Smoke Rings



(above) The songwriters: (left) Gene Gifford, (right) Ned Washington

Smoke Rings (m. H. Eugene Gifford, w. Ned Washington)

The Casa Loma Orchestra recorded Gifford’s instrumental composition in 1932, and it soon became their theme song. A 25 January 1933 recording by the Mills Brothers may have been the earliest to incorporate Washington’s lyric, but the copyright date for the vocal version is almost two months later, 31 March 1933.


From the biography of the band at the site Solid! (link updated 14 November 2015):

Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra
Originally named the Orange Blossoms, the group first formed in Detroit during the mid-1920s as an offshoot of Jean Goldkette‘s orchestra. Gray, then known as Spike Knoblaugh*, joined the group in the winter of 1925-26 as a sax player. Henry Biagini was leader. Playing in and around the Detroit area the Orange Blossoms were booked into a brand new Toronto club called the Casa Loma in 1927. Built in preparation for a visit by the Prince of Wales the club never opened, and in 1929 the Orange Blossoms, shedding Goldkette’s mantel and striking out on their own, decided to rename themselves the Casa Loma Orchestra in memorial.

The bandmembers formed a cooperative, dismissing Biagini and electing Gray as president and leader. Mel Jenssen became front man.

From The Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound, A-L, Vol. 1 by Frank W. Hoffmann, Howard Ferstler, p. 169:

Glen-Gray-1-t50d45Although Henry Biagini was the first director, Glen Gray (1906-1963) was the actual leader from 1929; Gray preferred to sit in the saxophone section, and did not appear in front of the band until 1937. The common designation “Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra” was in use from 1933. The orchestra had various other stage names, including the Carolina Club Orchestra, Palais de Danse Orchestra, Louisiana Rhythmakers, Blue Racketeers, Sands Point Orchestra, Castle Orchestra, and Supertone Dance Orchestra.

Two brilliant arrangers were associated with the group, and defined its style: Gene Gifford (also composer of “Smoke Rings,” the band’s theme song, heard on Decca 1473;1937), and Larry Clinton. Among the fine Casa Loma vocalists were Kenny Sargent, Mildred Bailey, Connie Boswell, Ray Eberle, Lee Wiley, and Pee Wee Hunt (a trombonist who sang in lighter numbers).


The Casa Loma Orchestra — recorded on 18 March 1932; issued on the 78 rpm single Brunswick 6289, c/w “In the Still of the Night”



The Mills Brothers — recorded by the Mills Brothers on 25 January 1933 and issued as the B-side of Brunswick 6525, “My Honey’s Loving Arms” (Meyer, Ruby); A-side by Bing Crosby with the Mills Brothers, accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra


Harold Arlen-photo-17-1-d30leo-reisman-at-villa-at-cap-martin-1937-1

Leo Reisman and his Orchestra, vocal: Harold Arlen — recorded on 11 July 1933 and issued on Victor 24358, b/w “Heart of Stone” (B-side vocal: Fred Astaire)


audio file from the page Leo Reisman Victor Recordings Collection 1929-1933 (COMPLETE) — VBR MP3 (2.8 MB) – relatively low quality



Dick Himber & his Essex House Orchestra, vocal: Joey Nash — I think the recording in the video below was originally issued as the A-side of Vocalion 2537, backed with “Sophisticated Lady,” each side having been recorded on 5 September 1933. Wikipedia indicates that Richard Himber made his first records, for Vocalion in 1933, under the name Dick Himber, and that intimates of the bandleader always used the latter name.

The date (1938) and the label (Victor) given by the provider together suggest that he or she may have a later reissue of the Vocalion recording. Two facts (if Wikipedia’s profile of Himber is accurate), when combined, support this conclusion: 1. Himber did not record for Victor until 1934, and 2. Vocalist Joey Nash was replaced by Stuart Allen in 1935.



Quintette du Hot Club de France — recorded in July 1935 — QHCF: Arthur Briggs, Alphonse Cox, Pierre Allier (tpt), Eugene d’Hellemes (tbn), Stephane Grappelly (v), Django Reinhardt (g), Joseph Reinhardt, Roger Chaput (g), Louis Vola (b)



Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra — recorded on 23 July 1937; issued on Decca 1473, b/w “Always” (Irving Berlin)



Les Paul & Mary Ford — Capitol F 2123, b/w “In the Good Old Summertime,” issued in June 1952 — #14 Billboard pop single


Sam Cooke — from his RCA Victor LP Mr. Soul, released in 1963


Art Van Damme — from his 1964 album Septet — The New Sound of Art Van Damme


Milt Buckner and Jo Jones — from the 1971 Jazz Odyssey label album deux géants du jazz


Ukester Brown — uke and vocal, 2011 upload



Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra



* Gray’s birth name was Glen Gray Knoblaugh. Spike was a nickname he acquired during his youth in rural Illinois.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Why do my tag searches fail?

%d bloggers like this: