Archive for the ‘1940’ Category

‘Grey’ or ‘Gray’?

April 7, 2020

Here’s one of those questions that writers ponder every once in a while: Is it “grey” or “gray”?

If I had a copy of the Associated Press stylebook here, I imagine it would say “gray.” For many years, in my own writing, I used “grey,” probably just to be contrarian. And, in a typographical sense, I think it looks better. I think, though, that my usage has shifted toward “gray” over the past few years, but how consistently, I’m not sure.

But which is preferred? And what is the difference, if any? The folks at the Grammarly website say that “gray” is preferred in the U.S., while “grey” is more common in other English-speaking countries. The website goes on to say:

Both gray and grey come from the Old English word grǽg. Over time, many different spellings of the word developed. The Middle English poem “The Owl and the Nightingale,” which was written in the twelfth or thirteenth century, uses the spelling “greie.” The fourteenth-century translation of the French poem “Roman de la Rose” uses the spelling “greye.” “Graye” can be found in the poem “Piers Plowman” written by William Langland in the second half of the fourteenth century. Examples of the spellings we use today can also be found in Middle English literature.

By the eighteenth century, “grey” had become the more common spelling, even though the legendary lexicographer Samuel Johnson thought that “gray” was a better version. In the nineteenth century, English dictionaries followed Johnson’s cue and prescribed “gray” as the correct version, but to no avail. By the twentieth century, “grey” had become the accepted spelling everywhere except in the United States.

So let’s look at “grey” and “gray” on the digital shelves.

First, there’s the song “Grey Goose” as recorded by Lead Belly (born Huddie Ledbetter) and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet for the Victor label in June 1940.

“Grey Goose” is a traditional tune that tells the tale of a preacher who hunted a goose that was impossible to kill, to cook or to eat. Wikipedia says the implication of the song is that the preacher had not properly observed the Sabbath (although the website notes as well “there are other folk songs which may or may not have existed before this song . . . that have a similar theme of the grey goose being indestructible.”)

I found the version by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet on the CD Leadbelly: Take This Hammer, one of the eleven CDs in the series titled When The Sun Goes Down: The Secret History Of Rock & Roll. The series was released by RCA Victor and Bluebird in the early years of this century.

(A note on the spelling of Huddie Ledbetter’s performing name: For many years, since I first heard of the man when I was maybe in junior high school, I had seen it spelled as one word, “Leadbelly.” In recent years, I have read that Ledbetter actually spelled it as two words: “Lead Belly.” That’s the spelling used on his grave stone and it’s what Wikipedia uses.)

Here’s how Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet sang “Grey Goose.”

Almost fifty years later, Sweet Honey In The Rock recorded the song for the 1988 compilation A Vision Shared, a Folkways release that offered covers of songs written by Woody Guthrie and written by or associated with Lead Belly. But the song was titled, for some reason, “Gray Goose.” Here’s what Sweet Honey In The Rock did with it:

“Grey” or “gray,” take your pick. Either one works in this case.

‘Another Man Done Gone . . .’

May 29, 2014

So, what do we know about “Another Man Done Gone”? The tune has led me on a merry chase (well, maybe not so merry, considering the subject matter of the song) since I posted the version of the song that Jorma Kaukonen recorded for his 1974 album Quah. The first item on my list was to find out where the song came from.

In the notes to the 2003 CD reissue of Quah, Jeff Tamarkin writes that “Another Man Done Gone” is “another one of those ancient blues standards whose origin is shrouded in mystery. Although credited on Quah to Ruby Pickens Tart, Vera Hall and folklorists John and Alan Lomax, other versions have assigned its authorship to any number of persons, among them Johnny Cash, Sonny Boy Williamson, C.C. Carter and Woody Guthrie – or Public Domain.”

The earliest version I’ve been able to find of the tune is the one performed by Vera Hall that was recorded by John Lomax in Livingston, Alabama, on October 31, 1940.

I believe that’s the Lomax recording. According to the information at Discogs, Alan Lomax also recorded two versions of the tune during visits to prisons in the south around the same time, but I’ve not heard those or seen the documentation. Someday, maybe.

In the meantime, we have Hall’s haunting a capella version as a starting point. Odetta offered a similar version on her 1957 album Odetta Sings Ballads And Blues. I was puzzled by the last verse of Hall’s version of the song, which sounds like “I’m going to walk your log.” A discussion at the Southern music board, where folks better informed than I share their ideas, seemed to come to no conclusions as to what the verse means. The phrase “walk your log,” the discussion said, sometimes appears in blues and folk songs as meaning “I’ll get the better of you” (perhaps from log-walking and -rolling contests, one poster theorized), while another poster thought the line might be “a tribute from a fellow prisoner, who will pick up the workload/log of his departed comrade.”

As versions of the song multiplied during the folk/blues boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, some other lyrical elements showed up along the way. The spare version that Johnny Cash offered on his 1963 album Blood, Sweat and Tears includes the additional lines “They hung him from a tree/ they let his children see” and “When he was hangin’ dead/ the captain turned his head.” By the time Kaukonen recorded “Another Man Done Gone” for Quah, the lines “They set the dogs on him/they tore him limb from limb” had become part of the song.

As I wandered through discography websites and versions of the tune this week, I came across a couple of head-scratchers. The spooky and somewhat weird 1959 version by Lorrie Collins turns the tune into a song of lost love and credits Johnny Cash as the writer. (Lyrically, it is a different song, though the melody remains the same.) I don’t know who Cash originally credited in 1963, but the current listing for Cash’s version at AllMusic Guide now credits the quartet of Tart, Hall and the Lomaxes. (Tart, if you’re wondering, was an Alabama folklorist whose work was similar to that of the Lomaxes and who assisted them during their travels in that state.) The other puzzle I found came from the credits of Harry Belafonte’s 1960 album, Swing Dat Hammer, on which the writing credit goes to Anita Carter of the Carter Family, which I find odd, as the Carters never recorded the song, as far as I can see.

Well, anyway, it’s a haunting song still, and versions of it keep showing up. The bluesman Sugar Blue included a nice version on his 1979 album Cross Roads; Irma Thomas added some lyrics for a post-Katrina version that was included in the Paste Magazine Sampler Issue 24 in September 2006; the Mercy Brothers, a Boston duo, recorded an intriguing version of the song for their 2008 album, Strange Adventure; and there are no doubt others out there worth hearing that I missed.

One of my favorite current versions of the tune hews pretty closely to Hall’s version from 1940. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group from Durham, North Carolina, described by Wikipedia as “an old-time string band,” included the song on their 2007 album, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind.

‘Way Out In California . . .’

December 26, 2013

Post-Christmas busyness is taking over my schedule this Boxing Day, but come tomorrow, I’m going to dig a little into the history of a song that began as an English folk song, stopped off as a work song/chant and eventually morphed into a couple different things.

Here, from what I know, is how “Stewball” sounded as a work chant, as performed in 1940 by Lead Belly and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.

Instrumental Digging: 1900-1949

May 23, 2013

Having caught the instrumental bug with Tuesday’s post about Paul Mauriat’s “Love is Blue,” I’ve continued in the past few days to dig into A Century of Pop Music, Joel Whitburn’s cataloging of the top records for each of the hundred years from 1900 through 1999. I wondered which instrumentals had ranked highest in the year-end listings in each of the decades of those hundred years.

So I did some digging in the book and at YouTube to satisfy my curiosity, and I thought I’d share the results here. We’ll look at the years from 1900 to 1949 today, and early next week, we’ll pick up the much more familiar years of 1950 through 1999.

There won’t be any in-depth commentary here today, because I really wouldn’t know what to say about, for example, Paul Whiteman, whose name shows up a couple of times in the 1920s. I know a very little about Artie Shaw, who shows up in the 1930s, and I know a bit more than that about Glenn Miller, who had (utterly unsurprisingly) the highest ranking instrumental of the 1940s, but I thought it better to leave this as simply a listing.

I will note that, again unsurprisingly, the music generally becomes more interesting to my ears the closer we get to mid-century. The one exception to that might be “Dardanella,” from 1920, which is a charming piece of music (and I found the photos used in the “Dardanella” video embedded below to be fascinating).

Here, then, are Billboard’s highest ranking instrumental from each decade’s year-by-year listings. Each record is also, I believe, the most popular instrumental of its decade (with the exception of the two Whiteman records listed below, which ranked second and third for the decade of the 1920s), but I’m not entirely sure; I’ve cross-checked the lists in Whitburn’s book, but I could have missed something. I’ve added in parentheses each record’s ranking for the decade if it showed up in Whitburn’s listing of that decade’s Top 25.

“The Stars and Stripes Forever” by [John Philip] Sousa’s Band, No. 7 in 1901*.

“Poor Butterfly” by the Victor Military Band, No. 3 in 1917 (No. 32).

“Dardanella” by Selvin’s Novelty Orchestra, No. 1 for 1920 (No. 2).
“Wang Wang Blues” by Paul Whiteman, No. 1 for 1921 (No. 24).
“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” by Paul Whiteman, No. 1 for 1923 (No. 18).

“Begin the Beguine” by Artie Shaw, No. 3 for 1938** (No. 20).

“In the Mood” by Glenn Miller, No. 1 for 1940 (No. 3).

I believe the videos all offer the original recordings, though I cannot be certain as there could be multiple versions. For example, Miller and his band seem to have recorded “In the Mood” several times, and Miller’s band also recorded the song after Miller’s death in 1944. I’ve dug through my library and compared versions, and I think that the version of “In the Mood” linked here is the original version, recorded in August 1939. I would not swear in court the same for the other tunes.

*I could not find a video at YouTube that offers the 1901 version of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” There are versions of the march from a recording session in 1911 and from a few other years available there. One thing I learned about the 1901 version – at several websites and forums – is that the recording is credited to “Sousa’s Band” and not to “John Philip Sousa” because Sousa disliked recording and was rarely present to conduct when his band and his works were being recorded.

**“Good-night, Sweetheart” by Wayne King, the No. 2 record for 1931, is listed by Whitburn as an instrumental, but the listings also credit Ernie Birchill for a vocal. I gave it a listen, and the record does close with a vocal, so that’s a rare error by Whitburn.

Amended slightly after first posting.

Saturday Single No. 27

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 25, 2007

One more indication of the passage of time: I used to see my friends at weddings, and then at baptisms. And now, we meet at funerals.

I talked Tuesday to both Rick and Rob, my childhood friends. Their mother, 91, was not doing well. After a few days in the hospital, she’d been moved to a hospice, and it was just a matter of time, Rob told me. But she was alert and comfortable, he said.

The inevitable call came the next morning. And so did the memories.

In every neighborhood full of children, there is, I imagine, one home where the kids congregate. In our neighborhood, it was Rick and Rob’s house. They and their three sisters filled the house with friends, and their mom welcomed all of us with a smile and a great tolerance for juvenile noise and mischief. From the time I was three until my last visit about a month ago, that smile was constant every time I walked through the door.

I’m sure there were times when we tried her patience, those of us who were her children’s friends and found her home a good place to gather. I recall times when there had to be at least twelve or more visiting kids in the house, as friends of all five of her children gathered on a rainy day or perhaps in the cold of winter. It could get noisy, whether that noise was the pounding of footsteps up and down the stairs, the sounds of a cap gun battle in the wilds of the basement, the beat of pop and rock music coming from a portable record player or two, or the raucous din of eight teens of various ages playing the card game Pit at the kitchen table.

The Soviet Union used to award a medal called the Hero Mother Award or something like that. Rick and Rob’s mom deserved whatever equivalent we could come up with. Not just for welcoming all those friends for all those years, although a smile in the face of twenty or more years of rambunctious children and teens is heroic enough. There were other, more serious challenges she faced through the years.

She was widowed thirty-five years ago, with three of her children yet to graduate from high school. In the past twenty or so years, she faced challenge after challenge to her health: a heart attack, open-heart surgery, breast cancer and lung cancer. And every time, she dealt with it, got back up and went on, living her life in her long-time home – which she shared with one of her daughters – and sitting late into the night in her favorite chair by the window, reading book after book.

At the same time, her home remained a haven, a safe and kind place to visit for the four who had moved away, for their spouses, and for her eleven grandchildren. Just as it was a haven for at least one of those kids who grew up in the neighborhood, one who now wishes he’d visited a lot more often than he did.

Her family and friends said goodbye to her today, laying her to rest next to the husband she lost so long ago. There were – as there should be at all such occasions – tears and laughter both. As we waited to go into the church, I had a chance to ask Rob if he knew what some of his mom’s favorite popular music was. He called over his youngest sister, who lived with their mom. She said their mom liked Frank Sinatra. So for Rick and Rob, and for their three sisters, and most of all, for their mom, here is Frank Sinatra backed by the Tommy Dorsey Band in 1940 performing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” today’s Saturday Single.

Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Band –
“I’ll Be Seeing You” [Victor 26539, 1940]

A Few Tunes From An Earlier Time

April 1, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I figured it was time to make sure that my family and I knew the names of all the folks in all the pictures my dad took over the years. So I went to the storage unit where we keep all the stuff Mom couldn’t fit into her apartment and found a cardboard box full of slides. Mom and I have been spending a couple of afternoons each week, looking at slides, identifying who was pictured and jotting all the information into a notebook. (Luckily, Dad wrote the date and place on most slides over the years; that information would be more difficult to figure out.)

I’m (slowly) entering the information into a database – one spreadsheet for each large box of slides – and just as slowly converting the slides to digital images. The boxes we’re looking at right now hold slides from the late 1950s and the early and mid-1960s, so we’ve seen some terrific pictures of friends and relatives long gone. And there have been a few laughs, as well. (I may post one or two of the images here, if they seem to help illustrate a post.)

As well as finding the first of the boxes of slides at the storage unit, I also found a box marked CDs. So I dug into it, and I found some CDs that Dad bought in – I would guess – the early 1990s. There were a few that intrigued me, collections of music from the time of World War II and the years that bracketed that war. So for the last week, when I haven’t been looking at slides or working on the photo project, my spare time has been filled with ripping those CDs and then digging for original release data about the tunes. (The CD sets have poor, if any, notes. The best source for that information has been the Online Discographical Project and its associated search site.)

And I got to thinking as I was listening to the music of my father’s youth and young adulthood: what if I’d pushed the starting date for the Ultimate Jukebox back ten years, starting in the late 1930s instead of the late 1940s? Don’t worry. I’m not going to do that. But wondered for a few minutes about what recordings might have been contenders.

Here’s the first one I thought of: Tommy Dorsey’s version of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” with vocals from a young Frank Sinatra. It was recorded, I believe, on February 26, 1940, in New York City.

Next, I thought of something by Benny Goodman, and after dithering for a while, I settled on the studio version of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” with the amazing Gene Krupa on drums. (The version from Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert is great, as well.) The studio version in the video below was recorded, as far as I can tell, on July 6, 1937, in Hollywood.

The third song I thought about – and this is as far as I went – was one for my Dad. We were talking once years ago about his time in the Army and the Army Air Corps – he enlisted sometime in the late 1930s, before World War II, and served through the war’s end in 1945 – and I asked him where he’d traveled during those years. He told me a few tales about his wartime service in India and China, but he said he’d also been to a few more pleasant places. One that he recalled with a smile was Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean just off the coast of Venezuela.

He was there during the early months of 1941 for a military air show, and he said that one of his favorite memories of Trinidad was sitting in a waterfront establishment, drinking the local favorite: rum and Coca-Cola. “Just like in the song,” he said. The Andrews Sisters’ song, titled simply “Rum and Coca-Cola,” was a hit in 1945 and evidently provided my dad with good memories. So here it is, recorded – I think – on October 23, 1944.

Song ticker replaced June 13, 2011, with a video that I hope has the right recording.