Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Phil Baxter

Phil Baxter was a prolific and successful song-writer. Among his better known compositions we can include "Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas," "Piccolo Pete" (and the follow-up, "Harmonica Harry" - both were early novelty hits for Ted Weems and his orchestra), and "A Faded Summer Love" (which was a hit for Bing Crosby in 1931).

Baxter also claimed co-authorship for "St. James Infirmary." He and Carl Moore actually published the song in 1925, but they neglected to apply for copyright. Baxter, a pianist, was unable to perform after 1933 because of arthritis. On the verge of his leaving for Texas, the Kansas City Journal-Post ran a long article about Baxter, one of the town's favourite musicians, which included this comment: "Baxter has had some litigation over the authorship of one song, which has been in circulation as 'St. James Infirmary,' but which he said he composed long ago and called 'Gambler's Blues.' He said he published it privately in Texas years ago, and that a New York publisher picked it up." That New York publisher was undoubtedly Gotham Music, whose president was Irving Mills.

Information about Phil Baxter is very hard to come by. Recordings of his can still be found on CD, but in compilations with titles like volume 2 of Jazz the World Forgot, or Texas and Tennessee Territory Bands. If anyone has information about Phil, or Carl Moore, I would love to hear from you. I understand that Baxter's friend, Cliff Halliburton, wrote a biography of Phil, but I have been unable to find it and suspect it was never published.


Anonymous said...

CD label 'Jazz Oracle'
publishes a compilation called "Dallas Rhythm - Recorded in Dallas and St. Louis, 1924-1929", catalog number BDW8021.

Liner notes included with this CD give much detailed biographical information, on bandleader Phil Baxter and others.

Robert W. Harwood said...

Thanks for that info! Baxter songs are difficult to come by - I've found some on compilations that he recorded around 1929. I notice these are from 1925, and so must be some of his earliest recordings. I've ordered myself a copy and look forward to listening to these. Too bad Carl Moore never recorded with Baxter when they were touring together.

Again, thanks!


Hollis said...

It's not true he didn't perform after 1933. He still played for his family. He was my great-uncle, and I have many fond memories of sitting on his lap or on the piano bench with him in the late 50's & early 60's. Thanks for posting this, i'm going to show it to my mom over thanksgiving. Uncle Phil was her uncle and she is now 76. I'd love to obtain a copy of one of his records. Yours, Hollis from Dallas

Robert W. Harwood said...

That's really interesting, Hollis! thanks for sending that.
Phil Baxter ended up being one of the "main characters" in my book, and I published what biographical material I could dig up (up to his leaving the music business). I'm still trying to find the biography his friend Cliff Halliburton wrote (I'm hoping to update the book over the coming winter).
I have not found any original 78s of Phil's, but I do have a few of his songs on compilation CDs - and would be happy to send you mp3 versions. You can write to me at if interested.
Greetings to your mom!