Among the many incarnations of the California Ramblers, one of the most emblematic hot dance bands of the Roaring Twenties, is their group-within-a-group The Little Ramblers, a.k.a. The Goofus Five (and a.k.a. about as many other pseudonyms as there were record companies).
The name that went on the label of the small group’s OKeh releases came from the goofus or couesnophone, which looks like a toy sax, sounds like a harmonica and was one of the strange instruments played by the band’s multitalented soloist, Adrian Rollini (another was the ‘hot fountain pen,’ a kind of micro-clarinet.)
But it is on the bass sax that Rollini really shines, and this week’s sides showcase both his terrific soloing and his use of the unwieldy instrument as a stand-in for string bass or tuba, which lent the California Ramblers an instantly recognizable sound.
I’ve Got the Girl, a song remembered chiefly for being the first tune recorded by Bing Crosby, comes from the Goofus Five’s first real electric recording session, but the sound quality doesn’t betray what a novelty the newfangled Western Electric equipment must have been to the OKeh engineers (the company was a late adopter of the latest technology, which had been embraced a year earlier by Columbia and Victor). It’s startling listening to Goofus Five on CD, when the acoustic and primitive ‘Truetone’ recordings end and the electric tracks begin — it’s as if the band had been in a garage down the block and is suddenly in the same room with you. The side is typical of the band’s uptempo output around this time: a straightforward chart — possibly stock — danceable and bristling with hot solos.
I Left My Sugar Standing in the Rain is the last song recorded by the Goofus Five with this lineup. Rollini and bandmates Chelsea Quealey, Jack Russin, Tommy Felline and Bobby Davis left the group soon after to join Fred Elizalde’s band in London, and this might have lent an audible poignancy to the session. Rollini’s solo in this is one of my favourites — not very long, but deep and poetically understated. The vocal, too, always makes me smile; Beth Challis is an interesting singer: part vamp, part ZaSu Pitts.
I’ve Got the Girl
New York, December 24, 1926
Chelsea Quealey – t / Abe Lincoln – tb / Bobby Davis – cl – ss – as / Sam Ruby – ts / Adrian Rollini – bsx – gfs / Irving Brodsky – p / Tommy Felline – bj / Herb Weil – d / Les Reis (as Russell Douglas) – v.
I Left My Sugar Standing in the Rain
New York, August 12, 1927
Chelsea Quealey – t / Al Philburn – tb / Bobby Davis – cl – ss – as / Sam Ruby – ts / Adrian Rollini – bsx – gfs / Jack Russin – p / Tommy Felline – bj / Herb Weil – d / Beth Challis – v.