The word was that a whole bunch of 78s had turned up in a charity shop in Portobello. That’s the Portobello on the outskirts of Edinburgh and not the famous London market. No doubt 78s turn up there all the time. This was in the early days of Forgotten Songs from the Broom Cupboard and back then I was only playing records from the collection we had gathered over the years. My addiction to the shellac discs hadn’t really kicked in. So I sauntered along and there they were on the bottom shelf, below the LPs and 45s. Well over a 100 of them, I mean well over a 100. The thing is they were all in new, thick card sleeves, the artist and song written in ink pen long hand on the cover. Looking like they had been catalogued and were from a collection. This was a charity where everything was 99 pence. Not quite believing my luck I checked that fact with the assistant and got stuck in. I think on that visit I got about 30 records. An interesting mix. Of course there were some Bing Crosby, Guy Mitchell, Vera Lynn and Jimmy Shand. There is always Jimmy Shand, this is Scotland and the accordion was big news here. There were others I’d never heard of: Jan Savitt, Carson Robinson, Husk O’ Hara. They sound different and fun and at 99p they were worth a shot. There was also Bob Skyles and his Skyrockets, who were probably some sort of dance band, there were two of them, I took both. Actually I think it was the label that interested me the most. Not a standard HMV, Columbia or Parlophone but a Bluebird label.
So that is how way over here, in Scotland I discovered the magnificence of Western Swing. I didn’t know Bob Skyles and his Skyrockets were that particular genre of music then. What I did know was was these four tracks were different. This wasn’t dance band music, it was a crazy blend of country, novelty, blue grass, goodness knows what and these fellas were having fun. I wished I’d been in the studio with them or at a dance bopping away to this infectious sound.
A short video about those fine purveyors of Western Swing music that I recorded last year, when our studio really was a broom cupboard. Bob and the boys, in reality the Kendrick brothers, remain firm favourites with me. Their exuberant, fun recordings make me smile every time I listen. Still can’t believe how two of these Bluebird recordings from 1938 turned up in a charity shop in Edinburgh. Oh lucky day!
Another good piece of fortune has been that this video has brought me in contact with the daughter and niece of the band, Bob, Cliff and Sandford Kendrick. So massive thanks to Peg and her mum in the USA for reaching out across ‘the pond’ to Scotland. Your dad and uncles are still entertaining us.
Before starting Forgotten songs from the broom cupboard I was not particularly a Country and Western fan- certainly not of the Nashville sound. Listen to the genre on 78rpm and the back to basics sound of country from the 1920s and 30s has been a different matter though and has been an education. Here are 10 songs that bring a smile to my face or get my feet tapping. Bob Skyles and his Sky Rockets – I’m gonna die with a broken heart and Lets play love. Al Dexter- Wine women and song. Johnny Denis and his Ranchers- Ragtime time cowboy joe. Harry Torrani- Mississippi yodel. McCravy Bros- Sister Lucy. Bud Billings and Carson Robinson- Sleepy Rio Grande. Hoosiers Hot Shots- Take me to the ball game. Light Crust Dough Boys- Beer drinking mama. The wonderous Jimmie Rodgers with Frankie Johnny.
We open with the greatest love song ever written! Two oldies, Tom Foy, born 1879 and Stanley Kirkby, born 1878. Both men were from the north of England and performed in Music Hall. Sadly Foy died in 1917. His, ‘If we live to be ninety nine’ is the oldest record I have played so far, 1911. I still find it hard to comprehend we can listen to a record that is 109 years old! Kirkby was the most prolific recording artist of his time and around 1918 he is estimated to have been earning over £26000 a week, in modern terms. Also playing, close harmony group The Merry Macs, Vicky Young, the magnificent Hoagy Carmichael, Ray Martin Orchestra, Josh White, Ruth Etting, from 1929 and child star, the boogie woogie piano playing, Sugar Chile Robinson. Johnny Dennis and his Ranchers, English cowboy music and whistling. Love it. Its the nearest thing we have to Western Swing. Couple of blues numbers- pared back, Gin MIll blues from Joe Sullivan and his piano and a little more modern with Vido Musso. My record of the day is Roberto Inglez with Los Celos Y El Viento. Latin American from the man born Robert Maxtone Ingles in Elgin in the North East of Scotland. His is an intriguing story to say the least.
Yes I start with Eartha again. I’ve no shame! Couple of Western Swing tracks, Light Crust Dough Boys, billed as a hot string band and Bob Skyles and his Skyrockets from 1937. Dinah Shore, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Harry Parry, Hal McIntyre, Leslie (Hutch) Hutchinson and Fats Waller. Early Jazz from Friar Society Orchestra from around 1922. Mead Lux Lewis and a 1935 recording of ‘Honky Tonk Train Blues’. Red Nelson on the Brunswick Sepia Series label and more trains with ‘Stream Line Train.’ Nelson is looked upon as one of the pioneers of R&B. Two brilliant tracks from The Hot Lips Page Trio. The rather bitter lament, ‘Just Another Woman.’ Then as an antidote ‘My Fightin’ Gal.’ What a woman she is. There’s more of course.
Melvin Jerome Blanc, the man of a thousands voices- Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Barney Rubble and Bugs. So many Looney Tunes favourites. Three from Bob Crosby, including a Shakespearian sonnet. Les Compagnons De La Chanson and The Three Bells. Lovely Gallic harmony. A ‘B’ side, In the Light of the Silvery Moon but what is the big hit on the other side? Nat King Cole and The Four Knights, more Winifred Atwell, Georgia Gibbs, Jean Goldkette and Gary Miller, the singing voice of Troy Tempest in Stingray. A pioneering Rock and Roll star, who last year was touring Britain at the age of 82, Charlie Gracie. Early country and Western Swing from The Hill Billies and Hoosiers Hot Shots. Two songs in Scots. The pre 1st World War, ‘We’ll hae just Anither.’ Its from Hector Gordon, he’s a bit of a mystery. More up to date and no mystery Joe Gordon and The Folk Four, A regular in The White Heather Club on TV in the 60s. In amongst all this the magnificent Harry Parry (pictured) and his Radio Rhyhm Sextet, vocals by Doreen Villiers. What a title ‘ Bounch me, brother, with a solid four.’
Quite few British artists this time round. Billy Cotton celebrates The Festival of Britain in 1951. Jazz from long servicing musicians George Chisholm and Joe Daniels. George Formby sings In his little Wigan garden. No doubt it’s riddled with double entendre. Three unusual acts Phyllis Robins sings a real piece of Northern English social history, ‘In my little bottom drawer.’ All about gathering stuff together for your wedding. Phyllis was known as The sheffield Bombshell. Impressionist Florence Desmond does Jimmy Durante in her Hollywood Party. John Henry and Blossom (pictured) were a popular double in the 1920s and 30s. Made people laugh but theirs is a sorry tale. There’s more of course, including Western Swing.
Western Swing from the great Bob Skyles and his Sky Rockets on Birdbird from 1938. The Chee, Chee Girl herself, Rose Murphy. Connie Boswell, who influenced Ellie Fitzgerald. Frank Crumit sings about Prunes. Not too many song about that shrivelled up fruit! A local record from 1934, ‘Tam O Shanter,’ recorded live in George Street Edinburgh. Billy Cotton, Ossie Nelson and their bands. We finish with a superb version of Frankie and Johnnie from Jimmie Rodgers. There are others of course.
Largely a local charity/ thrift shop haul. Its a crackerly start. Early country from the Carson Robinson Trio, on lovely brown shellac. Leake County Revellers from 1925. Early jazz from Husk O’Hara and The Friars Society Orch and New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Flanaghan and Allen. The Street Singer- Arthur Tracey, born in Ukraine in 1899 as Abba Avrom Tracovusky. Died at the ripe old age of 98 Jean Goldkette and his orch, featuring vocals by Hoagy Carmichael. Mildred Bailey, Queen of Swing. Joe Masala Septet with Adele Girard on harp. She taught Harpo Marks the harp. La Palma, French singer. First play on a new favorite- Bob Skyles and his Sky rockets. Fabulous western swing. There are others too!