In Production • “Orlando Marsh: Chicago’s Pioneer of Electrical Recording” (Richard Raichelson)

 

MSP_marsh-comp-3

 

Nearly four years before Columbia and Victor released their first electrical recordings, Orlando Marsh was already recording electrically in Chicago and issuing the results under custom labels. Marsh’s story is finally told in depth by historian Richard Raichelson in Orlando Marsh: Chicago’s Pioneer of Electrical Recording, which is now in production for a summer release.

Impeccably documented and engagingly written, this new book includes a vast amount of newly unearthed information, while dispelling the various myths and misconceptions that have grown up around Orlando Marsh and his records over the years. Marsh’s entire career — from his earliest experimental work for the legendary Essanay movie studio, to his involvement with the short-lived Chicago Recording Laboratories, founding and operation of Marsh Laboratories, and later work with radio transcriptions — are covered in fine detail.

But more than that, Orlando Marsh takes a wide view, examining  Marsh’s work within the context of the 1920s and early 1930s Chicago recording industry. It also does an authoritative job of untangling Marsh’s various connections with other Midwestern labels and studios, including Paramount and the Rodeheaver studio — a subject that is often addressed only vaguely or incorrectly in earlier works.

Also included is the most complete and accurate Marsh discography ever published, covering his output from the earliest custom labels of 1921 to the final transcriptions and acetates of the 1930s, with illustrated guides to label types and markings in the wax. In addition to highly detailed discographical data taken from first-hand inspection of the original discs, the entries are extensively annotated,  with artist biographies, observations on musical aspects of the recorded performances, and fascinating historical notes.

The book will be printed in color throughout, with more than 160 illustrations.  (Projected release: August 2016)
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About the Author

MSP_AUTHOR-PHOTOS_raichelso

 

Richard Raichelson obtained a Ph.D in folklore/anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania. He taught at the University of Memphis and was Director of Education and Research at the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis. He is a member of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections, and a founding member and past president of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors, for which he is co-editor of the Discographical section and the editor of two other columns for the Journal. As a record collector, one of his special interests is the history of record labels. He has written numerous articles and liner notes on jazz and blues, as well as two books, Beale Street Talks: A Walking Tour Down the Home of the Blues (Arcadia Records, 2nd edition, updated in 2008) and Memphis Innovations: People, Ideas, and Innovations That Changed Our World (Power House, 2006). In addition, he was photo editor of Bluff City Barristers by John Thomason (Legacy, 2008) and Memphis Medicine by Patricia LaPointe McFarland and Mary Ellen Pitts (Legacy 2011). Currently, he continues his research and writing on early jazz artists, and lectures with piano demonstrations about the history and music of Memphis and the Mid-South for various Road Scholar (elderhostel) programs.

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The Playlist • Memphis Jug Band (1927–1934)

MSP_vic-20809-a_MJB

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND (Will Shade, vocal) : Sometimes I
Think I Love You

Victor Laboratory, Chicago: June 9, 1927
Released: September 16, 1927 — Deleted 1929
Victor 20809 (mx. BVE 38657 – 1)
Not designated as a race release in the Victor files.

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND (Vol Stevens, vocal): Coal Oil Blues

Memphis Auditorium: February 13, 1928
Released: May 4, 1928 — Deleted: 1930
Victor 21278 (mx. BVE 41888 – 2)
Designated as a race release in the Victor files. From a tape transfer supplied by the late Mike Stewart.

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND (as “Carolina Peanut Boys”; Charlie Nickerson, vocal): You Got Me Rollin’

Memphis Auditorium: November 28, 1930
Released: June 19, 1931 — Deletion date unlisted
Victor 23274 (mx.  BVE 64741 – 2)
The band’s identity is confirmed in the Victor ledger. From a tape transfer supplied by the late Mike Stewart.

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND: Jazbo Stomp

Chicago: November 6, 1934
Mx. C 782 – 2 (commercially issued on Okeh 8955)
From a c. 1960s blank-labeled vinyl pressing from the original stamper

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND (Will Shade and Charlie Burse, vocal):
Little Green Slippers

Chicago: November 7, 1934
Mx. C 784 – 1 (commercially issued on Okeh 8966/ Vocalion 03050)
From a c. 1960s blank-labeled vinyl pressing from the original stamper.

Pressing Plant Indicators on RCA Victor 78-rpm and 45-rpm Record Labels (1947, 1950)

One of the easiest way to determine pressing plants for RCA Victor’s later 78s and early 45s and LPs is from subtle clues in the label design. Victor revealed them in the Standardizing Notices pictured below in 1947 (for 78s) and 1950 (for 45s). For 78s, the clues lie in the concentric rings, and their spacing relative to the circled RCA logo; for 45s, in the placement of a double hyphen within the upper text circle.

“Canonsburg” refers to RCA’s auxiliary plant in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, which opened in 1947. In 1950 it was converted to a 45-only plant, then was closed in 1953.

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MSP_rca-standard-1947

Indianapolis text above, which is unclear on the original, reads: “Two concentric circles nearly touch small RCA circle.

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MSP_rca-standard-1950

The Playlist • Walter Barnes & his Royal Creolians (1929)

MSP_bwk-4480_C-3941

The Royal Creolians were a fixture at the Chicago Cotton Club in the late 1920s. The band was led by Walter Barnes, a diminutive saxophonist with an oversized ego, who was dubbed “The Midget Maestro” by The Chicago Defender. Barnes also took over Dave Peyton’s “Musical Bunch” column in the Defender in the late 1920s, and he continued to write for that paper for the next  decade. His columns are a treasure-trove of tour listings, biographical tidbits, and band personnel changes, often with a healthy dose of self-promotion tossed in.

In the off-seasons, the Royal Creolians toured widely. Like many other black bands in the 1920s, one of their stop-overs was Denver, which probably explains why these fairly scarce records have turned up here surprisingly often over the years. (Lest anyone be tempted to pack their bags for Colorado, a quick reality-check: The state was a goldmine for rare and unusual records of all kinds when we arrived here 25 years ago, but those days are long-gone. You might still find an occasional rare gem with some persistence and luck, but the unexpectedly rich pickings we enjoyed in the 1990s are pretty much just a memory.)

The 1928–1929 Brunswick sessions comprise Barnes’ total recorded output. After the Depression hit, he spent much of his time touring the Southern states, eventually renaming the band Walter Barnes and his Kings of Swing. He died in Natchez, Mississippi, on April 23, 1940, at age thirty-four, in a dance-hall fire that claimed 209 lives. His adventures on the road, and his tragic end, are beautifully recounted in The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ’n’ Roll, by Preston Lauterbach (W. W. Norton, 2011) — a great read.

 

WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS: Buffalo Rhythm

Chicago: February 27, 1929
Brunswick 7072 (mx. C 3009 – )

 

WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS: Third Rail

Chicago: February 27, 1929
Brunswick 7072 (mx. C 3010 – )

 

WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS (with uncredited vocalist): Birmingham Bertha

Chicago: July 25, 1929
Brunswick 4480 (mx. C 3942 – )
Identification of May Alix as the vocalist in some discographies is based on aural evidence; the vocalist is not credited in the Brunswick files or on the labels. An alternate version (mx. C 3942 – G) was recorded without vocal, for export to Germany.

 

WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS: If You’re Thinking of Me (When I’m Thinking of You)

Chicago: July 25, 1929
Brunswick 4480 (mx. C 3941 – )

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Three takes were recorded for each selection (two, in the case of C 3941); the selected takes are not indicated in the Brunswick files or on the pressings. At least two takes of C 3010 are known to have been issued, although the differences are rather insignificant. Personnel listed for these records in Jazz Records and other discographies are undocumented; they are not from the Brunswick files.

In Memory of John R. Sutton (1926 – 2016)

I’m taking a short break from blogging in memory of my father, John R. Sutton, who died on May 15, just short of his 90th birthday.

In his college yearbook, his roommate called him “a slumbering intellectual giant.” I think he was always a little embarrassed by that, but quietly proud of it, too. He loved a good road trip, filled our home with interesting books and music, and taught us the importance of open-mindedness and life-long learning.

 

1955

 

He gave me my own record-player when I was five, a home-built contraption that played only 78s. It wasn’t entirely altruistic, sparing him from having to listen to the stack of acoustic Victors that landed in our house after my grandmother cleaned the attic. I was hooked.

We never did agree on music to any great extent (he liked modern jazz and French avant-garde, I was more about jug bands and Russian opera), but we did agree that music was one of the greatest things in life, and he did all that he could to encourage my pursuit of it in recorded form. Before I could drive, he would haul me to some pretty dicey sections of inner-city Baltimore, in a quest for second-hand stores that looked like they might have a few records lying around.

After I got my license, my first solo trip was to a rural junk shop that was rumored to have cylinders (it didn’t), where I managed to back his car into a tree. Rather than fuss or berate, he took me to a local salvage yard, found a matching trunk and bumper, and spent the rest of the weekend teaching me the finer points of auto-part replacement. In the 1970s, when I was fresh out of college and basically broke, he made me an interest-free loan to start up my record-auction business, which eventually morphed into Mainspring Press.

As a school guidance counselor, he helped out countless kids who never had the advantages that my sister and I enjoyed. He encouraged us think for ourselves, find our own direction in life, pursue our passions, and stand up for our beliefs, even when they weren’t necessarily his own. He was a kind and gentle man, and we’ll miss him very much.

— Allan Sutton (Publisher, Mainspring Press)

98 Years Ago This Month: Introducing Paramount, Okeh, and Vocalion

May 1918 must have presented a few anxious moments for Victor and Columbia executives, who were greeted for the first time by national advertising campaigns for three new labels: Paramount, Okeh, and Aeolian-Vocalion. All were still prevented from using the standard lateral cut by a Victor-controlled patent (which would soon be tested by Gennett, and ultimately invalidated by the Supreme Court), but vertical-cut brands like these were finding growing acceptance, thanks to inexpensive adapters that allowed the records to be played on standard Victrolas and Grafonolas, along with Pathé’s strong promotion of the vertical cut.

Paramount was already in production on a small scale, but May 1918 marked its first major national advertising campaign, as well as its introduction of standard 10″ discs; their earliest releases had been oddball 9½” pressings. (The large structure pictured in their ad is the converted mill in Grafton, Wisconsin, that served as Paramount’s pressing plant; the building to the right would later house the studio in which Skip James, Son House, and other blues legends recorded.)

Aeolian-Vocalion discs, backed by the ample financial resources of The Aeolian Company, launched in the same month as their May 1918 ad. The 1916 copyright date on early labels refers to a filing on the Aeolian and Vocalion names only, not to the date on which the records were first produced. The full label design was finally registered with the Trademark Office in August 1918.

Okeh jumped the gun with its May ad, but only slightly; the records were officially unveiled during the first week of June, at the National Music Show in New York. The label was slow to get started until restrictions on trade with Germany were relaxed after World War I, at which point financing and technical assistance began to flow from the Lindström organization in Berlin.

Although there’s no hint of it at this early date, all three labels were destined to play major roles in developing the race-record market during the 1920s; be sure to check out Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919–1945: An Illustrated History, the latest release from Mainspring Press.

 

MSP_may-1918_verticals1

The Playlist • Red Nichols & his Five Pennies (1926 – 1927)

MSP_nichols_composite

 

 

RED & MIFF’S STOMPERS: Stampede

New York (79 5th Ave): October 13, 1926
Edison 51854 (mx. 11245 – C)

 

RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: That’s No Bargain

New York (52nd St & 7th Ave): December 8, 1926 — A.M. session, Room #1
Vocalion 15498 (mx. E 4181 [ = E 20995] )
December 8, 1926, was an especially interesting day at the Brunswick-Vocalion studios, with Nichols recording in the morning, followed in the afternoon by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra (pop and race-series issues) and Rev. E. W. Clayborn, “The Singing Evangelist” (race series).

 

RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: Boneyard Shuffle

New York (52nd St & 7th Ave): December 20, 1926 — A.M. session, Room #1
Brunswick 3477 (mx. E 21597)

 

RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider

New York (52nd St & 7th Ave): August 15, 1927 — P.M. Session, Room #1
Brunswick (English) 01536 (mx. E 24232)
“Printed arrangement,” per Brunswick ledger.

 

RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: Mean Dog Blues

New York (52nd St & 7th Ave): June 25, 1927 — A.M. session, Room #1
Brunswick 3597 (mx. E 23755)
Red Nichols arrangement, per Brunswick ledger.

The Playlist • Lev Sibiriakov (St. Petersburg Recordings, 1910–1913)

MSP_amour-russian_022327_A

LEV SIBIRIAKOV: Field-Marshall Death (Mussorgsky; “Songs and Dances of Death”)

St. Petersburg, Russia: November 12, 1913
Amour Gramophone Record M 022327 (face # 022328)  (mx. 2904c)

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LEV SIBIRIAKOV: Judith — Cease your grumbling (Serov)

St. Petersburg, Russia: March 15, 1913
Monarch Record “Gramophone” 022319 (mx. 2730c)

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LEV SIBIRIAKOV: Boris Godunov — Once at eve (Mussorgsky)

St. Petersburg, Russia: September 25, 1911
Monarch Record “Gramophone” 022233 (mx. 2439c)

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LEV SIBIRIAKOV & MARIA MICHAILOWA: Faust — Church Scene (Gounod)

St. Petersburg, Russia: September 27, 1910
Muzpared 024048 (mx. 2045c)

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All with uncredited orchestras and conductors. Discographical data are from the original Gramophone Company files, courtesy of the late Dr. Alan Kelly.

“Discontinuing the Record Business”: Documents from the Final Days of Edison Record Production

The following documents from Blue Folder No. 40 (Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, NJ) offer a revealing, behind-the-scenes look at operations, record sales, and disposition of masters and surplus inventory during the final days of Edison’s Phonograph Division.

__________
Subject: Discontinuing the Record Business

Arthur Walsh to Charles Edison
(October 12, 1929)

On or about 1912 the Edison Industries began to manufacture and sell the disc type of record and from that date to this, as far as I can estimate, it has always been a losing business. Without going too far back into history, I have looked over the financial statements of the past five years. The five years show a loss on account of records, as follows:

Statement of net book loss on disc records according to the financial statements during the past five years:

1924: $150,477
1925: $102,345
1926: $367,443
1927: $322,228
1928: $390,535
Total: $1,332,928

In 1929 the estimated net book loss will exceed $500,000….

In July 1929 we announced the Edison Lateral Cut Record, which was ultimately to supersede the Hill & Dale Record, previously sold. At the present time we are making both types. The sales in September ran 29,766 for Lateral Cut and 8,479 for Hill and Dale.

Below an attempt has been made to recapitulate the advantages and disadvantages of continuing in the record business…

ADVANTAGES:

1. Help to sell more [radio-phonograph] Combinations.
2. Possible idle equipment and plant.
3. Keeping faith with old owners.
4. Avoid possible embarrassment to trade in discontinuing project just started [lateral-cut discs], which might cause trade to feel we might cut out radio just as abruptly.
5. Possibility of Record Business being reborn, if Combinations become increasingly popular.
6. As Mr. Thomas A. Edison is the inventor of the Phonograph & Record, there is possibility of loss of prestige, if abandoned.
7. Absorbs portion of Thomas A. Edison Industries overhead, which would increase other costs unless something else is found for factory and space.
8. Eliminate loss thru voiding contracts with recording artists, which would be small in comparison with potential losses if business does not succeed.

DISADVANTAGES:

1. Heavy losses, as indicated above.
2. Export situation — Cannot sell Records in Continental Europe, Dependencies or Colonies of a European Country.
3. Unfavorable situation regarding portables, which we do not manufacture but buy and sell at a book loss merely to help sales of records.
4. Increasingly high recording costs due largely to excessive fees demanded by popular artists whose reputations aid in selling records.
5. Necessity for investing large sums for promotion and advertising to increase sales.
6. It is a dying business and without sales of Phonographs it may be merely a question of time until the Phonographs now in hands of public will be discarded.
7. Cheap competition makes sales increasingly difficult. The public is interested chiefly in jazz music and buy cheaper grades of records which can be discarded in few weeks at little loss when popularity wanes.
8. To become world power in record business it will be necessary to establish recording units with plating a pressing factories in Chicago, and the West Coast, in Europe, South America, Australia and the Orient; the question being, can money so invested have the potential profit as money invested in other things.
9. Mr. Walsh and co-workers pending time on record sales and production out of proportion to return.
10. Possibility that present type of record may become obsolete. Mr. Sarnoff of R.C.A. announced at meeting few weeks ago that home talking pictures would play large part in future home entertainment which may be subtle warning that Victor is going into film recording.

____________
Discontinuing Recording

W. H. Miller
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

Stop all recording at once. … [Note: The last Edison recording session was a private one for Margaret Rogge Becker, held on the morning of October 19.]

Prepare list of Recording Equipment to be retained for recording Broadcast Records.

Retain Electrical Recording Agreements — if they won’t cost us anything…

____________
Negotiating Release of Contracts with Artists

W. H. Miller
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

Contact artists at once — advise them of decision and ask them to cancel contracts; also, to treat confidentially until announcement is made public. This is particularly important in the case of Martinelli who should be given opportunity of making new arrangement with another company before an announcement is made.

In cases of refusal to cancel — negotiate cash release always bearing in mind, artists’ expenses, etc. to obtain consent and endeavor to sell their contracts. No arrangement is to be consummated without approval.

All contracts are to be disposed of in one way or another by December 31, 1929.

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Sale of Finished Stock

R. R. March and A. J. Clark
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

Liquidate inventories of finished stocks, wherever located, by December 31st.

Prepare estimated liquidation value of stocks as compared with inventory value.

Consideration to be given to plan to sell entire stocks thru regular jobbers and dealers, piecemeal, and/or entire stocks as job lots to one source of distribution, the question being, can we dump such records to one jobber because of other jobbers’ stocks that they may not want to sell at reduced prices.

Be prepared to sell Needle [lateral-cut] Reproducers at cost to disgruntled Hill and Dale [vertical-cut] users.

All records to be sold by December 31st.

All Schuberts and Beethovens [phonographs]… are to be sold with needle [lateral-cut] attachments by December 31st, even if these must be sold for as low a price as $10.00 each.

Inventories on hand December 15th to be turned over to Mr. Clark for salvage.

Contact F. R. Schell and set aside records of both types to be retained for [Henry Ford] Museum purposes.

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Disposition of Master Moulds

W. H. Miller and A. J. Clark
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

Contact Messrs Buchanan and Schell to ascertain moulds to be retained for [Henry Ford] Museum purposes and after setting these aside, Mr. Miller will endeavor to sell needle type [lateral-cut] moulds to other companies, provided this can be done without obligation on our part to artists who recorded such records.

[Note: Such a sale was never completed, as far as can be ascertained. However, the existence at ENHS of a Brunswick sample record pressed from Edison Needle Type masters (below) suggests that the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. might have been contemplating the purchase of some recordings:]

ED-BWK-hybrid

All moulds not thus sold and those not required for Museum are to be sold thru Mr. A. J. Clark.

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Discontinuing Amberol Record Sales
W. S. Williams
(October 22, 1929)

… While [Amberola] phonographs are still carried in Cylinder inventory, they were turned over to Mr. Clark some time ago for sale as scrap or junk. …

A total of 32,408 B.A. [Blue Amberol] Records were sold for $6008.75 between July 1 and October 15. Of this number of records 15,185 were sold under the special $.20 offer which expired September 30. The balance of sales were to jobbers and dealers and to individuals at $.35 each.

Cancellations, which have been exceedingly high due to inability to ship records of customers’ selections, have been very costly because of paper work involved in refunding advance payments.

As of October 19, there were unfilled orders on hand for only 43 [cylinder] records.

It is apparent from the above that it is now opportune to either discontinue entirely or take action to endeavor to increase sales…

Therefore, the following recommendations are made.

(1) Entirely discontinue sales on October 26.
(2) Burn all records in stock, including 212,566 not carried in inventory, thus releasing 600 packing cases which may be salvaged thru Disc Record Sales at $.90 each.
(3) Release the remaining employees — thus saving $86.50 weekly.
(4) Close books of Division by December 31. …

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To the Trade: Re: Discontinuance of Commercial
Record Production

Arthur Walsh
(October 29, 1929)

As you know, the Edison Radio is a pronounced success. Present demand is about three time production. We feel that this demand will increase steadily…

Our present manufacturing facilities are inadequate to satisfy the demand for Edison Radios. These facilities must be increased immediately.

After a careful weighing of the record business and its prospects, we have decided to discontinue the production of records, except for special purposes, and to devote our great record plant to the production of radio, and kindred new developments in the radio and home entertainment field.

This step is being taken regretfully because the phonograph for home entertainment was one of Mr. Edison’s favorite inventions. But, this is a case where sound business judgement must prevail over sentiment.

We must add that we are happy in the knowledge that there are many competent manufacturers, now producing excellent records, with adequate facilities to take care of all present and future phonograph owners…

We will, therefore, on November 1st discontinue the production of commercial phonograph records such as have been heretofore sold through you.

On and after the same date, the name of Radio-Phonograph Division will be changed to Radio Division.

Faithfully yours,
THOMAS A. EDISON, INCORPORATED.
Radio-Phonograph Division
Arthur Walsh
Vice President.

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To All Dealers

The Edison Distributing Corporation
(November 13, 1929)

Under date of October 29th a letter was mailed to you from Thomas A. Edison, Inc., Orange, N. J., announcing the “Discontinuance of Commercial Record Production.”

At this time we have in stock a limited supply of Edison Hill and Dale, and Lateral Cut Needle Records, which we will offer you, subject to prior sale, F. O. B. Chicago.

The Edison Hill and Dale Records at five cents each in lots of fifty or more to be selected by us, or ten cents each in lots of fifty or more of your selection.

Lateral Cut or Needle Records of the seventy-five cent series at fifteen cents each in lots of fifty or more of our selection, and twenty cents each, you selection. The two dollar series are priced at forty cents each.

Under no circumstances are the records returnable. …

____________

Note: Edison’s New York studio closed out its account in December 1929. The Ediphone Standard Practice Records, issued on 4″ Blue Amberol–style cylinders beginning in 1930, were not recorded by Edison. They were transcribed from electrically recorded acetate disc masters commissioned from an unspecified New York studio, according to a 1934 internal memo written by Howard A. Miller.

The Record Marconi Didn’t Invent: The True Story Behind the “Marconi” Velvet Tone Record (1906–1908)

(This is an expanded version of an article that originally appeared in 2011 on the Mainspring Press website. © 2016 by Allan Sutton)

 

By 1905 the lateral-cut disc record had assumed the basic form that it would take for the next four decades. Brittle shellac-based thermoplastic compounds — basically unchanged since their first use in Berliner’s discs in the 1890s — remained the standard pressing material. The notable exception in the United States was the Marconi Velvet Tone disc, a semi-flexible laminated celluloid disc produced by the American Graphophone Company (Columbia).

 

MSP_marconi-10-12_composite

Ten-inch Marconi issues (left) used their own catalog numbers, which don’t correspond to Columbia’s. Twelve-inch issues (right) used Columbia’s catalog numbers; this example also shows Marconi’s receding hairline, which was retouched (left)
on later printings.

 

Capitalizing on Guglielmo Marconi’s reputation as the inventor of radio, Columbia offered him a position as “consulting physicist” in 1906. 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. Upon arrival, the inventor was treated to a whirlwind tour of Columbia’s Bridgeport, Connecticut plant, then was shuttled to a lavish banquet at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel as Columbia’s guest of honor. Edward Easton, Victor H. Emerson, and other Columbia officials spoke briefly, vaguely alluding to Marconi’s experimental radio work without mentioning how it might possibly relate to phonograph records.

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. Little more was heard of the alliance until February 1907, when Columbia dealers received advance copies of the first Marconi Velvet Tone Record catalog. The records, bearing Marconi’s portrait and facsimile signature, were advertised as “Wonderful as Wireless,” although they used ordinary acoustically recorded Columbia masters.

Marconi, however, apparently had no hand in developing the discs that bore his name. His sole contribution appears to have been allowing Columbia to license 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, on July 9, 1906 — nearly six weeks before Marconi’s brief visit to the States — Columbia’s chief engineer, Thomas H. Macdonald, had filed a patent application on a flexible, lightweight laminated disc with a celluloid playing surface:

 

marconi-patent
Thomas Macdonald’s patent on the “Marconi” disc 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)

 

Macdonald’s patent wasn’t approved until August 6, 1907, by which time the Marconi discs had already been in production for six months. In the meantime, Columbia’s chief recording engineer, Victor Emerson, had filed his own patent on a disc pressed from a shellac–celluloid compound, which he promptly assigned to American Graphophone. Although it’s certainly possible that this or a similar mixture, rather than pure celluloid, was employed in the Marconi discs, chemical testing would be required to determine if that was the case:

MSP-PATENTS-US_838968
Victor Emerson’s 1906 patent for a hybrid celluloid-shellac disc. Emerson also patented a laminated shellac disc, which Macdonald then refined and patented himself. Assigned to American Graphophone, it became the basis for the familiar Columbia laminated pressings.

 

Macdonald’s patent specifications were exactly those that would come to be embodied in the “Marconi” discs. 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.

 

MSP_marconi_notices

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

The surface quality of the celluloid Marconi Velvet Tone Record was indeed exceptional for its day, especially when compared with Columbia’s standard, rather gritty shellac pressings. Columbia was soon manufacturing Marconi-style records for export as well as domestic sales, and even produced some double-sided issues and a few pressings from imported Fonotipia masters.

Sales lagged, however. The records were more expensive than the ordinary Columbia pressings they duplicated, and the surfaces could be badly damaged if played with ordinary steel needles. They tended to slip on the turntable despite the textured reverse sides. Production was discontinued in 1908, and by 1910 the discs were being remaindered by a New York department store for 17¢ each, and a packet of the once-pricey gold-plated needles was given free with larger purchases.

Busy Bee Cylinder Record Catalog (1906)

The O’Neill-James Company of Chicago issued this Busy Bee cylinder list in 1906. The records were manufactured for them by the American Graphophone Company (Columbia), and — as many unsuspecting collectors have discovered — the inner taper was altered to prevent use of the records on standard phonographs. They fit only specially modified Busy Bee machines (which were also Columbia products), a classic example of a tied-goods premium scheme. A detailed history of O’Neill-James and the other Chicago premium-scheme operations can be found in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

All of the records listed here are two-minute molded cylinders. Some specimens are known that use the old “brown wax” formulation (as did some of Columbia’s molded Oxford cylinders). That’s led some collectors to assume, incorrectly, that they’re brown-wax–era “originals,” rather than XP-era molded records; but in fact, they’re just examples of the ever-frugal Columbia using up obsolete stock.

Some masters were recorded specifically for Busy Bee, as is indicated by the use of the name in the spoken announcements, and these are of the most interest to collectors, since Busy Bee is the only confirmed form of issue. Other Busy Bee issues are confirmed as having used use the same recordings (but not always the same takes) as the corresponding titles on Columbia XP cylinders. Most of these lack spoken announcements, or have announcements that give only the title and artist, with no company mentioned; but examples are known that slipped through with the tell-tale “Columbia record” announcement.

There are a couple of pitfalls to be aware of in using this list. First, some composers’ names appear in the list instead of artist credits. And second, in some cases the artists listed do not match who is heard on reliably reported specimens, meaning that alternate recordings were used on occasion and/or someone slipped-up in preparing the catalog copy.

A great deal of research remains to be done on these now-scarce cylinders. (On the other hand, Busy Bee’s disc output has been studied exhaustively for many years, and solid data can be found in American Record Company et al., available from Mainspring Press; and Tim Brooks’ Volume 1 of the Columbia Master Book Discography.)

 

MSP_busy-bee-cyls-1906

 

The Playlist • Tiny Parham & his Musicians (Chicago, 1929)

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TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS:  Fat Man Blues

Chicago: October 26, 1929 — Released: May 16, 1930
Victor V-38126 (mx. BVE 57335 – 2)

 

TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS:  Pig Feet and Slaw

Chicago: October 26, 1929 — Delayed Release: September 27, 1933
Victor 23410 (mx. BVE 57333 – 2)

 

TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS:  Steel String Blues

Chicago: October 26, 1929 — Delayed Release: September 27, 1933
Victor 23410 (mx. BVE 57337 – 3)

 

TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS:  Subway Sobs

Chicago: February 2, 1929 — Released: April 19, 1929
Victor V-38041 (mx. BVE 48849 – 1)

 

The original Victor files do not name band personnel for these selections (nor for most other jazz recordings of this period); the personnel listings in Jazz Records and other discographies are from uncited sources and should be considered speculative.

The Playlist • Harlem Bands on Victor, 1926–1930 — Savoy Bearcats, Fletcher Henderson, Lloyd Scott, Charlie Johnson, Red Allen

MSP_vic-20307B_savoy-bearcat

SAVOY BEARCATS: Bearcat Stomp

New York: August 23, 1926
Released: January 1927 — Deleted: 1928
Victor 20307 (mx. BVE 36060 – 3)
Don Redman’s last name is misspelled “Radman” on the labels and in the Victor files.

 

SAVOY BEARCATS: Stampede

New York: October 11, 1926
Released: April 8, 1927 — Deleted: 1929
Victor 20460 (mx. BVE 36030 – 7; remake of August 9, 1927)
The Victor files erroneously show three violins (but no reeds) present.

 

FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Shufflin’ Sadie

New York: March 11, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 38160 – 1 (commercially unissued in 78-rpm form)
Leonard Joy, director, per Victor files (Joy was a Victor house conductor); Henderson not listed as being present, although a pianist is audible. From a c. 1960s custom vinyl pressing from the original stamper.

 

LLOYD SCOTT’S ORCHESTRA: Happy Hour Blues

New York: January 10, 1927
Released: May 13, 1927 — Deleted: 1929
Victor  20495 (mx. BVE 37531 – 2)
Ralph Peer, session supervisor, per Victor files.

 

CHARLIE JOHNSON & HIS PARADISE BAND: The Boy in the Boat

New York: September 19, 1928
Bluebird B-10248 (mx. BVE 47531 – 1)
Bluebird B-10248 (released May 1939) is the original form of issue for take 1; take 2 was issued in December 1928, on Victor 21712. Victor files list “The Rock” as alternate title.

 

JOE STEELE & HIS ORCHESTRA: Top and Bottom

New York: June 4, 1929
Victor mx. BVE 53809 – 2 (commercially unissued in 78-rpm form)
From a c. 1960s custom vinyl pressing from the original stamper. Take 1 was issued on Victor V-38066 on August 16, 1929.

 

HENRY ALLEN, JR. & HIS ORCHESTRA (Henry [Red] Allen, vocal): Patrol Wagon Blues

New York (24th Street studio): July 15, 1930
Released: October 24, 1930
Victor mx. BVE 62345 – 2 (issued on Victor 23006)
Loren L. Watson, session supervisor, per Victor files. From a c. 1960s custom vinyl pressing from the original stamper.

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Mainspring Close-Out Sale — Last Chance to Save on Two Popular Discographies

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We’re closing out two of our older titles to make room for the new. Right now, you can save $20 each on The Victor Black Label Discography, Vol. 1 (16000 & 17000 Series) and The Victor Red Seal Discography, Vol. 1 (Single-Sided Issues) on the Mainspring Press website. These are first-quality copies in original shrink-wrap and carry our full guarantee. This offer is available exclusively from Mainspring Press and is limited to quantities on hand. We won’t be reprinting these titles, so once they’re gone, they’re really gone — order soon!

The Playlist • Sounds of 1901 (Victor Monarch Records)

A 1901 sampler, from Eldridge R. Johnson’s studios. Several of these recordings pre-date Johnson’s creation of the Victor Talking Machine Company, on October 3, 1901. At the time, Johnson and Harry O. Sooy (his chief recording engineer) were producing remarkably well-balanced, forward-sounding masters that were markedly superior (even with the surface noise) to the later thin, tinny “Victor sound.”

MSP_ERJ_3163-3525-metro-qui

METROPOLITAN ORCHESTRA: Plantation Pastimes

Camden, NJ (Johnson Factory Building): March 2, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3163 (-1)

 

DAN W. QUINN: Ain’t That a Shame

Philadelphia (424 S. 10th Street): November 21, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3525 (-2)
The spoken intro is damaged and has been deleted from this transfer.

 

DAN W. QUINN: I Ain’t A-Going to Weep No More

Camden, NJ (Johnson Factory Building): February 27, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3149 (-1)

 

JOSEPH NATUS: The Fatal Rose of Red

Camden, NJ (Johnson Factory Building): February 16, 1901 (?)
Monarch Record 683 (renumbering of Victor Monarch 3114)
Natus remade this selection on November 26, 1901. Moran & Fagan’s transcription of the Victor files shows the original version as being used on all renumbered pressings, but this might be in error; the original master was returned as no longer usable on October 3, 1902, pre-dating the 1903–style  (sunken-label) stamper used for this transfer.

 

VESS L. OSSMAN: Salome — Intermezzo

Camden, NJ (Johnson Factory Building): January 21, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3049 (-1)

 

Studio locations are per Harry Sooy, Victor’s chief recording engineer at the time. The piano accompanists are uncredited in the Victor files and on the labels. Victor’s usual pianists during this period were C. H. H. Booth and Frank P. Banta (the latter the father of 1920s novelty pianist Frank E. Banta). The occasional speed fluctuations are defects in the original recordings.