Thursday, February 13, 2020

Your Thursday Moment of Is This Dude the Coolest Guy Who Ever Lived or What?

From sometime early in the 20th century -- 1930s would be my guess -- please enjoy Cab Calloway and his Cabaliers(!) and their fabulously spooky take on "St. James Infirmary."

Does MTV still exist? Because I guarantee they never aired a video as good as this one.

[h/t Allan Weissman]


Mark said...

That's a pretty cool performance, and that's too clean of a filmed version of anything recorded in the early 1930s, though it does have the optical track noise of such recordings. But then I saw Snader Telescriptions on the opening title. Snader Telescriptions were short filmed pieces by Louis Snader, a California theater owner who jumped into TV during the TV Freeze era, and saw a market for short filmed clips of musical artists for his nascent TV stations. You can read about him here (at Then I went back to the opening credit to search for the copyright (it's 1950, or MCML). So this Cab Calloway piece is one of the first Snader jobs.

And to me what's most remarkable about the performance is that Calloway, for the most part, is not performing TO the camera, but performing instead to an imaginary audience.

St. James Infirmary has a really great and murky history going back into the nineteenth century, but was brought into the realm of the general public by the great Louis Armstrong. My introduction to the song was via Eric Burdon, who recorded a super intense version on his Every One Of Us album in 1968.

Mark said...

There's a great video clip on the history of Snader Telescriptions here (on Amazon Prime at featuring the original host of the show built around the clips, and more important, the real director of the shows, who talks about the artists employed, many of the them Black jazz artists, and others ranging from Mel Torme to Peggy Lee to George Shearing to The Weavers and beyond. He also talks about using three-camera production values BEFORE Desi Arnaz did so on I Love Lucy, although Arnaz blocked his script for three cameras while it looks like Duke Gladstone, the director, just used 3 cameras to shoot everything that happened on stage, and edited together whatever looked best.

Hey, Steve, when you run out of Jack Benny programs, try Snader Telescriptions! Why trade a headache for an upset stomach when you can have both! With Snader!

pete said...

He's taking Screamin' Jay Hawkins to school.