Billy Cotton was a band leader, successful in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s. He later became a television personality and actor, but back in the day his band was hot. It started out as a more-or-less conventional dance band, but later included elements of vaudeville. Cotton was a skilled arranger, and his records are still sought after today for their “distinctive driving rhythm and fine arrangements punctuated by hot solos”.
Along with most of the band, Cotton was white, but there was a prominent African-American in the ensemble, singer and trombonist Ellis Jackson. You will hear him on both these recordings.
He is perhaps hamming it up a little, matching the stereotype of the smiling black musician, as Louis Armstrong had to do. You have to look past that: this was 1934, and he was a black man making his way in a strange land and culture. Good on him, and good on Billy Cotton for giving him the limelight.
Most important – the music smokes! These two tracks come from a 1934 shellac record issued by Regal-Zonophone. The Third Tiger is a stomping rag. The St Louis Blues, introduced by Ellis Jackson as “one of them good-old good ones,” starts a little more subdued but then hots up.
Disc Details: Billy Cotton and His Band, “The Third Tiger / St Louis Blues” (10″, shellac, 78rpm), Regal Zonophone, Australia, 1934.