02 November 2006

Happy Go Lucky Days

I can't say I'm entirely surprised that the earlier Duncan Sisters post ("The Curse of the Mean Cicero Blues") proved so popular, as the team is so entirely unique a joint personality and yet so little appears to have been written of them from a modern standpoint, aside from a beautifully detailed exploration of their "Topsy and Eva" characters developed for a stage production of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Despite their tangled, somewhat shadowy personal lives and involvements, The Duncan Sisters are all about music --- then as now. Extraordinarily prolific in the recording field, we're lucky enough to have a wide cross-section of extant material that stretches from the early acoustic 78rpm period to modern day 45rpm and LP recordings, although it's best to focus on output from their prime period of the 1920's and early 1930's.

From their 1926 musical stage production, "Topsy & Eva," here's one of the featured songs, "Happy Go Lucky Days," with the Duncans in character, an electrical recording from February of that year.

"Happy Go Lucky Days" (1926)

Moving ahead to September of 1927, comes the tune "Black and Blue Blues," and one that might raise more than a few eyebrows or furrow them today --- but it's all innocent fun when listened to in the context of it's day of origin. The Duncans are in character here too, but they'd often revert to their Topsy and Eva persona's long, long after the production ceased to be either topical or even remembered, for that matter.
Recorded during a successful tour of the United Kingdom in late 1928 and early 1929, the following two sentimental melodies are unusual for the Duncans in that they're performed absolutely straight and and have a sound unique among their recordings provided by a piano and Hawaiian guitar. Given the January 1st recording date for both, it's assumed their New Year's Eve festivities were minimal at best!

Lastly, two melodies that were featured in their 1929 starring vehicle, "It's A Great Life" (MGM) which were recorded in early January of 1930. The first, "It Must Be an Old Spanish Custom" is pure comic vaudeville --- and one of the brightest spots in the film, where it was performed almost identically to the version heard here --- although the comedic visuals (and Rosetta's wild mugging) are lacking of course, somewhat lessening the effect here.

The second tune, "I'm Following You," has long outlived both the Duncans and the film itself, to the point where a version was recorded in Germany in the late 1950's as a pseudo pop tune! The Duncans version however, is a timeless melodic ethereal beauty that transcends time and musical fashion.

1 comment:

greg tutmarc said...


I am enjoying your blog as regards the Duncan Sisters as my grandfather, Paul Tutmarc Sr. performed with them in the late 1920's as a singing peanut vendor in one of their films. He was also a professional Hawaiian Steel Guitar performer and I was very interested in hearing the song you linked Hula Hula Lullabye and Just Give the South Land to Me which features hawaiian steel guitar, but both links are no longer working. Any chance those songs are still available to hear? Thanks, Greg Tutmarc gtutmarc@rockisland.com (please don't publish my email if you publish this comment, thanks)