We’re pleased to announce that Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919–1945 (Allan Sutton, Mainspring Press) has been nominated for a 2017 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Winners will be announced later this year.
Race Records is available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries. Here’s a peek inside the book, at some of our favorite race-record ads:
Believe the old tale that the first jazz record (Victor 18255, by the Original Dixieland Jass Band) sold a million copies? Or more?
Not even close — and we finally have the evidence from the Victor Talking Machine Company itself.
We recently got the welcome news from record researcher and Phonostalgia host Ryan Barna that microfilm copies of the “missing” blue production-history cards for Victor 18255 have been found in the Sony archives by Sam Brylawski — filed not under 18255, but under the catalog number of RCA’s 1967 LP reissue (LPV-547)! We then double-checked with Victor expert John Bolig, who was also able to locate his scans of the cards as well, and kindly forwarded them.
The most important news: The blue card states that 250,983 copies of Victor 18255 were pressed. Far short of the common million-seller claim, but more in line with what we’d expect for a best-seller of the period. Assuming this figure is correct, actual sales would have been a bit less (deducting free copies, breakage, dealer returns, leftover inventory destroyed when the record was deleted, etc.). In the interest of full disclosure, the blue-card figures could be off a bit, as John notes:
“Many years later somebody counted the pressings for a trial, and the company reported 250,983 copies had been pressed UP TO THAT TIME. I don’t know when that trial happened, but the record was deleted from the 1927 catalog. If the trial was earlier, more copies may have been pressed. If it was later, then the total is probably final and presumably accurate.”
It’s possible that this was the 1943 RCA–Decca trial, in which RCA submitted a tally of annual Victor record sales from 1901 through 1941. If so, 250,983 copies would likely have been the final tally; and presumably a reasonably accurate one, since the annual tally was formally entered into evidence at the trial.
Whatever the case, this is the only primary-source document located in the Victor archives so far that relates to the sales of 18255 — and as such, we trust it far more than the claims of some aging ODJB band members, who didn’t produce any documentary evidence to back up their boast, or the countless pop-culture writers who have uncritically swallowed that tale.
* * * * *
We don’t have permission from Sony to reproduce the card scans here. But the other key bits of information relating to Victor 18255, as relayed by both Ryan and John from the blue card and recording ledger information, are confirmation that these recordings were indeed originally made as trials, and were not accepted and assigned master numbers until March 1; that testing was not completed and approved until March 10 (eliminating any possibility of the March 5 release claimed by Rudi Blesh and others); and that the record was assigned to the May 1917 supplement (which would have been issued in late April). John suspects that the “March 1917 Special” notation might have been added to the card at a later date:
“The blue card for ‘Dixieland Jass Band, One Step’ (‘That Teasin’ Rag’) has handwriting on it that may have been added when the record was issued on LX-3007 [in 1954], and somebody using that pen and much darker ink seems to have added “Mar 1917 Special” above the “Date listed” cell that reads May 1917. That notation about a special release does not appear on the card for the other side. The writer penned the letter S twice in the same distinctive style on the word “Special” and on the words “Side 1” [the latter on a line referring to the 1954 LP reissue, which also gives the track number]. I doubt that employee was at Victor for the 1917 release and later for the LP release.
“I have dealt with these cards most of my life, and I seriously doubt that a record sent to the lab on March 9th could have been listed in a March special announcement. The absence of the notation on the other card supports my belief that a March announcement was almost impossible given the time required to design and print labels, press records and prepare them for distribution.”
Ryan has done some excellent sleuthing for ads and other materials confirming that Victor 18255 was on sale in some locations by late April (although apparently not before that) — in other words, a few weeks earlier than the “official” May 17 release date, but far later than Blesh’s logistically impossible March 5 date. He’ll be posting those ads and revealing the results of his investigation (which has turned up many interesting details regarding the initial release that we’ve not presented here) on the Phonostalgia site — be sure to pay him a visit.
In observance of the first jazz recordings’ hundredth birthday, we dismantle some of the most persistent tall-tales surrounding it.
From a modern standpoint, these performances bear about as much resemblance to jazz as Velveeta does to real cheese. But there’s no denying that such raw energy had never before been heard on a phonograph record (excepting the brief drum barrage at the end of Jim Europe’s 1914 “Castle House Rag”), and that the record had a profound influence on American popular music.
Updates: MTR announcement and additional information added 2/20; Aeolian-Vocalion and English Columbia MP3 files added 2/21; pressing figures and other Victor ledger and blue-card data added 2/22.
The first edition: An “A”- / “A”-stamper copy of Victor 18255. The styling of the band’s name evolved during their first Victor period, progressing from ‘Jass’ (in quotes) to Jass (sans quotes), then finally to Jazz.
On February 26 a century ago, a white quintet from New Orleans made the first recordings of something that is recognizably jazz, albeit of a crude sort. Gunther Schuller perhaps best summed up the band’s performance style and its place in jazz history:
“[The Original Dixieland Jazz Band] took a new idea, an innovation, and reduced it to the kind of compressed, rigid format that could appeal to a mass audience. As such, it had a number of sure-fire ingredients, the foremost being a rhythmic momentum that had a physical, even visceral, appeal. Moreover, this drive was cast in the most unsubtle terms, as was the ODJB’s melodic and harmonic language, with none of the flexibility and occasional subtlety shown by the best Negro bands of the period. But in its substitution of sheer energy for expressive power, the ODJB had found the key to mass appeal.” (Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968)
As momentous as this first jazz session seems today, attitudes in 1917 were quite different. Critics dismissed the ODJB’s music as little more than a noisy fad that would soon pass. It’s quite likely that the Victor executives saw the band as just another novelty act to be briefly exploited before record buyers moved on to the next new thing — after all, they sat on the masters for five days before even assigning them numbers, an indicator that they were less than enthusiastic. The company didn’t even bother to call the ODJB back following the initial release, allowing them to stray to competitors Columbia and Aeolian-Vocalion. It would be a full year before the ODJB was finally given an exclusive Victor contract.
The result of that milestone February 26 session, issued in May 1917 on Victor 18255, has been the victim of rampant myth-making for decades. Here are four of our favorite tall-tales, most of them perpetuated by Rudi Blesh — an early pop-culture writer who was never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story — along with what we now know to be true as the result of more rigorous research:
MYTH: “Monday the 29th [of January], Victor’s leading competitor [Columbia] signed the ODJB to a term contract and hustled them into the studio to wax two numbers for a single… Scared out of their wits by what they heard, the executives paid off the band, shelved the masters, and unilaterally tore up the pact.” — Rudi Blesh
FACT: None of that ever happened, but this did: On January 29, 1917, E. A. Donovan (the head of Columbia’s Personal Recording Department) wrote a letter inviting the band to contact him about “a matter which may prove of mutual benefit and interest” — presumably, a solicitation to make Columbia Personal Records. (The Personal division was a custom service for folks who wanted to make their own records. Clients paid all recording and manufacturing costs, took delivery of the finished pressings, and handled their own marketing and sales. Personal records were not used for commercial releases or listed in the Columbia catalogs.)
No evidence has been found in the Columbia files that the ODJB took Donovan up on his offer, or that they made any recordings for the company prior to their single May 1917 Columbia date. Think about it: Had Columbia executives indeed been “scared out of their wits” and “unilaterally” torn up the supposed contract, is it likely that they would have invited the ODJB back in May (at which time Victor 18255 was a brand-new and still-unproven release that was far from becoming a hit), or that the band would have accepted their invitation?
* * *
MYTH: “[Studio carpenters] were hammering away while we tried to play.” — Eddie Edwards, as reported by H. O. Brunn
FACT: This almost certainly never happened, although there could be some basis for the myth. Victor’s 38th Street studio had opened just a few weeks earlier, so it’s conceivable that some construction work was still under way while the band was on the premises. However, construction work never would have been allowed to continue within earshot of an actual recording session; noise at that level would have registered, rendering the masters unusable. As we know from trade-paper reports of the period, sound-proofing of studios was a serious consideration, even with the relatively insensitive acoustic recording process. There are references throughout the early Victor files to masters that had to be scrapped because extraneous noises were captured (Camden factory whistles being a frequent culprit).
Incidentally — despite tales of the epic struggles they went through to capture the band on wax — neither Harry nor Charles Sooy (Victor’s recording engineers) recalled anything out of the ordinary about the session in their memoirs. Harry made a passing reference to the session, noting that “the Victor Company made records of the real ‘Jazz’ and ‘Blues” type of music for dancing” on that day; Charles didn’t even mention the session in his memoirs. For such well-seasoned engineers (who had recorded everything from the Liberty Bell to twenty-five piece military bands and small symphonic orchestras), recording the ODJB probably did not require “patiently making test after test,” as Blesh alleged.
* * *
MYTH: “Victor rushed the coupling out… [It] released on March 5, 1917.” — Rudi Blesh
FACT: Wrong on both counts, as the original Victor documentation confirms. In fact, production appears to have proceeded at Victor’s usual pace, suggesting no rush whatsoever on the company’s part.
The smoking gun: Master numbers were not even assigned until March 1 or 2. Victor documentation confirm that these recordings were originally made as un-numbered trials. Had the master numbers been assigned at time of recording, as was normally done, they would have been in the 19310 range. But instead, they fall between a Van & Schenck master recorded on March 1 (19330), and a Lyric Quartet master recorded on March 2 (19333). In this case, the delay in assigning numbers suggests that Victor management had reservations about the material’s suitability for release. It certainly does not suggest any great enthusiasm or desire to “rush” the records out. But more importantly, production could not have gotten under way until the master numbers were assigned.
Other tip-offs: According to the blue card, the records were submitted for testing on March 9, which was not completed until the following day. Records were not approved for release until testing was completed. And it wasn’t until March 29 that a staffer in Victor’s editorial department wrote to trombonist Eddie Edwards to inform him that a special catalog supplement listing the record was being prepared, with a guess that it might be issued to dealers “inside of a couple of weeks.”
The fact that testing wasn’t even completed until March 10 rules out any possibility of a March 5 release. When, then, were the records actually released? There are clues a-plenty, but one should be ignored: a “March 1917 Special” notation on one of the two blue cards. Based on his examination of the card, Victor expert John Bolig believes that “March Special” was added many years later, next to the original May 1917 supplement notation.
Given what we know of Victor’s production processes at this time, six to eight weeks from recording date to sales outlets was average; anything significantly less would have been considered a “rush.” The supplement containing #18255 was indeed issued to dealers in mid-to-late April, as Victor’s cataloger had estimated, along with a promotional poster. This notice appeared in The Music Trade Review for April 21, 1917: ..
. Promotional materials of this type generally were distributed several weeks in advance of a record’s official release date (note that MTR does not report that the records have yet been released, only that the tunes are popular). Advance copies of the record would have been given to sales reps and distributors at around this time. Researcher Ryan Barna has located several ads confirming that the records were being sold in some locations by late April (which he will ne posting along with other details on his Phonostalgia site), but apparently not earlier. That’s a few weeks earlier than the “official” May 17 release date, but far later than Blesh’s March 5 gaffe.
* * *
MYTH: “[Victor 18255] was the first million-sale disc.” — Rudi Blesh among many others (never with any verifiable primary-source documentation cited)
FACT: No one knows for certain what the first million-seller was; reliable, primary-source documentation simply has not survived. Which is a side-issue in this case, since Victor 18255 is now known not to have been a million seller.
Thanks to the discovery of a microfilm copy of the blue card, as reported by both Ryan Barna and John Bolig, we have a much more accurate idea of possible sales. The blue card shows 250,983 copies pressed. The blue-card pressing figures are not necessarily authoritative, since it’s unclear who entered them, and when. But assuming that figure is reasonably accurate, actual U.S. sales would have been less than 250,983 copies, deducting for free copies, breakage, dealer returns, and any copies discarded when the record was deleted from the catalog in 1926. There was only one foreign release (or actually half-release, the Indian issue of “Livery Stable”), which presumably did not account for the additional 750,000 copies needed to hit the million mark.
Some band members reportedly also made the million-seller claim, but as far as is known, none backed it up by supplying Victor documentation (such as the royalty statements they would have been issued) that could support their claims. The same “million-seller” claim has been made for earlier records, including Alma Gluck’s 1914 “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” (also not supported by the Victor files) and Columbia’s 1913 “25¢ Special Advertising Record” (as reported by Columbia’s marketing department, which later upped the figure to 3 million; not inconceivable for one the most common 78s, by far, of the period).
There’s no doubt that Victor 18255 eventually became a big seller, based on the high stamper codes and the fact that copies are still plentiful a century later (although not nearly as common as several later ODJB discs). But the million-seller claim, let alone the first million-seller is simply not supported by the surviving primary-source documentation.
— Allan Sutton
* * *
ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JASS BAND: Livery Stable Blues
New York (46 West 38th Street, 12th floor): February 26, 1917
Victor 18255 (mx. B 19331 – 1; number assigned March 1–2, 1917)
Release — Official: May 17, 1917; Actual: c. Late April 1917
ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JASS BAND: Dixieland Jass Band One-Step * * Interpolating Joe Jordan’s “That Teasin’ Rag” (uncredited)
New York (46 West 38th Street, 12th floor): February 26, 1917
Victor 18255 (mx. B 19332 – 3; number assigned March 1–2, 1917)
Release — Official: May 17, 1917; Actual: c. Late April 1917
For comparison, here are the later, very rare Aeolian-Vocalion vertical-cut release of “Livery Stable,” unfortunately from a badly worn copy; and the same selection as recorded in London two years later — both virtually note-for-note repeats of the Victor release, confirming that rather than truly improvising, the band was content to repeat the same well-rehearsed ruffles-and-flourishes that passed for improvisation at the time. (The slight variations in the London recording can be attributed mostly to changes in band personnel. The slower tempo on the Vocalion was probably an attempt to fill out the side; vertical-cut AV’s used very fine grooving that provided up to 4½ minutes playing time on a 10″ disc). The same phenomenon can be heard when comparing the other same-title releases on Victor, Vocalion, and English Columbia.
ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JAZZ BAND: Barnyard Blues
(a.k.a. Livery Stable Blues)
New York: c. August 1917
Aeolian-Vocalion 1205 (no visible mx. number)
ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JASS BAND: Barnyard Blues
(a.k.a. Livery Stable Blues)
London: April 16, 1919
Columbia (English) 735 (mx. 76418 – 3)
Nick LaRocca (cornet and nominal director); Eddie Edwards (trombone, replaced by Emile Christian on the London session); Larry Shields (clarinet); Henry Ragas (piano, replaced by J. Russel Robinson on the London session); Tony Sbarbaro (percussion).
American Zonophone recording dates have always been a puzzle to collectors. Aside from a portion of the 1911 ledger that somehow escaped destruction, and dates gleaned from test pressings, primary-source documentation is lacking. And because the company often waited many months or even years to release recordings, attempting to extrapolate from release dates is bound to produce false results (or “alternative facts,” as El Presidente would have it).
Fortunately, some dated Zonophone test pressings exist that provide reliable anchor-points in establishing approximate date ranges, which are shown in the table below. Keep in mind that these dates are approximate and subject to ongoing refinement, and should always be cited as “circa.” In reality, the numerical breaks would not have been as tidy as those shown here, which assume relatively consistent monthly output (more about that below). However, they should serve as a reasonably accurate guide, give-or-take a month in either direction.
These dates also mesh well with known listing and/or release dates. However, It’s important to note that Zonophone at this time assigned entirely new master numbers to remakes, and it produced a lot of remakes. So if you find a c. December 1905 master number on a May 1904 release, the chart isn’t out-of-whack; you have a remake. Remakes are listed in detail in the data we plan to post with DAHR later this year.
The numerical ranges reveal a great deal about the Universal Talking Machine Company’s Zonophone recording operation. From mid-1903 (when master numbers first started appearing on Zonophone pressings) through the end of 1904, the company averaged a staggering 250 masters per month — more than double Victor’s output for the same period.
This activity can be attributed in part to Zonophone’s need to play “catch-up.” In mid-1903, the company began replacing its etched-label series with new paper-labeled discs. Although some of the etched-label recordings were pressed into service to fill out the new series, many new masters would be required to essentially rebuild the Zonophone catalog from scratch. Then, in March 1904, the company was forced to withdraw its entire catalog of bogus “Victor Herbert’s Band” recordings, requiring extensive remake work throughout the spring and early summer to replace those issues with legal versions (see the previous post).
In early 1905, there was a sudden dramatic drop in recording activity. Total output that year fell to approximately 1130 masters, more in line with Victor’s output. The drop can be attributed in part to Zonophone’s decision to replace the seven- and nine-inch series with a new ten-inch line. Although the company continued to record small-diameter masters through the end of 1905 (isolated examples as late as November–December 1905 have been confirmed), output of those masters quickly fell to negligible levels. Zonophone’s new ten-inch series was limited to just 25 single-sided releases per month in the main catalog, with a smattering of additional operatic, ethnic, and twelve-inch releases from time to time.
We certainly can’t rule out Victor president Eldridge Johnson as having had a hand in the slowdown. Although the majority owner of the Universal Talking Machine Company, Johnson did not meddle in Zonophone’s artist-and-repertoire matters. But he certainly would have had his say on business issues from the start, as can be seen in the 1904 decision to transfer Zonophone’s pressing operations from the Auburn Button Works to the Duranoid Company, Victor’s primary pressing plant at the time. From the start, Johnson made it clear that his sole motive in purchasing Universal was to rein-in a competitor — and what better way to do so than by capping its production? *
If you’re fortunate enough to own any dated American Zonophone test pressings, we’d be grateful for the information. The more data that become available, the more closely we can approximate the actual date ranges. At present, we’re working to extend the dating guide through the end of Zonophone’s independent period in 1909–1910, at which point its recording activities were transferred to the Victor studios.
A preliminary version of this article appeared on the Mainspring Press website in April 2011. The events surrounding this case should already be familiar to well-read collectors , but until now, Universal Talking Machine’s actions following the decision have not been explored in a systematic manner.
In the time since the original article was posted, we’ve been fortunate in acquiring the late Bill Bryant and associates’ unpublished discography of seven- and nine-inch Zonophone records, which sheds new light on how the company handled the situation after being ordered to withdraw its bogus (but highly popular) “Victor Herbert’s Band” records in early 1904.
A group advertised as “Victor Herbert’s Band” was prominently featured in the early Zonophone catalogs. The name was in regular use by late 1900; Zonophone’s October 1900 sales bulletin (the earliest we’ve located so far) listed twenty-three selections credited to the band, three of which were accompaniments to singer Bert Morphy. 
What buyers of those records didn’t realize — and many collectors still don’t realize today — is that neither Victor Herbert nor his band had anything to do with them.
Based upon testimony later presented at trial, the records were actually made by the 22nd Regiment Band of the New York National Guard, and this apparently was where the Victor Herbert claim — tenuous though it was — originated. Herbert had conducted this band during the 1890s, which for a time was billed as “Victor Herbert’s 22nd Regiment Band.”  But he left that position in 1898, before Zonophone commenced recording operations, to serve as principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony. By the time the first “Herbert’s Band” Zonophones were advertised in 1900, Victor Herbert had left Pittsburgh and was touring (but not recording) with a new orchestra that bore his name. .
A portion of the Herbert listing from the October 1900 catalog.
By early 1904, Zonophone was offering more than 120 bogus “Victor Herbert’s Band” titles in both seven- and nine-inch versions, occupying three-and-a-quarter catalog pages , and Herbert finally took action. In January, he applied to Judge Leventritt, of the New York Supreme Court, for an injunction restraining the Universal Talking Machine Company from using his name “for the purposes of trade.”
Herbert’s suit was based on a recently enacted New York state law that prohibited the use of a person’s name for advertising purposes without prior written consent. In addition, Herbert’s attorney argued, the records were not up to his client’s standards and “tended to lower the estimation in which his music has been held by the public.” Peter B. Olney, Universal’s counsel, opposed the injunction on the grounds that Herbert had long known that his name was being used on Zonophone records, but had not asked the company to discontinue the practice . His argument was rejected.
Action was delayed while Herbert tended to business in the West , but on March 3, 1904, Judge Leventritt ruled in Herbert’s favor and granted an injunction . In his ruling, the judge affirmed his belief that Herbert “never gave the claimed permission” for Zonophone to use his name, and also expressed his opinion that the matter could be settled “without controversy” pending a full trial . The injunction was allowed to stand, and it appears that the matter of damages was resolved out of court.
The injunction left a gaping hole in Zonophone’s catalog that the company scrambled to fill. Its initial response was a frenzy of remake activity during the spring of 1904, employing the house band under Fred Hager’s direction. Many of these remakes bear master numbers in the 2300–2700 range, indicating approximate recording dates of April–June 1904. 
Remaking the “Herbert” titles would be immensely time-consuming (and in the case of the slower-selling titles, probably unprofitable), so in the interim the company adopted a second, stopgap strategy. The “Herbert’s Band” recordings were not illegal, per se; only the use of Herbert’s name presented any legal problem. Thus, the company resorted to printing new labels, minus the Herbert credit, for use on the existing “Herbert” recordings while the remake work proceeded. The changeover is easy to pinpoint in the Zonophone sales lists. The “Herbert’s Band” records were still proudly advertised in the February 1904 catalog. But in the May 1904 catalog, the same recordings were listed with no band credit. A short time later, a new name appeared that would permanently replace Herbert’s — the Zon-O-Phone Concert Band. 
Herbert is still credited in the February 1904 catalog (left). The May 1904 catalog (right) lists the same recordings, but with no band credit.
Relabeling did not entirely solve the problem, since the relabeled records still had their original spoken announcements crediting Victor Herbert. Bill Bryant and his associates identified many specimens bearing the new Zon-O-Phone Concert Band labels, but retaining the incriminating “Herbert” announcements. And so, at some point, the company began tooling the announcements off the stampers. Pressings from 9” Zonophone mx. 87, for example, are known with and without the announcement but otherwise are aurally identical. 
By the time that Zonophone 7” and 9” pressings were discontinued in 1905, the last of the relabeled “Herbert” recordings had either been dropped from the catalog or been remade by the Zonophone house band, and the scandal soon faded from memory. Victor Herbert and his actual orchestra would go on to make many popular recordings beginning with Edison in 1909, which went to great lengths to assure customers that they were getting the real thing.
— Allan Sutton
 Passing references to the case appear in various early writings on phonograph history. A more detailed account was published in 2010, in the author’s A Phonograph Home (Mainspring Press); and in 2016, Steve Smolian made an excellent ARSC presentation on the subject.
 Gould, Neil. Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life, p. 119. Fordham University Press (2011).
 “The New Universal Zonophone Records” (February 1904 catalog), pp. 3–6. Copy for this catalog would have been prepared in late 1903 or very early 1904.
 “Victor Herbert Brings Suit.” Music Trade Review (January 30, 1904), p.40.
 “That Zonophone Litigation.” Music Trade Review (February 20, 1904), p. 27.
 “Herbert Gets Injunction.” Music Trade Review (March 9, 1904), p. 4.
Victor Herbert v. Universal Talking Machine Company. New York Law Journal (March 3, 1904).
 Recording-date ranges has been estimated based upon known recording dates from test pressings of the period.
 “Zon-O-Phone Records for May.” Music Trade Review (April 23, 1904), p. 29. Copy for this list would have been prepared in late March or very early April, after the injunction was upheld. The “Zon-O-Phone Concert Band” was simply the house ensemble under Fred Hager’s direction. This was the same Fred Hager who in 1920 gave the go-ahead for Mamie Smith to make what is generally regarded as the first blues record.
 Zonophone C 5057 (mx. 87), 9” paper-label issue. In this and similar cases, visual inspection coupled with synchronized aural comparison confirmed that the recordings are identical, aside from deletion of the announcement, and ruled out any possibility that the altered masters are dubbings (Bill Bryant data, Mainspring Press archive). The practice was not unique to Zonophone; Columbia tooled announcements off the stampers it used on its client labels.
Bill Bryant’s Zonophone data (accumulated over several decades, and including submissions from Tim Brooks, Paul Charosh, Dick Spottswood, Jim Walsh, the Record Research associates, and many other reputable collectors and discographers) occupies several-thousand index cards, a large carton of contributor correspondence, and several iterations of Bill’s exhaustively detailed ledger. That information (much of it previously unpublished) has finally been collated and entered into a database in preparation for submission to the online Discography of American Historical Recordings later this year. A print edition is not planned.