BEATING THE PETRILLO BAN-THE LATE DECEMBER 1947 MODERN SESSIONS.

BEATING THE PETRILLO BAN-THE LATE DECEMBER 1947 MODERN SESSIONS.

It was in 1927 when the Automatic Music Instrument Company invented the first multi-selection jukebox. For owners of juke joints and bars, the jukebox was a boon.  Not only did it attract customers, wanting to hear and dance to the latest music, but It was much cheaper than hiring a band. While this was good for bar owners and their patrons, it was a disaster for musicians. 

Many musicians found themselves unemployed. The best they could hope for was occasional session work. No more would musicians provide the musical backdrop for Saturday nights at the juke joints. They’d been replaced by a jukebox. This was a taste of the way the entertainment industry was heading. After all the jukebox begat the DJ, who played records for people to dance to. Live musicians, by then, were nearly a thing of the past. That was in the future. Luckily, in 1942, James Caesar Petrillo saw the what was about to happen and ensured that American musicians received a fair deal.

James Caesar Petrillo was in charge of the American Federation of Musicians. By 1942, he realized that in the past fifteen years, jukeboxes were replacing live music. This meant his members were either unemployed, or earning considerably less than before. He’d watched as jukeboxes replaced some live musicians. This could snowball. He didn’t want that. The way to do that, was through a strike. So, James announced that a strike would take place from mid-July 1942.

Under the terms of the strike, no artists or group contracted to a record label, could record whilst the strike was on. Neither could session musicians play on recordings. This brought the music industry to its knees. Very few record companies had the foresight to have a back-catalogue consisting of unreleased music. So no music was released. The exception were crooners who sung unaccompanied. This didn’t prove particularly successful, unlike the strike. It lasted right through until November 1944. James Caesar Petrillo and the American Federation of Musicians were victors. Unfortunately, this victory proved short-lived and lead to another strike.

Under the terms of an agreement, American Federation of Musicians negotiated a fund for musicians whose livelihood had been affected by the arrival of the jukebox. A royalty was paid into the union fund. The more records sold, the more money was paid into the fund, which the union managed. Congress didn’t approve of this. They passed legislation banning unions managing their own funds, citing possible mismanagement of funds. When James Caesar Petrillo heard the news, he was livid and announced another strike, which would start on 1st January 1948. With just a few weeks until the ban began, session musicians were busier than ever.

With no idea how long the strike might last, every record company was determined to record as much music as they could. One of these companies was Modern Records. Jules Bihari, owner of Modern Records, was determined his company wasn’t going to run out of music. So, he had his artists recording round the clock. For the final few weeks of 1947, session musicians literally lived in the studio, accompanying Modern Records’ artists. The music they recorded is documented on Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions, which was recently released by Ace Records. A double album, Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions features forty-nine of the 130 tracks Modern Records held in reserve, in an attempt to beat the ban.

As the clock struck 00.01 on 1st January 1948, the second Petrillo ban came into force. Record companies were better prepared. Not only had they been recording music during the past few weeks, but since the last band. They were determined that never again, would they be help to ransom by a union. Jules Bihari of Modern Records, not knowing how long the strike would last, recorded 130 tracks, including eighty-nine during December. Ironically, fifty-nine of the tracks recorded during December were never released by Modern Records. Some of these tracks are included on Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions, which I’ll tell you about.

Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions features forty-nine tracks spread over two discs. These forty-nine tracks were recorded during an eight day period. The music on Disc One was recorded between the 19th and 23rd December 1947, while the music on Disc Two was recorded between the 27th and 31st December 1947. This frenzied period of recording, resulted in music from The Ebonaires, Hadda Brookes Trio, Al “Cake” Wichard Sextette and Duke Henderson, Gene Phillips & His Rhythm Aces, Art Shackelford Sextette, Little Willie Jackson, Butch Stone and His Orchestra and Madam Irma Mae Littejohn. With alternate takes and previously unreleased tracks, Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions is a compelling snapshot of the music industry on the verge of a crisis.

DISC ONE.

Disc One of Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions opens with a trio of tracks from The Ebonaires. Their music is best described as proto doo wop. The three tracks are thought to be among the earliest existing recordings of the innovative Ebonaires.  Of the three tracks The Old Folks At Home and I’ll Never Do It Again are a tantalizing taste of what was to come from The Ebonaires. Strangely, The Ebonaires only made their recording debut in 1949. 

Nine tracks from Hadda Brookes feature on Disc One. Hadda was one of Modern Records biggest stars. She was also Jules Bihari of Modern Records girlfriend. Ironically, two of the best tracks attributed to her are instrumentals. There’s the wistful Poor Butterfly, which features some jazz-tinged guitar. Then there’s the pensive Old Fashioned Love, which benefits from captivating piano playing. Hadda’s vocal on The Best Things In Life Are Free is seductive, but thoughtful. On Why Was I Born, Hadda’s vocal is bristling with emotion and sadness.

The Al “Cake” Wichard Sextette contribute three tracks to Disc One. Two of the tracks, Gravels In My Pillow and His Majesty’s Boogie feature Duke Henderson’s lead vocal. The other track is T.B. Blues, which features one of my favorite blues singers, Jimmy Witherspoon. Of these tracks, the driving His Majesty’s Boogie is the best. Duke whoops and hollers his way through the track, a blazing horn and piano for company. 

Anyone who likes blues music, will thoroughly enjoy the three tracks from Gene Phillips and His Rhythm Aces. Snuff Dipping Mama is the best track. Sassy describes Gene’s vocal, as he delivers lyrics dripping in double entendres. Broke And Disgusted features some blistering and inventive guitar playing, while Royal Boogie features some glorious boogie woogie piano.

Four tracks from the Art Shackelford Sextette close Disc One of Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions. The tracks were recorded on 23rd December 1947. Ironically, the tracks were never released. That’s a great shame, considering the quality of the music. The highlight are The Glory Of Love and The Jazz Me Blues. They provide a showcase for a hugely underrated guitarist Art Shackelford. Sadly, this session was the last he ever recorded. Whatever happened to him, is unclear.

Of the twenty-four tracks on Disc One of Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions, only two were ever released. The rest lay unreleased. That meant nobody heard the music recorded by The Ebonaires, Hadda Brookes Trio, Al “Cake” Wichard Sextette and Duke Henderson between 19th-23rd December 1947. All their efforts were in vein. Four days of recording nonstop and most of the music was never released. It wasn’t because the music wasn’t good enough. Far from it. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with the quality of the music. It’s of the highest quality. One listen to the music on Disc One of Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions and you’ll agree. Will that be the case on Disc Two of Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions?

DISC TWO.

While Disc One of Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions featured twenty-four tracks, Disc Two goes one better. We hear more from some of the artists who featured on Disc One, including the Al “Cake” Wichard Sextette and Hadda Brooks. New faces include Little Willie Jackson, Butch Stone and His Orchestra and Madam Irma Mae Littejohn. These twenty-five tracks, which I’ll pick the highlights of, were recorded between 27th-31st December 1947.

Al “Cake” Wichard Sextette have eight tracks on Disc Two. Six are attributed to Al “Cake” Wichard Sextette and Jimmy Witherspoon. Jimmy was the perfect frontman for the band. Charismatic and a born showman, he breathed life, emotion, energy and sass into the tracks. Proof of this is the horn driven Big Fine Girl, That’s Your Red Wagon and Genva Blues. For anyone yet to discover Jimmy, this is the perfect opportunity, as he’s accompanied by a tight, talented band who fuse elements of jazz and blues.

Hadda Brooks makes a very welcome return on Disc Two. She contributes three tracks, including the hurt-filled I Can’t Get Started and the melancholy I’ll Get By. Her vocals take centre-stage, while the meandering, jazz-tinged guitar and drums played by brushes accompany her. This proves hugely effective and plays an important part in making these tracks two of Hadda’s best on Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions.

A newcomer to Disc Two is Little Willie Jackson. He was the saxophonist in Joe Liggins’ band. It doesn’t take long to realize why he kept such illustrious company. Willie’s playing on Shasta is not only beautiful, but haunting. Baby is a much more uptempo track, that’s a reminder of what music was like during the late forties. As for Someday, Somehow, Somewhere, it’s literally bristling with sadness, emotion and melancholia. 

Butch Stone & His Orchestra are another of the newcomers on Disc Two. Here, Butch steps out of the shadows Les Brown, whose band he was in. A trumpeter and singer, Butch contributes four tracks that’ll be familiar to most people. Here, Butch breaths new life into them. Fats Waller’s My Feet’s Too Big, it truly swings. From there, there’s no stopping Butch. The Nat King Cole Trio’s Little Girl and Put Your Brakes On, which Butch wrote, are given a similar treatment as you’re taken on a breathtaking four song, musical journey.

Madam Ira Mae Littlejohn is the last of the new faces on Disc Two of Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions. A name most people won’t have heard of, that’s more the pity. What follows is six impassioned gospel songs. Ira’s delivery is soulful, bristling with emotion and sincerity. This is apparent from the opening bars of Lonesome Road Blues. Her delivery is spine-tingling. That’s the case through He’ll Make The Way, What More Can Jesus Do, Go, Devil, Go, See Jesus and My Record Will Be There. These six tracks represent Madam Ira Mae Littlejohn’s entire back-catalogue and are a tantalizing taste of one of a true gospel great.

The forty-nine tracks on Disc One of Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions were recorded during a frenzied  eight day period. Against the clock, Modern Records wanted as much music recorded before the strike started. All their artists were called in. Whether they were jazz, blues or gospel singers, they were laying down tracks. Accompanying them were session musicians who played around the clock. They were quite pleased to be doing so. After all, once the strike started, they’d no idea where their next pay cheque would be. It was a case of making hay while the sun shines. Despite the session musicians and artists not getting much sleep, the quality of music never drops. Given the circumstances, that could’ve been forgiven. That wasn’t the case. 

No. The musicians were determined not to let their standards slip. They were proud and they were professionals. Making music was more than their job. It was about producing mini works of art. Remarkably, many of the same session musicians played on the forty-nine tracks, but never once, let their standards drop. In total, 130 tracks were recorded in an eight day period. This is just a snapshot of one record company, Modern Records. Across America, other record companies were recording as much music as possible. Maybe too much music. 

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, maybe many record companies, including Modern Records had played it too safe, and recorded to much music. After all, they’d been recording more music than they needed since the first strike ended in 1944. Then they recorded 130 tracks in eight days. Now music quickly goes out of fashion. Music recorded in 1947, might sound dated in 1949 or 1950? That’s how quickly fashions change. So maybe, Modern Records’ decision to stockpile music backfired? By the time they decided to release the music recorded during December 1947, it sounded dated. That’s why it was never released. Thankfully, Ace Records rectified this recently, releasing Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions.

Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions is a historical musical document that’s a snapshot in time. It also tells the story of a few frantic weeks, when record companies tried to ensure a second strike by American musicians wouldn’t bring the music industry to its knees. While the first strike lasted two years, the second strike lasted just over a year. It didn’t cause the same chaos, but in a way, James Caesar Petrillo of the American Federation of Musicians won a series of battles, but not the war. After all, James’ members spent a year not earning money through recording sessions. At least James won a series of battles.

With several weeks of recording round the clock, James Caesar Petrillo’s members made a lot of money quickly. That was the case at Modern Records. Proof of this is Beating The Petrillo Ban-The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions. When the musicians that played on the Modern sessions, weren’t recording due to the strike, they played live. Then to top it all, much of the music Modern Records stockpiled, was never released. Once the strike was over, new music was recorded. For musicians and James Caesar Petrillo of the American Federation of Musicians it was a win-win situation. Maybe the music industry should’ve realized they’d have a fierce adversary in a man called Caesar? Standout Tracks: The Al “Cake” Wichard Sextette and Duke Henderson His Majesty’s Boogie, Al “Cake” Wichard Sextette Big Fine Girl, Hadda Brooks I Can’t Get Started and Little Willie Jackson Shasta.

BEATING THE PETRILLO BAN-THE LATE DECEMBER 1947 MODERN SESSIONS.

 

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