John O. Prescott: From “Blue Indians” to Hopi Indians

John O. Prescott ranks high on the list of undeservedly forgotten recording pioneers. Although eclipsed by his brother Frederick (founder of the International Zonophone Company and the Berlin-based International Talking Machine Company, the producers of Odeon records), John O’s accomplishments — which ranged from co-founding what would become the Nipponophone Company in 1910 to serving as Gennett’s chief technician in the 1920s — were equally impressive.

John Prescott’s role in the American Record Company (which was backed by brother Fred’s Odeon operation) and its marketing arm, Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott, is covered in detail in American Record Company, Hawthorne & Sheble, International Record Company: Histories and Discographies (Bryant & Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015) and need not be repeated here. What we’ll be examining in this article is Prescott’s career after American Record’s demise.
.

.

The American Record Company discs — nicknamed “Blue Indian records” by the trade, for their distinctive blue pressings and American Indian trademark — were quite successful until Columbia succeeded in shutting the company down for patent infringement in January 1907. [1] The partnership split, with Ellsworth A. Hawthorne and Horace Sheble regrouping as the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company, and John Prescott going his own way. Little more was heard of Prescott until November 1907, when The Talking Machine World reported, “He left last week for a fortnight’s hunting on Long Island, and on returning he may have something of interest to announce to the trade relative to his work in a fresh field.” [2]

The “something of interest” probably was the Twoforone Champion Record, a double-sided disc for which Prescott filed a trademark application on February 24, 1908. [3] Prescott had been quietly preparing to resume record production ever since the collapse of the American Record Company. In January 1907 he had applied for a U.S. patent on a new pressing process that included a provision for double-sided discs. [4] Two months later, TMW reported that he had taken over the former American Record Company studio, which he was managing in the guise of “The Laboratory Association.” [5] But with the means of production all in place, Champion apparently failed to launched.

.

Prescott’s trademark filing for Champion Records (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).

.

Instead, Prescott retired to his home in Summit, New Jersey, where his new neighbor was brother Fred (who, having sold his interest in International Talking Machine and returned home a wealthy man, was now happily engaged in his new hobby of raising chickens). But Prescott could not remain idle for long, and in May 1909 he sailed on the Lusitania for what was to have been a brief visit to London. Instead, he ended up on an extended tour that took him from England and France (where he was highly impressed by Emil Pathé’s demonstration of the vertical-cut disc) to Russia, then on to China and Korea—and, finally, to Japan, where his career would soon take an unexpected turn. Prescott was no fan of the country, as he made clear upon his return in August 1909. “Excuse me from permanently living in Japan,” he declared. “The beautiful pictures we see there of entrancing landscapes … are on postal cards only … Nobody has any money excepting the very rich, and they are comparatively few in the teeming millions of ordinary Japs.” [6]

Back in the U.S., Prescott leased the Laboratory Association studio to the Sonora Phonograph Company in September 1909. The company was planning to produce its own discs in both vertical- and lateral-cut formats (Sonora’s April 1910 TMW ad depicted a vertical-cut Sonora disc and a lateral-cut Crown disc, although the latter is not known to have been produced). However, Prescott does not appear to have had any involvement with the company, other than as landlord. The studio initially was managed for Sonora by former Zonophone engineer George Cheney, who departed for Phono-Cut before production got fully under way. [7]

In the meantime, Prescott had returned to Japan, despite his professed dislike of the place. In January 1910, The Talking Machine World reported that he was managing a recording studio in Tokyo. [8] The owner of that studio (whose name was not given by TMW) was the Japan-American Phonograph Manufacturing Company, Ltd., the only record manufacturer operating in Japan at that time. [9] Financed, owned, and managed by American businessmen, including Prescott, the company initially produced the Symphony Record label.

.

The now-rare Symphony label was soon supplanted by the Nipponophone brand. (Author’s collection)

.

Japan-American’s sales agent was the Nipponophone Company, which soon substituted its own Nipponophone label for Symphony. By the autumn of 1910, the Japan-American / Nipponophone combine was producing records on a fairly large scale under Prescott’s management.

.

Prescott (seated at left) in Japan, 1910

.

In addition to his expertise, Prescott brought along a ready-made catalog of Western recordings — the American Record Company masters. Nipponophone’s “Foreign Records” catalog of c. 1910–1911 included a substantial number of old American recordings that were renumbered and offered in new couplings, sans artist credits, with the occasional humorous mistranslation  (“A Gay Gossoon” became “A Gay Cartoon,” “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” became “Dream of the Rabbit King”). [10] The records were intended for foreign residents and tourists, but demand for them must have been meager, and they are extraordinarily rare today. A badly damaged specimen, showing the original American numbers in the wax, was found on the West Coast many decades ago. A second specimen was later reported, but as so often happens, the supposed owner did not respond to a request for a confirming photograph or other proof of its existence.

.

A page from Nipponophone’s “Foreign Record” catalog listing anonymous reissues from American Record Company masters. The uncredited artists included Arthur Collins, Byron G. Harlan, Frank C. Stanley, Len Spencer, and Steve Porter. (Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press)

.

By the end of 1910, Prescott had enough of Japan. He resigned from the Japan-American Phonograph Company, and his place was taken by Thomas Kraemer, [11] who had been associated with the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company. Prescott’s stay had done nothing to improve his opinion of that country, its climate, or its workforce. Upon his return to the States in early 1911, he complained,

“The air is so humid that you soon fall into a condition of lassitude difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. To be sure, if you can adapt yourself to Oriental ways; that is, take things as they come in an indifferent, easy-going way, perhaps one could manage. An active American, coming from home full of life, snap, and ginger, and wanting to take hold and accomplish something the way we do it here, is forced to give up or become Orientalized. Excuse me, I am not built that way.” [12]

In June 1911, Prescott departed once again for Europe, where he “expected to look the trade over a little” before attending the coronation of George V in London. [13] Perhaps not coincidentally, his trip occurred at about the time that the London-based Disc Record Company, Ltd., acquired some American Record Company masters, which were parceled out to Britannic, Defiant, Pelican, The Leader, and other minor labels for the British and export markets. Whether the masters came from Prescott, from the Lindstrom organization (which had taken over the International Talking Machine Company’s assets), or from some other source, has not been established.

Little more was heard of John Prescott until August 1912, when The Talking Machine World reported that he had been in Constantinople for “a year or more,” managing an unnamed record company. [14] For the next eight years, Prescott’s name would be absent from the American trade papers.

When Prescott finally resurfaced in the U.S., it was as an independent contractor. In February 1920, he placed a large display ad in The Talking Machine World offering his services to record manufacturers in need of an expert hand:

.

.

Prescott eventually found a taker in the Starr Piano Company’s Gennett Records division, based in Richmond, Indiana. In August 1921, the company reactivated its Richmond studio, which had been idle since late 1916. [15] Prescott was hired as chief technician of the Richmond plant, with duties that included wax formulation and oversight of the pressing plant. He also seems to have had some say in regard to master approval, and comments referring to “J. O” are sprinkled throughout the Richmond recording ledgers of the mid-1920s. It’s tempting to speculate that he was responsible for naming the company’s budget-priced Champion label, harkening back to his aborted 1908 venture, but documentary evidence of that is lacking.

The “Blue Indian” man finally came face-to-face with actual Indians in May 1926, as part of a Gennett team that traveled to Arizona’s Grand Canyon to record traditional Hopi songs. The expedition was undertaken in association with the Smithsonian Institution, under the supervision of Dr. J. Walter Fewkes, head of the Smithsonian’s Department of Ethnology. Music Trade Review reported that the Santa Fe Railroad was assisting in moving the recording apparatus from Richmond and had obtained government permission to transport the Indians and their ponies the one-hundred miles from their reservation to the Grand Canyon.

Along with Gennett recording engineer Ezra C. A. (Wick) Wickemeyer, Prescott oversaw the cutting of fourteen masters (a single take each for ten sides, and two takes each for two others) in a makeshift studio at the El Tovar Hotel. The company, having failed in its initial attempt at electrical recording earlier that year, dispatched its more trustworthy acoustic equipment. The masters were shipped back to Richmond in early June and were processed for commercial release under standard Gennett catalog numbers, after which the masters were deposited with the Smithsonian. [16]

.


.

KAKAPTI: Ma’Qutu (Rabbit Hunt) (as “Makwatu”)  
El Tovar Hotel. Grand Canyon, Arizona: Late May 1926
Gennett 5759 (mx. 12530)

_______________________

Exactly when Prescott left Gennett has not been discovered, but he apparently continued to work in the sound-recording field at least into the early 1930s. On January 27, 1929, he and Frederick A. Kolster filed a patent on a photo-electric sound-recording system that they assigned to the Federal Telegraph Company of Newark, New Jersey. [17] After that, Prescott’s trail grows cold. He died in Pasadena, California, on July 14, 1946.

 

[1] American Graphophone Co. v. American Record Co., 151 F. 595.

[2] Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (November 15, 1907), p. 79.

[3] Prescott, John O. “Twoforone Champion Record.” U.S. Trademark application #32,975 (filed February 24, 1908).

[4] Prescott, John O. “Mechanism for Making Sound Records.” U.S. Patent #847,820 (filed January 15, 1907).

[5] Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (March 15, 1907), p. 39.

[6] “’Talker’ Conditions in Foreign Countries.” Talking Machine World (September 15, 1909), p. 41.

[7] “Geo. K. Cheney to Boston.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1910), p. 14.

[8] “J. O. Prescott in Japan.” Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1910), p. 3.

[9] “The Talking Machine Trade in Japan.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 1911), p. 4.

[10] The Nipponophone Company, Ltd. “Foreign Records” (Tokyo, c. 1910–1911). A listing of the Nipponophone issues can be found in American Record Company, Hawthorne & Sheble, International Record Company: Histories and Discographies (Bryant & Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015), available from Mainspring Press.

[11] Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (April 15, 1911), p. 30.

[12] “Returns from Japan.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1911), p. 35.

[13] “J. O. Prescott in Europe.” Talking Machine World (July 15, 1911), p. 54.

[14] “A Visitor from Turkey.” Talking Machine World (August 15, 1912), p. 25.

[15] “Starr Recording in New York.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1917), p. 100. Gennett recorded in Richmond during 1915–1916, using Midwestern artists. The studio was moved to New York in late 1916 or early 1917, to accommodate artists who “found it rather inconvenient to travel out to Richmond.” Regular recording sessions resumed in Richmond on August 20, 1921.

[16] “To Record Hopi Indian Songs on Gennett Records.” Music Trade Review (May 29, 1926), p. 81.

[17] Prescott, John O., and Frederick A. Kolster. “Sound-Reproducing System.” U.S. Patent # 1,776,046 (filed January 7, 1929).

.

Mainspring Press Books: Going, Going (and Soon to Be Gone)

Just a reminder that Mainspring Press has discontinued production of CDs and books as it begins the transition to online data delivery, in affiliation with the Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR) at the University of California–Santa Barbara.

We recommend ordering any titles of interest as soon as possible. Several popular books (including Recording the ‘Thirties and The Pathé-Perfect Discography, Vol. 1) have already sold out, and others are in short supply. All CDs have also sold out.

We won’t be reprinting any titles once the current inventory is sold — and buying these books on the used-and-collectible market (if you can even find copies) is often a very pricey proposition. Don’t miss out!

__________

UPDATE: Mainspring’s long-awaited American Zonophone 7″ and 9″ discographical database has now been incorporated into DAHR (there will be no print edition of this material). It’s the most highly detailed data ever published on these rare recordings, including little-known information on remakes, altered masters, relabelings, reissues, catalog listing dates, artist pseudonyms, and other fine details you just won’t find anywhere else — plus an illustrated history. And it’s free.

 

Free Personal-Use Download: Brian Rust’s Complete “Jazz and Ragtime Records, 1897-1942” (6th and Final Edition)

Response to the initial Personal Use Edition of the late Brian Rust’s JR-6 (1917-1934) has been so positive that we’re now making the complete work (1897-1942) available free of charge for the benefit of the collecting and research communities, in keeping with Brian’s wishes.

This edition is in Adobe Acrobat only. (A plain-text file is not being provided, but text files can be created from Acrobat by various methods. Please note that we are unable to provide any technical assistance in this regard; information can be found in your Acrobat or word-processor documentation, or online.)

Be sure to open the Bookmarks sidebar, on the left side of the screen, for easy navigation through the entries. Abbreviation lists  will be found at the end of the file. Indexes are not included, nor are they needed any longer, thanks to Acrobat’s superior search-engine capabilities.

 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD BRIAN RUST’S
JAZZ & RAGTIME RECORDS, 1897-1842

Free Complete 6th Edition, for Personal Use Only (~ 10mb)

 

LICENSE INFORMATION: By downloading this file, you signify your understanding of and agreement to the following terms:

All data in this work have been placed in the public domain (i.e., released from copyright) by Mainspring Press LLC, the sole copyright holder in this work by 2001 contractual assignment from Brian Rust.

You may copy, print out, distribute, alter, and/or incorporate this data in other works free of charge and without permission, for personal, non-commercial, non-profit use only, provided that you fully cite the source.

Mainspring Press retains the full and exclusive worldwide commercial publication rights (as distinguished from copyright) in this work. This work may not be published or otherwise distributed commercially, by any method (including but not limited to print, digital, and/or online media) without the prior written consent of Mainspring Press.

________

Note: Please do not send additions and corrections to Mainspring Press; we are not producing any further editions of this work.

Some Corrections to Johnson & Shirley’s “American Dance Bands,” from Vic D’Ippolito’s Date Books

Horn-man Vic D’Ippolito’s 1920s date book is the sort of primary-source documentation (like Ed Kirkeby’s files) that causes discographers to salivate. The late Woody Backensto transcribed D’Ippolito’s original data in the late 1950s, a portion of which was published in a special (and now quite rare) October 1958 supplement to Record Research magazine. It’s since been largely overlooked — not least of all by Brian Rust and followers Johnson & Shirley, none of whose dance bands discographies include this information. So to set the records straight, here are a few nuggets we’ve uncovered in just our initial skim:

BLACK SWAN 2106
Brashear’s California Orchestra: Crinoline Days / Lady of the Evening

ADB UNDOCUMENTED IDENTITY AND DATE:
Nathan Glantz’s Orchestra (c. late 10/ 1922)

IDENTITY AND ACTUAL DATE IN D’IPPOLITO LOG:
“Sam Lascabza” [sic? Mike LoScalzo?]  (11/28/1922)

A bit of a mystery here. Backensto interpreted  D’Ippolito’s entry to read “Lascabza,” which could easily be a misreading on his part, or a misspelling on D’Ippolito’s part, for LoScalszo. We’ve not found a Lascabza or a Sam LoScalzo making records at this time, but Mike LoScalzo’s band was recording for Olympic (masters from which were frequently issued on Black Swan under pseudonyms); thus, he seems the most likely suspect. At any rate, there’s nothing in D’Ippolito’s entry to suggest Glantz.

_______

BLACK SWAN 2110
Laurel Dance Orchestra: Burning Sands / You Remind Me of My Mother

ADB UNDOCUMENTED IDENTITY AND DATE:
Listed as an actual orchestra (c. 12/ 1922)

IDENTITY AND ACTUAL DATE PER D’IPPOLITO LOG:
“Sam Lascabza” [sic? Mike Loscalzo?] (11/28/1922)

Same comments as above. The “Laurel Dance Orchestra” pseudonym also appears on other Black Swan issues confirmed as LoScalzo’s.

_______

CAMEO 289
Blue Bird Dance Orchestra: Whistling
CAMEO 290
Blue Bird Dance Orch: Teddy Bear Blues

ADB UNDOCUMENTED IDENTITY AND DATE:
Possibly Arthur Lange (c. late 10/1922)

ACTUAL IDENTITY AND DATE PER D’IPPOLITO LOG:
Al Burt’s Orchestra (12/14/1922)

“Blue Bird Dance Orchestra” isn’t so much a pseudonym as an incomplete artist credit, probably used because Al Burt was an Edison artist at the time. Burt’s band was appearing at the Bluebird Dancing Palace, as confirmed by a check made out to Burt that was endorsed by the dance-hall, which survives at the Edison National Historic Site.

“Teddy Bear” is an under-appreciated little item (as one might expect of a record condemned to Arthur Lange Hell by the supposed experts), with D’Ippolito front-and-center:

____________

CAMEO 724
Mike Speciale’s Orchestra: Something’s Wrong

CAMEO 727
Mike Speciale’s Orchestra: Cross Words

ADB UNDOCUMENTED IDENTITY AND DATE:
Orchestra identity is correct, but Vic D’Ippolito not shown in the undocumented personnel listing  (c. 4/20/1925)

ACTUAL IDENTITY AND DATE PER D’IPPOLITO LOG:
Vic D’Ippolito is present (4/21/1925)

 

______

VOCALION 14475
Broadway Syncopators: Without You

ADB UNDOCUMENTED IDENTITY AND DATE:
Ben Selvin’s Orchestra (c. 12/6/1922)

ACTUAL IDENTITY AND DATE PER D’IPPOLITO LOG:
Emil Coleman’s Montmartre Orchestra (12/4/1922)

__________

ACTUAL RECORDING DATES FROM THE D’IPPOLITO BOOK (ADB BAND IDENTITIES ARE CORRECT):

Cameo 256: 9/13/1922 (Apparently for the remake session [takes D-F], based on the master-number gap between these sides and those on the other two sides [takes A-C] from this session) (ADB: c. 7/1922)
Cameo 265 (both sides): 9/13/1922 (ABD: c. 8/20/1922)
Cameo 273 (both sides): 10/13/1922 (ADB: c. 9/20/1922)
Cameo 274 (both sides): 9/25/1922 (ADB: c. 9/19/1922)
Cameo 713 (both sides): 4/7/1925 (ADB: c. 4/6/1925)
Cameo 727 (both sides): 4/21/1925 (ADB: c. 4/20/1924)
Federal 5244 (both sides): 1/5/1923 (ADB: c. 1/1923)
Federal 5245 (Starlight Bay): 1/5/1923 (ADB: c. 1/1923)
To be continued….

 

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:
.

.

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.

________

* 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.

    *     *     *     *     *

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.

.

msp_zono-1565

.
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.
.

msp_zono-10-1901_herbert1

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 [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]

.

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.

.

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

__________

[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.

__________________________________

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.

.

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.

.

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).

.

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.

.

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

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

.

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

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

.

 

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.
.

msp_columbia-cuba_1915-4

msp_columbia-mexico-1

.
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

logo-bluesquare

 

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!

.

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

msp-sm_charleston-back

.

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!

.

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)

.

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.

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.

.

MSP_rca-standard-1947

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

.

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…

.

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.

____________________________________________

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

____________________

 

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

____________________


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.