This song made a deep impact on me decades before I might have encountered the emotional situation it describes. Perhaps it’s something about the intense but elliptical declaration of love: I am so deeply entranced by you that IF you decided to behave in opposition to those feelings I wouldn’t be able to “take it.” “Baby.” By the way, singers could have a whole course of study focused on the ways each singer pronounces and phrases that meaningful word.
Here I present Thirties versions of this song (our friends Banu Gibson, Hanna Richardson, and Becky Kilgore have done more recent versions, as did Maxine Sullivan in Sweden, but that’s another blogpost; I’ve also skirted versions by Eddy Duchin, Frances Wayne, and a particularly raucous reading by Lionel Hampton from 1937).
I think you will hear why the song struck home, as well as understand my admiration for the singers and their particular approach to the material. (And imagine a time when the jukebox would play new recordings by Jack Teagarden and Ethel Waters. I know that had I been there, I would not be writing this blog, but still . . . . ) I also suspect that the connection between the Teagarden, Waters, Bullock recordings is the wonderfully omnipresent Victor Young, and that all the recordings use an arrangement by Arthur Schutt.
First, an unexpected pleasure — the Leo Reisman recording from December 28, 1933, with Thelma Nevins singing. Years ago I would have scorned this as “just a dance-band record,” but it’s so pretty, and Miss Nevins does the song beautifully. Google turns up no photographs of her, but she’s mentioned in an April 1939 Variety as a “svelte looker” and in a 1947 Billboard as singing at the Chateau in New York City, so she didn’t disappear, thankfully:
Now, the first of two 1933 versions for which I can offer personnel: Frank Guarente, Sterling Bose, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal; Chester Hazlett, Jimmy Dorsey, clarinet, alto saxophone; Mutt Hayes, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Walter Edelstein, violin; Joe Meresco, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Larry Gomar, drums; Victor Young, director. New York, November 11, 1933. Jack only sings; before this, on the session, he recorded two takes of A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY:
Jack takes it fairly briskly — one would think “matter-of-factly,” but listen to his variations on “Baby.”
Here’s Ethel Waters, accompanied by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra: Ethel Waters; Charlie Teagarden, Shirley Clay, trumpet; Jack Teagarden; Benny Goodman; Art Karle, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Gene Krupa, drums. (Two takes were issued; only one shows up on YouTube.) New York, November 27, 1933 (the session at which Billie Holiday recorded her first side — YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW, also written by Nichols and Hollner — with the same band. Ethel went first, as befitting a Star, with two takes of HUNDRED and of BABY. And please notice that although Victor Young saw Jack as vocalist only on his own date, he is memorable, as is Benny, in duet with Ethel as if two voices.)
Her reading, and I mean this as a compliment, is dramatic — a three-minute stage play, with deep feeling throughout. Her enunciation, her phrasing, her wit and sorrow, are all unforgettable. I know there was a massive and unsparing biography a few years ago, but where is the Ethel Waters celebration? She was extraordinary:
Here are a few happy meanderings on the theme, first, a quick instrumental version from the “Bill Dodge” transcription session (circa February 10-28, 1934) featuring Benny Goodman and a nearly savage Bunny Berigan out front. The collective personnel according to Tom Lord is Berigan, Manny Klein, Shirley Clay, trumpet; Joe Harris, Jack Jenney, or Larry Alpeter, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Hank Ross, Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; Arthur Schutt, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Gene Krupa, Sammy Weiss, or Stan King, drums: :
Finally, Chick Bullock and his Levee Loungers from December 12, 1933. He’s accompanied by Guarente, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Hazlett, Hayes, Edelstein, Moresco, Botkin, Bernstein, and Gomar. I like Chick’s singing a great deal but no singer should have to follow Ethel:
In researching this post, I found a scholarly essay (scholarly in its digging, not in its stuffiness) about Alberta Nichols and Mann Hollner, who were married. The writer, Molly Ruggles, is much more fascinated by UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG than this song, but the piece is well worth reading.
I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT BABY is the real thing for those who feel.
May your happiness increase!