Very seldom do we find an artist about whom information is so scarce that it is absolutely impossible to determine even an approximate place and date of birth and death, not to mention other specifics about his personal life and career. This is precisely the case of Charlie Palloy, a singer-guitarist whose life story, like the budget label for which he made most of his recordings, Crown Records, is shrouded in such mystery that we simply have to rely on the aural evidence of his recorded work (which is just as scarce as the sources to reconstruct his chronology) in order to try to understand where his artistic ideas and inclinations came from. And the few sides he left us indeed show that, as a vocalist, he was heavily influenced by Bing Crosby, although his baritone was not as rich and deep as Der Bingle's, and as a guitarist he owed a great deal to Eddie Lang (not coincidentally, Crosby's accompanist of choice) and Nick Lucas. Researcher Allan Dodge, who wrote the liner notes for the only CD compilation of Palloy's music currently available, notes that his last name "is taken from the Greek word meaning 'of the common man' and exists as a common name today."
|Palloy is uncredited on this 1932 Crown side|
The only CD completely devoted to Palloy that can be purchased at the time of this writing is Vocals & Guitar (The Old Masters), a very recommendable release that includes 22 sides that he cut for Crown in 1932 and 1933, as well as his only appearance on the Columbia label, providing the vocals for the 1933 version of "On a Steamer Coming Over" by the Meyer Davis Orchestra. The song selection makes it clear that Crown, a budget label distributed through Woolworth's, was attempting to market Palloy as a Crosby soundalike, having him record numbers associated with Bing ("Try a Little Tenderness," "Learn to Croon," "Just an Echo in the Valley," and particularly "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime") to be sold at a much lower price than Crosby's originals. That is precisely the kind of market niche for which budget operations such as Crown were aiming during the depths of the Great Depression, and Palloy handles this material with ease, usually managing not to sound exactly like a carbon copy of Crosby.
|The Meyer Davis Orchestra, with whom Palloy recorded one side for Columbia in 1933|
One of the most interesting tracks in the collection is the reading of Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" complete with some scatting from Palloy and some jazzy muted trumpet and saxophone. His scatting abilities are also on further display on "Forty Second Street," which features a rather lengthy scat chorus that suggests that he enjoyed wordless singing. Palloy's guitar shines on some quite extended solos, particularly on "The Gold Diggers Song (We're in the Money)" and "I've Got to Sing a Torch Song," and he also shows his talent for singing at slower, though still danceable tempos on "Stormy Weather" and "Say It Isn't So." Palloy proves to be very versatile throughout, both as a singer and as a rhythm and lead guitarist, making us wish that he had enjoyed a longer, more successful career. As it was, however, his recordings span less than two years, and after 1933, he disappeared into total obscurity never to surface again. The rarity and quality of these sides, together with Dodge's very informative liner notes (which, when writing about Palloy, is itself quite a remarkable accomplishment), definitely make this Old Masters CD an essential purchase. As for the mystery surrounding Palloy, hopefully one day some lucky researcher will come upon some time-worn documents in some forgotten basement that will shed some light on his obscure figure. Until then, though, Palloy's few recordings are a real pleasure to enjoy.
Note on Charlie Palloy's Vocals & Guitar CD
This fine Charlie Palloy compilation can be obtained from major online retailers such as Amazon. It can also be purchased by writing to The Old Masters. P.O. Box 25358. San Mateo, CA 94402. USA.
Palloy's version of "Try a Little Tenderness" is also available on the compilation The First Crooners Vol. 2: 1930-1934 (Take Two), which includes tracks by other neglected crooners of the era, such as Sam Coslow, Chick Bullock, Art Gillham, Little Jack Little, Jack Miller, Smith Ballew, Carl Brisson, and Conrad Thibault, to name but a few.