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Saturday, January 8, 2011

The California Ramblers..........

The California Ramblers


by Hans Eekhoff
(from the liner notes of The California Ramblers 1925 - 1928 on Timeless Records)

In the first few years after 1917 the Original Dixieland Jass Band had begun to make its famous series of Victor discs, popular music was mostly recorded by small (usually five-piece) groups playing in the Original Dixieland Jass Band tradition. In the early 1920's, however, it became apparent that there was a growing demand for jazz-flavored dance music and the record companies in New York were looking for somewhat bigger orchestras that could capably handle the "Latest Hits". In November 1921 a nine-piece group assembled in the Vocalion recording studio to wax two titles, The Sheik and Georgia Rose, which were issued as '"Played by The California Ramblers". The name was chosen in true fashion of the day, slightly exotic and definitely non-east coast, which seemed to indicate that their music was totally new and unconventional. (There were also the Original Memphis Five, Original Indiana Five, and Tennessee Tooters, Arkansas Travelers and many more, strictly New York based bands.) The Ramblers were mostly a studio outfit and for almost ten years they recorded for practically every company, although by about half of them they were labeled "Golden Gate Orchestra".

In the first few months of their existence the Ramblers' personnel varied somewhat but by April 1922 it included trumpeters Bill Moore and Frank Cush, trombonist Lloyd Olson, reedmen Freddy Cusick and, above all, Adrian Rollini who were to form the nucleus of the band for several years to come.

From the beginning the band was managed by Ed Kirkeby who, born in 1891, had been a record promoter for Columbia and was extremely well-connected in the New York music scene. Kirkeby arranged several hundred recording sessions for the California Ramblers (and its smaller units The Little Ramblers, The Goofus Five, The Five Birmingham Babies, The Vagabonds and the Varsity Eight) and booked them for long residencies first at the Post Lodge in Westchester and later at the Pelham Inn, The Bronx, re-christened the Ramblers' Inn because of the band's reputation. At these clubs the band needed a front man to announce, wave a baton (or a bow) and generally make the whole affair slightly more presentable so violinist Arthur Hand was appointed "stehgeiger".

The Ramblers adopted a slightly different playing style for the various labels they recorded for, thus enabling the record companies to have their own "sound". It wasn't until the development of electrical recording in 1925 that the true depth of the Rambler music became apparent and especially the Columbia company with its superb recording technique and smooth-surfaced records managed to capture the band in full glory. Although only one microphone was used and long before the days of dubbing, artificial reverb and stereo, the recorded sound has a tremendous perspective that even today baffles the listener. Also, these Columbia recordings were rather jazz-orientated, allowing for plenty of improvised solos and for what may already be described as "swing". By the time, Ev'rything Is Hotsy-Totsy Now, was recorded, trumpeter Bill Moore had left the band to join Ben Bernie's Orchestra and was replaced by Red Nichols (staying for only two months, no doubt because of lack of time as he was probably the busiest musician in the entire USA) who plays the wonderful trumpet solo followed by an equally impressive Jimmy Dorsey on alto. At least three hands can be heard in the piano solo; pianist Irving Brodsky aided by Adrian Rollini who obviously takes quite a while to get from his bass saxophone to the piano and back. The trombone solo is of course by Tommy Dorsey, at the time still heavily influenced by Miff Mole (on casual listening it could be mistaken for Miff, but as the saying goes, "If you have doubts it isn't Mole".

Sweet Georgia Brown, played in the same relaxed tempo as the previous tune starts, after the intro, with a slightly improvised trumpet lead, typical for Red Nichols. After the verse, Tommy Dorsey sounds again almost like Miff and is followed by Jimmy Dorsey and a brief solo by Rollini on his bass sax before the end.

Adrian Rollini, originally a pianist and xylophonist, began to pioneer the bass saxophone and introduced this extremely difficult-to-play instrument to the Ramblers in 1922 as an alternative to double bass or tuba. Apart from providing the bass notes during the numbers, Rollini also took breaks and solos on his instrument that were in a class of their own. As this gave the Ramblers such a characteristic sound, many other reed players tried the bass sax as well but mostly with little success. (The great tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins used it briefly with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra but he couldn't compete with Rollini; the latter was simply a natural born bass sax player). In late 1927 Rollini went to Europe for a little over 5 years and was temporarily replaced by his protege Spencer Clark, probably the only one who could satisfactorily follow in the master's footsteps.

The next session saw a few changes of personnel and Show Me The Way To Go Home, in spite of being a rather corny drinking-song with an obligatory hung-over vocal, is treated very well by the band with fine solos by the little-known but nonetheless excellent trombonist Herb Winfield, trumpeter Frank Cush and the much underrated Bobby Davis on alto. 

  There are more solos by Davis on soprano and clarinet, Roy Johnston, and the fabulous trombonist Abe Lincoln (who was only nineteen when he briefly joined the band) on I'm Just Wild About Animal Crackers. 

Me Too is most noted for its solos by Davis (on alto and Hawaiian guitar imitation on soprano), and Troup. Before Spencer Clark replaced Rollini for a longer period beginning in September 1927 he had already participated in a few sessions. On She Knows Her Onions Clark (then also nineteen years old) is clearly present, playing with a somewhat lighter tone than his mentor. His timing and excellent breaks nevertheless prove how well this young musician could fill Rollini's shoes. Towards the end of the 1920's Clark went to Europe where he played with several American and European bands. In the 1930's he was back in the US but left fulltime music in 1939 to work for 15 years in aviation. He picked up the bass saxophone again around 1955 and played at jazz clubs and festivals until well in his eighties.

Another out-and-out jazz piece is Jack Pettis' composition Stockholm Stomp and this version by the Ramblers is particularly outstanding. From beginning to end the tune truly swings, beautifully arranged and brimful of solos by Chelsea Quealey, Bobby Davis, Sam Fink and Rollini.

Yes She Do has humorous lyrics sung by Kirkeby (albeit somewhat out of tune) and some of the band members, before a piano solo from Jack Russin (very virtuoso; it almost sounds like more than two bands), and a duet by Davis, in his Hawaiian style but on alto this time, with Tommy Felline on guitar The coda between bass sax and piano is another little masterpiece. Rollini introduces a few bars from Swanee River before the band goes into Lazy Weather. At a beautifully relaxed tempo it babbles along with short solos by one Eddie Lappe (an otherwise completely unknown trombonist but most of these data come from Ed Kirkeby's diary and can we be quite confident that it was he) and Rollini. Arthur Fields has a bit of a heavy-handed vocal chorus.

As said before, these Columbias were so well recorded that played with the right equipment one can hear Ed Kirkeby breathe in before he starts his vocal at the beginning of Vo-Do-Do-De-O Blues and after remastering it is even better audible more than seventy years later. Again there is a solo by Eddie Lappe and some excellent Bobby Davis.

The front line of the band underwent quite a few changes in the months to come (probably because of the impending departure of Quealey, Davis and Rollini) and the next sessions may have had quite a different personnel. It is difficult to establish who they all are but the alto saxophone solo in Make My Cot Where The Cot-Cot-Cotton Grows is by Pete Pumiglio.

Singapore Sorrows has a typical "oriental" (or so it was interpreted) intro that was all the rage at the time and Freddy Cusick makes his soprano sound almost like an oboe, It is, however, a particularly fine tune and although it contains only one short improvised solo by Pete Pumiglio well worth the effort. Finally, The Pay Off a composition by Howdy Quicksell, had been excellently recorded by the Ramblers in May 1925 for Pathe as Dustin' The Donkey. Why the tune was revived and renamed is unknown (Quicksell is listed as the composer on both recordings) but the result is fabulous. The number swings from beginning to end, wonderfully arranged with great solos by probably Fred van Eps Jr. on trumpet, Pete Pumiglio on alto, Al Duffy on violin, Reg Harrington on trombone and especially Spencer Clark who once again proves to be in Adrian Rollini's class.

These (above) are some liner notes from an LP of Rambler's tunes. I edited it a bit to reflect some of the tunes that are in the list, and omitted a bit of them that referred to songs that are not here. Mostly I posted the above, because of the decent bio information. Hope it helps.

And now............on to the tunage!!

After you've gone 6-24-1924 (as Palace Garden Orchestra)
All alone Monday 9-27-1926 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
All my life I have dramed 8-5-1930 (as Ford Britton and his Blue Comets)
Anything to make you happy 2-10-1928
Boo hoo hoo 3-18-1922
Broadway baby dolls-From "Broadway babies" 6-4-1929
Brown eyes why are you blue 9-15-1925  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
California 3-13-1922  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
California here I come 1-17-1924
Charleston 4-2-1925  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Collegiate 6-23-1925  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Cow bells 11-8-1922
Crazy quilt 9-15-1926 (As The Goofus Five)
Down South camp meeting 5-6-1937
Dream girl 9-4-1930 (As  Wally Edwards & His Orchestra v=Elmer Feldkamp
Everything is hotsy totsy now 5-14-1925   
Five foot two 11-24-1925  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
For my baby 12-6-1927  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Forever 10-18-1928  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Get out and get under the moon 9-25-1928  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Gotta get up and go to work again  1936
Heart breaking baby 6-24-1927
I love me 7-12-1923
I love you so much 6-12-1930
I'm gonna Charleston back to Charleston 6-9-1925
I'm in love with you 8-28-1925
I'm just wild about animal crackers 6-7-1926
I'm mad about you  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Is she my girlfriend 11-18-1927  (as Golden Gate Orchestra) v=Ed Kirkeby
It's the girl 1931 Durium Hit-Of-The-Week
Lazy weather 5-26-1927
Looking at the world through rose colored glasses 8-10-1926 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Lover come back to me 4-6-1929 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Lucille 8-6-1924 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Make my cot where the cot cot cotton grows 10-7-1927
Manhattan 7-15-1925 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Me too 7-21-1926
Melancholy 1923
Miss Annabelle Lee 7-15-1927
Moon deer (Moon dear) 8-28-1925
Moonlight kisses 10-17-1923
My baby knows how 10-25-1926
My honey's lovin' arms 4-6-1922
My sweetie  went away 7-12-1923
Nobody knows what a red head mama can do 12-11-1924 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)

Oh Mabel 12-1924
Oh say can I see you tonight 7-1925 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Peanut vendor 12-2-1930
Reaching for the moon 12-30-1930 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Roamin' to Wyomin' 11-15-1923
Rose Marie 9-8-1924
Shake 4-16-1926 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
She knows her onions 9-18-1926
Shine 4-18-1924
Show me the way to go home 12-5-1925 (the first song I ever remember grandmother would play this on the piano and sing it to me as a toddler.....I loved it )
Singapore sorrows 1-14-1928
Someone is losin' Susan 1926 (As The Goofus Five)
Sonya (yup, Alay, Yup) 6-9-1925
Stockholm stomp 1-19-1927
Sweet Georgia Brown 5-14-1925
Swingin' down to Rio 5-6-1937
Take my word 5-6-1937
Talkin' to myself 9-13-1928 V=Sid Garry
The flapper wife 4-22-1925 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
The one that I love loves me 3-18-1929  (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
The pay off 2-10-1928
There's a rainbow 'round my shoulder 10-18-1928 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
There's a wah wah girl in Agua Caliente 5-23-1930 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Tip toe thru the tulips with me 6-1929
Vo-do-do-de-o blues 5-26-1927
When the red red robin comes bob bob bobbin' along 7-15-1926 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
When you're counting the stars alone 9-13-1929  (v: Ed Kirkeby)
Where the lazy daisies grow 2-14-1924 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Wishing and waiting for love-From "Broadway babies" 6-4-1929
Would ja 8-31-1926 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
Ya gotta know how to love 6-7-1926 V=Arthur Fields
Yes she do(no she don't) 3-19-1927
You darling you 10-1923
You don't like it-not much 8-26-1927 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)
You're the cream in my coffee 11-15-1928 (as Golden Gate Orchestra)


  1. Just wanted to say, I just discovered this blog today, and I'm so excited! There's so much good stuff here - the music, the history, all the info, even the beautiful ladies! Thanks for all the work you obviously put into this blog, it's well appreciated. Esther Phillips, Kim Weston, Dinah Washington, Annisteen Allen... I can't wait to start digging in. Again thanks! Okay, let's make it official: I officially love this blog!

  2. Aww, hell yeah!! Thanks! I just checked out Ice Clothes, and Morris S.P.U.D.s.....lots of digging that I have to do, too :):) :)

  3. Great to discover this page. Proud to say that reedman Freddy Cusick was my grandpa!

  4. Wow! Thanks! They were sure a great have a lot to be proud of with a family connection like that! :)