The California Ramblers

The California Ramblers

From Wikipedia

The California Ramblers were a popular and prolific jazz group from the 1920s, that recorded hundreds of songs under many different record labels throughout the 1920s. Three of the members of the band, Red NicholsJimmy Dorsey, and Tommy Dorsey, would go on to front big bands in later decades.

The original bandmembers were from Ohio, but chose the name California Ramblers because they thought people would be less inclined to listen to a jazz band from the Midwest. The Ramblers Inn was named after the band and was in Pelham, New York. The band was instantly successful, and would remain well-known throughout the decade. They were one of the most prolific recording groups in the 1920s. The Ramblers recorded originally for Vocalion Records in November of 1921. In early 1922, the front man for the California Ramblers, violinist Oscar Adler, told their manager, Ed Kirkeby, that he, Adler, was going to take over as the band’s manager and booking agent. Ed Kirkeby, who had a lot of pull in the New York music scene, had the B. F. Keith Circuit bar the Ramblers from playing in any of their restaurants, dance halls, or theaters. By the end of March 1922 the original band broke up. They made their last recording on March 16, 1922 for Arto Records. The banjo player and founder of the Ramblers, Ray Kitchenman, asked Kirkeby if the band could be reformed and suggested a band playing at Shanley’s Dance Hall which was led by violinist Arthur Hand. Kirkeby agreed and the this new band of California Ramblers made their first recording on April 3, 1922 for the Emerson Record Company. In late 1924 the Ramblers signed a contract with Columbia Records and then, in conjunction with their manager Ed Kirkeby, agreed to waive all royalties to Columbia for the right to record for other companies under different names.  They recorded for nearly every independent label in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., using over 100 unique aliases. 

They weren’t from Ohio necessarily — some were — but also from Pennsylvania. They played at Shanley’s Dance Hall, The Monte Carlo, and the California Ramblers Inn and in 1928 at the McAlpin Hotel. Although they were not the first mixed band to record ( the first was Jimmy Durante‘s Original New Orleans jazz Band in 1918 with light-skinned black clarinetistAchille Baquet), they were an early integrated band with light-skinned black trumpeter Bill Moore in the band from 1922 – March 1925 when he was replaced by Red Nichols. Bill Moore was billed as The Hot Hawaiian during his time with the California Ramblers.

The California Ramblers were the first group to record the classic song “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?“, in 1925, and many people in or associated with the band — Red NicholsJimmy DorseyTommy DorseyElwood Madeo Jr., and manager Ed Kirkeby — became some of the most famous and influential figures of the Big Band era.


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