The Hoxie Pallophotophone (1922) — Roots of the Brunswick “Light-Ray” System

This article from the December 1922 Wireless Age is one of the earliest explanations of Charles Hoxie’s Pallophotophone electrical recording system. At this early stage it was being used to make optical sound recordings on film, but Hoxie noted that the system could easily be adapted to conventional disc recording.

The Victor Talking Machine Company experimented with the device beginning on December 8, 1922, under the supervision of in-house engineer Albertis Hewitt. After two weeks of testing, Victor management rejected it. The breakthrough for Hoxie came in 1925, when the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company — faced with Columbia’s and Victor’s strangle-hold on the new Western Electric system — turned to the Pallophotophone (which it promptly renamed the “Light-Ray” system) out of sheer desperation. Badly flawed, it was replaced with a more conventional system in 1927, but in the meantime the Pallophotophone allowed Brunswick to compete with the new Columbia and Victor electrical recordings.

Recording the ‘Twenties (available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries) includes four chapters detailing the conversion to electrical recording.

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Highlights from “The Columbia Record” • Indestructible and the 15¢ Wax Cylinder Sell-Off (1909)

Today we start a new series of highlights from a long-forgotten dealer publication, The Columbia Record. The first two pages below, from the June 1909 issue, deal with the remaindering of Columbia’s two-minute wax cylinder inventory following the company’s purchase of the Indestructible Phonographic Record Company — producers of the Indestructible celluloid cylinder. The third page is from the February 1910 issue, by which time Columbia was marketing a four-minute Indestructible to compete with Edison fragile wax Amberols.

You’ll find the whole Indestructible story, and details of the company’s complete output, in Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderography (Kurt Nauck & Allan Sutton), available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

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The Playlist • Thomas Edison Gets the Blues (1923–1924)

Thomas Edison was a bigoted man (as were many of his contemporaries in the recording industry), so it’s not surprising that he refused to enter the race-record market in the early 1920s. But he relented briefly in 1923–1924 and allowed a few “blues” titles by singers from Joe Davis’ talent pool to be recorded.

The 1923 Diamond Disc releases were “red-starred,” a warning to dealers that the company expected below-average sales and would not accept returns. The 1924 masters were shelved for many months until Arthur Walsh (in a memo preserved at the Edison National Historic Site, in which he refers to the records as “nigger blues”) finally urged their release for financial reasons. But marketing was nil, and distribution was restricted to Southern states, even though all the performers were based in New York, where they probably were better known in the North than in the South. Edison used the resulting poor sales to justify a quick exit the race-record market.

Some of the titles were dubbed from the disc masters to Blue Amberol cylinders, which are the source of today’s playlist.

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HELEN BAXTER (as ELLEN COLEMAN):
Cruel Back Bitin’ Blues

New York: July 10, 1923 (acc: Lemuel Fowler’s Orchestra)
Edison Blue Amberol 4915 (dubbed from disc mx. 9065 – )

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HELEN BAXTER (as ELLEN COLEMAN):
You Got Everything a Sweet Mama Needs (But Me)

New York: July 10, 1923 (acc: Lemuel Fowler’s Orchestra)
Edison Blue Amberol 4911 (dubbed from disc mx. 9066 – )

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ETHEL FINNIE:
You’re Gonna Wake Up Some Mornin, But Papa Will Be Gone

New York: August 27, 1924 (acc: Porter Grainger, piano)
Edison Blue Amberol 4917 (mx. 15836, dubbed from disc mx. 9675 – B)
(Unissued in disc form)

There’s much more about Edison, the 1920s “blues craze,” and the development of the race-record industry in Recording the ‘Twenties, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

The Playlist • Flight of the Flagship (1940 American Airlines Promo)

A souvenir of the days before planes became flying cattle-cars. The co-author of this elaborate production was Stanley Washburn, Jr., who championed the dirigible as the airship of the future before signing on with American Airlines. He was later director of promotions for Pan Am, published a number of books, and invented the Bongo Board (an exercise device designed to improve balance). Captain Bill Lester, who explains the ear-piercing radio guidance system on side 2, was chief of American Airline’s Pilot Training School.

FLIGHT OF THE FLAGSHIP (Part 1): THE DEPARTURE FROM LA GUARDIA FIELD, NEW YORK, OF AMERRICAN AIRLINES’ MERCURY TRANSCONTINENTAL SKYSLEEPER
Dubbed at Reeves Sound Studios (New York) March 1940
General 6001 (a)   (mx. R-2740)

FLIGHT OF THE FLAGSHIP (Part 2): THE RADIO BEAM (EXPLAINED BY CAPT. BILL LESTER) / THE ARRIVAL IN LOS ANGELES
Dubbed at Reeves Sound Studios (New York) March 1940
General 6001 (b)  (mx. R-2739) 


Book Updates: “Pathé–Perfect” to Press / “Recording the 20s” Back in Stock

COVERS_pathe-1_x3Volume I of The Pathé–Perfect Discography goes to press this Friday and will go on sale in early November. It covers all joint Pathé-Actuelle issues in the Race Record, Popular Vocal, Star, Standard / Miscellaneous, and Classical / Operatic series (you can find more details in the Mainspring Press Newsletter). Volume II, covering the jazz and dance band  issues, will release in 2015.

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COVERS-rec-20s_x3Recording the ‘Twenties, our most popular title, is now back in stock after having sold out its fourth printing a few weeks ago.

Vox Comes to America, Advertises Chaliapin’s Daughter (1923)

Vox LPs are well-known to classical collectors, but the German company had attempted to enter the American market long before the high-fidelity era. The ads below, from The Talking Machine World for November and December 1923, announced the company’s first arrival in the U.S.

Although Vox made a high-quality record, most of its artists were unfamiliar to the average American. For their early U.S. advertisements, Vox apparently settled on Feodor Chaliapin’s daughter Lydia as the one name that Americans might readily recognize. The recognition factor, probably coupled with some lingering anti-German sentiment, seems have doomed Vox’s attempt from the start. After failing to attract much attention, the Vox Corporation of America was dissolved on March 11, 1927. Vox’s second American venture, launched in the late 1940s, fared far better.

We’ve seen just one example of the a Vox domestic red-label disc (pressed from a foreign master). Although Vox called them “Red Seals” in the ad below, that name was a registered trademark of the Victor Talking Machine Company, and it does not appear on the label of the inspected copy. We’ve yet to see a Vox “Green Seal.” The domestic label design differs markedly from the designs used on Vox’s foreign-made pressings, which were exported to the U.S. for a time and still turn up on occasion.

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Paramount Records Before the Blues (May 1918)

This stunning double-sided ad ran in the May 1918 Talking Machine World. Paramount had recently introduced 10″ discs to replace its initial 9″ offerings; the last of the latter appear in the No. 6 Supplement, alongside the 10″ offerings. At this early stage, the trademark eagle perched on a phonograph rather than the more familiar globe.

The large structure to the left is the Paramount pressing plant at Grafton, Wisconsin, a converted water-powered mill that already had a long and varied history when this ad appeared — you’ll find the whole fascinating story of the Grafton complex in the new expanded edition of Alex van der Tuuk’s Paramount’s Rise and Fall. The smaller structure to the right would eventually house the studio in which the likes of Son House and Skip James recorded.

In 1918, however, Paramount was recording exclusively in New York, and doing its best to imitate Columbia and Victor. Note the usual NYC studio free-lancers — Henry Burr, Collins & Harlan, Louise & Ferera, Arthur Fields, Grace Kerns, the Shannon Four, et al. Even some of the portraits are the same as those used in the major companies’ catalogs. Fortunately for posterity, the powers at NYRL eventually realized there wasn’t much money to be made by following the pack, and instead turned their attention to the new race-record market (although there wasn’t much money to be made there either, as it would turn out).

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The Playlist • “Don’t Sell It — Don’t Give It Away” (Three Ways)

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OSCAR WOODS (acc. own guitar): Don’t Sell It — Don’t Give It Away

New Orleans: March 21, 1936
Decca 7219 (mx. 60849)

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BUDDY [OSCAR] WOODS with THE WAMPUS CATS:
Don’t Sell It — Don’t Give It Away

San Antonio, Texas: October 30, 1937
Vocalion 03906 (mx. SA-2845 – 1)

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DALLAS JAMBOREE BAND (Carl Martin, vocal): Dusting the Frets

Dallas: September 25, 1935
Vocalion 03092 (mx. DAL-153 – 2)

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King Oliver and Erskine Tate Sign with Okeh (1923)

From the August 1923 Talking Machine World. According to other trade-paper accounts, the recording engineer on this trip was Charles Hibbard, with Ralph Peer (in his pre-Victor incarnation) tagging along as supervisor. Oliver and Tate apparently were something of an after-thought; the main purpose of this trip was to record material for the Rational Rhythm typing-instruction discs, which occupied much of Hibbard’s and Peer’s time.

The temporary studio mentioned in the article was set up in the Chicago headquarters of the Consolidated Talking Machine Company — the same firm that just a few years earlier bought out the Standard Talking Machine and O’Neill-James (Busy Bee) operations and dabbled for a time in marketing relabeled Columbia pressings. Its president, E. A. Fearn, played an important role in promoting Okeh’s race-record series; the whole Okeh–Consolidated story appears in Recording the ‘Twenties, available from Mainspring Press.

MSP-TMW_tate-oliver-okeh-19…And two gems from a later Oliver session for Okeh. Note that these were listed in the standard catalog rather than the 8000 Race Record series, an indication of  the wide appeal of Oliver’s band:
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KING OLIVER’S JAZZ BAND: Riverside Blues

227-229 W. Washington Street, Chicago: c. Late October / early November 1923
Released March 1924
Okeh 40034 (mx. 8484 – A)

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KING OLIVER’S JAZZ BAND: Working Man Blues

227-229 W. Washington Street, Chicago: c. Late October / early November 1923
Released March 1924
Okeh 40034 (mx. 8486 – A)

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Irving Kaufman Endorses the Kodisk Home Recorder (1922)

MSP_kodisk-8-22_kaufman_AThe Kodisk was one of several attempts during the acoustic era to manufacture a home-recording device using pre-grooved metal discs. (For those who didn’t want to splurge on the device itself, it was possible to buy only the blank discs and make the phonograph reproducer do the embossing, by shouting through a megaphone into the horn opening.) The ad above, featuring vaudeville and studio singer Irving Kaufman, ran in the August 1922 Talking Machine World.

The pre-grooved blanks were patented by Henry L. Wadsworth, who filed his application on March 13, 1918. It was finally approved on June 27, 1922, clearing the way for commercial production. At that time, Wadsworth assigned his patent to the Metal Recording Disc Company, which had recently been incorporated with capital stock of $200,000.

Victor Emerson‘s 1926 obituary in The Music Trade Review claimed that Emerson and his son founded Kodisk. However, the incorporaters of the Metal Recording Disc Company were listed as L. E. Dresser, E. E. Ennison, and A. B. Heerman, with no mention of Emerson, so the degree of his involvement is uncertain. Thus far, no report has been found of the Eastman Kodak Company having taken legal action over the  dangerously similar Kodisk name, which was granted a U.S. trademark on July 24, 1922 (with first use claimed on May 16 of that year).

Recorded Kodisks still surface, usually containing little more than faintly audible amateur home recordings. Aluminum alloy blanks would be used much more successfully beginning in the late 1920s, when they were adapted for use with early electrical recorders, like the Speak-O-Phone.

The Playlist • Tommy Johnson (1928)

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TOMMY JOHNSON: Maggie Campbell Blues

Memphis Auditorium: February 4, 1928
Victor 21409 (mx. BVE 41839 – 2)
 .Released: July 20, 1928 — Deleted: 1931

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TOMMY JOHNSON: Bye Bye Blues

Memphis Auditorium: February 4, 1928
Victor 21409 (mx. BVE 41838 – 1)
 .Released: July 20, 1928 — Deleted: 1931

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TOMMY JOHNSON: Big Road Blues

Memphis Auditorium: February 3, 1928
Victor 21279 (mx. BVE 41837 – 2)
.Released: May 4, 1928 — Deleted: 1931

Note: The second guitarist (attributed to Charlie McCoy in some works, with no source cited) is not credited on the labels or in the Victor recording ledgers. Discographical data courtesy of John Bolig, from the original Victor files at Sony archives, New York.

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Pioneer Recording Artists • Irving Kaufman on Irving Kaufman (1967)

A revealing letter from vaudeville and recording-studio veteran Irving Kaufman to the late Quentin Riggs in 1967, which we recently found among Quentin’s papers. Kaufman, who was in his late 70s at the time, reveals that his birth name was Isadore (he went on to become one of the most prolific users of pseudonyms in the early recording industry) and expresses his unhappiness with retired life in Arizona. He and wife Belle later moved to California, which seems to have suited them better. Quentin’s typed transcription is above, followed by the first page of the original letter, in Kaufman’s hand.

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The Playlist • Dixie Stompers: Fletcher Henderson on the Cheap (1925–1926)

 

MSP_harmony-88H_getit_AA disguised and slightly scaled-down Fletcher Henderson orchestra, on Columbia’s 50¢ budget labels (55¢ west of the Rockies). To cut costs, Columbia continued to record its  budget-label masters acoustically well into 1929, long after it had adopted the Western Electric system for its full-priced labels — thus the “boxy” sound, which tends to put off modern listeners. Once you get past that, there’s some fine jazz to be heard.

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THE DIXIE STOMPERS: Spanish Shawl

New York: November 23, 1925
Harmony 70-H (mx. 141301 – 2)

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THE DIXIE STOMPERS: Florida Stomp

New York: December 22, 1925
Harmony 88-H (mx. 141303 – 5)

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THE DIXIE STOMPERS (Don Redman, vocal): Get It Fixed

New York: December 22, 1925
Harmony 88-H (mx. 141422 – 2)

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THE DIXIE STOMPERS (Don Redman, vocal): Dynamite

New York: April 14, 1926
Velvet Tone 1209-V   (mx. 141958 – 1)

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Personnel for Henderson’s numerous recordings can be found in Brian Rust’s classic Jazz & Ragtime Records 1897-1942 – Sixth Edition, available exclusively from Mainspring Press on a searchable CD.

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

MSP-EDISON_columbia-street-low-speed(Courtesy of Edison National Historic Site)
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.The first “Edison Hour” broadcast aired over WJZ on February 11, 1929. It was captured at Edison’s Columbia Street studio in Orange, New Jersey, 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 severe speed fluctuations, and noise from a power tube that “went Democratic” in the words of the Edison engineer — are distracting at times but of relatively 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 three selections are from Edison experimental mx. 185-A, the remainder from 185-B.

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WJZ ANNOUNCER AND CHARLES EDISON: Opening Comments

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Birthday Message

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FRIEDA HEMPEL: The Last Rose of Summer

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

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BILLY MURRAY with B. A. ROLFE’S ORCHESTRA: Doin’ the Racoon

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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!