MY ASSOCIATION WITH ART GILLHAM
I first met Art Gillham when I was a child in Atlanta in the mid-1940's. He was a friend of my parents and we were together frequently on weekends. My mother had been a fan of Art's when she was in high school in the 1920's. My father and Art were both members of the Buckhead Elks Club in Atlanta, and I presume that is where they met. At the time, Art lived in an apartment in Atlanta's Peachtree Hills. He owned several acres of land on Burdett Rd, a dirt road off Lake Forrest. There was nothing on the land except for an outhouse and a small storage house. Art had setup a shooting range with targets. My father was an architect and in the late 1940's, Art had him build his house in the woods, which he called Wee-Haven. His property was way out in the 1950's, but is today in the Sandy Springs area inside I-285, which is now considered "close-in" Atlanta. Whether at his home or ours, whenever we were together, Art was sure to play the piano.
COLLECTING ART GILLHAM RECORDS
When I became a teenager, I learned that Art had made records for Columbia in the 1920's. He made some home acetate records for me and for my parents. Later let me tape record him playing. He showed me his scrapbook and allowed me to borrow it to make photos of the pages, gave me his manuscript for Angry. He did not have any of his records, so my hobby of collecting records began in trying to find his old Columbia records. His recordings had been popular enough that it did not take long to find all of his American released Columbia's, his one Bluebird, and a few on other labels. In the 1950's, most of these were readily found at Salvation Army stores or Goodwill stores. Most were in poor condition from frequent playing on the old phonographs with heavy stylus arms that dug into the grooves. As better copies were found, the worn out records were discarded. Some better condition records were acquired from 78rpm collector stores in New York and Los Angeles.
Art was a frequent guest on WAGA-TV's Saturday night Arthur Murray Dance Party, and always took me along. Being in the early 1950's, this was pioneer television in Atlanta. Being before videotape, the program was broadcast live. Through his scrapbook I learned he had been involved in the first demonstration of television in Atlanta in 1939. When he had his final radio series on Atlanta's WQXI on Sunday afternoons, I was in the studio with him.
GENE AUSTIN AND ART GILLHAM TOGETHER
In 1953 I was doing a series of feature articles for my high school newspaper when Gene Austin came to play the Paradise Room at the Henry Grady Hotel. I contacted Gene and he invited me to lunch. Also with us at lunch was a local performer, one the the Merry Mutes, a pantomime team, Dick Van Dyke. Gene invited me for a second more private lunch and told me of his career and the music of the 1920's. Gene was very gracious to a teenager who knew very little about him except that he recorded for Victor at the time Art recorded for Columbia. After talking with Gene, I got the idea that it would be great to have Art and Gene together to talk about their careers in the 1920's. I approached Art with the idea and he was receptive, so I talked to Gene and he was also receptive. As a result, Gene appeared on Art's Sunday afternoon program. Art let Gene do most of the singing and playing and they talked about their relationship and careers with Victor and Columbia. Both men were pianists who sang. Gene had the better voice. Art was better on piano. Gene sang songs straight. Art created a character who was old, fat, baldheaded, needing a cup of coffee, who was always down on his luck with women and talked to his fingers about "the customers" as he sang. Another of Art's friends from the old days also appeared at the Paradise Room: Elmo Tanner, the whistler of Heartaches with the Ted Weems Orchestra.
Art had some friends who had home recording equipment. Before tape recording there were home disk recorders that recorded on acetate disks. Art made many records for his friends on those acetate disks. When tape recorders came out his friends upgraded to tape and he recorded hours of songs, memories, and risque material. I borrowed a tape recorder and asked him to play without singing and he complied playing for about an hour of his songs and other familiar songs of the twenties with his theme song Whispering played as a bridge between songs. He accomodated me in other ways, such as playing for my high school friends campaign party for senior class officers. As I look back, I am surprised that he did not take offense at my wanting him to play piano and not sing.
In the 1950's, Art had several heart attacks which affected his left arm and he was not able to play piano as much as he would have liked. On June 6, 1961 Art awoke, and as he was getting out of bed he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was buried on a hill at Arlington Cemetery in Sandy Springs. His wife, Gertrude, continued living at Wee-Haven until about 1980 when she went to North Carolina and lived with Art's son Hal. When Gertrude died, she was cremated and her ashes buried next to Art at Arlington Cemetery.
After Art died I began contacting his friends who had made those home recordings. I was able to get tape copies of all the surviving home recordings. In 1957, Jim Walsh wrote an article on Art and his recordings for his long running series "Favorite Pioneer Recording Artists" which appeared in the September issue of Hobbies Magazine. It was the first time I knew of the extent of his recording career. Shortly after the Hobbies Magazine article, Russ Connor's first bio-discography of Benny Goodman was published showing that the young Benny Goodman was part of the personnel on the July 24, 1930 session that produced Confessin'. Woody Backensto, an authority on Red Nichols, contacted Art about his recordings with Red Nichols. He wrote an article which expanded on Jim Walsh's article by giving recording dates, matrix numbers and suggestions as to personnel on Art's recordings. The article was published after Art's death in Record Research 49 in March, 1963. He had Red Nichols and others listen to the records to confirm their presence. Later discography books by Brian Rust gave additional information on Art's recordings: Jazz Records 1897-1942; The Complete Entertainment Discography From 1897 to 1942; The Columbia Master Book Discography, Volume III, Principal U.S. Master Series 1924-1934. Also, Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Roger D. Kinkle contains an article on Art. In my search for Art's player piano rolls, Michael Montgomery was very helpful, as he was in finding sheet music either written by Art or with Art's picture featured. All of these sources were used in addition to my collection of Art's recordings, piano rolls, sheet music, conversations with Art, and material he allowed me to photograph and copy from his scrapbook, in compiling this bio-discography.
The records I collected were transfered to reel-to-reel tape at 7.5 inches per second. Later when VCR's came out with Hi Fi recording, the reel-to-reel tapes were transfered to VCR tapes. Then when computers allowed home recording of compact disks, the tapes were transfered to the computer as .WAV files, processed to remove the tape hiss and recorded on compact disks. The commercial recordings for Pathe, Columbia, Bluebird and the Allied transcriptions take up 6 CDs. The home recordings, audition records and interview take up another 8 CDs. A set of the CDs as well as the original 78s have been placed in the archives at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, GA. Also in the archives is a collection of sheet music written by Art Gillham or featuring his photo on the cover, including a song bok of Sob Songs.