And the award for 'Greatest Ever String of Guest Album Appearances' goes to… ROBERT FRIPP!
Drop a cent in the slot and listen to a phonograph record!
View of a customer at Loewy’s 1 cent arcade 14th street, New York.
Click here to view the image in our Digital Archives.
Y’all should follow Hagley vault. They post fascinating historical photos every day. Not all music related, but they have a great collection.
55 years ago today a deadly plane crash took the lives of Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly. Look back at our 1969 feature on the Day the Music Died.
Multiple layers of music history…
Pete Seeger - Waist Deep In The Big Muddy
As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.
As a Minnesota music buff, Blood on the Tracks is still celebrated as something of a homecoming for Dylan. Members of the unheralded Minneapolis band still get together to perform.
An Anthology of Popular Music in Minnesota
6. “Sugar Foot Strut” performed by Walter Anderson and His Golden Pheasant Hoodlums (2:32), 1927
The arrival of jazz in the North of course raises questions about cultural exchange. Did Northerners borrow and copy jazz wholesale from the Southerners who played the riverboats? Was the music really as Southern as the master historical narrative tells us? What, if anything, traveled back south?
The answers to these questions are obviously quite complicated. Song number 5 in this anthology—the King Oliver band recording of “Riverside Blues”—was African-American through and through. The songwriters were prominent black musicians and businessmen and the band was a premier jazz ensemble made up mostly of African-American musicians from New Orleans. One of the songwriters, Richard M. Jones, was another New Orleans transplant then living in Chicago. Jones was deeply involved in major African-American publishing and recording industries, working for Clarence Williams’ publishing company and managing the “race records” division for Okeh Records. The other songwriter, Thomas A. Dorsey, was at the time a blues musician in Chicago playing under the stage name Georgia Tom, and he also worked as an agent for Paramount Records.
For purists, music like the King Oliver recording of “Riverside Blues” represents the only true stream of jazz. But jazz would not have given name to an “age” if it hadn’t spread to new performers and new locations.
Today’s song exemplifies the proliferation of jazz in multiple ways. Inspired by the new sounds of travelling performers, Minnesotans themselves began playing jazz, imitating the instrumentation and playing styles to the best of their abilities. Furthermore, the popularity of jazz wherever it appeared made the music a commercial bonanza for both the publishing and recording industries, especially as recording technology improved during the 1920s.
“Sugar Foot Strut” appears to be a typical African-American jazz song title. Indeed, “Sugar Foot Stomp” was a 1925 Fletcher Henderson composition that itself borrowed heavily from King Oliver’s recording of “Dippermouth Blues.” But “Sugar Foot Strut” was composed by Billy Pierce, Charles Schwab, and lyricist Henry Myers, and published by Edward B. Marks Music Company, a major Tin Pan Alley publishing firm then located at 225 W. 46th Street in New York. Such commercialization of black music to new white audiences and new white performers was not mere flattery, as this blackface sheet music cover for “Sugar Foot Strut” evidences.
When representatives of Gennett Records arrived in St. Paul in September of 1927 to record local jazz talent, Walter Anderson and his Golden Pheasant Hoodlums gave “Sugar Foot Strut” an enthusiastic (and non-satirical) performance, at one point even breaking into a full stomp. The band normally played as the house band at the Golden Pheasant Café on 6th Street in Minneapolis—one of many entertainment venues in that area—but like other Twin Cities bands, they made their way to (probably) the Lowry Hotel in St. Paul to lay down these records. Many Twin Cities jazz groups were first recorded in 1927 by Gennett and other record companies, all of them based elsewhere, I believe. Does “Sugar Foot Strut measure up musically to Louis Armstrong’s “Hot Sevens” recordings from the same year? Well, no, but it was easily good enough to entertain.
Jazz had expanded its reach dramatically by 1927. With “Sugar Foot Strut” we have white Minnesota musicians playing an overtly commercial Tin Pan Alley tune in a sincere jazz style. I know very little about Walter Anderson or any of the performers who joined him except for what was written in the liner notes of an obscure Arcadia vinyl release from 1984 featuring early Twin Cities Jazz. Two other great recordings from that era of Twin Cities jazz can be found here.
For the retro-historicist, as for Reynolds, once upon a time musical history unfurled itself like a ribbon, genres begetting genres, innovation stacking on innovation, each new generation constantly repudiating and then supplanting the one that came before. And then slowly but surely, over the course of the last 20 years or so — which is to say more or less contemporaneously with the explosion of the world wide web — the ribbon of history started folding back on itself in its interminable cycles of recursion and self-reference. And because for the retro-historicist, this way of relating to music isn’t the result of any particular philosophy of history, isn’t contingent in any way, but simply how things are — an ideology-free zone — there’s no real alternative but to keep pointing out that we’ve “been there,” “done that,” “heard this before” while grimly clinging on to the hope that one day the ribbon will begin to unfurl again.
There are alternatives.
james parker & nicholas croggon. i recommend the article.
This is very interesting for me, particularly for how it chimes (and doesn’t) with the stuff I’ve been thinking about recently on Popular - specifically the arguments in the “Wannabe” comments on the decline of the progressivist paradigm - argued well against in said comments) and the whole of the “Setting Sun” entry.
(I think there’s a whole wider context going on too - the way cultural decline stories (and who tends to narrate them) often end up setting themselves against intersectional ones - the longing for narrative thrust vs the need for a plurality of silenced voices… an old old story that, and not one remotely confined to music criticism.)
An Anthology of Popular Music in Minnesota
5. “Riverside Blues” performed by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (3:00), 1923
In 1901 a businessman and steamboat captain named John Streckfus, who operated out of Rock Island, Illinois, outfitted one of his steamers to do more than simply carry passengers and freight. Streckfus sought to attract passengers for entertaining excursions along the length of the Mississippi, so he opened space aboard for a live band and dancing. These riverboat trips between New Orleans and St. Paul recalled the high profile “Grand Excursion” of the Upper Mississippi that first took place in 1854 when the area was still the frontier of (north)westward expansion. It also recalled the efforts of Dr. Gilbert R. Spalding and Charles Rogers, circus organizers who in 1847-8 sent their shows up and down the Mississippi River, and who in about 1852 built the massive steamboats Floating Palace, James Raymond, Banjo, and Gazelle, and purchased five more to further their business. According to St. Paul’s Daily Pioneer and Democrat—one of many newspapers in Minnesota Territory—Ned Davis’s Ohio Minstrels landed at St. Paul in August 1856 to offer “a Grand Melange of Amusement upon the Palatial Steamer BANJO,” including “Songs, Ballads, National Melodies, Refrains, Operatic Melodies, Duetts, Choruses, Northern and Southern Negro Eccentricities, Dancing, Jokes, etc., etc.” (as quoted in source).
Fifty years later the business model was again successful. By 1911 John Streckfus had expanded to a full steamboat line and relocated to St. Louis, the cultural midpoint of the Mississippi. Instead of blackface minstrels, African-Americans playing rags and jazz provided the entertainment. (Read more about jazz on the Mississippi by clicking through photos in this well-written digital exhibit from Tulane University.)
Jazz and its African-American precursors from New Orleans travelled the river(s) with Streckfus, connecting culturally areas as distant as St. Paul, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh. It’s difficult to say whether the riverboats were important to the following story, but in 1903 composer/clarinetist Wilbur Sweatman, a native of Missouri, made the first known recordings of a Scott Joplin rag during a brief residence in Minneapolis. Only a limited number of cylinders were produced, apparently as a promotion for the city’s Metropolitan Music Store, and none are known to remain in existence (source).
In 1919, the most famous riverboat band made its visit to St. Paul. Fate Marable’s jazz band, featuring Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodds, made waves (pun somewhat intended) up and down the river. The band made such an impact that if one looks into the histories of local jazz scenes in towns along the river, including the one in the Twin Cities, they frequently date to 1919 or 1920. Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Beiderbecke, who himself had been inspired to play jazz while listening to riverboat bands passing through Davenport, Iowa, also made proven stops in St. Paul. But while a good number of Minnesota musicians—black and white—took up jazz instruments and began to teach themselves southern styles, history was to make Chicago the next great city of jazz, not Minneapolis or St. Paul.
Many members of Fate Marable’s 1919 band made their way to Chicago by 1923, where Armstrong, Dodds, and others joined bandleader King Oliver. Though not itself a riverboat band, such prior experiences undoubtedly informed the band’s recorded performance of “Riverside Blues,” the song I selected to represent the era of riverboat jazz in the Twin Cities.
Finally, the Dixieland moment in the Twin Cities would have unexpected perseverance. More than any other style, traditional New Orleans jazz produced in Minnesota has continued to find a home on nationally released records and on the radio, especially through a series of unlikely associations with important institutions of American folk culture. We’ll hear more tunes and I’ll explain more details about these associations in the coming days.