The Playlist • Highlights from the First “Edison Hour” Broadcast (1929)

MSP-EDISON_columbia-street-low-speed(Courtesy of Edison National Historic Site)


The first “Edison Hour” broadcast aired over WJZ on February 11, 1929. It was captured at Edison’s Columbia Street Street studio in Orange, New Jersey studio, which housed the low-speed recording equipment used to make these experimental airchecks (above). The recordings were made on 12” discs at 30 rpm, using a very thin ( .00379”) cutting stylus, and they survive at the Edison National Historic Site. The technical problems — most notably some disconcerting speed fluctuations, and noise from a power tube that “went Democratic” in the words of the Edison engineer — are of small concern, considering the rarity of airchecks from this early period of American broadcasting.

The broadcast celebrated the birthday of Thomas Edison, who spoke briefly via relay from his home in Fort Myers, Florida, and also served to promote the new Edison radio, which had recently been introduced over the old man’s objections. Here are some of the most interesting excerpts. The first two selections are from Edison experimental mx. 185-A, the remainder from 185-B.




THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Birthday Message


FRIEDA HEMPEL: The Last Rose of Summer


B. A. ROLFE’S ORCHESTRA: I Can’t Give You Anything But Love




Follow-Up: Grey Gull Masters in the Columbia Vault

We’ve just heard from Sony that the Grey Gull masters Columbia was holding in 1953 have not survived, and there’s no file documentation for them in the Sony archives. Disappointing, but hardly surprising — what is surprising that they were still around as late as 1953 — and at least we finally know for certain that they went to Scranton (and not Paramount, as some have suggested) after Grey Gull suspended operations.

Many thanks to Michael Panico and Michael Brooks at Sony for taking the time to investigate!

Grey Gull Discovery: GG Masters in the Columbia Vaults (1953)

MSP_GG-logoWhere did the Grey Gull masters go? It’s been a tantalizing question for decades, and some pretty far-fetched theories have been put forth. But as it turns out, an obscure unpublished Columbia vault listing, recently discovered among the Bill Bryant papers, has held the answer all this time.

The listing was compiled in 1953, after Columbia employee Harry Flynn discovered a large cache of masters in the Bridgeport vault that had come from the Scranton Record (née Button) Company — a major independent pressing plant, which had gobbled up many failed record companies in the 1920s and early 1930s. For nearly two decades Scranton was the manufacturing arm of the Plaza / American Record Corporation group, the latter having been officially acquired by CBS on January 1, 1939.

Flynn allowed another CBS employee to make a partial listing of the non-Columbia masters, apparently without the knowledge or blessings of Columbia archivist Helene Chmura. In October 1955, the now-former Columbia employee (whom we won’t name, as he may still be alive) forwarded the list to researcher Walter C. Allen, with a request that it not be made public, “for it was ‘lifted’ while I was an employee!” Allen honored the request, and as a result, the final disposition of Grey Gull’s masters has remained a guessing-game, until now.

The list includes masters from Arto, Emerson, Federal, and Plaza — all of whose assets were acquired by Scranton — as well as the early “LL-” prefixed National Music Lovers masters and even some early-1920s Paramount masters with Bridgeport Die & Machine (Puritan) markings. (Scranton also held 50 late Paramount masters by some outstanding blues artists for a time, but that’s another story, which you’ll find in Paramount’s Rise and Fall.)

How masters from all of these companies came to reside with Scranton is easily explainable, given the in-depth knowledge we now have of the 1920s recording industry. But there was one totally unexpected surprise — A large number of electrically recorded Grey Gull masters, beginning with # 2728 and ending at # 3643. (The list was a random sampling, so the actual range could have been wider.) There had been a Grey Gull – Emerson – Scranton link until early 1926, when GG opened its own studio and pressing plant — But the masters in the Columbia vault dated from late 1927 through approximately September 1929, long after that link had been severed; and none of those listed had been leased to Emerson, which remained a Scranton customer but occasionally issued Grey Gull recordings in the later 1920s. Material on the list ranges from pop vocals and the usual studio bands to country and jazz. Complete sets of takes (some running as high as -D and -E) were preserved.

From this, it appears certain that Scranton ended up with a least a goodly portion of the electrical Grey Gull masters, if not all of them. Have any of these masters survived in the Columbia archives (now owned by Sony)? Pretty doubtful, given the material’s lack of commercial value, and CBS’s merciless master-scrappings at Bridgeport in the early 1960s; but hope springs eternal. We’re currently in contact with Sony staff to see if anything, including any original file documentation that might have come along with the masters, has survived. Stay tuned….


The Amazing Expanding-Contracting Jello Record (1914)

So, who needs a pantograph? According to this 1914 Talking Machine World article, a box of gelatin, a little formaldehyde, and some plaster should work just fine if you need to scale-up or scale-down a master. Might be fun to try at home…


The Playlist • Raggy Piano Solos (Gennett Recordings, 1924–1932)


THEODORE SHAW: Hold ‘Er Newt (They’e After Us)

Richmond, Indiana: c. April 7, 1924
Vaughan 825 (Gennett mx. 11831 – B)

A Ku Klux Klan issue, with Shaw accompanying the Vaughan Quartet’s “Wake Up America and Kluck-Kluck-Kluck” on the reverse. The second strain is plagiarized from Irene Giblin’s “Chicken Chowder.”


GEORGE H. TREMER: Spirit of ’49 Rag

Birmingham, Alabama: August 1927
Champion 15436 (Gennett mx. GEX 779 – A)


SMITH & IRVINE: Lonesome Road Blues

Richmond, Indiana: c. October 1, 1932
Champion 16518 (Gennett mx. N 18815)

From a tape dubbing supplied by the late Mike Stewart. Entered in the Gennett ledger as “Piano duet with mandolin attachment,” the latter being a common accessory on player pianos and nickelodeons. Hmmm….


eBay Specials This Week on Slighty “Bumped” Books — Save $10 – $20


It’s time once again to round up the books that have gotten a little bumped in transit or storage. These copies have slight edge-dings and/or scuffs on the covers — very minor cosmetic defects that won’t affect wear or use. Other than that, they’re new perfect copies in the original shrink-wrap, with the same money-back guarantee as our full-price books. And standard U.S. shipping is free.

We’ve put three of our most popular titles on eBay Buy-It-Now. It’s first-come, first-served, and quantities are very limited.

The Victor Black Label Discography, Vol. 1 (16000 & 17000 Series) — John R. Bolig
$55 ($75 if perfect)

The Victor Red Seal Discography, Vol. 1 (Single-Sided Issues) — John R. Bolig
$55 ($75 if perfect)

The Zonophone Discography (General Catalog, 1904-1912) — William R. Bryant
$55 ($65 if perfect)

Pioneer Recording Artists • John Bieling’s Memoir (1914), and the 1947 Bieling Day Reunion

John Bieling was one of the earliest commercial recording artists, getting into the business in 1892. He’s remembered mainly for his work with various early studio quartets, which he touches on in this memoir from the April 1914 edition of The Talking Machine World. By this time, he had retired from recording and was working in sales. There are a few slip-ups (Eldridge Johnson’s first name is misspelled, and Victor wasn’t being formed in 1898), which don’t detract from the piece’s charm.

MSP_bieling_tmw_041514 Three decades later, Bieling began hosting reunions for the studio old-timers. The photo below, courtesy of Dick Carty, is from a get-together on September 10, 1947, with (from left to right) Bieling, Irving Kaufman (kneeling), Walter Van Brunt (a.k.a. Walter Scanlan), Will Oakland, and Billy Murray.


The Vaudeville Playlist • Maurice Burkhart (1912–1913)


Maurice Burkhart began his career plugging songs for Ted Snyder, Irving Berlin’s publisher, frequent co-composer, and business partner. His vaudeville career took off in 1913, after he appeared as the opening act to headliner Eva Tanguay at the Park Theater in New York. With the demands of touring, Burkhart’s studio activities declined markedly after 1913, and Edison issued his last known commercial recording in 1920.

(Don’t read too much into the lyrics of the first tune, which incidentally is an early Jim Europe composition. It was intended for a female singer, and Burkhart was simply plugging it as written — a quaint practice that can be heard on records well into the late 1920s.)


MAURICE BURKHART: I’ve Got the Finest Man

New York: c. July 11, 1912 (mx. shipment date)
Harmony A1208 (mx. 38134 – 2)


MAURICE BURKHART (with Peerless Quartet): At the Devil’s Ball

New York: c. January 10, 1913 (mx. shipment date)
Columbia A1282 (mx. 38546 – 1)


MAURICE BURKHART (with Peerless Quartet): Going Up with the Elevator Man

New York: c. June 7, 1912 (mx. shipment date)
Columbia A1188 (mx. 19925 – 1)

 Note: Includes a racially derogatory term symptomatic of the period, which does not reflect the views of Mainspring Press.

All titles with studio orchestra accompaniment (probably Charles A. Prince, conductor). The usual Peerless Quartet personnel at this time were Henry Burr (lead tenor and manager), Albert Campbell (second tenor), Arthur Collins (baritone), and John H. Meyer (bass). Speed changes are defects in the original recordings.


The Playlist • The California Ramblers in their Prime (1927–1928)


CALIFORNIA RAMBLERS (as Golden Gate Dance Orchestra): Zulu Wail

New York: May 27, 1927
Domino 3973 (Plaza mx. 7277 – 2)



New York: March 29, 1927
Columbia 992-D (mx. W 143723 – 2)



New York — Union Square (Okeh) studio: February 10, 1928
Columbia 1642-D (mx. W 145630 – 3)

The studio location is confirmed in Ed Kirkeby’s files, and what a difference it makes! Although Union Square used the same Western Electric equipment as Columbia’s main studios, its livelier acoustics (the room resembled an underground subway station) and more skillful recording team added up to strikingly superior sound for the period.


THE LITTLE RAMBLERS (California Ramblers small unit): Play It, Red

New York: July 8, 1927
Columbia 1103-D (mx. W 144444 – 2)


Note: Personnel listings can be found in Brian Rust’s Jazz and Ragtime Records, 1897–1942 (Sixth Edition), available on a searchable CD-ROM exclusively from Mainspring Press. They are correct for these sides, having come from Ed Kirkeby’s files.


Correct Personnel for the California Ramblers’ 1929–1930 Grey Gull Sessions, from Ed Kirkeby’s Files

Sorry to report that the personnel listings for the California Ramblers’ 1929–1930 Grey Gull sessions in American Dance Bands on Record and Film (the $600 successor to Brian Rust’s American Dance Band Discography) are seriously in error.

The compilers don’t say where their information came from, but it certainly wasn’t from the one unimpeachable source in this case: Ramblers manager Ed Kirkeby himself, who maintained meticulous logbooks detailing all recording sessions with which he was involved. So, to set the record straight, here are the actual correct personnel — which in some cases bear only a slight resemblance to those undocumented listings in ADB — directly from Mr. Kirkeby’s files:


July 30, 1929 — Grey Gull mxs. 3559–3561

ADB misattributes this session to a “Grey Gull studio orchestra,” “with a sound not unlike the California Ramblers.” All recordings were issued pseudonymously. The titles, as confirmed in Ed Kirkeby’s files, are:

Maybe! Who Knows? (mx. 3559 — Grey Gull 1746, et al.)
Sweetness (mx. 3560 — Grey Gull 1752, et al.)
Little Pal (mx. 3561 — Grey Gull 1756, et al.)

Personnel for this session, from Kirkeby’s files, are:

Chelsea Quealey, Fred Van Eps, Jr. (trumpets); Carl Loeffler (trombone); “Pete” [presumably Pumiglio], Harold Marcus (saxophones); Chauncey Gray (piano); Al Duffy (violin); Tommy Felline (banjo/guitar); Ward Lay (bass); Stan King (percussion); Smith Ballew (vocal, with unnamed others). Kirkeby paid Dick Morgan $20 for this session, for reasons unstated.


December 27, 1929 — Grey Gull mxs. 3804– 3807

ADB personnel listing is “collective” (i.e., all likely names were tossed into the pot, in the hope that at least some might apply), with no source cited. The exact session personnel, from Kirkeby’s files, are:

Fred Van Eps, Jr. (first trumpet); Frank Cush (second trumpet); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Paul Mason (tenor saxophone) “Pete” [presumably Pumiglio] (first alto saxophone); “Carl” [presumably Orech] (second alto saxophone); Sid Harris (violin); “Gross” [Gray?] (piano); Tommy Felline (banjo, guitar); Ward Lay (string bass); Stan King (percussion); Smith Ballew (vocal with two unnamed others, presumably band members)


January 24, 1930 — Grey Gull mxs. 3855– 3857

ADB personnel list is “collective,” with no source cited. The exact session personnel, from Kirkeby’s files, are:

Fred Van Eps, Jr., Tony Gianelli (trumpets); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Carl Orech] (saxophone); Paul Mason (tenor saxophone); Harold Marcus (alto saxophone); Sid Harris (violin); illegible, possibly [Chauncey] Gray (piano); Tommy Felline (banjo, guitar); Ward Lay (string bass); [?] Dale (percussion); Smith Ballew (vocal). The accordionist is not listed in Kirkeby’s log, suggesting that he was supplied by the studio.


February 24, 1930 — Grey Gull mxs. 3913–3915

ADB personnel list (source not cited) is largely incorrect. The correct session personnel, from Kirkeby’s files, are:

Angie Rattiner (first trumpet); Tony Giannelli (second trumpet); Pete Pumiglio, Paul Mason, Tommy Bohn (“first,” “second,” and “third” saxophones, in that order); Lloyd Turner (trombone); Irving Brodsky (piano); Joe La Faro (violin); Tommy Felline (banjo/guitar); Tex Hurst (bass); Herb Weil (percussion). The vocalist is not listed in Kirkeby’s log, suggesting that he was supplied by the studio.


May 12, 1930 — Grey Gull mxs. 4059, 4060

ADB personnel list (source not cited) is largely incorrect. The correct session personnel, from Ed Kirkeby’s files, are:

Jack Purvis (trumpet); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Pete Pumiglio, Paul Mason, Tommy Bohn (saxophones); Irving Brodsky (piano); Scoop Thompson (Tomson in file) (guitar); Tex Hurst (bass); Jack Powers (percussion); “Moore” (no further details); Scrappy Lambert (vocal)


June 12, 1930 — Grey Gull mxs. 4095– 4098

ADB personnel list (source not cited) is almost entirely incorrect. The correct session personnel, from Ed Kirkeby’s files, are:

Fred Van Eps, Jr., Tony Giannelli (trumpets); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Ed Blanchard, Joe Gillespie, Nye Mayhew (saxophones); Lew Cobey (piano); Ed Sexton, guitar; Ward Lay (string bass); Joe Powers (percussion); Elmer Feldkamp (vocal, with unnamed others, presumably band members)


The Playlist • Hot String Bass (Ward Lay, Thelma Terry)


THE SEVEN HOT AIR-MEN: Gotta Feelin’ for You

New York: May 23, 1929
Columbia 1850-D (mx. W 148617 – 2)

Confirmed personnel, from Ed Kirkeby’s log: Phil Napoleon (trumpet); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Pete Pumiglio (reeds); Chauncey Gray (piano); Tommy Felline (guitar); Ward Lay (string bass); Stan King (percussion). A vocalist identified only as “Ryan” was also present at this session, according to the Kirkeby files, but apparently was not used.


THELMA TERRY & HER PLAY BOYS: The Voice of the Southland

Chicago: March 29, 1928
Columbia 1390-D (mx. W 145854 – 3)



Chicago: March 29, 1928
Columbia 1390-D (mx. W 145853 – 3)

Suggested personnel, from Brian Rust’s Jazz & Ragtime Records 1897–1942, Sixth Edition (no source cited): Johnny Mendel, Carl Rinker (trumpets); Floyd O’Brien (trombone); Bud Jacobson (clarinet); Mike Platt (clarinet, alto sax); Phil Shukin (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Bill Otto (piano); Thelma Terry (string bass / director); Roy Campbell (banjo); Gene Krupa (percussion).

Talk-O-Phone “Sousa” and “Ennis” Phonographs (And a Look at Talk-O-Phone’s Founder)

Ads for two early Talk-O-Phone models, from January 1905 (the Sousa) and December 1904 (the Ennis). We’ve found no evidence that John Philip Sousa ever endorsed the machine that was named after him; in fact, it seems pretty unlikely, given that he was under exclusive contract to Victor, which had already begun pursuing Talk-O-Phone in the courts for patent infringement.

And below is the face of one Albert Irish, Talk-O-Phone’s founder, and on-again-off-again president when he wasn’t in hiding. If you sense some resemblance to a silent-movie villain, you’re not far off the mark — “slippery” only begins to describe Irish’s business conduct. He eventually was indicted for abetting embezzlement. You can read about Irish’s exploits in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

MSP_talkophone-irish-composAlthough Talk-O-Phone’s machines have been well-researched, their records (on the Talk-O-Phone label itself, not the Leeds foil-label discs to which their name simply was added) give up their secrets more reluctantly. Some later issues have been traced to International Record Company (Excelsior) masters, but many others appear to be unique recordings. The latest findings in regard to the IRC-produced issues will appear in that company’s discography, which is in final prep for publication by Mainspring Press.

Adelina Patti, Long Before Victor

A relatively young Adelina Patti appears on the cover of this rare libretto. It’s undated, but the graphic elements and back-cover ads all point to the late 1880s – early 1890s (the portrait might be earlier still); most likely it was published in conjunction with Patti’s highly publicized 1889 American tour, which was managed by Abbey and Grau.

MSP_patti-semiramide_libretPatti retired from opera 1897 but was still active on the concert stage when her Victor records (pressed from imported G&T masters) were released in May 1906. You can find complete discographical details of those recordings, compiled from the original Victor Talking Machine Company and Gramophone Company files, in John Bolig’s Victor Red Seal Discography — Vol. 1, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.


Pioneer Recording Artists • Cesare Sodero After Edison

MSP_sodero-fidesAfter many years of service, Edison studio conductor Cesare Sodero handed over the baton to Irwin Schloss during the summer of 1926, with A. Aslanoff filling in briefly during the transition. He went into theater work; we recently ran across this program, probably from the early 1930s, showing him as musical director and conductor of the Fides Opera Company. Among the largely unfamiliar cast is Giueseppe La Puma, who recorded for the American Record Company and Zonophone in the early 1900s.

Sodero was still active as late as 1935, when he directed the orchestra for “The Land of Bells,” an ill-fated production at New York’s Princess Theater that closed after five performances.

Highlights from the September 1914 Victor Records Catalog

Courtesy of John Bolig, author of The Victor Discography Series