In late 1903, Cal Stewart signed an exclusive three-year contract with Columbia. Left without a fresh supply of Stewart’s immensely popular “Uncle Josh” routines, Edison and Leeds & Catlin finally brought in a substitute — an Albany stove merchant and former junk dealer who did a credible imitation of Stewart. The Edison-endorsed version of Keefe’s discovery originally ran in the Albany Exchange and was later reprinted in the September 1906 edition of the Edison Phonograph Monthly:
“I’m Old, but I’m Awfully Tough” (a laughing song composed by Stewart) was released in December 1905, nine months before this article found its way into EPM. Edison went on to release Keefe’s renditions of two popular Stewart routines — “Uncle Josh in a Department Store” and “Uncle Josh in a Chinese Laundry” — March 1906 and January 1907, respectively.
The infamous patent-infringing firm of Leeds & Catlin issued no fewer than seven “Uncle Josh” routines by Keefe, which appeared during the late summer of 1906. Although very rare today, they were widely circulated at the time, appearing on Leeds’ own Sun and Imperial labels as well as Aretino, D&R, Oxford, and other client brands. Many of the labels showed no artist credit, probably leading buyers to believe they were genuine Stewart records; the truth was revealed in the opening announcements, which credited Keefe.
Stewart finally returned to Edison in August 1908 (the details can be found in Cal Stewart’s Recording Contracts, on the Mainspring website), and Keefe’s Edison records were deleted the following year. The Leeds issues were discontinued in the same year, after the company was ordered to suspend record production by the U.S. Supreme Court (more on that in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries).