Single on Impact by good-humoured oldtime jugband from Melbourne, formed 1969, featuring the Conway brothers, Jim and Mic, who had formed its precursor The Jelly Bean Jug Band at high school. Their repertoire was drawn from 30s and 40s jazz, blues and jugband sources, enhanced by a comical stage presence. In 1980, by then known as Matchbox, the band wound up after numerous personnel changes. The story didn’t end there: follow the links below to continue.
References, further reading: 1. Ian Mcfarlane, The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (1999), pp 96-7.
2. Milesago’s Captain Matchbox page takes the Conway brothers’ story into the 80s, 90s
3. Mic Conway’s site at MicConway.com. 4. Wikipedia articles on Mic Conway and Jim Conway.
Barr, 1992 is cited in several places on this page. It is Steven C. Barr’s The Almost Complete 78 rpm Record Dating Guide (1992 edition), an indispensable and extraordinary reference work no longer in print but accessible at The Internet Archive.
Released around late April-early May 1931
Vocals by Dan Donovan.
78 rpm disc on UK Columbia #CB261 by major British danceband leader and arranger, founder of the Savoy Hotel Orpheans, born William Henry Somers (1890-1952). Debroy was a stage name, possibly chosen to suit the Jazz Age because it sounded African-American.
Further reading: Debroy Somers profile and commentary at Richard Gilbert’s website. Highly recommended.
Two versions on UK Columbia: which came first?
The Columbia UK records are Debroy Somers CB261, Marion Harris DB453, but these numbers were not in the same sequence. The letters are not sequential: C and D indicated label colours, and B = Britain.
It is hard to pin down exact release dates, but the timing of The Gramophone’s reviews and some circumstantial evidence place Harris earlier than Somers (see next entry).
Barr, 1992. places both releases in the first half of 1931, Somers in the range CB180 (January) to CB275 (June), and Harris in the range DB350 (January) to DB500 (June).
Single on Decca, B-side of #13 UK single Still.
Karl Denver: Glasgow-born singer (1931-1998), real name Angus McKenzie, best known by pop audiences for his wild version of Wimoweh (1961).
Further reading: Tribute to Karl Denver at the Billy Fury website.
Recorded c.10 June 1931
78 rpm disc on Imperial #2489 by popular Manchester-born singer Elsie Carlisle (1896-1977), often heard on British radio and as a band singer in the 1930s, notably with the Ambrose Orchestra. She appeared on experimental television as early as 1930.
Two of Elsie Carlisle’s recordings with Ambrose were lip-synched by actors (including Bob Hoskins YouTube) in the British TV series Pennies From Heaven (1978). She is heard singing The Clouds Will Soon Roll By in the TV series and in the 1981 American film adapted from the series.
Recorded April or May 1931
78 rpm disc on Broadway #3370. Recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin, vocals by Frankie Sanders.
The bandleader is Lawrence Welk (1903-1992), years before he became a star conductor of easy listening music on his TV variety show [YouTube].
This is one of several aliases used by Lawrence Welk’s Novelty Orchestra depending on the gig or the label.
As well as George Tucker And His Novelty Band, Dennis Pereyra has listed Lawrence Welk And His Hotsy Totsy Boys, Lawrence Welk And His Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra (a sponsorship tie-in), Paul’s Novelty Orchestra, Gus Winsom’s Orchestra, and Stafford Clay And His Orchestra.
With Ted Shapiro And Orchestra.
78 rpm disc on Broadcast Super Twelve #3042
Recorded March or April 1931.* Released in range 3000-3050 Jan-Jun 1931 (see Barr, 1992).
This was recorded in March 1931 (Laird) or April 1931 (Rust).* It’s hard to know when it was released, but the first British press mention I’ve found is in the Gloucester Citizen on 23 May 1931. Of course it could have been released earlier without attracting much attention, and I don’t have access to every newspaper from that period.
Versatile American vaudeville, nightclub, radio and musical stage singer and comedian Sophie Tucker (1887-1966), known as The Last of the Red Hot Mamas, was born Sofya Kalish in Ukraine, but grew up in Boston and Hartford after her parents emigrated to the USA.
Ted Shapiro (1899-1980) was Sophie Tucker’s accompanist and musical director for over 40 years.
*Recording dates from Ross Laird, Moanin’ low : a discography of female popular vocal recordings, 1920-1933 [read at Internet Archive] and Brian Rust, The complete entertainment discography, from the mid-1890s to 1942 [read at Internet Archive]
Further reading: Sophie Tucker biography by Steve Huey at AllMusic.
78 rpm disc Champion #16259.
The Champion label was in Richmond, Indiana, a budget subsidiary of the Starr Piano Company’s Gennett Records. The label name was briefly used by Decca 1935-36.
Recorded April 1931, release date unknown.
Recorded 17 March 1931.* Released no later than April 1931
With Billy Mason & His Cafe de Paris Band.
78 rpm disc on UK Columbia #DB453 by jazz-blues oriented singer Marion Harris (1896-1944, sometimes spelt Marian, perhaps in error). She was American, but worked in London in 1931, cutting records and performing at the Cafe de Paris nightclub in the West End.
Marion Harris’s version of My Canary was one of the earliest, and was probably the original release. Some of the evidence is inconclusive and circumstantial, but worth considering:
• In the handful of British newspapers I’ve found that review or mention the records by Marion
Harris or Debroy Somers, Harris first appears in April 1931, Somers in May 1931:
Daily Telegraph 11 April 1931
Daily Mail 24 April 1931.
Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle has a music shop ad for it on 20 April 1931.
2. Debroy Somers:
Exeter & Plymouth Gazette 5 May 1931
Daily Mail 15 May 1931.
• Harris had already sung My Canary in America in January 1931, on stage and on radio (see next entry).
• Harris knew co-writer Jack Golden who had previously accompanied her on piano, for example at The Floridian Supper Club in Miami on 14 February 1930 [image at foot of entry].
• Harris’s name and photo appeared on the sheet music for the song [image].
Golden composed the music, the lyrics are by Koehler and Pola.
He worked with other artists as arranger, accompanist or coach, including Marion Harris, Eleanor Powell and Frances Langford.
John Irving “Jack” Golden (b.1904, possibly in Virginia) was a pianist, conductor, songwriter, arranger and vocal coach who was accompanist for the American singer and entertainer Harry Richman (1895-1972) on and off from the late 1920s. He wrote songs with Richman (including this one from 1939), and he appeared with Richman on record and on stage until the late 1940s.
By the early 1960s Golden had retired as a professional musician and settled in Dundalk, in Baltimore, where he operated a business and occasionally appeared as a pianist at local events.
John Golden the US composer, stage producer and theatrical entrepreneur, whose middle name was Lionel, is a different person.
This biographical sketch of Jack Golden is based on original research. If you use it, please credit me or my website. You can email me for a list of sources. ©Lyn Nuttall 2019
Ted Koehler (1894-1973) was a prolific lyricist who worked with many notable Tin Pan Alley composers of the 20th Century. His collaborations with Harold Arlen included Stormy Weather, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Get Happy. (Koehler is spelt Kohler on some labels.)
Eddie Pola (1907-1995) was a New York-born songwriter and actor who appeared in five British films 1936-39, then moved into radio and TV production back in the US.
*Recording date from Ross Laird, Moanin’ low : a discography of female popular vocal recordings, 1920-1933 [read at Internet Archive]
1. Marion Harris at jazzage1920s.com. 2. Marion Harris Collection 1925-1934: album of 32 tracks including “My Canary…”, listen to 30-sec. samples at Internet Archive. 3. George Wagner & Tim Gracyk, “A Tribute to Marion Harris”, Victrola and 78 Journal, Vol. 8, 1996, pp. 2-9 [read at Internet Archive]
Released no earlier than June 1931 (see Barr, 1992).
78 rpm disc on Piccadilly #780, vocals by Al Bowlly, directed by Howard Godfrey.
This outfit also recorded as the Fifth Avenue Dance Band.
Al Bowlly (1898-1941) was a popular band singer and prolific recording artist. His records have become known in recent decades through reissues, and in other media where a song from the 30s is called for. This can be traced back to the TV series Pennies From Heaven (1978) which used several of Bowlly’s songs, and since then he has been heard on numerous soundtracks.
Bowlly was born in Mozambique and brought up in Johannesburg, but flourished in Britain and the USA in the 1930s, notably with the bands of Lew Stone and Ray Noble. When Noble moved to the US to lead a new band, Bowlly went with him.
Al Bowlly died in 1941 when a German bomb exploded near his London flat.
Single on Decca by George Melly, Liverpool-born trad jazz vocalist, surrealist artist, writer, film and music critic, and media personality (1926-2007). He had joined Mick Mulligan’s Magnolia Jazz Band in 1949.
Further reading: George Melly biography by Jason Ankeny at AllMusic.
Single on CBS #BA-221439 by Adelaide folk group formed at university. The members, most of whom played several instruments, were twin brothers Peter and Martin Wesley-Smith with Keith Conlon . Personnel on a c.1965 album produced by Sven Libaek included Andy Sundstrom.
Martin Wesley-Smith is now known as an innovative and eclectic composer and teacher. Peter Wesley-Smith became a Law academic and writer who has collaborated with his brother as librettist. Keith Conlon was a prominent broadcaster in Adelaide on commercial, community and ABC outlets, including some years as nightly newsreader on ABC-TV.
References, further reading: 1. Liner notes to The Wesley Three’s 1966 self-titled EP at 45cat. 2. Martin Wesley-Smith at Wikipedia. 3. Wesley Three line-up at RateYourMusic. 4. Peter Wesley-Smith: biography and works. 5. Keith Conlan at Wikipedia. 6. Martin Wesley-Smith profile (2017), “The serious side of nonsense with a musical genius” at South Coast Register. 7. Album personnel c.1965 at NLA’s Trove.
This is not Melbourne’s Wesley Trio (1964, from Wesley College) which soon after became The Groop, although at least one credible source points out that they were in fact called The Oxford Trio. Regardless of that, Wesley or Oxford, they are not the Adelaide group. [See David Johnston, The Music Goes Round My Head (2010), p.121, quoting Trio and Groop member Peter McKeddie. See also my notes on the two trios at 45Cat.]
Track on self-titled LP, a custom pressing EAS51 by Melbourne independent label East (Elwood Audio Services), one of two LPs by the band on East.
References: 1. Jack Mitchell, Australian Jazz on Record 1925-80 (National Film & Sound Archive,1988), p.135. 2. Independent Australian Labels, discography at Australian Record Labels.
As early as January 1931 Marion Harris was singing My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes on stage and radio. That was about three months before any recording of the song was released.
A Billboard review has her performing My Canary during a 15-minute set at New York’s Palace Theatre on 3 January 1931,
accompanied by pianist J. Russell Robinson. (The reviewer gets the title slightly wrong: he
seems to have been relying on memory).
Harris also sang My Canary on Rudy Vallee’s radio program, reviewed here on 31 January 1931. (The variation of Marion is the reviewer’s.)
These are the earliest public airings of My Canary I have found but of course there could have been others. My impression is that Marion Harris had the song to herself around January-March 1931. It was copyrighted early in February 1931 and she recorded it in March.
Considering the song’s early appearance in her repertoire, it is not surprising that her recording was one of the first released, and probably the very first. It seems plausible, too, that her association with co-writer Jack Golden could have led to her early access to the song.
My Canary would be heard often on live radio and in local concerts during 1931, sung by a variety of artists. French star Maurice Chevalier even performed his own variation of the lyrics for American radio as early as April 1931.
The song had already had some advance publicity back in September 1930 when the syndicated column Walter Winchell on Broadway mentioned it briefly as a new Eddie Pola song.