The Gennett Sound Effects Records: A c. 1940 Review

Here’s an extract from a wonderful tongue-in-cheek review of the Gennett sound-effects records, which we found among Bill Bryant’s papers. Unfortunately it’s just a clipping, with a note that it was “from The New Yorker, c. 1940,” and those are all the details we have at the moment. Harry Gennett kept his legendary label afloat into the early 1940s with these records, which were popular with radio stations. The catalog at one time listed 375 releases, and there are still a lot of them around.

gennett-sound-effectsA white-label sample pressing of #1008, which is mentioned below


“Anybody who wants to drop around to my apartment with a wheelbarrow some evening can have all my phonograph records… From now on there’s going to be no room in my record library for anything but Gennett Electrical Transcription Effects…

“I was won over to sound effects when I read in the Gennett catalogue about their record No. 1205, which is listed under ‘Crashes.’ (The catalog listings are alphabetic­al, I might explain, running in thirty fascinating pages the gamut from ‘Adding Machines’ to ‘Wolves Howling.’ ‘All from life,” the catalogue remarks with justifiable pride. One side of 1205 is tersely described as ‘Crashes and Screams,’ a full minute and a half of them. The other side is a ‘Heavy Vibration,’ said by Gennett to be‘suitable for earthquakes, battle scenes, falling buildings, general destruction.’ It would be well worth two dollars, don’t you agree, to have the sound of crashes, screams and general destruction at one’s finger tips?…

“Gennett’s chef d’oeuvre, however, is 1099A, demurely catalogued as ‘Man walking on gravel road, wearing squeaky shoes and corduroy trousers. Incidental bird calls.’ Baroque, certainly, but I love it.

“The possessor of a complete set of Gennett Effects can say goodbye to dull evenings. You are sitting at home, let us imagine, alone and in the dumps. You conjure up a little gaiety with 1002B (‘Several Men Laughing’), and add a bacchanalian touch with 1096A (‘Putting Ice into Glass and Filling with Liquid’). Then you fall to cards (‘Shuffl­ing and Dealing Cards, or Rolling Dice’ — 1092A). It is a stormy night outside (1070B, ‘Rainfall and Thunder’). Suddenly a shot rings out (1007A: ‘Gun Shots’), and a woman screams (1003B). The police arrive in a squad car (1008B: ‘Six-Cylinder Automobile Running at Even Speed’) with the siren on (ll03A). They knock at the door (1133A: ‘Knocking and Pounding on Door’); then, failing to gain admittance, they chop it down (1092B: ‘Chopping Down Door’) and drag you off through a rapidly gathering crowd (1109A: ‘Crowd Yelling’). You can now go quietly to bed, satisfied that the neighbors are envying your thrill-packed life.

“One Effect should be saved for moments of suicidal despair. This is 1095B, which, you can believe it or not, is a recording from life of the noise a man makes break­ing up a piano with an ax. If that doesn’t bring about a complete catharsis, nothing will.”


Victor and others also offered their own sound-effects lines, although none were as extensive or occasionally bizarre as Gennett’s. Details of the Victor issues can be found in John Bolig’s new Victor Special Labels, 1928–1941, just released by Mainspring Press.

Announcing the Wonder Double-Bell Talking Machine (1899)

We recently ran across this announcement of the Wonder Double-Bell Talking Machine in The Music Trade Review for June 17, 1899 — truly a machine to make collectors salivate! Instrument manufacturer G. G. Conn was the face of the operation, with entrepreneur Albert T. Armstrong working largely behind the scenes. (Armstrong’s colorful career culminated in 1904, after being sued by Victor for record piracy in connection with his American Vitaphone operation [Victor Talking Machine Co. v. Armstrong, et al. Circuit Court, Southern District of New York, October 4, 1904]. Judge Lacombe granted a preliminary injunction in the case, and Armstrong died several months later.)


The double-horn idea soon resurfaced in the Kalamazoo Duplex machines, which ultimately suffered a legal defeat in federal court over patent infringement (Victor Talking Machine Co., et al., v. Duplex Phonograph Co., 177 F. 248, May 1909). Several European manufacturers also produced twin-horn machines, at least one of which was exported — See our posting on the Simp phonograph from Italy, which was advertised in the U.S. in 1908.

For a long time it was uncertain whether discs were ever manufactured showing the Wonder trademark. But eventually a specimen did surface, which was reported by researcher George Paul in Antique Phonograph Monthly (Vol. V, #1). Another example is pictured below, in a photo that was supplied to Kurt Nauck for his ARLIE compilation (a new version of which is in the works, by the way). Like other early Armstrong-related  brands, these are pressed in a fibrous, brick-red material.

wonder-red-nauck(Courtesy of Kurt Nauck, from a supplied photo)

It’s not known whether these two examples are pirated pressings. As George observed in his APM article, Conn’s Wonder catalog contained a large listing of discs that are simply Berliner numbers with the digit “1” preceding the Berliner catalog numbers. The two examples reported here, however, have numbers not corresponding to Berliner. Both titles were recorded for Berliner by groups of the same type (a vocal quartet on George Paul’s copy, a brass quartet on the item pictured here), but so far as we know, aural comparisons haven’t been made.


(For more on Armstrong and early record piracy, be sure to check out A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900–1919, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.)

More on the Paramount – Ed Kirkeby – Bobolink Connection

Our Paramount – Kirkeby – Bobolink posting got so many hits that we decided to delve a little deeper into Ed Kirkeby’s logs, and had some luck. More about that below, but first — Some of you asked for more information on the records, which are fairly scarce and are popular with kiddie-record and vintage-toy collectors alike (if in their original packaging, that is), so here’s a brief summary:

First advertised in the autumn of 1921, Bobolink records and phonographs were an attempt by toymaker A. C. Gilbert to compete with Columbia’s popular Bubble Book sets. The phonographs were perfectly scaled versions of the “grown-up” machines. The 7″ Bobolink discs originally were sold in sets of two, specially packaged along with Bobolink books that were illustrated by Willy Pogany and Maud and Miska Petersham. Initially they retailed for $1 per set.

gilbert-bobo-tmwBobolink ad from the October 1921 Talking Machine World

In early 1922 A. C. Gilbert sold the Bobolink business to brother F. W.’s newly incorporated La Velle Manufacturing Company (New Haven), and the label credits were changed accordingly. La Velle specialized in girls’ toys, so the company introduced new phonograph designs that were more decorative than the earlier A. C. Gilbert products. The La Velle discs could be purchased individually, in paper sleeves.

lavellebobo F. W. later had new  6″ Bobolink masters made, which appear to have pressed by the Bridgeport Die & Machine Company. At least one 6″ disc  is known that was pressed from one of the original 7″ masters and thus is missing its outer rim and first few grooves!

Here’s another Bobolink session we found in Kirkeby’s logs, again with the New York Recording Laboratories (Paramount). This entry is not marked for Gilbert, suggesting it might have taken place shortly after the business passed to La Velle. These recordings are # 562 and # 563 on the sleeve listing (so far we haven’t found an entry for the “John Brown” title on # 563). As with most of his other early vocal bookings, Kirkeby supplied only the singer, not the accompanists.

New York Recording Laboratories — February 27, 1922
Arthur Fields:

“Farmer in the Dell”
“London Bridge”
“Mulberry Bush”

More Early Okeh “Race” Talent Ads (and a Note on the Identity of “Milo Rega”)

A couple more early Okeh race-artist ads, from 1921 editions of The Talking Machine World. Okeh spared no expense for these ads, which were specially printed as single-sided color inserts.

Incidentally, “Milo Rega,” the purported composer of “Sax-o-Phoney Blues,” was not a real person, contrary to some discographies. He was a fictional character, created by cobbling-together two other pseudonyms — “F. Wallace Rega” (actually Fred Hager) and “Justin Milo” (actually Justin Ring). The poor fellow sometimes suffered a split personality, appearing in some Okeh composer credits as “Milo – Rega.” (For more on these and 6,200 other aliases, be sure to check out the new expanded edition of Pseudonyms on American Records.)

These pseudonyms were used in Hager’s publishing business as well as in his and Ring’s work for Okeh. The actual identities of both are confirmed in multiple early-’20s listings in the U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries, the official federal registry of copyright filings.