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 1950s Honky-Tonk History   1950s Honky-Tonk Artists   Recordings by Artist   Recordings by Title   Recordings by Genre 
RagPiano.com - Guide to Ragtime and Honky-Tonk Recordings
Ragtime and Honky-Tonk of the 1950s
An Essay on the Core of the First Ragtime Revival
by Bill Edwards:
Contents Copyright ©2004/2015 by William G. Edwards
It was a wise man (or wise cracker in a good sense) who has been widely quoted as having answered an unheard question long ago, saying "Ragtime dead? Hell, I didn't even know it was sick!" This, of course, was the late "Ragtime" Bob Darch, one of the lesser seen forces behind the first ragtime revival, but an important figure in this interesting segment of ragtime history. Utilizing the collective research by myself and many distinguished colleagues and ragtime historians, I will provide an overview of some of the more significant facets of the ragtime revival of the 1950s along with the major players and their various stage names. Given the volume of works put out in a hurry by lesser known artists or small labels capitalizing on the public thirst for honky-tonk during the era of "space-age pop," it is nearly impossible to make this a comprehensive article without spilling off the bottom of many screens/pages, and would be replete with redundancy. Nonetheless I will endeavor to encapsulate the genesis, development, motivation, marketing, and performance analysis of 1950s style Ragtime and Honky-Tonk piano to give some perspective of where it has gone since and why. Without these pioneers who were able to create what the public apparently wanted and was ready for, interest in ragtime as a genre may have continued to wane, perhaps for decades. Artists like myself owe them recognition at the very least.
DEATH AND RESURRECTION
A bit dramatic perhaps, but not too far off base.
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band circa 1918.
the original dixieland jazz band around 1918
When jazz started making headway in the late 1910s into the venues that ragtime had occupied for nearly two decades, a new musical craze was established while the older one started a decline. In reality, much of early traditional jazz was basically ragtime played in a free-form fashion with improvisation infused into. Pianists had been doing this for some time, but the changeover into ensemble-based music helped drive the excitement of the jazz craze, and led into the 1920s which are often referred to as The Jazz Age. Prohibition also played a role in the process since brothels and drinking establishments were shut down in large numbers (then quickly reestablished in the back rooms of many otherwise legitimate businesses). So pianists and composers were in a position to either adapt or move on. Many had trouble either understanding or effectively writing a music that seemed to have so little structure, and it was hard to notate for piano as well, so they simply vanished or played in silent movie houses and the like.
There was still some ragtime composition and publishing activity into the 1920s.
The most popular piano novelty of the 1920s.
kitten on the keys cover
Stalwart classic rag publisher John Stark continued issuing rags by James Scott and Artie Matthews until 1922, and even titled one of Scott's rags Don't Jazz Me, I'm Ragtime as a form of protest to the new musical insurgency. Mills Music adapted by mining the strengths of composers such as Zez Confrey who took ragtime to a higher level with their novelty piano compositions. He was joined by Roy Bargy and Charley Straight who also turned out some marvelous syncopated novelties both on paper and piano rolls. But with the propagation of dance bands, the advent of electronic recording, the growth of radio, and eventually the onset of the great depression of the 1930s, the consumer lost interest in buying piano rolls or sheet music that seemed to harken back to the days of organized syncopation. In short, there seemed to be little nostalgia in the 1920s since THAT was when the good old days actually were. By the 1930s, when the record industry nearly collapsed, the sheet music industry was in serious decline, and radio was the most viable entertainment available to the masses, ragtime was mostly forgotten except by a few die-hard fans and pianists who continued to perform it in between the ballads and popular songs of the day. The few recordings of the 1930s are more of novelty pieces or collective riffs than of true piano ragtime.
When the Swing Era started in 1935 a few arrangers like Fletcher Henderson tried to revive some of the older tunes in order to provide quick material that would appeal to older audiences. But the move was forward, on to more technically challenging arrangements by the Benny Goodman Orchestra or Chick Webb, or to the sweet music of Guy Lombardo or Glen Gray. This forward movement continued through the end of World War II in 1945. At that point, with so many soldiers coming home and so many opportunities opening for new entertainment venues, as well as a shift in the recording industry after a musician's union strike that lasted through most of the war and seriously curtailed commercial recordings, the public once again needed something new. There were many divergent directions at that time, the most prevalent leaning towards the new Be-Bop of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the growth of Rhythm and Blues, and the emerging field of what would be known as pop (short for popular) music. However, a bit before the war started, something important was brewing in San Francisco that would eventually contribute to the mix in a big way.
A group of dedicated jazz musicians who were interested in resurrecting some of the classic 1920s tunes by King Oliver
The early Good Time Jazz recording of the YBJB.
yerba buena jazz band album cover
and other traditional jazz bands started gathering in the late 1930s, led by trumpeter Lu Watters. This group eventually became the Yerba Buena Jazz Band. The pianists in his employ over the next decade or so, Burt Bales and Wally Rose, were well-versed in ragtime, even though it was not commonly played at that time. Starting in 1937, they began to cut sides for small labels, finally getting a shot at better distribution through a famous set of sessions in 1942 headed by Lester Koenig, the eventual founder of the legendary Good Time Jazz record label. The war interrupted their activities for the most part, but the band began recording again in 1946, often featuring Rose (Bales only recorded on one session) playing older piano rags. The YBJB had a small but growing following that bought their sides, as well as many devotees who came to hear them play whenever or wherever they had a Bay Area gig, one of their favorite haunts being the famed Dawn Club. Most of the members that passed through Watter's organization during the YBJB tenure played a significant role in the traditional jazz resurgence that paralleled the ragtime revival.
Concurrently in the mid-1940s, a group of animation artists and directors, along with a couple of part time musicians, were gathering for lunch time
The Firehouse Five Plus Two, led by Ward Kimball.
firehouse five plus two
sessions at the Disney Studios in the office of animation director Ward Kimball. The amateur trombonist with the wild sense of humor also had developed an affinity for the King Oliver material, and he and his studio pals would play along with the tracks for fun. In 1947, a few years into this well established routine, the phonograph ceased operation one day. Kimball suggested that they play on, and see how the group sounded without the solid support of Oliver's gang. They soon decided that they sounded pretty good, and with Walt Disney's blessing (which they knew well enough to seek), they started performing around the Los Angeles area for private functions as the Hugajeedy 8 (incorrectly cited as Hugageedy 8 in some sources). In 1949, Koenig would also target them for recording, and his first two 10" LPs for GTJ would feature the now-named Firehouse Five Plus Two. While not all professionals (although they usually had a ringer on trumpet and clarinet), Kimball, pianist Frank Thomas, and the rest, all had a great deal of obvious fun both recording and playing live, giving their music a vitality and accessibility that the public was looking for. Thomas also pulled out some great ragtime tunes for the band to work with.
The largest catalyst for the onset of 1950s nostalgia was accidental in nature,
Bandleader Pee Wee Hunt of 12th Street Rag fame.
pee wee hunt
yet it set off the beginning of the explosion which would eventually be spearheaded by Capitol Records. Early in 1948, during a recording session for a radio show transcription for Capitol while on tour in Nashville, Pee Wee Hunt and his band came to the end of their session with a little time left to throw on one more piece. Hunt enjoyed doing older tunes from time to time and they were a part of the bands repertoire. So for a joke of sorts, the band did a quick rendition of Twelfth Street Rag with a comic "doo wacka doo" arrangement they had been playing on occasion. They did not intend for it to be included in the radio show, but the engineer either in Nashville, or in Hollywood where it was processed, ended up putting it on the master disc anyhow. A few weeks later, when it was broadcast, there was an immediate response in virtually every market in which it was heard. The radio stations pressed Capitol for a single copy, and a 78 was soon released. It became an instant nationwide hit. Ironically, it was the first time that composer Euday Bowman, who had regained his copyright for the piece a few years earlier, made any profit from it, though he died soon after the Hunt release. Almost instantly the demand for more material from the ragtime era and the 1920s was suddenly outstripped by the supply. Somebody had to do something. That somebody was Louis Ferdinand Busch.
HONKY-TONK PIANO
Hired after the war to work with Capitol's transcription service (click for Lou Busch biography), Lou Busch had previously played with a few orchestras,
Mister Ragtime himself, Lou Busch.
lou busch
and knew his way around the piano, as well as being a seasoned arranger. A little after the Hunt explosion took Capitol by surprise, Busch was promoted to A&R supervisor, and asked to see if he could infuse a little ragtime in some of their recordings. Among the successes in 1949 were a single of Ragtime Cowboy Joe with Jo Stafford and Paul Weston, along with a cut of his own, Sam's Song, which he released under the pseudonym of Joe "Fingers" Carr. Also recorded that same year was a single by jazz pianist Marvin Ash of Maple Leaf Rag b/w Cannon Ball Rag. The sales for these were encouraging enough that Busch released his own composition, Ivory Rag, in 1950. It did well enough over the summer that Capitol decided to have him produce an LP (still a new market) of ragtime tunes. It should also be noted that the first edition of the legendary history They All Played Ragtime by Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis hit the bookstores around the same time, sending renewed waves of interest in both the music and composers, at least through the musically educated segment of the buying public. In spite of the fact that the music was truly ragtime, the title of Honky-Tonk Piano was chosen, although it is not clear who collectively was responsible for that name.
The Honky-Tonk Piano album was and still is successful in its intent as well as flawed in its execution.
The original Honky-Tonk Piano, the first all ragtime LP.
honky tonk piano album cover
It flew off the shelves when introduced at the end of 1950, and predated similar albums from other artists by at least a year. The album included the Ash cuts, three pieces from pianist Ray Turner, and three from Busch himself, billed here as "Professor Lou Busch" in keeping with the ragtime nostalgia. All of the pieces are authentic ragtime, even the newest one composed by Busch, Two Dollar Rag. It also sparked great interest in more material of the same genre. However, the Turner cuts were sped up so they were pitched more than a fourth higher, and were considerably faster, giving a false impression of his playing. The Ash cuts were more New Orleans jazz, even on Maple Leaf Rag, than they were ragtime. Three different ensembles with three different pianos were used, creating some inconsistencies, but promoting the uniqueness of the artists as well. And the title—it was this title and the success of the record that may have been more responsible for the label of Honky Tonk applied to most of the 1950s ragtime releases than any other factor. Clearly the term had been around since, perhaps, the late 1910s (ask the dictionary - it doesn't even know!). While it initially referred to the type of "joint" in which the music was performed, it was quickly applied in the late 1940s to the genre of music played on pianos prepared to sound somewhat out of tune and with a more metallic timbre. Then it became a synonym for ragtime - at least for a while.
A veritable tidal wave of releases started
Paul Lingle's legendary Good Time Jazz record.
paul lingle album cover
to build up after the release of Honky-Tonk Piano, and it took along some existing recordings in its wake. Lester Koenig's Good Time Jazz label gained extra visibility as a result, and he soon added artists like Burt Bales, Paul Lingle, Clancy Hayes, Kid Ory, The Banjo Kings and Turk Murphy to the catalog that started with the Firehouse Five plus Two. A GTJ album of Wally Rose playing real ragtime, albeit with the bass/drums combo in the background, also did well on his label. The legendary Barbary Coast pianist Paul Lingle, who had eschewed recording studios for many years, recorded his only formal album for Koenig, and then left the mainland to live out his final decade playing ragtime in Hawaii. Busch, this time going on the earlier pseudonym of Joe "Fingers" Carr at Capitols request, followed the debut Honky-Tonk Piano album in 1951 with two more notable releases. Both Bar Room Piano and Rough-House Piano did Capitol proud for volume sales. These albums were also increasingly better in terms of the quality of Busch's arrangements, and led to two more albums featuring his "Ragtime Band," which was in reality a tightly arranged traditional jazz band with a couple of extras like xylophone thrown in.
By 1953, mainstream artists were also making their contributions.
Frankie Carle's famed album of Honky-Tonk Piano.
frankie carle album cover
Charismatic Frankie Carle in the late 1940s.
frankie carle
Big hits were made of the nostalgic The Old Piano Roll Blues by everyone from pop singer Teresa Brewer to America's flashiest pianist, Liberace, and, of course, Carr. More importantly, 1940s band leader Frankie Carle, in some of his earliest efforts for RCA Victor after migrating from the Columbia and Decca labels, cut two albums also titled Honky Tonk Piano, the first one including the increasingly omnipresent Old Piano Roll Blues. Carle had aspired to be a professional boxer in his younger days, but the family was able to steer him away from pugilism and towards a musical career, starting at the age of twelve. So he was brought up with ragtime music and often drew upon the repertoire of the 1910s and 1920s for his band recordings. His Honky Tonk Piano albums helped to further legitimize the genre given Carle's stature in the business and his exposure on the new medium of television. The collective Honky Tonk Piano albums became so popular for the well-known Carle that they were combined onto a 12" release a couple of years later, and remained available in various incarnations into the early 1970s. He only did one follow-up in the 1960s as part of his series of medleys of hits from various decades, featuring no less that 25 tunes per album! Carle's original arrangements contrasted nicely with those of Busch, albeit many were formulaic after a while. Frankie's popularity in the genre was probably just behind or equal to Busch's for quite some time.
By 1955 the field was rather crowded
The Original "Crazy Otto:"
Fritz Schulz-Reichel.
crazy otto album cover
(see the lists on the next page), including a number of knock-off artists with contrived names to echo the "Fingers" paradigm set up by Busch. Many of them were otherwise unknown or uncredited pianists recording for smaller labels, included whimsical percussion that went far beyond what Busch and Carle had done in terms of taste and sound effects, and had less innovative arrangements, usually sticking very close to the popular melodies and progressions set down by the composers. Names such as "Spats" Hollaran, Archibald Musclefingers, Joe "Fingers" O'Shay, The "Crazy Guy", "Barrel Fingers" Barry, "Happy" O'Hallihan, "Knocky" Parker and the famous "Crazy Otto" were appearing in record bins everywhere, although in spite of the kitschy names, many of them were actually fine pianists in the genre. A couple of the more unusual titles of this sort would eventually be uncovered as pseudonyms for one of America's finest pianists, a virtual unknown in the early 1950s, but certainly beloved by many by the time the decade was over, then again more than a decade later.
Enoch Light, a violinist and musician of some stature,
Billy Rowland as
"Knuckles" O'Toole
billy rowland
but eventually better known for the music he promoted, was put in charge of a small record label in 1954. Waldorf Music Hall specialized in budget recordings, charging 99¢ per 10 inch disc. He recruited both starving musicians and better known figures for the label, and produced albums across a wide spectrum from classical to jazz, also trying to cash in on the honky-tonk craze. Among the characters he created were Puddin' Head Smith and Willie "The Rock" Knox, the latter who was introduced around the same time as another well-named ivory plunker, "Knuckles" O'Toole (originally Keyboard Kingston). The first Honky-Tonk albums by O'Toole were performed by the talented jazz pianist Billy Rowland (pictured), who later struck out on his own recording everything from pop to boogie woogie. Two of the records covered standard honky-tonk fare played very well, but they were followed by two unusual and often overlooked entries of Latin and French-based honky-tonk stylings. Both of these represented Rowland's arranging skills, expertly applying the worst of piano sounds into the best of a fusion of these diverse musical styles. It was the Knox recordings that were notable, however, because they featured more authentic ragtime in focused arrangements by a young Richard Roven Hyman, now more commonly known as Dick Hyman.
In 1956, Light founded Grand Award Records, and converted many of his Waldorf recordings into 12" reissues on the new label, most featuring colorful artwork on the covers.
The Grand Award album of
Willie "THE ROCK" Knox.
willie the rock knox album cover
In spite of the promotion of the Willie "The Rock" Knox albums, the name, and perhaps repertoire of "Knuckles" O'Toole took precedence with the buying public. So when Light started producing new material,
Dick Hyman - Still in his stride.
dick hyman
particularly after Stereo LPs were introduced in 1958, he tapped Hyman for the task. One of the best O'Toole albums ever, and perhaps one of the best of the Honky-Tonk era, was his Greatest Ragtime Hits. It featured 13 well-known piano rags and ragtime songs, plus two newer compositions by Hyman. While they did not stray from the music in the same way that Busch as Carr had been doing for nearly a decade, there is a consistency and originality about the Hyman performances that kept this album in circulation into the 1970s, even after Grand Award was bought by ABC, then eventually shelved by owner MCA. It was followed by two well-done albums of sing-along featuring a men's chorus and Hyman, a few years before Mitch Miller produced similar efforts. Mr. Hyman followed the "Knuckles" O'Toole recordings with one of Slugger Ryan, a Bil Baird puppet known for his honky-tonk piano on various kids shows and appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. This was evidently the first time Slugger actually played through entire rags without interruption. Every performance is a delight on that album. Hyman went on to record some of the greatest jazz, stride and novelty albums ever, the complete works of Scott Joplin for RCA, and scoring several films for Woody Allen, often featuring nostalgic music from the 1900s to 1930s.
A different approach to the genre emerged just a little before Hyman's albums,
Johnny Maddox in the 1950s.
johnny maddox
bursting into the world out of Gallatin, Tennessee. A young record store clerk who had been working for Randolph C. Wood, the founder of Dot Records, Johnny Maddox was the first on the list to record for his boss. He was an avid sheet music and record colletor who also had a keen interest in piano rolls. Soaking in all of these influences, particularly the better rolls of the 1910s through the 1930s, Maddox went to work with a pseudo honky-tonk style that actually honored ragtime very nicely in its presentation. Between 1952 and 1960, Johnny recorded no less than 19 albums of ragtime and honky-tonk. One of his more famous singles was a cover of Fritz Schulz-Reichel's Crazy Otto Medley, after which Johnny was often as closely associated to the "Crazy Otto" name as its creator, although this was mostly a public appellation and not Johnny's or that of Dot Records. Johnny was also one of the earliest proponents of recording piano rolls onto records as well, most with rhythm accompaniment, so that the population at large that did not have a player piano could enjoy the fine work of the arrangers of a bygone era. Johnny continued performing his easily identifiable style into the 1990s from coast to coast, including several years in Alexandria, VA, and was a mentor to many fine pianists of the 1970s and 1980s. He is still performing into the 21st century, straying from his Tennessee home now and then to delight all who come to hear him.
Women were also a part of the honky-tonk culture,
One of many Atwell albums, popular around the world.
winifred atwell
albeit more towards the end of the 1950s. Among the best was a native of Trinidad, Winifred Atwell, who really went at the piano with great force and accuracy whether it was performing pop tunes or authentic rags like Black and White. Atwell applied the honky-tonk style to a number of pop tunes as well, and her records quickly became "party albums." She was one of the few artists whose honky-tonk and classical recordings, which she took seriously, were popular on several continents, largely Europe and Australia, where she eventually lived out her life. Atwell was soon joined by Del Wood and Jo-Ann Castle. Wood had a straight out no-holds-barred attack on the piano which brought her to prominence in 1951 with her hit version of Down Yonder. She continued to make albums for some 20 years.
The author sharing a performance with JoAnn Castle in 1989.
joann castle
Castle is an important figure in part since she became a regular on the televised Lawrence Welk Show. Welk was a "sweet band" leader with a heavy Minnesota accent, known for light polka fare and the bubbles that pervaded the set at both ends of the show. Castle started out on the accordion, making her debut on the show in 1958 at age 18. Soon after, the resident honky-tonk pianist "Big" Tiny Little left the show to pursue a career on the road. Castle was tapped to play as a guest on the show several times over the next year, having switched to the piano, and by 1960 she was a regular. This exposure helped her sell a lot of albums with her good-time honky-tonk style, and she is still performing in the 21st century, including Lawrence Welk Orchestra Reunions. However, while Castle, Wood, Hyman and Busch were still cutting records into the 1960s, there was a change coming on that would take nearly a decade to come to fruition. Ultimately it would constitute itself as the ghost of ragtime coming back to life to reclaim itself as an historically legitimate musical genre.
THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD
The second edition of They All Played Ragtime, released in 1959, had a great deal of added or modified information that was sent to the authors by many who had read the first 1950 edition. Among the stories that were augmented was that of classic ragtime composer Joseph Lamb, spurring a few ragtime aficionados to contact and spend time with him to get as much information as they could. These included piano roll aficionado and historian Mike Montgomery, who made one of two recordings of Lamb playing his own rags at home. Another was music historian and UC Berkley college professor Sam Charters, who sat down with Mr. Lamb in the composer's home with a recorder, capturing not only his playing but his reflections on the ragtime era. This also shed a new light on the perceptions of how the music should be regarded in terms of performance, as well as indications of just how revered Scott Joplin was, and should be. While Maple Leaf Rag had been commonly performed by the honky-tonk performers of the 1950s, few of Joplin's other pieces were regarded or even known by all but a few die-hard players like Wally Rose or Marvin Ash.
Charters set out to change some of this, wanting to produce an album of Joplin rags played on solo piano.
Ann Charters.
ann charters
Sam's eventual discovery was a young student of his at Berkley by the name of Ann Danberg, who he knew had played with some college bands and was a pianist as well. He tapped the 19 year-old, who was already in love with her professor, the man who would become her future husband, to learn some Joplin rags ranging from Heliotrope Bouquet to the eclectic Euphonic Sounds. They recorded and released what is perhaps the first LP album of genuine Scott Joplin rags played in the classic ragtime style. Although Ann Charters recorded a few more times since that first effort in the late 1950s, she is now better known for biographies of beat authors like Jack Kerouac. The contribution that she and Sam made to the music still stands today as a notable achievement.
Around the same time, a Colorado pianist who was now in his
Max Morath - one of the best to ever take the stage.
max morath
thirties was building up a steady audience playing, singing and talking about the music from the ragtime era—and not just the rags, but the songs also. Max Morath easily persuaded fledging National Educational Television (the predecessor to PBS) to have him do a show on ragtime, knowing that the sustained popularity of it in the recording industry would translate to a good audience. He availed himself of this opportunity in a grand fashion when in his first 12-part series in 1959, The Ragtime Era, he presented the real deal without the honky-tonk affectations to a broad television audience. The series won acclaim and awards, as well as a follow-up, Turn of the Century, broadcast from 1961 to 1962. This was followed by a series of fabulous recordings of his shows on the Vanguard label, again without honky-tonk and often in front of a live audience. His well-formatted shows have been successful for more than four decades now, and he may have slowed down a bit, but has certainly not stopped spreading the word about "Living a Ragtime Life!"
One more notable contribution to the changeover, albeit often a background figure by choice, was the late "Ragtime Bob" Darch.
The author with Bob in 2000.
bill edwards with bob darch
After having served in the military during and after World War II, Darch opted to leave the military mid-career and pursue a childhood ambition of playing ragtime piano for a living. He eventually set up shop for a time in Nevada, playing everywhere from Carson City to Las Vegas. More importantly, Bob started to travel around the country as an itinerant pianist, much like those of a half-century prior,
Honky-Tonk and Ragtime Piano
Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Differences
So what is the big difference between Honky-Tonk piano and the Ragtime Piano that give it life? It is a tricky line that was often straddled in the 1950s and 1960s, and hard to quantify completely, but there are some criteria to help identify which style or sound is which.
Ragtime piano, together with the larger group of old-time piano, encompasses the piano rags and popular syncopated (and some non-syncopated) songs of approximately 1896 to 1920. Focusing on the ragtime part, it is often played on a solo piano or in a piano/bass/drum trio. The piano is just a piano, with nothing on it prepared to change the sound drastically. By the 1950s, pianos from the ragtime era were considered to be "experienced." The music is often played closely to what is written, sometimes with improvisations or riffs infused into the performance. The closer to classic ragtime the performer gets, the closer to the original score they usually remain.
Honky-tonk piano may or may not have gotten its name from the type of "joint" the music was played in (it certainly doesn't sound like geese singing). One of the earliest uses of the term is in the lyrics of The Aba Daba Honeymoon, which refers to "singin' and swingin' in a hunkey-tonkey way". It is more often than not played on a prepared piano that has been deliberately altered to sound extra bright, and often detuned in a controlled fashion. There are a lot more tricky flourishes, such as short rolls or crushes into downbeats and frequent novelty piano riffs. The repertoire choice is often towards Tin Pan Alley style rags and popular songs. The pace is usually a bit more brisk than with traditional ragtime performance. Honky-tonk style can be and, indeed, was applied to a wide variety of composition genres. The percussion for honky-tonk is, more often than not, oriented towards sticks on the rim rather than on the drum, and other percussive effects as well, such as woodblocks and cowbells.
The line was easily crossed, often making a genre label a hard call. Typically, a classic rag played on the honky-tonk style piano at a brisk pace would constitute honky-tonk piano. But there were a few, like Lou Busch, who applied some elements of honky-tonk style on a traditional piano, even on more genteel pieces, creating a crossover. Most artists were happy to align themselves with one or another label, particularly if they had an audience that was receptive to it. Thus Busch preferred the ragtime label, as did Wally Rose, while "Big" Tiny Little and Del Wood were perfectly happy being honky-tonk artists. There are other hard-to peg cases, like Jo Ann Castle, who indeed plays good ragtime, but often in a honky-tonk style.
In the end, it is personal preference more than a label that drives a listening choice, but it is sometimes nice to understand the labels for the sake of clarity.
not only spreading the gospel of ragtime (again as opposed to honky-tonk), but learning more about it as well. Every town he went to had another library, museum, or newspaper archive that turned up more information. Much of this was shared with historians like Blesh and Janis for inclusion in later editions of They All Played Ragtime, but much of it was carefully used to seek out figures of the past and bring them back to notoriety.
Among these was composer Percy Wenrich, whom Bob befriended, and eventually had him honored publicly in a big way in Wenrich's home town of Joplin, Missouri. Darch managed to locate the grave of James Scott in Kansas City and saw to it that it was not only made available to the public, but better cared for as well. Bob uncovered many previously unknown works by ragtime composers (although in fairness to all there are a few questions and blurry lines about what was genuine and what was appended, which is simply a footnote to Mr. Darch's considerable efforts). He managed to get Joe Lamb his only professional gig as a pianist in Toronto in 1959 (Lamb died in 1960), and had the performance recorded as well. Darch also reunited legendary ragtime pianists/composers Eubie Blake, Charlie Thompson and Joe Jordan for a recording session, in stereo no less, that is one of the better existing records of how ragtime was really played during the ragtime era.
All of these acts by Bob Darch contributed to the growing cache of ragtime information and inspiration. Bob was often more interested in seeing that the music and those who created it got the public recognition he felt it was due, than he was in promoting his own legacy, which ironically (and most befittingly) is largely what his legacy has become. While he eventually became fairly well-known, although never achieving the fame of Morath, Busch or others, he also knew everybody and always had time for all of them, including the author who befriended him the last few years of his life. While it was a collective effort that brought around the second ragtime revival in the 1970s, yet another story, which ultimately codified Scott Joplin's proper place in American music history, Bob was usually one or two steps away from those who were more visible in this effort, often doing the pushing. Make no mistake that he could play a mean honky-tonk piano when called upon to do so. However, up to the very end (the author participated in his last public performance) he was ultimately interested in sharing the authentic side of the ragtime life.
So from Mr. Busch to Mr. Darch, the decade of the 1950s and part of the 1960s saw the rebirth, or more properly, the reacquaintance of ragtime music to the American public and the world at large, in a variety of forms. While honky-tonk might be viewed as an illegitimate offspring of ragtime, it is actually closer to a misguided sibling. The genre of 1950s, and indeed the larger encapsulated genre of "space age pop," were both products of an age of diversity when America and the world were experimenting with new musical directions while still trying to hang onto or incorporate more familiar legacies of the music world. Listening to honky-tonk records now may seem a guilty pleasure of sorts, but it was part of an evolution of ragtime that kept it in the forefront while the more classical forms of the performance of it were still coming to fruition. So go ahead, enjoy it without the guilt!
Many of the albums by the artists mentioned above and on the next page are once again available and on CD for the first time on Siggnal Sounds. All have been carefully restored in their entirety from vinyl or original tape sources, and many have been augmented with bonus cuts from singles or long-lost recordings. For a listing of the albums, artists and tunes, go to the Vintage Ragtime Recordings section.

To find even more Ragtime Recordings on CD, Vinyl or Tape, including rare items, go to GEMM, because if it ain't there, you can pretty much fuhgeddaboudit!
Search GEMM Now:


Even More Ragtime on the Web can be found through my Links page,
which is well worth a visit.


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The Ragtime Webring-Dedicated to Scott Joplin and the music of the Ragtime Era, this ring is an invaluable resource for jazz music lovers, musicians and historians. Sheet music, midi files, afro-american history, record collectors...

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There are lots of great ragtime recordings by top artists available from
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Including some of my recommended favorites:
Max Morath Dick Hyman Dick Zimmerman
Paul Lingle Wally Rose Lu Watters
James P. Johnson Tony Caramia Squirrel Nut Zippers
Marcus Roberts Butch Thompson Jelly Roll Morton
Glenn Jenks Sue Keller Fats Waller
The Good Time Jazz Catalog and Bill's personal favorites, The Firehouse Five+2!


And don't miss these movies which include some ragtime music:
The Jazz Singer The Sting
Alexander's Ragtime Band Scott Joplin
The Legend of 1900 Ragtime
For Me and My Gal Meet Me In St. Louis
In the Good Old Summertime Take Me Out to the Ball Game
The Jolson Story Jolson Sings Again
Cheaper by the Dozen San Francisco
Somewhere in Time Titanic (1953)
The Other Pretty Baby
42nd Street Reds
The Son of Kong Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
Cheyenne Social Club The Shootist
How To Dance Through Time - Dances of the Ragtime Era

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