New Orleans Rhythm Kings

In its earliest days, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings was created by drummer Mike “Ragbaby”, who sent the first telegram about his plans to go to Chicago to form a band and find better gigs. Albert Brunies, his brother George Brunies, and trombonist George Brunies, were initially skeptical, but Paul Mares, a friend and trumpet player, suggested that they pursue the idea.
George recalled, “So I say Paul, I say, Abbie don’t want to travel to Chicago and I’m kind of leery. I’m afraid.” Paul said, “Man, give me that wire.” I’ll go.’ Paul then went to Chicago and introduced himself. Ragbaby liked Ragbaby and Paul received the railroad fare from his dad and sent me $60.

George Brunies took his trombone with him to Chicago to play gigs and go to after-hours clubs along with Paul Mares.

They met their future bandmates at this club, Frank Snyder, Elmer Schoebel, and Jack Pettis, drummer and pianist.

In fact, the name “New Orleans Rhythm Kings”, was not originally used to refer to this group. It was actually a group that was under the direction Bee Palmer, a vaudeville performer. Although Palmer’s group failed to last, Leon Roppolo (clarinetist) did. Roppolo was soon playing on Chicago’s riverboats with Elmer Schoebel and Jack Pettis, Frank Snyder and Frank Snyder.

Mares was ready to leave riverboat life and found a way to meet Mike Fritzel at the Friars’ Inn. The group’s 17-month engagement at the Friars Inn began in 1921 when Arnold Loyocano, bassist, joined the band. The group was known as “The Friar’s Society Orchestra” during this period.

The group attracted attention not only from fans but also other musicians while at Friar’s. Bix Beiderbecke was a cornetist who was sent by his parents to Chicago in order to remove any jazz influences. He regularly attended New Orleans Rhythm Kings concerts. He was allowed to perform with the group often.

In 1922 and 1923, the group recorded a number of records for Gennett Records. They were joined on two sessions by Jelly Roll Morton, a pianist and composer. The session with Morton is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the first mixed-race recording session. However, there were many other earlier sessions.

The New Orleans Rhythm Kings became disorganized and scattered after their engagement at Friar’s Inn. They would occasionally reform, with significant member turnover (Roppolo, Mares, were the two ringleaders and constants), but the group never played together again. All of them went on their own: Paul Mares, who released a record in 1935, continued to play music and also ran the “P&M New Orleans Barbeque” in the 1930s with his wife. Leon Roppolo, who was and always was mentally unstable, spent his last years in and out of hospitals until his death in 1945. He managed to continue to play music as best he could. Many of the NORK members also had successful musical careers after the group disbanded.

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