Thursday, December 04, 2008

Jewface 1908

I seem to have accumulated a whole series of posts relating to Yiddish cowboys. Here I linked to You Shall Know Us...'s post on Yiddish cowboys, which has an mp3 '“a real honest-to-goodness Jewish cowboy” named Harold Stern (he’s pre-law, single, and can ride bareback!) with Avram, a former Israeli paratrooper who sings tunes in Hebrew and, without explanation, Italian', and summarises the story that runs from Jewish gauchos to Mickey Katz’s “Haim Afen Range” to Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles to Kinky Friedman. Here I did Eden Ahbez's hillbilly mentor, Cowboy Jack Patton. Here we had Stern, SoCalled's Jewish cowby hip hop track and Al Tijuana's Jewish Brass. Here we had Kinky Friedman and Scott Gerber. And we had more Kinky Friedman here and elsewhere.

Anyways, the wonderful Locust Avenue is now up to 1908 in his wonderful vinyl history. That means Charles L. Johnson's "Dill Pickles Rag" and Edward Meeker "I'm a Yiddish Cowboy":
Much like the African-American songwriters who wrote minstrel songs, Jewish songwriters contributed to their culture's mockery. Jews wrote bits like "Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars" for Jews to perform on stage, usually a comedian wearing, as Jody Rosen put it: an "ubiquitous beard and enormous hook nose...oversized shoes, a tattered black overcoat, and a derby cap pulled tightly across his head so that his ears jutted out."

Even Irving Berlin (who Philip Roth, in Operation: Shylock, wrote had achieved the ultimate assimilation goal: turning the Nativity into a celebration of snow, and the Resurrection into a society parade) wrote his share of tenement ballads in his early years. A subconscious, subversive joke: the opening strains of the chorus of Berlin's "God Bless America" are directly lifted from the Jewish vaudeville gag song "Mose With His Nose Leads the Band."

As Rosen wrote, "I'm a Yiddish Cowboy" yanks together two typical scenarios of the period--a ghetto Jew out in the country making a fool of himself (see Roth's just-released Indignation), and the many perils of mixed marriages (think "Abie's Irish Rose"). Written by Al Piantadosi and Leslie Mohr, it's sung here by the dreadful Edward Meeker, who gurns and bleats into the recording horn, playing to the cheap seats. (Meeker was best known as the voice introducing hundreds of Edison records, including this one; Leslie had a long career as a songwriter--he wrote "For Me and My Gal," "Hello Hawaii, How Are You" and "Take Me to the Land of Jazz"). You could claim the Billy Crystal movie City Slickers is a sequel to this song.

Recorded in New York in July 1908 and released as Edison Gold Moulded Record 9984; on Jewface.
Keywords: music, mp3


Jim Denham said...

Was the "Johnson" who composed Dill Pickles (Rag) Jewish, then? I never knew that.

And as to 'Take Me To The Land of Jazz': all the credits for it that I've seen say "Wendling, Leslie, Kalmar". I guess the "leslie" in question could be Mr Mohr. Anyway, it's a good little tune, much loved by the eccentric (but non-Jewish) clarinetist Pee Wee Russell - who even sang the words on one memorable recording in 1946.

Bob said...

Johnson wasn't Jewish, but the theme of dill pickles is, hence his mention in this series! A lot of his rags, incidentally, have food themes, which I approve of. (I just found out his piano teacher was called Mr. Kreiser - possibly Jewish. There's probably a whole story about the impact of German and Austrian piano teachers (including Jews) on ragtime...)

As for Leslie Mohr, I'd never heard of him. "Take Me To...", first recorded, I think, by Bert Harvey: the Leslie is Edgar Leslie, ASCAP founder and director, and also author of the other songs Locust Ave mentions. Maybe Edgar L is a pseudonym? Lots of tin pan alley Jewish writers took gentile-sounding names.

C. said...

hey bob--

as i responded on my site, I confused Edgar Leslie and Leslie Mohr somehow. Mohr and Leslie are not the same person, as far as I know. Leslie Mohr seems to be a complete unknown.