On November 17, 1921, a nine-piece group was assembled in the Vocalion recording studio to wax two titles, The Sheik of Araby and Georgia Rose, which were issued as "Played by The California Ramblers".
The band was managed by Ed Kirkeby, former record promoter for Columbia and extremely well-connected in the New York music scene. He arranged several hundred recording sessions for them (as the California Ramblers or as the Golden Gate Orchestra) and their smaller units The Little Ramblers, The Goofus Five, The Five Birmingham Babies, The Vagabonds and the Varsity Eight.
During the first months of their existence, the Ramblers were led by banjoist Ray Kitchingham and their personnel changed constantly. By April 1922, it already included some outstanding musicians, above all, multiinstrumentalist Adrian Rollini, who was the core and nucleus of the band for several years.
The Ramblers were mostly a studio outfit and for almost ten years they recorded for practically every company, but Ed Kirkeby also booked them for long residencies, first at the Post Lodge in Westchester and later at the Pelham Inn, The Bronx, renamed the Ramblers' Inn because of the band's reputation.
By the time of their first recording, Ed Kirkeby got them a job as accompanists for Eva Shirley, a popular vaudeville artist in the 1910s and 1920s.
Recently, Bix Beiderbecke specialist Albert Haim discovered an ad in the Jan 8, 1922 edition of the New York Times for their performance in the New Amsterdam Theatre and published it on Facebook.
As a result of my research in the digital archives of old newspapers, several unearthed advertisements and reviews show that there were several gigs before that date:
December 2, 1921 – Variety (New Acts column)
“Eva Shirley, assisted by Al Roth and the California Ramblers, consisting of 10 pieces”
December 9, 1921 – Brooklyn Standard Union
December 16, 1921 – Variety
“(…) Now she presents the California Ramblers, and even in this jazz-jaded day the organization of nine is a sweet scent of superior syncopation. A banjo player, one of the few who uses a pick and gets true banjo music, was a revelation, though never permitted to do any individual work such as Paul Whiteman wisely slips to every member of his astutely managed outfit who can do anything more than vamp till ready. This banjoist is a find, and the whole band is solidly there. No effort is made by it to freak or get attention with anything but music, the more wonder (…)”
December 17, 1921 – Billboard
“It was Al Roth and The California Ramblers who were the outstanding hit of the Eva Shirley act, and rightfully so. Young Roth is an exceptional talented eccentric stepper, and the California Ramblers as fine a musical combination as one would want to listen to”
December 17, 1921 – New York Dramatic Mirror
“Eva Shirley and the California Ramblers with Al Roth followed intermission. The Ramblers are a nine-piece jazz orchestra that scored a hit”
December 2X, 1921 – Dobbs Ferry Register
“(…) The California Ramblers too have been unusually popular (…)”
December 24, 27 & 30, 1921 – Yorkers Statesman & News
December 29, 1921 – Yorkers Statesman News
“(…) The California Ramblers, too, have appeared everywhere in vaudeville (…)”
December 31, 1921 – New York Sun
“RIVERSIDE. Ella Retford, Eva Shirley and the California Ramblers and Leo Beers will be the collar on the draft here”