Life After the Gramophone: Emile Berliner’s Last Hurrah (1929–1930)

Gramophone inventor Emile Berliner stayed active until the end. As owner of the Berliner Gramophone Company, Ltd. (Victor’s Canadian cousin), he established a second residence in Montreal around 1903, but continued to spend time in Washington, D.C. After Victor acquired the Canadian operation outright in 1927, Berliner returned home for good. According to a late 1920s report, Berliner’s estate at 1438 Columbia Road (on what was then the outskirts of the city) included a separate building housing a laboratory and experimental recording studio.

Exactly what went on in there isn’t well-known (there’s no evidence of any commercial recording activity), but these ads from April–June 1930, which appeared some months after Berliner’s death, might be a good starting point for further investigation. It would also be interesting to determine whether son Herbert (a skilled engineer, who developed his own electrical recording system for the Compo Company in the mid-1920s) had any hand in the Berliner Acoustic System.

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MSP_berliner-obit

(Berliner’s Variety obituary, August 7, 1929)

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MSP_berliner-acoustic-system

Discographical Update • Re-Dating the Kid Ory “Sunshine” Recordings (1922)

MSP_sunshine-3003-B

KID ORY’S CREOLE JAZZ BAND (as Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra): Society Blues

Santa Monica, CA: c. Late May, 1922
Sunshine 3003 (label pasted over Nordskog 3009)

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Kid Ory’s Nordskog / Sunshine title are important as the first issued recordings by a black New Orleans band. For decades, they have been listed in the standard discographies as the product of a single June 1922 session (others list 1921, which will be ruled out below). However, evidence in The Chicago Defender suggests that there were actually two dates involved: One session, c. early April 1922, for singers Ruth Lee and Roberta Dudley, accompanied by Ory’s band; and a second session, c. late May 1922, for the two Ory band sides.

There have been many conflicting anecdotal accounts of the business arrangement between the Spikes brothers and Nordskog. What is known for certain is that the records were pressed a continent away, at the Arto Company plant on Orange, New Jersey. A portion of the pressing run was allocated to the Nordskog label; the balance (5,000 copies, according to Reb Spikes’ recollections) were to have Sunshine labels pasted over the Nordskog originals, for sale by the Spikes Brothers’ music shop in Los Angeles. All three Sunshine releases also appeared in the Nordskog catalog, using Nordskog’s own catalog numbers and artist credits (Ory’s band became “Spikes Seven Pods of Pepper Orchestra” on Nordskog)  — rebutting the assertion in at least one classic-jazz history that all of the Nordskog specimens are simply Sunshine issues from which the Sunshine label have fallen off. (The Sunshine labels often do peel away to varying degrees, particularly at the edges, but not very cleanly.)

Several published accounts have claimed that Andrae Nordskog  made the Ory recordings during a single session in his living room in 1921 — a colorful tale, but nothing more. The 1921 date has long-since been debunked, with 1922 now well-established, and Nordskog’s storefront Santa Monica studio was operating by that time. Reb Spikes recalled in a 1951 interview that the Ory recordings were made in that studio.

Local cabaret-blues singers Ruth Lee and Roberta Dudley appeared on the first Sunshine releases, backed by members of Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band from the Creole Cafe in Oakland, California. The Chicago Defender for May 22, 1922, confirmed that Lee and Dudley had already recorded “Maybe Someday” and “Krooked Blues,” respectively, which the paper reported were expected to release on or about June 1. [1] We know from comparing confirmed Arto recording dates (listed in Ed Kirkeby’s logs) to those records’ release dates that the Arto pressing plant’s usual production cycle was six to eight weeks from receipt of masters to release (about average for the period). Add another five or six days for master shipment by rail from LA to New Jersey, and five or six more days for return of the finished pressings, and early April 1922 becomes the most likely recording date.

The projected June 1 release turned out to have been an accurate prediction. The Defender reported that on June 2, the Spikes Brothers hosted a gala event at the Gaumet Auditorium in Los Angeles to celebrate the first two Sunshine releases. After a lengthy program, the Sunshine artists finally took the stage. Ragtime Billy Tucker, the Defender’s California correspondent, reported:

“Hon. Frederick M. Roberts, member of the California legislature, thanked the audience on behalf of the Spikes Bros. while the stage was being set for Kid Ory’s famous Creole band, which made the first records for the Spikes Bros. The band offered a number from the pen of Mr. Ory, entitled, “Ory’s Creole Trombone.” Then they played “Maybe Some Day,” which was successfully featured by Miss Ruth Lee, who is after the laurels of Mamie Smith… Dainty little Roberta Dudley was the next little “mite” of personality to grace the boards. She rendered the “Krooked Blues”… She started a panic with her number, and it was a long time before she could break into the song, the applause came so fast.” [2]

Note that although the title of one Ory band releases is mentioned (“Ory’s Creole Trombone”), there’s no mention of it having yet been recorded. The reason can be found in a May 27 Defender report that the Spikes Brothers a week earlier had “sent to Oakland for ‘Kid Ory’s Famous Creole Jazz Band’ to make their first records,” presumably meaning the first records in their own right, rather than in just an accompanying role. (The same article repeats that Dudley and Lee had already recorded their numbers — further proof that these could not have been June recordings).

The earliest mention we’ve found of the Ory band release (Sunshine 3003) is in the Defender for July 29, 1922. [3] Using the same turnaround time outlined above, that fits perfectly with a late May recording session. In addition, there was a production error on this release that did not occur with the earlier releases (the Sunshine labels were not applied at the factory, requiring the Spikes brothers to apply them by hand), suggesting the records were not pressed at the same time as the two vocal releases.

Based on the above evidence, we feel that two separate sessions were involved for the 1922 Ory recordings, for which the following are more accurate dates than the customarily cited June 1922:

Santa Monica, CA: c. Early April 1922 (released June 1, 1922)
Roberta Dudley, acc. by Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band:

Krooked Blues / When You’re Alone Blues
Nordskog 3007, Sunshine 3001

Santa Monica, CA: c. Early April 1922 (released June 1, 1922)
Ruth Lee, acc. by Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band:

Maybe Someday / That Sweet Something, Dear
Nordskog 3008, Sunshine 3002

Santa Monica, CA: c. Late May 1922 (released August, 1922)
Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band:
Ory’s Creole Trombine / Society Blues
Nordskog 3009 (as Spikes Seven Pods of Pepper Orchestra)
Sunshine 3003 (as Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra)


[1] Tucker, Ragtime Billy. “Coast Dope.” Chicago Defender (May 27, 1922), p. 8.
[2] Tucker, Ragtime Billy. “Coast Dope.” Chicago Defender (June 24, 1922), p. 8.
[3] Tucker, Ragtime Billy. “Coast Dope.” Chicago Defender (July 29, 1922), p. 6.

The Playlist • Bill Brown & his Brownies: Complete Recordings (1927, 1929)

MSP_brown-b_composite(Top) Chicago Defender ad for the Vocalion version of “Bill Brown’s Blues” (sic; the possessive form doesn’t  appear on the labels or in the Brunswick files). The Vocalion uses the same master as the Brunswick release (renumbered as E 6444, assigned on September 9, 1927), but has a different coupling.

(Bottom) The very rare alternate take of “Hot Lips” (mx. E 21990), showing the telltale “90” at the three-o’clock position.

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES: Bill Brown Blues

New York: March 17, 1927
Brunswick 7003 (mx. E 21986)

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES: Hot Lips [-89]

New York: March 17, 1927
Brunswick 7003 (mx. E 21989)

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES: Hot Lips [-90]

New York: March 17, 1927
Brunswick 7003 (mx. E 21990)
This very rare take is shown in error as unissued in Laird’s Brunswick Records Discography (Greenwood Press), although listed correctly in Rust’s Jazz Records. We found this copy a few years ago in an Englewood, Colorado, thrift store.

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES (Ovie Alston, vocal): Zonky

New York: December 26, 1929
Brunswick 7142 (mx. 31743 – A or –B*)

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BILL BROWN & HIS BROWNIES: What Kind of Rhythm Is That?

New York: December 26, 1929
Brunswick 7142 (mx. 31744 – A or –B*)

*The selected takes are not shown in the surviving Brunswick files or on inspected pressings.

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The Playlist • St. Louis Jazz: Jesse Stone and Dewey Jackson Rarities (1926–1927)

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JESSE STONE & HIS BLUE SERENADERS: Starvation Blues

St. Louis: April 27, 1927
Okeh 8471 (mx. W 80761 – C)

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JESSE STONE & HIS BLUE SERENADERS: Boot to Boot

St. Louis: April 27, 1927
Okeh 8471 (mx. W 80763 – A)

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DEWEY JACKSON’S PEACOCK ORCHESTRA: Capitol Blues

St. Louis: June 1926
Vocalion 1040 (mx. E 3417, renumbered from test TC 1007)

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DEWEY JACKSON’S PEACOCK ORCHESTRA: She’s Crying for Me

St. Louis: June 1926
Vocalion 1040 (mx. E 3415, renumbered from test TC 999)

The Playlist • Edward M. Favor (1903 – 1906)

MSP_col-1667_favor

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Edward M. Favor (1856 – 1936) isn’t easy on modern ears, but his recordings allow us to hear a popular nineteenth-century stage star in action. Favor’s career pre-dated the start of commercial sound recording. He was attracting notice in New York as early as 1883, when he landed a starring role in “Fun in a Balloon” at Tony Pastor’s. His biggest musical-comedy success came with wife Edith Sinclair in E. E. Rice’s long-running extravaganza, “1492 (Up to Date, or Very Near It),” which opened at Palmer’s in 1893. Two years later he made a successful transition to vaudeville, headlining on the B. F. Keith circuit in an act that a New York Times critic dismissed as “rather more of the rough-and-ready kind.” He also began to record prolifically in the late 1890s, churning out hundreds of titles for major and minor concerns alike. He returned to musical comedy in the early 1900s, with a corresponding drop-off in recording activity, and reportedly remained active in vaudeville into the early 1930s.

 

EDWARD M. FAVOR (self-announced): Bedelia

New York: c. October–November 1903 (released January 1904)
Columbia 1667 (take 1; no “M-“ number present)

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EDWARD M. FAVOR: La Ti-dly I-dly Um

Philadelphia: March 16, 1906
Victor 4667 (mx. B 3185 – 2)

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EDWARD M. FAVOR: Fol the Rol Lol

Philadelphia: March 16, 1906
Victor 4856 (mx. B 3182 – 2)
Note: The Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings also shows this on Victor 4669, a number that does not appear in the Victor Monthly Supplements, and which we have not been able to confirm as actually issued (let us know if you have one). Victor 4856 is a delayed release (November 1906).

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EDWARD M. FAVOR & CHORUS (announced by Edward Meeker):
Fol the Rol Lol

New York: c. August 1906 (released November 1906)
Edison 9142 (2-minute cylinder)

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