Wednesday, July 21, 2021

That Peculiar Rag; Pop Goes the Weasel Medley; I Love Me; San; Manyana--78s (1903-1930)

The star of today's post would have to be Hugo Frey, a very busy Robbins Music Corporation arranger of days gone by.  Wikipedia's brief entry describes Frey as an "American pianist, violinist, composer, songwriter, conductor, and arranger.  He was a prolific editor for piano sheet music, the primary audience being the 'living room' pianist, providing simplified arrangements of some of the more difficult pieces."  The... what?  "Living room" pianist?  New one on me.  Anyway, I haven't encountered any of Frey's simplified arrangements of "some of the more difficult pieces," though I believe Wikipedia.  Mostly, I've seen his name on standard SATB songbook arrangements, as well as piano adaptations of Ferde Grofe's orchestral suites, from Broadway at Night to the Aviation Suite.  I wouldn't call his Grofe transcriptions simple or easy--I'd call them better suited to four-hand piano scores, but then nobody asked me.  At any rate, my quick Google check-up on Frey didn't reveal as much as I would have thought--he was clearly a major player in popular dance music as well as popular sheet music, so, really, there should be a chapter on him someplace.

In today's playlist, Frey shows up as the composer of Happy and Uncle Tom, the latter a slightly odd but nice and raggy composition which is very well performed by the Victor Military Band.  Few phrases have quite the negative connotation(s) as "Uncle Tom," but we need to remember that, in the famous novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom was a courageous and heroic character.  The whole point of the novel is that Tom is an infinitely better human being than his oppressors, and, needless to say, that was not a message that went down well with slavery proponents.  At any rate, I doubt Hugo Frey intended any insult or harm--the piece doesn't have a remotely minstrel or burlesque flavor.  And... Hugo directs the The Great White Way Orchestra's chamming 1923 Love Tales.  Did Hugo do the arranging, too?  Very possible, but I've been unable to find much info in that department, even when it comes to Hugo's long stint with Joseph C. Smith's Orchestra, for which he wrote several songs and played fine piano.  I've always assumed Frey was that orchestra's arranger, but apparently that info isn't available.  For example, it's nowhere in the intensely researched liner notes for Archeophone's Joseph C. Smith CD set (highly recommended by this blog), Songs of the Night, so... it's a mystery.  Frankly, I'd be surprised if Frey wasn't the orchestrator for Smith, given his enormous talent, but... maybe the truth is lost to time.

Hugo is the only constant, if there is one, in today's hodgepodge of a shellac-athon, which includes 1903 and 1906 virtuoso (and then some) banjo work by Vess Ossman and the 1904 Pop Goes the Weasel Medley by studio fiddler Charles D'Almaine, plus two comic, Vaudeville-style 1923 sides--Georgie Price's Barney Google and Billy Murray's I Love MeAnd some outrageously elaborate (and rapid) ragtime piano playing by Mike Bernard.  If you didn't know that race-through-the-piece ragtime dates back to 1912, you do now.  Bernard was one of those syncopated soloists who sounded like two people at the bench.  And we'll have to assume that the composer of That Peculiar Rag had a reason to insert all those references to Alexander's Ragtime Band

The rest is acoutical-era dance band music, with only two of the dance titles--Beyond the Blue Horizon and Sweet Virginia--hailing from the electrical era.  Those two had me improvising the response curve, since the Perfect label was apparently anything-goes in that department.  I can't remember what I used as the bass turnover freq., but the tuba on Horizon is highly up-front, and I think it would have been, regardless of what curve I used.  Any less "body" in the audio, and things would have sounded acoustically flat.

The 1920 Prince's Dance Orchestra sides are interesting in that they sound just fine as dance numbers, despite the fact that the musicians were likely marching band vets.  They sound like an unusually accomplished version of Earl Fuller's Columbia orchestra.  The Waldorf-Astoria Dance Orch., conducted by Joseph Knecht, was kind of a looser version of Joseph C. Smith's Orch., and it recorded a number of terrific sides for both Victor and Columbia--sides of an old-fashioned type that more jazz-oriented 78 collectors might find too corny for words.  But today we'll be hearing the outfit perform medleys by Jerome Kern and Sigmund Romberg, so it's hard to miss with those--and I just tried to type "medleys" as "medlies."  My spell checker did not approve.

Some challenged fidelity from the cheapo, pre-CBS Okeh label, but very nice sides--Julius Lenzberg's Harmonists with Say It With Kisses and Joseph Samuels' Jazz Band sounding adequately jazzy with jazz pianist Edythe Baker's Dreaming Blues.  Julius Lenzberg is a new one on me, but he gets two and a half pages in Brian Rust's dance band discography, so he was clearly somewhat popular.

And... three gems from the Benson Orchestra of Chicago, starting with the classic Somebody's Wrong, as directed by Don Bestor in 1923.  The other two Bensons, from 1921, are directed by Paul Whiteman's Roy Bargy, and they consist of an atypical but fun version of San, plus the Rudy Wiedoeft Native American Indian novelty, Na-Jo.  I suppose it's possible to go wrong with the Benson Orchestra of Chicago, though I haven't yet.

I'd meant to note that the 1904 Pop Goes the Weasel Medley is a standard country-style fiddle medley of reels and such, including (of course) the title number.  Forgive the less than perfect condition, especially when it comes to the noise at the start--it's worth enduring for the expert playing of Charles D'Almaine, who, even though he was a studio pro (a "legit" musician, iow), could easily pass nowadays for an "authentic" fiddler.  That'll happen when there are 117 years between the making and posting of a 78.  And I referred to Vess L. Ossman's banjo picking as "virtuosic."  Let me amend that to "astoundingly virtuosic."  I mean, I can almost hear the guy playing banjo transcriptions of Chopin Etudes.

These 78s are all from my own collection, all ripped and restored by me.  (There's a certain symmetry, there.)  I did my now-usual bit of using a 300 Hz bass turnover for the acousticals, and I think it works rather well.

To the shellac!  I ripped these last month, which is why the folder is titled, "78s June 2021."  And there are a couple of alternate label scans (or scans of alternate labels, or something like that).

DOWNLOAD: 78s from June 2021

Somebody's Wrong--The Benson Orch. of Chicago, Dir. Don Bestor, 1923
Love Tales--The Great White Way Orch., Dir. Hugo Frey, 1923
Beyond the Blue Horizon--Elliott Jacoby and His Orch., V: William Robyn, 1930
Sweet Virginia--Same; V: Allan Daley, 1930
Keep Off the Grass--Vess L. Ossman, Banjo Solo, 1903
Silver Heels (Moret)--Same, 1906
Stolen Kisses--E. Coleman and His Orchestra, 1921
Happy--Medley One-Step (Frey)--Prince's Dance Orchestra, 1920
Manyana (Fier)--Same
San--The Benson Orch. of Chicago, Dir. Roy Bargy, 1921.
Na-Jo (Wiedoeft-Holliday)--Same
Pop Goes the Weasel Medley--Charles D'Almaine, Violin Solo, 1904
That Peculiar Rag--Mike Bernard, Piano Solo, 1912
Medley of Ted Snyder's Hits--Same
Barney Google (Rose-Conrad)--Georgie Price, 1923
I Love Me--Billy Murray, 1923
Say It With Kisses (If You Love Me)--Julius Lenzberg's Harmonists, 1922
O Lady! Lady! (Kern)--Waldorf Astoria Dance Orch., Dir. Joseph Knecht (Victor, 1918)Sinbad--Medley (Jolson-Romberg)--Same
Dreaming Blues (Edythe Baker)--Joseph Samuels' Jazz Band, 1920
Uncle Tom--One-Step (Frey)--Victor Military Band, 1916.



Ernie said...

Thanks for saving these sides from obscurity, Lee. Seems like so long ago, but really only a blink of an eye to history...

rev.b said...

These 78 compilations are my favorites, but I appreciate all our efforts and thank you for all of it. I don't remember how I happened across your blog, but it was a lucky thing I did.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Ernie and rev b.,

Thanks for your kind comments!

Anonymous said...

Great collection Lee! I love the sounds you were able to bring out, especially Na-Jo. For what it's worth, here is a Joseph C. Smith side conducted by Frey, but arranged by McCabe: Money blues | Library of Congress
Again, thanks for restoring and sharing these gems from your collection!
- Steve from PA

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Glad you enjoyed, and thanks for that fascinating info! I wonder how the LOC got the arranger data? (Likely, from Victor label files, I suppose.) I'm going through the LOC's Joseph C. Smith posts, and there are others with arranger info, also--but most are without it. But, totally awesome! And my bet would have been that Frey arranged his own piece. I posted "Money Blues" a little while back, and it's a great side--quite advanced, arrangement-wise, for 1916. It's the one early Smith side to feature all-out drumming, making it sound more like the African-American string bands of that time (James Europe, Dan Kincaid, etc.). Here's my rip, plus the flip side, if you want to hear it:

Diane said...

As always, I'm fascinated with the century-old music facts that pop right out of your brain, Lee! Ever thought of writing a book about the music of this era?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lee, I missed a few posts in the early pandemic craze, so thanks for reposting- The drums really add a different feel for "Money Blues".
- Steve in PA

Lee Hartsfeld said...

Such a kind suggestion--but it would take a ton of research. On the other hand, I'm used to digging up such factoids. Funny timing--I just tracked down (no pun intended) two selections on a Synthetic Plastics Co. LP of c&w "hits," because neither gelled with any country hit list I'm aware of. They turned out to be early-1900s novelties by Egbert Van Alsytne, one of which was a hit for Billy Murray in 1906. From the sound of the melodies and the style of the lyrics, I could tell that both were from a much earlier era. SPC, in its quest to spend as little money as possible, grabbed two P.D. numbers as filler--typical budget-label behavior, with delightful results.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


I totally agree about the drums. And it raises the question of what Smith's orchestra sounded like in real life. I've always felt (against fashion) that Smith's sound, as mild as it sounds to modern ears, was in fact quite jazzy, and "Money Blues" certainly sounds jazzy--in the Paul Whiteman sense, anyway. Smith has often been held up as THE example of non-jazz from that period, but I seriously think he was performing a genuine variety of jazz, however toned down for the society-dancing set. And thanks again for the LOC tip--Smith employed a good number of arrangers, apparently. About 1/10th of the LOC Smith listings give arranger credit, which is a pretty amazing percentage, given the fact that we'd expect such data to have been long lost by now.