Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Carl Moore as The Squeakin' Deacon - photograph

Moore as radio personality "The Squeakin' Deacon"
Back in the mid nineteen-twenties Carl Moore, along with Phil Baxter, claimed authorship of "Gambler's Blues" (aka "St. James Infirmary"). You can read more about each of those fascinating individuals elsewhere on this blog (and, of course, in the book).

I recently received a message from Cecil Warren, who noticed that once upon a time I started to create a family tree for Carl, at Ancestry.com. Moore was one of the central characters in I Went Down to St. James Infirmary, and I closely researched his early years.

When he was a young lad ("in the 1947/1948 time period when my parents took me to his radio program"), Mr. Warren once sat on Moore's knee, and received the photograph you see here. "Too bad it got torn," Warren wrote, "probably a result of a fight between my sister and I over who got to hold it while we listened to his radio show. It is still a piece of history that has survived these 60 plus years."

By this time, Moore had given up leading a dance orchestra (many dance orchestras dissolved due to supply and personnel shortages during World War Two), and had become the country radio personality, "The Squeakin' Deacon." The Deacon was living in California at this time, not far from Hollywood. In fact, he had a (very) minor film career, including an uncredited appearance as the Toastmaster in the Rock Hudson/Elizabeth Taylor/James Dean movie Giant. He was once considered for the title role in the Will Rogers film biography, but Rogers' son eventually played that part. Moore would have been a natural, with his down-home humor and country hick persona.

Mr Warren added, in response to my writing, that  "I am glad that his role in music history is being preserved." Thank you, Cecil

ps In her late nineties, Moore's wife Marjorie is very much alive and energetic - she will be thrilled to see that you remember Carl Moore, The Squeakin' Deacon.

Monday, December 24, 2012

. . . So God Took Caruso Away - sheet music

Cover of  the 1921 sheet music from Jack Mills Inc.
I am posting this as a kind of Christmas gift to you, readers of this blog. This post will contain a bit of history, related to (what else?) "St. James Infirmary." And - with a nod to all those who come here for my occasional postings of sheet music - there will also be some, well, sheet music.

I suspect that most readers of this blog know that Irving Mills was intimately entangled with the history of the song "St. James Infirmary" - as the fictional "composer" of the song (Joe Primrose), as the manager of various performers who recorded the song, as the impresario who publicized the song, and as the vice-president of the company that published the sheet music.

In the years prior to the rise of Elvis Presley, sheet music routinely outsold records, and was a major source of revenue for those involved with its publication. It was much more important to retain revenue from sales of sheet music than from the sales of records.

In 1921, the Mills brothers (not the singing group) were struggling publishers. Rising from poverty in New York City, largely on the strength of their ability to promote - or plug - other people's songs, Jack and Irving Mills eventually became owners of one of the most productive and important music publishing companies in North America - Mills Music. Formed in 1919, it was initially called "Jack Mills Inc." and in 1921 the company struck gold. The opera singer Enrico Caruso was the most beloved, revered, and top-selling artist of the era. He had just died, and Jack Mills Inc. bought the rights to a song titled "They Needed a Songbird in Heaven (So God Took Caruso Away)."  The song became so popular that in 1925 Time magazine described it as: "a ditty that was scratched from every phonograph, mewed through the sinus cavities of every cabaret tenor who could boast a nose, caroled by housewives at their tubs and business men at their shaving." (I should emphasize here that "housewives at their tubs" refers not to bathtubs, but to washing tubs -where the laundry was done by hand.)

It is possible that, were it not for this ditty, Mills Music would not have survived to, seven years later, discover and promote a gritty folk song called "St. James Infirmary."

Popular as "They Needed a Songbird in Heaven" was then, I have been unable to unearth a single vocal recording of this song, either by contemporary artists or on CD compilations of old songs. So . . . while it once enjoyed the heights of popularity, it has been forgotten today and, thus, is probably new to you.

So, without further ado, below you can see the three pages of the sheet music from 1921 (which should enlarge if you click on them). Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

MP3 Monologue 9 - Don Redman (part 2)

This is the second part of a monologue about Don Redman. The first part can be found here: MP3 Monologue 8.

In this episode, it is 1928 and Don Redman is about to travel to Chicago to help (as both an arranger and an instrumentalist) Louis Armstrong record a few songs. At a local ballroom he hears Al Katz and his band perform St. James Infirmary and . . .

To listen to this monologue (about 3 minutes) click here: Don Redman Part 2 MP3