“Hoosier Poet” James Whitcomb Riley Records for Victor (1912)


JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY: Down to Old Aunt Mary’s
(from “The Lockerbie Book of Riley’s Verse”)

Indianapolis: June 5, 1912 (?)
Harry O. Sooy, recording engineer
Victor 70078 (mx. C 11975 – 3)

The recording date of June 5, from the Victor ledger, conflicts with Harry Sooy’s recollections, below. Note Sooy’s disclosure that the recordings were released despite the company’s concerns over substandard technical quality:

.“April 29th [1912] —I journeyed to Indianapolis, Indiana, with the instructions to make records of some poems by the author, James Whitcomb Riley (the Hoosier Poet). On my arrival at Indianapolis, I got in telephone communication with Mr. Riley at his home on Lockerbie Street, a very quaint and unassuming street just one block long. He asked me to come out to see him that we might talk over the problems of making records. Upon my arrival at Mr. Riley’s home I was very sad to see him almost an invalid, after having an attack of paralysis, affecting his entire right side, and, naturally, leaving him in a very weak condition.

“After our talk regarding the making of the records, I returned to Mr. Riley’s home the next day with the recording paraphernalia, at which time I found it necessary, and did, make the records there in his home by having him recline in an easy chair. This was accomplished by having the recording machine movable, permitting me to place the recording horn very close to his face while in a reclining position. Mr. Riley’s voice was, of course, very weak, so much so that I felt the records would not have commercial value, which proved to be quite true after I had returned and they were manufactured…

“After some discussion by the Company over these finished records of Mr. Riley’s, he was informed they did not have commercial value owing to their lack of volume. Mr. Riley then requested having me come out again to Indianapolis to try again, so I was instructed to make over the records in June. This time I took Mrs. Sooy along with me. After our arrival at Indianapolis, we secured quarters in the Claypole Hotel, and found Mr. Riley somewhat improved in health, and determined to make good.

“I, on this trip, persuaded Mr. Riley to come to the hotel to make the records. The second engagement of recording started June 7, 1912 [note: the Victor ledgers show  June 5] and continued 8th, 9th and 10th—p.m. only, as Mr. Riley had his automobile ride habitually every morning for recreation. And, while we were there on the trip, he would stop regularly at the hotel and insist that Mrs. Sooy and I accompany him on these automobile trips.

“We always found Mr. Riley to be in a jovial spirit, and a real entertainer even in his broken health. I recall one morning, while riding with him, we had a blow-out, which, naturally, made quite a report, and Mr. Riley exclaimed— “My God! They pop just like pop-corn don’t they?”

“After our auto ride and luncheon, Mr. Riley came to our hotel each afternoon until we had finished our recording. I am very sorry to say he was too ill to make a good record of his voice. Although a few of Mr. Riley’s records appear in the Victor Catalog, they are not as good as we aim to have Victor products, but very few people understand just why they are not good; the foregoing is self-explanatory.”


Victor attached the text to the blank reverse sides of the original purple-label issues (a nicety that was lost when the records were later coupled in the blue-label series):