Information Needed on Pathe Recordings of Cuban Music

Information Needed on American Pathé
Recordings of Cuban Music

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A researcher who is preparing a discography of recordings of Cuban music has inquired about some 1926 American Pathé recordings. Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate any data on these record, aside from one release, so are hoping some our readers might be able to help.

The artists of interest are Sexteto America, Sexteto Occidente, and Maria Teresa Vera & Rafele Zequiera. Thus far, only one Pathé record by these artists has been confirmed — Pathé 06715 (mxs. 107234 / 107236), credited to Sexteto América and recorded c. November 1926.

Those masters fall within a block of ten numbers (107230 – 107239) for which the Record Research group and others found no data, and which in theory could be other recordings by these artists.

If you have any information on these or other 1920s Pathé recordings by Cuban artists, or a catalog or other reliable listing of the very elusive 06700 American Pathé catalog series, we would appreciate hearing from you. You can e-mail us as at


and we will pass your information along to the author.

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Columbia Marconi-Type Pressings in Chile (Fonografía Artística Records)

Columbia Marconi-Type Pressings in Chile
 By Renato D. Menare Rowe
(Santiago, Chile)

 

 

Related Article: The Marconi Velvet Tone Story

 

In Chile, the pioneer of sound recording, on cylinders and later on discs, was Efraín Band, creator and owner of the label Fonografía Artística. Some of Efraín Band’s Chilean recordings were pressed by Columbia on flexible discs (Marconi Velvet-Tone type), with the label Fonografía Artística. Some were coupled with original Columbia recordings of Mexican music.

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One of Band’s own standard shellac pressings (top), and a flexible version of the same record, pressed by Columbia.

 

Ephraim Band’s normal shellac pressings were announced at first, giving the title, and the phrase “propiedad de la casa Efraín Band” (“ownership of the Ephraim Band house”). Band’s recordings pressed by Columbia were also announced, but indicating only the title, for which a different matrix was recorded by Band. The numbering of shellac recordings was four figures, and the flexible recordings were the same, but with a zero in front.

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The following flexible Marconi-type discs were pressed by Columbia, from masters in their Mexican series, for sale in Chile on the Fonografía Artística label. The reverse sides are Band’s own recordings. We would be interested in hearing from anyone who has other confirmed examples.

 

010033-1-3    (Mx 5516)

La trigueñita – Canción popular
Maximiano Rosales
FA 010033
            (Original  Columbia C177 –  c. 1903–1908)
            Rev.: 02197 (02197-1-1)   El cazador – Cueca

 

10035-3-1   (Mx 5521)

Levántate vieja modorra – Canción popular
Maximiano Rosales y Rafael Herrera Robinson
FA 010035
            (Original  Columbia C195 –  c. 1903–1908)
            Rev.: 02014 (02014.1.1)   El paseo en carreta

 

010041-4-2    (Mx 5576)

El amor y el desafío – Jota mexicana
Maximiano Rosales y Rafael Herrera Robinson
FA 010041
            (Original  Columbia C194 –  c. 1903–1908)
            Rev: 02011 (02011-1-1)   Por amor cantan las aves – Tenor

 

010053-4-2    (Mx 5482)

Aires Nacionales Nº 1 (Miguel Ríos Toledano)
Maximiano Rosales y Rafael Herrare Robinson
FA 010053
            (Original Columbia C146 – c. 1903-1908)
            Rev.: 02155 (02155.1.1)   El torito guapo – Cueca

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The South American Connection: Efraín Band’s Early Record Piracy Operation

The South American Connection: Efraín Band’s
Early Record Piracy Operation

 

The following translated excerpt from Efraín Band y los Inicios de la Fonografía en Chile, by Francisco Garrido Escobar and Renato D. Menare Rowe, exposes an early record-pirating operation in Santiago, Chile.

Band, who was also a legitimate record producer, obtained his pirated masters by electroplating other companies’ commercial pressings. Although the records he pressed from these masters are not known to have been marketed in the United States (where similar operations had been shut down earlier, by court order), they sometimes turn up here, usually to the bafflement of American collectors.

Our thanks to Renato D. Menare Rowe for permission to quote from this fascinating work. Read the complete article.

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Efraín Band employed a very simple method of illegally copying other companies’ records. It consisted of electroplating a regular commercial pressing to obtain a negative metal stamper from the disc, which could be used to press numerous shellac copies. While the resulting copies lacked the same quality as the originals, the advantage for Band was that he didn’t need to hire artists, and could sell these records at a much lower price than the imported records from which they were copied. In addition, Bain placed popular selections on each side, rather than coupling a popular selection with another that was not so well known, as the major companies used to do.

Among other examples of discs pirated by Efraín Band, it is worth highlighting Fonotipia Nos. 39046 and 39056, which coupled Charles Gounod’s “Ave Maria” Charles Gounod and “The Holy Book,” respectively, both by Giannina Rus. These appeared on a record which on one side has a World Records label 2805, and on the other corresponds to an Eagle Disc No. 2804, without indication of composers or artists. The fact that this record has both labels allows us to directly connect both labels with the same manufacturer.

Because this activity bordered on the illegal, the artists and composers usually were not shown on the labels, which were limited to indicating the rhythm or nature of the musical piece. It was not unusual that a “Tenor” turned out to be a great baritone, or that a “Tiple” was actually an internationally renowned mezzo-soprano. As can be seen, Band’s phonographic production was not limited to Chilean  repertoire, but covered all type of music.

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Band left tell-tale original markings clearly visible in his early pirated copies. These examples are from electroplated copies of Victor (top and center) and Gramophone Company (bottom) commercial pressings. In later years, however, he effaced the original markings.

 

In those years the main commercial house of Efraín Band was located in Calle Estado No. 359. However, the pirated discs were mostly marketed through traveling salespeople, who worked on commission. They toured provincial towns with a briefcase with “the latest news.” As one of those salespeople recalls, “I I sold him a lot of records and he paid me a good commission. I went out for a walk with a special briefcase. Once my briefcase was opened I sold all the records.”

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The Águila discs co-existed with another label created by Efraín Band, called Mundial Record. He then created the Mignon label, which was very short-lived. Later, these records were replaced by a new label called Royal Record, which bore a red label with gold lettering and a cat figure.

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The Royal Record labels boasted of international awards. The last to appear were Radio-Tone records, whose labels and envelopes claimed they were electrically recorded. Radio-Tone records remained in production for a long period, finally concluding in 1936 with the death of Efraín Band.

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On the oldest specimens of these discs, today called “pirates,” it is possible to distinguish in the wax the catalog numbers (and in some cases, even the matrix numbers) of the original recordings, which has allowed us to identify them fully. However, in later productions, like Radio-Tone, these numbers were carefully erased, along with any other evidence that would allow their later identification.

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Early Records Pirated by Efraín Band:
A Representative Listing
Compiled by Renato D. Menare Rowe
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Editor’s Note: Titles and descriptions are shown verbatim and unedited. All pressings are double-sided, with reverse-side numbers indicated, “Rev.” The records were issued in Chile on the following labels:

AG = Disco Águila
FA = Fonografía Artística
MI = Mignon Record
MU = Mundial Record

Discographical information (catalog and matrix numbers, and recording dates) has been supplemented in some instances with data from Alan Kelly and John R. Bolig.

 

 

2802   (FA)    Rev.: 2803

Tosca – E lucean le stelle – Tenor con acompañamiento de orquesta.

Enrico Caruso, con orquesta

   Victor 87044 (Mx. B-8346) — Nov 6, 1909

 

2803   (FA)    Rev.: 2803

Manon – Il sogno – Tenor con acompañamiento de orquesta.

Enrico Caruso, con piano

   Victor 81031 (Mx. B-1001) — Feb 1, 1904

 

2834   (AG)   Rev.: 2835

Rigoletto – Questa o quella – Tenor

Enrico Caruso, ac. Piano

   Victor 81025 (Mx. B-994) — Feb 1, 1904

 

2835   (AG)   Rev.: 2834

Rigoletto – La donna è mobile – Tenor

Enrico Caruso, ac. Orquesta

   Victor 87017 (Mx. B-6033) — Mar 16, 1908

 

2839   (MU)    Rev.: 2840

Mignon (Thomas) Ah, non credevi tu

Fernando de Lucia 

   Gramophone 2-52518 (Mx. 8054b) — May 1906

 

2840   (MU)   Rev.: 2839

Mignon (Thomas) La tua bell’alma

Fernando de Lucia

   Gramophone 2-52475 (Mx. 7342b) — 1905

 

2842   (AG)   Rev.: 2872

El Guaraní (Gomes) Sento una forza indomita

Giannina Russ – Gino Martínez-Patti.

   Fonotipia 39797

 

2844   (AG)   Rev.: 2845

Madama Butterfly [Tu, tu piccolo iddio]

Geraldine Farrar

   Victor 87030 (Mx. B-8270) — Oct 2, 1909

 

2845   (AG)   Rev.: 2844

Cavallería rusticana – Siciliana

Enrico Caruso

   Gramophone 53418-XIV (2876b) — Nov 30, 1902

 

2846   (AG)   Rev.: 2848

Cavallería rusticana – Brindis

Enrico Caruso

   Gramophone 52193-VII (Victor Mx. B-2344, as A2344) —
Feb 27, 1905

 

2848   (AG)– Rev.: 2846

Mefistofele – Giunto sul passo

Enrico Caruso

   Gramophone 52347-X (Mx. 1787) — Apr 11, 1902

 

2855   (AG)   Rev.: 2870

Aida – Celeste Aida – Tenor

Alessandro Bonci

   Fonotipia 39695 (Mx. Xph-1985) – 1905

 

2870   (AG)   Rev.: 2855

Fausto – Serenata – Bajo

Tu che fai l’adormentata

Adamo Didur

   Fonotipia 39486 – Feb 23, 1906

 

2872   (AG)   Rev.: 2842

Mefistofele (Boito) – Ave Signor

Nazareno De Angelis.

   Fonotipia 62176

 

2920   (MI)   Rev.: 2923

Il trovatore – Miserere

Enrico Caruso

   Victor 89030

 

2923   (MI)   Rev.: 2920

I pescatori di perle – Del tempio al limitar

Caruso y Ancona

   Victor 89007 (Mx. C-4327) — Mar 24, 1907

 

3425   (AG)   Rev.: 3424

La Casta Susana – Vals

Banda Rodríguez, Cond Walter B. Rogers

   Victor 65326-B — 1913

 

3439   (AG)   Rev.: 3823

Mariette

Victor Military Band

   Victor 17281-A (Mx. B-12854) — Jan 27, 1913

 

3620   (MU)    Rev.: 3622

Vieni sul mar – Tenor – Rep. Italiano – Orquesta.

Enrico Caruso, con orquesta

   Victor Mx. B-23139 – Sep 8, 1919

 

3622   (MU)    Rev.: 3620

Manon – Il sogno – Rep. Italiano – Orquesta.

Tito Schipa, con orquesta

   Victor Mx. B-26140 – May 2, 1922

 

3624   (MU)   Rev.: 3625

Granadinas – Canción

Tito Schipa

   Victor 66039 (Mx. B-26108) — Feb 3, 1922

 

3625   (MU)    Rev.: 3624

A la Orilla de un Palmar – Canción

Tito Schipa

   Victor 992 (Mx. B-27599) — Mar 12, 1923

 

3627   (MU)    Rev.: 3630

Rimpianto (Toselli)

Beniamino Gigli

   Victor 66102 (Mx. B-26167) — Sep 25, 1922

 

3630   (MU)    Rev.: 3627

Padre nuestro – Tango

Carlos Gardel

   Odeon 18078-A (Mx. 1485) 

 

3823   (AG)   Rev.: 3439

Whispering

Paul Whiteman Ambasador [sic] Orch

   Victor 18690-A (Mx. B-24393) – Aug 23, 1920

 

3836   (AG)   Rev.: 3837

Apple Blossoms – One step

Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra

   Victor 18646-A (Mx. B-23396) – Dec 26, 1919

 

3837   (AG)   Rev.: 3836

Arrah Goon [sic: Go On] – One step

Victor Military Band

   Victor 18082-B (Mx. B-17818) – Jun 8, 1916

 

3849   (AG)   Rev.: 3855
3849   (MU)   Rev.: 3855

My Man – Fox trot

Orquesta (Paul Whiteman & his Orchestra)

   Victor 18758 (Mx. B-25028) – Apr 4, 1921

 

3855   (MU)   Rev.: 3849

Cuentos de Hoffmann

Orquesta Rep. Dancing. Solo de violín

   Victor — 1916

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Renato D. Menare Rowe is a genealogist and a researcher and collector of historical recordings living in Santiago, Chile.

Francisco J. Garrido Escobar is an archaeologist and graduate in social anthropology (Universidad de Chile) and curatorial advisor of the Museum of Science and Science and Technology of Santiago.

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The RCA Victor Program Transcriptions • A History and Free Downloadable Discography

THE RCA VICTOR PROGRAM TRANSCRIPTIONS
Complete Discography
By John R. Bolig

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The latest addition to the Mainspring Press Online Reference Library is a landmark in discographical research. Compiled by John Bolig from the RCA Victor files, it documents the original long-playing masters that were made especially for release as Program Transcriptions, as well listing full details of the 78-rpm source recordings that were used in assembling the more numerous dubbed masters.

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Free Download for Personal Use (pdf) (~1mb)
(Print-Restricted)

 

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The RCA Program Transcriptions Story
By Allan Sutton

 

Only seven million Victor records were sold in 1931, an 80% decline from 1929. [1] In the struggle to keep its record division afloat during the early Depression years, RCA executives instituted widespread layoffs and salary cuts, refused to renew any but the most profitable artists’ contracts, slashed or eliminated advances and royalties, gave in to distributors’ demands that it take back unsalable records in quantities far exceeding what was normally allowed, [2] and even began to entertain the notion of producing inexpensive records for the dime-store trade.

Against such a dismal backdrop, it might seem counter-intuitive that RCA engineering and marketing personnel were quietly planning to introduce an expensive new long-playing record. But while the Depression had squelched much of the demand for records, pockets of affluence remained, as evidenced by continued strength in Victor’s premium-priced Red Seal line. By the autumn of 1931, rumors were circulating that RCA was experimenting with a new type of record that would target that market.

News had leaked of an unusual Philadelphia Orchestra session, conducted by Leopold Stokowski at the Academy of Music, during which Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 was recorded without the usual side breaks at four-minute intervals. [3] As would soon be revealed, this was the first recording session for what would come to be marketed as the RCA Program Transcription. The results won a glowing endorsement from Stokowski, who reported shortly after the session,

We heard the complete symphony from the proof pressings and after the symphony was ended I realized that I had forgotten where I was, so intense was the state of the feeling and so sustained was the mood created. Now that the longest movement of a symphony can be played without interruption, recorded music can offer one of the best ways of listening to music…” [4]

Following a private demonstration in Victor’s New York studio, the Program Transcriptions and player were formally unveiled at New York’s Savoy-Plaza Hotel on September 17, 1931, to an audience of more than one-hundred prominent executives, performers, and reporters. RCA Victor president Edward Shumaker was on hand to greet Stokowsi, John Philip Sousa, and the other celebrities.

The carefully staged presentation began with a review of what were termed “musical milestones in the development of the phonograph.” [5] A Sousa march was played first on a Berliner Gramophone, which gave forth what one reporter described as “an indistinguishable squeak of varying pitch.” It was followed by the same selection as played on an acoustic Victrola, then on an Orthophonic phonograph, and finally on what was termed a “massive home entertainment instrument,” on which the new long-playing discs were demonstrated. [6]

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Silver labels (top) were reserved for the most expensive Program Transcriptions, employing Red Seal artists. The less-expensive gold-label series comprised a mixture of standard, popular, and light classical fare, and a few releases in this series were also pressed in standard shellac rather than the more expensive Victrolac. Program Transcriptions were also marketed by Victor’s Canadian branch (bottom), and some late releases were listed only in Victor’s export catalog.

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The Program Transcriptions were unlike any commercial disc records on the market, recorded at 331/3-rpm and (aside from a few anomalous shellac specimens) pressed in a thermoplastic resin that RCA named Victrolac. [7]  In the spring of 1931, F. C. Barton described the collaborative process RCA undertook in determining what material would be best-suited to then new discs, without disclosing who the collaborators might be:

Approximately a year ago, [a resin] that seems to hold promise of having the desired characteristics was found. The chemical engineers responsible for the development of this resin were called into conference with the engineers of the record manufacturers and a cooperative program was laid out in which the technics of the two groups were combined to further the development of the resin an to combine it successfully with other materials, to the end that a satisfactory record material might be evolved. A number of months of concentrated effort resulted in the production of the compound now known as Victrolac. [8]

Victrolac, as confirmed by later RCA advertising, [9] was simply a form of vinyl, the formulation of which was licensed by RCA from the Carbide & Carbon Chemicals Corporation division of Union Carbide. James Hunter assisted with the development and testing of the new material at RCA, [10] but it was Barton who first publicly disclosed the details.

Victrolac, Barton claimed, was much better suited to a finer groove than that of the standard shellac 78-rpm disc (which averaged 90 turns per inch). Although Barton’s recommendation of 120 to 130 turns per inch was not a true microgroove, it was still fine enough to provide playing times of up to ten or fifteen minutes per ten- or twelve-inch side, respectively, on a 331/ 3-rpm disc.

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RCA acknowledges that Victrolac and vinylite are one and the same (Broadcasting, February 1936)

 

A major advantage of Victrolac was that tracking weight could be reduced to three ounces — quite heavy by modern standards, but still a substantial reduction from normal tracking weights of the day. Unfortunately, RCA’s engineers did not address the issue of a permanent or even semi-permanent stylus, opting instead for  special chromium needles that required frequent changing. [11] By the autumn of 1931, RCA was also advertising its use of Victrolac in synchronized film soundtrack discs. [12] Victrolac pressings of a few Red Seals were made in 1932, but this appears to have been a short-lived experiment. [13]

Program Transcriptions and the equipment on which to play them went on sale a month after the Savoy-Plaza demonstration — the phonographs on October 10, followed by the records at the end of the month. The initial release was the Philadelphia Symphony’s recording of the Beethoven Fifth, from the session that had been leaked to the press. Retail prices initially ranged from $1.50 to $3.00 per disc — less than the cost of the same material on multiple 78s, but still beyond the reach of many. A columnist for The Phonograph Monthly Review blithely dismissed the cost factor, stating. “In some ways it is unfortunate that this development should come at a time of impaired public purchasing power, but the Depression will not last forever.” [14]

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Phonograph-radio combinations equipped to play the Program Transcriptions did not come cheaply. The Model RAE-26, with changer mechanism, originally listed at $247.50 (top), but dealer discounting became increasingly common as sales lagged.

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Unlike the Edison long-playing discs of 1926–1927, which had been cobbled together from 80-rpm masters, the recording of Beethoven’s Fifth (and of some other extended classical works that followed) was made specifically for release in long-playing format. Such was generally not the case, however, especially with the popular releases, most of which were compiled by dubbing from existing 78-rpm masters.

A new popular-series line was launched in early 1932, featuring two selections per side, but pressed in single-sided form. [15] Retailing for 85¢ (10¢ more than the same material on a double-sided ten-inch 78), the records had few takers. A plan to record complete Broadway shows never materialized.

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Releases like this sampling from The Mikado were typical of the lower-priced Program Transcriptions.

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Once the initial excitement over RCA’s Program Transcriptions subsided and records began to reach consumers, the complaints began to roll in. In July 1932 New York Times columnist Compton Pakenham conceded,

When the long-playing record first came to light we were accused of overstating the case for it. It might as well be admitted now that we have not heard it engage anything equal to the demonstration given at the New York laboratories of the Victor Company, and that certainly the various public expositions fell far short of it.” [16]

To make matters worse, RCA encountered delays in producing a promised low-cost adapter that would enable use of these records on existing phonographs, leaving potential customers no choice but to purchase a costly new outfit. RCA’s marketing department at first insisted that it had never promised such a device, then reversed itself after having been called out in The New York Times. In July 1932 the company announced that a $7.50 replacement motor board was finally in production, but the public-relations damage had already been done.

A January 1932 internal report termed sales of the long-playing records “surprisingly good,” considering their short time on the market and the shortage of phonographs on which to play them, and noted that they comprised 10% of record sales. However, the flow of new Program Transcriptions had begun to slacken. In February of that year, the English journal Gramophone observed,

The RCA Victor long-playing records continue to arouse much discussion, largely severely critical, but fail to show great sales strength. Only four have been issued recently, all single-sided ten-inchers… [17]

Stung by similar criticism in the U.S. press, RCA in the spring of 1932 announced that all new recordings of extended works scheduled for release as 78s would also be offered on specially made Program Transcriptions. In what would prove to be an expensive miscalculation, those works were to be recorded twice —  once in standard 78-rpm form, and once in long-playing format.

The most ambitious undertaking under the new plan was the recording of Arnold Schoenberg’s Gurre Lieder, by the Philadelphia Orchestra and various vocalists under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. After committing the work to standard 78-rpm masters over four days in early April, the entire performance was repeated for the corresponding Program Transcription release in a single non-stop four-hour session. Compton Pakenham damned the effort with faint praise, writing in The New York Times, “Prior to the Gurre-Lieder…there has not been a long-playing disk of sufficient significance to justify anyone objecting on the score that they have missed something.”  [18]

Victor officials adhered to the dual-recording plan for just a few more releases before conceding the costs of recording an identical work in two formats could not be justified. Many of the other extended works scheduled for release over the following months never materialized in Program Transcription form. For those that did, RCA’s engineers reverted to dubbing from the 78-rpm masters.

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The standard Program Transcription sleeve

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Whatever hopes RCA might have held out for the Program Transcriptions were dashed as economic conditions continued to deteriorate. An internal report noted in early 1932 that “due to absence of public buying, sales [of Program Transcriptions] have been low.” On the third anniversary of the Wall Street crash, RCA’s president admitted to the company’s board of directors,

The market for radio sets, records, and similar devices is buoyant in opinion but procrastinating in performance. The actual buying by distributors and retailers is on a hand-to-mouth basis. … The outlook for sales of radio sets and records does not look hopeful. [19]

The Program Transcription’s end came following Edward Wallerstein move from Brunswick to RCA in the summer of 1933. Wallerstein recalled,

When I became general manager of the Victor Division of RCA on July 1, 1933, my first act was to take [Program Transcriptions] off the market. The idea was good and they might have sold, but there were technical problems… The complaints from customers all over the U.S. were so terrific that we were forced to withdraw the LPs. [20]

The withdrawal was not as sudden or decisive as Wallerstein recalled, however.  New Program Transcription releases continued to appear with some regularity through December 1933, then with decreasing frequency through late 1934, as can be seen in John Bolig’s discography. Some of the 1934 releases were were listed only in the export catalog.

Only a few Program Transcriptions remained in Victor catalogs by 1936. Wallerstein would revisit the long-playing concept in 1939, as president of the newly created Columbia Recording Corporation. Determined not to repeat RCA’s mistakes, he assembled an outstanding engineering team, who were given the task of developing a true microgroove long-playing disc and player suitable for the mass market. Some progress had been made when work was stalled by the United States’ entry into World War II, but development resumed in earnest in the later 1940s. The resulting Columbia Microgroove LP, introduced in 1948, took the market by storm and signaled the beginning of the end for the 78-rpm record.

 

Notes

[1]    “Sales by Class of Record and Total Sales of Records by Units, Years 1901 and 1941 Inclusive.” Exhibit in U.S. District Court, S.D. of N.Y. (Jan 26, 1943).

[2]  RCA Victor Co. Managers Committee Meeting (minutes, Jul 2, 1930), p. 3.

[3]  Observer (pseudonym). “Program Transcriptions.” Phonograph Monthly Review (October 1931), p. 4.

[4] Ibid., p. 5.

[5] “Phonograph Disks Run for Half-Hour.” New York Times (Sep 18, 1931), p. 48.

[6] “R.C.A.-Victor Co. Demonstrates New Record That Plays for Thirty Minutes.” Music Trade Review (Oct 1931), p. 27.

[7] The Victor L. Roeder Company (Philadelphia) had previously registered “Victrolac” as a trademark for an unrelated lacquer product (U.S. label registration # 29,920, published October 15, 1925). RCA subsequently copyrighted the Victrolac name for the vinyl compound, but a formal trademark filing has not been located thus far.

[8] Barton, F. C. “Victrolac Motion Picture Records.” Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Editors (Apr 1932) , pp. 452–453.

[9]  “Four Years Ahead! Under the Copyrightred Name ‘Victrolac” RCA Victor has been using “Vinylite’ Since 1931!” (ad). Broadcasting (Feb 15, 1936), p. 48.

[10]  Wallerstein, Edward. “The Development of the LP.” High Fidelity (April 1976).

[11]  Barton, op. cit., pp. pp. 452–460.

[12] “Victrolac — The New 12-Inch, 4-Ounce Disc for Sound Picture Reproduction.” Motion Picture Herald (Oct 24, 1931), p. 31.

[13]  Victrolac pressings of Carpenter’s Song of Faith (Victor 1559 – 1560) are in the author’s collection, and other Victrolac Red Seal releases of the same period have been reliably reported.

[14]  “Program Transcriptions,” op. cit., p. 5.

[15]  RCA Victor Co., Inc. “Report to the Board of Directors” (Jan 15, 1932), p. 2.

[16]  Pakenham, Compton. “Newly Recorded Music.” New York Times (July 3, 1932), p. X5.

[17]  “Americana.” The Gramophone (February 1932), p. 44.

[18]  Pakenham, op. cit.

[19]  Radio Corporation of America. “Report to the Board of Directors at Meeting of October 28, 1932,” pp. 5–6.

[20]  Wallerstein, op. cit.

 

© 2020 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

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Walter Gustave (Gus) Haenschen: The St. Louis Years — Part 2 • The James A. Drake Interviews

The James A. Drake Interviews
Walter Gustave (Gus) Haenschen:
The St. Louis Years — Part 2
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> Read  The St. Louis Years — Part 1

 

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Scott Joplin

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There’s so much to ask you about Scott Joplin, so may I begin by noting that you are one of the few major figures in the music industry who can speak authoritatively about Scott Joplin because you worked with him.

I think your word choice, “worked with him,” makes my association with him sound more important than it was. I went several times to the Maple Leaf Club to pay him to help me learn to play ragtime the way he wrote and played it, and when he moved from Sedalia to St. Louis, which was around 1900, [1] I did a lot more work with him. But I was just one of several pianists who were studying with him in St. Louis, so I don’t want to give the impression that we became colleagues or friends or anything that would suggest a close relationship.

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This St. Louis Dispatch article from February 28, 1901, pre-dates Joplin’s move to St. Louis, still referring to him as a “Sedalian.” The European trip never materialized.

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Even if you had wanted to do that, would it have been possible with segregation? Wasn’t St. Louis as segregated as the rest of the South and much of the Midwest?

There were what you might call “black areas” and “white areas” of St. Louis, but I have to say that being a river town there was more interaction between blacks and whites in St. Louis than in many other cities. [2]  I’ll give you what I think it was one of the reasons why the races got along better in and around St. Louis: Mark Twain’s novels. I can still remember so many passages from Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

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About Scott Joplin, there are at least two photos of him—one as a young man about the time that his first ragtime pieces were published, and another when he was probably middle-aged. How would you describe his appearance when you were working with him?

 We were about the same height—I was six feet tall, and he may have been an inch shorter than I, if that much. He was stocky—he had put on a few pounds over the years, and his hair was rather thin. His speaking voice was in the baritone range, but it’s hard to describe how he spoke. The way I would put it is that he spoke with authority. He knew who he was, and how important he and his music were. [3]

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Joplin’s first St. Louis residence was an apartment at 2658A Morgan (since renamed Delmar Boulevard), which is now maintained as a Missouri state historic site. He and Belle later moved to a large house at 2117 Lucas, which has since been demolished.

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Did he live well? By that I mean, did he seem to enjoy his success?

Oh, yes—definitely. As I said, he moved from Sedalia to St. Louis, and he and his wife, whose name was Belle, had a sizable home with well-kept grounds. [4]  You have to remember that at that time, he was one of the most famous men in popular music in this country. He had written several of those great ragtime pieces by then and had also written one opera [A Guest of Honor] and was writing another one [Treemonisha]. So he was well-known, not just in Missouri but everywhere that ragtime, which he essentially “invented,” was being played.

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Joplin and company rehearse “A Guest of Honor.”
(The Sedalia Weekly Conservator, August 22, 1903).

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What was a typical session with him like? How much time did he allot for each of your “lessons” with him?

Usually each session was about an hour, sometimes more, but I’d say an hour on average. He would have me sit at the keyboard, and he would sit to my left on a piano stool.

 

Am I correct in assuming that you only played his music?

Sure, of course. That’s why I did everything to persuade to let me pay him to teach me how to refine my playing of his rags. I spent practically a whole year with him, usually once a week.

 

Was he a stickler about tempo?

Most definitely! He hated hearing his music played too fast. He told me, and I think everyone else he talked to about tempo, that ragtime must never be played fast. I think he may have even had that printed on the sheet music of his songs.

 

I don’t believe that Scott Joplin ever made a phonograph recording, but I’m told that he did make piano rolls, so at least we have some idea how he sounded.

No, you can’t say that because those piano rolls are not reliable. I know because I’ve heard a piano roll of him playing “Maple Leaf Rag,” and it’s definitely not the way he played it. Many piano rolls were embellished—notes and chords were added to them—and the Joplin roll of “Maple Leaf Rag” has a bunch of bass notes that he never played.

Those bass notes were added to the roll—maybe with his permission, and maybe not, I don’t know. But what I do know is that there are far more bass notes in that roll than he ever played. Now, the style I had developed as a pianist had a lot of bass, and Joplin noticed that right away when I started [studying] with him. He said to me, “You’re pretty heavy with that left hand, and I’m going to need you to cut out a lot of that when you’re playing my music.”

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Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” as originally published by John Stark in Sedalia (top), and a later, far more common printing made after Stark moved to St. Louis (center). A long-forgotten song version was published in 1903, with the addition of trite lyrics by Stark office-boy Sydney Brown (bottom). Joplin biographer Edward Berlin notes that the arrangement, which uses only the rag’s opening strain, “is uncharacteristic of Joplin and was probably made by someone else.”

 

You made piano rolls too, am I correct?

Yes, I made about a half-dozen of them when I brought my band to New York City to make recordings that I could sell in St. Louis. I went over to Newark, which was then the capital of the piano-roll industry. There were several labels that each company had. The biggest company was QRS, which is still in business. I made my rolls for a smaller label called “Artempo.”

 

Was there a special piano you had to play to make piano rolls?

Well, there were two methods—maybe more, I don’t know—but there were two methods that I learned about in Newark and each one had a specially made keyboard. [5] One method required the pianist to play at about half the tempo he’d use if he were playing it for an audience, for patrons of a club or some other public place. That particular method had the piano keyboard rigged up to a series of individual “blocks”—small rectangular blocks that were made of oak and were slightly rounded on each end.

The actual “roll” was two layers of brown paper that were separated by carbon paper. When the pianist struck a key, one of those “blocks” would strike the top layer of paper, which simultaneously made an imprint on the bottom layer. The carbon paper that was sandwiched between the two rolls is what made the imprint [on the bottom roll]. After the pianist had finished playing whatever tune it was, a technician would use a razor tool that looked like a scalpel to cut out those impressions that the blocks had made on the bottom layer of paper. That would become the “master roll,” the template for making identical rolls to sell to the public.

The other method was much better because the piano keyboard was rigged to a series of hole-punches that were air-powered. These small, round, sharp-pointed punches would keep poking holes in the roll of paper until the pianist lifted his finger and the tone stopped. Afterward, that vertical string of tiny holes would have a border drawn around them, and a worker would use a scalpel to cut a rectangular strip exactly the length of that string of tiny holes. When that missing strip passed over the pneumatic bar in the player piano, it would cause the appropriate piano key to be depressed. The advantage of that method was that the pianist could play at the tempo he was accustomed to using—not half-speed like that other method required.

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An excerpt from Scott Joplin’s School of Ragtime advising  pianists to “catch the swing, and never play ragtime fast at any time.” The advertisement is from February 1908.

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What sort of “tips” would Scott Joplin give you when you were playing his music and he was sitting there near you?

He would tap out the correct tempo, and would get me to augment chords and say slightly ahead of the beat in some measures, or slightly behind it in others. He like to use the metaphor of a swing—like a swing on a playground or a swing suspended by ropes from a tree limb. He’d say, for instance, that to get a swing moving you have to push it. So in a passage, or on a particular note, he’d say to me, “Now push it here,” which meant to play it more forte or to play it a little faster. If I was playing a passage a little too fast, he’d say to me, “Lay back now.” He would tell me to picture the swing when it reaches the peak of its arc—that moment where it’s just suspended in the air, right before gravity takes over and the swing begins a downward arc. He’d say, “Swing it now”—meaning to hold the chord, to pause before playing the next notes.

 

When Joplin died in 1917, it was reported that he had contracted syphilis when he was young. Medical journals of that period listed three stages of the disease—primary, secondary, and tertiary—and in the secondary stage, the gradual loss of muscle control in the hands and legs would be evident. Did you see any hint of that when you were with him?

None at all. Not only his playing, but everything about him—his concentration, his hearing, his walking, everything—was normal.

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From The New York Age: March 29 (top) and April 5, 1917

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I’m interested to know what you think of the ragtime revival today, and how accurate the playing of those who are making LPs of the Joplin repertoire is compared to his own playing.

This young man [Joshua] Rifkin plays “The Entertainer” the way Joplin played it, and he does a good job with “Maple Leaf Rag” too. He is careful not to play ragtime fast, which is the mistake most of these “revivers” make.

 

In the 1950s, there was also a “ragtime revival” on recordings by Crazy Otto, and on television by Big Tiny Little, Jr., and Joanne Castle on Lawrence Welk’s weekly program. What was your opinion of their “ragtime”?

Some of that got started by the popularity of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Old Piano Roll Blues,” but then it turned into a pop-music trend with Crazy Otto’s records. Tiny Little was just one of several Crazy Otto imitators, but of course he had the advantage of being seen and heard on television ever week thanks to Welk. Tiny Little was [Little] Jack Little’s son, and although he was probably as good or better a pianist than Jack was, his so-called “ragtime” playing on the Welk show was just “showy.”

Neither he nor Crazy Otto or any of those other imitators of the Crazy Otto style had anything to do with real ragtime. They were playing on uprights that were deliberately out of tune, and their fingering amounted to nothing more than playing the same note an octave apart by playing the higher note with the “pinky” and the lower one with the thumb. Most of them used rolling chords in the bass, which was all wrong. That’s the kind of playing that belongs in a saloon, and it has nothing at all to do with the ragtime of Scott Joplin.

— J.A.D.

 

Editor’s Notes

[1]  Joplin biographer Edward Berlin has Joplin moving to St. Louis in the spring of 1901 (Berlin, Edward A. King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and his Era, pp. 97–98. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), which is consistent with the February 1901 St. Louis Dispatch article showing Joplin still in Sedalia.

[2]  Berlin identifies the area in which Joplin resided as St. Louis’ “red-light” district, bounded roughly by 12th Street on the east, Beaumont on the west, Clark on the south, and Morgan on the north (Berlin, op. cit., p. 90).

[3]  Haenschen’s recollections are in agreement with those of other Joplin acquaintances and associates, who described him as “not much socially,” “quiet, serious,” “unassuming,” and “always studying.” (Berlin, op. cit., p. 97).

[4]  In the previous installment, Haenschen recalled having first seen Joplin at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition; but based upon his recollection of Belle Joplin and the large house, the lessons probably took place during 1902–1903. Those were the only years in which Joplin is known to have occupied a house in St. Louis (a thirteen-room structure at 2117 Lucas, a portion of which the Joplins rented to boarders). The Joplins separated in 1903, and Scott Joplin’s only other confirmed St. Louis addresses were apartments.

[5]  Haenschen is referring here to methods used to produce “hand-played” piano rolls, an innovation that first appeared c. 1912–1913, as distinct from the more common practice of having technicians mechanically perforate the rolls.

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For More:

Gus Haenschen: The Brunswick Years

Gus Haenschen: The Radio Years

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© 2020 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved.

Latest Updates and Revisions to Our Online Publications (Aug 19, 2020)

Latest Updates and Revisions to
Our Online Publications
(Aug 19, 2020)

 

The publications referenced below can be downloaded free of charge, for personal use only, on the Mainspring Press Online Reference Library page.

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VICTOR 1904 MONTHLY SUPPLEMENTS

Pages 6–7 (June and July 1904) and 4–5 (September and October 1904) were shown incorrectly in the original posting. These have now been corrected, and the files are available for download. Our thanks to Joseph Barganski for reporting the problem.

 

Download Corrected Pages Only (pdf, ~5 mb)

Download Complete Corrected File (pdf, ~41 mb)

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STAR RECORDS DISCOGRAPHY

 

Steve Smolian has submitted the following revisions from first-hand inspection of the discs, both of which he believes to be by tenor Anton Moser.
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Star 2201
Change entry: The Parvis recording currently listed (sung in Italian) was reported anecdotally and is unconfirmed. Steve’s confirmed copy of Star 2201 is the same selection but is sung in German, possibly by Moser (source issue not yet determined).

Star 3318
Add entry: “Trompeter von Sackingsen: Ihr heisset mich Willkommen” (possibly Moser, sung in German; source issue not yet determined). We have also located a confirming listing in a recently acquired Star catalog that was not accessible at the time the discography was originally compiled.

These will be added to the present file the next time it is fully updated.

 

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NATIONAL MUSIC LOVERS & NEW PHONIC RECORDS

J. E. Knox has corrected the following entry and supplied supporting photo and sound files. This will be revised in the present file the next time it is fully updated:

 

New Phonic 1222
“Rose of the West” is a fox trot, not a waltz as stated in the current listing, and the uncredited vocalist is Leroy Montesanto.

Mr. Knox notes that this recording was also released on the reverse side of a special Romeo advertising record: “The Romeo sample record’s A side is an advertisement for Kress Stores. At its end, the announcer states, in distinct Brooklyn-ese, “On the re-voice side of this rekkid you will find one of the latest hits…” It’s hard to think of ‘Rose of the West’ in that regard!”

______________________

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We welcome additions and corrections to our online publications, from your first-hand inspection of the original records or ancillary materials, preferably with supporting photos or scans (but please — no anecdotal, speculative, or second-hand information). You can e-mail us at:

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The Records Guglielmo Marconi Didn’t Invent: The Marconi Velvet Tone Story

The Records Guglielmo Marconi Didn’t Invent:
The Marconi Velvet Tone Story
By Allan Sutton

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Related Article: Columbia Marconi-Type Pressings
in Chile (
Fonografía Artística Records)

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.Although shellac-based pressing materials were the industry norm virtually from the start of commercial disc-record production, there were periodic attempts to press in celluloid, beginning with Emile Berliner’s 1890 German discs. Nicole Frères introduced celluloid-coated cardboard discs in Europe in 1903.

In the United States, the Lambert Company introduced molded celluloid cylinders in 1900. But celluloid would not be used commercially for disc records in the U.S. until 1906, when the American Graphophone Company (Columbia) announced its Marconi Velvet Tone disc — a lightweight semi-flexible laminated celluloid disc — with tremendous fanfare. The records bore the name and likeness of Guglielmo Marconi, who was riding a wave of international acclaim as the inventor of radio.

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The earliest Marconi labels showed the inventor’s receding hairline (right), which was retouched on later printings.

 

Hoping to capitalize on Marconi’s popularity, Columbia offered him a position as “consulting physicist” on what it termed its “great experimental staff” in the summer of 1906. Columbia president Edward Easton was dispatched to London to personally interview the inventor.

On August 16 of that year, The New York Times reported that Marconi had sailed for the United States in connection with his new duties. Following his arrival in New York on September 8, he was treated to a lavish banquet at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel as Columbia’s guest of honor. Edward Easton, music department superintendent Victor Emerson, factory manager Thomas Macdonald, and other Columbia officials spoke at some length, vaguely alluding to Marconi’s experimental radio work, but without mentioning how that might possibly relate to phonograph records.

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Columbia announces its collaboration with Marconi, September 1906. (Courtesy of Steve Smolian)

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On September 10, Thomas Macdonald escorted Marconi on a whirlwind tour of Columbia’s plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, followed by a luncheon at Macdonald’s home. Marconi boarded a ship back to Italy the next day, after telling a reporter for The Music Trade Review that he had not yet given the matter sufficient study to announce any new ideas.

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In this highly retouched photo, factory manager Thomas Macdonald is at the wheel, with Marconi beside him. Columbia president Edward Easton sits immediately behind them. (Courtesy of Steve Smolian)

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Macdonald and Marconi in the Bridgeport factory, from The Columbia Record. (Courtesy of Steve Smolian)

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Little more was heard of the alliance until November, when The Columbia Record ran a self-congratulatory piece that still failed to mention what, if anything, Marconi might be developing in the record field. An article in the London Music Trade Review noted that Marconi had not yet “disclosed what his views are on this and other talking machine ideas.”

Marconi had good reason to remain silent — he apparently had no hand in developing the discs that would bear his name. His sole contribution apparently was to allow Columbia the use of his name and likeness. Searches of U.S. and Italian patents have consistently failed to reveal any filings by Marconi that might relate to these discs.

However, the groundwork had already been laid for what would come to marketed as the Marconi record. On August 19, 1905 — a year before Marconi was tapped as Columbia’s “consulting physicist” — Victor Emerson had filed a patent on a lightweight disc pressed in a celluloid–shellac mixture. Emerson noted that the proportions of celluloid to shellac could be varied to produce a lightweight disc, with or without a cardboard backing.

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Victor Emerson’s 1905 patent for a lightweight celluloid–shellac disc, which Emerson subsequently assigned to American Graphophone. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

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Thomas Macdonald took Emerson’s idea a step further. On July 9, 1906 — nearly six weeks before Marconi’s brief visit to the States — he filed a patent application on a flexible, lightweight laminated disc with a playing surface of pure celluloid:

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Thomas Macdonald’s patent on what would be marketed as the Marconi record even specified the embossed pattern that is found on the reverse sides. There is no reference to Guglielmo Marconi anywhere in the patent filing. (U.S. Patent & Trademark Office)

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Thus, American Graphophone already held two patents covering all the essential features of the “Marconi” disc by the time the inventor was invited to serve as a Columbia consultant.

Macdonald’s patent specifications were exactly those that would come to be embodied in the Marconi Velvet Tone Record. Macdonald specified a flexible paper or cardboard core laminated between two thin sheets of celluloid — one to receive the impression of the sound recording, and the other to receive either a second sound recording or “a roughened surface…covered by fine lines close together and crossing at right angles.” Columbia addressed Macdonald’s claim that needles need not be changed after each playing by marketing semi-permanent gold-plated needles for use with the records.

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Marconi discs carried a large warning sticker on the blank reverse sides. The “fine lines close together and crossing at right angles” specified in Macdonald’s patent can be seen on the outer edge.

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Columbia reportedly sent advance copies of the first Marconi catalog to dealers in February 1907, the same month in which the records were announced in The Talking Machine World. A few dealers began advertising the records in March, inviting customers to come and listen, but it appears to have been a trial balloon. Little advertising appeared during the summer of 1907, and Columbia itself did not make its “first announcement” of the new records in The Talking Machine World until September.

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(Top) One of the earliest dealer advertisements for Marconi records was published in Washington DC on March 20, 1907. The Chattanooga ad (center) appeared on April 18; “Fifteen Hundred” apparently refers to the quantity of discs for sale, not the number of individual selections. Columbia’s own “first announcement” (bottom) did not appear in The Talking Machine World until September 1907.

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Bearing Marconi’s name, portrait, and facsimile signature, the records were touted as “Wonderful as Wireless.” American Graphophone filed a trademark application on the Velvet Tone trademark (but not Marconi’s name, which likely would not have been approved under U.S. trademark guidelines) on May 1, 1907. The records were a deluxe product, pressed in smooth black celluloid and packaged in heavy paper sleeves with glassine windows. Elaborate, oversized patent notice labels, affixed to the blank reverse sides, warned that the records could be safely played only with special gold-plated semi-permanent needles. Marconi’s receding hairline, which is evident on the early labels, was retouched in later printings.

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Despite their premium price and exotic appearance, Marconi records were pressed from standard Columbia masters, including material recorded several years earlier. The discs were produced in 10″ and 12″ series. The standard 10″ series substituted special catalog numbers for Columbia’s own, starting at 01 and reaching into the low 0400s before being discontinued. Twelve-inch discs were assigned the same 30000-series catalog numbers as corresponding Columbia releases.

Double-sided Marconi pressings are known, as are Marconi-type pressings with standard Columbia labels, but these probably were prototypes or samples. Thus far, no evidence has been found that they were intended for retail sale.

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Relatively few Marconi sleeves have survived.

 

Columbia apparently envisioned an international market for the Marconi discs, and various export versions are known. The best-known are the specially numbered Fonogramas Marconi, manufactured at Bridgeport for Mexican or South American distribution. A Chinese Marconi-type record (labeled Columbia Concert Record) and a Marconi sleeve with text in Japanese have also been reported. Several extremely rare Marconi-type  pressings from Italian Fonotipia masters, bearing special Fonotipia–Marconi Velvet Tone labels, are also known to exist.

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A rare Fonogramas Marconi disc made for the Mexican market.  (Kurt Nauck collection)

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Sales of the Marconi records lagged, however. Retailing for more than the ordinary Columbia releases they duplicated, requiring the use of expensive special (albeit reusable) needles, easily damaged, and having a tendency to slip on the turntable, Marconi discs do not seem to have engaged the general public. Production was discontinued in 1908, leaving Columbia with a large unsold inventory. By 1910 the discs were being remaindered by Simpson, Crawford & Co. (New York) for 17¢ each, or six for $1. The special gold-plated needles were given away with a minimum purchase.

Today, Marconi records are highly prized by collectors. They range from fairly scarce (for some of better-selling popular issues) to extremely rare (particularly for the export and Fonotipia-Marconi issues). The original paper envelopes can also be hard to find. Well-cared-for Marconi discs have remarkably quiet surfaces revealing recorded details that can be lost in Columbia’s usual grainy shellac pressings. Unfortunately, many surviving copies suffer from lamination cracks or needle damage, which can reduce their monetary value to “wall-hanger” level.

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© 2020 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

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Beniamino Gigli Discography — Updates (Free Download)

Beniamino Gigli Discography — Updates
(Free Download)

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The latest revision of John Bolig’s Gigli discography is now available to download free for personal use. The most notable feature is a thorough revision of data for the 1946 Aida recordings, thanks to expert input from David Cutler (who first alerted John to the fact that Gigli was not in Italy on one of the recording dates cited by another source) and John Banks.

 

Download Version 2.0 – Free for Personal Use (pdf) (~1.5mb)
(Print-restricted)

 

This copyrighted publication is intended for personal, non-commercial use only. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution in any form and by any means (including but not limited to e-book or digital database conversion) is prohibited. Please read, and be sure to observe, our terms of use as outlined in the file, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.

 

August 10, 1920 • Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” Turns 100 • Mamie Smith and the Birth of the “Blues Craze”

August 10, 1920 • Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues”
Turns 100

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MAMIE SMITH & HER JAZZ HOUNDS: Crazy Blues

New York: c. August 10, 1920 (released October 1920)
Okeh 4169 (mx. S 7529 – B)

Transferred at 80 rpm, the correct playing speed for Okeh records of this period

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Mamie Smith and the Birth of the “Blues Craze”
By Allan Sutton

Excerpted from
Race Records and the American Recording Industry
(Mainspring Press, 2016)

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While George Broome was busy launching the first Black-owned record company in 1919, another relative newcomer, the General Phonograph Corporation, was struggling to carve out a niche in a glutted market.  Founded in mid-1918, and backed in part by the Berlin-based Carl Lindstrom conglomerate, the company was an outgrowth of the Otto Heineman Phonograph Supply Company, a manufacturer of phonograph motors and parts. Its Okeh label, like other start-ups of the period, relied heavily on the usual studio free-lance performers. The early artist roster was so lackluster that for the for the first eighteen months of its existence Okeh often listed only song titles in its trade-press advertising, without bothering to mention the performers.[1]

Okeh’s unlikely saviors would be Perry Bradford and Mamie Smith — the former a struggling Harlem songwriter and music publisher, the latter a recent arrival in Harlem who was slowly gaining a following as a cabaret singer. Setting up shop in New York in 1918, Bradford quickly earned the nickname “Mule” for his tenacious promotion of blues-inflected pop tunes. [2] Bradford recalled meeting resistance from members of the local Black musical establishment, who found his material to be “low-class,” unpleasant reminders of life in the South.[3] Bradford claimed that he “walked out several pairs of shoes trying to show…the value of the blues,” and he was not alone. W. C. Handy recalled,

I caught another glimpse of the same prejudice when I tried to introduce colored girls for recording our blues. In every case the managers quickly turned thumbs down. “Their voices were not suitable.” “Their diction was different from white girls. “They couldn’t possibly fill the bill”… Viola McCoy, who was under contract with me, made test records for seven companies, all of whom turned her down. [4]

Bradford was particularly impressed by Mamie Smith, a singer he first heard performing with comedian Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set company. She soon left to pursue solo work in the local cabarets, at which point Bradford hired her to appear in his Made in Harlem, a quickly cobbled-together production that opened at Harlem’s Lincoln Theater in 1918. There, she scored a hit singing his “Harlem Blues.” Determined to capitalize on Smith’s popularity, Bradford shopped her around to the local record companies, with no success.

In early 1920, Bradford finally got a foot in the door. Edward King, Victor’s New York studio manager, agreed to schedule a test session for Mamie Smith. [5] On January 10, 1920, Smith made an unnumbered trial recording of Bradford’s “That Thing Called Love” with Bradford at the piano. [6] When Victor showed no interest, Bradford renewed his search and found an unlikely champion in Okeh’s Fred Hager, a veteran white recording artist and studio director whose career had begun in the 1890s. For the last decade, Hager had moved from one failed label to the next while relying on his music publishing business to keep him afloat financially. Now well into his forties, and with Okeh so far showing only faint promise, he must have been open to new opportunities.

Hager agreed to schedule an Okeh recording session for Mamie Smith. Short of cash, Bradford tapped band leader George Morrison (freshly arrived with his orchestra from Denver, at the behest of Columbia records) for a loan to buy Smith some suitable attire. As Morrison recalled,

[Bradford] came up to my hotel, at the time I was recording. He says, “Morrison, you wanna make some money? I’ve got a sure bet — sure thing…  And he took me up there to this house, and there she was in this old house, and the old lamp light burning — in the daytime, now, mind you. It was simply awful in there — whooo! simply awful. And who was it? Mamie Smith… She was up there ironing. Perry said, “Kid, we’ve got it made! Mr. Morrison here’s gonna finance this thing, and we’ve got it made….

And so I went and got a hundred and fifty dollars and I bought Mamie a hat — great big old hat, and then I bought her some lingerie, and shoes. I dressed her from the inside out. Everything. I had never heard of that woman — never seen her before. Mamie said she was gonna pay me back. She was going to record for Okeh records.[7]

On or about February 14, 1920,[8] Mamie Smith reported for her first Okeh session in the company’s studio on West 45th Street, where she recorded Bradford’s “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” accompanied by the so-called Rega Orchestra, a cover name for Okeh’s white studio band. [9]  Hager directed the session in the company of Ralph Peer, a newly arrived Okeh employee who within a few years would play a major role in the development of race records.[10]

“That Thing Called Love” / “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” (Okeh 4113) was listed in the June 1920 Talking Machine World advance bulletin as a July release. Cataloged in Okeh’s Tenth Supplement alongside the latest offerings by Billy Murray, the Waldorf-Astoria Dance Orchestra, and other mainstream white artists, it was the first pop release by a Black female soloist. Okeh avoided any mention of Smith’s race, describing the record merely as “Contralto with orchestra,” [11]  but the African-American press was quick to spread the news. On March 13, two months before Okeh formally announced the record, The Chicago Defender broke the news:

Well, you’ve all heard the famous stars of the white race chirping their stuff on the different makes of phonograph records. Caruso has warbled his Jones to the delight of millions; Tetrazzini has made ’em like it heavy, and Nora Bayes has tickled their ears with a world of delight; but we have never — up to now — been able to hear one of our own ladies deliver the canned goods. Now we have the pleasure of being able to say that at last they have recognized the fact that we are here for their service; the Okeh Phonograph Company [sic] has initiated the idea by engaging the handsome, popular and capable vocalist, Mamie Gardener Smith of 40 W. 135th Street, New York City, and she has made her first record… [12]

Many questionable or false claims have been made over the years regarding Mamie Smith and her first record. Smith was by no means the first Black woman to make commercial recordings.[13] Nor does her first record appear to have been the sensational hit sometimes portrayed by modern writers, based on its relative scarcity today and its failure to make Okeh’s own list of top sellers for the summer of 1920.[14] However, the mechanical royalties were good enough that Bradford was able to repay George Morrison’s loan,[15] and Okeh decided to gamble on another Mamie Smith release.

Mamie Smith returned to the Okeh studio on or around August 10.[16]  Her first release had featured two Pace & Handy publications, but for Smith’s second session, Bradford chose to promote two titles from his own catalog — “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here for You (If You Don’t Get It, ’T’ain’t No Fault of Mine).” The former was a retitling and slight reworking of two earlier Bradford pieces (“The Broken-Hearted Blues” and “The Harlem Blues) that he had already sold to other publishers, a move that would soon land him in serious legal trouble.

In a marked departure from the first Smith session, the stiff Rega Orchestra was replaced on Bradford’s recommendation by a hastily assembled band he dubbed the Jazz Hounds. Their raucous, uninhibited style, unlike anything heard so far on records, took Okeh’s studio staff by surprise. As Bradford recalled, the session became a battle of wills between himself and recording engineer Charles Hibbard, whose insistence that the band soften its approach was roundly ignored. [17] Rising above the cacophony, Smith shouted her way through Bradford’s lyrics, which in the case of “Crazy Blues” included a threat to “get myself a gun and shoot myself a cop” — a line that most companies of that period  almost certainly would have censored.

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Okeh announces the release of “Crazy Blues” (October 1920)


“Crazy Blues” was released with considerable fanfare in October 1920, and this time there was no dodging the race issue. A full-page ad in The Talking Machine World featured Smith’s portrait. [18]  The record caused a sensation among Black and white buyers alike. Trade papers soon were awash in planted stories like this one, masquerading as press releases:

The advertising department of the General Phonograph Corp., New York, received recently an interesting letter from a Mamie Smith enthusiast in North Carolina. … It reads: “I rite you to please send me one of your latest catalog of latest popular songs and musical comedy hits popular dancing numbers I got the Crazy Blues all ready and if you have any other latest Blues sung by Mamie Smith and her jazz hounds send along 2 or 3 C.O.D. with the catalog I want something that will almost make a preacher come down out of the pulpit and go to dancing and hang his head and cry I want all you send to be Blues.” [19]

Early Okeh advertisements make it clear that Mamie Smith’s records were not intended solely for Black customers, contradicting widely published claims by such modern writers as Daphne Duval Harrison that the records “were sold exclusively to Blacks.” [20] In one Okeh distributor’s full-page, Mamie Smith was even pictured along with the celebrated tenor John McCormack.

Smith’s records were widely advertised by white dealers, and several even found their way into Canada, where they were pressed under the Phonola and Sun labels. A full-page ad for “Crazy Blues” in November 1920 employed a stereotypical minstrel-show theme that was clearly aimed at white buyers, with a cartoon figure in blackface proclaiming in minstrel-show dialect, “I’s heard Blues, but I’s telling you Mamie’s beats ’em all. O! Man, her voice is as sweet as honey! It jes flows and flows and ev’ry note gets richer until I can just sit back and expire with joy.”[21]

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Okeh chose a stereotypical “minstrel” theme for its
November 1920 ad.

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In the same month, Okeh announced that it was supplying dealers with special Thanksgiving window displays featuring Mamie Smith, “colored queen of syncopation,” alongside several of its white artists. By then, the records were turning up in all sorts of unlikely venues. The Talking Machine World reported that even the manager of the Summit-Cherry Markets of Toledo, Ohio, was stocking Mamie Smith records in his grocery stores:

Demand for Mamie Smith numbers has been particularly large, and Mr. Richards has expressed himself on numerous occasions as being very enthusiastic about the line and well pleased with his merchandising policy of bringing music to the attention of housewives when they are doing their marketing.[22]

Okeh dealers reported that they were delighted with the “unlimited sales possibilities” of blues records.[23]  Unfortunately, Okeh’s sales data have not survived, but the large number of surviving copies of “Crazy Blues,” and the many variations seen in early pressings and labelings  (strong indicators that  outside plants were used to keep up with demand) are certainly evidence of a strong seller. However, claims that “Crazy Blues” sold 75,000 copies the first month, and a million copies within seven months of release — which originated with Bradford’s self-aggrandizing (and often demonstrably inaccurate) autobiography, and which have since been slavishly repeated in countless works — are questionable, given what is known of record sales in general during this period. [24]

But Bradford’s boastful sales claims pale in comparison with those made by some modern pop-culture writers, who have inflated them considerably over the years, without ever citing a documentary source (because there is none; the Okeh files for this period have not survived, and there was not yet a method of certifying sales results within the recording industry):

“For months, the disc sold some 7,500 copies a week.” (Paul Oliver, Blues Fell This Morning, 1960)

“It sold 75,000 copies in the first month, and over a million in the first half-year.” (Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz, 1968)

“The disc is reputed to have sold a million copies within a few weeks.” (Louis Barfe, Where Have All The Good Times Gone?, 2004)

“A wild success, selling over a million copies in less than a year, and finally ending up selling over two million copies.” (Red Hot Jazz website, 2008)

 

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By January 1921, Okeh had released eight sides by Mamie Smith. In the same month, Harry Pace began laying the groundwork for Black Swan, the second Black-owned record company.

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Whatever the actual sales might have been, they seem to have justified the risk that Fred Hager and Okeh’s management had taken in issuing and promoting “Crazy Blues.” Anecdotal tales have appeared over the years of dealer resistance and even outright hostility, and although none has been convincingly documented, they likely have some basis in fact, given the rampant racial prejudice of the time. In later years, Perry Bradford expressed his appreciation for the opportunity that Fred Hager had afforded him and Mamie Smith:

May God bless Mr. Hagar [sic], for despite the many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerve and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which echoed around the world… He prised open that old “prejudiced door” for the first colored girl, Mamie Smith, so she could squeeze into the large horn — and shout with her strong contralto…” [25]

Now well on her way to national stardom, Smith needed more professional management than Bradford alone could offer. In early 1921 she agreed to let the Standard Amusement Company handle her stage appearances. The company lost no time in sending Mamie Smith & her All Star Revue on the road, in a production that featured Smith singing her Okeh hits, interspersed with comic acts, a magician, a juggler, and dance numbers by the Jazz Hounds. [26] By April of that year, the troupe had completed a circuit that began in Chicago, worked its way through the Midwest down to Texas, then swung through the deep South before eventually heading north to end in Philadelphia.

Smith returned to New York just in time to see “Crazy Blues” become embroiled in a legal controversy that temporarily halted sales of all recordings of the song. In May 1921, two major music-publishing houses — Frederick V. Bowers, Inc., and Shapiro, Bernstein & Company — filed for a temporary injunction restraining Bradford and wife Marion L. Dickerson from publishing and selling “Crazy Blues.”

The lawsuit also sought to restrain fourteen record and piano-roll companies from distributing any recording of the song, and from paying any royalties on sales to Bradford, his company, or his wife. [27] Bowers alleged that twelve bars of “Crazy Blues” came from “The Broken-Hearted Blues,” which his firm purchased from Bradford in 1918. Shapiro, Bernstein & Company alleged that “Crazy Blues” incorporated parts of “The Harlem Blues,” which they had purchased from Bradford in the same year. [28]

The settlement required Bradford to pay substantial damages to both companies. The lesson seems to have been lost on him, however. A similar legal scrap in 1923, over the authorship of “He May Be Your Man, But He Comes to See Me Sometimes,” saw Bradford convicted for subornation of perjury, for which he served four months in jail.

In the meantime, the working relationship between Bradford and Smith was becoming increasingly strained. The inevitable split came during the summer of 1921, while Bradford was preparing his new stage production, Put and Take. Exactly what transpired between the two is unclear in Bradford’s rather jumbled account, but the result was that the starring role went not to Smith, but to Edith Wilson, for whom Bradford quickly negotiated a Columbia recording contract. [29]

For Mamie Smith, it meant the loss of the Jazz Hounds (by now under the nominal direction of cornetist Johnny Dunn), who went along to Columbia with Wilson as part of the package deal. Smith was allowed to continue to use the Jazz Hounds name in her stage act, but on records, the name as well as the band itself now belonged to Columbia.

With demand for new Mamie Smith releases still running high, and another extended tour scheduled to begin on September 23, [30] Okeh spent the late summer of 1921 stockpiling new Smith recordings, minus the Jazz Hounds, with unsettling results. A group of white musicians, reputedly drawn from Joseph Samuels’ commercial dance orchestra, was pressed into service in place of Bradford’s band. Variously known as Samuels’ Jazz Band, the Synco Jazz Band, or the Tampa Blue Jazz Band, the group had been churning out stiff, cliché-laden “jazz” records for many of the smaller labels since 1919.

Beginning with “Daddy, Your Mama Is Lonesome for You” and “Sax-O-Phoney Blues” (Okeh 4416) in August 1921, the ill-conceived collaboration dragged on into September, yielding twelve issued titles before Smith left for her tour. While she was away, Okeh attempted to cover its tracks by publishing a photo purportedly taken during the recording of “Sax-O-Phoney Blues” that showed Black musicians accompanying Smith. [31] The subterfuge should have been apparent to anyone who compared the photo to the record, since the instrumentation does not match, and the two saxophonists who figure so prominently in “Sax-O-Phoney” are nowhere to be seen. [32]

Ultimately, Mamie Smith would be eclipsed by far better singers cashing in on the blues craze she had started. She returned from her tour to find Edith Wilson and the Jazz Hounds already selling well for Columbia. Okeh kept Smith on until the summer 1923, but as Perry Bradford recalled,

I didn’t bother Mamie anymore, because she was coming down the ladder… Mamie’s records were falling down and melting away like snow balls on a hot July day, and Okeh was feeling the pinch of competition. [33]

 

Notes

[1] “Okeh Records” (monthly advertisements). Talking Machine World, May 1918–December 1919.

[2] The “Mule” nickname appeared in print as early as May 1919, in a column by songwriter Tom Lemonier (“Lemonier’s Letter.” Chicago Defender, May 24, 1919, p. 9).

[3] Charters, Samuel B., and Leonard Kunstadt: Jazz: A History of the New York Scene, p. 82. New York: Doubleday (1962). Much of this information comes from Dan Burely’s 1940 profiles of Perrfy Bradford and Mamie Smith in the Amsterdam News.

[4] Handy, W. C. Father of the Blues, p. 200. New York: Macmillan (1941).

[5] King is remembered today primarily for having ejected cornetist  Bix Beiderbecke from his first recording session with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra.

[6] Victor trial session ledgers. Sony Archives, New York. Bradford was not credited by name in the ledger, but stated his biography that he was the accompanist. Bradford recalled being given a test pressing, which apparently no longer exists.

[7] Morrison, George. Interview by Gunther Schuller. Quoted in Schuller, Gunther: Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development, p. 367. New York: Oxford University Press (1968).

[8] The recording date of February 14, 1920, was supplied many years later by Perry Bradford (an often unreliable source) and should be considered approximate. The Okeh recording files for this period have not survived.

[9] “Rega” was a pseudonym for Fred Hager, as confirmed by multiple entries in the U.S. Copyright Register; “Milo Rega” was a pseudonym for Hager in collaboration with his long-time associate, Justin Ring. The accompanying personnel shown for this session in Dixon, Godrich & Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records is incorrect, having apparently been based on the erroneous assumption that the Jazz Hounds accompanied this session. Photographs of the Rega Orchestra in The Talking Machine World and other trade publications show an all-white group with Hager present.

[10] Charters and Kunstadt, op. cit., p. 84

[11] “Okeh Records Tenth Supplement” (advertisement). Talking Machine World (July 15, 1920).

[12] “Making Records.” Chicago Defender (March 13, 1920), p. 6.

[13] That honor might have been held by May C. Hyers, who recorded at least fourteen titles, including several syncopated songs, on cylinders for the Kansas City Phonograph Company, c. 1898.

[14] “Six Best Sellers.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920), p. 144.

[15] Morrison, George. Interview by Gunther Schuller, op. cit.

[16] See note 6 concerning the accuracy of Okeh recording dates.

[17] In his autobiography, Bradford made the questionable claim that the session took eight hours to complete, which would have been unprecedented given what we know of studio practices during this  period. Bradford also erroneously claimed that the recordings were “hill & dale” (i.e., vertically cut), and his  recollection of the band personnel present at the session (particularly cornetist Johnny Dunn) has been widely questioned by modern jazz scholars.

[18] “Okeh Records — To Hear Is to Buy!” (advertisement). Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920).

[19] “Has Designs on the Preacher.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1921),  p. 127.

[20] Harrison, Daphne Duval. Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s, p. 46. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press (1988).

[21] “Okeh Records” (advertisement). Talking Machine World, (November 15, 1920).

[22] “Doing Big Okeh Record Trade.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 21), p. 146.

[23] “Records for the Okeh Library.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920), p. 200.

[24] Million-sellers appear to have been very rare occurrences in the early 1920s, based on surviving company documentation. Although sales figures for most of the smaller companies have long since vanished, some reliable statistics that survive in the Victor and Columbia archives offer a good picture of record sales in the early 1920s, in the process debunking some other “million-seller” myths.  Paul Whiteman’s “Whispering” (Victor 18690), for example, is often said to have sold nearly 1.5 million copies, although the Victor files show sales of only 214,575 copies. A similar case is Ben Selvin’s “Dardanella” (Victor 18633), which is said in Faber’s Companion to Twentieth Century Music to have sold an incredible six million copies, although the Victor files shows that only 961,144 copies were pressed.

[25] Bradford, Perry. Born with the Blues, p. 119. New York: Oak Publications (1965).

[26] “Mamie Smith Co.” Chicago Defender (April 2, 1921), p. 6

[27] “Songwriter Faces Two Suits.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1921), p. 149.

[28] Bowers admitted that he had not copyrighted “The Broken-Hearted Blues” owing to an oversight on his part that he attributed to “changes in the personnel” at his firm.” Bradford was the initial publisher of “The Harlem Blues,” but he assigned copyright to Shapiro, Bernstein & Company, as was duly registered with the Copyright Office.

[29] Put and Take opened at the Town Hall (New York) on August 23, 1921, and Wilson made her first Columbia recordings on or about September 12.

[30] “Mamie Smith on Extended Tour.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1921), p. 64.

[31] “Making Sax-O-Phoney Blues.” Talking Machine World (November 15, 1921), p. 160.

[32] On March 9, 1940, clarinetist Bob Fuller told New York Amsterdam News columnist Dan Burely that he and cornetist Bubber Miley were present in the purported “Sax-O-Phoney” session photo.

[33] Bradford, op. cit.,  p. 157.

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© 2016 by Allan R. Sutton

Collector’s Corner • Some July Additions (Free MP3 Downloads): Rev. Gates, De Ford Bailey, Georgia Cotton Pickers, Clarence Williams, Duke Ellington, Red Nichols

Collector’s Corner • Some July 2020 Additions
(Free MP3 Downloads)

A few favorite July additions to the collection, for your enjoyment

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REV. J. M. GATES & CONGREGATION: A Sure-Enough Soldier (E)

Atlanta: February 20, 1928
Victor 21523 (mx. BVE 41916 – 1)

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DE FORD BAILEY: Dixie Flyer Blues (E–)

New York: April 18, 1927
Brunswick 146 (mx. E 22501)

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GEORGIA COTTON PICKERS: She’s Coming Back Some Cold Rainy Day (E)

Atlanta: December 8, 1930
Columbia 14577-D (mx. W 151106 – 2)

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CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ JAZZ KINGS: I Need You (E)

New York: May 29, 1928
Columbia 14326-D (mx. W 146366 – 3)

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DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA (as Joe Turner & his Memphis Men): Mississippi Moan (E–)

New York: April 4, 1929
Columbia 1813-D (mx. W 148172 – 3)

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RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: Eccentric (E)

New York: August 15, 1927
Brunswick 3627 (mx. E 24228)

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Coming in September: Free Downloads of “The Columbia Record”

Coming in September: Free Downloads of
The Columbia Record

 

The Columbia Record was Columbia’s monthly house publication, chocked-full of photographs, news, company propaganda, and cylinder and disc lists. If you’re looking for information on Columbia’s foreign recording expeditions, the latest phonograph models and improvements, gossip on recording artists, patent lawsuits, or just about anything else Columbia-related — albeit with a strong pro-Columbia spin (researchers, you’ve been forewarned!) — you’re likely to find it here.

Beginning in September, and starting with the 1904 volume, we’ll be posting free high-resolution downloads of these invaluable publications, from the library of Steve Smolian. Many thanks to Steve for the loan of his rare originals, and to Dick Spottswood, who first suggested the project.

In the meantime, look for a lot of new Columbia-related postings based upon, and illustrated with, what we’re finding in within these pages. Here’s a downsized sampling of what’s to come (downloads will be high-resolution JPG’s at actual page size):

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The Victor Pict-Ur-Music Story & John Bolig’s Victor Film and Theater Records Discography (Free Download)

Latest Addition to the Mainspring Press Free
Online Reference Library:

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Download Free Personal-Use Edition (pdf, ~1.5 mb)

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.The Victor Pict-Ur-Music Story

By Allan Sutton

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As producer of the synchronized Vitaphone-system soundtrack discs, the Victor Talking Machine Company played a key role in the transition to fully synchronized sound films. During 1927–1928, Victor’s church studio in Camden, New Jersey — housed in the converted 1872 Trinity Baptist Church building — was reconfigured to do double duty as a recording and film studio. While Victor’s long-established studio continued to operate in one corner of the main level, a portion of the sprawling structure was converted to a film stage, and soundtrack production facilities were installed in the basement. To minimize conflicts with Victor’s regular recording sessions, the sound-film division operated on split day and night shifts totaling fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, during periods of peak activity. [1]

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Victor’s church studio in Camden, New Jersey, was reconfigured during 1927–1928 to accommodate a film stage and soundtrack production facilities.

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The nationwide conversion to “talkies” would be drawn out over a half-decade. The largest theaters were quick to install Western Electric’s new, fully synchronized Vitaphone equipment, but smaller or less well-financed venues often found it too costly to convert, and continued to screen silent films. For them, Victor came up with a less-expensive alternative — a library of background-music discs, supplied with projectionists’ cue sheets that were customized to individual films.

On February 1, 1928, Victor’s Mercantile Committee formally proposed production of special records “for use in motion picture theaters in connection with the reproducing instrument of the Electrical Research Products Co., Inc. [a Western Electric subsidiary] … to bear special label which has been approved by the Patent & Copyright Department.” [2] The motion was approved, although a label name had yet to be decided upon. The company finally settled on “Pict-Ur-Music,” which it belatedly registered with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on September 4, 1928. Victor’s filing claimed use of the name in commerce beginning June 6 of that year. [3]

Production proceeded cautiously at first. The committee’s original request for 300 pressings of each disc was scaled back to 150 before production began, and only existing commercial Victor recordings were to be used. “Additional requirements,” the committee report cautioned, “should be carefully watched by the Record Planning Division.” [4]

By early spring, preliminary production and distribution plans were being hammered out for the new “library.” The records would be leased to theaters, rather than being sold outright, and would be licensed for use only on Electrical Research Products playback equipment, which included a non-synchronized dual turntable. There was to be no interchangeability between Vitaphone and Pict-Ur-Music products or licenses.

On March 7, Victor’s Managers Committee presented a financial analysis showing a potential profit to the company ranging from 13.2% to 53.77%, depending upon various rental-fee and contract-duration models. A surcharge was proposed for theaters that could “stand this additional charge by reason of their increased box-office earnings.” [5] Ultimately, Victor settled on a sliding scale, based upon theater capacity, ranging from $1,200 annually for theaters with 800 seats or less, to $2,000 for those seating 1,500 or more. [6]

Victor, it appeared at first, had picked an inopportune time to introduce the concept. The “talkies” were under attack from the American Federation of Musicians, which argued that they were displacing musicians who, until then, had provided the live background music for silent films. [7] By mid-April, news of the records’ impending release had leaked to the press, further inflaming union officials. “Victor’s idea,” Variety warned, represented “a means to eliminate pit musicians.”  [8]

Victor successfully turned that argument against the new records on its head, promoting them to theater owners as a safety net in the event of a threatened musicians’ strike. [9] Ultimately, the AFM backed off its threat, but Victor’s marketing spin had succeeded. By August 1928, Motion Picture News reported, the Pict-Ur-Music records were becoming so popular that “a number of houses have already dispensed with their orchestras, and more seem destined to be out of the pits in the near future.” [10]

Details concerning the new records continued to emerge throughout the spring of 1928. High-quality pressings were to be made using a special virgin-shellac compound. Variety reported that the playback system was “primed for economy to appeal to small picture houses and lesser exhibitors,” with  a total installation cost of about $3,000 — far less than that of a synchronized Vitaphone system:

The phonograph records as in Vitaphone are cued to synchronize with the film, and for small-capacity houses of 800 seats and under the illusion is fairly accurate, requiring no elaborate house wiring to bring the horns behind or under the screen… The ‘canned’ accompaniments…make no pretext of reproducing anything but musical sounds.” [11]

Implementation of the Pict-Ur-Music program got under way in June 1928. Participating theaters received the complete initial “library” in a single shipment, along with a filing cabinet and an index that classified each selection according to “mood or theme.” The records were to be returned at the end of the lease period, although judging from the number still in existence, exhibitors did not always comply.

The original Pict-Ur-Music library was drawn almost entirely from previously released Victor recordings. The repertoire leaned heavily toward classical snippets and old standards, as rendered by Victor’s studio musicians and ensembles, but there were also a few offerings by the likes of Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, and the Dixieland Jug Blowers.

Artists received no catalog or label credit. It remains to be discovered whether those who were entitled to royalties on their commercial releases received payment for the corresponding Pict-Ur-Music discs, although it seems unlikely, given that the records were leased rather than sold. Victor absorbed the costs of any ASCAP fees for use of the compositions. [12]

Despite the original directive that only existing recordings be used, Victor appears to have begun making original recordings with the library’s use in mind as early as February 1928, when the project was first given the go-ahead. [13] Many recordings by a Victor studio orchestra under Bruno Reibold’s direction, made during the spring of 1928 but never listed in the commercial catalogs, found their way into the expanded Pict-Ur-Music catalog of September 1928. By then, sessions credited to a “Victor Orchestra (for Motion Pictures)” and “Non-Synchronous Motion Picture Orchestra,” both under Josef Pasternack’s direction, were appearing regularly in the Victor recording ledgers. [14]

When that proved insufficient to satisfy the growing demand from film producers, Victor created a separate department in Camden, under the direction of J. L. Crewe, to provide scoring services and oversee recordings made especially for Pict-Ur-Music. Movie producers were encouraged to send their latest releases to the Camden facility, where an in-house group would develop customized cue sheets keyed to the appropriate recordings. [15] The result was the creation of a large group of original recordings that never appeared on regular commercial Victor releases.

The cue sheets for each new release were mailed to participating theaters free of charge. They were keyed to running time, and it was the projectionist’s job to fade selections in and out at the appropriate moment, using the dual turntable. As Victor’s instructions to operators made clear, the job required unbroken attention and, at times, quick thinking. Splices or censors’ deletion could shorten the running time of a scene, requiring the operator to recalculate cue-sheet timings on-the-fly. Should a disc be damaged or lost, the projectionist was to quickly substitute another selection of similar “mood or theme.” For films lacking cue sheets, musical selection was left up to the projectionist. “Of course in your comedies,” the company advised, “you would immediately look under ‘Gay-Spirited,’ ‘Jazz,’ ‘Comedies,’ etc.” [16]

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Construction of a Hollywood plant for pressing Pict-Ur-Music and Vitaphone discs was approved in June 1928, [17] and the Camden Courier-Post reported a month later that the building was “being rushed to completion.” [18] At the same time, funds were allocated to build twelve presses for sixteen-inch Pict-Ur-Music discs. [19] It does not appear that such records were ever produced, but a twelve-inch Pict-Ur-Music series was launched in late 1928. At first, it was derived largely from existing commercial releases that included selections by the Philadelphia, San Francisco, and London symphony orchestras. Some later twelve-inch releases were made to order by the “Non-Synchronous Motion Picture Orchestra” under Pasternak.

A long-playing (33 1/3-rpm) Pict-Ur-Music disc was announced in September 1929, for use as “overture, trailer, and exit” music. [20] However, advertising for the new records disappeared after only four releases, and reliable data on these apparently short-lived records is still being tracked down. RCA would revive the idea in October 1932, with its long-playing Theatre Records.

In March 1929, Victor launched a companion series of special sound-effects records that probably found wider use in radio broadcasts and live theater than in the movie houses. [21] Here, Victor faced stiff competition from Gennett, which had been producing a line of popular (if much less well-recorded) sound-effects discs since 1928. Victor’s series was discontinued after only twenty releases. An additional twenty-four sound-effects releases appeared briefly in 1932, drawn largely from imported Gramophone Company recordings made in London. Portions of several of those recordings were later pirated by Gennett. [22]

Although the sound-effects discs failed to attract much attention, the Pict-Ur-Music service proved to be popular. In just three months, from September 12 through December 12, 1928, Pict-Ur-Music contract signings increased by nearly 250%, with only three cancellations for the period. [23] New signings received an additional boost in early 1929, after it was decided to decouple Pict-Ur-Music discs from the Electrical Research Product Company’s equipment. The records could now be rented by theaters using “any kind of non-synchronous instrument, provided it gives fair tone quality.” [24]

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Early Pict-Ur-Music labels (left) stated that the records were licensed for use only on Electrical Research Products’ equipment. That restriction was lifted in early 1929, as reflected by the later label design (right).

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However, for the Radio Corporation of America — Victor’s cost-conscious new owners — Pict-Ur-Music’s demise must have appeared imminent. With more and more movie houses installing fully synchronized equipment for the “talkies,” production of silent films was coming to an end, and with it, the need for background music. By January 1930, work was under way on an agreement that would transfer the “record library” business from RCA’s Victor division to its Photophone subsidiary. [25]

As set out in a memorandum on February 11, 1930, the Victor division would continue to record and press Pict-Ur-Music records, but it would bill Photophone for those services. In addition to the recording and production costs, Photophone would pay RCA Victor 22¢ per ten-inch disc, 32¢ for twelve-inch. Victor would be allowed to continue collecting revenue from any unexpired leases. Beyond that, however, the company largely washed its hands of the Pict-Ur-Music operation.

Photophone would be solely responsible for marketing the records, maintaining inventory, and handling fulfillment. The company was to purchase Victor’s existing Pict-Ur-Music inventory, although it would not be required to take obsolete material. The memo noted, “The present stocks consist largely of records returned from theaters, for which full value has been received… Photophone will not desire to take over any quantities of these records beyond those which it can reasonably expect to move during the present year.” Records that Photophone refused were to be scrapped. [26]

Photophone’s takeover was apparent even before terms of the transfer were finalized. General Electric’s Photophone playback equipment had already been substituted for Electrical Research Products’. On February 1, Photophone began advertising Pict-Ur-Music and sound-effects records for sale outright, in sets ranging from 150 to 541 records, with no contract required. [27] Lowell G. Calvert was put in charge of Photophone’s recording operations, although no new Pict-Ur-Music discs are known to have been produced under his management.

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RCA Photophone’s dual turntable was promoted for use with the Pict-Ur-Music discs after the requirement was dropped that they be used only with Electrical Research Products equipment.

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In November 1930, Photophone requested that RCA Victor continue to supply records without a formal production agreement. A response has not been found, but by then, the Pict-Ur-Music program was nearing its end. On January 14, 1931, RCA ordered that 150,000 surplus Pict-Ur-Music discs be scrapped. [28]  Nevertheless, the non-synchronous operation muddled along into January 1932, at which time RCA’s management finally conceded, “Due to the fact that most theaters are now equipped to play sound-on-film, the business now is very slim.” [29]  In the same month, Photophone’s operations were merged with those of RCA Victor, after which nothing more was heard of Pict-Ur-Music.

 

In October 1932, RCA Victor unexpectedly launched a new line of Theatre Records (using the British spelling). Unlike the Pict-Ur-Music discs, these were not supplied with cue sheets or tied to any specific movie. Consisting entirely of reissued commercial recordings — in a choice of 78-rpm or dubbed 33 1/3-rpm formats — they were intended simply to entertain (and, of course, plug Victor records) during pre-show and intermission periods. The series appears to have been a knee-jerk reaction to the American Record Corporation, which had introduced a similar line eight month earlier. Virtually no marketing was done for the series, which came to an end several months later, after eighty releases.

 

Notes

[1]     Green, Abel. “Victor’s Film Sounders.” Variety (Oct 3, 1928), p. 7.

[2]     Victor Talking Machine Co. Managers Committee minutes (Feb 1, 1928), p. 2.

[3]     Victor Talking Machine Co. “Pict-Ur-Music.” U.S. trademark application #287,903 (filed Sep 4, 1928).

[4]     Victor Talking Machine Co. Managers Committee minutes (Feb 1, 1928), op. cit.

[5]     Victor Talking Machine Co. Managers Committee minutes (Mar 7, 1928), p. 3.

[6]    “Records.” Harrison’s Reports (Sep 29, 1928), p. 156.

[7]     “Three Unions Clash Over Sound Device.” Variety (May 9, 1928), p. 13.

[8]     “Victor Experimenting with Small House ‘Talker.’” Variety (Apr 11, 1928), p. 16.

[9]     “Substitutes for Orchestra If Striking.” Variety (May 30, 1928), p. 25.

[10]    “Victor Planning Expansion of Non-Synchronous Service.” Motion Picture News (Aug 4, 1928), p. 397.

[11]    “Victor Experimenting…,” op. cit.

[12]    Ibid.

[13]    Bolig, John R. The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1941. Denver: Mainspring Press (2014).

[14]     Ibid.

[15]    Harrison’s Reports, op. cit.

[16]    Victor Talking Machine Company. Library of Victor “Pict-Ur-Music” to Accompany Motion Pictures. Revised Edition (Sep 1928), pp. 2–4.

[17]    Victor Talking Machine Co. Managers Committee minutes (Jun 13, 1928), p. 8. Victor’s original West Coast plant, in Oakland, California, continued to press the standard commercial releases.

[18]    “Victor Engaged in Creation of Talking-Movies.” Camden Courier-Post (Jul 25, 1928), p. 1.

[19]    Victor Talking Machine Co. Managers Committee minutes (Jun 13, 1928), p. 7. Three of the presses were allocated to the Oakland plant, the rest to Camden. Most likely, this was simply a reporting error, and the presses were actually intended for the sixteen-inch Vitaphone discs.

[20]     “Now You Can get Victor Quality (Victor Pict-Ur-Music) Overture, Trailer, and Exit Record Service for 33 1/3 R.P.M. Turntables” (ad). Film Daily (Sep 29, 1929), p. 7.

[21]     Examples are known with standard Victor black “scroll” labels as well as the more common Pict-Ur-Music style labels (without the Pict-Ur-Music logo).

[22]    Gennett matrix ledger (May 3–7, 1937).

[23]     Victor Talking Machine Co. Managers Committee minutes (Sep 12, 1928, and Dec 12, 1928), p. 3

[24]     “Disc Record Libraries.” Harrison’s Reports (Mar 2, 1929), p. 36.

[25]     RCA Victor Co. Managers Committee minutes (Jan 12, 1930), p. 8.

[26]     Memorandum, G. W. Jaggers to E. C. Grimley (Feb 11, 1930). Attachment to RCA Victor Managers Committee minutes.

[27]     “Victor Pict-Ur-Music Library Records” (Photophone ad). Exhibitors Herald-World (Feb 1, 1930), p. 6.

[28]     RCA Victor Co. Managers Committee minutes (January 14, 1931), p. 4.

[29]    RCA Victor Co. Report to the Board of Directors (Jan 15, 1932), p. 3.

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© 2020 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

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Champion Records Identification Guide (George Blacker) • First Release in the New Mainspring Press Archive Series

Free to Download for Personal Use

Champion Records Identification Guide

Compiled by George Blacker
Mainspring Press Archive Series, No. 1

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The Champion Records Identification Guide is the first offering in the new Mainspring Press Archive Series.

This series will post material in our archive “as-is” — scanned directly from the original documents, without editing or alterations — as a first step toward developing them into fully edited final works.

Other projects currently under consideration for the series include additional manuscripts by George Blacker, Carl Kendziora, and other members of the original Record Research team; the more interesting portions of the Gennett master ledgers; Helene Chmura’s reconstruction of the American Record Corporation master ledgers; and Perry Armagnac’s transcription of the Ed Kirkeby session and payroll books (made under Kirkeby’s personal supervision).

We encourage collectors and researchers to submit verifiable additions and corrections, from first-hand observation of the original discs or ancillary materials. Submission information will be found in the file.

You are welcome to print out and circulate this file for personal research purposes; but as with all Mainspring online publications, sale or other commercial use is prohibited.

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Download Acrobat / Reader file (pdf) (~15 mb)
(Free for Personal Use)

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New Discography — Star Records (Hawthorne & Sheble) • Free Download

Free to Download for Personal Use

STAR RECORDS (HAWTHORNE & SHEBLE)
The Complete Discography
Data Compiled by William R. Bryant
Edited and Annotated by Allan Sutton

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When the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company launched its Star label in 1907, it turned to Columbia as its source of masters — a seemingly ironic move, since Columbia had just forced Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott’s American Record Company out business. But there’s more to the story, as you’ll see in the introduction to this new discography.

Other than a few relabeled American Record Company discs, Star records were legal reissues of Columbia recordings, pressed in Hawthorne & Sheble’s own plant using Columbia masters from which all tell-tale markings had been effaced, and new catalog numbers substituted. Until 1909, the vast majority showed no artist credits on the labels or in the catalogs.

The discography includes artist identifications, as determined  from the corresponding Columbia releases; the original Columbia source issues and release dates; the Star release dates, taken from the original catalogs and supplements; corresponding H&S pressings on labels like Busy Bee and Harmony; and a listing of confirmed American Record relabelings.

You’ll also find a timeline covering the history of Hawthorne & Sheble from 1893 through 1910, and a selection of Star record and phonograph advertisements.

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Download Acrobat / Reader file (pdf) (~ 4.5 mb)
(Free for Personal Use — Print-Restricted)

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Phono-Cut Records is a part of the free
Record Collectors’ Online Reference Library,
courtesy of Mainspring Press, the leader in forensic discography.

This copyrighted publication is intended for personal, non-commercial use only. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution by any means, including but not limited to e-book or online database conversion, is prohibited. Please read, and be sure to observe, our terms of use as outlined in the file, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.

 

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Two New Online Publications from John Bolig (Free Downloads)

Download Free for Personal Use

Two New Online Publications from John Bolig

 

HISTORIC MASTERS:
An Updated Discography
John R. Bolig

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The Historic Masters program was launched in the early 1970s by the British Institute of Recorded Sound, in affiliation with EMI, to produce new pressings of long-deleted or previously unissued operatic recordings. It made available some of the rarest recordings of the early 78 era, pressed directly from the original metal parts on high-quality vinyl. Now out of print, Historic Masters releases are sought out by collectors as a less costly (and usually less noisy) alternative to the scarce original editions, or in some cases, as first editions of previously unissued material.

Unfortunately, the care that went into producing the pressings wasn’t always reflected in the label copy, which can contain errors and omissions in regard to the discographical data. John Bolig remedies that situation in his new discography, drawing on the original Gramophone Company file data. Titles are given in their full and correct form, in the language in which the selections were sung — a practice not always observed on the HM labels. In addition, correct playing speeds have been revised, where needed, with the assistance of Grammy Award nominee Ward Marston.

 

Download Acrobat / Reader file (pdf) (~ 1 mb)
(Free for Personal Use)

Publication © 2020 by John R. Bolig.
All rights are reserved.

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THE VICTOR MONTHLY SUPPLEMENTS:
Volume 1: 1904
From the collection of
John R. Bolig

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Victor’s monthly catalog supplements are a treasure trove of discographical and historical data, photos, and biographical snippets. Mainspring is digitizing these remarkable pamphlets, beginning with the 1904 run. The 1905 and 1906 editions are currently in preparation for release later this summer.

 

Download Acrobat / Reader file (pdf) (~40 mb)
(Free for Personal Use)

Compilation and digital restorations © 2020 by Mainspring Press LLC. Images may be printed out for personal use. Resale or other commercial use is prohibited.

 


These publications are part of the free
Record Collectors’ Online Reference Library,
courtesy of Mainspring Press, the leader in historical recorded-sound research.

These copyrighted publication are intended for personal, non-commercial use only. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution by any means, including but not limited to e-book or online database conversion, is prohibited. Please read, and be sure to observe, our terms of use as outlined in the file, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.