Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I have always liked comedy recordings that do tricky things with the language, ones such as “I'm My Own Grandpa” (Homer & Jethro) and “Who's on First?” (Abbott & Costello).

You have written about these two in the past, but here's a new one for you.

The obscure record I want to know more about is a hilarious routine about a farmer named Buck and the problems he runs into while trying to saw some wood.

I once thought this to be by the Black Crowes, yet my searches for them only come up with a 1990s Rock group.

The novelty I seek is probably from 50 or 60 years earlier.

Do you know anything about this comedy skit? If possible, reading the words would really be fun.
—Ruth Hatcher, Chicago

DEAR RUTH: Though there is a definite crow connection to all of this, the recording you seek is credited to Moran & Mack.

For their stage routines, recordings, and films, George Moran and Charles Mack — both white — often performed in blackface makup as Two Black Crows.

However, this pair and their sometimes corny material are by no means obscure.

Their first release, “Two Black Crows, Parts 1 & 2” (The Early Bird Catches the Worm) (Columbia 935), released in 1927, became an overnight sensation and zoomed to No. 1 nationwide. It went on to sell over a million copies and ranks among the top hits of its era.

According to one 1927 news account about their first hit: “With it, these lazy nomads of the open spaces have had a greater sale of any phonograph record of the past ten years.”

At one point, both of Columbia's top two selling singles were by Moran & Mack. Over a two-year period, industry estimates of their total singles sales ranges from three to seven million, a phenomenal achievement in a nation on the eve of the Great Depression.

As advance sales outpaced Columbia's production, many retailers put anxious customers on a waiting list and notified them when a new Moran & Mack record arrived.

As for the tongue-twister track you recall, it is their fifth hit: “Esau Buck” (Columbia 1929), coincidentally issued the same year as its Columbia catalog number.

In the story, a hired hand, Esau (ee-saw) Buck, is left on the farm while the boss goes to town.

Esau, asked only to cut some firewood while keeping the ram out of the garden, encountered countless complications:

“So after I'd gone to town, Esau went to saw the wood, but when he saw the saw he saw he couldn't saw with that saw, so he looked around for another saw but that was the only saw he saw, so he wouldn't saw.

“Well the next day I went to town, I bought a new buck saw for Esau Buck, and when I came home I hung the new buck saw on the saw buck by the see-saw.

“About that time, Esau Buck saw the old buck out in the garden eating cabbage, and while driving him from the garden into the barn, he saw the new buck saw on the saw buck by the see-saw.

“Now when the old buck saw Esau Buck looking at the new buck saw on the saw buck by the see-saw, he made a dive for Esau Buck and missed Esau and hit the see-saw and knocked the see-saw against Esau Buck, who fell over the buck saw on the saw buck by the see-saw.

“Now when I saw the old buck make a dive for Esau Buck, and missed Esau, and hit the see-saw, and knock the see-saw against Esau Buck, who fell over the buck saw on the saw buck by the see-saw, I picked up the axe to kill the old buck. But he saw me coming, dodged the blow, pounded on my stomach, knocked me over the see-saw into Esau Buck and broke the buck saw and the saw buck and the see-saw.

“And that's why Esau Buck don't work for us no more time.”

IZ ZAT SO? Inspired by a question from Jo Coombs, of York, Pa., the most valuable Moran & Mack record, by far, is “Two Black Crows in the A.E.F” (Columbia Personal 170330).

This 1928 audio excerpt from Charles Mack's novel of the same title is a promotional item for the Bobbs-Merrill Book Publishing Co.

A.E.F. is an initialism for American Expeditionary Forces, U.S. troops stationed in Europe during World War I. At auction, this 78 and its custom-printed sleeve can bring $250 to $300.

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