Fusion, 1920s Style — A turn-of-the century commercial tune (“The Furntiture Man,” written by Harry Breen and Mayo Geary in 1902) is interpolated in an original piece by an African-American blues singer, which is copied almost verbatim by a white country-music performer. Both are from tape dubbings supplied in the 1980s by the late Mike Stewart (Jordan) and Gilbert Louey (Justice), which unfortunately have deteriorated a bit.
LUKE JORDAN: Cocaine Blues
Charlotte, NC: August 16, 1927
Victor 21076 (mx. BVE 39821 – 2)
DICK JUSTICE: Cocaine
Chicago: May 20, 1929
Brunswick 395 (mx. C 3516 – )
Three aerial views show the phenomenal growth of Victor’s Camden, NJ, complex in the ‘teens. Dates top to bottom are 1910, 1914, and 1916.
The modest structure in the upper circle is Victor president’s Eldridge R. Johnson’s original Camden workshop, where he got his start developing and manufacturing improved Gramophones for Emil Berliner. It was housed in the rear of a carriage factory at 108 North Front Street.
Courtesy of John Bolig, author of The Victor Discography Series.
Forgotten pioneers in the American phonograph industry, Ellsworth Hawthorne and Horace Sheble (sometimes in partnership with John O. Prescott) had colorful careers that saw them blacklisted by Edison and eventually shut down by a combination of patent-infringement lawsuits and a precipitous decline in demand for phonograph horns as internal-horn machines took over the market. After H&S’s bankruptcy, Hawthorne took up other manufacturing lines, and Sheble was involved in several short-lived label start-ups. Prescott (brother of Frederick M., of International Zonophone fame) eventually was hired as head engineer at Gennett’s Richmond, Indiana, plant. He was still active as late as 1926, when he accompanied the Gennett team that was dispatched to record Hopi Indian songs at the Grand Canyon.
Star and American Record Company discs, and a detailed history of the people and companies behind them, will be the subject of a new Mainspring Press discography, coming later this year.
If Bell and Arto give you headaches (and they sure give us one), a cure’s on the way.
Back in the 1950s, Walter C. Allen, Len Kunstadt, Cal Kendziora, and other well-known discographers affiliated with the late, lamented Record Research magazine realized that the only reliable way to research these records — with their lack of matrix markings, their specially commissioned masters, and their use of other companies’ studios and/or alternate takes and rejected recordings — was to compare them to suspected sources using a synchronized dual-turntable setup. One of the trained musicians among them even wrote out musical notations demonstrating subtle differences between Bell issues and suspected source recordings or alternate takes.
The group’s research materials and many unpublished projects were willed to Bill Bryant by George Blacker, the last surviving member of the group. Bill had nearly completed the Arto–Bell manuscript when he died suddenly in the mid-1990s. So all of that very solid research — some of which contradicts what you might be used to seeing in some well-known (but not-so-rigorously researched) foreign discographies — sat in storage, unpublished, until now.
In addition to the “SAC” (synchronized aural comparison) test results, the discography includes supporting data from the Plaza and Gennett files, the Ed Kirkeby and Carson Robison logs, original catalogs and ads, and other primary-source materials — plus the usual niceties you’ve come to expect from Mainspring, like composer and show credits, studio names, release dates, and sources citations. The illustrated introduction, newly written for this work by Allan Sutton, traces Arto’s transition from purely a piano-roll brand and its sometimes-tortuous path to market, Bell’s early history as an Arto client label, and its takeover by composer-arranger-conductor George Beynon (a pioneer in scoring for motion pictures) following Arto’s collapse.
Expected arrival date is mid-to-late May. Watch for updates here and on the Mainspring Press website.
A rare North American Phonograph Company flyer from the mid-1890s, touting the phonograph for business dictation. This Edison model has an electric motor, but collectors will recognize a strong family resemblance to the earliest Edison spring-driven models sold for home use. (Gift of Jim Walsh to the Library of Congress)
Members of Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, masquerading as the Dixie Stompers for Columbia’s cut-rate Harmony label. Coleman Hawkins composed the first title and is very much in evidence on these sides; full personnel can be found in Brian Rust’s Jazz and Ragtime Records, 1897-1942 (Sixth Edition), available on searchable CD exclusively from Mainspring Press.
THE DIXIE STOMPERS: Florida Stomp
New York: December 22, 1925
Harmony 88-H (mx. 141303 – 5)
THE DIXIE STOMPERS (Don Redman, vocal): Get It Fixed
New York: December 22, 1925
Harmony 88-H (mx. 141422 – 2)
THE DIXIE STOMPERS (Don Redman, vocal): I Found A New Baby
New York: January 20, 1926
Harmony 121-H (mx. 141526 – 3)
THE DIXIE STOMPERS (Don Redman, vocal): Dynamite
New York: April 14, 1926
Harmony 209-H (mx. 141958 – 1)
When we received the Bill Bryant / Record Research Associates materials in 2011, we were disappointed to find that two components in which we were especially interested — Star Records and the International Record Company — were missing. Based on the correspondence and ancillary materials, it appeared that a great deal of work had been done on both. Unfortunately, the finished data-sheets apparently were loaned out and never returned.
Exactly to whom was unclear, although there were a few clues. So we put out feelers among the collecting and research communities, which finally paid off. We recently received a tip concerning the holder of the purloined files, and they are now safely back where they belong.
The Star material will be included in Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott Records: A History and Discography, which is in the early production stages and will release later this year. The IRC data are more fragmentary (although more nearly complete than any existing listing we know of), so additional research efforts on those will be getting under way soon.
Our thanks to those who helped us track down these missing materials!
In 1906 Leeds & Catlin launched a premium-priced Imperial operatic series in an attempt to compete with Victor’s Red Seals. But unlike the Red Seal, the Imperials were pressed entirely from foreign masters, licensed from Favorite in Germany. It’s interesting to note that although Leeds was being sued by Victor for patent infringement at the time (and losing), a judge in this instance held that Leeds’ pressing foreign masters did not constitute infringement. Thus, these are the only legally produced Leeds & Catlin discs.
The bottom ad pictures the standard Imperial label, which actually was not used for this series; instead, Leeds had an entirely different label designed, in a star-spattered motif not unlike that of Favorite. The offerings were of good quality, but most of the artists were unknown to average American record buyers, and sales appear to have been dismal. The operatic Imperials range from very scarce to extraordinarily rare today, depending on the issue.
One of a number of collapsible horns marketed in the early 1900s; these ads date from 1907. Other collapsible or portable models included fabric horns with folding umbrella-type metal ribs, and sectionals that bolted together for use.
Seminal recordings by three major players on the Harlem scene in the late ‘teens. Kildare, Europe, and Dabney were all associated with Harlem’s famed Clef Club, and each played an important role in helping black musicians (jazz or otherwise) gain acceptance among white audiences. It’s not jazz just yet, but here’s how Harlem sounded before the likes of Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington arrived in town.
JOAN SAWYER’S PERSIAN GARDEN ORCHESTRA (DAN KILDARE, director): Bregeiro — Maxixe
New York: May 6, 1914
Columbia A5572 (mx. 36953 – 1)
One of the forgotten Harlem pioneers, Dan Kildare replaced Jim Europe as president of the prestigious Clef Club. A small unit from the club, under Kildare’s direction, provided the music for white dancers at Joan Sawyer’s lavishly appointed Persian Garden. The group made a few recordings for Columbia, nearly all of which went unissued; those that were released did not mention Kildare on the labels. His career is nicely chronicled in Tim Brooks’ Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890–1919, a must-read.
EUROPE’S SOCIETY ORCHESTRA (JAMES REESE EUROPE, director):
The Castles in Europe (Castle House Rag)
New York (18 W. 42nd Street): February 10, 1914
Victor 35372 (mx. C 14433 – 3)
Originally labeled “The Castles in Europe,” which appears on the earliest pressings. The title was changed to “Castle House Rag” by the time the record was officially listed.
EUROPE’S 369th INFANTRY (“HELL FIGHTERS”) BAND: Memphis Blues
New York (18 W. 42nd Street): c. March 7, 1919
Released May 1919
Pathé 22085 (mx. T 67486)
New York (18 W. 42nd Street): c. March 7, 1919
Released May 1919
Pathé 22087 (mx. T 67487)
The speculative recording date is based on what is known of Europe’s touring schedule and other activities, which were widely covered by the press. On May 9, 1919, just as these records were reaching the stores, Jim Europe was murdered by his drummer.
FORD DABNEY’S BAND: Slow Drag Blues
New York (35 W. 43rd Street): c. August 1919
Released October 1919
Aeolian-Vocalion 12195 (mx. 2372)
Dabney’s band spent six seasons playing for white dancers at Flo Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic, a vaudeville-style revue with dancing before and after the show. He made a large number of Aeolian-Vocalion recordings, many of which were rather unexciting renditions of current pop tunes, including accompaniments to several white singers. Victor rejected Dabney’s band in 1921 (along with virtually every other black performer who auditioned for them in the early 1920s), but his Syncopated Orchestra made several sides for Paramount in 1922, after which he faded from the recording scene.