The Playlist (Free MP3s) • Grey Gull’s Mystery Black Bands (1929 – 1930)

The Playlist (Free MP3s)
Grey Gull’s Mystery Black Bands (1929 – 1930)

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Amongst all the garbage that was Grey Gull are these often-overlooked gems by some unknown black groups. The band names are meaningless; they were also used to cover groups ranging from Clarence Williams’ Orchestra to several obviously white groups, including the so-called Grey Gull house band. Several bear some resemblance to 1929–1930 sides by known J. C. Johnson and Walter Bennett bands on other labels.

We don’t know who the musicians are, despite countless published guesses — some of them reasonable, and some so far off the mark as to be real head-scratchers (such as Brian Rust attributing the January 1930 titles to Grey Gull’s coarse and buffoonish house band). The only clue is that the composers are the same for all titles in each group — J. C. Johnson for the August 1929 sides, Porter Grainger for November 1929, and Claude Austin for January 1930 — so it’s likely that they and/or their publishers had a hand in booking these sessions.

You can see what else Rust had to say about them in our free downloadable edition of Jazz Records, 1892-1942 (the sixth and final edition). But like so much else you’ll find there, take it with the proverbial grain of salt. In early editions of JR, Rust attributed the cornet on “Harlem’s Araby” to King Oliver. Then, in Edition 4, he did a complete flip-flop and changed it to white novelty trumpeter Mike Mosiello. Finally, he changed it to Unknown in Edition 6, after some prodding by his editor — which of course was the correct answer all along.

So, enjoy these on their own terms, whoever they’re by.

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MOONLIGHT REVELERS”):
Alabama Shuffle

New York: c. August 1929
Grey Gull 1767

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MOONLIGHT REVELERS”):
Baby Know How

New York: c. August 1929
Grey Gull 1775

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “JAZZOPATORS”):
Don’t Know and Don’t Care
New York: c. November 1929
Grey Gull 1803

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MEMPHIS JAZZERS”):
In Harlem’s Araby
New York: c. November 1929
Grey Gull 1804

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “LEVEE SYNCOPATORS”):
The Rackett
New York: c. January 1930
Grey Gull 1843 (take A)

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “NEW ORLEANS PEPSTERS”):
The Rackett
New York: c. January 1930
Van Dyke 81843 (take B)

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “NEW ORLEANS PEPSTERS”):
Harlem Stomp Down

New York: c. January 1930
Grey Gull 1836

 

The Playlist (Free MP3 Downloads) • The Great Harlem Bands (1926 – 1929)

The Playlist (Free MP3 Downloads):
The Great Harlem Bands (1926 – 1929)
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The Playlists are back, by popular request. To get started, here’s a sampling of some the best Harlem bands of the 1920s, from pristine original pressings. Discographical data can be found in Brian Rust’s Jazz Records 1897-1942 (the sixth, and final, edition), free to download for personal use.

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SAVOY BEARCATS: Senegalese Stomp
New York: August 23, 1926
Victor 20182

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CHARLIE JOHNSON’S PARADISE TEN:
Charleston Is the Best Dance After All
New York: January 24, 1928
Victor 21491

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CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ JAZZ KINGS: The Keyboard Express
New York: August 1, 1928
Columbia 14348-D

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FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: The Wang Wang Blues
New York: May 16, 1929
Columbia 1913-D

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LUIS RUSSELL ORCHESTRA (as Henry Allen, Jr. & his Orchestra):
It Should Be You

New York: July 16, 1929
Victor V-38073

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DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Move Over
New York: October 1, 1928
Okeh 8638

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The “Edison Victor Phonograph” (1905)

The “Edison Victor Phonograph” (1905)

 

A disaster narrowly averted — the Edison Victor Phonograph, from the July 1905 catalog:

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From “Edison Phonographs” (Form No. 740 7-15-05)
(Edison National Historic Site)

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This surely would have given Eldridge Johnson and the other Victor folks a collective case of the shrieking fantods, had they gotten a whiff of it. Fortunately for Edison, someone caught what can only be described as a stunning lapse in judgement, and the machine was renamed the Balmoral.

It’s interesting to note that p. 22 is hand-corrected, but p. 23 is not. So the question is, did any of these uncorrected catalogs get into circulation? And more intriguing, might any of these  machines have slipped out with Victor nameplates? Pretty unlikely, but as Fats Waller used to say, “One never knows, do one?”

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Columbia Artists’ Sales Ranking: A Representative Sampling, 1919–1920

Columbia Artists’ Sales Ranking: A Representative Sampling, 1919–1920
Compiled from the Original Columbia Files
by Allan Sutton

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The following statistics provide some insight into who were Columbia’s best- and worst-selling artists of 1919–1920. Compiled from the company’s record-shipment sheets, they show average shipping figures for records that were released from June 1919 through May 1920 by selected artists. They represent the total number shipped; i.e., from time of release until time of deletion (the latter averaging about two-to-three years from release for these records).

It is important to note that these are the number of records shipped to distributors, not the number sold — actual sales statistics for these records are long-gone. Sales would have been somewhat less than the number shipped, since shipping figures do not reflect unsold copies exchanged or returned for credit (although those numbers likely would not have been large, due to strict limits the company placed on such transactions). And it is not known if these figures include review and other complimentary copies, which would not count as sales. Nevertheless, they provide a good gauge of relative sales, and of an artist’s relative popularity.

These figures put to rest any notion of rampant “million-sellers” in the early 1920s. Although Victor had several 1919–1920 releases that probably approached or even slightly surpassed that mark, Columbia (the nation’s second-largest label) did not. One of its top-selling releases for this period (A2895, coupling Ted Lewis’ “Bo-La-Bo” and the Kentucky Serenaders’ “Venetian Moon”) eventually shipped approximately 512,000 copies — and that’s more than double the total number shipped for the typical Columbia “hit” of the period. Total shipments in the 80,000–150,000 range were more the norm, and were still considered highly respectable.

This is just a preliminary survey (in preparation for what will be a detailed statistical analysis at some point), and one should not to jump to any far-reaching conclusions from a selective, one-year sampling. Some points to bear in mind:

 

  • These figures do not reflect artists’ sales ranking during the full run of their Columbia tenure. Some, like Bert Williams, already had many substantial best-sellers behind them, and would have made a stronger showing here had those been included in the tally. Others, like Ted Lewis, were just getting started and would go on to rack up even more impressive figures than are shown here.

 

  • These are average total shipments; shipments of individual releases could vary considerably. Individual Jolson releases during this period, for example, shipped anywhere from 70,705 to 283,004 copies over their life-span.

 

  • Sales of the 1920 releases, in particular, were undermined by the start of a severe recession. Columbia’s average sales declined dramatically in 1921, and they remained depressed well into 1922. Generally, peak sales occurred for only a few months after release; thus, those records released in 1919 had already seen their biggest sales before the recession hit, while those released toward the middle of 1920 saw their sales cut short by the economic crisis. As a result, the figures for artists who are more heavily represented by 1920 than 1919 releases are skewed slightly downward.

 

  • Columbia’s tendency to put different artists on each side of a record also has the potential to skew results. Some popular names (including Billy Murray, Arthur Fields, Charles Harrison, and Henry Burr) do not appear here because their records so often have other artists on the reverse sides, raising the question: Which artist’s side “sold” the disc? Shipment of these and similar artists’ Columbia releases generally hover around the 70,000–90,000 range for the period, but with many outliers on either end of the sales spectrum.

 

  • Records by Al Jolson and some other major stars were coupled with lesser artists’ recordings during this period. In these cases, we’re assuming that it was the “star” side, and not the reverse-side filler, that sold the records. It seems highly likely, for example, that far more customers bought A2836 for Jolson’s Broadway hit, “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet,” than for Billy Murray’s “Come on and Play with Me,” a “dog” of a title if ever there was one. Therefore, that release is tallied with Jolson’s sales, not Murray’s.

 

  • Some records by Fox, Fuller, Hickman, the Jockers Brothers, Jolson, and Stewart were heavily discounted to distributors during 1922–1923, as part of Columbia’s “59¢ Retired Record” clearance. This revived the sales of some records that otherwise had long-since reached the end of the line in terms of sales, adding another 1,000–5,000 copies to the final tally.

 

Average Total Shipments of Columbia Records
by Selected Artists

(June 1919 – May 1920 Releases)

 

Al Jolson • 208,258

Ted Lewis’ Jazz Band • 178,913

Columbia Saxophone Sextet • 173,836

Louisiana Five • 170,162

Art Hickman’s Orchestra • 150,245

Irving and/or Jack Kaufman • 146,729

Bert Williams • 134,984

Kalaluki Hawaiian Orchestra • 124,542

Nora Bayes • 123,567

Wilbur Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band • 121,174

Van & Schenck • 116,686

Fisk University Jubilee Quartet • 103,100

Cal Stewart • 101,904 *

Sascha Jacobsen • 94,235

Harry Fox • 89,001

Earl Fuller’s Rector Novelty Orchestra • 83,698

Jockers Brothers • 76,027

Oscar Seagle • 58,106

Louis Graveure • 34,731

Yvette Guilbert • 1,781

 

*Columbia’s release of multiple, previously unissued Stewart recordings soon after his death in December 1919 might account for this high figure. After an unusually strong showing in early 1920, sales of these records declined quickly and dramatically.

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© 2021 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Columbia Race Record Shipments (1921 – 1923)

Columbia Race Record Shipments (1921 – 1923)

Compiled from the Original Columbia Documentation
by Allan Sutton

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Columbia did a healthy business with its jazz and “blues” records by Black artists in the early 1920s, as this representative sampling from Columbia’s files confirms. On average, shipments were on a par with many records by Columbia’s White pop performers of the period, and they far exceeded those of some prestigious Symphony Series artists. Columbia at the time was marketing these records across racial lines, but that would soon change, with its introduction of the segregated 13000-D / 14000-D series.

Not surprisingly, Bessie Smith was Columbia’s sales champ in this category, although none of her records came close to the million-seller mark, as some pop-culture writers have claimed (nor did any Columbia record during the early 1920s). Columbia underestimated the sale potential of her first release, with an initial pressing run of only 20,000 copies, which turned out to be insufficient to even fill the advance orders. During 1923, she handily outsold such White headliners as Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson, as will be seen in a future installment.

Most of these records had a relatively short life in the catalog, averaging a little over two years. As with ephemeral material in general, the largest sales occurred within the first few months of release, then dropped steadily. Most of the records listed here, if not already deleted, were cut from the catalog during the summer of 1925, when Columbia began purging its acoustically recorded material. The most notable exception was Bessie Smith’s A3844, which managed to avoid the axe until November 1929.

The following is a representative sampling from the Columbia files. It is important to note that these are the number of records shipped, not the actual number sold (actual sales statistics for this period have not survived).

Not reflected in these figures are unsold copies that were returned for credit, although those numbers likely would not have been large, since Columbia placed strict limits on such transactions. And it is not known if these figures include sample, review, and other complimentary copies, which would not count as sales. Nevertheless, they provide a good gauge of relative sales and, by projection, the degree of relative scarcity today. None are true rarities, of course (and a few, like A3844, are still downright common), but some can be surprisingly elusive, especially in decent condition.

 

A3365 • Stafford: Crazy Blues / Royal Garden Blues
Shipped: 116,188

A3511 • Stafford: Down Home Blues / Monday Morning Blues
Shipped: 18,482

A3537 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: West Texas Blues / I Don’t Want Nobody
Shipped: 25,800

A3541 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Bugle Blues / Birmingham Blues
Shipped: 16,870

A3579 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Put and Take / Moanful Blues *
Shipped: 23,582

A3653 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: He May Be Your Man / Rules and Regulations
Shipped: 56,819

A3696 • L. Williams: Sugar Blues / The Meanest Man in the World
Shipped: 40,553

A3736 • L. Williams: Uncle Bud / Mexican Blues
Shipped: 18,568

A3739 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Four O’Clock Blues / Hawaiian Blues
Shipped: 100,872

A3746 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Evil Blues / Pensacola Blues
Shipped: 62,979

A3787 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Dixie Blues / He Used to Be Your Man
Shipped: 50,661

A3815 • L. Williams: I’m Going Away / Bring It with You When You Come
Shipped: 26,885

A3835 • L. Williams: If Your Man Is Like My Man / That Teasin’ Squeezin’ Man
Shipped: 18,004

A3839 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Hallelujah Blues / Spanish Dreams
Shipped: 26,080

A3844 • B. Smith: Down Hearted Blues / Gulf Coast Blues
Shipped: 276,990

A3888 • B. Smith: Baby Won’t You Please Come Home / Oh Papa Blues
Shipped: 152,7679

A3893 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Vampin’ Sal / Sweet Lovin’ Mama
Shipped: 16,899

A3897 • L. Miles: Sweet Smelling’ Mama / Haitian Blues
Shipped: 14,765

A3910 • B. Smith: Mama’s Got the Blues / Outside of That
Shipped: 96,413

A3915 • Gulf Coast Seven: Daybreak Blues / Fade Away Blues
Shipped: 28,425

A3915 • L. Wilson w/ Jazz Hounds: Deceitful Blues / Memphis Tennessee
Shipped: 15,701

A3920 • L. Miles: Family Trouble Blues / Triflin’ Man
Shipped: 9,629

A3921 • A. Brown: Michigan Water Blues / Tired o’ Waitin’ Blues
Shipped: 17,098

A3922 • Baxter: You Got Ev’rything / Taylor: My Pillow and Me
Shipped: 13,624

A3936 • B. Smith: Bleeding Hearted Blues / Midnight Blues **
Shipped: 133,626+

A3939 • B. Smith: Yodling Blues / Lady Luck Blues
Shipped: 45,664

A3942 • B. Smith: Nobody in Town / If You Don’t I Know Who Will
Shipped: 65,887

A3950 • J. P. Johnson: Worried and Lonesome Blues / Weeping Blues
Shipped: 13,447

A3951 • Henderson’s Hot Six: Gulf Coast Blues / Midnight Blues
Shipped: 14,536

A3958 • R. Henderson: Afternoon Blues / I Need You
Shipped: 10,716

A3959 • Fowler: Blues Mixture / Satisfied Blues
Shipped: 7,388

A3965 • Ridley: I Don’t Let No One Man Worry Me / Alabama Bound Blues
Shipped: 18,504

A3966 • C. Smith: Play It / All Night Blues
Shipped: 25,778

A3978 • Gulf Coast Seven: Papa Better Watch Your Step / Memphis Tennessee
Shipped: 20,084

A3992 • C. Smith: I Want My Sweet Daddy Now / Irresistible Blues
Shipped: 20,734

A3995 • Henderson’s Orch: Dicty Blues / Doo Doodle Oom
Shipped: 21,155

A4000 • C. Smith: I Never Miss the Sunshine / Awful Moanin’ Blues
Shipped: 62,435

A4001 • B. Smith: Graveyard Dream Blues / Jail House Blues
Shipped: 206,293

 

* Although some discographies question whether this was a Dunn recording, it is credited to Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Hounds on the Columbia accounting sheet.

** Total sales at time of first deletion in Aug 1925. The record was reinstated in the catalog from Jan 1926 to Mar 1928; sales figures for that period are not noted.

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In upcoming installments, we’ll be looking at Columbia shipping figures for pop, ethnic, and classical releases.

 

© 2021 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

 

Country Music on Early Radio Transcriptions: Carson Robison’s “Brown Fence” Program (1931)

Country Music on Early Radio Transcriptions:
Carson Robison’s “Brown Fence” Program (1931)
By Allan Sutton

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Carson Robison (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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With so much research now completed (or soon to be) on early commercial recordings, we’ve lately begun delving into radio transcriptions of the 1920s and early 1930s. Most transcriptions from this period were produced by the major commercial record companies (Brunswick, Columbia, Victor, and briefly, even Edison). It’s an area that’s ripe for discographical research. Although most of the actual discs have long-since vanished, some solid documentary evidence remains, such as the Columbia Phonograph Company matrix cards (the source for this posting).

We’ll start with Carson Robison’s “Brown Fence & Wire Company Program,” which aired over some widely scattered non-network stations in February 1931. These are original recordings, unlike some other early Columbia transcriptions that used dubbings from commercial releases (as was done, for example, on some of Gus Van’s “Mars Milky Way Minstrels” programs). A team of four engineers was employed, including Clyde Emerson (Victor Emerson’s younger brother), in what amounted to a three-day recording marathon. 

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From the Louisville Courier-Journal (February 4, 1931)

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The Columbia matrix cards don’t identify the other members of Robison’s group, or which members performed on which selections. That information probably would have appeared in the recording ledgers, which are not known to have survived. But we’re in luck, in this case. A Louisville Courier-Journal article identified Frank Luther (née Francis Crow) and his brother Phil (née Philip Crow, misspelled “Crew”), with banjo player John Cali, all of whom also made many commercial recordings with Robison during this period.

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Columbia matrix card for Program 2, Record B

 

BROWN FENCE & WIRE CO. PROGRAM

Artists: Carson Robison Group
Carson Robison (vocal, whistling, guitar); Frank & Phil Luther (vocal); John Cali (banjo); unknown (accordion)

Announcer: L. A. Witten

Production: Columbia Phonograph Co., Inc. (New York)
Recording Engineers: Emerson, Freiberg, Gloetzner, Theroux

Sponsor: Brown Fence & Wire Co. (Cleveland and Memphis)
Placement: Hubbell Advertising Agency (Cleveland)

Network: None
Broadcast By: WADC (Akron OH), WAIU (Columbus OH), WCAU (Philadelphia PA), WHAS (Louisville KY), probably others

Broadcast Date Range: Feb 4 – Feb 23, 1931
Broadcast Time: 6 PM (one 7 PM exception known)

 

DISCOGRAPHY

All transcriptions are sixteen-inch recordings made on Western Electric equipment, with playing times ranging from 13:30 to 14:50. The approved takes are underlined.

 

 Program 1, Record A

W 300392 – 1, 2   (New York: Jan 13, 1931 – AM session)
Comin’ Around the Mountain; Little Green Valley; Hot Fingers (banjo solo); Golden Slippers; Over the Waves

Program 1, Record B

W 300393 – 1, 2    (New York: Jan 13, 1931 – AM session)
Turkey in the Straw; Picture from Life’s Other Side; Why Did I Get Married?; Smoky Mountain Bill

 

Program 2, Record A

W 300394 – 1, 2   (New York: Jan 14, 1931)
Little Liza Jane; Red River Valley; Whistling solo [title not given]; Sing On, Brother, Sing; Moonlight on the Colorado

Program 2, Record B

W 300395 – 1, 2    (New York: Jan 14, 1931)
Hand Me Down My Walking Cane; In the Land Where You [sic: We] Never Grow Old; Naw, I Don’t Want to Be Sick [sic: Rich]; Left My Gal in the Mountains

 

Program 3, Record A

W 300936 – 1, 2   (New York: Jan 14, 1931)
Oh Susanna; Goin’ Back to Texas; Accordion solo [title not given]; I’m Gettin’ Ready to Go; Somewhere in Old Wyoming

Program 3, Record B

W 300397 – 1, 2   (New York: Jan 14, 1931 – PM session)
Ain’t Gonna Rain No More; When the Bloom Is on the Sage; Cross-Eyed Sue; Ain’t You Comin’ Out Tonight?

 

Program 4, Record A

W 300398 – 1, 2    (New York: Jan 14, 1931 – PM session)
Soraries [sic: Soldier’s?] Joy; Gonna Have a Big Time Tonight; Climbing Up the Golden Stairs; Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Program 4, Record B

W 300399 – 1, 2    (New York: Jan 14, 1931 – PM session)
Better Get Out of My Way; I Got a Gal in Kansas; Bad Companions; My Blue Ridge Mountain Home

 

Program 5, Record A

W 300400 – 1, 2    (New York: Jan 14, 1931 – PM session)
Arkansas Traveler; Down on the Old Plantation; Banjo solo [title not given]; Open Up Them Pearly Gates; Sleepy Rio Grande

Program 5, Record B

W 300401 – 1, 2    (New York: Jan 15, 1931 – AM session)
How to Make Love; We Sat Beneath the Maple on the Hill; May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?; Puttin’ on the Style

 

Program 6, Record A

W 300402 – 1, 2    (New York: Jan 15, 1931)
The Runaway Train; I Know There Is Somebody Waiting; Accordion medley [titles not given]; Abraham; Sleepy Hollow Waltz

Program 6, Record A

W 300403 -1, –2    (New York: Jan 15, 1931)
Oklahoma Charley; Down on the Farm; So I Joined the Navy; Camptown Races

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(G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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©2021 by Allan R. Sutton. The Bain photographs are in the public domain.

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Walter Gustave (Gus) Haenschen: The St. Louis Years — Part 3 • The James A. Drake Interviews

The James A. Drake Interviews
Walter Gustave (Gus) Haenschen:
The St. Louis Years — Part 3

 

In Part 2, Gus Haenschen recalled his early years in St. Louis — most notably, his piano lessons with Scott Joplin and music-publishing venture with Gene Rodemich.

In Part 3, Haenschen is now attending Washington University and first attracts national attention after a song he’s composed for a college musical is picked up for the 1914 edition of Ziegfeld’s Follies.

Read Previous Installments

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In “The Hatchet,” the official student publication [of Washington University], you’re listed as being in the School of Arts and Sciences, as well as in the School of Engineering and Architecture.

That was because I was taking music composition in Arts and Sciences while taking all my requirements for the Mechanical Engineering degree in the School of Engineering.

 

How were you able to write an operetta while meeting all the course requirements for the Mechanical Engineering degree?

I wrote it on my own — it was called “The Love Star,” and I had written it as a member of one of the popular clubs the University had. You see, I was taking music courses while I was studying engineering. I took two courses in composition and was a member of the Quadrangle Club. The University had a lot of student clubs, and many of them were performing-arts clubs.

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The Quadrangle was one of the two most popular clubs on campus. It was named after the design of part of the campus — the first series of buildings, the first four or five, were designed as Gothic quadrangles by the same architects who did similar buildings for the University of Pennsylvania. The first building, by the way, was named for Adolphus Busch, Busch Hall, which was completed in 1903, but it didn’t open until 1905 because of the 1904 Exposition.

 

Did you join the Quadrangle Club as a freshman, or were first-year students allowed to participate in student clubs?

Well, that club didn’t exist until I was a first-term junior [in 1910]. It was by invitation only, and because I was pretty well known in St. Louis due to my band and my partnership with Gene Rodemich, I was invited to join. I wrote “The Love Star” during the spring and summer of my junior year, and it was produced by the Quadrangle Club about two years, as I recall, after I had graduated. I was invited back to oversee it.

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The Washington University Quadrangle, c. early 1920s

 

Were there other student clubs that produced musicals and plays?

Oh, yes — the other popular one was the Thyrsus Club, which Fannie Hurst belonged to and I think was either president or vice-president of during her senior year. She was in the Class of 1909, and I got to know her then and, of course, much later in New York. She was cast in several of the plays during her senior year, and she wrote a very popular musical comedy [“The Official Chaperone”] that was produced by the Thyrsus Club during her senior year.

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Fannie Hurst

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From its history, I know that Washington University was co-educational after 1900, but was the undergraduate student body primarily male during your years there?

Not primarily, no. When I was a freshman, the male-student population was about 60% and the female population was 40%. When I came back in 1914 for the production of “The Love Star,” the female-student percentage had grown to almost 50%, so the enrollment of men and women students was just about equal by then.

 

Was the University integrated when you were a student?

No, unfortunately. I say “unfortunately” for two reasons. The first is that we’ll never know how many George Washington Carvers might have gone there or become researchers there. Washington University has been a research university for most of its history, especially since World War II, and we’ll never know how many more patents and how many more Nobel Prize winners we would have had if the University had not been segregated. And just imagine what the fine arts and the performing arts might have been like if we had had black students and white students in the same classes.

 

You said that segregation was unfortunate for two reasons. What is the second reason?

Well, the University was not only coeducational by policy, but also the staff that handled the admissions operations when I was a student really went after the brightest young women in high-school classes throughout the state. During my third year, the University started building a medical center. It wasn’t just a medical school, but a medical research center. It was finished just a couple years after I graduated, and within two or three years the medical school admitted its first women students. If the same push had been made for admitting black students — not just to the medical school and the law school but to all the schools and their programs — the University would have been a different place. But that didn’t happen till after World War II.

 

Your mention of the law school prompts me to mention that in your archives there are letters from another famous graduate of Washington University who credits you with getting him admitted: Clark Clifford. Was he also from St. Louis?

No, he was from Kansas but his ambition was to become a lawyer in St. Louis, so when it came time for him to go to college, he wanted to go to Washington University. He was a top student in high school and probably would have gotten into Washington University anyway, but he needed an alumni sponsor so he wrote to me and asked if I would meet with him. I did and was very impressed with him, so I made some calls on his behalf and also wrote a formal letter of recommendation for him. He got his bachelor’s degree there, and also graduated from the Washington University Law School.

 

You and he are probably the last ones to see it, but the two of you could almost pass for brothers.

Both of us have been told that, but I think it’s because we’re almost the same height and weight, we have the same hairline, and the same crop of wavy hair. But I have a bigger nose and he has a smaller one, so maybe that’s why I don’t see the similarity that others say they see.

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Look-alikes: Haenschen (left) and Clark Clifford

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You have another thing in common: Both of you are Navy veterans.

Yes, but in different wars. Clark is about fifteen years younger than I, and he was an officer during the last year of World War II. But it was because of his connection with Missouri, the home state of President Truman, that he became an advisor to Truman after he [Clifford] got out of the Navy. He planned Truman’s campaign for the presidency [in 1948] and I think was the one who convinced Truman that an old-style “whistle-stop campaign” would give him the edge over [candidate Thomas E.] Dewey.

 

In one of his letters to you, Clifford urges you to “make up something outrageous” when talking to reporters. What “reporters” is he referring to?

When I would take one of my radio shows to Washington, D.C., on tour, if I was in a restaurant or sometimes just walking down a street, some reporter would mistake me for Clark Clifford and would ask me a question about a policy or some pending legislation or whatever. I didn’t do it very often, but Clark was always goading me to give some outrageous statement just so that the reporter would have to tell his editor, and the editor would have to call Clark’s office to confirm or deny what he said. Then Clark would tell the editor that he had never talked to any such reporter. I wasn’t a good enough actor to pull that off more than once or maybe twice.

 

Returning to the Ziegfeld Follies, one song from “The Love Star” not only became popular but became the gateway to your career.

Yes, it did. My original title for it was “The Moorish Glide,” and somehow it got to New York where Max Dreyfus, the head of the T. B. Harms Company, wired me to come to New York to talk with him about turning it into a production number in the Ziegfeld Follies.

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Haenschen’s original self-published edition of “The Moorish Glide” (top); and the better-known T. B. Harms version, with addition of the new title

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Max liked the melody, so he bought it. At first he gave the tune to a very popular dance team on the Keith [vaudeville] Circuit called “Maurice and Walton.” Walton was the name of the female partner, Florence Walton, and most people thought her partner, Maurice, was also named Walton, but his real name was Maurice Mouvet. They used the tune in part of their act, so at first it was called “The Maurice Glide.” The tango was really popular at that time, so the title was changed from “The Maurice Glide” to “The Maurice Tango.” [1]

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Maurice Mouvet and Florence Walton

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When did the song become “Underneath the Japanese Moon” in the Follies?

 That happened when Max decided that it would be a good tune to use as a filler between scenes in the Follies. Because the tune itself was so short, he told me that it would need a good verse and, of course, good lyrics for the verse and the refrain. Max assigned Gene Buck to give it a title, write the lyrics, and work with me on a verse. Gene told me that the tune would be interpolated — in other words, not part of a production number — and that it would be sung by a boy and girl whose characters wouldn’t have names per se. One would be called “The Lone Boy,” and he would sing it to “The Lone Girl.”

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Song portfolio from the Ziegfeld’s 1914 Follies, including “Underneath the Japanese Moon”

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Because of the popularity of Madame Butterfly, the trend at that time was to use Japanese themes, so Gene [Buck] gave it the title “Underneath the Japanese Moon,” although it appeared in the first program as “Underneath a Japanese Moon.” When the “a” was changed to “the” I don’t really know, but the sheet music version that T. B. Harms published had the title “Underneath the Japanese Moon.”

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Victor’s versions of  “The Moorish (Maurice) Glide” and “Underneath the Japanese Moon” were both issued in August 1914.

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To have a song whose music you wrote in the Ziegfeld Follies must have been one of the highlights of your career. What do you remember about the opening night?

I was in an upper box as a guest of Gene Buck, and like every other edition of the Follies, this one was chock full of girls. Most were already famous from prior Follies — Ann [billed as “Anna”] Pennington and Kay Laurell were among the glamor girls that Ziegfeld was known for — and Leon Errol was not only in the cast but also produced that edition of the Follies. As for my little contribution, Cyril [Morton] Horne sang Gene Buck’s lyrics and my tune to Louise Meyers. That was a thrill for me, as you can imagine — but an even bigger thrill was that Bert Williams performed one of his songs right before my little tune was sung. Bert Williams was one of the biggest stars of the Follies — one of the biggest stars of that era, really, almost on a par with Jolson.

 

Did you get to meet Bert Williams?

I never got to meet him but wish I had because to me he was a comic genius. When you look at how many famous comedians Ziegfeld had in those years — Leon Errol, W. C. Fields, Ed Wynn, and then Will Rogers — it was Bert Williams who topped them all. Gene Buck, who worked with all of them, used to say that Bert Williams was the greatest comic who ever lived. Think about that: not the greatest comic the Follies ever had, or the greatest comic of that time, but the greatest comic who ever lived.

 

I’ve wondered whether you or Walter Rogers tried to persuade Bert Williams to record for Brunswick.

Around the time we started making recordings at Brunswick, he left the Follies so he could go on his own. [2] The shows he starred in got good reviews when they opened, but they didn’t have very long runs and his popularity started to slip. He was also having health problems, and he contracted either pneumonia or the Spanish flu and died from it [in 1922].

 

Returning to your Follies song, didn’t Max Dreyfus not only buy it from you but also put you on a retainer with T. B. Harms?

Yes, he put me on a retainer as an arranger. Max, you see, was an arranger himself. He had written some songs early in his career but none of them became popular, and he had much more success as an arranger. He and his brother Louis bought the T. B. Harms Company, which was an old publishing firm when he and Louis acquired it. What Max was the best — and I mean the best in the entire publishing business — at spotting raw talent. He had discovered Jerome Kern, and about ten years later he did the same with George Gershwin.

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Max Dreyfus as composer (top) and arranger

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You had a music-publishing company in St. Louis, am I correct?

Well, briefly, but it didn’t amount to much. The big publishing house in St. Louis was the Stark Music Company, which was founded by John Stark. He was the one who published Scott Joplin’s music. Mr. Stark had heard Joplin in Sedalia, where both of them were living, and from what his [Stark’s] son, E. J. [Stark] told me, Mr. Stark had persuaded Joplin to become a full-time songwriter. By the time both of them had moved to St. Louis, the Stark company was the biggest publisher of ragtime songs.

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“September Love,” from Haenschen’s music-publishing venture with Gene Rodemich, and a rare John Stark edition of an early Haenschen collaboration

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I demonstrated songs for Mr. Stark in and around St. Louis, and he published a couple of the songs I had written. They didn’t go anywhere — didn’t sell many copies — so I tried my hand and starting a little publishing company. I went to Mr. Stark and he offered to [print] copies of songs under my own imprint. I didn’t have enough money to make a go of starting a publishing company, so I talked to Gene Rodemich about it and he got his father put money in it. We put out a few songs we had written, but as I say, it didn’t amount to much.

 

Back to “Underneath the Japanese Moon,” when you received the retainer from Max Dreyfus did you move to New York City?

I couldn’t because I had my band in St. Louis, I had the orchestra exchange, and I also had my family to support, so I went back and forth to New York and would stay a week, sometimes two weeks if I could manage it. Even though I wasn’t full-time with T. B. Harms, I was a part of a stable of young arrangers and songwriters including [George] Gershwin, whose career had not really begun yet. I worked with George on his first Broadway musical, “La, La Lucille.” George had written songs before then, but this was his first full score for a musical. Max worked with him to make slight changes in the melodies of a few of the songs, and he had several of us — including Robert Russell Bennett, whom Max had just hired — work with George on the arrangements.

 

How much involvement did you as an arranger have in the lyrics of the songs in “La, La Lucille”?

None at all. Max had a different group for the lyrics. Buddy DeSylva and Arthur Jackson wrote the lyrics for most of them, and Irving Caesar, whom Max had hired around the time he put me on a retainer, wrote the lyrics for one of the songs, “There’s More to the Kiss.” He and George collaborated on the biggest hit of their early partnership, “Swanee,” which I was fortunate to have Al Jolson record when I was hired at Brunswick. [3]

 

Do you recall recording a medley from “La, La Lucille” at Brunswick, under your “Carl Fenton” name?

A record that I made? Do you mean that I directed at Brunswick?

 

This was a recording session that you played in, a piano-duet medley of songs from “La, La Lucille.”

Yes, now that you mention it, I do remember that one. I did the arrangement, and Frank Banta and I played the duet. [4] By the way, that’s Frank Banta, Jr. [Frank E.], I’m talking about. His father [Frank P.] was also a pianist and had made early recordings. Frank, Jr., was an excellent pianist and worked not only for us at Brunswick but for Victor and Columbia, and probably Edison too.

 

So much has been written about George Gershwin’s composing, arranging, and piano style. Did you work with him enough to see how he wrote? And what did you think of him as a pianist, being a very fine one yourself?

It’s hard to compare him with any other pianist of that time because he had a style that was unique. He wasn’t a stride pianist, although he could play in that style. He didn’t have the biggest hands or the longest reach — he wasn’t in the same league as James P. Johnson or Luckey Roberts, who had the longest reach of any pianist I ever saw — but his ability with chords is what made him stand out. His melodies came from chords. You can hear it in his “Preludes.” If you listen to them closely, you’ll hear how he finds melodic lines from the chords he’s playing.

 

One more question about Max Dreyfus. The general public only knows his name from the film “Rhapsody in Blue,” in which he was played by Charles Coburn. Was there any resemblance between Coburn and the real Max Dreyfus?

 None at all. If Max look like anybody, it was Mister Magoo — as bald as a billiard ball, and short in stature. But what a great, great man he was! All of us learned more from Max Dreyfus than we could ever put into words. He had a gentle, patient way of getting not only more work but the highest quality work from everyone around him. You were inspired just being in his presence. He always made you feel as if you were the only person who had his attention when he was talking to you, even though he might be going from one small cubicle with, say, Gershwin plunking out of tune on an upright piano, to another cubicle with another young writer who was working on lyrics, and doing that twelve hours a day, six days a week.

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Max Dreyfus

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Max never criticized anything you brought to him. Instead, in his almost grandfatherly way he would compliment you by highlighting certain lines or measures that he thought were really good, and then very tactfully call attention to any weaknesses that he sensed in the song. Then he would offer you at least one suggestion as to how you might improve it. There was no one else like Max Dreyfus in the music-publishing industry. Even Irving Berlin, who had his own publishing company, respected him. To all of us who worked with him — and he was “Mr. Max” to us — Max Dreyfus was Tin Pan Alley.

 

— J. A.D. (12/7/2020)

 

Editor’s Notes 

[1] Actually, “The Maurice Tango” is a entirely different composition, by Silvio Hein. It was published by Harms in 1912, before “The Maurice Glide.”

[2] Although Williams never recorded for Brunswick, the company signed Ham Tree Harrington, a well-known imitator, after Williams’ death. Harrington recorded a number of titles for Brunswick in the Williams style between 1923 and 1925, none of which appear to have sold well.

[3]  Haenschen is mistaken here, unless perhaps he was recalling an undocumented Brunswick trial session, which is not possible to confirm. Jolson recorded “Swanee” for Columbia, to which he was under exclusive contract at the time. Brunswick’s cover version was by the team of Al Bernard and Frank Kamplain.

[4] Brunswick 2012, in medley with “Tee-Oodle-Um-Bum-Bo” and “Nobody But You” (Carl Fenton’s Orchestra, Piano Passages by Carl Fenton and Frank Banta). Recorded in late 1919, this was the second-earliest release under Haenschen’s “Carl Fenton”  pseudonym.

 

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© 2021 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved.

 

 

Colin Bain’s New Beniamino Gigli Biography Now Available from Barry Ashpole

Colin Bain’s New Beniamino Gigli Biography
Now Available from Barry Ashpole

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GIGLI: THE MASTER TENOR

COLIN BAIN
BARRY R. ASHPOLE, General Editor & Publisher

560 pages with 16 pages of photos
Limited edition book or e-book

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Beniamino Gigli fans, rejoice. Colin Bain’s long-awaited biography has released and is available online from Barry Ashpole at Gigli: The Master Tenor, a gorgeous website that also hosts some interesting ancillary materials.

From the Gigli site:

More than twenty years in the making, Gigli: The Master Tenor by Colin Bain (Barry R. Ashpole, General Editor) promises to be a definitive biography of Beniamino Gigli (1890–1957), offering a detailed, intimate portrait of the singer and his extraordinary career.

Based on thousands of official and personal documents secured by the author as well as interviews with opera stars, musicians, teachers, and loved ones — including extensive interviews with members of the Gigli family and household — the new biography spans a lifetime, opening and closing in Recanati, Italy, ancestral home of the Gigli family where Beniamino reportedly sang as soon as he learned to talk.

All proceeds from the sale of the biography (limited edition and e-book) are being donated to Médecins Sans Frontières (Canada).

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And for those of you who might have missed it, John Bolig’s Gigli Discography is available from the Mainspring Online Reference Library. It’s free to download for personal use.

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First Batch of Additions and Revisions to “The International Record Company Discography” (2nd Edition)

First Batch of Additions and Revisions to
The International Record Company Discography
(2nd Edition)

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The first additions and revisions to the newly posted International Record Company Discography have already arrived, from Scott Vaughan, thanks to whom we can remove Excelsior [X] 2060 from the “untraced” list. The selection is “If Mister Boston Lawson Has His Way” (from George H. Cohan’s “Little Johnny Jones”), shortened on the label to simply “Boston Lawson.” There is no artist credit, but Billy Murray is readily recognizable:

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Excelsior [X] 2060
BILLY MURRAY: If Mr. Boston Lawson Has His Way

Image and MP3s courtesy of Scott Vaughan

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Other additions and an important revision from Scott, all confirmed from his submitted scans and/or MP3 files:

 

340 — The correct selection is actually “My Maryland,” a march composed by W. S. Mygrant, despite labels that read “Maryland, My Maryland.” (The latter is the state song of Maryland, which uses the melody to “O Tannenbaum,” a.k.a. “Oh Christmas Tree,” and which is interpolated midway through Mygrant’s piece):
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1576 — A copy of Central 1576 labeled for this title  actually uses Excelsior 340 (see comments above).

 

3148 — Also on Excelsior 3148, credited to Wm. Fredericks on the label. (Other inspected labels by this artist spell the name Frederichs. Does anyone know who this was, and which is the correct spelling?)

 

3175 — Also on Excelsior 3175

 

3207 — Also on Excelsior 3207

 

These revisions will be added to the permanent discography the next time we update the file, probably within the next month or two. Verifiable additions and corrections to all of our online discographies are always welcome and can be e-mailed to:

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The International Record Company Discography (1905 – 1907) • Free Download

The International Record Company Discography — Second Edition

Free to Download for Personal Use*

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By Allan Sutton
Data Compiled by William R. Bryant and
The Record Research Associates

 

The latest addition to Mainspring’s free Online Reference Library, The International Record Company Discography is a revised and updated version of the 2015 Mainspring Press book (now out of print), with new data from Mark McDaniel, Ryan Barna, David Giovannoni, and other reliable collector-researchers with whom we’re honored to work.

IRC — the recording subsidiary of the Auburn Button Works, which pressed the records — was one of several large operations that infringed the basic Berliner and Jones patents on lateral-cut recording. Like its counterparts, Leeds & Catlin and the American Record Corporation (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott), IRC eventually was driven out of business under relentless legal pressure from Victor and Columbia. You can find a detailed history of the company in American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950, available from Mainspring Press.

*As with all titles in the Online Reference Library, this one may be downloaded free of charge for your personal use only. It is protected under federal copyright law and subject to the following conditions: Sale or other commercial use is prohibited, as is any unauthorized duplication, e-book or other digital conversion, or distribution via the Internet or by any means (print, digital, or otherwise). Please abide by these conditions to so that we can continue to make these valuable works freely available.

 

Download for Personal Use
(PDF, ~1.5 mb)

 

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A sampling of IRC-produced labels, from the
collection
of Kurt Nauck

A Victor Playing-Speed Cover-Up

A Victor Playing-Speed Cover-Up

 

It’s long been known, particularly among classical collectors, that most acoustic Victor “78s” were not recorded at 78 rpm. Hundreds of Red Seals of 1905–early 1920s vintage have been expertly pitched-to-score over the years, and the overwhelming majority of those tested play in correct pitch at speeds ranging from 75.0 to 76.6 rpm. Only a small handful of those tested from this period play at or very near 78 rpm.

Victor officials insisted to the public that 78 rpm was the correct playing speed, which could well have been true during the company’s early days (see the first entry in “Caruso at the Correct Speed,” below). But that had not been the case for many years when, in 1917, a catalog writer accidentally let the cat out of the bag:

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An in-house admission that Victor was recording at 76 rpm, from a meeting of the Victor Talking Machine Company’s Executive Committee on April 25, 1917 (Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, DE)

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And so, a cover-up was ordered, and “78” would remain the official Victor playing speed, as far as the public was to know — even as the company continued to record consistently in the 75–76 rpm range. (78 rpm would finally be made standard with Victor’s adoption of electrical recording in 1925, although minor deviations occasionally occurred even after that.)

Of course, this just confirms what most collectors’ ears have been telling them for years. Nudge the speed down to where it belongs on your Victor acoustics, and you’ll find that voices sound less cartoonish, tempos less hurried, and the records perhaps just a little less “tinny.”

 

Caruso at the Correct Speed:
A Random Sampling by Session Date

The following correct playing speeds have been established by multiple reliable sources. Note the use of ~78 rpm in 1904, followed by a steady downward trend in speed (aside from the occasional anomaly) as the years progressed.

Our thanks to John Bolig, in whose Caruso Records: A History and Discography these appear:

Feb 1, 1904 — 78.26
Feb 27, 1905 — 76.6
Feb 11, 1906 — 76.6
Feb 20, 1907 — 76.0
Feb 7, 1908 — 78.26
Nov 6, 1909 — 75.0
Jan 6, 1910 — 76.6
Dec 27, 1911 — 76.6
Jan 19, 1912 — 76.6
Feb 24, 1913 — 76.6
Mar 9, 1914 — 76.6
Jan 7, 1915 — 75.0
Feb 5, 1916 — 75.0
Apr 15, 1917 — 75.0
Jul 10, 1918 — 75.0
Feb 10, 1919 — 76.6
Sep 14, 1920 — 75.0
Sep 16, 1920 — 75.0

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Collector’s Corner: Some Late 2020 Additions

Collector’s Corner: Some Late 2020 Additions

 

If there was one bright spot in 2020 (aside from the defeat of Donald Trump), it was that some collectors suddenly became more amenable to thinning their holdings, for any number of reasons. And so, some very fine things found an appreciative new home here in the final months of an otherwise horrid period. Here are a few favorite newcomers that I hope you’ll enjoy as you toast the start of a new year and a new era.

If you have records of this type to sell, in equally fine condition, your lists of disposables are always welcome. Please use standard VJM grading, note all defects no matter how seemingly minor (especially any graininess in the pressing), be brutally honest in your grading, and state your asking price.  (Due to exorbitant shipping costs and delays and mishandling by Customs, I am purchasing only from U.S. sources.) — Allan Sutton

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BLIND LEMON JEFFERSON: Shuckin’ Sugar Blues  (EE–)

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): c. October 1926
Paramount 12454 (mx. 3077 – 2  /  ctl. 498)

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BLIND BOY FULLER: Untrue Blues  (EE+)

New York: February 9, 1937
Melotone 7-10-56  (mx. 20641 – 2)

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BIG BILL BROONZY: You Know I Got a Reason  (EE+)

Chicago: September 3, 1936
Melotone 6-11-72 (mx. C 1457 – 2)

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LOUIE BLUIE (HOWARD ARMSTRONG) & TED BOGAN: Ted’s Stomp  (EE+)

Chicago: March 23, 1934
Bluebird B-5593 (mx. BS 80504 – 1)

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DICK JUSTICE: Cocaine  (E)

Chicago: May 20, 1929
Brunswick 395 (mx. C 3516 – )
Two takes were recorded; the issued take is not indicated in the pressing or the Brunswick files.

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COON-SANDERS ORCHESTRA (Carleton A. Coon, vcl): Bless You, Sister  (E)

Chicago: December 12, 1928
Victor 21895 (mx. BVE 48726 – 2)  (regional release, per Victor files)

 

Buy Direct from Mainspring Press:

Winner of the 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research, this unique volume contains more than 1,100 entries covering the record companies, independent studios, and individual producers — and the thousands of disc and cylinder brands they produced for the commercial market (including consumer, jukebox, and subscription labels) — from the birth of commercial recording to the start of the LP era.

“A mighty fortress is this book – and it guards an accumulation of knowledge of unparalleled proportions.”
– Tim Fabrizio, ARSC Journal

American Record Companies and Producers will forever be the ultimate resource.”
– John R. Bolig, author of The Victor Discographies

“I am in awe of the scope, breadth, detail
and documentation.”

– James A. Drake, author of Ponselle: A Singer’s Life and Richard Tucker: A Biography


DETAILS AND SECURE ONLINE ORDERING

 

 

 

Tales from the Vault: The Unauthorized Columbia Vinyl Pressings (1960)

Tales from the Vault: The Unauthorized Columbia
Vinyl Pressings (1960)
By Allan Sutton

 

An earlier version of this article was originally posted on September 17, 2012. We are reposting it, with some minor revisions, in response to many requests.

 

We often see relatively modern, blank-labeled vinyl “test” pressings of very old recordings on auction lists. They’re not actually test pressings, but rather, custom pressings made many years after the fact from the original stampers. They usually feature unissued or extremely rare material, and the surface quality is generally superb.

Collectors have long been curious about where they came from, and whether they were made legally. Long answer short, on the latter: Some were authorized by the masters’ owners (particularly in the case of Decca and RCA, although some questionable activity went on there as well), and some were not (largely in the case of Columbia).

A few years ago, we uncovered details of a “sneaky Pete” operation at Columbia among Bill Bryant’s papers, which include copies of the late William Moran’s correspondence with a Columbia insider he tapped to carry out his plan. Moran (a well-heeled private collector) masterminded the operation, which was  carried out by factory insiders in 1960. The mission was to quietly pull new vinyl pressings, without the company’s knowledge or authorization, from acoustic masters that were about to be scrapped.

Was the activity Illegal? Certainly. But whether any party involved was a villain (other than perhaps CBS, which at the time seemed hell-bent on destroying its recorded heritage) depends on your point of view. Our take is that those involved performed a valuable service in preserving important historic material that was subsequently trashed and written off by irresponsible corporate owners. Here are the facts:

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In October 1960, a disgruntled CBS employee (who we’ll call “X”) contacted Bill Moran to alert him that the Columbia Records division was house-cleaning its plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and was planning to scrap many of its masters, including its holdings of Fonotipia and other imported recordings, the E- series foreign and ethnic material, the personal- and custom-series recordings, and all of the early 16” radio transcriptions.

X’s letters to Moran provide a rare insider’s look at exactly what remained in Bridgeport in 1960. He reported that some “ancient stuff” (including cylinders, cylinder-phonograph parts, and display-model phonographs) still existed but had recently been “removed to some other part of the plant.” The earliest recording files had not survived, and there had been no effort to copy or microfilm what remained; in addition, the files had recently been placed off-limits to researchers and employees, other than company librarian Helene Chmura, and photocopying was forbidden. The master-scrapping was already under way by the time X wrote to Moran — He reported that the metal parts were being hauled out in bucket loaders, ground up, and sold to a scrap dealer by the ton.

X’s formal recommendation that some of this material be preserved was ignored by management, so in late October he sent a list of endangered masters to Moran, with the suggestion that Moran ask Stanford University to intervene, and hinting that in the meantime he could supply Moran with unauthorized vinyl pressings of virtually anything in the vaults — He claimed he was already doing just that for some Columbia employees. The process is documented in an exchange of letters between X and Moran that began on October 31, 1960. On November 11 he wrote to Moran,

I have been securing test pressings without authority for the past two months. I had to “thread my way” until I could enlist help. Luckily he [the test pressman] is cooperative… I have been limiting my operation to twice a week and taking out parcels only every other week. One week I took out 16 [parcels], last week 19… I have managed to get a few humans in the plant (there are a few) to break regulations for me… I will attempt, over a period of time, to secure for you the materials you desire. These, if I get them, will be gratis.

The plan had many moving parts, involving multiple Columbia factory employees at a time when (according to X) worker morale was at a low ebb. To make the early stampers compatible with Columbia’s modern presses, the metal and composition backings had to be removed and replaced, and new holes had  to be drilled in the stampers, which were then forwarded to the polishing department, from which they were sent to the test pressman. While all of this was going on under management’s nose, X was assuring Moran that he could even have new metal stampers plated, if desired.

Moran’s want-list initially included only early operatic recordings, but was soon expanded to include political speeches from Nation’s Forum, rare personal recordings by the likes of Irving Berlin and Booker T. Washington, and even one of Columbia’s 1908 vertical-cut disc tests (an idea the company ended up not pursuing commercially).

X soon upped the frequency and pressing quantities of his clandestine runs. Many copies were handed out as favors to Columbia employees who were in on the activity, including Helene Chmura, the archive’s highly esteemed librarian. Chmura knew of X’s activities and had warned him to be careful, but reportedly she was happy to accept a group of custom Lotte Lehmann pressings. In November, X told Moran he was looking into ways of supplying him with copies of the restricted recording files that were in Chmura’s charge.

On November 16, X wrote to Moran, “Last Friday I took out 18 tests, including duplicates, in an open parcel… On Monday Bill [the chief of security] suggested that I not take out so many so often.” He went on to boast,

I have the run of the plant and have taken full advantage of it — women in duplicating will make photostats, Helene will make photocopies; the polisher will prepare masters for pressings… The Chief of Security Police allows me to make off with the records; the librarian’s files are at my disposal.

X promised Moran even larger shipments of the unauthorized pressings in a letter dated November 23:

I’ll send you a ton of pressings if I can discover how this can be arranged… One of the chaps in the Methods & Procedures Office this afternoon told me that he can smuggle pressings out for me if I cannot continue my present methods. These boys have briefcases which never are examined by the bulldogs. I have been furnishing two of these M&P men with records made to order.

A day later, X wrote to Moran to update him on his secret copying of the recording files, reporting that he was “lifting it right out from under [Helene Chmura’s] nose.” And that’s the final letter in our “X” file.

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

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