The old, sweet sounds of yesterday

I remember listening to Rudy Vallee in the late 1950s, the crackling sounds from the old 78s coming through the wind-up Gramophone speaker over his voice. By the time I heard him, Vallee was past his middle-age, no longer the youthful musical superstar who was the darling of women everywhere in the 1920s and 30s. His career was certainly not over, but it was waning. The British Invasion was about to dawn on the cultural stage, and he would be forgotten, along with many of his contemporaries.

Rudy Vallee was just one of the performers in a pile of old 78s that came with the gramophone. There were others - Mario Lanza, Stanley Holloway, George Formby, Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and many, many more. In the 1950s, we had a cottage near Georgian Bay, a small, rustic place with no electricity. We had an ice box that used real ice still delivered by the local ice man, to keep our food fresh. We had gas lanterns to read by in the evening. Water was carried in jugs and bottles, filled from a fresh water spring a few miles away. And for entertainment we had the wind-up gramophone with its heavy, fragile records to play at night.

Eventually, we got electricity and the Gramophone was replaced by an old radio from the 1930s or 40s, a wooden cabinet with giant tubes and big dials for me to play with. When we sold the cottage, in the early 1960s, the gramophone and the record collection ended up in our basement, along with the radio and other personal belongings.

Even after the first Beatles hit got air play and my tastes shifted, I still used to sit in the basement, winding the old dear, and listening to the 78s. They were voices from the past and I was captivated by the sound of performers recorded 30 or 40 years earlier. Fifty years later, I can still recall many of the songs, and still recite the lyrics of tunes like Hernando's Hideaway, The Donkey Serenade, Civilization and others.

I only started to pay serious attention to that old music again when I began playing the ukulele, in early 2008. It was more by accident than design. I came across some old song sheets in a secondhand bookstore, mostly stuff I didn't recognize, but many were arranged for the ukulele, so I bought them. Because I didn't know the tunes, I couldn't play them very well. That got me interested in hearing this music, and also in learning about it - the songwriters, performers and musicians. I started to look for song sheets and books online, in secondhand stores. I started to read about the era, hunt for CDs or YouTube videos featuring the performers. (My site about ukuleles has reviews and more.)

I am only a lay historian; passionate, but not a trained one, so my comments here about the music, its history and culture are based on impressions gleaned from my reading and research, but may be subject to challenge and might require rewriting to correct some false impressions I have developed. But herein are my notes and my appreciation of the music of those bygone days.

I have scanned my now extensive collection of song books and song sheets to PDF, and offer it at a modest price to help me cover some of my expenses in pursuing this interest. If you are a ukulele player, you may want it for the music or the historical interest. Others may want it for the cover art. Me, I want it for the music and memories and I really do try to learn some of those songs, even today. I really want to help keep this music alive, out of the dustbin of history and available for new generations who might appreciate it.

These songs can also be played by guitarists (just adjust the fingering of the chords for the extra two strings) and tenor guitarists ( no changes required for Chicago tuning DGBE).

Enjoy the site and please contact me with any comments, questions or suggestions.

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