If you’ve been following the jazz news of the Thirties, it will not come as a shock to learn that Old Man Mose is dead. The saga of his demise is sad, mysterious, and not a little frightening:
For the extended, fascinating coverage of the variations created by Louis and friends on this theme, I direct you to Ricky Riccardi’s unequalled blogpost here.
Hearing this song, I always wonder at its genesis: my guess is that someone in Louis’ Chicago band — where Zilner Randolph was one of the trumpets and the “straw boss” — fell asleep on the bus or elsewhere and the spectacle struck everyone else as comic. “Man, you were so asleep you looked just like Old Man Mose. We didn’t know if you were dead.” Great art comes from such humble beginnings, you know. Cultural anthropologists may note that here is another example of African-Americans making fun of the stereotype — its source too deep for me to discover here — that they were afraid of occult creatures, of “hants,” of the dead: make of that what you will.
But I dugress. From Ricky’s blog, I learned that several “sequels” to this song, hoping to cash in on its popularity, had been created. (On YouTube, you can even hear a group of Beatles imitators try their hand at it in 1964. By the time their rendition is over, I do not hold out much hope for Mr. Mose being resuscitated, but that is only one man’s opinion.)
However, it was only on a recent record-shopping afternoon at the Down Home Music Store in El Cerrito that I found this latest chapter, a Bluebird 78 (circa 1939, I surmise) by the Eddie DeLange Orchestra, vocal by diminutive Elisse Cooper, of MRS. MOSE HAS A MILLION BEAUS (Since Old Man Mose Is Dead) — a Fox Trot penned by McCarthy, Redmond, and David. For the discographically-minded, it is the “B” side of Bluebird 10213; the “A” side is another novelty song, EAGLE EYE FINKLE, which chronicles the exploits of a roving gossip / scandal reporter for an imagined Russian newspaper.
I don’t know who is in the band, nor do I know who plays the chordal guitar solo in the middle* . . . but I thought JAZZ LIVES readers deserved full disclosure of posthumous marital news amongst imaginary characters in novelty songs. See if you agree:
It leaves me speechless, too. Especially the part about Old Man Mose’s life insurance policy. I’m on the edge of my chair, waiting to hear what happens next.
*Wise friend David Weiner tells me that it was recorded in March 1939 and the guitarist is one Guy Smith — no one else in the band is a “famous” musician (my quotation marks, not David’s). Nice ensemble sound, though.
May your happiness increase!