Eddie Lang, first of the virtuoso jazz guitarists /3

    Early last century Lang spread the message of the guitar to any banjo player intelligent enough to take it. Part three of a three-part survey of his achievements


    Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang had an immediate and total empathy that was most unusual. Lonnie took the lead whilst Eddie took most of the accompanying role, although they swapped roles occasionally. Johnson seems to have played a 12-string guitar adapted to a 10-string.

    Lang made a handful of records with his own seven-piece that included the Dorsey Brothers and trumpeter Leo McConville, a lesser-know trumpeter who played a very fine lead. Of the three titles recorded on 22 May 1929, the delightful Freeze And Melt enjoyed what then seemed like immortality by being side B of Louis’s West End Blues. It was under Eddie’s name, but he played only one eight-bar break in solo. Today it seems to be totally absent from the catalogues, as are its partners Bugle Call Rag and Hot Heels.

    Bix and Eddie were to strike sparks off each other whenever they met in the studio, and, despite poor old Bix’s wayward descent into alcoholism, must have felt a great affinity. Eddie was a responsible man, as illustrated by Bing Crosby’s revelation that Eddie looked after his money for him during their association.

    On the morning of 14 March 1928, Jack Teagarden, newly arrived in New York from Texas, was lying unconscious on his bed after days of non-stop drinking. Pee Wee Russell, sharing the room, took a phone call from drummer Vic Berton, who had heard Jack play at a drunken jam session the day before.

    “We’re at the Victor studios recording for Roger Wolfe Kahn. Miff Mole hasn’t turned up, so we need that trombonist from Texas.”

    Pee Wee prodded and prodded the recumbent trombonist into life, and what was left of Jack arrived at the studios where he met Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti for the first time. Roger Wolfe Kahn was a rich playboy who assembled and recorded star-studded bands for his own pleasure. That day they recorded She’s A Great, Great Girl, which included Jack’s first significant solo on record.

    There were several occasions on which Jack and Eddie recorded together produced a jazz classic. The most majestic of them was Knockin’ A Jug on 5 March 1929, another morning when Jack had been out boozing for all the previous night and joined the musicians in the studio for a taste before recording the beautiful blues. Eddie and Jack both soloed dramatically before Louis Armstrong’s crowning glory. After it was in the can, the record producer asked Louis what it was called. At a loss, Louis looked around the studio and saw an empty bottle on the floor, maybe one of Jack’s. “Man, we sure knocked that jug,” said Louis. “You can call it Knockin’ A Jug.”

    By an incredible coincidence, Lonnie Johnson was in the same studio on the same day, contributing an eloquent solo when Louis and the Luis Russell band made their classic version of Mahogany Hall Stomp.

    Jack and Eddie met again on a more low-key session led by Hoagy Carmichael. The session, in New York on 15 September 1930, was notable for having Bix, Venuti, Jimmy Dorsey, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, and Gene Krupa amongst its ranks, and produced Georgia On My Mind, One Night In Havana and two versions of Bessie Couldn’t Help It.

    Lang appeared on a multitude of jazz recordings, and particularly graced a lot of Red Nichols’s output from 1927. So did Jack Teagarden, but, surprisingly the two never appeared together with Red’s groups.

    The Venuti-Lang All Stars of 21 October 1931: Every collector will encounter these four tracks in the pursuit of his calling, and they stand out as being near perfect classics in the jazz pantheon

    Eddie’s most valued appearances must have been those in small groups with Venuti and specifically at what turned out to be the peak of their sessions, the Venuti-Lang All Stars of 21 October 1931. Every collector will encounter these four tracks in the pursuit of his calling, and they stand out as being near perfect classics in the jazz pantheon. Perfect? I would think so, for it doesn’t seem possible to fault them. The eight-piece consisted of Eddie and Joe with the then just 18 trumpeter Charlie Teagarden, his brother Jack on trombone, clarinettist Benny Goodman, Frank Signorelli on piano, bassist Ward Lay and Neil Marshall on drums. The titles were Beale Street Blues and After You’ve Gone, both with vocals from Jack, and the spanking Farewell Blues and an almost elegiac Someday Sweetheart. It’s to be hoped that these are available on single CDs, for they deserve universal circulation. If not they are on Avid’s three CD Teagarden set called Father Of The Blues Trombone (Avid AMBX 126) and also on Properbox’s Big T, which is a four-CD set on Properbox 80. Each set is of outstanding value.

    By now Teagarden was well-established and beloved by jazz fans across the world. At this session he excelled, and another of his regular New York associates, Benny Goodman, played with a pithy directness that was soon to dissipate in his swing era recordings. Charlie Tea’s trumpet was mature beyond his years, and he was already a match for the surrounding greats. Venuti, a most consistently great player, was just that, and the a rhythm players, lesser known men, provided reliable support.

    Lang made his last recordings in 1933. For one session Venuti’s quintet was listed as the Joe Venuti/Eddie Lang Blue Five. On 28 February that band included Jimmy Dorsey (c, cl, as), Adrian Rollini back on bass sax, goofus and vibes, pianist Phil Wall and the two leaders. It produced Raggin’ The Scale, Hey, Young Fella, Jig Saw Puzzle Blues and Pink Elephants.

    You’ll find bits on Eddie Lang in all writings about jazz in the 20s. There are particularly good pieces in Richard Hadlock’s book Jazz Masters Of The 20s (Da Capo) and in Dick Sudhalter’s Lost Chords (OU Press).

    The golden source, if you can find a copy, is Mosaic’s deleted Classic Columbia And Okeh Joe Venuti And Eddie Lang Sessions (MD8 213), which has about 200 tracks by the two. August sees the issue of a Retrospective double on Venuti-Lang that has 50 or so tracks, including Freeze And Melt and some of the Eddie Lang Orchestra sessions, as well as the classic Beale Street/Farewell Blues quartet of titles mentioned above.

    Read part one of this article; read part two