“Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” Originally titled “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?”; words and music by Hughie Cannon (1902). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocalists Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle in London on March 18, 1932. HMV B. 6162.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Billy Amstell-cl-as / Joe Crossman-cl-as-bar / Joe Jeanette-cl-ts / Ernie Lewis-Teddy Sinclair-Peter Rush-vn / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-bj-g / Don Stuteley-sb / Max Bacon-d1
Now a jazz standard, “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” originated as a ragtime piece by American songwriter Hughie Cannon and predates Ambrose’s recording by thirty years. It has as its characters an emotionally desperate and abandoned battered wife and a smug husband who seems to think her situation serves her right. Somehow the song usually manages to sound upbeat, most often perhaps because musicians keep the refrain and omit the verses, leaving us to wonder who Bill Bailey is and why he is gone in the first place. In this her first recording session with Ambrose and His Orchestra, Elsie Carlisle plays the wife, who has ejected her husband from their home after he “took and throwed her down, / Bellowing like a prune-fed calf” — but she nevertheless blames herself. For this piece, Elsie adopts an attempt at negro dialect suited to her character:
Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey?
Won’t you come home?
I moans de whole day long.
I’ll do de cooking honey,
I’ll pay de rent!
I knows I’ve done you wrong!
‘Member that rainy eve that
I throwed you out
With nothin’ but a fine-toothed comb?
I knows I’s to blame —
Well, ain’t dat a shame?
Bill Bailey, wont you please come home?
The Ambrose recording lacks the second verse, in which it is revealed that Bill Bailey has somehow become rich and experiences Schadenfreude as he hears his wife moan for him.
“Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” had been recorded in Britain in late 1931 by Jay Wilbur and His Band (with vocalist John Thorne) and by Jack Leon’s Band — in both cases as part of a medley.
Brian Rust and Sandy Forbes, British Dance Bands on Record (1911-1945) and Supplement, p. 25. ↩
“The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.” Words and music by Harry Woods and Billy Hill (the latter using the pseudonym George Brown; 1932). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra (with vocals by Elsie Carlisle) on July 13, 1932. HMV B6210 mx. OB3134-1.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Joe Crossman-Billy Amstell-Joe Jeannete-reeds / Harry Hines-as / Ernie Lewis-Teddy Sinclair-Peter Rush-vn / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d-vib
Eighty-two years ago today, Elsie Carlisle recorded with Ambrose and His Orchestra one of her two versions of “The Clouds Will Soon Roll By.” It has become fixed in popular memory as one of her most representative recordings, and especially as a perfect example of her ability to project a persona of touching vulnerability — in this case employing optimistic lyrics set to a powerful but somewhat melancholy arrangement. Meteorological metaphors encouraging an upbeat attitude seem to have been a staple of the popular music of the time. It was in the same year that Irving Berlin composed his “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee”:
“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” Words and music by Milton Drake, Walter Kent, and Abner Silver (1932). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with Elsie Carlisle as vocalist on December 1, 1932. Regal Zonophone MR-769.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-Joe Jeannette-Billy Amstell-reeds / Harry Hines-as / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d / Freddie Bretherton-a
“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway” is a composition by notable songwriters Milton Drake (also known for “Java Jive” and “Mairzy Doats”), Walter Kent (most famous for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “The White Cliffs of Dover”), and Abner Silver (who would co-write “No! No! A Thousand Times, No!” — another Elsie Carlisle hit). Elsie recorded “Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway” five times in November and December of 1932, more times than any other song in her career: first “solo,” then with Ambrose and His Orchestra (by far her best-known version), then in two takes with Rudy Starita and His Band (one on Sterno, the other on Four-in-One), and finally with Harry Hudson and His Melody Men.
“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” remains one of Elsie’s most popular songs, most likely on account of her impeccable comic delivery of its risqué lyrics — indeed, it is outdone in sexual suggestiveness only by her two recordings of “My Man O’ War” (perhaps “My Handy Man” would also qualify in this regard). It is the complaint of an attractive woman who admits to liking a bit of flirtation but who has apparently met someone who takes it too far: a certain “Mr. Hemingway.” As the song progress, her description of his impertinent advances escalates, with Mr. Hemingway’s behavior sounding increasingly physically rough. The culmination is justly famous:
And I don’t mind your osculations,
But my dear, my operation!
Oh, pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!
Two days before she recorded the version with Ambrose and His Orchestra, Elsie had committed to shellac a “solo” recording:
“Pu-leeze! Mister Hemingway!” Recorded by Elsie Carlisle on November 28, 1932. Decca F. 3312.
Personnel: probably Max Goldberg-t / t / tb / 2cl / as / 2 or 3 vn / Claude Ivy-p / g / sb / d
Two final points need to be addressed. People often ask me if it is Ernest Hemingway that Elsie is singing about. I see no particular reason to identify the fictional masher with the American novelist. An open letter addressed to Ernest Hemingway entitled “Please, Mr. Ernest Hemingway” appeared in the American Criterion in 1935, but the addition of Hemingway’s first name would suggest that the letter’s author did not consider the song title that he was citing in jest to be originally about Ernest Hemingway.
“Let’s Make Love.” Words By Stanley J. Damerell, music by Tolchard Evans (1934). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocals by Sam Browne and with Elsie Carlisle in a speaking role on November 1, 1934. Decca F. 5297 mx. TB 1704-1.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-reeds / Sid Phillips-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Billy Amstell-reeds / Ernie Lewis-Reg Pursglove-others?-vn / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d
“Let’s Make Love (In Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter)” is a light waltz written by British songwriters Stanley J. Damerell and Tolchard Evans, who collaborated on such notable songs as “Lady of Spain” (1931) and “If (They Made Me a King)” (1934). There seems to be a general rule that whenever Damerell and Evans have collaborated on a song, Elsie Carlisle ends up with a speaking role. That would appear to be the case in the Ambrose recording of “Hyde Park Corner” (Hargreaves-Damerell-Evans; 1933), in which Sam Browne sings and Elsie and drummer Max Bacon have speaking parts, as well as in the Maurice Winnick version of “Da-Dar-Da-Dar” (also Hargreaves-Damerell-Evans; 1933), in which Sam Browne sings and Elsie is a mere interlocutor. So it is in this Damerell-Evans piece, “Let’s Make Love.”
Jack Payne and His Band had made, in late October 1934, a version of “Let’s Make Love” that relied for its entertainment value largely on comical Northern and Cockney voices provided by Jack Payne and Charlie Asplin; there was yet another version of “Let’s Make Love” in November by Jay Wilbur and His Band, with Fred Latham on the vocals. After an impressive instrumental introduction, the Ambrose recording has Sam Browne sing just the refrain and the first verse of the song. He then proceeds repeatedly to try to sing the first few words of the refrain (or something like them) in foreign accents which are intentionally abysmally done. His try at a Russian accent (“Letsky makesky loveskevitch”) is perhaps the least embarrassing. I cannot say whether his announcing the Russian lover a second time and then correcting himself to “a Spanish lover” is a feigned mistake or a real one. The cannibalistic Zulu with his war cry “Yum, yum, yum!” is awkward at best, as is the shivering Eskimo.
Elsie Carlisle, for her part, merely interjects on occasion that Sam’s “impressions are lousy,” or the like. Sam and Elsie had already played bickering lovers in the 1933 Maurice Winnick recording of “Seven Years with the Wrong Woman,” and it was only weeks after recording “Let’s Make Love” that they would berate each other in “I’m Gonna Wash My Hands with You” with Ambrose and His Orchestra. In “Let’s Make Love,” by contrast, it is not apparent that Sam really means it when he repeatedly sings “Let’s Make Love” to Elsie, nor that her rebuffing of him is anything more than a negative review of his talent. What is clear is that this song is one of the silliest things Sam and Elsie ever collaborated on in their years of working for Ambrose.
“You’ve Got Me Crying Again.” Words by Charles Newman, music by Isham Jones (1933). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocal refrain by Elsie Carlisle in London on May 5, 1933. Brunswick 01523.
Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-Harry Owen-t / Ted Heath-tb / Danny Polo-cl-as-bar / Joe Jeannette-cl-as / Harry Hayes-as / Billy Amstell-cl-ts / Ernie Lewis-Teddy Sinclair-Peter Rush-vn / Bert Read-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Don Stutely-sb / Max Bacon-d
“You’ve Got Me Crying Again” is a particularly good torch song, or “plaintive onion-ballad of the better type,”1 if you prefer. It is an example of a genre that Elsie Carlisle had mastered (compare her renditions of “Mean to Me,”“Body and Soul,”“He’s My Secret Passion,”“Poor Kid,” and “Have You Ever Been Lonely”), and she handles this Isham Jones piece with dramatic dexterity, combining pathos with utter cuteness. The lyrics are the words of a person frustrated by the vicissitudes of a love relationship, but the complaints are really rather generic, and so it is impressive that Elsie is able, in the 45 seconds allotted to her, to impart character to what is fundamentally just a snippet of a speech. She outdoes herself in this recording, but she is matched by the mesmerizing instrumentals of an arrangement outstanding even by the high standards one expects of Ambrose.