Friday, May 19, 2017

How many times did you leave heaven?

A friend has been singing the song "When Did You Leave Heaven?" at a local jam session off and on for a year or so, and while he is on vacation another friend gave it a try last week, so I decided to let Google and YouTube show me who has recorded it over the years. Amazing.

One of the YouTube comment threads claims it was the first song ever broadcast on television, from a 1937 recording by Lilly Fryer, which I did not find on YouTube. From various web posts, it looks like the song was introduced by Tony Martin in the movie "Sing Baby Sing" in 1936.

(I am composing this blog post on my phone with the latest version of the Blogger app, a rather clumsy editing process that I belatedly discovered did not make web addresses links automatically. I may come back with a  computer to put things in better chronological order, and make the YouTube addresses actual links. Until then, I'm afraid you will have to copy and paste most of the addresses into a browser window. I did make a few of significant names direct links until I started going cross-eyed from doing it on the phone. Stauffer & Toffel's 1936 German-accented version on Telefunken is culturally and historically fascinating. The song certainly has a way of jumping back and forth across cultural lines.)

Tony Martin

Guy (& Carmen, vocal) Lombardo

Red Allen

Frances Langford

Teddy Stauffer (Billy Toffel, vocal)

Mel Powell porch. (w. Benny Goodman)

Big Bill Broonzy

Jimmy Scott

Louis Armstrong

Nancy Wilson

Jim Reeves

Johnny Guitar Watson

Eric Clapton

Renee Fleming

Carla Valenti

Hank Crawford

Bob Dylan

Pokey LaFarge

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Four Virginians with a Tiple

Recordings from the days of 78 rpm phonographs continue to find their way to YouTube, where my latest discovery touches three issues that interest me:  Old time string band music from Virginia (where I've lived for the past decade); the "Martin tiple," a 10-string instrument I have been playing for a few years, related to the ukulele and South American instruments, made in America for half a century and used for a variety of musical styles; and the black and sometimes racist minstrel-show roots of some one-time music. In this case, the latter is only in the form of a fiddle tune title, without offensive lyrics.

The "All Music" ( and "Martin Tiple" ( history blogs both have pages about the band in question, The Four Virginians, from the Danville area. They were active from 1925 to 1935 and reportedly recorded only six tunes, all for the Okeh record label.

Accompanied by a picture of the band, with the tiple used as a rhythm instrument, YouTube has five of the recordings: three square dance tunes with dance calls (one of them with a nineteenth-century Minstrel show "coon song" title), and two sentimental songs.

You can hear the jangling treble sound of the tiple (not as high or clean as a bluegrass mandolin "chop") on most of the recordings. It plays full chords while the fiddle plays the melody and the two guitars play rhythm and bass runs. Unlike many old time string bands, the four Virginians did not include a mandolin, banjo or bass.

"Two little lads"

"One is my mother"

"Promenade all"

"Swing your partner"

"New coon in town"

Jennings Leonard is identified as the tiple player by numerous websites, including a discography of historical records at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

The other published sources identify the remaining band members as:
Fiddle – Richard Bigger
Guitar – Fred Richards
Vocals and Guitar – Elvin Bigger

A Google search reveals several books that mention the band, including these:

Title one : Virginia's Blues, Country, and Gospel Records, 1902-1943: An Annotated Discography, by Kip Lornell

Title two : Linthead stomp: the creation of country music in the Piedmont South, by Patrick Huber

(The first draft of this post was made with an Android smartphone and its Blogger app. I should eventually get back to edit it and make the web links more attractive and functional.)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oldtime Songs as Oldtime Radio Drama

While I've been using this blog for intermittent posts about folk, blues and old-time stringband music, over at ("Newspaper Heroes on the Air") I write about the portrayal of journalists in the radio dramatic series of the thirty-some years before television killed American radio drama.

Here's a crossover: One of the radio dramatic programs that sometimes had journalist characters in its plots also had a "folk song revival" theme in a group of 1950s episodes based on traditional ballads and blues. Posting a journalism-related episode of "Suspense" to jheroes reminded me that a few of its tales of death and disaster came from old songs.

"Suspense" was a highly rated and expertly produced series for 20 years, specializing in tension,  adventure and murder, from "Othello" and "Frankenstin" and "Leinengen vs. the Ants." As a result, the Old Time Radio Researchers Group has a substantial collection of episodes (more than 900 of them!), which it shares with the public through the Internet Archive (

Below are direct links to the folk-song episodes I've noticed... Click to download the MP3s or open them in your browser.

The Wreck of the Old 97 (March17, 1952)

Frankie and Johnny (May 5, 1952)

Frankie and Johnny (Feb. 3, 1957)

The Death of Barbara Allen (Oct. 20, 1952)

The Saint James Infirmary Blues (Feb. 23, 1953)

Tom Dooley (March 30, 1953)

Tom Dooley (Dec. 7, 1958)

While it's not folksong-based, music fans also might be intrigued by the vaudeville title "Never Follow a Banjo Act," with Ethel Merman.

I'm particularly fascinated by the fact that "Suspense" put its dramatization of "Tom Dooley" on the radio long before The Kingston Trio's arrangement of the song became a national hit. (The story was rebroadcast in 1958, using their recording.) According to J. David Goldin's "RadioGoldindex" of "Suspense" episode information, Harry Stanton was the vocalist on both "Tom Dooley" and "Old 97." Louise Louis was vocalist on "Barbara Allen." Big band singing stars who crossed over to film and television were also part of the casts: Dinah Shore played the lead and sang the song in "Frankie and Johnny" and Rosemary Clooney was listed among the cast for "Saint James Infirmary." Margaret Whiting was Frankie in the 1957 broadcast.

Stanton was also among the cast members for another radio series' musical drama, the Lux Radio production of "Dixie," a Dec. 20, 1943, dramatization of the life of minstrel banjo pioneer Dan Emmet, based on the movie by the same name, with Bing Crosby in the lead. You can almost smell the blackface grease paint.