December 5, 2023 posted by James Parten

Music of Van Beuren Studios – More From 1930

1930 saw the last brick in the Van Beuren wall come into play. Gene Rodemich replaced Carl Edouarde as the orchestra leader. By late 1920, Rodemich had the most popular dance band in St. Louis. Rodemich signed with Brunswick records that year, and was still recording for them into 1926. What he did after early 1926 is unknown, until he shows up again in his new film-scoring role. He put together for this purpose a peppy aggregation of members of Local 802, often using accordion and/or xylophone for novelty effect.

Dixie Days (4/8/30) This film mostly mines Southern tropes for gag material, eventually developing into the studio’s version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, with concentration on the Eliza on the ice sequence. This appeared at a time when stage productions of the work were still common, usually concentrating on the Eliza-bloodhound chase across the ice or on Topsy and Eva. None of the gags are entirely standout or unexpected, though a few of the stereotype portrayals (such as an extreme closeup watermelon scene) are pushed to their limits. Legree has his whip, but doesn’t get to use it much. All the good characters end the episode by chasing a chicken off into the horizon.

Songs: “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball”, written in 1917 by Shelton Brooks, recorded at the time by the Original Dixieland Jass Band on Columbia, and by the Six Brown Brothers on Victor. It became a jazz standard, and was recorded by Miff Mole and his Little Molers on Okeh, Ted Lewis on Columbia, The Coon-Sanders Orchestra for Victor, George Whettling’s Chicago Rhythm Kings on Decca, Tiny Bradshaw for Decca, and Fats Waller on Victor. Fred Elizalde and his Hot Music provided a version for Britain on English Brunswick. Lou Monte had a successful version with some “Italian Style” passages for RCA Victor in the 1950’s. Sylvia Sims issued a version in the 50’s on Bell. Ella Fitzgerald also issued a 50’s version on Decca, as did Ray Anthony on Capitol.

The well-known “St Louis Blues” is also featured – the jazz-man’s Hamlet, or proving ground. Composed in 1914 by W.C. Handy, the earliest recordings did not appear until around 1920. A vocal was issued by Marion Harris on Columbia. Prince’s Band issued a version on Columbia. The Original Dixieland Jass Band recorded it on Victor – one of the first records to feature an actual jazz solo, by clarinetist Larry Shields. Bessie Smith recorded it for Columbia in 1926, accompanied by Louis Armstrong on cornet and Fred Longshaw on reed organ. She would again perform the number in a highly stereotyped short for RKO in 1929. Fats Waller recorded his first pipe organ solo of the piece in a sterling performance on Victor (his debut for the label, as “Thomas Waller”). Gus Mulcay performed a harmonica version on Harmony, Velvet Tone, et al, in the same year. Gene Austin had a vocal version on Victor in 1928. Rudy Vallee cut a version for Victor in 1930. Cab Calloway also recorded a 1930 version for Brunswick as “The Jungle Band” – a name most-typically used by the label for Duke Ellington sessions. Bing Crosby performed it with Duke Ellington in a special 12″ release on Brunswick. Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band would issue a memorable adaptation of the tune to march tempo on V-Disc, and eventually, a commercial version was issued on RCA Victor by the band’s successor, Tex Beneke. Larry Adler performed a harmonica solo in the 1940’s. It was re=arranged as a mambo by Richard Maltby for X in the 1950’s. Also in the film, repeat appearances for “Oh Suzanna” and “Dixie”.

The Haunted Ship (4/27/30) – Our lead characters, who have become known as Waffles and Don (animal precursors to Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry), are exploring an abandoned shup that winds up sinking. In the course of the gags that ensue, they encounter Davy Jones, and a quartet of inebriated sea turtles who sing the drunkard’s theme song, “Sweet Adeline”. Other songs included feature one that hasn’t appeared before, “Asleep In the Deep”, a song considered an essential part of a basso’s repertoire, especially if he can hit low C. An instrumental version featuring trombone solo by Arthur Pryor was issued by Sousa’s Band for Berliner Gramophone in April, 1900. G. H. Chirwin recorded an early acoustic version in England for Edison Bell Winner. Tom F. Kinniburgh did one for British Homophone. Victor had acoustical and electrical versions by Wilfred Glenn. Al Jolson recorded a parody version in 1912, not issued until 1915, on Victor (his rarest side for the label). An HMV electrical by Peter Dawson was also a good seller. In the 60’s there was a release by Thurl Ravenscroft as an album cut for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” LP (below).

Oom Pah Pah (5/30/30) – Masses of Terry-ish animals listen to a German Band, which has more than the usual German repertoire in its catalog of songs. Eventually, a tumult breaks out, with folks in the neighboring apartment house throwing assorted bric-a-brac to try to disperse them. The patrol wagon, complete with a cannon mounted on its roof, vacuums up the band and takes them down to the courthouse for disturbing the peace. Songs: “Ach, Du Lieber, Augustin”. A surprising Telefunken Musikus version from the late 1930’s was released by Carl Woitschach, in a recording that sounds quite hi-fi, and includes a first half to the piece that is different from the well-known chorus quoted in the cartoon and other records. A more-quaint Victor version from the late 20’s stayed in their International Series as the International Novelty Quartet for many years. A 1926 version was also issued by Columbia in their German Language series by the Columbia Band. Karl Weiss and his Bavarian Peasant Band would replace the Victor recording for RCA Victor in later years on their purple International label. Joe Biviano would issue an accordion band version on RCA Victor with an attempt at an English lyric. Also in the film is “San”, a 1921 composition by Lindsay Macphaill, who appears to have been the first to record it a piano solo for Olympic in 1921. Ted Lewis performed both acoustical and electrical versions for Columbia. Paul Whiteman countered on acoustic and electrical Victor. Ither versions included the Mound City Blue Blowers on acoustic Brunswick. the Alabama Red Peppers on Cameo, Romeo, and Lincoln, Abe Lyman’s Sharps and Flats on Brunswick in 1928, the Hoosier Hot Shots for Melotone, Perfect, et al., the Pickens Sisters in the early 30’s on Victor, a 1950’s Capitol version by Pee Wee Hunt, the Firehouse Five Plus Two on Good Time Jazz, and Tiny Hill for Mercury. Also in the cartoon is “The Prisoner’s Song”.

Jungle Jazz (7/6/30) – Waffles and Don trek through Africa, encountering many unusual species (including a gorilla that golfs using a human skull as a ball). They engage in several musical interludes (with a snake dancing and exercising its “snake hips”), but are captured by cannibals. Oddly, all Don has to do is give the king a razzberry, and the entire tribe runs away in panic. Songs: “Dardanella”, a 1919 song which was a good seller when it came out. It caught the ear of the public because of a recurring ostinato figure in the bass line. It became a standard among jazz musicians, and was recorded by (Ben) Selvin’s Novelty Orchestra in 1919, and (Charles) Prince’s Orchestra for Columbia in the same year. Paul Whiteman would record a version in 1928 for Victor, but oddly, it was not released until 1936. The Whoopee Makers (an Irving Mills group, including Benny Goodman) recorded a 1928 Vocalion version with vocal chorus. Louis Katzman recorded a version for Brunswick in 1929. Glen Gray would also record it for Victor around 1932. The song would be remembered as late as the 1960’s in a video performance by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong at the Hollywood Palace. The title was inspired by the name of one of the straits that separate the Black and Aegean Seas. Also, a return for “Down In Jungle Town”.

Snow Time (7/20/30) – More gags on the ice and snow. Does not develop into melodrama. Am apache dance is performed by two skaters, throwing each other through the ice. A fallen skater is only revived by a St. Bernard’s brandy barrel, which proves an enlivening elixir, as the skater performs a vigorous dance upon reviving. The whole cast now thirsts after the brandy, and the St Bernard runs from the crowd, consuming the brandy himself as fast as possible. Songs: “Oh, Didn’t He Ramble”, a song from about 1900, which became very popular with New Orleans musicians, particularly their brass bands. Dan W. Quinn recorded it for Victo in 1902. Jelly Roll Morton cut it for Bluebird in 1939. Kid Ory issued a version on Crescent in the 1940’s (below). Celestin’s Tuxedo Jazz Band recorded a 1950’s version for New Orleans Bandwagon. Sidney Bechet would also cover it, likely on Vogue. Portions of the tune seem to have been folded into a Decca session by Louis Armstrong titled “New Orleans Function”. Other included songs: “Winter” (which we’ve covered in previous articles on Warner Brothers studio), “Valse Chaloipee”, “Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight”, “Hi Lee, Hi Lo”, and the “William Tell Overture – The Chase”.

Hot Tamale (8/3/30) – The main business in this cartoon seems to be serenading. The story does not wind up in a bull ring. The troubadour ultimately gets the girl. Songs: “In a Little Spanish Town”, a gentle waltz that would be used as a signature for Spanish settings (for example, used twice by Buster Keaton, most memorably in his first Columbia short, Pest From the West). As a dance record, it was cut by Paul Whiteman for Victor, the Cavaliers for Columbia, and as a vocal record by The Revelers on Victor, Les Rice (issued under the name Russell Douglas) on Okeh, and Nick Lucas on Brunswick in 1927 (possibly the inspiration for the Keaton rendition). Friedric Fradkin performed a violin solo on Brunswick. Glenn Miller would perform it on Royal Blue Columbia in his first session as a band leader, leading pickup men from the Ray Noble band. Victor had a pipe organ record by Jesse Crawford. Rafael Mendez recorded a 40’s version on Pan American. In the 50’s Bing Crosby performed it on Decca. The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra wilt Jimmy Dorsey recorded a 50’s version on Bell. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass would turn it into an uptempo piece on the “Sounds Like” LP on A&M.

Laundry Blues (8/17/30) – Gags set in and around a Chinese laundry. A good deal of the dialogue comes out in Yiddish! Songs: “Jubilee Days”, a song that was not widely recorded, but Edison had a version in 1927 by the National Male Quartet. This is a song that allows for parody of various ethnic groups (“The Irish had a jubilee today…The Italians had a jubilee today…etc.”). Also, Chinatown, My Chinatown”, which we previously discussed in our survey of Fleischer cartoons at the dawn of sound.

Here’s the soundtrack for the cartoon:

Frozen Frolics (8/31/30) – How do you tell this apart from “Snow Time”?. They’d just done a cartoon set in winter, and here they are with animals doing it again, crashing through the ice into the cold water. The most familiar melody from Offenbach’s Gaite Parisienne – the Can Can, is featured. Efrem Kirtz and the London Philharmonic recorded the complete work as a multi-disc set for Columbia Masterworks in 1938. The Boston Pops answered it with their own set on Victor. Capitol would attempt to spoon-feed the musical work to the kiddies in a release in their musical appreciation series, “The Story of Suzette”, with sporadic narration by Art Gilmore. Joe Loco would take his liberties with the piece as “Can Can Mambo” on Tico. Also included is “There’s a Long, Long Trail”, a 1915 song associated with WWI. John McCormack cut a best-selling version for red seal Victrola. James Reed and J.W. Harris also issued Victor’s black seal version. Ricardo Stracciari provided the cover version for Columbia. Frieda Hempel did it on Edison Diamond Disc. Henry Burr had to settle for a 9″ Emerson release.

Still more 1930. Next time.


  • I first learned “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball” during my country fiddling days. It’s one of many early Tin Pan Alley songs that have become folk fiddle standards, often under alternate titles; for example, “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” is known as “Five Foot Two”. “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” goes by the name “Taxi”, for the first line of its chorus, “I’ll be ’round to meet you in a taxi, honey.” I didn’t learn its true title until many years later. To my knowledge no one has ever confused it with the Harry Chapin song.

    It’s no surprise that Carl Woitschach’s recording of “Ach, Du lieber Augustin” is so good, as Telefunken was the worldwide leader in sound equipment at the time, and Woitschach’s recordings in general are of exceptionally fine quality. He recorded many folk tunes from various regions of Germany and Austria, and he would have taken the trouble to include any passages that were not commonly performed. Woitschach (which is clearly a Germanisation of the Polish name Wojciech) was quite a cosmopolitan musician, fluent in several languages, and his band recorded many military marches from France, Britain and the Americas as well as the German and Austrian standards. He also collected and recorded a lot of music used by military bands in the Imperial German colonies in Africa and the South Pacific, which would otherwise have been completely lost to history.

    Offenbach’s “Can Can” is actually the “Galop infernal” from his comic opera “Orpheus in the Underworld”; it’s heard near the end of Act IV, when all the Greek gods are whooping it up in Hades. (The Galop is also the final section of the opera’s overture, which Offenbach didn’t write.) It wasn’t associated with the Can Can dance until the Moulin Rouge and the Folies Bergere started using it in their revues in the late nineteenth century, and by then Offenbach was dead.

    As it happens, Offenbach and Woitschach were both virtuoso cellists.

    I’m grateful, as always, for another chance to plug the Buffalo Bills, who recorded “Dardanella” for their 1957 studio album “Barbershop Battle” on the Decca label. (Another barbershop quartet, the Confederates, recorded the cuts on Side 2.) Too bad the Bills never recorded the Chinese Jubilee from “Laundry Blues”. “Onga sawa onga sawa keeo wa! Obba dooey obba dooey yamaha!”

  • I have once corrector to make on 12/19/15 – the First recording if :”St Louis Blues” was on a 12″ Columbia #A5772 by Princes” Band and was played to a Tango tempo.

    • And Bessie Smith’s rendition was recorded in January, 1925. Dizzy Gillespie’s big band did a be-bop version in 1949 and Handy hated it so much he tried to get the record taken off the market!

  • I’m legit jealous of those Waffles and Don pins, and am now wondering if there’s similar merchandise for other forgotten ’30s cartoon characters, like Cubby Bear and Molly Moo-Cow.

    While Googling W. C. Handy, I came across a couple of clips of him performing “St. Louis Blues” on the Ed Sullivan Show; they’re well worth checking out for anyone interested in the man or the song.

    Given the illustration shown in the YouTube thumbnail, I’m surprised the Fable from 17 Aug 1930 wasn’t titled “Raundly Brues”; things could always be worse, I suppose…

    For a seasonal spin on Offenbach’s work, Straight No Chaser recorded “The Christmas Can-Can”, lampooning the commercialized hurly-burly of the holidays; it’s a track I always listen to the day after Thanksgiving to prepare myself for the chaos.

  • Glad, for once, someone used that picture on the right studio for a change (is it wonder why Walt gave a cease and deseist order for Van Burean on doing cartoons with those similar looking mice?).

    • Considering the poor drawing I can’t imagine anyone confused it with Disney.

  • Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Fred Longshaw recorded the Saint Louis Blues on January 14, 1925.

  • Glad to see an appearance, albeit in shellac form, of Ray Block, who we who grew up with 1950s TV all know, thanks to Jackie Gleason, was the flower of the musical world.

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