"He's the Last Word" featured image. Detail from original sheet music.

“He’s the Last Word” (1927)

“He’s the Last Word.” Lyrics by Gus Kahn, music by Walter Donaldson (1926). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with accompaniment by piano (Carroll Gibbons) and violin at Studio B, Hayes, Middlesex, on May 6, 1927. HMV B. 2579 mx. Bb10689-2.

Elsie Carlisle - "He's the Last Word" (1927)

Elsie Carlisle – “He’s the Last Word” (1927)

“He’s the Last Word” follows an argument familiar to aficionados of popular music: its singer goes through a catalogue of her “sweet somebody’s” various deficits (insufficient talent at dancing, for example), only to conclude that when it comes to romance, “he’s the last word” — he is the very best. In her recording of the song, Elsie Carlisle is pure enthusiasm, and her frequent nonsensical ejaculations remind us of the fun, popular genre that she is working in. She is accompanied by excellent instrumentalists on the piano and violin, the former of whom discographer Richard J. Johnson identifies as Carroll Gibbons (who had indeed been Elsie’s accompanist for most of the previous year). Johnson does not identify the violinist.1

A contemporary record reviewer was under a very different impression as to the identities of the accompanists, writing that

Elsie Carlisle has a thoroughly good vocal record of “He’s the Last Word” [54 at 78] (B2579). She sings tunefully, and is one of the most stylish and rhythmical of all our English comediennes. She has been excellently accompanied by Hugo Rignold (violin) and Arthur Young (piano)—Young does one of the best piano solo choruses I have heard. I wish I could say as much for his effort in “What’s the Use of Crying?” by the same artists on the reverse side.2

Richard Johnson recognizes Arthur Young as the pianist on the other side of the record (“What’s the Use of Crying”), but that side was recorded over three months later. It is possible that Melody Maker‘s reviewer was unaware that the two sides had been recorded so far apart and simply assumed that the piano accompaniments were played by the same man at a single session. The suggestion that the violinist is Rignold is interesting. Hugo Rignold was already famous for his exceedingly “jazzy” playing, and certainly the violinist in “He’s the Last Word” gives the impression of being lively and playful, employing double and triple stops. All the same, I am increasingly inclined to the view that the violinist on “He’s the Last Word” was Eric Siday, while the one of “What’s the Use of Crying” was Rignold.3

Other noteworthy early versions of “He’s the Last Word” include ones by Art Kahn and His Orchestra, Jack Pettis and His Band (with vocalist Billy Hillpot), Ben Pollack and His Californians (with the Williams Sisters), Ben Bernie and His Roosevelt Orchestra (with vocals by Scrappy Lambert), the Broadway Bellhops (with singer Irving Kaufman), Jane Gray, Vaughn de Leath (recording as “Gertrude Dwyer”), The Troubadors, Annette Hanshaw (with Irving Brodsky on the piano), and Jack Linx and His Birmingham Society Serenaders. American Josephine Baker recorded “He’s the Last Word” in Paris accompanied by Jacob’s Jazz, and in August 1927 the Merl Twins (“Syncopating Songsters”) sang it in an early Hollywood Vitaphone short film.

In Britain in 1927, in addition to Elsie Carlisle’s, there were versions of “He’s the Last Word” by The Savoy Orpheans (directed by Carroll Gibbons), Syd Roy’s Lyricals, and Bert Firman’s Dance Orchestra (as Eugene Brockman’s Dance Orchestra).

Notes:

  1. Elsie Carlisle: A Discography. Aylesbury, UK, 1994, p. 6.
  2. The names are emphasized in the original. “The Gramophone Review.” The Melody Maker and British Metronome 2.24 (Dec. 1, 1927): 1273.
  3. I thank Brett Lowe for suggesting Siday (see below in the comments).

3 thoughts on ““He’s the Last Word” (1927)”

  1. The violinist could be either Hugo Rignold (as suggested above) or Eric Siday. Rignold could and did play occaisionally in this “sawing” style, but not often and I’d be inclined to think it more likely to be Siday who at this time (1927) liked this “sawing” double/triple stopped style. Check out his playing with Al Starita’s Kit Cat Club Band (aka Hylton’s Hyltonians) to see what I mean. Both violinists would likely have been well known to the group of musicians Elsie had been recording with up until this point.

    I wondered if either was already in the studio on the 6th of May – perhaps the violinist was already there recording with a dance band, and not specifically engaged for this side. So jJust for fun I checked this in Rust and Forbes and so far no leads –

    Savoy Orpheans (with Gibbons directing) were there (at HMV Studios in Hayes, Middlesex) recording on the 4th of May.

    The Savoy Havana Band were there on 2nd of May,

    Al Starita’s Kit Cat Band (aka Jack Hyltons Hyltonians) (with Siday on violin) on the 10th, 13th, 17th 19th and 31st.

    The Gilt Edged Four also recorded on the 10th also with Siday on violin according to John Wright’s discography of Len Fillis.

    Jack Hylton (with Rignold on violin) recorded in a Cinema on the 5th of May, but not in the studio until June.

    Jack Payne was there (with Bert Read on piano and an unidentified violinist) on the 9th and 21st. (checked more out of interest than any genuine belief they might have been around)

    Bert Firman had bands recording at Hayes on the 10th, 13th, 16th, 19th, 26th and 27th of May, with himself on violin and either his brother John or Cecil Norman on piano.

    So, no real leads yet following this line for another band being there on the 6th of May, 1927. But I think, while not ruling out Hugo Rignold, I would favour Eric Siday as the violinist here. As far as the pianist – I think it could be either Gibbons or Young, but as they were used to performing on record together, I’d tend to agree with Richard J. Johnson and go with Carroll Gibbons.

    1. Thanks you for your ideas about the identity of the violinist. I would be curious to know if you think Eric Siday is also playing on the version of “Baby” featured on my website (whose matrix I was recently able to confirm as Bb-10514-5 — a surprise, as that was not previously known to have been issued) and on “Since I Found You”, as those were recorded at the same May 6, 1927 session. When David Weavings first posted that version of “Baby” to YouTube, members of the Golden Age of British Dance Bands Facebook Group were about evenly divided in attributing the violin part to Eric Siday or Johnny Rosen.

  2. Hadn’t noticed the dates of the other recordings!! But I have had a listen to both and can’t say conclusively. “Since I Found You” and “Baby” sound like the same violinist, but not definitely the same as “He’s the Last Word”. But “Since I Found You” sounds more to my ear like Siday than “Baby” does. “He’s the Last Word” is played in a hotter style and I think almost certainly Siday. So I’d guess they all are by Siday on the grounds of “He’s the Last Word” being him, and them all being recorded on the same day at the same studio.

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"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.