The territorial bands were based primarily in Oklahoma and Texas. Territorial bands earned that name by touring a circuit that extended south to the Mexican border, north to Canada, west to Denver and east to St. Louis. These bands were musical scrappers and very protective of their turf. Disputes were settled by bare-knuckled "cutting" contests called battles of the bands. Walter Page made his initial musical mark as the leader of the Blue Devils, one of the southwest's most notorious territorial bands.
Walter Page was born in Gallatin, Missouri. His musical training began at Lincoln High School. His formal studies continued at University of Kansas at Lawrence. While a student at KU, Page played weekends with Bennie Moten and Dave Lewis' bands. After leaving school in 1923, Page toured with Billy King's roadshow on the TOBA circuit. Page formed the Blue Devils in Oklahoma City in 1925.
The major innovation of the Blue Devils was the band's use of a modern rhythm section that included a string bass, piano, guitar and drums. Previously, the rhythm section of most bands consisted of bass horn, piano and banjo. Due to Page's strong bass work, the rhythm section provided a flexible foundation for tight ensemble work in the horn and reed sections.
The Blue Devils improvised from head arrangements and, according to Page, they shared the same musical "ideas." But they shared more than ideas. The Blue Devils was a "commonwealth" band that divided its profits evenly among members. If a band member had a problem or crisis, the other members would rally to his aid. Decisions pertaining to bookings and personnel changes also were handled democratically and each member had a vote.
The Blue Devils toured Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Missouri in a Stoddard-Dayton touring car playing small clubs and dime-a-dance halls. They made their only recordings in Kansas City. "Blue Devil Blues" and "Squabblin'" were recorded for the Vocalion label in the studios of WDAF on November 10, 1929. "Squabblin'" featured a fine clarinet solo by Buster Smith and "Blue Devil Blues" showcased the strong blues vocal style of Jimmy Rushing.
While in Kansas City, Page wanted to battle Bennie Moten's band in the "worst way." But Bennie kept his distance and wisely began to recruit members of the Blue Devils. He signed pianist Count Basie first and Eddie Durham, Lips Page and Jimmy Rushing soon followed suit.
Page rebuilt the band after Moten's raids with new recruits Lester Young, Ernie Williams, Druie Bess and others. In 1932, Page was fined by the musicians' union after a contractual dispute with a piano player. Financially strapped, Page relinquished the helm of the Blue Devils to Buster Smith and Ernie Williams. The next year Page joined Basie, Rushing and Durham in the last great Moten band. Page later played with Count Basie and Buster Smith in the eight-piece band known as the Barons of Swing, which opened at the Reno Club.Read more