Cuban rhythms really didn’t filter their way down to North American popular music – the kind that most folks would buy – until 1930. It’s an entertaining, if roundabout, story.
The first Cuban hit to be a hit here was “The Peanut Vendor” (“El Manicero”). That hit in the autumn of 1930, with the release of the Victor record by Don Azpiazu and his Havana Casino Orchestra (22483). The Fleischer’s centered a Screen Song around it:
The origin of this tune was apparently this: the son of music-publisher Edward B. Marks had gotten married–and he and his new bride went on their honeymoon to Havana, where they heard “El Manicero” played all over the place. Marks got the US music rights from the publisher in Havana, and then contacted a vaudevillian named Marion Sunshine to write an English-language lyric.
Don Azpiazu’s band came up from the Havana Casino, and cut four sides for Victor between May and July, 1930. Two of them were commercial American pops of the day–the third and fourth were Cuban (“El Manicero” and “True Love”, issued on Victor 22483.
By December, other labels were covering “The Peanut Vendor”. Brunswick had a version by the Anglo-Persians, and then issued a second version–a highly-unusual move–with a vocal in English. Columbia had the California Rambles–again, with two vocalists: one in English (Elmer Feldkamp), the other issued in the green-labelled export series, without vocal refrain at all.
The song “!Ay, Mama Ines!” had been published in Havana in 1928, and there had been a couple of recordings aimed at Cuban and expatriate Cuban audiences. But when “The Peanut Vendor” hit big here, Nat Shilkret (the Victor records house band leader and musical director) decided to cut “Mama Inez” himself.
Indeed, Shilkret treated the song like a novelty — nay, a comedy — number. There was laughing clarinet, slap-tongue saxophone, and trumpet noises ranging from wa-wa (answered vocally, yet!) to some real un-musical sounds. There was also maniacal laughter (possibly by crooner Paul Small), and passages that almost sounded like collective improvisation. There was an attempt to duplicate Cuban rhythm, with an extra drummer — one A. Calderon — added for color.
The record, issued around February, 1931 on Victor 22597, proved to be a good seller, and one that stayed in the Victor catalogue for at least eight years. (It didn’t hurt that the other side of the disc was “Lady, Play Your Mandolin” — which became the title and basis of the first Merrie Melodies cartoon.)
A couple of years later, Ub Iwerks was producing “Flip” shorts (formerly titled on screen as “Flip the Frog”) for release through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. And Iwerks had decided that it would be just as easy–and, perhaps, cheaper–to use commercial records for all or part of the soundtracks.
For Soda Squirt, a Flip cartoon loaded with celebrity caricatures, this meant two Victor sides were used, almost without any contributions form Iwerks’ own musical director, Carl Stalling. And one of the sides used was the Havana Novelty Orchestra version of “Mama Inez”.
But our story doesn’t quite wind up there.
In the wake of the successful Victor release, other companies rushed out their own versions of “Mama Inez” and other Cuban hits. These included the American Record Company — whose “dime store” records ere favored by Max Fleischer’s studio.
For these “dime-store” performances, the American Record Company favored a group they styled “Don Carlos and His Rumba Band”.
We don’t know yet if the band was directed by Bob Haring, or by Justin Ring. Both men had recently left employment with bigger companies.
Haring had been doing sessions for Brunswick since 1926 (while also directing dates for Cameo as well), while Ring had been the musical director for OKeh records up until 1930.
Whatever the case, Max Fleischer’s music people got hold of the record, and it wound up in The Dancing Fool, a cartoon featuring Betty Boop (starting a 4:56).
Whoever had arranged this record had obviously heard the Victor version. There is a maniacal cackle that will remind the listener of the Shilkret version. There is also an attempt to use xylophone glissandi to duplicate steel guitar glisses heard at one point in the Victor disc.
By the way, the other recording used in Soda Squirt was another Nat Shilkret platter – one aimed rather at keen tap-dances, in which Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra play “By Heck”, a pseudo-rustic number which set a template for scoring scenes in rural areas.
NEXT WEEK: Max Fleischer and Novelty Records