Free Download: John Bolig’s Victor Black Label Discography, Vol. 5 (1935 – 1942)

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John Bolig’s many fans will be happy to hear that his new Victor Black Label Discography, Volume 5 is now available as a free download, courtesy of UC-Santa Barbara’s online Discography of American Historical Recordings (< click this link to get to the download site).

Volume 5 — the first in this important series for which there will be no printed edition — covers the 25000, 26000, and 27000 series, from 1935 to 1942. Like all previous volumes, it was compiled from the original RCA documentation and contains no speculative or anecdotal material — just the (non-alternative) facts.

The download is in searchable PDF format (Adobe Acrobat or Reader) and can be printed out for personal use. For book enthusiasts, Mainspring Press still has  copies of Volumes 1–4 available (which are not available as free downloads), but quantities are very limited, so order soon to avoid missing out — they’re sure to become collectors’ items.

A Preliminary Guide to American Zonophone Recording Dates (And What They Tell Us About Early Zonophone Operations)

American Zonophone recording dates have always been a puzzle to collectors. Aside from a portion of the 1911 ledger that somehow escaped destruction, and dates gleaned from test pressings, primary-source documentation is lacking. And because the company often waited many months or even years to release recordings, attempting to extrapolate from release dates is bound to produce false results (or “alternative facts,” as El Presidente would have it).

Fortunately, some dated Zonophone test pressings exist that provide reliable anchor-points in establishing approximate date ranges, which are shown in the table below. Keep in mind that these dates are approximate and subject to ongoing refinement, and should always be cited as “circa.” In reality, the numerical breaks would not have been as tidy as those shown here, which assume relatively consistent monthly output (more about that below). However, they should serve as a reasonably accurate guide, give-or-take a month in either direction.

These dates also mesh well with known listing and/or release dates. However, It’s important to note that Zonophone at this time assigned entirely new master numbers to remakes, and it produced a  lot of remakes. So if you find a c. December 1905 master number on a May 1904 release, the chart isn’t out-of-whack; you have a remake. Remakes are listed in detail in the data we plan to post with DAHR later this year.

 

msp_zono-mx-dates_1903-05

 

The numerical ranges reveal a great deal about the Universal Talking Machine Company’s Zonophone recording operation. From mid-1903 (when master numbers first started appearing on Zonophone pressings) through the end of 1904, the company averaged a staggering 250 masters per month — more than double Victor’s output for the same period.

This activity can be attributed in part to Zonophone’s need to play “catch-up.” In mid-1903, the company began replacing its etched-label series with new paper-labeled discs. Although some of the etched-label recordings were pressed into service to fill out the new series, many new masters would be required to essentially rebuild the Zonophone catalog from scratch. Then, in March 1904, the company was forced to withdraw its entire catalog of bogus “Victor Herbert’s Band” recordings, requiring extensive remake work throughout the spring and early summer to replace those issues with legal versions (see the previous post).

In early 1905, there was a sudden dramatic drop in recording activity. Total output that year fell to approximately 1130 masters, more in line with Victor’s output. The drop can be attributed in part to Zonophone’s decision to replace the seven- and nine-inch series with a new ten-inch line. Although the company continued to record small-diameter masters through the end of 1905 (isolated examples as late as November–December 1905 have been confirmed), output of those masters quickly fell to negligible levels. Zonophone’s new ten-inch series was limited to just 25 single-sided releases per month in the main catalog, with a smattering of additional operatic, ethnic, and twelve-inch releases from time to time.

We certainly can’t rule out Victor president Eldridge Johnson as having had a hand in the slowdown. Although the majority owner of the Universal Talking Machine Company, Johnson did not meddle in Zonophone’s artist-and-repertoire matters. But he  certainly would have had his say on business issues from the start, as can be seen in the 1904 decision to transfer Zonophone’s pressing operations from the Auburn Button Works to the Duranoid Company, Victor’s primary pressing plant at the time. From the start, Johnson made it clear that his sole motive in purchasing Universal was to rein-in a competitor — and what better way to do so than by capping its production? *

If you’re fortunate enough to own any dated American Zonophone test pressings, we’d be grateful for the information. The more data that become available, the more closely we can approximate the actual date ranges. At present, we’re working to extend the dating guide through the end of Zonophone’s independent period in 1909–1910, at which point its recording activities were transferred to the Victor studios.

— Allan Sutton

* For a myth-busting account of the Universal Talking Machine Company–Eldridge Johnson saga, be sure to check the author’s A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900–1919, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

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).

The Playlist: Roots of Western Swing (1936 – 1938)

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THE RANGE RIDERS: The Range Riders’ Stomp

Hot Springs, Arkansas: March 1, 1937
Vocalion 03579 (mx. HS 1 – 1)

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MODERN MOUNTAINEERS (SMOKY WOOD, vocal): Dirty Dog Blues

San Antonio, Texas (Texas Hotel): March 1, 1937
Bluebird B-6976 (mx. BS 07436 – 1)

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CLAUDE CASEY & HIS PINE STATE PLAYBOYS: Pine State
Honky Tonk

Rock Hill, South Carolina (Andrew Jackson Hotel): September 27, 1938
Montgomery Ward M-7707 (mx. BS 027737 – 1)

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BOB WILLS & HIS TEXAS PLAYBOYS: Playboy Stomp

Dallas, Texas: June 7, 1937
Vocalion 03854 (mx. DAL 215 – 1)

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WASHBOARD WONDERS (Harry Blair, vocal): And Still
No Luck with You

Charlotte, NC (Southern Radio Building): June 22, 1936
Bluebird B-6463  (mx. BS 102803 – 1)

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W. LEE O’DANIEL & HIS HILLBILLY BOYS: (Kitty Williamson as “Texas Rose,” vocal): I’ve Got the Blues

Dallas: May 15, 1938
Vocalion 04353 (mx. DAL 559 – 1)

_______________________________

Quote of the Week:

“[We have] been betrayed by the so-called ‘mainstream media,’ who fawned for months over the clearly unqualified candidate, giving him billions of dollars of free media, betrayed by cynical executives more interested in a buck than the facts of the matter…and by politicians who spoke to their base and did not venture from safe venues, that is to say, they stayed far away from the genuine hurt and the mistrust and the economic dead ends that afflict so many of us.

We must try to remember that this level of vulgarity, of blatant lying, of demonizing whole groups of people, nearly always backfires, that real change will come when middle class whites, Hispanics and blacks realize they share more in common with each other than those in whose interest it is that they stay divided…

What to do, you ask? A million things, of course. But it begins only with the first step of awareness and commitment… Just go forward. Engage. Don’t despair. Find like-minded people — not from your social circle, but everywhere. Change the opinions of others, not with ridicule, but reason. Finally, remember too that Barack Obama himself has said that the highest office in the land is not president, but citizen.

Be one.”

Ken Burns (Washington Post)
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MSP_voc-04353_DAL559

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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

Oddball Record Updates • 1907 Mercury Record; Indestructible Dictaphone Training Cylinder

A couple of unusual special-use records that we’ve not seen before, courtesy of Tim Brooks (Mercury) and David Giovannoni (Indestructible). If anyone has other examples of these, or more information on them, we’d like to hear from you.

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MERCURY RECORD (1907)

MSP-TB_mercury-1907

 

The Mercury Record above obviously has nothing to do with the well-known label that was founded in 1945. It was made by American Graphophone (Columbia) for the Electric Novelty and Talking Machine Company. The company exhibited telegraphic equipment at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, although it was not formally incorporated until April 4, 1905. It was chartered in Jersey City, New Jersey, by George R. Beach (a prominent bankruptcy attorney who served as a receiver in at least two phonograph-related cases), Walter P. Phillips, and Thaddeus R. McCartie.

So, what to make of the Bridgeport address? On closer investigation, Electric Novelty’s official business address (15 Exchange Place, Jersey City) turns out to have been the office of George R. Beach, an unlikely venue for this sort of operation. The consistent use of the Bridgeport address (where Columbia had its factory), and the specially customized “conditions” sticker (below), suggest that Columbia was handling all operations and fulfillment for Beach, or possibly had even closer ties to his company.

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MSP-TB_mercury-1907B

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Numbers embossed under the label are T503-1-1, and M-1700-1-1. Tim notes, “That’s apparently a Columbia ‘M’ number, and it falls into a blank section in Bill [Bryant]’s M-number log. Judging by other M-numbers I would date it as 1907 or 1908, around the end of the period in which M-numbers were used. It’s embossed rather than hand-written like most M-numbers. The record doesn’t seem to have been assigned a standard Columbia number of the period (which were in the 3000s). This would seem to add more weight to the theory that the M-numbers were the true matrix number during this period, and the 3000s were in fact catalog numbers assigned after the fact.”

The copyright filings below, from the Library of Congress’ Catalog of Copyright Entries for July–December 1907, mesh nicely with Tim’s 1907–1908 estimate for the Mercury label:
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MSP_electric-novelty

At the end of 1912, the Governor of New Jersey declared Electric Novelty & Talking Machine to be in default after having failed to pay its 1910 taxes. Apparently things were resolved; the company was still listed as an active corporation in the 1914 register, and the ad above appeared in May 1915. The “Diamond Disk” notation is puzzling; clearly, this was still a Columbia-affiliated venture, based on the photo. Could there have been an Edison Diamond Disc version as well, or was that just an ad writer’s flight of fancy? (We suspect the latter, but will check our copies of the Edison files.)

 

INDESTRUCTIBLE DICTAPHONE RECORD

MSP_DGIO_ind-dictaphone

Many collectors are familiar with Edison’s Ediphone training cylinders, but this is the first such cylinder we’ve seen for the competing Dictaphone. It’s a standard 4″ celluloid Indestructible, with 150 grooves per inch (as was usual for dictating machines; standard “entertainment” cylinders were 100-gpi (two-minute) or 200-gpi (four-minute). Like this example, the first Indestructibles had raised lettering on the rim, suggesting a very early Indestructible master. However, David notes that it has “the look and feel of a late 4-minute Indestructible.” Unfortunately, it didn’t have its original box; has anybody seen one?

 

MSP_dictaphone-gerson_1908

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The Dictaphone began life as the Columbia Commercial  Graphophone, an example of which is shown above, mounted in Gerson cabinet. The Dictaphone name was first registered as a trademark, by the Columbia Phonograph Co., Gen’l., on September 18, 1907; the first Indestructible cylinders were released a little over a month later.

The Columbia–Indestructible affiliation was cemented (for a time, anyway) in 1908, when the former bought the latter outright. There’s much more to that story, of course, which can be found in Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderopgraphy (Nauck & Sutton), still available from Mainspring Press while supplies last.

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Tales from the Columbia Vaults: The Unauthorized Vinyl “Test” Pressings (1960)

(This article was originally posted on September 17, 2012. We are reposting it, with some minor revisions, in response to many requests.)

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A c. 1960s custom vinyl pressing of Duke Ellington’s 1931 “Creole Rhapsody” (Victor). Obsolete labels were sometimes flipped over and used as blanks on these pressings; this example uses an old Yorkville label from the late 1930s.

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We often see modern, blank-labeled vinyl “test” pressings of very old recordings on auction lists. They’re original-stamper pressings, usually of unissued or extremely rare material, and the surface quality is generally superb. Collectors have long been curious about the origin and legality of these pressings. We recently discovered the answer among the late Bill Bryant’s papers (at least, as far as the Columbia-related pressings are concerned) which includes copies of the late William Moran’s voluminous correspondence with various collectors and dealers.

The “inside job” we detail below was not unique. Someone within Decca, for instance, made large numbers of unauthorized vinyl pressings of rare 1920s jazz material from Gennett and Brunswick-Vocalion masters at around the same time the CBS insiders were pulling unauthorized “test” pressings from old masters by the score. The same happened at RCA, although that company (unlike CBS) allowed such pressings to be ordered legitimately through its Custom Products department, for a rather stiff fee. In addition, during the 1950s and 1960s many new pressings from previously unissued material were pulled at RCA in connection with its “X” and “Vintage” reissue programs. Although supposedly intended for internal use by those involved in the projects, a substantial number seem to have been pressed, based on how many have since made their way into auction lists and collectors’ hands.

This, however, is the first time that such detailed information on unauthorized pressings has surfaced from a company insider. Illegal? Certainly — But whether anyone involved was a villain (other than perhaps the record companies) depends on your point of view. Our take is that those involved performed a valuable service in preserving important historic material that was subsequently trashed and written off by irresponsible corporate owners.

*      *      *       *

In October 1960, a disgruntled CBS employee (who we’ll call “X”) contacted Bill Moran to alert him that the Columbia Records division was house-cleaning its Bridgeport, Connecticut plant and was planning to scrap many of its masters, including its holdings of Fonotipia and other imported recordings, the E- series foreign and ethnic material, and all of the early 16” radio transcriptions.

X’s letters to Moran provide a rare insider’s look at exactly what remained in Bridgeport in 1960. He reported that some “ancient stuff” (including cylinders, cylinder-phonograph parts, and display-model phonographs) still existed but had recently been “removed to some other part of the plant.” The earliest recording files had not survived, and there had been no effort to copy or microfilm what remained; in addition, the files had recently been placed off-limits to outsiders and employees, other than company librarian Helene Chmura, and photocopying was forbidden. The master-scrapping was already under way by the time X wrote to Moran — He reported that the metal parts were being hauled out in bucket loaders, ground up, and sold to a scrap dealer by the ton.

X’s formal recommendation that some of this material be preserved was ignored by management, so in late October he sent a list of endangered masters to Moran, with the suggestion that Moran ask Stanford University to intervene, and hinting that in the meantime he could supply Moran with unauthorized vinyl pressings of virtually anything in the vaults — He claimed he was already doing just that for some Columbia employees. The process is documented in an exchange of letters between X and Moran that began on October 31, 1960. On November 11 he wrote to Moran,

I have been securing test pressings without authority for the past two months. I had to “thread my way” until I could enlist help. Luckily he [the test pressman] is cooperative… I have been limiting my operation to twice a week and taking out parcels only every other week. One week I took out 16 [parcels], last week 19… I have managed to get a few humans in the plant (there are a few) to break regulations for me… I will attempt, over a period of time, to secure for you the materials you desire. These, if I get them, will be gratis.

The process was a complicated one, and it involved many Columbia employees at a time when (according to X) worker morale was at a low ebb. To make the early stampers compatible with a modern press, the metal and composition backings had to be removed and replaced, and new holes had  to be drilled in the stampers, which were then forwarded to the polishing department, from which they were sent to the test pressman. While all of this was going on under management’s nose, X was assuring Moran that he could even have new metal stampers plated for him, if desired.

Moran’s want-list initially included only early operatics, but was soon expanded to include political speeches from Nation’s Forum, rare personal recordings by the likes of Irving Berlin and Booker T. Washington, and even one of the 1908 vertical-cut disc tests (an idea that Columbia ended up not pursuing commercially).

X soon upped the frequency and pressing quantities of his clandestine runs. Many copies were handed out as favors to Columbia employees who were in on the activity, including Helene Chmura, the archive’s highly esteemed librarian. Chmura knew of X’s activities and had warned him to be careful, but reportedly she was happy to accept a group of custom Lotte Lehmann pressings. In November, X told Moran he was looking into ways of supplying him with copies of the restricted files that were in Chmura’s charge.

On November 16, X wrote to Moran, “Last Friday I took out 18 tests, including duplicates, in an open parcel… On Monday Bill [the chief of security] suggested that I not take out so many so often.” He went on to boast,

I have the run of the plant and have taken full advantage of it — women in duplicating will make photostats, Helene will make photocopies; the polisher will prepare masters for pressings… The Chief of Security Police allows me to make off with the records; the librarian’s files are at my disposal.

X promised Moran even larger shipments of the unauthorized pressings in a letter dated November 23:

I’ll send you a ton of pressings if I can discover how this can be arranged… One of the chaps in the Methods & Procedures Office this afternoon told me that he can smuggle pressings out for me if I cannot continue my present methods. These boys have briefcases which never are examined by the bulldogs. I have been furnishing two of these M&P men with records made to order.

A day later, X wrote to Moran to update him on his secret copying of the recording files, reporting that he was “lifting it right out from under [Helene Chmura’s] nose.” And that’s the final letter in our “X” file.

© 2016 Mainspring Press LLC.

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“Red Label” Gramophone Records — Highlights from the February 1904 G&T Catalog

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Many of the records in Gramophone & Typewriter’s February 1904 catalog were also issued in the U.S. as Victor Imported Red Seal Records. Details of those issues (many of which are now quite rare, and correspondingly expensive) can be found in John Bolig’s Victor Red Seal Discography, Vol. I .

Victor soon adopted a policy of replacing imported recordings like these with their own domestically recorded versions whenever possible, as happened with many of the Caruso and Plancon offerings.

You can find more on the early history of the Red Seal in A Phonograph in Every Home: The Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1909-1919, also available from Mainspring Press.

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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:

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

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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.

The Playlist • Kansas City Blues: Lottie Kimbrough Beaman (1924 and 1928)

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LOTTIE BEAMAN (Acc. by Milas & Miles Pruitt): Honey Blues

Chicago: c. March 1924
Paramount 12201  (mx. 1695 – 1)

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LOTTIE BEAMAN (Acc. by Jimmy Blythe, piano; unknown, banjo): Mama Can’t Lose

Chicago: October 1924
Paramount  12235  (mx. 1904 – 1)

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LOTTIE BEAMAN, as LOTTIE EVERSON (possibly acc. by Miles Pruitt, guitar):
Rolling Log Blues

Richmond, IN:  August 21, 1928
Champion 15636  (mx. 14162)

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LOTTIE BEAMAN, as LOTTIE EVERSON (possibly acc. by Miles Pruitt, guitar):
Going Away Blues

Richmond, IN:  August 21, 1928
Champion 15591  (mx. 14163-A)
The accompanist for this session is not listed in the Gennett ledger. Pruitt is listed as “probable” in Dixon, Godrich & Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943.

Discographical Update • Correct Date and Personnel for the First Meritt Record (1924)

MSP-NAUCK_meritt-2201 (Label scan courtesy of Kurt Nauck. MP3 conversion from
a tape dubbing supplied by the late Mike Stewart.)

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LOTTIE KIMBROUGH BEAMAN (as LENA KIMBROUGH) with PAUL BANKS’ TRIO:
City of the Dead

Kansas City: Late 1924
Meritt 2201 (mx. X-22)

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Winston Holmes’ Meritt label is one of the rarest race-record brands of the 1920s, and although anecdotes concerning it abound, reliable documentation has been hard to come by.

Traditionally, works like Dixon, Godrich & Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records, 1890–1943 have cited mid-1926 as the date of Meritt’s first release. However, we now know otherwise, thanks to a blurb on p. 8 of the National Edition of The Chicago Defender for January 10, 1925. Clearly, Meritt 2201 had already been recorded by that time; based on the article, the correct recording date would be late 1924, approximately eighteen months earlier than has been assumed by discographers:

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MSP_winston-holmes_-1-10-19.
There are also some discrepancies in the personnel listing, although here we are not certain which account to trust — the Defender wasn’t particularly reliable when it came to  fine details, but on the other hand, BGR doesn’t cite its sources. Clifford Banks is shown as a clarinetist in the Defender article, but as an alto saxophonist in BGR; Simon Hoe is shown as a one-string violinist in the Defender, but as a clarinetist in BGR. Personally, we don’t hear either a saxophone or a violin on either side, although admittedly the few copies we’ve heard have been so worn, and that questionable third instrument is so faintly recorded, that we wouldn’t want to bet on what it was. (By the way, these are acoustic recordings, not electrical as one might expect had they actually been made in mid-1926.)

Lena Kimbrough was one of several names used by Kansas City blues-belter Lottie Kimbrough Beaman; this is the first mention we’ve seen of her having studied in Europe. The revised recording date could explain why Holmes used a pseudonym for her — perhaps he did so to avoid a conflict with Paramount, for whom she was still recording in the fall of 1924?


POSTSCRIPT — THE WINSTON HOLMES “SESSION” PHOTOGRAPH

Back in the late 1960s, Doug Jydstrup located Lottie’s sister Estella, who had two versions of a photo that Winston Holmes used to promote Meritt 2201. Turns out, Lottie was sick on the day of the shoot according to the far slimmer Estella, who filled in for her sister in the photo. Just to add to the deception, Simon Hoe also failed to show up, so Winston Holmes himself filled in, posing with a clarinet (which, by the way, he could not play), and Clifford Banks was posed with a saxophone — in other words, a rather fanciful re-creation all around. You can find the details and both photos in 78 Quarterly (Volume 1-2) — The  entire run can be downloaded free at 78 Quarterly Download (on the late, lamented Dinosaur Discs blog, which sadly is no longer active but is still online as of this writing).

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

MSP_sunshine-3003-B

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Inside the Hawthorne & Sheble Phonograph Horn Factory (Philadelphia, 1898)

A rare glimpse inside Hawthorne & Sheble’s “horn room” in the late 1890s. Ellsworth Hawthorne & Horace Sheble produced an excellent line of horns, cranes, and other phonograph accessories, but they seemed to have a knack for getting into legal trouble, beginning with their blacklisting by Edison for removing the nameplates from Gem phonographs.

They were involved in two record ventures in the early 1900s — first as sales agents (in partnership with John O. Prescott)  for the Odeon-backed American Record Company, which was shut down for patent infringement in 1906; and then as the manufacturers of Star discs. The latter were produced legally enough, using licensed (albeit disguised) Columbia masters, but a Victor patent-infringement suit involving H&S’s Star and Starola phonographs, combined with declining demand for horns, drove Hawthorne & Sheble into bankruptcy in 1909.
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MSP_h&s_hornfactory-1898The whole colorful, convoluted story of Hawthorne, Sheble, and their associates is covered in a new history and discography being released by Mainspring Press later this year:

HSP-cover-x5

The Birth of Paramount Records: New York Recording Laboratories’ 1917 Incorporation Papers

One of the most persistent myths surrounding the New York Recording Laboratories (makers of Paramount records) is that the company was never legally incorporated. The misconception stems in part from testimony in a 1936 lawsuit (Wisconsin Chair Co. v. I. G. Ely Co., 91 S.W. 2d 913), in which it was stated — erroneously, as we now know — that NYRL “is not and was not at any time a corporation, a partnership, or an individual.”

However, NYRL was indeed incorporated — in Port Washington, Wisconsin, on July 2, 1917 — as the notarized copy of the incorporation filing shown below confirms. This  oversized document (from an early photostat, courtesy of Randy Stehle) is too large and faded to be easily legible online, so we’ve transcribed the most relevant portions at the end of the article.

NYRL did lose its corporate status in 1921, when (along with the United Phonographs Corporation, the original registrants of the Puritan trademark) it was merged with the parent Wisconsin Chair Company. UPC and NYRL were dissolved at that time. UPC was soon scuttled, but NYRL continued to operate, simply as a trade-name of Wisconsin Chair (although “Inc.” remained on the labels for several more years) — apparently cause for confusion in the 1936 testimony.

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MSP_NYRL-incorp-1917

Articles of Organization
Of
The New York Recording Laboratories

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Article I.

The undersigned, all of them adults and residents of the state of Wisconsin, have associated and do hereby associate themselves together for the purpose of forming a corporation under Chapter 86 of the Wisconsin Statutes; the business and purpose of which corporation shall be the manufacture and selling of phonograph records, phonographs, phonograph parts, and the manufacture and sale of all things incident to the use in connection with the same…

Article II.

The name of the said corporation shall be the New York Recording Laboratories, and its creation shall be in the city of Port Washington, county of Ozaukee, and state of Wisconsin.

Article III.

The capital stock of said corporation shall be Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000) and same shall consist of one hundred (100) shares each of which said shares be of the face or par value of One Hundred Dollars ($100).

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[Articles IV – VII deal with corporate structure and regulations, stockholder voting rights, and options for amendment.]

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In Witness Thereof, we have hereunto set our hand and seals this 2nd day of July, A.D. 1917.

F. A. Dennett
J. M. Bostwick
J. R. Dennett
Edward J. Barrett
O. E. Moesser

… [The above signed] doth each for himself depose and say that he is one of the original signers of the above declaration and articles, that the above and foregoing is a true, correct, and complete copy of said original declaration and articles and of the whole thereof.

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For the most detailed history ever published of Paramount records and the people and companies behind them, be sure to check out the second, revised and expanded edition of Alex van der Tuuk’s Paramount’s Rise and Fall, available from Mainspring Press and many libraries.