Above: A collage of some of the great Blues music covers from the early 20s.
The Blues, Blues Songs or Just Pop?
This first song may illustrate just how far popular music composition strayed from the original blues. First, the composer Klickmann may be about as far as one can get from the African American roots of the genre despite the fact that he did write many Ragtime and other "southern" style works, his general style of music was closer to the classical than the Blues. Second, somehow we've gone from the blues to a lullaby and one that bears little resemblance to the blues. The cover mentions that Klickmann and Frost wrote the song Hawaiian Moonlight and this piece bears more resemblance to that work and the stereotyped "Hawaiian" guitar effect used in "Hawaiian" songs of the period. Listen to Hawaiian Moonlight (Scorch) and you'll definitely hear the resemblance in the chorus, it's nearly the same as the verse in this song..
The song begins in a sleepy and languid fashion, effectively bringing sleep to mind. In fact, it easily could put you to sleep in the introduction and verse. The introduction is also reminiscent of the opening of other songs I can't quite put my finger on. The music is enjoyable in spite of the borrowed flavor. The chorus (Hawaiian Moonlight?) is nice and makes for a pleasant lullaby tune if you can imagine yourself on a warm beach being serenaded by Hawaiian guitar tunes. Despite the niceties of the song, I've failed to hear a signature "blue note" nor can I see any real resemblance to the style and form of the blues. The song is quite simply a good example of how composers often tied into a fad with a title but often missed the mark as regards the music.
F. Henri Klickmann (1885 - 1966) also wrote, Floatin' Down to Cotton Town in 1919 with Jack Frost and Waters of The Perkiomen in 1935. Klickman was an extremely versatile composer having written many instrumental and ragtime compositions such as A Trombone Jag (1910) and High Yellow Cake Walk and Two Step (1915) as well as a wide variety of songs. Interestingly, Waters of The Perkiomen was originally a work for accordion. Klickmann wrote quite a few pieces for accordion and is one of the more popular composers for that instrument. In addition to all this, he also wrote "classical" style music, including a concerto for tenor sax. Klickmann wrote a large number of ragtime works that are popular in today's resurgence of ragtime interest. A simple search of the Internet will return many, many references to his music and a number of sites that feature his music.
He was well known as not only a composer but as an orchestrator and arranged music for a number of acts including the famous Six Brown Brothers who were responsible for the popularization of the saxophone in vaudeville and recording. Klickmann composed a number of pieces they recorded in 1916 and 1917 as well as published commercial arrangements of them including the tune Chicken Walk. There is an audible improvement from 1914-15 in the sophistication of the writing attributed to Klickmann. Klickmann composed in a wide range of popular styles and his hits include; Sweet Hawaiian Moonlight (Sibelius scorch format); Good-Bye (1914) a "hesitation waltz"; Knockout Drops Rag; The Dallas Blues (1912), and My Sweetheart Went Down with the Ship, a 1912 tear jerker about the Titanic. With a long and fruitful life, Klickmann turned to arranging in later years and arranged some of Zez Confrey's great piano jazz works such as Kitten On The Keys.
Hear this "waltz lullaby" blues song (Scorch plug-in required)
How much simpler and descriptive could a title be? The title is more
a statement of the genre than perhaps a title within that class. The subtitle
adds some substance and clarification. The fellow on the cover is Marshall
Montgomery, a rather formal looking gent and in my mind a far cry from
the sort of sport who'd be a blues singer.
As the song begins, we hear an introduction that is straight out of the Tin Pan Alley popular song Fox-trot cookbook. With that introduction, it seems remote that we'll hear a genuine blues song. However, the composers do add an immediate surprise with a distinct blue note in the Vamp and throughout the chorus. And though promising, that is about the end of the resemblance. The song is a little too upbeat in places and evolves into a fairly nice standard pop tune. The lyrics provide an interesting pattern we'll see fairly often. The lyrics enumerate a number of different sorts of blues that one can be infected with. The blues of worry, lonesomeness, pain, longing and best of all, the blues from being married are all covered in the chorus. For some reason, this pattern appears in a number of "blues" songs from the period. Perhaps the writers thought that enumerating the various kinds of blues would make their own special blues, (in this case, the ones a naughty sweetie gives to you) all the more painful by comparison. For a real treat, listen to this MIDI from a piano roll provided by Terry Smythe.
The biographical information for team of writers of this work seem to have dissolved into the past but they left behind a wealth of songs that are commonly found in collections or on the net. Swanstone was lyricist for a number of other blues songs including, Broadway Blues (1920) and The Bonus Blues (1922). He also wrote lyrics for several other non "blues" songs. Charles R. McCarron (1891 - 1919) obviously died shortly after writing this song. Among his other credits are Oh Helen! (1918), When The Lusitania Went Down (1915) and Oh, How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo (1914). Morgan wrote a number of songs with Hawaiian titles including Hawaiian Sunshine (1916) and My Own Iona (1916). He also collaborated with Swanstone and McCarron on several of the above mentioned songs.
Enjoy this old blues song ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band is still going strong today thanks to Jimmy LaRocca, son of Dominic LaRocca (back row, left on the sheet music cover.) The ODJB was founded in 1916 by LaRocca and they were credited as the first group to record a jazz work, The Livery Stable Blues in 1917. They were inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2006 for their groundbreaking 1917 recording of Darktown Strutter's Ball. They are also credited by some as initiating the great period of American music known as the Jazz Age. For plenty of history on this amazing group see their website. Googling them will bring you a wealth of information about them. This song, often recorded from 1919 till 1940 was written by Harry Ragas, the pianist for the group.
Of all the songs this month, this one perhaps captures the spirit of the blues best. As one website said about their music "The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who billed themselves "The Creators of Jazz", have long been been dismissed as the White guys who copied African-American music, and called it their own. There is a lot of truth to that statement, but on the other hand, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band's recordings still hold their own unique charm, over 80 years after their initial release." (From redhotjazz.com) I think in many respects, this song shows that the OJDB not only copied the Blues but also mastered them. The construction of this piece is unique and shows that the composer did not use the standard pop song formula. The opening verse is sung twice (with different lyrics) then we move into a through composed section that is not necessarily a chorus but a new melody that introduces the idea of "Bluin' the Blues." At the end we encounter another set of verses that are repeated but with no return to the "chorus." The piece sounds very "bluesy" and is definitely very different from the standard popular song construct of the period. If we look at the definition of a blues song at the beginning of this article, we can see it does not strictly fit that form either and there is no easily identifiable "blue note," yet the piece is still deserves a place in the blues repertoire. For a fabulous piano roll version of this song, listen to this MIDI by Terry Smythe that was recorded from a piano roll made the year the song was released and played by Ragas' successor, J. Russell Robinson. It is fabulous and played much more up tempo than we've presented it.
Henry Ragas was a jazz pianist who played with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band on their earliest recording sessions. As such, he is the very first jazz pianist to be recorded (not counting piano rolls), although his contributions are barely audible due to the primitive recording equipment available. He died of Spanish Flu in 1919, his place in the group being taken by J. Russell Robinson.
Listen to and see this interesting song (Scorch plug-in needed)
Music by: Gus Mueller, "Buster" Johnson & Henry Busse
Words by: Leo Wood
Cover artist: unknown
With a rather enigmatic title, never really explained in the lyrics, the Wang Wang Blues were penned by a trio of performers from Paul Whiteman's orchestra. Busse, a trumpetist later formed his own band. It's unclear how Wood (the lyricist) became the odd man out. The other members of the team were a clarinetist (Mueller) and trombonist (Johnson). The song was recorded by the Whiteman orchestra on Victor and later, Busse had his own version recorded by Decca. The duo on the cover are Van & Schenck, the fellows who introduced the song in the Ziegfeld follies of 1921.
The piece begins with a short introduction and then to the verse which has a bit of a jazzy sound and a touch of blueness but no real blues construct or notes. The chorus is a little less bluesy and a bit more on the pop side of things melodically and in sound. After the first pass at the chorus, the song jumps to a "patter" section. Around this time, in conjunction with the start of the jazz age, many songs had a patter section. It was a bit of an intermezzo but more of a spoken line of "cute" dialog meant to be spoken more than sung. In classical opera, such a section is called recitative in which the lines are spoken in meter with a musical background. Patter is usually characterized by comedic content. After the patter, the song returns to the chorus. Another unique feature of this song is that it has but one verse. A great song, but again, in my opinion, not really the blues except in name only.
For a period performance, listen to this MIDI from a piano roll provided by Terry Smythe. The performance is interesting in that it seems to have more of a Ragtime flavor than blues. For an exciting improvisation, listen to this MIDI from an Art Tatum arrangement.
Hear and see the score to this oddly titled song (Scorch format)
The music has a blues flavor and even includes a few erstwhile blue notes along the way. Musically, the piece is very complex and creative. It could be a blues song but still holds on to the pop style of the period. The composer uses a number of interesting ornaments (lots of grace notes) and includes some dense harmonies. Some passages include some dissonance that really adds to the experience. This piece is perhaps the most musically advanced work featured this month but the lyrics never really do tell a complete story. It is a real winner but falls short of being a true blues song.
Billie and Anna Wekler Brown. When we first wrote this article, we made the terrible mistake of assuming that the songwriters for this song were a Husband & Wife team. The name Billie coupled with Anna led me down the garden path. Well, as it turns out a couple of our most astute readers, Nora Hulse and John Dawson quickly let me know that Billie was a woman, not a man. Color me red faced. According to a very interesting article by Mr. Dawson, Billie was born on June 19, 1903, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas to a "saloon keeper" "Billy" and his wife, Anna Welker. In 1913, the family moved to Kansas City. Billie with an "ie" was what many would call a musical prodigy. She wrote at least seven songs, most in collaboration with her mother as lyricist. Her first publication, a set of variations on the traditional Hawaiian standard Aloha-Ae, was published by the Owl Drug Store Company at 10th and Main in Kansas City in 1915, when she was only twelve years old. By 1915 Billie was employed as a pianist at the Finance Cafeteria, which was located in the basement of the Finance Building at 1009-13 Baltimore.
In 1916, Shower of Kisses Waltz was published , again by Owl and was credited as "by Anna Welker Brown, arranged by Billie Brown." In 1918, Owl again published a collaboration by Billie and Anna, entitled The Star and The Rose. In 1921, the same year she published "The Dangerous Blues, Billie and Anna wrote Lonesome Mama Blues, music by Billie, with lyrics in collaboration with E. Nickel. That same year, they also wrote Lullaby Moon, a lovely and sweet ballad, in the style of a barcarole.
On December 24 of 1921, Billie, died of smallpox at Kansas City's General Hospital. Her death certificate misspells her name as "Billy." So I guess I'm not the only one who was mislead by her name. It is a shame that such a terrific talent was struck down at such a tender age. Though her years as a composer were limited, her music had an impact and was quite popular. One can only imagine what we could have seen had she survived. Many thanks to Mr. Dawson for providing us with these essential facts. He spent many years of difficult research to ferret out Billie's life story and we all owe him a debt of gratitude for preserving this important information.
Be careful, this is a "dangerous" song ( Printable with the Scorch plug-in)
Another often expressed blue state of mind is geographic, that is the wistful sad feeling of separation from a place that means a great deal to you. In this case, it is simply the state of Kentucky. The cover notes with some honesty of disclosure that the song is a "Fox-Trot Novelty Song." That would seem to eliminate the song from any real contention as a true blues song. At least the writers and publisher exhibited a truth in advertising honesty. The cover photo is of "Nelson & Cronin" who sang the song "with great success in the Broadway Brevities at the Winter Garden." I also want to note that this piece represents the first song from another of our generous and important collection donations from Ric Manning, of Indian who donated a fabulous collection of music amassed by his father over several decades. We are grateful that Mr. Manning and others choose to entrust us with these special documents from our musical past.
The opening bars of this song clearly establish that this song is definitely not a blues song, just one about blues. But, it is such a delightful melody and chorus that you just have to be happy listening to it. Gaskill created a wonderful melody and added a superbly creative bonus in the repeat of the chorus. He's inserted a counter melody to be sung by a second voice that overlays the tune and lyrics for There's No Place Like Home. Listen carefully and you can hear it in the repeat of the chorus. To make things even better, Gaskill added a very pleasant Patter that enumerates a few other kinds of blues one could be infected with. We then return to the chorus for one last time. This is my discovery of the month song, a very pleasant find and thank you Mr. Manning!
Clarence Gaskill (1892 - 1947) As a child Gaskill played piano in local theaters then later he toured Vaudeville as the Melody Monarch. He owned his own publishing house for while still a young man. Gaskill served in the US Army during W.W.I. He wrote songs off and on and though he has a slight output, several of his songs are noteworthy. In 1922 he wrote the score for a stage show, Frank Fay's Fables which was a flop. He also wrote songs for Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1925. That show enjoyed a long run but unfortunately none of Gaskill's songs became popular beyond the show's run. Occasionally he also wrote material for night club revues. Among his more important songs are; I Love You Just The Same Sweet Adeline (1919), Doo Wacka Doo (1924), and Prisoner of Love (1931).
Listen to this classic song (Scorch plug-in)
The Wabash Blues is one of those occasional songs we publish twice. In this case, our first publication was in MIDI form only and we did not provide lyrics. This reissue corrects that and now you can enjoy the song using the Scorch plug-in and see the music as well as listen. Back in 1999 we said about this song: "As time passed, the blues evolved and in many cases, the use of the word blues in some songs was not at all an indication that a song was a true blues work. Such is the case for some of the songs that we have in this month's gallery such as The Wang-Wang Blues and The Teepee Blues. One of our most popular works at parlorsongs, Limehouse Blues is not a true blues piece musically speaking. Composers began using the term blues as a title enhancment and ignored the musical definition." That pretty much sums it up today as well.
This song has enjoyed a long history of popularity and is still regularly performed today, especially in Indiana I suspect. The song had two hit records issued the first year it was published. One recording was by Isham Jones on Brunswick and the other by the Benson Orchestra on Victor. For a period performance, listen to this MIDI from a piano roll provided by Terry Smythe.
You'd think that with a song of this stature Ringle and Meinken would merit some mention in the various references we have in our library. I was quite surprised to find nothing. Meinken is credited with a very few other songs including the Virginia Blues (1922) and the Clover Blossom Blues (see below) in the same year. Ringle however was lyricist on quite a few songs other than this one including; There's a little church in Walpack (he also composed it, 1947), Carolina Blues (1922), Roll On Mississippi Roll On (1931) and Louisiana Home in 1921.
Listen to this great old song (Scorch plug-in)
Given such an interest in the Blues, how could the Dean of American song, Irving Berlin resist dipping his toes in to test the water? This work is one of the very few songs written by Berlin after 1913 that was not composed and written exclusively by Berlin. The cover is certainly nothing to write home about, in fact, I think it is downright ugly but by 1922 Berlin's name was all that was needed to sell a song. One would expect someone of Berlin's stature to provide an authentic musical experience and he does not disappoint us with this work. This song is one of the few in this month's feature that captures the blues feeling and though not constructed strictly according to the musical definition, does convey the feeling and sound quite well.
Marked "moderato lamentoso" Berlin gives us instructions about how he wanted the song played, a little somber and slow. Berlin includes the necessary blue notes along the way and tonally, it has that melancholy mood a blues song should carry. The verses are extraordinarily long, much more so than most popular songs which often rush to get to the payoff chorus melody. Just as the verse is long, the chorus is short and sweet. Though usually the chorus of a song is indeed the most memorable, in this case, Berlin has created a verse that subordinates the chorus to an obligatory post script. Throughout the verse and more noticeably in the chorus, Berlin adds a basso ostinato line of arpeggiated or simple 5ths that adds a somber tone. As usual, Berlin does not let us down. This is a second discovery of the month and we are glad to bring this one back from the attic.
For a period performance, listen to this MIDI from a piano roll provided by Terry Smythe. This roll was played by J. Russell Robinson and in my opinion he plays it far too up tempo to satisfy Berlin's markings. The result is a piece that comes across more as a honky tonk or ragtime work. Though I love the old piano rolls and admire the skills of the notable performers who made them, sometimes they are played differently than I personally think they should be. Of course that is mainly for the sake of entertainment which they always manage to provide.
Irving Berlin. Born Isidore Baline in Temun, Russia, in 1888, Berlin moved to New York City with his family in 1893. He published his first work, Marie of Sunny Italy (Scorch format) in 1907 at age 19 and immediately had his first hit on his hands. It was at that time he changed his name to Irving Berlin. His total royalties for this first song amounted to 37 cents. In 1911 the publication of Alexander's Ragtime Band (MIDI) established his reputation as a songwriter. He formed his own music-publishing business in 1919, and in 1921 he became a partner in the construction of the Music Box Theater in New York, staging his own popular revues at the theater for several years. Berlin wrote about 1500 songs. One unique fact about Berlin is that he was not able to read or write music or play the piano except in one key (F sharp). He picked out melodies or dictated them and had assistants fill in the harmonies and accompaniment for him. Berlin never seemed to give credit for these very talented people. In his later years, he had a special device attached to his piano that allowed him to transpose any song into his "favorite" key. His initial start in the music industry was as a singer and then as a lyricist. It was only after great success in writing lyrics that Berlin turned to melodies.
Whether for Broadway musicals or films, for humorous songs or romantic ballads, his compositions are celebrated for their appealing melodies and memorable lyrics. His many popular songs include There's No Business Like Show Business, God Bless America, and White Christmas. In 1968 Berlin received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. On September 22nd 1989, at the age of 101, Berlin died in his sleep in New York City.
It is almost impossible to provide a meaningful biographical sketch of Berlin in only a few words, he is perhaps the most celebrated and successful composer of American song from the Tin Pan Alley era. Way back in November of 1998 we did a feature on Berlin's music, which we updated early in 2003. In addition, we have added a more extensive biography of Berlin for those who want to know more about him.
Listen to this Berlin "Blues" song (Scorch plug-in)
This is another of the few works by Meinken we've found. In this case, he's teamed up with some powerhouse names in the business to deliver yet another blues titled song. There is an interesting error regarding the songwriting team. The cover lists Gus Kahn, Ernie Erdmann and Fred Meinken as the songwriting team. However, on the title page inside there is no mention of Kahn. Rather, he is replaced by Gilbert Keyes. You'll see this when you use the Scorch player to view the music. I've reproduced the inside information exactly as it appears on the music. This is a mystery. My guess is that they re-used a cover from another song (a very common practice) and the art department forgot to change Kahn's name on the cover. The is one other possibility, that Kahn wrote the lyrics using the pseudonym Gilbert Keyes and the art department messed up with that too. I've not found any other songs crediting Keyes so this is a distinct possibility I've not yet been able to confirm.
As expected with this group, the song bears no resemblance to a true blues song. It is however, a very upbeat and happy song despite the blues name tag. As with a couple of other songs this month, there is a patter section that acts as a nice interlude. The Patter has two verses. The patter melody may come as close as anything in this song to having a bluesy sound but the bottom line is that this is a jazzy fox-trot number not a blues song.
Ernie Erdman wrote a large number of popular hits in the early 20th century, many of them with lyricists Roger Lewis and Gus Kahn. Among his greatest hits are The Hours I spent With Thee, (1915) with Roger Lewis , Tee Pee Blues, (MIDI) 1922, That Peculiar Rag, (1910) lyrics F.M. Fagan, , Toot-Toot-Tootsie (Goo'bye) (Scorch format) (1922) with Gus Kahn and Nobody's Sweetheart in 1923, also with Gus Kahn.
Listen to this grand old song ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)
For our last piece we have a second wonderful song from the Manning donation. The title is about as simple as one can get and even the cover can give us the blues. The happy pair on the cover are Jay and Milt Britton and the caption goes on to say, "and the Regent Orchestra." The Regent does have a few recordings from the 20's to their credit but unfortunately, little can be found about them.
The song though is certainly well known and is still heard from time to time as one of the lasting classic songs from our early musical heritage. I'm sure you'll find the chorus familiar, probably not the verse. Of course, as with almost all of the songs this month, it's not even close to being a true blues song. It is purely from the Tin Pan Alley mold. For a period performance by the famous Zez Confrey, listen to this MIDI from a piano roll provided by Terry Smythe.
Lou Handman (1894 - 1956) Born in New York in 1894, Handman came of age touring in vaudeville and playing piano for soldier shows in the First World War. He then hit Tin Pan Alley, where he was a song plugger for Irving Berlin and an accompanist to vaudeville star Marion Harris. Shortly thereafter, he began writing his own songs, creating a string of hits that would be sung and performed by the most important radio and recording artists of the time. Songs like Me and the Moon, No Nothing, Was it Rain, Blue and Broken Hearted, and his biggest hit Are You Lonesome Tonight? filled the airwaves and the dance halls of the era. (From http://www.louhandman.com/bio/index.html) For more about this outstanding Tin Pan Alley composer see the above website.
Grant Clarke ( b. 1891, Akron, OH - d. 1931, California) who was also a major hit lyricist from the period. Clarke wrote material for such greats as Bert Williams and Fanny Brice. He was a publisher and also a staff writer for several NY music publishers. His hits include a number of classics including Am I Blue? and Second Hand Rose.
Edgar Leslie ( b. Dec. 31, 1885 Stamford,
CT., d. 1976)
Listen and see this "Blue" song (Scorch plug-in required)
This article published February, 2007 and is Copyright © 2007 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author or an officer of the corporation. Though the songs published on this site are often in the Public Domain, MIDI renditions are protected by copyright as recorded performances.
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