didn't play classical music unless it was a movie theme. Hester told
me once that Frank didn't like her piano playing. But there was one
thing about her musical talent that fascinated him. She had perfect
pitch. She could identify, just by hearing, any note, any key, played
by any instrument."
Our thanks to Mr. Keating for taking the time to share this information with us. So much of our history seems to be misplaced and it is important to preserve these kinds of accounts so that all of us can better understand our musical heritage.
you have seen our featured songs, be sure to read our Essay
On Collecting Sheet music for more information about sheet music and including
four more great transportation themed songs; Taxi, Motor King, Auto Race
and the great classic train song Casey Jones, The Brave Engineer.
We hope you have enjoyed this month's feature. We appreciate
your interest in our efforts to bring you the best American popular music history
site on the web. Be sure to tell your friends and family about us. If you have
suggestions for themes or issues you would like to see in the future, please
contact us. We will see you back next month for a new feature about a different
subject area of transportation theme music, boats, ships and the high seas.
Whatever floats your boat! We'll also have an essay about sea shantys and the
origins of "work songs". You won't want to miss it so stay tuned!
Have a great month.
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