From the “Gennett Record Gazette” – Joie Lichter, Bob Tamm, and the Questionable “Gene Bailey” (1924)

The Gennett Record Gazette was a nifty promo publication filled with photos, release lists, facts, and “alternative facts.” Here are a couple of excepts from Vol. I, No. 4 (April 1924) — one correcting a likely error in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Records and Film, and the other opening a discographical can of worms.

Joie Lichter’s and Bob Tamm’s Milwaukee orchestras visited Gennett’s Richmond, Indiana, studio on March 4, 1924 — Lichter recording five sides, with Tamm squeezing in a single title midway through the session, according to the Gennett ledgers. (“Tamm” or “Tamms”? It appears both ways in press reports and ads of the period, but “Tamm” is favored by a good margin.)

For god-only-knows what reason (since its compilers give none), ADBRF lists the Tamm side as a pseudonymous Lichter recording, even though the ledger, and the detailed information reported below, make that seem unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Rust credited the Tamm side to Tamm in his earlier  American Dance Band Discography, from which ADBRF was largely taken. If anyone can offer any credible reason for the change in ADBRF (credible excluding things like “so-and-so is sure he hears such-and-such” or “Joe Blow remembers that somebody said…”), please let us know, and of course be sure to cite the source. If it checks out, we’ll be happy to post it.

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Our next excerpt involves the ubiquitous Bailey’s Lucky Seven. For years it’s been taken for granted that this was a Sam Lanin group, and aural evidence does strongly suggest that was the case on many sides. Many others, however, are more generic-sounding. Unfortunately, the Gennett ledgers offer no clues in either case. (Note that the Bailey’s personnel listings in the various Rust and Johnson & Shirley discographies are all conjectural, even if the authors don’t make that clear. None of it is from file data or other primary-source documentation.)

But here we have one “Gene Bailey, of Bailey’s Lucky Seven” running a question-and-answer column in the Gennett Record Gazette. Not surprisingly, “Bailey” gave no answer whatsoever to the fan’s question concerning the Lucky Seven’s personnel, or where the band was performing, other than a vague reference later in the column to one “Saxophone Joe.”

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So, was there a real Gene Bailey involved with these recordings, and if so, in what capacity? Or was this just yet another case of the Gennett folks having fun with pseudonyms? We favor the latter, since we’ve found no trace of a Gene Bailey having been  active on the New York-area musical scene, either as a musician or a manager, at the time. (These were all New York recordings.  The cartoon above, by the way, is based on a well-known 1923 photo taken in the New York studio, which was configured differently than the Indiana facility).

There’s an old anecdote about Gennett borrowing the names of employees or other locals for its artist pseudonyms. And a Gene Bailey does turns up in the social notices of several eastern Indiana newspapers at the time, although with no mention of any musical connection. But just to muck things up a bit, Gennett once issued a record credited to “Jene Bailey’s Orchestra,” claiming (in the ledger as well as in their ads) that Mr. Bailey personally conducted the side:

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Of course, much of Gennett’s promotional material should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. This was, after all, a  company whose “Colored Records” catalog included a photo of an unknown black band that was captioned “Ladd’s Black Aces” — a confirmed pseudonym on Gennett for the all-white Original Memphis Five.

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While we’re on subject, here’s a terrific book that all Gennett fans should own, by Charlie Dahan and Linda Gennett Irmscher (Arcadia Publishing). It’s available on Amazon.com, and a real  bargain at just $21.99 — crammed with rare photos and little-known facts, and covering a much broader scope than the earlier Kennedy tome. Highly recommended!
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(That’s Art Landry’s Call of the North Orchestra on the cover. At the top, you can see the heavy drapes that contributed to the Indiana studio’s notoriously muddy acoustics.)

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2017 ARSC Award for “Race Records and the American Recording Industry”

Now back in stock

We’re pleased to report that Race Records and the American Recording Industry 1919-1945 had been awarded the Association for Recorded Sound Collections‘ 2017 Certificate of Merit in Recorded Blues, Gospel, Soul, or R&B Research.

Due to unexpectedly high demand, we’ve run out of copies several times recently but now have a fresh supply in stock and ready for immediate delivery. The book is available exclusively from Mainspring Press.

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The Phonograph – Lamp Combinations (1920s)

The Phonolamp was one of the early hybrids. The Electric Phonograph Corporation (New York) filed its trademark application on June 28, 1918, claiming use of the Phonolamp since “approximately” April 1, 1917. Several models were produced, including one mounted on a pole. Phonolamp also briefly marketed its own record label in 1921, mainly using masters from Grey Gull. The example above  was originally issued on Grey Gull L-1045 (mx. 11117).

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Modernola was another early combo producer. It filed its first trademark application on November 8, 1918, claiming use of the brand since August 5, 1918 (a later filing claimed July 1918 for first use). Unlike most hybrids, which used electric motors, this model used the traditional spring motor.

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One of the gaudiest phono-lamp combinations, Lampagraph advertised heavily during 1920–1921, but information on its manufacturer is lacking.

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Another obscure combination, the Fairy Phonograph Lamp also advertised during 1920–1921.

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If you enjoyed these ads, be sure to check out Vintage Phonograph Advertisements 1895–1925, available exclusively from Mainspring Press while supplies last:

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Len Spencer Arrested (1897)

Russell Hunting wasn’t the only recording-industry pioneer to be arrested in the 1890s. In March 1897, Len Spencer and two of the Emerson brothers were taken into custody in Newark, New Jersey, charged with stealing cylinders from the United States Phonograph Company.

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Len Spencer’s Phonoscope biography, 1898

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The trouble began in early 1897, after Spencer and the Emersons (Victor H., George E., and Clyde D.) resigned from United States Phonograph to work for the American Graphophone Company (Columbia).

According to the charges, Spencer, George Emerson, and Clyde Emerson took a substantial number of records from U.S. Phonograph, which they allegedly sold to a “rival concern.” The company was not identified in the press reports, but quite likely it was Columbia, which had a history of copying other companies’ cylinders and marketing them as their own (see, for example, American Graphophone Co. v. United States Phonograph Co., et al., U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, In Equity No. 4005, an 1898 case in which Calvin Child confirmed the practice).

Victor Emerson was not charged. Details of the arrest were reported by the New York Sun on March 9, 1897:

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But unlike Hunting, who went to jail for three months for making and peddling “obscene” records, Spencer and the two Emersons  escaped unscathed. On March 25, 1897, the prosecutor declared that the state had no case, and defendants were discharged.

A few weeks later, Spencer formally announced his employment by Columbia:

 

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Spencer didn’t remain exclusive to Columbia for long, and by the early 1900s he had reclaimed his former status as one of the most prolific studio free-lancers. Victor Emerson went on to serve long and well as Columbia’s chief recording engineer before resigning in 1914 to launch his own label.

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Harry Gennett, Jr., and the Gennett Sound Effects Records (1928 – 1956)

Harry Gennett, Jr., and the Gennett Sound Effects Records
(1928 – 1956)
By Allan Sutton

 

In November 1956, Harry Gennett Jr. (the son of Gennett Records president Harry Sr.) recalled his involvement with the Gennett Sound Effects records for a reporter from the Richmond, Indiana Palladium-Item. Much of the following information came from his recollections, supplemented by data from the Gennett ledger sheets.

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Gennett Record’s sound-effects program was launched in 1928 as a client service for the Hannaphone Company, [1] a Philadelphia-based theater-management company. On November 21, it was announced that Hannaphone had contracted with Gennett to produce sound-effects records for use with motion pictures.

Harry Gennett apparently already had such a venture in mind at the time of the Hannaphone announcement. Sound-effects recording began to appear regularly in the Gennett ledgers beginning on October 16, 1928, [2] several of which were played for a gathering of the Richmond Foreman’s Club at which Gennett announced the deal. [3]

Demand for sound-effects recordings quickly mushroomed as producers of sound films began dubbing pre-recorded sound effects into their soundtracks. Gennett’s offerings included “Hog Calling Contest,” “Poultry—Roosters and Geese Predominant,” “American Can Factory,” “Electric Washing Machine—Not Much Suds,” “Single Man Walking Through Sand and Gravel,” “News Room—Confusion of Sounds,” “Winds Howling–Continuous,”  “Auto Crashes with Screams,” “Auto Race with Crashes,” and the ominous “Railroad Comes Through the Middle of the House.” [4]

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Gennett’s original mobile recording laboratory. The truck was outfitted with assistance from William C. Kaeuper, woodworking supervisor of the Richmond, Indiana, plant.

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The sound-effects operation was quickly handed off to Harry Gennett’s son, Harry Jr., along with Richmond plant manager Robert Conner. The corner of Eighth and Main in Richmond was a favored spot for early recording sessions, providing numerous recordings of street and railroad sounds, factory whistles, and the occasional car wreck.

But Gennett and Conner also traveled widely in their pursuit of sound. In 1929, they and William C. Kaeuper (the plant’s woodworking supervisor) equipped a large panel truck with what Harry Jr. recalled as “a ton” of recording equipment [5]  and began taking to the road — at first, just scouting around the Richmond area, but later (after recording equipment became sufficiently compact to transport in a car) traveling across the country. They recorded the mission bells in Santa Barbara, California, [6] Hopi Indian dances in New Mexico (with the recording equipment hidden in nearby vegetation), [7] and braying mules in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

 

In later years, as recording equipment became more portable, Gennett and Conner employed a car as their mobile unit and traveled widely. Here, it’s parked in front of the Santa Barbara Mission in California.

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Among the films employing Gennett sound effects was Frank Buck’s “Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” which used animal noises that Harry Jr. recorded at the Cincinnati Zoo. Gennett recalled that he was allowed to stay overnight on the zoo grounds but was ordered to remain in his car to avoid being shot by the zoo’s guards. He was also warned that his cables could spook the giraffes, who might mistake them for snakes.

Some recordings, like the boxing-match, railroad, and airplane-noise sides, were straightforward live captures, unstaged and untinkered-with. But in many other cases, Harry Jr.’s creativity and technical expertise came into play. The “Alley Cat” record employed a human imitator, but “Braying Mule” used the real thing, with a bit of coaxing. Gennett recalled having a boy lead one mule away from the herd, causing “a loud voice of disapproval” from the others. Studio personnel were recruited to re-create a medieval battle and other chaotic scenes, and Gennett sometimes tested new noise-makers in the main factory, much to the displeasure of some employees.

Thunder effects were obtained by recording shotgun blasts, then dubbing the results at a slower speed, which Gennett claimed gave better results than the real thing. To create the gear-shifting effect in “Automobile Continuously Running” (reportedly a top seller), Gennett simply altered the recording speed while the car remained stationery. Gennett also became a master of overdubbing. One of his most popular efforts combined a long tire screech and collision noises (the latter recorded live on a Richmond street) with the existing “Automobile Continuously Running” recording to create a sensational car-crash record. [8]

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The original 1928 sound-effects label (upper left); a sound-effects recording on the Gennett Electrical Transcription label, marketed for radio use (upper right); an Electrical Transcription test pressing (lower left); and the later-1930s version of the sound-effects label (lower right)

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Some attempts at staging backfired, but probably none so badly as when Gennett and Conner accidentally set the recording-studio building on fire in an attempt to capture crackling flames on disc. [9] There were human perils to be dealt with as well, including a suspicious local patrolman who fired a shot their way while they were parked on a country road one dark night.

When Gennett could not obtain a desired effect, he dubbed recordings from other sources, perhaps not always legally. He paid K. I. Sakai of Tokyo for his recording of “Japanese Traffic Noise,” but there is no indication in the ledger that he paid for or sought permission from Victor to use two of their recordings, which he dubbed and cobbled together as “Traffic Noises of England, with Big Ben.” [10]

The sound-effects records helped to keep the Gennett operation afloat after Harry Gennett, Sr., discontinued commercial record production in 1934. However, demand for the records declined after the 1930s, as special-effects recording techniques became more sophisticated. Still, the operation remained in business (later under the “Speedy-Q” name) into the mid-1950s. In his 1956 interview, Gennett reported that he still received the  occasional order. [11]

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Notes

[1] “Richmond Plant Joins in Making Sound Pictures.” Richmond [IN] Item (November 22, 1928).

[2] Gennett ledger sheet, October 16, 1928.

[3] “Richmond Plant Joins in Making Sound Pictures,” op. cit.

[4] Gennett ledger sheets, 1929–1937.

[5] Corya, Bob. “Gennett Recalls Trip to Zoo to Make Animal Noise Records.” Richmond, IN Palladium-Item  (November 12, 1956), p. 3.

[6] Corya, Bob. “Sound Effects Gags Irritating to Piano Tuners at Starr Plant.” Richmond, IN Palladium-Item  (November 13, 1956), p. 7.

[7] Corya, Bob. “Gennett Recalls Trip to Zoo,” op. cit.

[8] Corya, Bob. “Sound Effects Recorded Locally Over 20 Years Ago Still Popular.” Richmond, IN Palladium-Item (November 11, 1956), p. 10.

[9] Corya, Bob. “Sound Effects Gags,” op. cit.

[10] Gennett ledger sheets: Mxs.  N 19944 – N 19947 (dubbed from Victor) and N 19954 (dubbed from purchased Japanese master).

[11] Corya, Bob. “Sound Effects Recorded Locally,” op. cit.

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© 2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Odds & Ends from the Recording Industry’s Infancy (1891-1893)

Sarah Bernhardt recording in Bettini’s “Phonographic Salon”
(New York, 1892)

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Members of the United States Marine Band recording for Columbia; at least six recording machines appear to be in use, each producing a master from which copies will be transcribed for sale. (Washington DC, 1891)

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Getting their nickel’s worth (1891)

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A gallery of first-generation recording artists. Aside from Russell Hunting and Len Spencer (shown here as “Leon”), all retired from recording in the early 1900s, if not earlier. (1892)

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No electricity? No problem! Just hook up this Edison water-powered model to your kitchen sink. (No running water? OK, well there’s a treadle-driven model…) (1892)

Russell Hunting Goes to Jail (1896)

Russell Hunting was a major figure in the early recording industry — an editor of The Phonoscope (an early trade paper), a prolific recording artist both here and in England, and eventually, the technical director for Pathé’s New York studio.

He also made raunchy records that he sold under the counter at his Clinton Place studio and shipped to shady establishments from Coney Island to California in the mid-1890s. They were colorful enough that they caught the attention of Anthony Comstock of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who spent two years trying to identify the culprit.

The story’s been told elsewhere, but never as well as in the New York World‘s tongue-in-cheek account (below). Hunting went to jail for three months.