Jim Davidson, 1939-57 Electric Guitar, Non-Stop Swing Mix – 26 June Phantom Dancer

Jim Davidson was an Australian swing band leader and second-in-charge of light entertainment at the BBC in the 1950s. He also worked in the same soap factory I did.

And that electric guitar scene in one of those Back To The Future movies sounds embarrassingly lame and pig-ignorant compared to the real electric guitar breaks played on live 1930s-50s radio you’ll hear this week by Charlie Christian, Mary Osbourne, Tal Farlow and Les Paul.

I’m Greg Poppleton, 1920s-30s singer, band-leader and your Phantom Dancer every week over radio 2SER 107. 3 Sydney, 23 Australian radio stations, and online.

The Phantom Dancer is your non-stop mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio and TV.

On air every Tuesday, live from 107.3 2SER Sydney from 12:04-2pm, the Phantom Dancer is recorded for re-broadcast. You can hear all Phantom Dancer episodes online at 2ser.com.


– has a set of Benny Goodman from 1939 radio including the sextet with Charlie Christian on electric guitar. There’s also a set of electric guitar from live 1940s-50s radio including some 1945 hot guitar work by Mary Osbourne who later in this week’s Phantom Dancer mix inaudibly backs Billie Holiday singing on 1958 TV. And this week’s feature, a set of 1930s commercial recordings by Sydney swing maestro Jim Davidson. See the full mix play list below…

Jim Davidson with the ABC Dance Band and Wireless Chorus presenting 'Colour Canvas' from the Studios at 96 Market Street, Sydney, October, 1939
Jim Davidson with the ABC Dance Band and Wireless Chorus presenting ‘Colour Canvas’ from the Studios at 96 Market Street, Sydney, October, 1939

Quoting from Jeff Brownrigg’s article, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

“James Hutchinson (Jim) Davidson (1902-1982), band leader, was born on 6 August 1902 at Balmain, Sydney, second son of Alexander Davidson, a restaurant cook from New Zealand, and his English-born wife Mabel, née Walker. Jim described his father, of Scottish descent, as hard, stern and unsmiling. His maternal grandfather encouraged his interest in music, taking him to hear the American bandmaster John Philip Sousa on his Australian tour of 1911. Davidson took up the cornet, joining his school cadet band and a local church band. After leaving school at 14, he found work with the soap manufacturer Lever Bros Pty Ltd. His days, however, were a means to an end and nights were given over to music. Replacing his cornet with a drum kit, he played in dance band and cinema pit ensembles.

On 8 February 1928 Davidson married Gertrude Madeline Kitching at St Thomas’s Church of England, Rozelle; they were to be divorced in 1935. He had joined Jimmy Elkins’s dance orchestra in the mid-1920s and after it disbanded in 1928 he played at the Ambassadors restaurant until it was destroyed by fire in 1931. Following engagements at the Ginger Jar and a significant concert at Hillier’s Café in August 1932—sometimes described as the first jazz concert in Sydney—Davidson opened the winter season of 1933 at Sydney’s Palais Royal dance hall, which drew crowds of 10,000 a week. Further successful seasons followed in 1934 and 1936. A regular Thursday evening 2UE live radio broadcast from the Royal augmented his audience. The Columbia recording company made sound recordings of his most popular pieces; Davidson claimed that a 78-rpm disc of `Shuffle Off to Buffalo’ and `Forty Second Street’ sold 95,000 copies. He and his orchestra also played a six-month season at the Palais de Danse at St Kilda, Melbourne, in 1933. At a formal `Dress Night’, when patrons were encouraged to dress as elegantly as the musicians, who routinely wore evening dress, Davidson met Marjorie McFarlane, an artist. They were married with Presbyterian forms at Scots Church, Melbourne, on 7 June 1935.

While in Melbourne, having signed a contract with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Davidson enlarged his orchestra and performed over the national network to all States. Broadcasting from Sydney from 1936, Jim Davidson’s ABC Dance Band, with the trumpeter Jim Gussey, the vocalist Alice Smith and the trombonist and arranger George Trevare, became the most popular in the country. It presented dance programs on Friday and Saturday evenings and played for other ABC shows including `Out of the Bag’ and `A.B.C. Parade’. In 1937-39 the band made three interstate tours, with a variety of artists including Bob Dyer, Tex Morton and Gladys Moncrieff. Davidson was a strict but encouraging leader who inspired great loyalty in his players.

On 30 May 1941 Davidson was appointed an honorary lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force. He produced, directed and led the orchestra in variety shows staged for troops in the Middle East and the South-West Pacific Area. From 1943 he was in charge of the AIF’s concert parties. Rising to temporary lieutenant colonel, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers in October 1947. He applied for the position of director of light entertainment at the ABC but was unsuccessful. Stung by his rejection, he made use of management skills developed in his military command, taking up an offer of work as director of productions for the Tivoli circuit and, soon after, for Harry Wren Enterprises. He managed Australian tours for performers such as Will Mahoney and Evie Hayes and for the British comedian Tommy Trinder.

In 1947 Davidson joined the British Broadcasting Corporation. He arrived in London with his wife the following January. Starting as assistant-head of variety (music), he rapidly advanced to become the second-in-charge of the light entertainment unit. His most important contributions included support for what became the `Goon Show’, which went to air against some resistance on 28 May 1951. Davidson estimated that he had produced 3500 live shows on radio, among them a historic Beatles concert at the Royal Albert Hall in April 1963. He was given a farewell concert there before his retirement in September.

Returning to Australia in 1964, Davidson was disappointed that although Australians remembered his success as a band leader, they were unaware of his achievements in England. He served briefly as a consultant to the ABC but found that old `ghosts’ continued to haunt its corridors. The Davidsons turned to house renovation and gardening, first in Sydney and then in the southern highlands of New South Wales. Survived by his wife, Jim Davidson died on 10 April 1982 at Bowral and was cremated. His memoir, A Showman’s Story (1983), was published posthumously.”

And your Phantom Dancer Vid of the Week?

Jim Davidson and his Australian Broadcasting Commission Dance Orchestra with his 1938 record ‘So Little Time’. Vocals by Alice Smith and Johnny Warren. Jim Davidson broadcast late night over national stations of the ABC.


Play List – The Phantom Dancer
107.3 2SER-FM Sydney, Live Stream, Digital Radio
Community Radio Network Show CRN #321

107.3 2SER Tuesday 26 June 2018
After the 2SER 12 noon news, 12:04 – 2:00pm (+10 hours GMT)
National Program:
ArtSoundFM Canberra Sunday 7 – 8pm
and early morning on 23 other stations.

Set 1
Benny Goodman on 1939 ‘Camel Caravan’
Let’s Dance (theme) + Down By The Old Mill Stream
Benny Goodman Orchestra
‘Camel Caravan’
4 Nov 1939
Flying Home
Benny Goodman Sextet (g Charles Christian)
‘Camel Caravan’
9 Sep 1939
Sing, Sing, Sing + Goodbye (theme)
Benny Goodman Orchestra
‘Camel Caravan’
18 Nov 1939
Set 2
Latin Rhythms
Nachts am Kongo
Teddy Stauffer (voc) Eric Helgar
Comm Rec
24 Oct 1938
Prado Perez
‘All-Star Parade of Bands’
24 Jul 1953
Machito with Zoot Sims tenor sax
‘Symphony Sid Show’
Set 3
Electric Guitarists on live 1940s-50s Radio
Open + I’ve Got Plenty of Nothin’
Les Paul Trio
‘Les Paul Show’
AFRS Hollywood
27 May 1945
They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Tal Farlow
‘All Star Parade of Bands’
Composer Club
23 Apr 1957
Texas Polka + Isle of Capri + Close
Gay Claridge Orchestra (elec g) Mary Osbourne
‘One Night Stand’
Chez Paree Chicago
AFRS Re-broadcast
21 Aug 1945
Set 4
Jim Davidson Australian Swing
Fair and Warmer
Jim Davidson and his Palais Royal Orchestra (voc) Austral Sisters
Comm Rec
7 Sep 1934
She Changed Her Hi-De-Ho For His Yodel-O-Dee-Ay
Jim Davidson and his Palais Royal Orchestra (voc) Male Trio
Comm Rec
2 Mar 1934
Jim Davidson and his ABC Dance Orchestra
Comm Rec
2 Jun 1938
Set 5
1930s Fats Waller
Christopher Columbus
Fats Waller
ComM Rec
New York City 1936
Ain’t Misbehavin’ (theme) + I Simply Adore You
Fats Waller
5 Jul 1938
You Can’t Be Min and Someone Else’s Too
Fats Waller
Yacht Club
New York City
18 Oct 1938
Watcha Know, Joe?
Fats Waller
Panther Room
Hotel Sherman
10 Dec 1940
Set 6
1930s-50s French Swing on Record
Frenchie’s Blues
Freddy Johnson Orchestra
Comm Rec
28 Jun 1939
Week-End Stomp
Alix Combelle Orchestra
Comm Rec
20 Feb 1940
Le Boogie de Paris
Jacques Helian Orchestra
Comm Rec
Mambo Zero
Ruben Calzado
Comm Rec
Set 7
Billie Holiday on Rdaio
You Better Go Now
Billie Holiday (voc) Percy Faith Orchestra
‘Woolworth Hour’
Billie’s Blues
Billie Holiday
Copley Square Hotel
WMEX Boston
Apr 1959
Interview + Fine and Mellow
Billie Holiday
‘Studio 58 The Sound of Jazz’
8 Dec 1957
You Go To My Head
Billie Holiday
Copley Square Hotel
WHDH Boston
Oct 1953
Set 8
1940s Big Band Radio
Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra
Jun 1956
Artistry in Rhythm (theme) + Artistry Jumps
Stan Kenton Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’
Palladium Ballroom LA
AFRS Hollywood
27 Nov 1945
Chubby Jackson Orchestra
‘Symphony Sid Show’
Royal Roost
5 mar 1949

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