Two Early Colorado Record Labels (1916 – c. 1920)

Two Early Colorado Record Labels
(1916 – c. 1920)
By Allan Sutton

 

Ironically, Mainspring Press is located in a state that was (and largely still is) a dead-zone as far as commercial recording activity. The state’s first venture — the Colorado Phonograph Company, founded in 1889 and merged with the Utah Phonograph Company the following year — was a financial flop that quietly perished without having produced any known original recordings. It would be more than a half-century before Colorado finally could boast of its own commercial labels, albeit very minor ones.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of early disc labels with at least tenuous Colorado connections. The John Stenzel label, from what was then the small farming town of Windsor, still turns up on occasion in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming:

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Stenzel operated a department store and boot factory in Windsor, and around 1915 he added Columbia phonographs and records to his line. In May 1920, Stenzel liquidated his inventory and soon re-opened in smaller quarters, where he specialized in phonographs and records.

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The Windsor Beacon (May 6, 1920)

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The Stenzel records appear to have been used as premiums, given away with the purchase of “special” Stenzel phonographs. The only example we’ve seen of these machines was a “stenciled” Columbia product similar to the model pictured below:

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The Windsor Beacon (December 23, 1920)

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The Stenzel discs, despite the label claim, were not “specially made” for him, and they have no Colorado connection per se, other than having been sold here. The examples we’ve seen are all standard Columbia E-series discs over which Stenzel pasted his own labels, and none show titles or artists. The few that we’ve heard are recordings of German oom-pah bands (The Windsor Beacon once noted that Stenzel’s clientele were largely “Germans”). The records were likely old surplus stock that Columbia and/or Stenzel had no better way of moving.

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Our next specimen — the Colorado Scholarship Fund label of 1916, produced in conjunction with a Denver newspaper — has more substantial Colorado roots, although it was also a Columbia product:

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Long before The Voice, American Idol, or even Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour, there was the Colorado Scholarship Fund Contest of June 1916 — possibly the first amateur-talent contest for which the reward was a record deal, of sorts. The contest was widely publicized by the local press. Even The Talking Machine World, the foremost recording-industry trade paper of the day, covered it in detail. The event proved to be so popular that it was later staged in other cities.

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The Talking Machine World (July 1916)

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The winners were Alice Forsyth and Chauncey Parsons. Their  record still turns up often in Colorado — generally to the disappointment of collectors, since aside from the interesting-looking label, it’s pretty dreadful (so much so, that we won’t post the sound-files, out of respect to two artists who were caught at an awkward stage in their development). In defense of Forsyth and Parsons, both were true amateurs at the time, and Forsyth reportedly was recovering from throat problems.

For all of its musical shortcomings, the record appears to have sold very well. It didn’t lead to a regular Columbia contract for either singer, and it was numbered in Columbia’s Personal Record series, thus ensuring that it would never be listed in a Columbia catalog. But apparently the experience encouraged Forsyth and Parsons to pursue professional careers. Both took up vocal studies at Denver’s Wilcox Studios shortly after the record’s release.

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Forsyth remained in Denver until late 1919, when she joined the All-American Opera Company on tour, as an understudy to Anna Fitziu. By the early 1920s she had married and settled in Los Angeles, where she became a fixture on the local concert circuit and taught at Davis Musical College.

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Alice Forsyth in Los Angeles, 1923

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Parsons joined the Jambon Players, a group that entertained the troops overseas during World War I, then settled in Pittsburgh. In addition to regular concert and church work, he was a radio pioneer, broadcasting regularly over station KDKA beginning in 1921. During 1927–1928 he appeared on Broadway in Artists and Models, which ran for 151 performances at the Winter Garden. In the later 1920s he had his own program on KDKA and was a featured star on NBC’s Yeast Foamers program during 1929–1930.

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Chauncey Parsons at Loew’s Aldine Theater (Pittsburgh), 1924

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For more on the Colorado Phonograph Company, and the stories behind Colorado’s 1940s labels and recording operations (including Columbine, Dudley, Pikes Peak, and the Karl Zomar Library), be sure to check out American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950, available exclusively from Mainspring Press or Nauck’s Vintage Records. This is a special limited edition that we’re not making available to Amazon.com or other distributors or retailers — order soon to avoid missing out:

 

 

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The Okeh Vertical-Cut Discography (1918 – 1919) • Free Download

Click to Download PDF:

THE OKEH VERTICAL-CUT DISCOGRAPHY
(1918 – 1919)

 

Compiled by George Blacker with the
Record Research Associates

 

One of the late George Blacker’s many projects that never saw publication, The Okeh Vertical-Cut Discography was compiled from firsthand inspection of the original discs, with the assistance of members of the Record Research group. We are pleased to finally be able to offer it, especially since it adds substantially to the rather sketchy material in Laird & Rust’s Greenwood Press discography.

This discography is being offered free of charge for personal use only. Reproduction or other use exceeding customary fair-use standards is prohibited without the prior written consent of Mainspring Press. Please e-mail us with any questions concerning fair use, or with corrections and additions.

Some of these recording were also issued under the Rishell label in the U.S., and the Phonola label in Canada. These issues, for which we are still gathering and fact-checking data, will be added in a later update to the discography.

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In addition to distributing Okeh records, Rishell briefly marketed some Okeh pressings under their own label.

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An Edison Tone Test Artist’s Contract (1920)

The Edison Tone Tests were highly popular marketing events at which invited guests were challenged to distinguish live performances from the “Re-Created” versions as performed by the Diamond Disc phonograph.

The events were rigged by various means, despite Edison’s vigorous denials, including the surreptitious substitution of special records and reproducers (the latter confirmed in some surviving correspondence between the company and singer Vernon Dalhart). Artists were also carefully coached to match their tone and volume to that of the recordings to which they would be compared. You can find a detailed history of the Tone Tests in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

Below is a copy of a typical 1920 artist’s Tone Test contract, for Cecil Arden, which we recently found among Ray Wile’s materials in the Bill Bryant papers. Many of Arden’s recordings were flagged “For Tone Test” in the Edison files, and several appear to have been made expressly for that purpose. In Arden’s case, payment probably was on the skimpy side, since she* earned  $36.25 to $40 per song for her studio work (per the studio cash books), without all the rigors of travel and rehearsal that the Tone Tests entailed.

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* Oops! We said “he” / “her” in the initial post. Many thanks to old friend George Sweeny for spotting the mistake, and sending along a photo to confirm. Obviously, we’ve never heard a Cecil Arden recording!
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Branding 78’s: The Impresad (1922)

If you’ve ever wondered how those circular dealer ads ended up on the inner rims of 78s, here’s the answer (from The Talking Machine World for November 1922) — the Impresad. In our admittedly very informal survey, these stamps seem to turn up most often on Brunswick, which also had its main office on South Wabash, just three blocks away from W. H. Wade. The the device was handled in Canada by the Musical Merchandise Sales Co., Brunswick’s Canadian distributor, and there’s even an uncanny resemblance between the two company’s logos.

MSP-TMW-11-22_impresad-comp