Highlights from “The Columbia Record” • Indestructible and the 15¢ Wax Cylinder Sell-Off (1909)

Today we start a new series of highlights from a long-forgotten dealer publication, The Columbia Record. The first two pages below, from the June 1909 issue, deal with the remaindering of Columbia’s two-minute wax cylinder inventory following the company’s purchase of the Indestructible Phonographic Record Company — producers of the Indestructible celluloid cylinder. The third page is from the February 1910 issue, by which time Columbia was marketing a four-minute Indestructible to compete with Edison fragile wax Amberols.

You’ll find the whole Indestructible story, and details of the company’s complete output, in Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderography (Kurt Nauck & Allan Sutton), available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

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MSP_COL-REC_indestructible-

Vox Comes to America, Advertises Chaliapin’s Daughter (1923)

Vox LPs are well-known to classical collectors, but the German company had attempted to enter the American market long before the high-fidelity era. The ads below, from The Talking Machine World for November and December 1923, announced the company’s first arrival in the U.S.

Although Vox made a high-quality record, most of its artists were unfamiliar to the average American. For their early U.S. advertisements, Vox apparently settled on Feodor Chaliapin’s daughter Lydia as the one name that Americans might readily recognize. The recognition factor, probably coupled with some lingering anti-German sentiment, seems have doomed Vox’s attempt from the start. After failing to attract much attention, the Vox Corporation of America was dissolved on March 11, 1927. Vox’s second American venture, launched in the late 1940s, fared far better.

We’ve seen just one example of the a Vox domestic red-label disc (pressed from a foreign master). Although Vox called them “Red Seals” in the ad below, that name was a registered trademark of the Victor Talking Machine Company, and it does not appear on the label of the inspected copy. We’ve yet to see a Vox “Green Seal.” The domestic label design differs markedly from the designs used on Vox’s foreign-made pressings, which were exported to the U.S. for a time and still turn up on occasion.

MSP_TMW_23_vox_Nov-Dec

Paramount Records Before the Blues (May 1918)

This stunning double-sided ad ran in the May 1918 Talking Machine World. Paramount had recently introduced 10″ discs to replace its initial 9″ offerings; the last of the latter appear in the No. 6 Supplement, alongside the 10″ offerings. At this early stage, the trademark eagle perched on a phonograph rather than the more familiar globe.

The large structure to the left is the Paramount pressing plant at Grafton, Wisconsin, a converted water-powered mill that already had a long and varied history when this ad appeared — you’ll find the whole fascinating story of the Grafton complex in the new expanded edition of Alex van der Tuuk’s Paramount’s Rise and Fall. The smaller structure to the right would eventually house the studio in which the likes of Son House and Skip James recorded.

In 1918, however, Paramount was recording exclusively in New York, and doing its best to imitate Columbia and Victor. Note the usual NYC studio free-lancers — Henry Burr, Collins & Harlan, Louise & Ferera, Arthur Fields, Grace Kerns, the Shannon Four, et al. Even some of the portraits are the same as those used in the major companies’ catalogs. Fortunately for posterity, the powers at NYRL eventually realized there wasn’t much money to be made by following the pack, and instead turned their attention to the new race-record market (although there wasn’t much money to be made there either, as it would turn out).

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Pioneer Recording Artists • Irving Kaufman on Irving Kaufman (1967)

A revealing letter from vaudeville and recording-studio veteran Irving Kaufman to the late Quentin Riggs in 1967, which we recently found among Quentin’s papers. Kaufman, who was in his late 70s at the time, reveals that his birth name was Isadore (he went on to become one of the most prolific users of pseudonyms in the early recording industry) and expresses his unhappiness with retired life in Arizona. He and wife Belle later moved to California, which seems to have suited them better. Quentin’s typed transcription is above, followed by the first page of the original letter, in Kaufman’s hand.

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The Playlist • Highlights from the First “Edison Hour” Broadcast (1929)

MSP-EDISON_columbia-street-low-speed(Courtesy of Edison National Historic Site)
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.The first “Edison Hour” broadcast aired over WJZ on February 11, 1929. It was captured at Edison’s Columbia Street studio in Orange, New Jersey, which housed the low-speed recording equipment used to make these experimental airchecks (above). The recordings were made on 12” discs at 30 rpm, using a very thin ( .00379”) cutting stylus, and they survive at the Edison National Historic Site. The technical problems — most notably some severe speed fluctuations, and noise from a power tube that “went Democratic” in the words of the Edison engineer — are distracting at times but of relatively small concern considering the rarity of airchecks from this early period of American broadcasting.

The broadcast celebrated the birthday of Thomas Edison, who spoke briefly via relay from his home in Fort Myers, Florida, and also served to promote the new Edison radio, which had recently been introduced over the old man’s objections. Here are some of the most interesting excerpts. The first three selections are from Edison experimental mx. 185-A, the remainder from 185-B.

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WJZ ANNOUNCER AND CHARLES EDISON: Opening Comments

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Birthday Message

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FRIEDA HEMPEL: The Last Rose of Summer

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B. A. ROLFE’S ORCHESTRA: I Can’t Give You Anything But Love

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BILLY MURRAY with B. A. ROLFE’S ORCHESTRA: Doin’ the Racoon

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Follow-Up: Grey Gull Masters in the Columbia Vault

We’ve just heard from Sony that the Grey Gull masters Columbia was holding in 1953 have not survived, and there’s no file documentation for them in the Sony archives. Disappointing, but hardly surprising — what is surprising that they were still around as late as 1953 — and at least we finally know for certain that they went to Scranton (and not Paramount, as some have suggested) after Grey Gull suspended operations.

Many thanks to Michael Panico and Michael Brooks at Sony for taking the time to investigate!

Grey Gull Discovery: GG Masters in the Columbia Vaults (1953)

MSP_GG-logoWhere did the Grey Gull masters go? It’s been a tantalizing question for decades, and some pretty far-fetched theories have been put forth. But as it turns out, an obscure unpublished Columbia vault listing, recently discovered among the Bill Bryant papers, has held the answer all this time.

The listing was compiled in 1953, after Columbia employee Harry Flynn discovered a large cache of masters in the Bridgeport vault that had come from the Scranton Record (née Button) Company — a major independent pressing plant, which had gobbled up many failed record companies in the 1920s and early 1930s. For nearly two decades Scranton was the manufacturing arm of the Plaza / American Record Corporation group, the latter having been officially acquired by CBS on January 1, 1939.

Flynn allowed another CBS employee to make a partial listing of the non-Columbia masters, apparently without the knowledge or blessings of Columbia archivist Helene Chmura. In October 1955, the now-former Columbia employee (whom we won’t name, as he may still be alive) forwarded the list to researcher Walter C. Allen, with a request that it not be made public, “for it was ‘lifted’ while I was an employee!” Allen honored the request, and as a result, the final disposition of Grey Gull’s masters has remained a guessing-game, until now.

The list includes masters from Arto, Emerson, Federal, and Plaza — all of whose assets were acquired by Scranton — as well as the early “LL-” prefixed National Music Lovers masters and even some early-1920s Paramount masters with Bridgeport Die & Machine (Puritan) markings. (Scranton also held 50 late Paramount masters by some outstanding blues artists for a time, but that’s another story, which you’ll find in Paramount’s Rise and Fall.)

How masters from all of these companies came to reside with Scranton is easily explainable, given the in-depth knowledge we now have of the 1920s recording industry. But there was one totally unexpected surprise — A large number of electrically recorded Grey Gull masters, beginning with # 2728 and ending at # 3643. (The list was a random sampling, so the actual range could have been wider.) There had been a Grey Gull – Emerson – Scranton link until early 1926, when GG opened its own studio and pressing plant — But the masters in the Columbia vault dated from late 1927 through approximately September 1929, long after that link had been severed; and none of those listed had been leased to Emerson, which remained a Scranton customer but occasionally issued Grey Gull recordings in the later 1920s. Material on the list ranges from pop vocals and the usual studio bands to country and jazz. Complete sets of takes (some running as high as -D and -E) were preserved.

From this, it appears certain that Scranton ended up with a least a goodly portion of the electrical Grey Gull masters, if not all of them. Have any of these masters survived in the Columbia archives (now owned by Sony)? Pretty doubtful, given the material’s lack of commercial value, and CBS’s merciless master-scrappings at Bridgeport in the early 1960s; but hope springs eternal. We’re currently in contact with Sony staff to see if anything, including any original file documentation that might have come along with the masters, has survived. Stay tuned….

 

The Vaudeville Playlist • Maurice Burkhart (1912–1913)

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Maurice Burkhart began his career plugging songs for Ted Snyder, Irving Berlin’s publisher, frequent co-composer, and business partner. His vaudeville career took off in 1913, after he appeared as the opening act to headliner Eva Tanguay at the Park Theater in New York. With the demands of touring, Burkhart’s studio activities declined markedly after 1913, and Edison issued his last known commercial recording in 1920.

(Don’t read too much into the lyrics of the first tune, which incidentally is an early Jim Europe composition. It was intended for a female singer, and Burkhart was simply plugging it as written — a quaint practice that can be heard on records well into the late 1920s.)

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MAURICE BURKHART: I’ve Got the Finest Man

New York: c. July 11, 1912 (mx. shipment date)
Harmony A1208 (mx. 38134 – 2)

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MAURICE BURKHART (with Peerless Quartet): At the Devil’s Ball

New York: c. January 10, 1913 (mx. shipment date)
Columbia A1282 (mx. 38546 – 1)

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MAURICE BURKHART (with Peerless Quartet): Going Up with the Elevator Man

New York: c. June 7, 1912 (mx. shipment date)
Columbia A1188 (mx. 19925 – 1)

 Note: Includes a racially derogatory term symptomatic of the period, which does not reflect the views of Mainspring Press.

All titles with studio orchestra accompaniment (probably Charles A. Prince, conductor). The usual Peerless Quartet personnel at this time were Henry Burr (lead tenor and manager), Albert Campbell (second tenor), Arthur Collins (baritone), and John H. Meyer (bass). Speed changes are defects in the original recordings.

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Correct Personnel for the California Ramblers’ 1929–1930 Grey Gull Sessions, from Ed Kirkeby’s Files

Sorry to report that the personnel listings for the California Ramblers’ 1929–1930 Grey Gull sessions in American Dance Bands on Record and Film (the $600 successor to Brian Rust’s American Dance Band Discography) are seriously in error.

The compilers don’t say where their information came from, but it certainly wasn’t from the one unimpeachable source in this case: Ramblers manager Ed Kirkeby himself, who maintained meticulous logbooks detailing all recording sessions with which he was involved. So, to set the record straight, here are the actual correct personnel — which in some cases bear only a slight resemblance to those undocumented listings in ADB — directly from Mr. Kirkeby’s files:

 

July 30, 1929 — Grey Gull mxs. 3559–3561

ADB misattributes this session to a “Grey Gull studio orchestra,” “with a sound not unlike the California Ramblers.” All recordings were issued pseudonymously. The titles, as confirmed in Ed Kirkeby’s files, are:

Maybe! Who Knows? (mx. 3559 — Grey Gull 1746, et al.)
Sweetness (mx. 3560 — Grey Gull 1752, et al.)
Little Pal (mx. 3561 — Grey Gull 1756, et al.)

Personnel for this session, from Kirkeby’s files, are:

Chelsea Quealey, Fred Van Eps, Jr. (trumpets); Carl Loeffler (trombone); “Pete” [presumably Pumiglio], Harold Marcus (saxophones); Chauncey Gray (piano); Al Duffy (violin); Tommy Felline (banjo/guitar); Ward Lay (bass); Stan King (percussion); Smith Ballew (vocal, with unnamed others). Kirkeby paid Dick Morgan $20 for this session, for reasons unstated.

 

December 27, 1929 — Grey Gull mxs. 3804– 3807

ADB personnel listing is “collective” (i.e., all likely names were tossed into the pot, in the hope that at least some might apply), with no source cited. The exact session personnel, from Kirkeby’s files, are:

Fred Van Eps, Jr. (first trumpet); Frank Cush (second trumpet); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Paul Mason (tenor saxophone) “Pete” [presumably Pumiglio] (first alto saxophone); “Carl” [presumably Orech] (second alto saxophone); Sid Harris (violin); “Gross” [Gray?] (piano); Tommy Felline (banjo, guitar); Ward Lay (string bass); Stan King (percussion); Smith Ballew (vocal with two unnamed others, presumably band members)

 

January 24, 1930 — Grey Gull mxs. 3855– 3857

ADB personnel list is “collective,” with no source cited. The exact session personnel, from Kirkeby’s files, are:

Fred Van Eps, Jr., Tony Gianelli (trumpets); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Carl Orech] (saxophone); Paul Mason (tenor saxophone); Harold Marcus (alto saxophone); Sid Harris (violin); illegible, possibly [Chauncey] Gray (piano); Tommy Felline (banjo, guitar); Ward Lay (string bass); [?] Dale (percussion); Smith Ballew (vocal). The accordionist is not listed in Kirkeby’s log, suggesting that he was supplied by the studio.

 

February 24, 1930 — Grey Gull mxs. 3913–3915

ADB personnel list (source not cited) is largely incorrect. The correct session personnel, from Kirkeby’s files, are:

Angie Rattiner (first trumpet); Tony Giannelli (second trumpet); Pete Pumiglio, Paul Mason, Tommy Bohn (“first,” “second,” and “third” saxophones, in that order); Lloyd Turner (trombone); Irving Brodsky (piano); Joe La Faro (violin); Tommy Felline (banjo/guitar); Tex Hurst (bass); Herb Weil (percussion). The vocalist is not listed in Kirkeby’s log, suggesting that he was supplied by the studio.

 

May 12, 1930 — Grey Gull mxs. 4059, 4060

ADB personnel list (source not cited) is largely incorrect. The correct session personnel, from Ed Kirkeby’s files, are:

Jack Purvis (trumpet); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Pete Pumiglio, Paul Mason, Tommy Bohn (saxophones); Irving Brodsky (piano); Scoop Thompson (Tomson in file) (guitar); Tex Hurst (bass); Jack Powers (percussion); “Moore” (no further details); Scrappy Lambert (vocal)

 

June 12, 1930 — Grey Gull mxs. 4095– 4098

ADB personnel list (source not cited) is almost entirely incorrect. The correct session personnel, from Ed Kirkeby’s files, are:

Fred Van Eps, Jr., Tony Giannelli (trumpets); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Ed Blanchard, Joe Gillespie, Nye Mayhew (saxophones); Lew Cobey (piano); Ed Sexton, guitar; Ward Lay (string bass); Joe Powers (percussion); Elmer Feldkamp (vocal, with unnamed others, presumably band members)

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