These excerpts are from an interview with ARSC Lifetime Achievement Award winner John Bolig, conducted in 2003 by Barry Ashpole. The occasion was the release of John’s Caruso Records, but John’s general comments on the state of discography are more relevant than ever.
The next installment in John’s Victor Black Label Discography Series — a combined volume covering the complete 22000, 23000, 24000, V-38000, V-38500, and V-40000 series, weighing in at a whopping 560+ pages — is in final pre-press stage and will release in late summer or early autumn 2013.
BA: In considering discography in general, what are some of the obstacles or barriers still facing researchers today?
JB: Not many, if one is willing to travel and to work in musty old archives. Victor’s archives are not as well preserved as those of EMI, but both companies are taking discography seriously today. That was not true thirty years ago. And, there are some collectors who are so generous that one cannot begin to thank them. There are a few who disappoint me, but they remain the exception.
BA: Any general comments about the quality of discographical work today?
JB: I’m not always pleased with the effort expended by some discographers. In fact, I am embarrassed by some of the hyperbole expressed by some of them. I greatly admire Caruso, but I refuse to believe that he was perfect, or that I have the right to call him by his first name.
There are some discographers whose work intrigues me. I have never met Brian Rust, Alan Kelly or Bill Moran, but I find their work invaluable… Kelly’s research is remarkable because he has to piece together information from so many different sources. My greatest regret is that the work of Fagan and Moran [on Victor] has not been completed. Another fine example of discography is Dick Spottswood’s opus on ethnic records…
I admire The Record Collector [UK], and my only criticism of this publication is that some of their featured artists were not at all important, and the authors sometimes get carried away in their estimations of their heroes’ true value. There has to be a measure of objectivity for these things to be done properly.
There are so many good discographies that I hate to single out one or two. Once in a while I’m totally disappointed. For example, the Billy Murray discography was a worthwhile undertaking that simply does not meet the test of good discography… Sometimes these things are done because of limitations placed on us by publishers (for example, to fit the last few pages of a biography), but they aren’t particularly useful, and they deserve bad reviews.
BA: Last words?
JB: I surmise that my optimism concerning the evolution of discography can be detected from the above comments, but it seems that for every two steps forward we take one backward. There are excellent models of good discographies, and researchers should attempt to emulate the best rather than rush into print…
(Excerpted from the Spring 2003 ARSC Journal, and used with permission. Interview © 2003 by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections; all rights are reserved.) You can read the complete interview on the Mainspring Press website.