CHARM: Another Outstanding Online Discographical Project

Not as widely known as the Discography of American Historical Recordings (although it certainly deserves to be), the UK-based CHARM website offers another outstanding online discography — in this case, of historical classical and operatic recordings. Hosted by the AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, CHARM is partnership of Royal Holloway, University of London (host institution) with King’s College, London, and the University of Sheffield.

CHARM is the perfect complement to DAHR, offering hard-to-find data on foreign as well as domestic recordings, primarily from the 1920s onward. The database includes much of The Gramophone Company’s 78-rpm output (from original file data compiled by the late Alan Kelly), as well 78s and some LP series from numerous other US, UK, and European companies, including Columbia and Decca, from data supplied by Michael Gray. *

The CHARM site includes a very flexible search engine, and results can be downloaded as comma-delimited text (.csv) or Microsoft Excel files. Here’s a small part of the results from our search on Cesare Formichi’s Columbia recordings:
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In addition, almost 5000 streaming sound files are available via the Find Sound Files facility. Sound files are transferred from 78-rpm discs held by the King’s Sound Archive at King’s College London.

Like DAHR and the affiliated National Juke Box site from the Library of Congress, CHARM is an entirely free service, with no registration or log-in required.

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* Dr. Alan Kelly compiled the monumental His Master’s Voice Discography for Greenwood Press during its glory days in the 1990s; when new owners pulled the plug, he completed the project on his own, self-publishing the entire run on a set of inexpensive CDs. In 2007 he was honored with the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ Lifetime Achievement Award. Michael Gray — besides being one helluva nice guy — has had a distinguished career that includes a long run as director of the Voice of America’s Research Library and Digital Audio Archive projects. He served as series editor for Greenwood Press discographies, has written numerous books and articles, and is the recipient of ARSC’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award.

 

The First Jazz Record Did Not Sell a Million Copies — Here’s the Evidence from the Production-History Cards for Victor 18255

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.

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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.

— Allan Sutton

Update • The Zonophone Records Victor Herbert Didn’t Make (1900 – 1904)

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 [1], 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.

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msp_zono-1565

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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. [2]

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.” [3] 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.
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msp_zono-10-1901_herbert1

A portion of the Herbert listing from the October 1900 catalog.

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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 [4], 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 [5]. His argument was rejected.

Action was delayed while Herbert tended to business in the West [6], but on March 3, 1904, Judge Leventritt ruled in Herbert’s favor and granted an injunction [7]. 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 [8]. 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. [9]

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. [10]

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msp_zono_feb-may-04

Herbert is still credited in the February 1904 catalog (left). The
May 1904 catalog (right) lists the same recordings, but with
no band credit.

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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. [11]

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

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[1] 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.

[2] “October Bulletin. Zonophone Records” (October 1900 catalog), unnumbered pp. 2–3.

[3] Gould, Neil. Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life, p. 119. Fordham University Press (2011).

[4] “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.

[5] “Victor Herbert Brings Suit.” Music Trade Review (January 30, 1904), p.40.

[6] “That Zonophone Litigation.” Music Trade Review (February 20, 1904), p. 27.

[7] “Herbert Gets Injunction.” Music Trade Review (March 9, 1904), p. 4.

[8] Victor Herbert v. Universal Talking Machine Company. New York Law Journal (March 3, 1904).

[9] Recording-date ranges has been estimated based upon known recording dates from test pressings of the period.

[10] “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.

[11] 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.

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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.

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The Playlist • “Some Of These Days,” Four Ways (1910–1930)

msp_tucker_some-of-these-da

 

Four very different treatments of Shelton Brooks’ 1910 hit, beginning with a Victor release by studio singer Billy Murray in auto-pilot mode. Given what we know of Victor’s musical assembly-line of the period, Murray’s first encounter with the song quite likely came when a company representative handed him the score and gave him a few days to prepare for the recording.

The song might have died on the spot, given such treatment, but Sophie Tucker made it her own. She brought audiences to their feet (and folks of the sort who carped about “white coon shouters” to near-apoplexy), and it would serve as her signature tune for the rest of her career. Here are two of Tucker’s many recorded versions — the original, and a mid-1920s reworking with the Ted Lewis band that incidentally marks one of the earliest fruits of the Columbia-Okeh merger. Lewis was exclusive to Columbia, Tucker to Okeh; the fact that Columbia got the release was perhaps a not-so-subtle reminder of who was boss in the new relationship.

And finally, a full jazz treatment by The Missourians, the sensationally hot band that Cab Calloway had recently taken over. Within a few months he would begin adjusting personnel and reducing them to glorified accompanists, but here we have them in their final, untampered-with glory.

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BILLY MURRAY & AMERICAN QUARTET: Some of These Days

Camden NJ: December 27, 1910 (Released March 1911)
Victor 16834 (mx. B 9740 – 3)

Personnel not listed in the Victor files. The American Quartet at this time normally included Murray (lead tenor),  John Bieling (tenor), Steve Porter (baritone), and William F. Hooley (bass).

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SOPHIE TUCKER: Some of These Days

New York: February or March 1911 (Released May 25, 1911)
Edison Amberol 691 (four-minute cylinder)

The Edison studio cash books list Tucker four-minute sessions on February 17 and 24, and March 2, but do not indicate the titles recorded at each.

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TED LEWIS & HIS BAND with SOPHIE TUCKER: Some of These Days

Chicago: November 23, 1926
Columbia 826-D (mx. W 142955 – 2)

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CAB CALLOWAY & HIS ORCHESTRA (Cab Calloway, vocal):
Some of These Days

New York: December 23, 1930
Brunswick 6020 (mx. E 35880 – A)

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Dick Spottswood’s Columbia “C” Series Discography (1908 – 1923) • Free Download Now Available

We’re happy to announce that the next installment in Dick Spottswood’s Columbia ethnic-series discography is now available for free download. This section covers the C-prefixed series, which was intended for the Spanish-speaking markets — a tantalizing mixture of performances by Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and other Latino artists (most of them recorded in their native countries by traveling Columbia engineers), operatic arias and light classics from domestic and imported masters, and various odd-and-ends “repurposed” from other catalogs.
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msp_columbia-cuba_1915-4

msp_columbia-mexico-1

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Click here
to download the discography in PDF format (approximately 5 megabytes). As with the previous installment, this material may be copied or distributed for personal use, provided that the source is cited. Sale or other commercial use is prohibited.

Dick’s latest update of his Columbia “E” series discography will be posted soon.

Mainspring Press 2.0

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Mainspring Press will be undergoing some big changes during 2017, as we make the transition from traditional printed discographies to digital distribution.

The most exciting news is that we will be shifting our discographical efforts to the online Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR), an initiative of the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Packard Humanities Institute. You may already know DAHR from its outstanding work in digitizing Victor and other major-label data, but that’s just the beginning. We’ll be working with them on the minor-label material, including a large amount of previously unpublished data from our Bill Bryant / Record Research Associates holdings and other archives. More details to come as work gets under way.

Contrary to rumor, Mainspring Press is not going out of business, although it is being reorganized as we wind down the printed-discography portion of it. Although we won’t be printing any new discographies, we will continue to provide and license discographical data in other formats. We also hope to resume publishing new text and graphic works later this year, including the monumental Encyclopedia of American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950, which is fast  approaching the 850-page mark (and counting).

Discography 101 • Master Numbers Assigned Out of Chronological Order

We heard very quickly from several of the Old Guard concerning our statement, in the previous post, that some Paramount masters numbers might have been assigned out of chronological sequence. Understandably, some old-timers very much dislike having their discographical cages rattled, and rattle we did. None, however, has so offered any evidence that the New York Recording Laboratories  always assigned Paramount master numbers in perfect, strict chronological order.

Our question to them, then, is: Why would NYRL not have occasionally scrambled its master numbers? Assigning master numbers weeks or even months after the sessions at which the recordings were made was not an uncommon occurrence in the recording industry during this period, even among far better-organized companies than the notoriously slipshod NYRL.

Consider the following examples, plucked at random from the Victor files. All of these recordings sat around for one to six months after the sessions at which they were made, before finally being assigned master numbers — which by that time had advanced well beyond the numbers that would have been assigned at the time of recording. If one were to go simply by the normal chronological sequence of Victor master numbers, the approximate recording dates would appear to be those shown in Column 2. And they would be very wrong, as seen from the actual recording dates shown in Column 3:

msp_vic-mx_out-of-sequence

Many similar examples can be found in the Victor, Columbia, and Brunswick-Vocalion files throughout the 1920s — but you get the general idea.

A final note for now in what will be a long, ongoing investigation: There’s an especially telling case (which we’ll leave to its discoverer to reveal in detail in due time) in which NYRL numbers are demonstrably out-of-whack. This one involves a Paramount session to which the old-timers assigned a speculative recording date that’s literally an impossibility, apparently based upon their belief that NYRL numbers always marched along in strict chronological order — In this case, the artist is documented as having been out of the country at that time!

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The Playlist • “Charleston Back to Charleston,” Three Ways (1925)

msp-sm_charleston-back

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JACK STILLMAN’S ORIOLE ORCHESTRA:  I’m Gonna Charleston Back to Charleston

New York: c. October–November 1925?*
Paramount 20423 (mx. 2333 – 1)
*Evidence is mounting that Paramount’s New York studio did not always assign final master numbers at the time of recording — particularly some discrepancies between the date ranges given in traditional discographies (like the questionable one shown here), and confirmed date ranges extrapolated from talent-broker Ed Kirkeby’s session files. Could this be one of those instances, given that companies for which original files exist recorded this title during the mid-summer of 1925? A large amount of research remains to be done in this regard, but we’re on it — stay tuned!

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COON-SANDERS ORIGINAL NIGHT HAWKS ORCHESTRA (Carleton Coon & Joe Sanders, vocal): I’m Gonna Charleston Back to Charleston

Camden, NJ: July 13, 1925 (Released  August 21, 1925;  Deleted 1927)
Victor 19727 (mx. BVE 32768 – 4)

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CALIFORNIA RAMBLERS: I’m Gonna Charleston Back to Charleston

New York: July 9, 1925
Columbia 419-D (mx. W 140674 – 1)
Rust’s Jazz & Ragtime Records 1897–1942 and derivative works, including American Dance Bands on Records and Film, give the date as June 9, in error. July 9 is confirmed in the Kirkeby logbook and Columbia files.

Free Download of Brian Rust’s Jazz Records Discography Is Now Available

The Personal Use Edition of Brian Rust’s Jazz Records Discography (1917–1934) is now available for free download.

Before downloading, please be sure to read the Q & A below:

 

Q: Why is Mainspring Press making this available free of charge?

A: For many years, we have had requests from the collecting and research communities to make Brian’s jazz-record data freely available for much-needed revisions, additions, and corrections. Brian’s Jazz & Ragtime Records 1897–1942 (the sixth and final edition) is now a seventeen-year-old publication in dire need of updating. With Brian’s death several years ago, it’s time to pass the torch to others, as he certainly would have wanted.

Although several groups and individuals have expressed interest in carrying on Brian’s work, all wanted an exclusive “lock” on the data (although they were not willing to actually pay for it). In the end, it was decided that a new model is needed in which the material is made freely available to all, to share and revise as needed.

It is our hope that collectors and researchers will come together to coordinate their additions and corrections—with appropriate  documentation standards and quality-control measures in place— in a way that eventually results in a free online jazz discography containing the most authoritative data available.

Q: Am I required to share my additions or corrections with Mainspring Press?

No, there are no strings attached. Mainspring Press is not involved in this initiative in any way, other than to serve as the initial data supplier, and we will not be publishing a seventh edition of Jazz Records.

Q: Does this mean that other Mainspring Press publications are also free to access and distribute?

A: No. All other Mainspring publications remain subject to copyright and exclusive publication-rights protection and require a paid licensing agreement, in advance, for any use exceeding customary fair-use standards. Works by Bryant, Sutton, and/or  the Record Research Associates are currently available for pre-paid licensing on a non-exclusive basis. Works by other authors are not available for licensing.

Q: What is the legal status of this data?

Mainspring Press (the sole copyright holder in this material, per a 2001 contractual assignment by Brian Rust) is placing all material contained in the Free Personal-Use Edition — that is, all entries from 1917 through 1934 — into the public domain. This means that you may freely use, alter, and distribute the data in any way, with one important exception.

Q: What’s the important exception?

The Free Personal-Use Edition may not be sold, commercially published, or incorporated into a for-profit work — i.e., you may not sell print-outs for profit, charge customers to download the file from your blog or website, etc. Mainspring retains all commercial publication rights to this material (which is a separate issue from copyright) and is licensing it solely for personal, non-commercial use, non-profit use. The data is contains may be used as the underlying basis for a substantially new work, provided that work is distributed free of charge. In addition, Mainspring Press will continue to hold exclusive commercial publication rights to the full edition of Jazz & Ragtime Records 1897-1942 (JR-6).

Q: Will the full edition of JR-6 still be available?

Yes. Although sales of JR-6 have been essentially nil for some  years now, we will continue to make it available on CD as a service to the occasional customer who may still wish to purchase it.

Q: Are the pre-1917 and post-1934 Rust entries also free to use?

No. For now, Mainspring Press is retaining copyright and exclusive publication rights in that material, as contractually assigned by Brian Rust, and it remains subject to the same rights and restrictions as our other publications. It could be released for free access in time, provided that significant headway is seen being made in use of the 1917–1934 data.

Q: May I make and distribute copies, or convert the file to other formats?

A: Yes, so long as you do charge to do so. The files are not copy-protected in any way, and there are no restrictions on conversion to other formats.

Q: Will Mainspring provide assistance in converting or working with the files, or provide the files on CD?

No. We will not be supplying any advice or technical support, and the files will be available only online.

Q: Can I post these files to the Internet?

A: Yes, provided that (a) you do not charge for them, and (b) you credit Mainspring Press as the source, with an active link to www.mainspringpress.com.

 

 

Pressing Plant Indicators on RCA Victor 78-rpm and 45-rpm Record Labels (1947, 1950)

One of the easiest way to determine pressing plants for RCA Victor’s later 78s and early 45s and LPs is from subtle clues in the label design. Victor revealed them in the Standardizing Notices pictured below in 1947 (for 78s) and 1950 (for 45s). For 78s, the clues lie in the concentric rings, and their spacing relative to the circled RCA logo; for 45s, in the placement of a double hyphen within the upper text circle.

“Canonsburg” refers to RCA’s auxiliary plant in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, which opened in 1947. In 1950 it was converted to a 45-only plant, then was closed in 1953.

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MSP_rca-standard-1947

Indianapolis text above, which is unclear on the original, reads: “Two concentric circles nearly touch small RCA circle.

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MSP_rca-standard-1950

Now In Stock: “Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919–1945: An Illustrated History”

IN STOCK — ORDER DIRECTLY FROM MAINSPRING PRESS

MSP_race-records_cover

RACE RECORDS AND THE AMERICAN RECORDING INDUSTRY, 1919–1945: An Illustrated History
By Allan Sutton

388 Pages / 208 Illustrations
6″ x 9″ Quality Paperback

$39 US (Free Shipping)
$59 All Foreign (w/ Insured Airmail)

_______________________________________

MSP-race-records_contents

 

From the Preface:

Race Records and the American Recording Industry is the story of those remarkable companies and individuals who gambled on a new and often unpredictable market in the face of racial prejudice and entrenched business practices, and in doing so made the American recording industry more inclusive, and far more interesting, than it once had been.

This work takes a broad view of what were once termed “race records” — recordings intended primarily for the African-American market, which often were segregated in specially numbered series and not listed in the record companies’ main catalogs. Many modern writers associate race records solely with blues and gospel, the equivalent of assuming that rural whites bought only records of mountaineer tunes, or that Italian immigrants bought only opera. While blues and gospel made up a large portion of race-record offerings, they were only part of a broad spectrum that also included religious material of all sorts, jazz and dance music, mainstream pop, comedy and novelty selections, concert and classical material, and even the occasional country-music offering, all of which are explored in this work

Because the music itself has been amply covered elsewhere, this work instead focuses on the making, marketing, and distribution of race records prior to the late 1940s, exploring the ways in which those activities affected, and were affected by, conditions within the nation and within the recording industry as a whole. That is why (to respond in advance to inevitable criticism by Robert Johnson’s legions of fans) an entire chapter is devoted to Mamie Smith, whereas Johnson is covered in several pages. Were this a musical rather than a business and social history, the ratio, of course, would be reversed.

But Mamie Smith’s early records, whatever their musical shortcomings, had a profound impact on the recording industry, revealing a huge untapped market, opening the way for many other black artists to make records, and encouraging aspiring black entrepreneurs to get involved with record production, which until then had been completely controlled by whites. On the other hand, although Robert Johnson is now revered by mass-media rock stars and the pop-culture establishment (as much for the hoary legends surrounding him as for his music), in the 1930s he was just another talented but obscure local artist whose records went largely unnoticed outside of his home region, and who had no significant impact on the recording industry or American musical culture at the time his records were issued. Johnson receives as much coverage as he does mainly  because his story provides an excellent example of how the record companies handled, or mishandled, their race artists.

The book also debunks many common myths and misconceptions that stubbornly refuse to die, having been perpetuated for decades by writers who are content to parrot anecdotal material from questionable secondary sources. Some long-standing discographical errors have been corrected as well, based upon examination of primary-source materials that have been missed by earlier researchers…

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Discographic Update: Corrected Personnel for the 1927 Okeh “Goofus Five” Sessions, from Ed Kirkeby’s Payroll Book

We continue with our corrections to the undocumented (and thus, often very incorrect) personnel listings in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Films and Records, successor to Brian Rust’s American Dance Band Discography.

The following listings, taken from Ed Kirkeby’s payroll books,  correct ADBFR’s speculative personnel for the 1927 “Goofus Five” sessions at Okeh’s New York studio. Names in boldface are correct personnel, from the payroll books. Struck-out names are incorrect guesses that appear in ADBFR. See the previous posting for more information on the Kirkeby archival materials.

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New York: February 8, 1927

“Farewell Blues” (mx. 80402) / “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” (mx. 80403) / “Some of These Days” (mx. 80404)

 

Tpt: Chelsea Quealey  Roy Johnston

Tbn: Abe Lincoln  Ivan Johnston

Reeds: Sam Ruby, Bobby Davis, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Irving Brodsky  Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

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New York: April 14, 1927

“Muddy Water” (mx. 80730) / “The Wang Wang Blues” (mx. 80731) / “The Whisper Song” (mx. 80732) / “Arkansas Blues” (mx. 80733)

 

Tpt: Chelsea Quealey

Tbn: Abe Lincoln  [none listed]

Reeds: Sam Ruby, Bobby Davis, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Irving Brodsky  Jack Russin

Bjo / Gtr: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

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New York: June 15, 1927

“Lazy Weather” (mx. 81015) / “Vo-Do-Do-De-O Blues” (mx. 81016) / “Ain’t That a Grand and Glorious Feeling?” (mx. 81017)

 

Tpt: Chelsea Quealey

Tbn: Al Philburn  Tommy Dorsey

Reeds: Bobby Davis, Sam Ruby, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

Vocal: Ed Kirkeby

____________________

 

New York: August 10 and 12, 1927

August 10: “Clementine” (mx. 81207) / “Nothin’ Does It Like It Used to Do-Do-Do” (mx. 81208)

August 12: “I Left My Sugar Standing in the Rain” (mx. 81219; originally scheduled for August 10 session)

 

Tpt: Chelsea Quealey

Tbn: Al Philburn  [none listed]

Reeds: Bobby Davis, Sam Ruby, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

Note: The vocalist (Beth Challis) was not on Kirkeby’s payroll.

____________________

New York: November 3, 1927

“Blue Baby, Why Are You Blue?” (mx. 81772) / “Make My Cot Where the Cot-Cot-Cotton Grows” (mx. 81773) / “Is She My Girl Friend?” (mx. 81774)

 

Tpt: Henry Levine, Chelsea Quealey

Tbn: Al Philburn

Reeds: Bob Fallon, Pete Pumiglio, Spencer Clark

Pno: Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

Note: The vocalist (Les Reis) was not on Kirkeby’s payroll.

Discographic Update: Corrected Personnel for Gennett 1926–1927 “Vagabonds” (California Ramblers) Sessions, from Ed Kirkeby’s Payroll Books

We continue with our corrections to the undocumented (and thus, often very incorrect) personnel listings in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Films and Records, successor to Rust’s American Dance Band Discography.

The following listings, taken from Ed Kirkeby’s payroll books,  correct ADBFR’s speculative personnel for the California Ramblers’ 1926–1927 “Vagabonds” sessions at the Starr Piano Company’s Gennett studio in New York. Names in boldface are confirmed in the payroll books. Struck-out names are incorrect guesses that appear in ADBFR. Perhaps the most important correction to note is the absence of Tommy Dorsey on all of these records.

In addition to Ed Kirkeby’s “diaries” and payroll books (two separate sets of documents, which when merged provide a very complete picture of each session), we are using Perry Armagnac’s unpublished annotations, which were made with Mr. Kirkeby’s personal assistance in the early 1950s. At that time, Kirkeby was able to clear up some of the ambiguities in his files, which included providing full names for some of his lesser-known part-time musicians (generally, only last names were entered), and the instruments they played. In other cases, he was unable to recall full details; rather than guess (although in some cases the answers seem fairly obvious), we’ve listed those personnel as [?],  to avoid muddling the original data.

 

___________________________________________

New York: March 19, 1926

“Gimme a Little Kiss” (mxs. X-43) / “Could I? I Certainly Could (mx. X-44) / “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain” (mx. X-45)

 

Tpts: Chelsea Quealy, Frank Cush  Leo McConville, Roy Johnston

Tbn: Abe Lincoln  George Troup

Reeds: Sam Ruby, Bobby Davis, Arnold Brillhart, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Irving Brodsky  F. Fabian Storey

Bjo: Tommy Felline  [?]

Percussion: Stan King  Herb Weil

Unknown instrument(s): [?] Deacon, [?] Frink

Note: The vocalist (Arthur Fields) was not on EK’s payroll.

____________________

New York: August 19, 1926

“Looking at the World Thru’ Rose Colored Glasses” (mx. X-227) / “On the Riviera” (mx. X-228) / “The Birth of the Blues” (mx. X-229 — Rejected per Gennett ledger; remade by Willie Creager’s Orchestra on X-259*)

 

Tpts: Frank Cush  Chelsea Quealy, Roy Johnston

Tbn: Tommy Dorsey  George Troup

Reeds: Arnold Brillhart, Bobby Davis, Sam Ruby, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Irving Brodsky  Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

Unknown instrument(s): [?] Stark

* Musicians’ pay was reduced proportionally (to two titles from three) because X-229 was rejected. ADBFR’s claim that X-229 appeared on Champion 15079 is unconfirmed. If you have the Ramblers’ version of this record and can supply confirming photo and audio evidence, please let us know.

Kirkeby paid himself $26.65 for unspecified services on this session.

____________________

 

New York: “Seeley — Starr,” January 14, 1927

“College Girls” (—) / “Sam, the Old Accordion Man” (—)

It is not certain that this was a California Ramblers session. It is listed only in Kirkeby’s logbook; no corresponding entry has been found in his payroll book or the Gennett ledgers. Although it’s tempting to speculate this refers to Blossom Seeley, we’ve so far found no evidence to support that.

 

_____________________

New York: May 2, 1927

“I’m Back in Love Again” (mx. GEX-635) / “Yes She Do — No She Don’t” (mx. GEX-636) / “Sluefoot” (mx. GEX-637)

 

Tpts: Frank CushChelsea Quealy

Tbn: Tommy Dorsey  Edward Lapp

Reeds: Arnold Brillhart, Bobby Davis, Bob Fallon, Sam Ruby, Adrian Rollini

Pno: Irving Brodsky  Jack Russin

Bjo: Tommy Felline

Percussion: Herb Weil

Unknown instrument(s): [?] Black

The Playlist • The Best of Fess Williams & his Royal Flush Orchestra (1927)

MSP_williams-fess_composite

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FESS WILLIAMS’ ROYAL FLUSH ORCHESTRA:
White Ghost Shivers

New York: February 3, 1927 (A.M. session, Brunswick Studio – Room #1)
Vocalion 1085
Three takes were made (E4503, E4504, E4505); the selected take is not shown on our pressing. The recording date is given in error as February 2 in Rust’s Jazz Records.

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FESS WILLIAMS’ ROYAL FLUSH ORCHESTRA:
Variety Stomp

New York: March 28, 1927 (P.M. session, Room #1)
Brunswick 3532 (mx. 22361, renumbered from Vocalion mx. E4769)

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FESS WILLIAMS’ ROYAL FLUSH ORCHESTRA:
Phantom Blues

New York: March 28, 1927 (P.M. session, Room #1)
Brunswick 3532 (mx. E22366, renumbered from Vocalion mx. E4774)

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FESS WILLIAMS’ ROYAL FLUSH ORCHESTRA:
Alligator Crawl

New York: June 15, 1927 (P.M. session, Room #2)
Brunswick 3589 (mx. E23633)
Arrangement by Fess Williams, per Brunswick files

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FESS WILLIAMS’ ROYAL FLUSH ORCHESTRA:
Ozark Blues

New York: June 15, 1927 (P.M. session, Room #2)
Brunswick 3589 (mx. E23638)
Arrangement by Fess Williams, per Brunswick files

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FESS WILLIAMS’ ROYAL FLUSH ORCHESTRA:
Number 10

New York: June 24, 1927 (P.M. session, Room #1)
Brunswick 3596 (mx. E23747)
Arrangement by Fess Williams, per Brunswick files

 

Three ARSC 2015 Awards for Mainspring Press Books: Eli Oberstein, Victor Special Labels, Ajax Records

We’re honored to announce that three Mainspring Press titles have received 2015 awards from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Details and secure online ordering are available on the Mainspring Press website.

The ARSC Award for Excellence—Best Label Discography went to Eli Oberstein’s United States Record Corporation: A History and Discography, 1939–1940:

cover-USRC

2015 Certificates of Merit were awarded to The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1941; and Ajax Records: A History and Discography:

COVER_victor-specialsAJAX-COVER-x252

ORDER SOON if you’re interested in Oberstein or Victor Special Labels. Both titles have been on the market for a while, so supplies are running low (and in addition, there’s recently been a big library run on USRC). We won’t be reprinting either title once our current supplies are gone.

Sorry, Ajax has already sold out (it was a 2013 title — the wheels sometimes turn very slowly at ARSC), although we might consider reprinting this one if there’s sufficient interest — Let us know.