We’ve talked about Merle Travis and Carolina Cotton in the past, so today we’ll take a closer look at their work with the Glee Gates Trio, an all-woman combo almost lost to history. Travis, Cotton and the the trio appear in three Soundies produced in Los Angeles in April-May 1944.
The Glee Gates Trio (Glee Gates, violin and leader; Lucille Blake, accordion; Boots Wayne, string bass) was working regularly in Los Angeles in the spring of 1944 and was brought in for both soundtrack and sideline work on this series of Soundies with Merle Travis and Carolina Cotton. Lucille Blake, the group’s accordion player, told me that the trio was not a country-western combo per se: “We played all kinds of music, western, pop, jazz, you name it.” She also noted that they had not performed with Merle Travis prior to the session.
Lucille recalled, “The war years were good for all-girl bands since so many of the boys were away overseas. We never had many long-time engagements, but we were constantly working. Nobody ever asked us to record, but we broadcast a few times from a club on Hollywood, up near the big theater. [I wonder if Lucille is referring to the Streets of Paris, just east of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.] We also worked in small clubs on LaBrea and Crescent Heights, as I recall. The Suzy-Q was one of them. Maybe at a club on Vine, but not Billy Berg’s”
Lucille continued, “We were recorded both on the soundtrack and on screen for these films. Boots played string bass for the recording and then guitar for the filming so our grouping could be more compact for the vocal trio spots.”
But all is not that simple. On screen we also see a steel guitarist, probably Bonnie Dodd, and a string bass player, possibly Colleen Summers (later Mary Ford). But the soundtrack recording is very problematic. Earl “Joaquin” Murphy is noted on the recording contract as the steel guitar player, and the steel guitar solos are wholly consistent with his work during this period. Art Wenzel, accordion, and George R. Braunsdorf (Deuce Spriggins), string bass, are also noted on the recording contract. However, two accordions and two string basses are not present and it is likely that it is Wenzel and Spriggins who are heard on soundtrack, Ms. Blake’s recollections notwithstanding. Or possibly Wenzel and Spriggins somehow split the recording date with Blake and Wayne?
We are left with unanswered questions, but we’ll conclude with a thought offered by musicologist Kevin Coffee: “I think the contract evidence, coupled with aural evidence, is pretty compelling. Unquestionably, Murphy on steel and I believe strongly that it’s Wenzel on accordion. Sounds very much like him and he was a distinctive player. My guess, given the contract, is that Braunsdorf is on bass, too, and that the rather polite violin probably is Gates.”
The tune “Why Did I Fall For Abner” is an attractive one, and is an early contribution by Merle Travis who sings the lyrics along with Carolina. As with countless other Soundies, problems with the personnel take a back seat for some rather wonderful music.