Nikolay Dontzoff – Kozlik

Comic songs were the bread-and-butter repertoire for so many early entertainers, whether they were well-known popular American songsters like Billy Murray, or obscure, often forgotten immigrant performers in the United States. Thousands were recorded, without question. A few have caught my ear over the years, such as those by Finnish fiddle player Erik Kivi. Recently I was delighted by the rustic voice of Russian-Ukrainian accordionist Nikolay Dontzoff.

Nikolay, or “Nicholas” as he was often credited, was born in 1881 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. He immigrated to the United States in 1922, getting onboard in Constantinople on the ocean liner Braga, which ran a route from Beirut to New York. With him was his wife, Lucy Dontzoff, who was twenty years his junior. They lived mostly in what is now West Harlem in Manhattan, and both worked the vaudeville circuit.

So far as we know, Dontzoff’s career on record was brief, and separated by extensive lags. He first stepped into a recording studio in New York in late 1922, almost as soon as he was settled, accompanying baritone Mikel Wavitch on a session for Victor. Those recordings, however, were never issued. Five years later, in October 1927, he was back – this time for Columbia, where he would record two records under his own name, including this one featured today.

Dontzoff accompanied his wife Lucy on four discs in 1929, and one disc accompanying Lucy and then-famed Russian “gypsy” singer Vera Smirnova. Then things go dark. He and Lucy were divorced by 1935. Nikolay moved downtown to the Eastern European neighborhood in the East Village. He was still performing both as a solo act, and with Russian music and dance troupes, often touring the country. He performed in the Russian revue Chauve Souris on Broadway, which ran for twelve performances in 1943.

At some point, probably in the late 1940s, Dontzoff issued a 78 on his own imprint, “Nicholas Dontzoff” – but there seems to have only been one issue. It was likely an offshoot of the Argee label, which was a small, Russian-language label based out of a music shop on Lexington Avenue and owned by a Latvian immigrant named Jack Raymond. That record, and the two discs he made in 1927, appear to be Dontzoff’s only moments on record as a solo performer. By 1953, he was working at the Tompkins Square Tavern on 7th Street. He died that year.

“Serenkiy Kozlik,” or “The Little Grey Goat,” is a well-known Russian children’s song about a goat that is loved so much by a grandma that she naturally ends up cooking the dear goat in her homemade soup. The earliest recording of the song I could locate was one made in Saint Petersburg in 1908 by the Gramophone Company, and performed by G.L. Lebedev’s accordion troupe. In September 1910, another version was recorded in Vilnius, Lithuania, also for the Gramophone Company, and performed by a group listed as “Detskiy Khor Vilenskago Pervago Nachalnago Uchilisha.” Another was recorded one year later by Maria Emskaya for the Syrena label of Poland. I suspect there are many other versions, both earlier and later.

This version, however, is not standard – Dontzoff’s version of this song is a parody of the original. Here, he makes it an ironic song for adults.

Nikolay Dontzoff – Kozlik

(translated and transliterated by Diana Tarnavska)

Once upon a time there was an old lonely babushka
And she was very bored, alone
That’s right, that’s right, she was alone

Babushka went along the bazaar
She looked but there were no products
That’s right, that’s right, the product was hunger

But it was her lucky day
‘Cause she met a shaggy cute goat
That’s right, that’s right, a shaggy cute goat

She noticed the goat
And brought it right home
That’s right, that’s right, she brought it home

The goat was dirty, besides, and unshaven
And apparently had not washed at least for ten years
That’s right, that’s right, at least for ten years

Babushka took the goat to the bath
Babushka washed it with soda
That’s right, that’s right, she washed it with soda

Goat was for sure all native Russian
But he was flirting in Franco-Russian
That’s right, that’s right, in Franco-Russian

Babushka didn’t like the beard at all
She shaved off the beard at the hairdresser
That’s right, that’s right, she shaved the beard

Babushka called the goat “Dusya”
They were living together, the goat and
That’s right, that’s right, goat and

As soon as the morning brightens up
Our goat hits the bottle with loaf of bread
That’s right, that’s right, with loaf of bread

Our goat was horrifically comic
He registered her house in his name
That’s right, that’s right, registered in his name

He took almost everything from her
He left his babushka with horns and legs
That’s right, that’s right, just horns and legs

Dear babushkas, don’t lose yourself
Falling in love with some young goats
That’s right, that’s right, with some young goats

They will disappear at the first occasion
And you will sit lordly in a galosh
That’s right, that’s right, sit in a galosh

Original Russian

Как-то старушка одна проживала
И в одиночестве очень скучала
Вот так ведь так очень скучала

Отправилась бабушка вдоль по базару
Глянет там нет никакого товару
Вот так ведь так голод товару

Значит счастливый денек ей задался
Встретил лохматый козлик попался
Вот так ведь так козлик попался

Бабушка козлика вмиг залучила
И на квартиру к себе притащила
Вот так ведь так к себе притащила

Козлик был грязный к тому же не бритый
И уж лет десять как видно не мытый
Вот так ведь так видно не мытый

Бабушка козлика в баню сводила
Бабушка козлика содой помыла
Вот так ведь так содой помыла

Козлик конечно был наш и всерусский
Но щеголял он по русско-французски
Вот так ведь так просто французской

Бабушка бороду страх не взлюбила
У парикмахера бороду сбрила
Вот так ведь так бороду сбрила

Бабушка козлика звала всё “Дуся”
Зажили в мире козел и бабуся
Вот так ведь так козел и бабуся

Утро едва только зорко взоймётся
Козлик наш в копыт уж с булкой напьётся
Вот так ведь так булкой напьётся

Козлик наш был проужаснейший комик
Взял перевёл на себя бабкин домик
Вот так ведь так бабкин уж домик

Взял у бабуси почти все до крошки
Оставил он бабушке рожки да ножки
Вот так ведь так рожки да ножки

Милые бабушки не увлекайтесь
И в молодых козелков не влюбляйтесь
Вот так ведь так вы не влюбляйтесь

Козлик исчезнет по первой пороше 
Вы же усядитесь важно в калоше
Вот так ведь так важно в калоше

Label: Columbia
Issue Number: 20119-F
Matrix Number: 108381 (A-1)


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