- Birth of the blues by Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra (Released by His Master’s Voice (B 5270) in 1927) Paul Whiteman was born in 1890 in Denver, Colorado and came to prominence in the early 1920s with his Ambassador Orchestra, releasing his first records on the US Victor label (His Master’s Voice in the UK). These early records included “Whispering”, “Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere”, and “Second hand Rose”. As the ’20s progressed his popularity increased, and he was often referred to as “The King of Jazz”. Over the next decade or so he worked with many now legendary artists, such as Bing Crosby, Paul Robeson, Bix Beiderbecke, George Gershwin, Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday. He also made many radio, TV and film appearances. His popularity waned towards the end of the ’30s and he rarely recorded after 1942. He died in 1967.
- Careless Love Blues by Bessie Smith (Released by Parlophone (R 2479) in 1938, recorded in 1925). Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1894. She was born to a poor family, and as a child she and her brother busked on the streets of their home town to earn money. She moved on to stage work, initially as a dancer, then singer during the 1910s but didn’t begin her recording career until 1923 when she began recording for the Columbia label. Her records were immediately successful and she toured America playing theatres throughout the country, and making numerous radio appearances. During this time she became known as “The Empress of the blues”. She made 160 recordings in total for Columbia, including “Aggravatin’ Papa” , “Nobody in town can bake a jelly roll like mine”, “Whoa, Tillie, Take your time” (1923), “Haunted House blues” (1924), “Sing Sing Prison blues” (1925), and “Spider Man blues” (1928). The great depression of 1929 halted Smith’s recording career but she carried on singing live. In 1933 she recorded four songs for the Okeh label, which were her last recordings. She died after being involved in a car crash in September 1937.
- Hootin’ Blues by The Sonny Terry Trio (Released by Parlophone (R 3598) in 1952). Sonny Terry was born in Greensboro, Georgia in 1911. He started losing his sight as a teenager, going completely blind by the age of 16. He was taught to play blues harp by his father, and he started performing in public as the only way to make some money. Initially he played with Blind Boy Fuller, then Brownie McGhee, and made his first commercial recordings in 1940. His recordings include “Harmonica Stomp” (1940), “Whoopin’ the blues” (1947), “Lonesome Room” (1951) and “Carolina Blues” (1952). In later years he appeared in several films, including “The Jerk” (1979), “The Color Purple” (1985), and “Crossroads” (1986). He died in March 1986.
- Forgotten Woman’s Blues by Humphrey Lyttleton and his Band (Released by Parlophone (R 3513) in 1952). Humphrey Lyttleton was born in May 1921 at Eton College in Berkshire, UK, where his father was a house master. As a result, he himself was educated at Eton. It was at Eton that he developed his love for jazz music, and taught himself to play the trumpet. After serving in the second world war, Lyttleton earned a living as both a musician and cartoonist for the Daily Mail. He made his first recordings in the late ’40s for small labels such as Tempo, London Jazz and Melodisc (the latter with Sidney Bechet). In 1950 he signed to Parlophone, where he remained for most of the next decade. His recordings for the label include “Snake Rag” (1950), “Trog’s blues” (1951), “East Coast Trot” (1954), “Fish seller” (1955) and probably his best remembered song “Bad Penny Blues” (1956), an instrumental produced by Joe Meek, and an inspiration to Paul McCartney on The Beatles song “Lady Madonna”. In later years Lyttleton became a radio personality, presenting “The Best of Jazz” on BBC Radio 2 from 1967 to 2007, and the comedy panel show “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue” on BBC Radio 4 from 1972 until his death in April 2008.
- The Bluebottle Blues by The Goons (Released by Decca (F 10756) in 1956). The Goon Show was broadcast by the BBC throughout the 1950s, the first series (which was called “Crazy People”) aired in 1951, and the last series (the tenth) began on 24 December 1959 and ended on 28th January 1960. The Goons comprised Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and (for the first two series only) Michael Bentine. The earlier series were not recorded, and only a handful of episodes exist from the first four series. From series five onwards all episodes survive, although some were edited. The Radio series was wildly successful and led to spin off records and films. In 1956 two records- “I’m walking backwards for Christmas” (with “Bluebottle blues” on the B side), and “Bloodnok’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Call”/”The Ying Tong Song” made the UK top 10 singles chart (the latter was also a hit on re-issue in 1973). In 1951 Sellers, Milligan and Secombe appeared in the film “Penny Points to Paradise” and the following year they appeared (along with Bentine) in the film “Down among the Z men”. Although the radio series ended in January 1960, there was further Goon activity-in 1963/4 a puppet TV series, The Telegoons, featured the voices of the three Goons, running to 26 episodes. In 1968 Thames TV made a one off TV re-enactment of the radio episode “Tales of Men’s shirts”, and in 1972 the BBC televised another one off, called “The last Goon show of all”. In 1978, the three Goons made a final one off record, “The Raspberry song”/”Rhymes”.
- Hamp’s Salty Blues by Lionel Hampton and his Quartet (Released by Brunswick (03732) in 1946). Lionel Hampton was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1908. As a teenager he learned to play xylophone and drums. His first recordings were made with Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders in the late ’20s. By this time he was also playing vibraphone, and played on two recordings by Louis Armstrong in 1930. In the ensuing years he performed and recorded with Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman and Nat Shilkret, while also developing his own Lionel Hampton Orchestra. In 1937 he began recording for the US Victor label (released by His Master’s Voice in the UK), and over the following years his popularity increased rapidly with the release of such records as “Stompology” (1937), “Dinah” (1940), “Blue” (1941) and “Bouncing at the Beacon” (1944). In the mid ’40s he moved to Decca in the US (Brunswick in the UK) and his success continued throughout the 1950s, only going into decline during the ’60s. In the late ’70s he founded his own “Who’s who in Jazz” label and made his own recordings. In 1984 he played the University of Idaho’s annual jazz festival for the first time, and the following year the festival was renamed The Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. He carried on performing regularly until 1991, when he suffered a stroke. After this he only performed sporadically, but was still active musically until 2001, a year before his death in September 2002.
- Walkin’ and Whistlin’ Blues by Les Paul (Released by Capitol (CL 13568) in 1951). Les Paul was born as Lester William Polsfuss in Wisconsin, USA in 1915 and began his musical career while still a child-at 8 he learnt to play the harmonica before moving on to guitar (later inventing a harmonica holder which enabled him to play guitar and harmonica simultaneously). By the age of 13 he was working semi-professionally and at 17 dropped out of school to work full time as a musician. In the early thirties he was appearing regularly on radio and made his first record in 1936 under the name Rhubarb Red, shortly before adopting the name Les Paul. In the ensuing years he worked with stars such as Nat “King” Cole and Bing Crosby, while also designing and making his own electric guitar and experimenting with different sounds. His innovative guitar playing influenced many later guitar players. In the mid ’40s he built his own recording studio and began experimenting with multi track recording and over-dubbing, techniques hitherto largely unheard of in recording. It was at this time that Les Paul met and married Mary Ford (born Iris Summers in 1924) and they began recording together as a duo, scoring many hits during the first half of the 1950s, also having their own TV show. The marriage lasted until 1964. After their split, Paul carried on as a solo artist, recording the acclaimed album “Les Paul Now” in 1968. In the ’70s he teamed up with Chet Atkins for the albums “Chester and Lester” (1976) and “Guitar Monsters” (1978). He carried on recording sporadically up to 2008 (when he was well into his 90s!). Mary Ford died in 1977, and Les Paul in 2009.
- Graveyard Dream Blues by Ida Cox (First released by US Paramount (12044) in 1923). Ida Cox was born (as Ida Prather) in Toccoa, Georgia, but her year of birth is in dispute, given variously as 1888, 1894, or 1896. She began singing gospel music as a child in the choir of her local Methodist church, before leaving home to tour in Vaudeville at the age of 14. Her first husband, Adler Cox died in the First World War but she kept his surname as her stage name when she later married Eugene Williams in the early ’20s. This marriage didn’t last, and in 1927 she married pianist Jesse Crump, who became her manager and accompanist. In 1923 Cox was signed to the Paramount label, and recorded with them until 1929, releasing records such as “Fogyism”, “Bone orchard blues” and “Moanin’ Groanin’ blues”. After the depression of 1929 Cox continued stage performances but didn’t record again until 1939 when she recorded for Vocalion Records, before moving to Okeh in 1940. She continued performing and recording until 1945, when a stroke brought her singing career to a halt. She effectively retired until 1961, when she recorded the album “Blues for Rampart Street”, her last recording. She suffered another stroke in 1965, and died in November 1967.
- Bye Bye Blues by Bert Lown and his Orchestra (Released by Columbia (CB 139) in 1930). Bert Lown was born in New York in 1903. He learned to play violin and began his career in the Fred Hamm band, before becoming leader of his own dance band. “Bye bye blues” is his most famous composition, and he also wrote “You’re the one I care for” and “Tired”. His recordings include “The first girl I met”, “By my side”, “Were you sincere?” and “Now you’re in my arms”. He stopped leading his band in the mid ’30s and moved into management and worked as a booking agent, before moving into Television. He died in 1962.