The Playlist • Mexican Favorites (1905 – 1938)

.“Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”

— Rep. Will Hurd (Republican-Texas), whose district spans about 40 percent of the entire southern border. John Cornyn (Republican-Texas), the Senate’s #2 Republican, has also expressed serious doubts about the effectiveness of a wall. (Source: Washington Post 4/24/2017)

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SUNSET-1126

BANDA DE ESTADA MAYOR DE MÉXICO: Maria y Leonorcita — Danzones Yucatecos

Mexico City; Released 1905
Edison Gold Moulded 18767

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JESÚS ABREGO & LEOPOLDO PICAZO: La rancherita

Mexico City; Original release October 1909
Edison Blue Amberol 22058 (1913 reissue of Amberol 6058)

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TRIO  INSTRUMENTAL ARRIAGA (Joaquín Arriaga, mandolin): El novio de tacha

Mexico City; Original release May 1910
Edison Blue Amberol 22076 (1913 reissue of Amberol 6076)

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ENRIQUE ESPINOZA: El Borrachito

Los Angeles: c. June 1925
Sunset 1126 (mx. 777)

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LIDYA MENDOZA: Una Cruz

Blue Bonnet Hotel, San Antonio: October 25, 1938
Montgomery Ward M-7982 (mx. BS–28629-1)
Accompanists unlisted in Victor files

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EL CIEGO MELQUIADES: Paulita

Texas Hotel, San Antonio: August 15, 1935
Montgomery Ward M-4870 (mx. BS-94591-1)
Melquiades Rodriguez, violin; Enrique Morales, guitar

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The Playlist • Victor in the South — Hot Bands (1925 – 1928)

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FATTY MARTIN’S ORCHESTRA: End o’ Main

Houston: March 19, 1925
Victor mx. B 32111 – 2 (commercially unissued on 78)

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FATTY MARTIN’S ORCHESTRA: Jimtown Blues

Houston: March 19, 1925
Victor mx. B 32111 – 4 (commercially unissued on 78)

Above two titles from c. 1960s custom vinyl pressings of the original stampers. Takes 1 and 3, respectively, were issued on Victor 19700 (released 1925, deleted 1926).

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ROSS DE LUXE SYNCOPATORS (Margaret Miller, vocal): Skad-o-Lee

Savannah: August 22, 1927
Victor 20961 (mx. BVE 39823 – 2)
Released: December 16, 1927 – Deleted: 1929

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ROSS DE LUXE SYNCOPATORS (Frank Houston, vocal): Florida Rhythm

Savannah: August 22, 1927
Victor 20961 (mx. BVE 39827 – 2)
Released: December 16, 1927 – Deleted: 1929

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MEMPHIS RAMBLERS: Hold It Still

Memphis (Auditorium): February 4, 1928
Victor 21270 (mx. BVE 41841 – 2)
Released: April 20, 1928 – Deleted: 1931

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WILLIAMSON’S BEALE STREET FROLIC ORCHESTRA: Scandinavian Stomp

Memphis (McCall Building): February 27, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 37959 – 1 (commercially issued on Victor 21410)
Released: July 20, 1928 – Deleted: 1930 – Copies Sold: 4,819

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WILLIAMSON’S BEALE STREET FROLIC ORCHESTRA: Midnight Frolic Drag

Memphis (McCall Building): February 27, 1927
Victor 21410 (mx. BVE 37960 – 2)
Released: July 20, 1928 – Deleted: 1930 – Copies Sold: 4,819

Above two titles from c. 1960s custom vinyl pressings of the original stampers.

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Discographic data from the original Victor files, courtesy of John Bolig and the Discography of American Historical Recordings. Sales figures were entered on the Victor production-history cards at an unknown time by an unknown person, and are of questionable accuracy.

The Playlist • Harlem Jazz on Dime-Store Labels (1928 – 1929)

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CHARLIE JOHNSON’S PARADISE ORCHESTRA (as Jackson & his Southern Stompers): Take Your Tomorrow (Give Me Today)

New York: c. September 1928
Marathon 227 (7″ Consolidated mx. 31340 – 2)

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JAZZOPATORS (Probable Porter Grainger group): Don’t Know and Don’t Care

New York: Late November 1929
Grey Gull 1803 (mx. 3741 – A)

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FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA (as Henderson’s Roseland Orchestra): Freeze and Melt

New York: April 1929
Cameo 9174 (Cameo mx. 3798 – B)

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LUIS RUSSELL & HIS ORCHESTRA (as Dixie Jazz Band): The Way He Loves Is Just Too Bad

New York: September 13, 1929
Oriole 1726 (ARC mx. 9007 – 1, assigned control 2533)

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DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA (as The Washingtonians): Move Over

New York: October 1928
Cameo 9025 (Pathe mx. 108448 – 1, assigned Cameo mx. 3529 –  )

The Playlist • Cathedral Organ Classics — Commette, Dupre, Schweitzer (1929 – 1935)

MSP_HMV-D1898b

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A while back, we were lucky enough to acquire the late James Bratton’s collection of historic pipe-organ 78s at an estate sale in Denver. Bratton was a prominent organist, instructor, and journal editor who moved to Colorado from Baltimore (where he’d studied at the Peabody Conservatory) in the early 1970s. We’ll be posting some of the most interesting recordings from his collection on the blog from time to time. (The crackle heard on the third selection is an unfortunate characteristic of many British HMV pressings of the period, even on pristine copies like this one.)

 

EDOUARD COMMETTE (Organ of St. Jean Cathedral, Lyons, France):
Symphony No. 2 (Widor): Finale

Columbia 50285-D (mx. [W] LX 1004 – 1)
Lyons, France: April 18, 1929

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EDOUARD COMMETTE (Organ of St. Jean Cathedral, Lyons, France):
Symphony No. 4 (Widor): Toccata

Columbia 50285-D (mx. [W] LX 1005 – 1)
Lyons, France: April 18, 1929

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MARCEL DUPRE (Organ of Alexandra Palace, London):
Variations from Fifth Symphony (Widor) — Conclusion

His Master’s Voice D.1898 (mx. CR 2750 – 2)
London (relay to van): March 17, 1930

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ALBERT SCHWEITZER (Organ of All Hallows Church, London): Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Bach)

London: December 1935
Columbia 11022-D (English Columbia mxs. AX7716 – 1 / AX7714 – 1)
Master numbers are correct as shown; the two parts were recorded out-of-sequence, and intervening mx. AX7715 was assigned to an unrelated title..

MSP_col_11022-D_schweitzer

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CHARM: Another Outstanding Online Discographical Project

Not as widely known as the Discography of American Historical Recordings (although it certainly deserves to be), the UK-based CHARM website offers another outstanding online discography — in this case, of historical classical and operatic recordings. Hosted by the AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, CHARM is partnership of Royal Holloway, University of London (host institution) with King’s College, London, and the University of Sheffield.

CHARM is the perfect complement to DAHR, offering hard-to-find data on foreign as well as domestic recordings, primarily from the 1920s onward. The database includes much of The Gramophone Company’s 78-rpm output (from original file data compiled by the late Alan Kelly), as well 78s and some LP series from numerous other US, UK, and European companies, including Columbia and Decca, from data supplied by Michael Gray. *

The CHARM site includes a very flexible search engine, and results can be downloaded as comma-delimited text (.csv) or Microsoft Excel files. Here’s a small part of the results from our search on Cesare Formichi’s Columbia recordings:
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In addition, almost 5000 streaming sound files are available via the Find Sound Files facility. Sound files are transferred from 78-rpm discs held by the King’s Sound Archive at King’s College London.

Like DAHR and the affiliated National Juke Box site from the Library of Congress, CHARM is an entirely free service, with no registration or log-in required.

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* Dr. Alan Kelly compiled the monumental His Master’s Voice Discography for Greenwood Press during its glory days in the 1990s; when new owners pulled the plug, he completed the project on his own, self-publishing the entire run on a set of inexpensive CDs. In 2007 he was honored with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ Lifetime Achievement Award. Michael Gray — besides being one helluva nice guy — has had a distinguished career that includes a long run as director of the Voice of America’s Research Library and Digital Audio Archive projects. He served as series editor for Greenwood Press discographies, has written numerous books and articles, and is the recipient of ARSC’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award.

 

A Sure Bet: Funding for the Sciences, Humanities, and Arts Is Not Going Away

We’ve received a number of e-mails in the wake of Trump’s fanciful budget proposal, asking what we’re going to do if funding for the arts and humanities is eliminated. It’s an odd question, since Mainspring Press does not (and has never) received taxpayer funding, and is only marginally associated with any organizations that do. But since the subject’s been raised, here’s our take:

Funding will not be going away for science, the humanities, and the arts. Congress, not the president, has the final say on funding levels, and Donald’s proposal is already facing stiff resistance from members of both parties, across a wide political spectrum. With elections less than two years away for many of them, even the dimmest bulbs in Congress will likely think twice before cutting popular, and relatively inexpensive, programs.

Consider the impact on the economy of eliminating millions of jobs in these fields, not to mention the countless billions of dollars that will be lost by providers of associated goods and services. Bringing back some dead-end assembly-line work (which is rapidly being automated out of existence anyway) and creating short-term, low-paying “infrastructure” jobs will not be nearly enough to offset those  losses.

What we have here is just more divide-and-conquer grandstanding by a president who did not win the majority of the popular vote, and who is already proving himself to be ineffectual at his job. Don’t panic.

78 Online Discographical Projects • An Introduction to the Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR)

By now, many of you are familiar with the free online Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) at the University of California-Santa Barbara, the largest and most exciting online discographical project to date. For newcomers, here’s a quick overview:

DAHR is an entirely free service, with no registration or log-in required. The database currently includes the following content, comprising more than 150,000 entries:

  • Victor Talking Machine Company recordings made in the United States through 1942, in Central and South America up to 1935, releases derived from masters recorded in Europe by the Gramophone Company, and trial recordings of new artists and sessions from which no discs were issued
  • Columbia Records 10″ domestic masters recorded between 1901 and 1934
  • Columbia Records 12″ domestic masters recorded between 1906 and 1931
  • Berliner Gramophone Co. domestic recordings from 1892 to 1900
  • OKeh masters recorded between 1918 and 1926
  • US Zonophone 10″ and 12″ masters recorded between 1904 and 1912 (In progress: 7″, 9″, and 11″ masters recorded between 1899 and 1905)

In the offing are Brunswick-Vocalion and (on Mainspring’s part) the complete American Record Corporation output, among many other projects. Data are obtained from original company documentation, material licensed from Greenwood Press and Mainspring Press (including our extensive William R. Bryant / Record Research Associates archive), and other trusted sources, and they undergo careful proofing and fact-checking by DAHR’s expert staff.

You can search by artist, title, catalog or matrix number, date, etc. Below are two results screens for a search on the U.S. Marine Band’s “Maple Leaf” rag, the first showing the details of the issued discs, and the second, all matrix details:
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With DAHR, you can also instantly generate full listings by artist, composer, etc.:
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Another nice touch — The listings contain links to the Library of Congress’ “National Jukebox” sound and label-scan files, when available. The library has already digitized more than 10,000 early Victor records, which can be heard in streaming format.

Clearly, this is the future of discography, and Mainspring is pleased to be a contributor. We hope you’ll visit the site often!

 

 

The Playlist • Frank Stokes and the Beale Street Sheiks (1927 – 1928)

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BEALE STREET SHEIKS (Frank Stokes & Dan Sane): Beale Town Bound

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): c. August 1927
Paramount 12576 (mx. 4775 – 2)

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BEALE STREET SHEIKS (Frank Stokes & Dan Sane): Mr. Crump Don’t Like It

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): c. September 1927
Paramount 12552 (mx. 20045 – 2)

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BEALE STREET SHEIKS (Frank Stokes & Dan Sane): Blues in “D”

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): c. September 1927
Paramount 12552 (mx. 20048 – 2)

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FRANK STOKES: Downtown Blues

Memphis (Auditorium): February 1, 1928
Victor 21272 (mx. BVE 41822 – 1)
(Released: April 20, 1928; Deleted: 1931)

With uncredited second guitar. Take 2, also issued on 21272, is at a different tempo, uses some alternate lyrics, and does not include the reference to 1928.  Total sales, according to the Victor production files, were 13,449 copies — so not a particularly rare issue, as regional race records go, although there’s no way of telling for certain how scarce one take may be in relation to the other.

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Blues Fans — Be sure to check out these Mainspring Press titles, if you haven’t already. (We’re nearly sold out of “Paramount’s Rise and Fall,” and won’t be reprinting once the remaining copies are gone — order soon to avoid missing out!)

The Playlist • Broadway Headliners (1911 – 1913)


Photos from the Victor monthly supplements, courtesy of
John Bolig
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GEORGE M. COHAN: You Won’t Do Any Business If You Haven’t Got a Band (“A Little of Everything”)

Camden, NJ: May 4, 1911
Victor 60043 (mx. B 10268 – 1)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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NORA BAYES & JACK NORWORTH: Turn Off Your Light, Mr. Moon Man (“Little Miss Fix-It”)

Camden, NJ: April 24, 1911
Victor 70038 (mx. 9830 – 5)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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AL JOLSON: That Haunting Melody (“Vera Violetta”)

Camden, NJ: December 22, 1911
Victor 17037 (mx. B 11409 – 2)
With studio orchestra conducted by Walter B. Rogers. Although Rogers is not credited in the Victor files, Jolson addresses him by name in “Asleep in the Deep (Parody),” recorded at the same session.

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ELSIE JANIS: Fascinating Baseball Slide

Camden, NJ: October 22, 1912
Victor 60090 (mx. B 12527 – 1)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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DAVE MONTGOMERY & FRED STONE: Travel, Travel, Little Star (“The Old Town”)

Camden, NJ: January 24, 1911
Victor 70033 (mx. C 9845 – 1)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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DAVE MONTGOMERY & FRED STONE: Gay Paree

Camden, NJ: May 19, 1911
Victor 70042 (mx. C 9906 – 2)
With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)

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NAT W. WILLS: New York, What’s the Matter with You? (Ziegfeld’s “Follies of 1913”)

Camden, NJ: September 22, 1913
Victor 17461 (mx. B 13838 – 1)
Frank N. Darling, conductor, per Victor files (Darling was the conductor of the “Follies” orchestra).

 

Discography of American Historical Recordings – Update: Part 1 of the American Zonophone Discography Is Now Online

If you’ve been following the Mainspring Press blog lately, you know that we are no longer publishing any new printed discographies, but instead licensing our discographical data to the University of California–Santa Barbara’s online Discography of American Historical Recordings. As much as I love books, I’ve long felt that digital databases offer a clear advantage for archiving and disseminating this sort of material (not to mention eliminating the ever-increasing costs of production, printing, shipping, and labor).

DAHR is staffed by, and associated with, some of the most knowledgeable people in the field. In recent years it has emerged as the largest and most authoritative source of discographical data relating to the 78-rpm era. A tremendous amount of Victor, Columbia, Brunswick-Vocalion, and Decca data from the original company files have already been digitized and made freely available as searchable databases, and much more is to come.

Now we can add American Zonophone to the list, with thanks to Sam Brylawski, David Seubert, and the DAHR staff for helping to make that possible. The first Zonophone installment (covering the 10″ and 12″ standard-catalog releases of 1904–1912) is now online and includes the latest revisions and updates to the printed volume that was published by Mainspring in 2012.
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msp_zono-cats-1

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The next Zonophone installment, covering the 7″ and 9″  releases of 1900–1906, is undergoing final editing and fact-checking here, for submission to DAHR within the next month or two (there are no plans for a printed edition). Much of this material is previously unpublished and includes the first systematic cataloging of remakes, reissues, relabelings, altered stampers, etc.

For book enthusiasts, the Zonophone 10” / 12” volume can still be purchased on the Mainspring Press website, although supplies are running low — We’d advise ordering soon if interested, since  Mainspring will not be reprinting any of its discographies once current the current inventory has sold out.

— Allan Sutton

The Playlist • Thomas A. Edison Speaking

EDISON_ore-plant

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: The Liver Complaint Story

Probably West Orange, NJ: Early 1900s
Privately made wax cylinder (commercially unissued)
From the Edison National Historic Site Collection, National Park Service

Walter Miller, whom Edison addresses at the beginning of the recording, was largely responsible for Edison’s recording operations until the phonograph division’s closure at the end of 1929.

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Let Us Not Forget — A Message to the American People
(Introduction by Edison Vice-President William Maxwell)

West Orange, NJ: January 2, 1919
Edison Blue Amberol 3756 (original version; dubbed from disc mx. 6540-B)

The corresponding Diamond Disc release (which originally was sold in a specially decorated box) was # 50509. Blue Amberol 3756 was released in June 1919; in 1926 the cylinder was remade, using the same catalog number and dubbed from the same disc maters, but adding a band excerpt dubbed from the reverse side of the disc.

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Birthday Message from Fort Myers, Florida

Edison experimental mx. 185-A
February 11, 1929 (West Orange studio low-speed dubbing from broadcast)
From the Edison National Historic Site Collection, National Park Service

An except from the first “Edison Hour” broadcast aired, over WJZ on February 11, 1929, and captured at Edison’s Columbia Street studio in Orange, New Jersey. The broadcast celebrated the birthday of Thomas Edison, who spoke briefly via relay from his home in Fort Myers, Florida. Click to hear additional excerpts from the broadcast.

“Race Records” Nominated for 2017 ARSC Award

We’re pleased to announce that Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919–1945 (Allan Sutton, Mainspring Press) has been nominated for a 2017 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Winners will be announced later this year.

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MSP_race-records_cover
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Race Records
is available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries. Here’s a peek inside the book, at some of our favorite race-record ads:

msp_race-record-ads_1

 

 

The First Jazz Record Did Not Sell a Million Copies — Here’s the Evidence from the Production-History Cards for Victor 18255

Believe the old tale that the first jazz record (Victor 18255, by the Original Dixieland Jass Band) sold a million copies? Or more?

Not even close — and we finally have the evidence from the Victor Talking Machine Company itself.

We recently got the welcome news from record researcher and Phonostalgia host  Ryan Barna that microfilm copies of the “missing” blue production-history cards for Victor 18255 have been found in the Sony archives by Sam Brylawski — filed not under 18255, but under the catalog number of RCA’s 1967 LP reissue (LPV-547)! We then double-checked with Victor expert John Bolig, who was also able to locate his scans of the cards as well, and kindly forwarded them.

The most important news: The blue card states that 250,983 copies of Victor 18255 were pressed. Far short of the common million-seller claim, but more in line with what we’d expect for a best-seller of the period. Assuming this figure is correct, actual sales would have been a bit less (deducting free copies, breakage, dealer returns, leftover inventory destroyed when the record was deleted, etc.). In the interest of full disclosure, the blue-card figures could be off a bit, as John notes:

“Many years later somebody counted the pressings for a trial, and the company reported 250,983 copies had been pressed UP TO THAT TIME. I don’t know when that trial happened, but the record was deleted from the 1927 catalog. If the trial was earlier, more copies may have been pressed. If it was later, then the total is probably final and presumably accurate.”

It’s possible that this was the 1943 RCA–Decca trial, in which RCA submitted a tally of annual Victor record sales from 1901 through 1941. If so, 250,983 copies would likely have been the final tally; and presumably a reasonably accurate one, since the annual tally was formally entered into evidence at the trial.

Whatever the case, this is the only primary-source document  located in the Victor archives so far that relates to the sales of 18255  — and as such, we trust it far more than the claims of some aging ODJB band members, who didn’t produce any documentary evidence to back up their boast, or the countless pop-culture writers who have uncritically swallowed that tale.

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We don’t have permission from Sony to reproduce the card scans here. But the other key bits of information relating to Victor 18255, as relayed by both Ryan and John from the blue card and recording ledger information, are confirmation that these recordings were indeed originally made as trials, and were not accepted and assigned master numbers until March 1; that testing was not completed and approved until March 10 (eliminating any possibility of the March 5 release claimed by Rudi Blesh and others); and that the record was assigned to the May 1917 supplement (which would have been issued in late April). John suspects that the “March 1917 Special” notation might have been added to the card at a later date:

“The blue card for ‘Dixieland Jass Band, One Step’ (‘That Teasin’ Rag’) has handwriting on it that may have been added when the record was issued on LX-3007 [in 1954], and somebody using that pen and much darker ink seems to have added “Mar 1917 Special” above the “Date listed” cell that reads May 1917. That notation about a special release does not appear on the card for the other side. The writer penned the letter S twice in the same distinctive style on the word “Special” and on the words “Side 1” [the latter on a line referring to the 1954 LP reissue, which also gives the track number]. I doubt that employee was at Victor for the 1917 release and later for the LP release.

“I have dealt with these cards most of my life, and I seriously doubt that a record sent to the lab on March 9th could have been listed in a March special announcement. The absence of the notation on the other card supports my belief that a March announcement was almost impossible given the time required to design and print labels, press records and prepare them for distribution.”

 

Ryan has done some excellent sleuthing for ads and other materials confirming that Victor 18255 was on sale in some locations by late April (although apparently not before that) — in other words, a few weeks earlier than the “official” May 17 release date, but far later than Blesh’s logistically impossible March 5 date. He’ll be posting those ads and revealing the results of his investigation (which has turned up many interesting details regarding the initial release that we’ve not presented here) on the Phonostalgia site — be sure to pay him a visit.

— Allan Sutton

Not a Million-Seller: Myth-Busting the First Jazz Record (Victor 18255 • February 26, 1917) – With Updates

In observance of the first jazz recordings’ hundredth birthday, we dismantle some of the most persistent tall-tales surrounding it.

From a modern standpoint, these performances bear about as much resemblance to jazz as Velveeta does to real cheese. But there’s no denying that such raw energy had never before been heard on a phonograph record (excepting the brief drum barrage at the end of Jim Europe’s 1914 “Castle House Rag”), and that the record had a profound influence on American popular music.

Updates: MTR announcement and additional information added 2/20; Aeolian-Vocalion and English Columbia MP3 files added 2/21; pressing figures and other Victor ledger and blue-card data added 2/22.

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MSP_victor_18255b

The first edition: An “A”- / “A”-stamper copy of Victor 18255. The styling of the band’s name evolved during their first Victor period, progressing from ‘Jass’ (in quotes) to Jass (sans quotes), then finally to Jazz.

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On February 26 a century ago, a white quintet from New Orleans made the first recordings of something that is recognizably jazz, albeit of a crude sort. Gunther Schuller perhaps best summed up the band’s performance style and its place in jazz history:

“[The Original Dixieland Jazz Band] took a new idea, an innovation, and reduced it to the kind of compressed, rigid format that could appeal to a mass audience. As such, it had a number of sure-fire ingredients, the foremost being a rhythmic momentum that had a physical, even visceral, appeal. Moreover, this drive was cast in the most unsubtle terms, as was the ODJB’s melodic and harmonic language, with none of the flexibility and occasional subtlety shown by the best Negro bands of the period. But in its substitution of sheer energy for expressive power, the ODJB had found the key to mass appeal.” (Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968)

As momentous as this first jazz session seems today, attitudes in 1917 were quite different. Critics dismissed the ODJB’s music as little more than a noisy fad that would soon pass. It’s quite likely that the Victor executives saw the band as just another novelty act to be briefly exploited before record buyers moved on to the next new thing — after all, they sat on the masters for five days before even assigning them numbers, an indicator that they were less than enthusiastic. The company didn’t even bother to call the ODJB back following the initial release, allowing them to stray to competitors Columbia and Aeolian-Vocalion. It would be a full year before the ODJB was finally given an exclusive Victor contract.

The result of that milestone February 26 session, issued in May 1917 on Victor 18255, has been the victim of rampant  myth-making for decades. Here are four of our favorite tall-tales, most of them perpetuated by Rudi Blesh — an early pop-culture writer who was never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story — along with what we now know to be true as the result of more rigorous research:

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MYTH: “Monday the 29th [of January], Victor’s leading competitor [Columbia] signed the ODJB to a term contract and hustled them into the studio to wax two numbers for a single… Scared out of their wits by what they heard, the executives paid off the band, shelved the masters, and unilaterally tore up the pact.” — Rudi Blesh

FACT: None of that ever happened, but this did: On January 29, 1917, E. A. Donovan (the head of Columbia’s Personal Recording Department) wrote a letter inviting the band to contact him about “a matter which may prove of mutual benefit and interest” — presumably, a solicitation to make Columbia Personal Records. (The Personal division was a custom service for folks who wanted to make their own records. Clients paid all recording and manufacturing costs, took delivery of the finished pressings, and handled their own marketing and sales. Personal records were not used for commercial releases or listed in the Columbia catalogs.)

No evidence has been found in the Columbia files that the ODJB  took Donovan up on his offer, or that they made any recordings for the company prior to their single May 1917 Columbia date. Think about it: Had Columbia executives indeed been “scared out of their wits” and “unilaterally” torn up the supposed contract, is it likely that they would have invited the ODJB back in May (at which time Victor 18255 was a brand-new and still-unproven release that was far from becoming a hit), or that the band would have accepted their invitation?

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MYTH: “[Studio carpenters] were hammering away while we tried to play.” — Eddie Edwards, as reported by H. O. Brunn

FACT: This almost certainly never happened, although there could be some basis for the myth. Victor’s 38th Street studio had opened just a few weeks earlier, so it’s conceivable that some construction work was still under way while the band was on the premises. However, construction work never would have been allowed to continue within earshot of an actual recording session; noise at that level would have registered, rendering the masters unusable. As we know from trade-paper reports of the period, sound-proofing of studios was a serious consideration, even with the relatively insensitive acoustic recording process. There are references throughout the early Victor files to masters that had to be scrapped because extraneous noises were captured (Camden factory whistles being a frequent culprit).

Incidentally — despite tales of the epic struggles they went through to capture the band on wax — neither Harry nor Charles Sooy (Victor’s recording engineers) recalled anything out of the ordinary about the session in their memoirs. Harry made a passing reference to the session, noting that “the Victor Company made records of the real ‘Jazz’ and ‘Blues” type of music for dancing” on that day; Charles didn’t even mention the session in his memoirs. For such well-seasoned engineers (who had recorded everything from the Liberty Bell to twenty-five piece military bands and small symphonic orchestras), recording the ODJB probably did not require “patiently making test after test,” as Blesh alleged.

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MYTH: “Victor rushed the coupling out… [It] released on March 5, 1917.” — Rudi Blesh

FACT: Wrong on both counts, as the original Victor documentation confirms. In fact, production appears to have proceeded at Victor’s usual pace, suggesting no rush whatsoever on the company’s part.

The smoking gun: Master numbers were not even assigned until March 1 or 2. Victor documentation confirm that these recordings were originally made as un-numbered trials. Had the master numbers been assigned at time of recording, as was normally done, they would have been in the 19310 range. But instead, they fall between a Van & Schenck master recorded on March 1 (19330), and a Lyric Quartet master recorded on March 2 (19333). In this case, the delay in assigning numbers suggests that Victor management had reservations about the material’s suitability for release. It certainly does not suggest any great enthusiasm or desire to “rush” the records out. But more importantly, production could not have gotten under way until the master numbers were assigned.

Other tip-offs: According to the blue card, the records were submitted for testing on March 9, which was not completed until the following day. Records were not approved for release until testing was completed. And it wasn’t until March 29 that a staffer in Victor’s editorial department wrote to trombonist Eddie Edwards to inform him that a special catalog supplement listing the record was being prepared, with a guess that it might be issued to dealers “inside of a couple of weeks.”

The fact that testing wasn’t even completed until March 10 rules out any possibility of a March 5 release. When, then, were the records actually released? There are clues a-plenty, but one should be ignored: a “March 1917 Special” notation on one of the two blue cards. Based on his examination of the card, Victor expert John Bolig believes that “March Special” was added many years later, next to the original May 1917 supplement notation.

Given what we know of Victor’s production processes at this time, six to eight weeks from recording date to sales outlets was average; anything significantly less would  have been considered a “rush.” The supplement containing #18255 was indeed issued to dealers in mid-to-late April, as Victor’s cataloger had estimated, along with a promotional poster. This notice appeared in The Music Trade Review for April 21, 1917:
..

msp-mtr_4-21-17.
Promotional materials of this type generally were distributed several weeks in advance of a record’s official release date (note that MTR does not report that the records have yet been released, only that the tunes are popular). Advance copies of the record would have been given to sales reps and distributors at around this time. Researcher Ryan Barna has located several ads confirming that the records were being sold in some locations by late April (which he will ne posting along with other details on his Phonostalgia site), but apparently not earlier. That’s a few weeks earlier than the “official” May 17 release date, but far later than Blesh’s March 5 gaffe.

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MYTH: “[Victor 18255] was the first million-sale disc.” — Rudi Blesh among many others (never with any verifiable primary-source documentation cited)

FACT: No one knows for certain what the first million-seller was; reliable, primary-source documentation simply has not survived. Which is a side-issue in this case, since Victor 18255 is now known not to have been a million seller.

Thanks to the discovery of a microfilm copy of the blue card, as reported by both Ryan Barna and John Bolig, we have a much more accurate idea of possible sales. The blue card shows 250,983 copies pressed. The blue-card pressing figures are not necessarily authoritative, since it’s unclear who entered them, and when. But assuming that figure is reasonably accurate, actual U.S. sales would have been less than 250,983 copies, deducting for free copies, breakage, dealer returns, and any copies discarded when the record was deleted from the catalog in 1926. There was only one foreign release (or actually half-release, the Indian issue of “Livery Stable”), which presumably did not account for the additional 750,000 copies needed to hit the million mark.

Some band members reportedly also made the million-seller claim, but as far as is known, none backed it up by supplying Victor documentation (such as the royalty statements they would have been issued) that could support their claims. The same “million-seller” claim has been made for earlier records, including Alma Gluck’s 1914 “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” (also not supported by the Victor files) and Columbia’s 1913 “25¢ Special Advertising Record” (as reported by Columbia’s marketing department, which later upped the figure to 3 million; not inconceivable for one the most common 78s, by far, of the period).

There’s no doubt that Victor 18255 eventually became a big seller, based on the high stamper codes and the fact that copies are still plentiful a century later (although not nearly as common as several later ODJB discs). But the million-seller claim, let alone the first million-seller is simply not supported by the surviving primary-source documentation.

— Allan Sutton

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ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JASS BAND: Livery Stable Blues

New York (46 West 38th Street, 12th floor): February 26, 1917
Victor 18255 (mx. B 19331 – 1; number assigned March 1–2, 1917)
Release — Official: May 17, 1917; Actual: c. Late April 1917
Deleted: 1926

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ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JASS BAND: Dixieland Jass Band One-Step *
* Interpolating Joe Jordan’s “That Teasin’ Rag” (uncredited)

New York (46 West 38th Street, 12th floor): February 26, 1917
Victor 18255 (mx. B 19332 – 3; number assigned March 1–2, 1917)
Release — Official: May 17, 1917; Actual: c. Late April 1917
Deleted: 1926

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For comparison, here are the later, very rare Aeolian-Vocalion vertical-cut release of “Livery Stable,” unfortunately from a badly worn copy; and the same selection as recorded in London two years later — both virtually note-for-note repeats of the Victor release, confirming that rather than truly improvising, the band was content to repeat the same well-rehearsed ruffles-and-flourishes that passed for improvisation at the time. (The slight variations in the London recording can be attributed mostly to changes in band personnel. The slower tempo on the Vocalion was probably an attempt to fill out the side; vertical-cut AV’s used very fine grooving that provided up to 4½ minutes playing time on a 10″ disc). The same phenomenon can be heard when comparing the other same-title releases on Victor, Vocalion, and English Columbia.

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ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JAZZ BAND: Barnyard Blues
(a.k.a. Livery Stable Blues)

New York: c. August 1917
Aeolian-Vocalion 1205 (no visible mx. number)

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ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JASS BAND: Barnyard Blues
(a.k.a. Livery Stable Blues)

London: April 16, 1919
Columbia (English) 735 (mx. 76418 – 3)

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Nick LaRocca (cornet and nominal director); Eddie Edwards (trombone, replaced by Emile Christian on the London session); Larry Shields (clarinet); Henry Ragas (piano, replaced by J. Russel Robinson on the London session); Tony Sbarbaro (percussion).

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Free Download: John Bolig’s Victor Black Label Discography, Vol. 5 (1935 – 1942)

msp_bolig-j_vbld

John Bolig’s many fans will be happy to hear that his new Victor Black Label Discography, Volume 5 is now available as a free download, courtesy of UC-Santa Barbara’s online Discography of American Historical Recordings (< click this link to get to the download site).

Volume 5 — the first in this important series for which there will be no printed edition — covers the 25000, 26000, and 27000 series, from 1935 to 1942. Like all previous volumes, it was compiled from the original RCA documentation and contains no speculative or anecdotal material — just the (non-alternative) facts.

The download is in searchable PDF format (Adobe Acrobat or Reader) and can be printed out for personal use. For book enthusiasts, Mainspring Press still has  copies of Volumes 1–4 available (which are not available as free downloads), but quantities are very limited, so order soon to avoid missing out — they’re sure to become collectors’ items.