Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dixieland A la PeeWee Hunt

Trombonist/Vocalist Walter "PeeWee" Hunt is known primarily for his long association with the Casa Loma Orchestra and his cornball version of 12th St. Rag , however his Capitol lps contain much good jazz and dance music-the subject of this post.

PeeWee was born in 1907 in Mt. Healthy,Ohio. He started as a banjoist, adding trombone when he attended Ohio State University as an Electrical Engineering major. He studied music at the Cincinnatti Conservatory and started working with local bands in the mid 20s. In 1928 he joined the popular Jean Goldkette Orch. and eventually became part of a Goldkette unit, the Orange Blossoms who morphed into the Casa Orch. PeeWee was a key member of Casa Loma from 1929-43, his capable jazz trombone work and affable vocalizing were featured heavily into the swing era when Glen Gray fronted the band. PeeWee even duetted with Louis Armstrong on the band's 1939 Decca recording of Rockin' Chair and Lazy Bones.After a wartime stint as a disc jockey, followed by service in the Merchant Marine, leading a big band , a V Disc survives of the group and it's a fine swing band.PeeWee formed his own small combo working out of the Hollywood area. His sides of the late 40s were made for small labels such as Savoy and Regent, but when he switched to Capitol in 1948 he achieved his biggest success. PeeWee also recorded some excellent transcriptions with this band including Riverboat Shuffle, Weary Blues, Corrine Corrina, Dixie Downbeat, Who's Sorry Now, Dixie One Step and Wolverine Blues.

The 1946 sides give a good indication of things to come at Capitol. The sides feature crisp dixieland ensembles, a few arranged passages, good solos and PeeWee's solid trombone and affable vocals. Standards such as Muskrat Ramble, Royal Garden Blues and After You've Gone are given lively tratments. The boys recall Louis' Hot 5 outchorus on MuskratSunnySide , Basin St.and The Preacher and the Bear(a Phil Harris favorite) are nice vocal features for PeeWee. Although a midwesterner, he had a nice drawl to his singing a la Teagarden.This session featured Frank Bruno on trumpet, formerly with Muggsy Spanier's big band and a tasty player along the lines of Charlie Teagarden. Also aboard is Matty Matlock,clarinet-Carl Fisher,piano(soon to be Frankie Laine's music director- Harvey Chernap,bass and Glenn Walker on drums complete the group. This may have been a working group, I'm sure Matty was sitting in. PeeWee really hit it big with his Capitol sides starting in 1948. A 1950 photo of the band shows Bruno and Walker along with Red Dorris,clarinet and PeeWee's old Casa Loma buddy Joe Hall on piano.

PeeWee's biggest hit came about by accident. At the end of a 1948 Capitol session the boys were fooloing around with 12th St. Rag playing it very cornball. The tune was released and became a surprise hit complete with Doo-Wacka-Doo horn passage , tack piano and Rosy MacHargue's Ted Lewis-ish clarinet solo which became a part of the tune. PeeWee had to do similar corny followups but still played a high quotient of listenable, daneable jazz. His other hit was Oh! (1953) a mellow dance tune with tightly voiced horns, unison piano and a tasty cup mute solo by PeeWee. This is a format PeeWee used on many of his dance sides. Most of the early Capitol sides were issued first on 78, then 10" lp and eventually transferred to 12" lp.

The flip side of 12th St. is an old Bert Williams favorite, Somebody Else-Not Me with a fun vocal by PeeWee.

Capitol rarely listed personnel for the Hunt albums, but two standout players are Andy Bartha on cornet and clarinetist Lee Cummins. They are heard on most of the sides from the early 50s on. Bartha had a edgy Wild Bill Davison-like sound and played a nice lead, Cummins was a fluent soloist with a nice round tone. The lp Dixieland Classics collected many of the 78s and 10" sides. Favorites such as Jazz Band Ball, Royal Garden Blues, That's a Plenty, So. Rampart St., Fidgety Feet and Dixieland One-Step are all given the Hunt treatment.

Swingin' Around is a mixture of dance tunes and dixieland favorites including Mama's Gone,Goodbye, Spain, Ida, Somebody Stole my Gal, Please don't Talk about Me and Peg O' My Heart. Most of the tunes are done in the polite dance style of Oh!

Another standout lp of early sides is Dixieland Detour featuring such trad classics as Stomp Off, Let's Go, Copenhagen, Panama, Boneyard Shuffle and old favorites like Red Hot Mama and Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea with a nice PeeWee vocal. PeeWee didn't really look the part of his nickname. He was of medium height and stocky build with a professorial look of glasses and pencil mustache. He had a genial sense of humor that came out on his album covers.

Another fine lp was Blues A La Dixie (the start of that title series)-a mixture of traditional blues tunes and standards with "blue" in the title. The album dates from the late 50s.

The personnel is actually listed here- Hunt, Andy Bartha,cornet- Lee Cummins,clarinet- Jack Condon,piano- Gene Dragoo,bass (he later worked in Bartha's own band) and Cody Sandifer,drums(a veteran of Glenn Miller and Bob Crosby). Bucky Pizzarelli was added to the session on guitar. Most of these players were on subsequent lps.Sid Feller (former trumpeter and arranger for Jack Teagarden's big band)is listed as arranger, most of the Hunt lps had some aranged passages but many were just free blowing.

Highlights include a nice take on Basie's Swingin' the Blues, Limehouse Blues, Wang Wang Blues, Wabash Blues (with some of the trademark "corn")and St. Louis Blues. There are also nice danceable versions of Good bye Blues and I get the Blues when it Rains .

In 1956, Capitol teamed PeeWee's band up with popular honky tonk pianist Joe "Fingers" Carr for the lp, PeeWee and Fingers. Carr was actually studio pianist Lou Busch who found a hit format in the style of Big Tiny Little and Johnny Maddox. This album was originally issued as Class of '25 and contained favorites such as Minnie the Mermaid,Five Foot Two, The Sheik Hula Lou and The One I Love. Dixieland Classics and Strictly from Dixie use mostly earlier Capitol 78s and 10" album material-Both fine albums.

Dixieland Kickoff is an album of college fight songs-a populat theme for dixieland lps, Bob Scobey and The Dukes of Dixieland made similar albums. Bill Stegmeyer,an exellent reedman and arranger (also formerly with Miller and Crosby) handles the charts on this lp, he may have done other Hunt albums.

This was an early purchase for yours truly and as a grade school trumpeter I was knocked out by this dixieland"take"on college tunes. Years later, it's still pleasant but more predictable. However PeeWee's rousing takes on Our Director, The Victors and Notre Dame still sound good ,many years later.

One of the best PeeWee Capitols is PeeWee Hunt's Dance Party (1960?). This album is a mixture of old favorites and danceable pops. Most dixieland and big band albums of this period were made for dancing and this lp is perfect for the feet or ears. On Love is Just around the Corner and Sweet Georgia Brown , PeeWee and the boys stretch out with an extra "ride" chorus giving us a good idea of how they sounded in person. Bartha and Cumins get in some nice solo spots along with the leader. PeeWee gives us some of his engaging vocal work on Alexander's Ragtime Band(one of PeeWee's early Casa Loma records), Way Down yonder in New Orleans and Carolina in the Morning. On the mellow side we have OH!, Swingin' down the Lane, It had to be You and a lovely Sentimental Journey with nice guitar obliggatos (Bucky?). This is the Hunt band at it's best. PeeWee also recorded 3 tunes for the Dance to the Music Man lp(Sadder but Wiser Girl, 76 Trombones and Sincere)-the other selections are by Guy Lombardo, Glen Gray and Freddie Martin.

The " A la" series continued with Classics a la Dixie, Rodgers and Hammerstein a la Dixie(not available for listening) and Cole Porter a la Dixie.

The Classics album is a cute idea, familiar classical themes in Dixie style with gag titles. However the format gets pretty routine after a few tunes. Cole Porter is a nice album, his tunes work well in Dixie format (who could forget Wilbur deParis' classic album?) . Porter favorites such as Begin the Beguine, Anything Goes and What is this thing called Love? get the swinging Hunt treatment. Capitol also issued a Best of PeeWee Hunt lp featuring tunes from various albums and singles. Singles by PeeWee include 12th St. Twist (a clever update), CUBA and Blue (with Strings added) Swedish Rhapsody and Lonely Man(his last Capitol side).

The last two Hunt Capitol lps were A Hunting We Will Go and Saturday Night Dancing Party from about 1961 or 2. Dick Baars had taken over on trumpet, he was a young Midwestern musician who had worked with Gene Mayl and The Stanley Steamers. He has a cleaner,tastier style than Bartha and worked the plunger well(sort of a clean Mugsy Spanier), he also drove the ensembles well with a little more modern approach. Other players who worked with PeeWee include cornetist Tom Saunders, clarinetist Jim Wyse and pianist Chuck Robinette(probably on the later lps).

A Hunting is full of old favorites and warhorses as Muskrat Ramble, Royal Garden Blues and Indiana. PeeWee sings on Put on your Old Grey Bonnet (another Casa Loma item), Mack the Knife, Ain't Misbehavin',Am I Blue? and Doodle Doo Doo. The One I Love is done in a nice dance tempo a la Dance Party A fine album.

Saturday Night Dance Party is sort of a follow up to Dance Party except the theme of songs with girls' names is used (a common concept album for pop and jazz albums).

The band swings out on jazz standards Blue Lou, Honeysuckle Rose and I Found a New Baby.

PeeWee gives us 6 vocals (always welcome) including 2 oldies, Bessie Couldn't Help It(an early Capitol side) and How Could Red Riding Hood along with favorites Dinah, Margie, Coquette and Mary Lou. Linda is done up in the Oh! dance style and Marie gets a nice Dorsey tribute by PeeWee on open and muted solos. Baars and Cummins contribute stellar solos thruout.


PeeWee kept performing into the '70s, I recall a picture of him in a Getzen instruments newsletter looking hale and healthy with his trombone. He eventually retired to Plymouth, Mass.

where old boss Glen Gray was living. PeeWee died in 1979.

Although PeeWee made many "cornball" tunes after his 12th St. Rag success, the bulk of his Capitol work features fine, swinging dixie and tasteful dance tunes expertly played.

Sad to say there isn't a PeeWee Hunt CD available as of this writing. There are plenty of Hunt lps on Ebay and many of his selections on Youtube.

Happy Hunting!

Special Thanks to Finn from Denmark for his help on personell and providing missing Hunt recordings for listening.