Free Download • Emerson Records: The Complete Discography, 1915–1928

Free Download Now Available

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EMERSON RECORDS: THE COMPLETE
DISCOGRAPHY, 1915–1928
Edited and annotated by Allan Sutton

Primary Data Contributors:
William R. Bryant, The Record Research
Associates, and Mark McDaniel

 

The first online version of Mainspring’s Emerson discography, Emerson Records begins with a thorough revision of the original print edition (ten- and twelve-inch issues), incorporating additions and corrections received since its publication nine years ago. To that, we’ve added what was to have been Volume 2, which was still a work-in-progress at the time Mainspring exited the book business:

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All currently confirmed corresponding issues on subsidiary and client labels are included (with takes and label credits noted individually for each record), along with a first attempt to document Emerson masters not issued on the Emerson label, and Emerson’s often-elusive Melodisc releases. Pages are fully searchable, and there are bookmark tabs to guide you to the various sections.

Because no discography of this size and complexity is ever truly “complete,” we will be updating Emerson Records and the other Mainspring online discographies as needed. Documented, verifiable revisions are always welcome and can be e-mailed to:

Download Free for Personal Use Only (PDF, ~5 mb)


Emerson Records is the newest addition to the Mainspring Press Online Reference Library, a free service for collectors and researchers of historic sound recordings.

Files may be downloaded free of charge for personal, non-commercial use only. All are copyrighted material, and unauthorized reproduction, alteration, distribution, and/or commercial use is prohibited. Please be sure to read and abide by the user conditions noted in each file, so that we can continue to offer this service.

Coming in April: Artie Shaw Uncensored (Jim Drake) • The Complete Emerson Discography

Coming in April:
Artie Shaw — The James A. Drake Interview

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Who the hell are you and what the fuck do you want from me?

Well, I want to ask you questions about your career, and specifically about —

You’re a little late, sonny … I quit being Artie Shaw twenty years ago. I’m through talking about my “career,” as you called it.

Well, then, what would you like to talk about?

Target shooting. Which you don’t know shit about …

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… And so begins one of Artie Shaw’s most outspoken and provocative interviews, which despite Shaw’s initial refusal to discuss his musical career, soon turns to just that. Conducted in-person in Shaw’s “gun room,” the interview is presented here uncut and uncensored.

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The Complete Emerson Discography (1915 –1928)

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The followup to Mainspring Press’ 10″ / 12″ Emerson discography (published in 2013, and long out-of-print), The Complete Emerson Discography has been thoroughly revised and expanded to include all of the small-diameter issues, with input from some of the field’s leading collectors and researchers.

Also included are details of Emerson masters that were never issued on the Emerson label, including the recordings made especially for Panhellenion, Polonia, Constantinople, Marathon, Goodson, and Talk-O-Photo, among others. There’s also a provisional listing for 7″ Melodisc, the first systematic attempt to document that elusive label. Despite the many gaps that remain in the Melodisc listings, we are confident that it can be completed with the help of our many followers.

At more than 500 fully searchable pages, The Complete Emerson Discography will be free to download for personal, non-commercial use, as part of the Mainspring Press Online Reference Library.

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Keen-O-Phone / Rex / Imperial Discography – New Version 2.0 Now Available

Keen-O-Phone, Rex, and Imperial Records:
The Complete Discography (1912 – 1918)
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Edited and Annotated by Allan Sutton

Data Compiled by George Blacker, et al.
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New Version 2.0 (Updated 3/18/2002) Is Now Available
for Free Download

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Download New Version 2.0 (PDF, ~ 1 mb)

Free for personal, non-commercial use only

 

Keen-O-Phone, Rex, and Imperial Records is just one of the many titles available for free download in the Mainspring Press Online Reference Library. Browse the Catalog Page for all current offerings in this ever-expanding list of discographies and other reference works for collectors of historic sound recordings, courtesy of some of the leading researchers in the field.

 

The Playlist • Some New Favorite Additions for February 2022

The Playlist • Some New Favorite Additions for February 2022

 

Double-vaxxed, boosted, and gearing up to hit the road in search of more musical treasures (sure hope them microchips in that there vaccine don’t get me tracked by none of them alien spy satellite thangs).

In the meantime, here’s a  sampling of some favorite records among those that have come to roost here in the last month or so. Enjoy!

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REV. J. M. GATES & CONGREGATION: Clean the Corners of Your Mind  (E)

Atlanta: April 25, 1930
Okeh 8817  (mx. W 480017 – A, remastered from W 403931 – B)

All recordings from Gates’ April 1930 Okeh sessions were remastered and assigned new numbers on June 16 and 18, 1930 (no cause cited in the matrix cards; a number of other Okeh and Columbia “field” masters of the period were similarly remastered, presumably to address technical issues).

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JOHNNY DUNN’S ORIGINAL JAZZ BAND: Dixie Blues  (E–)

New York: March 13, 1923
Columbia A3878  (mx. 80898 – 1)

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CARROLL DICKERSON’S SAVOY ORCHESTRA: Missouri Squabble  (E)

Chicago: May 25, 1928
Brunswick 3990  (mx. C 1976 – B)

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STATE STREET RAMBLERS: Pleasure Mad  (E+)

Richmond IN: April 23, 1928
Gennett mx. GE 13688 – A
c. 1960s blank-label vinyl pressing from the original master.

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STATE STREET RAMBLERS: Some Do and Some Don’t  (E+)

Richmond IN: April 23, 1928
Gennett mx. GE 13690 – B
c. 1960s blank-label vinyl pressing from the original master.

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JIMMY SMITH with HARRY HOLDEN (harmonica with guitar): Smith and Holden Blues (as “Mountain Blues”)  (EE–)

New York: March 31, 1926
Victor 20020 (mx. BVE 35254 – 2)
Entered in the Victor ledger under the correct title.

 

COMING UP NEXT: Jim Drake’s no-holds-barred
1978 interview with a feisty Irving Berlin,
published here for the first time.

 

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The Man Who Crippled the Recording Industry: James Caesar Petrillo and the American Federation of Musicians Recording Bans

THE MAN WHO CRIPPLED THE RECORDING INDUSTRY
James Caesar Petrillo and the American Federation of
Musicians Recording Bans (1942 – 1948)
By Allan Sutton

An excerpt from the upcoming Recording the ’Forties*

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For professional musicians in the 1940s, membership in the American Federation of Musicians was essential. Among the few to resist were members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, whose management was firmly opposed to unionization. Under pressure from RCA’s David Sarnoff, BSO officials finally capitulated, and the newly unionized orchestra was allowed to return to the RCA studios. No sooner had it done so than the BSO found itself shut out again, this time by an industry-wide recording ban ordered by AFM president James Caesar Petrillo. [1]

Petrillo had long held a vendetta against what he termed “canned music,” blaming it for the downturn in live performances. Widely viewed by recording-industry officials as a coarse, obscenity-spewing petty dictator, Petrillo did not hesitate to employ strong-arm tactics against anyone who opposed him.

In early 1941, Petrillo recruited bandleader-turned-recording director Ben Selvin to undertake a survey intended to prove that recorded music was responsible for the declining employment of union musicians. [2]  Selvin’s questionnaires, individually tailored for commercial record companies, transcription producers, radio stations, advertising agencies, and jukebox operators, were mailed in the spring of 1941. Based upon the initial responses, involving the radio-transcription business, Selvin concluded, “The amount of money spent for musical talent on recorded [as opposed to live] programs is much higher than anyone in the industry would have guessed.” [3]

Armed with Selvin’s rather flimsy findings, Petrillo presented his case at the AFM’s convention on June 9, 1941. He contended that although AFM members earned approximately $3 million annually in royalties from recordings, they lost $100 million as the result of what he termed “reduced employment opportunities” from the substitution of recorded for live music. Petrillo estimated that eight- to nine-thousand AFM musicians could be put to work if records were not available and establishments were forced to rely on live music, while admitting that he had no firm statistics to back up his claims.

The issue came to a head in June 1942, when Petrillo ordered members of the Ringling Brothers–Barnum and Bailey Circus Band to strike. Director Merle Evans’ assurance that he and his musicians were “perfectly satisfied” with salaries and working conditions were ignored, and John Ringling North’s request to personally negotiate with Petrillo went unanswered. [4]

Petrillo’s  demands included higher wages, with time-and-a-half for Sunday performances, which were rejected. After a brief postponement to allow the band to play a benefit for handicapped children, the strike order was enforced. Circus officials responded by substituting recorded music over a public-address system during the band’s involuntary absence. [5]  It apparently was lost on Petrillo his strike order caused live musicians to be replaced by recordings — the very situation he had recently railed against at the AFM conference.

Having defeated a circus band, Petrillo next targeted American youth. In July he banned the broadcasting of a popular high-school band festival in Interlochen, Michigan. The action brought universal condemnation from the public, the broadcast industry, and members of Congress. Petrillo was unrepentant. “When amateur musicians occupy the air,” he proclaimed, “it means less work for professionals.” [6]

The incident prompted the Federal Communications Commission to launch an investigation of Petrillo, but it resulted in only a mild rebuke from chairman James Fly, and a vague recommendation that a committee be formed to study the situation. [7]  Iowa Senator D. W. Clark filed a formal, if ineffectual, resolution charging Petrillo with depriving the students of their freedom to make their musical talents known, while undermining the national music education program. [8]  Stanley E. Hubbard, president of radio station KSPT (St. Paul, Minnesota), issued a scathing denouncement of Petrillo that read in part,

[Petrillo] forbade the broadcast…from the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Mich., in which 160 teen-age boys and girls from 40 states hoped to play for their folks at home. He stopped eight Chinese Boy Scouts from blowing a fanfare in Chicago unless eight union musicians were hired to stand by while the scouts tooted… That is the kind of power Fuehrer Petrillo wields today. [9]

Undeterred, Petrillo next threatened to bar AFM musicians from making radio transcriptions. Key figures in the broadcast industry responded swiftly, with a threat of their own. Five years earlier, broadcasters had informally agreed to retain house orchestras, whether needed or not, after Petrillo complained that radio’s reliance on recorded music was causing widespread unemployment of union musicians. Now, Broadcasting magazine predicted,

If transcriptions and recordings are banned, as ordered by Mr. Petrillo, it is generally expected that the [broadcast] industry, almost as a unit, will be disposed to release staff orchestras, since the gentlemen’s agreement will have been violated… In a nutshell, the overall view appears to be that AFM has walked out on its 1937 agreement by banning transcription performance, and that the next move is up to Mr. Petrillo. [10]

Petrillo’s next move was to escalate the threat of a recording ban by union musicians, extending it to commercial recordings as well as transcriptions. On June 8, 1942, he announced,

We will make records for home consumption, but we won’t make them for jukeboxes. We will make them for the armed forces of the United States and its allies, but not for commercial and sustaining radio programs.” [11]

But Petrillo was not content to stop there. Within several weeks, he decided to extend the ban to all recordings, including those made for home use. On June 27, he served notice to transcription and record companies that all recording by union musicians would cease on August 1. [12]  The New York Times reported,

As part of a campaign to force radio stations, soda fountains, bars and restaurants to employ union musicians instead of using recordings, Mr. Petrillo has informed all the record manufacturers that the 140,000 members of his A.F. of  L. organization will not make “records, electrical transcriptions or any other form of electrical reproduction of music” after July 31…

Even if Mr. Petrillo’s economics were not fantastic, it is intolerable that a labor leader should dictate to the American people what kind of music it shall or shall not hear. But of we need waste little time in exposing the nonsense in Mr. Petrillo’s economics, we should waste less in denouncing Mr. Petrillo as an individual. It is much more important to remind ourselves that it is our political muddle-headedness and spinelessness that have made the Petrillo type of dictator possible. [13]

In last-minute effort to fend off the Petrillo threat, U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle announced on July 23 that he would file for injunction under federal anti-trust laws to prevent implementation of the ban. [14]   But on August 1, with Biddle having yet to act, Petrillo’s recording ban went into effect.

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August 1, 1942

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Petrillo agreed informally to exempt transcriptions for the armed forces and government agencies involved with the war effort, although he soon reneged on even that meager concession. Recordings for motion-picture soundtracks would still be allowed, provided that the recordings did not find their way onto the airwaves or commercially issued records.

Private home recording would also be permitted, but only if the manufacturers of recording blanks would guarantee the recordings would not be broadcast or used in jukeboxes, a provision that was obviously impossible to enforce. There would be no cooperation from the blank manufacturers, who disclaimed any responsibility for the uses to which their products were put. With recording blanks and inexpensive portable recording units readily available, a lively underground market soon developed for custom-duplicated discs from private recording sessions, live performances, and broadcast captures.

There would be no immediate concessions from the record companies, nor full-fledged support from most AFM musicians. Black band-leaders in Philadelphia loudly protested the ban, claiming a potential loss of a half-million dollars in income. [15]  In New York, union musicians attended clandestine hotel-room recording sessions for Eli Oberstein’s Hit label, which issued the results under some imaginative aliases.

Record-company executives, according to the New York Times, were content “to sit back and try to outwait Mr. Petrillo,” allowing public outrage to work in their favor. Directors and officials of the National Association of Broadcasters met informally with record company executives to coordinate their strategies, but apparently neither group felt any compulsion to meet with Petrillo.

The record companies were allowed to continue manufacturing and selling their pre-ban recordings, and with Petrillo’s deadline looming, they scrambled to stockpile enough new recordings to sustain them through the work stoppage. “This they did on a 24-hour-per-day schedule,” Billboard reported. “When August 1 arrived, they emerged from their studios with enough masters to last well into 1943.” [16]  The same article predicted a return to normal recording operations around January 1943, “assuming that all goes as expected.” It did not.

Petrillo’s actions continued to draw fire from members of Congress. Iowa Senator D. W. Clark, still seething over the Interlochen incident, took the floor on August 29 to denounce Petrillo as a thug whose actions jeopardized national morale during a time of crisis. [17]  At Clark’s urging, a Senate resolution was drafted empowering the Interstate Commerce Commission to investigate whether the recording ban constituted restraint of trade under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. [18]

The Justice Department’s request for injunction was denied in October by a federal judge in Petrillo’s home district of Chicago. Refusing to hear the defense’s arguments, he dismissed the case on the grounds that anti-trust laws did not apply to labor unions. [19]   As the ban dragged on, the case was referred to the Supreme Court, which in February 1943 upheld the lower-court’s decision that the ban was merely a labor dispute, and thus not covered under the Sherman Act. [20]

Of the major publications, only Life magazine sided with Petrillo post-ban. A fawning, six-page feature article by Robert Coughlan, published two days after the recording ban took effect, depicted Petrillo as a gruff but good-hearted defender of the working class who was only looking out for his “boys.” [21]

Coughlan was largely alone in his assessment. Three weeks after his story appeared in Life, the American Institute of Public Opinion released the results of a George Gallup poll concerning Petrillo and the AFM strike. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they opposed the ban, and seventy-three percent favored intervention by the federal government. Dr. Gallup reported,

A majority of those who disapprove Petrillo’s actions feel strongly, even vehemently, about the subject. Typical of their views were such statements as, “he’s a petty dictator,” “he’s suffering from a bad case of overgrown ego,”  “it’s disgraceful,” and “he ought to go over and join Mussolini.” [22]

The producers of several small labels attempted to negotiate directly with Petrillo, to no avail. Hazzard E. Reeves of Reeves Sound Studios, and E. V. Brinckerhoff of Brinckerhoff Studios, formed a trade association comprising thirteen New York–area recording studios, which Reeves felt would give them an advantage in negotiating with the AFM. [23]  But so far as can ascertained, they received no acknowledgment  from Petrillo. Neither, initially, did Musicraft president Paul Puner.

In February 1943, Pruner attempted to contact Petrillo with a proposal that Musicraft, as a small company, be allowed to pay a lower royalty rate than what Petrillo was demanding. In return, Musicraft would publicly affirm its support of the AFM’s basic principles. [24]  After receiving no acknowledgment, Puner followed up on March 11 with a letter requesting a prompt reply.

Petrillo’s reply was a curt brush-off. [25]  Undeterred, Puner next sent what Billboard termed an “impassioned wire” to Petrillo, desperately offering to negotiate with him under any circumstances, at a date of Petrillo’s choosing. This time Puner received a note stating the matter would be referred to the AFM’s International Executive Board on April 15. [26]  Eventually Puner received a personal rejection letter from Petrillo, who dismissed Musicraft’s offer as “peanuts.” [27]   Clearly, Petrillo was not looking to accommodate small producers or negotiate settlements on a company-by-company basis. [28]

At the outset, the major labels seemed well-positioned to weather what was expected to be a short-lived strike. For a time they made do by drawing down their existing stockpile of masters, combing the vaults for unissued pre-ban recordings, and reissuing some previously deleted material. But they were soon forced to become more creative.

In mid-January 1943, Billboard reported that Decca was about to release the last of its pre-ban recordings, and speculated that Victor and Columbia might soon have to follow suit. [29]  With no more new material to offer, Decca’s solution was to substitute vocal ensembles (vocalists not being AFM members, and thus not bound to honor the ban) for instrumental backing. The idea was soon copied by Columbia, Victor, and a host of minor labels.

“The wholly vocal disks are not being taken seriously as a long-term substitute,” Billboard reported. [30]  But  they infuriated Petrillo, who resorted to personal intimidation in an attempt to stem the flow. “Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and other leading vocalists have been contacted,” he warned a reporter, “and have promised AFM they won’t make records.” [31]

Petrillo stepped up the pressure on recording-studio directors as well. In June 1943, he summoned former ally Ben Selvin, along with RCA’s Leonard Joy, before the board of Local 802 to demand they take no actions “against the best interests of the union.” A Billboard reporter observed,

Although AFM officials made no threats, their “requests” can be quickly enforced, as arrangers and copyists employed for vocal waxings are AFM members. The union has made it plain that it expects cooperation from all its members, and indicated that practically all the record and transcription firms have executives who hold union cards. [32]

One producer refused to be cowed. New instrumental recordings continued to appear on Eli Oberstein’s new Hit label, although they were not credited to any recognizable bands. One anonymous informant, identified in a 1976 interview only as “the music director of a major label,” remembered participating in a clandestine Oberstein session:

One day I found this ad for an arranger… I was told to report to a certain room at the Hotel Claridge at nine that night… and there was Eli Oberstein. In the room with him was a nine-piece orchestra and a disc cutter. Eli had hung blankets over the windows so that the noise from the street wouldn’t be too loud and had stuffed towels under the door so that we wouldn’t bother other guests. Between nine and six the following morning, that band must have cut a dozen hit tunes. I sat right there and did the arrangements, and they sight-read them. Eli paid us all in cash as we left. I don’t know who those guys were, but they were good. [33]

The band sides were attributed to such patently fictitious conductors as Johnny Jones, Peter Piper, and Willie Kelly, leading to a long-standing guessing game among modern discographers as to who was actually responsible. [34]  Pee Wee Irwin reportedly admitted in later years that, being short of cash at the time, he had taken the risk and directed the “Willie Kelly” sessions for Oberstein. [35]

The band recordings soon caught Petrillo’s attention, since there was no evidence that Oberstein had obtained recording licenses for the issued titles. But it was Arthur Fields’ vocal rendition of “Der Fuehrer’s Face” for Hit  that touched-off what would become an epic clash between Oberstein and Petrillo. [36]

Although Fields as a vocalist was not bound to honor the AFM ban, the record’s sparse instrumental backing placed it within the union’s jurisdiction. Oberstein initially claimed that the recording had been made with a “local pickup crew.” [37]  He later changed his story, claiming the masters had come from Mexico, leading some insiders to joke that he must mean Mexico, New Jersey. [38]  “Call it bootlegging,” Oberstein told a Down Beat reporter, “but it’s legal.” [39]

Oberstein’s tale failed to convince officials of AFM Local 802, who summoned him before the board to demand he reveal the names of the musicians involved. Oberstein ignored the summons and was given until October 22, 1942, to either testify or be judged “guilty without explanation.” [40]  The outcome was eagerly awaited by industry officials, some of whom expressed hope that Oberstein would successfully defy the union. [41]  They would be disappointed.

Examination of the union logs failed to reveal any evidence that “Der Fuehrer’s Face” was an AFM-licensed recording. Finally facing the AFM board on October 22, Oberstein elaborated on his latest tale, claiming the masters had been purchased by an unnamed “associate” from an unknown Mexican studio through one Manuel Valdez, who was not available to corroborate the story because he was “on his way back to Mexico.” [42]  Oberstein went on to claim that Victor and Decca were also obtaining many of their pop-tune recordings  from Mexican studios, which officials of both companies vehemently denied. [43]

On December 24, Oberstein submitted to another grilling by the AFM board, at which he agreed to turn over a list of all masters he supposedly had obtained from Mexican sources. In the meantime, union officials were investigating some suspicious artist credits on Oberstein’s labels that had them “scratching their heads,” according to a Billboard report. No one had heard of Oberstein’s mysterious new band leaders, none of whose names appeared on Local 802’s rolls. The break for Petrillo came after Oberstein’s “Peter Piper” was spotted in the union rolls as a pseudonym for Jack Small, who was immediately summoned to testify before the AFM’s trial board. [44]

Petrillo finally had his evidence that Eli Oberstein was recording with union musicians in defiance of the AFM ban. Oberstein was expelled from the union and had his recording license revoked in June 1943, on the grounds that his continued release of instrumental recordings was “damaging to the interests of the Federation.” [45]  Petrillo was not finished with Oberstein, however. Nineteen music publishers whose songs had been recorded by Hit during the ban were summoned to Petrillo’s office, where the trade press predicted they would be strong-armed into withholding recording rights from any company, such as Oberstein’s Classic Records (the makers of Hit), that was deemed “unfair” by the AFM. [46]

While Petrillo succeeded in largely crippling the consumer record industry, he was less successful in his attempts to intimidate the transcription companies. Many were involved in work for the war effort and could rely on support from Congress, which had already made clear its disdain for Petrillo. Having reneged on his early promise not to interfere with war-related transcription work, Petrillo found himself facing a group of influential executives who charged him with bypassing governmental agencies and undermining the war effort. They asked that the matter be referred to the War Labor Board.

Just hours after the executives released their statement on June 23, 1943, Petrillo agreed to accept mediation, narrowly avoiding intervention by the Labor Board for the time being. He attempted to minimize his defeat at a press conference, dismissing the burgeoning transcription industry as too small to be of any interest to the AFM. [47]  Several month later, V-Disc director Robert Vincent, with the backing of Pentagon officials, began applying pressure to Petrillo to exempt the V-Disc recording program from the AFM recording ban. Petrillo finally acquiesced on October 27, 1943, but only after insisting on a long list of conditions.

In the meantime, negotiations between AFM officials and a committee comprising representatives of CBS (Columia), Decca, and RCA had broken down. However, Decca attorney Milton Diamond had continued to meet privately with Petrillo. [48]  On September 18, 1943, Decca president Jack Kapp announced that his company and its World Broadcasting transcription subsidiary had signed four-year contracts with the AFM that would allow them to resume recording immediately. [49]  

The terms were not immediately disclosed, although within the month Petrillo let it be known that they included payment of a percentage of Decca’s gross revenue directly to the AFM. [50] The proceeds — later revealed to be a flat half-cent royalty per new recording sold — were to be held by AFM officials in an “employment fund” that reportedly would finance make-work projects for AFM members deprived of “normal employment opportunities” because of competition from recorded music. [51]

Capitol Records, which had barely launched before the ban was enacted, capitulated on October 9, agreeing to the same terms as Decca. [52]  Four independent transcription companies signed slightly modified agreements several weeks later, amidst accusations from the National Association of Broadcasters that the payment plans were “as economically and socially unsound as extortion is immoral and illegal.” [53]

Many industry observers predicted that other producers would rush to sign with the AFM in a bid to counter Capitol’s and Decca’s early advantage. Within a matter of months, virtually all of the record and transcription capitulated, leaving only RCA and Columbia as the last significant holdouts. “Privately,” Broadcasting magazine reported, “industry leaders made no bones about their feeling that had been ‘sold out’ and are now ‘over a barrel.’” [54]

In April 1944, attorneys for RCA and Columbia called for the War Labor Board to lift the AFM ban and allow their companies to resume recordings, pending a challenge to the AFM’s “employment fund” provision. When a meeting between record-company and AFM officials ended in a stalemate, more radical solutions (including a temporary government takeover of the Columbia and RCA facilities) were floated in some quarters. [55]

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A hostile James Petrillo testifies before the National War Labor Board in 1943.

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Facing rapidly escalating pressure from the recording and broadcast industries, the National War Labor Board ordered an end to the AFM ban on June 15, which went unheeded. After Petrillo refused to cooperate at a show-cause hearing on August 18, the case was referred to the Office of Economic Stabilization. President Roosevelt finally weighed in on October 4, 1944, declaring in a strongly worded telegram to Petrillo,

It is the opinion of the Director of Economic Stabilization that under all the present circumstances, the noncompliance by your union is not unduly impeding the war effort. But this noncompliance may encourage other instances of noncompliance which will impede the war effort… Therefore, in the interest of respecting the considered decision of the Board, I request your union to accept the directive orders of the National War Labor Board. What you regard as your loss will certainly be your country’s gain.” [56]

However, it would not be the AFM’s loss. After considering the matter for a week, Petrillo rebuffed the president in a rambling nine-page response. Since virtually every other record and transcription company had already settled with the AFM, Petrillo declared, he saw no reason to offer any concessions to the last two major holdouts. [57]

With no alternatives left, Columbia and RCA (including the latter’s NBC Thesaurus transcription division) finally capitulated to Petrillo’s demands on the evening of Saturday, November 11, 1944, with a formal signing set for the following Monday. After a twenty-eight–month hiatus, RCA resumed commercial recording activities on Sunday, November 12, at 1:43 pm. Columbia followed suit six hours later. [58]

RCA recording manager James W. Murray conceded, “We had no alternative but to meet the demands that we make direct payment to the union’s treasury or to abandon our record business.” Columbia’s Edward Wallerstein fixed the blame firmly on Washington lawmakers, declaring, “We are finally accepting because of the government’s unwillingness or incapacity to enforce its orders.” [59]  Although Petrillo denied that the contracts offered to CBS and RCA were punitive, they contained restrictive clauses not found in those the AFM had signed with other companies, including a provision that allowed artists to cancel their recording contracts in the event of an AFM strike.

In the end, industry experts estimated that the AFM ban had done little damage to most record companies, and might actually have benefited some. There had been no decline in record sales or profits during the ban. There had been a lack of significant growth within the industry, but that was attributed more to wartime shortages, and the fact that a vast number of record customers were out of the market until their enlistments were up, than to the ban. In addition, Capitol and other promising newcomers had gained a competitive edge by signing with the AFM and resuming production while the two industry behemoths remained locked in their losing battle with Petrillo. [60]

 

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Recording companies — whether large, small, or still in the planning stages — would enjoy an unprecedented postwar boom. As early as October 1943, a Billboard columnist had observed,

Old-timers who remember how recording companies mushroomed in the days that followed the wind-up of World War I would blink in amazement if they could peak at the post-war blueprints now being drawn by dozens of minor diskers with major American ambitions. And there’ll be business enough for all of them, in the opinion of one of the most astute and important record men in the field today. No less than 300,000,000 annual record sale is the figure at which he pegs the post-war potential. [61]

Petrillo monitored that boom with a growing sense of indignation as record-company profits soared and broadcasters made even greater use of transcriptions. Current AFM contracts, signed at the end of the 1942–1943 recording ban and due to expire on December 31, 1947, were now deemed inadequate in light of the recording industry’s strong rebound and rapid growth.

At the AFM’s summer 1947 convention, Pertrillo once again threatened to shut down all commercial recording activity to force further concessions. Members of the House labor subcommittee immediately launched an investigation into the union, only to have it temporarily squelched by a young Richard Nixon, who favored giving Petrillo “a chance to be a good boy.” [62]

For public consumption, Petrillo made the same case as in 1942: Recorded music puts “live” musicians out of work, and musicians do not receive a fair proportion of the profits from record companies and jukebox operators. [63]  This time, however, there was speculation that Petrillo had a hidden agenda. Suspicions arose that he was using the recording companies as pawns in a scheme to pressure Congress to reject the Lea-Vanderberg and Taft-Hartley acts, which had the potential to undermine some union involvement in both the recording and broadcast fields. [64]

Petrillo was said to be especially concerned with preserving his union’s royalty-funded welfare plan, a concession he had wrung from the record companies at the end of the ban. Not subject to outside oversight or regulation, the fund was widely rumored to be enriching union officials at the expense of those it was intended to help. Under the proposed Taft-Hartley Act, it would have to be administered jointly by the AFM and the record companies, with benefits paid directly to the musicians rather than to the AFM — changes that Petrillo was determined to prevent. If record-industry officials were to join him in lobbying Congress to defeat those bills, Petrillo  hinted, then perhaps a new recording ban might be averted.

That alliance never materialized, and both bills were signed into law. Petrillo sprang into action with his usual barrage of threats hyperbole, and personal intimidation, declaring that “none of the union’s 220,000 members ever will record again.” [65]  But this time, the industry’s response was not what he had expected. The four major producers — Capitol, Columbia, Decca, and RCA — brushed off Petrillo’s threat, claiming to have already stockpiled enough new recordings to sustain them for at least a year (or two, in Capitol’s case). One unnamed record-company executive even welcomed the opportunity a ban would provide to weed out some competitors, telling Billboard,

We have the catalogs the smaller record companies don’t. Should a new record ban develop, Petrillo will be helping us to get rid of small-label competition. We’ll spread “revival” disks all over the market, and the minor companies could not follow suit… Year-long holiday is just what we need to clear up the backlog of orders for old discs. How many of the smaller companies can sweat out a year without new pop diskings? [66]

The same report noted that the record companies were paying $2 million in royalties into the AFM’s welfare fund annually, a large portion of which would dry up in the event of a ban. Petrillo’s threat to launch his own record company evaporated after Justice Department attorneys warned  that doing so could cause jeopardize the union’s protection as a labor organization under the Wagner Act.

After weighing Petrillo’s limited legal options, his increasingly close scrutiny by the federal officials, and the union’s potential financial losses should Petrillo impose a recording ban, many record-company executives decided to outwait him. Their confidence must have been bolstered considerably in October, after they received an invitation from the National Association of Broadcasters to join them in what was termed “an all-industry front against the AFM.” [67]

Petrillo also made the mistake of tipping his hand far too early. With a full five months remaining on their AFM contracts, the record companies began stockpiling masters at a feverish pace. There was even a song tribute to the effort, Jon and Sondra Steele’s “They All Recorded to Beat the Ban,” which became a surprise hit for the minuscule (and until then, utterly obscure) Damon Recording Studios of Kansas City. In an attempt to stem the stockpiling, the AFM refused to issue recording licenses to any new companies, to no avail.

Recording activities reached a new peak in October, when a rumor began circulating that Petrillo might move the ban forward by two months, to November 1. Billboard correctly predicted that “the next few weeks may see a good many label switches, in addition to the signing of still more talent.” [68]  Anxious producers went on signing sprees and attempted to lure competitors’ stars with better contracts. Universal, a small Chicago start-up, signed three new bands within a week. Aristocrat, a six-month-old race label, added more than a dozen new artists. Mercury talent scout Jimmy Hilliard, although reportedly “well-entrenched” with the label’s existing roster, signed nine new artists, in addition to purchasing masters from the defunct Vogue operation. Transcription producer Frederick W. Ziv, who had just signed a long-term contract with Guy Lombardo when the rumor surfaced, recalled,

We began a frantic race against time… Guy Lombardo and his crew sweated it out with us. We had them over at a New York recording studio virtually day and night. Occasionally we would take half an hour off to eat at a nearby restaurant, but mostly we had food brought in. Sofas and chairs served for cat-naps… We produced enough in the series to give us a respectable backlog and an assurance that our sales force could go out and sell Lombardo to the hilt, which they did. [69]

On the West Coast, some small independent producers threatened to withhold any further royalty payments to the AFM and openly announced plans to record with non-union talent, or to employ union musicians under aliases, as Eli Oberstein had done during the first AFM ban. Coast Records announced that it would step up its importation of Peerless discs from Mexico, and several other small labels hinted that they were already in contact with Mexican suppliers. [70]

Some enterprising individuals planned to cut masters on their own and offer them to the major labels, despite not holding active AFM recording licenses, only to discover that most companies would not accept them for fear of AFM reprisals. [71]  That did not deter one Dick Charles, an aspiring songwriter who recruited a group of high-school musicians to record his “Man on the Carousel” in his living room. The Dana label took a chance and issued the recording, with no repercussions reported. “Jocks already have been whirling ‘Carousel,’” Billboard reported, “and copies are due on retail shelves sometime this week.” [72]

November 1 came and went, and no ban was ordered. By then, however, it appeared certain that the AFM would refuse to renew its record-company contracts, and that a recording ban would be ordered on December 31. To skirt the new Taft-Hartley Act and avoid possible intervention by the Justice Department, Petrillo would not officially term the action a strike. Instead, union musicians would be instructed to “merely quit work” on that date. [73]

Richard Nixon, having belatedly realized that Petrillo would not be a “good boy” after all, now insisted that the Justice Department prosecute Petrillo and the AFM for conspiracy in restraint of trade if the recording ban was implemented. But he was thwarted by Justice Department attorneys, who after initially expressing puzzlement over Petrillo’s wording, concluded that “quitting work” was not synonymous with “striking,” and therefore was not an issue with which the department should become involved.

Once the ban was in effect, record producers began revisiting strategies that had been developed during the first AFM strike. Non-instrumental accompanists made a comeback, but on a grander scale than previously. For an April 1948 session by Jack Smith and the Clark Sisters, Capitol brought in a sixteen-voice chorus and a band consisting of kazoos and other toy instruments, presumably played by non-union talent. To lend a fuller sound to its vocal offerings by the Sportsmen Quartet, the company overdubbed accompanying tracks by the same group. Tower’s first post-ban session employed an eight-voice chorus, two harmonicas, and a ukulele to accompany singer Jack Owens. The King label recruited the non-union Harmi-Kings harmonica trio. [74]   Several small concerns skirted the ban by licensing European dance-band recordings, on which they overdubbed vocals by American artists.

Columbia was quick to point out that it had recently opened a new studio in Mexico City, far beyond the AFM’s reach. Bob Thiele, the president of Signature Records, also announced that he planned to move some recording operations to Mexico. [75]  But the largest Mexican recording operation was mounted by Standard Transcriptions, which had employed Mexican musicians during the first AFM ban. During the summer of 1948, Standard president Jerry King announced that his company was planning a Mexican trek that Billboard predicted would be “the largest single recording series yet attempted since the Petrillo ban.” Special arrangements were commissioned so that vocal choruses could be overdubbed by American singers once the masters arrived in the U.S.

King also offered to cut masters in Mexico for the other major transcription companies, the only restriction being that arrangements had to differ from those used his own recordings. [76]  There were no takers, but that apparently did not deter other producers from floating similar offers. For RCA and CBS, the Mexican option proved to be problematic. Union musicians were already on strike at Victor’s Mexico City operation, and a work stoppage reportedly was being planned for Columbia’s Mexican facilities.

There was a renewed interest in importing foreign-label pop recordings as well. Even before the ban, several companies had begun negotiating for the rights to foreign recordings, albeit primarily for the classical market. Keynote’s John Hammond had already secured U.S. pressing and distribution rights to what were claimed to be ten-thousand Czech recordings, and Capitol was in secret negotiations with Telefunken in Germany for its classical and foreign-language catalogs. Now it was reported that Capitol and Columbia were looking to license foreign pop material as well, from British sources. [77]  They idea was largely abandoned after encountering stiff resistance from Hardie Ratcliffe, assistant general secretary of the British Musicians’ Union, and a staunch Petrillo supporter.

Capitol Records, whose launch had been hampered by the earlier AFM action, was the first major label to openly defy the new ban. On February 21, 1948, it was reported that the company had ordered several of its most popular artists, including Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, and Wesley Tuttle, to report for recording sessions in defiance of the ban. Tuttle immediately contacted AFM Local 47 for guidance and was told to ignore the order. The situation turned into a standoff as rumors swirled that Capitol was preparing to test the legality of the ban in court. [78]

On the same day the Capitol news broke, Jerry King ordered band-leader Ike Carpenter to report for a February 25 Standard Transcriptions session, openly admitting that he intended to use Carpenter as a “guinea pig” to test the validity of the ban. The matter was referred to Local 47, which made it clear that Carpenter would face expulsion if he reported for the date. [79]

On April 10, 1948, a group of record-company that included James Murray (Victor), Frank White (Columbia), Milton Rackmil (Decca), A. Halsey Cowan (Signature), and Jack Pearl (representing the Phonograph Record Manufacturers’ Association, a consortium of small independent labels) met to discuss the advisability of approaching Petrillo personally. This time, in marked contrast to the earlier AFM ban, the record-company executives did not appear particularly concerned about the situation, or about appeasing Petrillo. Billboard reported,

No conclusions were reached, but the reps decided to think the matter over and go into it further at another meeting late next week… One disc exec reported that he “don’t much give a damn” about bringing the ban to an early close, and intimated he felt that such was the prevalent attitude among fellow diskers. [80]

The ban dragged on through the summer months, with disbursement and use of royalties paid to the union by record companies the major sticking point. But with the work stoppage was now costing many union members jobs, and crimping the flow of royalties into AFM’s coffers, Petrillo faced mounting internal pressure to resolve the standoff. In September he presented a sketchy proposal under which the royalty payments would be used to fund work for unemployed musicians. Among the many missing details was any mention of the new royalty rates the AFM intended to demand. Several major-label executives reported that they were taking Petrillo’s proposal home for further study but remained noncommittal. [81]  By mid-October, both sides acknowledged that they were at a complete stalemate.

Two weeks later, Petrillo and recording-industry representatives unexpectedly announced that they had agreed to terms of a new contract involving concessions from both sides, but particularly from the beleaguered union boss. An earlier demand for payment of royalties on all discs sold during the ban was dropped, in exchange for which the record companies agreed to a slight increase in the royalty rate for records that retailed for more than a dollar (comprising a small portion of total sales, primarily involving higher-end classical records). The proposed solution, including revisions to the way the royalty fund was administered, was to be submitted to the Justice Department, which would rule on its legality under the Taft-Hartley Act.

By the first week of November, one trade publication was predicting that the first post-ban recordings would begin reaching the market within a matter of days. [82]  The prediction proved to be more than a month premature. Recording could not begin until the Justice Department (which had become bogged down in an internal debate over the need to channel the request through the Labor Department) issued its advisory opinion on the new contract. With approval finally imminent, Billboard reported on November 11 that the record companies were gearing up to resume recording. [83]

A new five-year pact was finalized on Monday, November 13, and it was generally expected that record companies would rush to sign with AFM and resume recording, as they had in 1943. However, reactions were mixed among industry officials. At RCA headquarters, the mood was described as “festive.” But when a Billboard reporter encountered Decca’s Jack Kapp enjoying a leisurely lunch and asked why he wasn’t in the recording studio, Kapp replied, “What for? There’s nothing we particularly want to record.” [84]

The small independent labels, many of which were getting by reasonably well with non-union talent, were especially slow to sign. On December 25, Billboard reported, “In New York, indie diskeries have as yet shown no mad rush to take out AFM recording licenses.” On the West Coast, only three independent labels had signed with the AFM by that date. [85]

For union recording artists, the settlement proved to be a mixed blessing. Record-company executives had spent the year evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their artists. Not all were welcomed back to the studios when recording resumed, as Billboard reported on Christmas day 1948:

Brandishing fountain pens in one hand and axes in the other, diskery artists-and-repertoire staffs geared for action on the talent front following the inking of the new recording contract. To date, the pens have been mightier than the axes, but it was plainly indicated that the axes should claim a considerable number of victims before the end of the week. Meanwhile, most of the a. and r. [artists and repertoire] men are propounding a “fewer but better” policy. [86]

The settlement effectively marked the end of James Caesar Petrillo’s decade-long rampage against the recording industry. He would go on to mount further skirmishes, particularly against radio and television producers, but would score no significant victories. In 1958, facing a potential revolt among Los Angeles musicians who believed his policies discouraged the hiring of union members by television studios, he resigned as president of the AFM. [87]

 

Notes

[1] O’Connell, Charles. The Other Side of the Record, pp. 260–261. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1947).

[2] Selvin, who had begun his recording career in the late ’teens as the director of a popular dance orchestra, was by this time the vice-president of Associated Music Publishers, and a long-time member of the American Federation of Musicians.

[3] “Cost of Record Music Talent Is Found Above Expectations.” Broadcasting (April 14, 1941), p. 54.

[4] “Settlement Talk Rumored After RB Drops Band in Pay Dispute.” Billboard (June 13, 1942), p. 38. The strike involved the main circus band, under Merle Evans’ direction, as well as the smaller sideshow band directed by Arthur Wright.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Union Head Protests.” Phoenix Arizona Republic (July 14, 1942), p. 2.

[7] “Action Against ‘Canned Music’ Scored by J. L. Fly.” Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times Leader (Jul 21, 1942), p. 2.

[8] “Senate Quiz on Petrillo; Clark and Vandenberg Hits Music ‘Tyranny’ by AFM.” Billboard (September 5, 1942), p. 62.

[9] “Hubbard Labels Petrillo as ‘Fuehrer’ of Musicians, Seeking to Wreck Radio.” Broadcasting (July 27, 1942), p. 8.

[10] “Industry Remains Calm on Petrillo Ban.” Broadcasting (July 13, 1942), p. 12.

[11] “Petrillo to Put Curb on Making of Records.” Chicago Tribune (June 9, 1942), p. 17.

[12] “Highlights of the Petrillo Recording Ban that Went Before; From 1942 to 1944.” Billboard (November 1, 1947), p. 20.

[13] “Mr. Petrillo Gives the Word.” New York Times (July 10, 1942), reprinted in Broadcasting (July 13, 1942), p. 12.

[14] U. S. Trust Suit Against Petrillo on Recording Bar.” St. Louis Dispatch (Jul 23, 1942), p. 1.

[15] “Hubbard Labels Petrillo as ‘Fuehrer’ of Musicians,” op. cit.

[16] “Shellac Shortage, Petrillo and War Have Little Fellows Groggy.” Billboard (August 29, 1942), p. 19.

[17] “Senate Quiz on Petrillo,” op. cit.

[18] “D of J Must Prove That AFM Conspires; ‘Labor Disputes’ Can’t Be Hit By Trust Laws.” Billboard (August 1, 1942), p. 19.

[19] “The Petrillo Decision.” Reno [NV] Gazette-Journal (Oct 16, 1942), p. 4.

[20] “Chronological Chart of Events in the A.F.M. Record Ban.” The Billboard 1944 Music Yearbook, p. 147.

[21] Coughlan, Robert. “Petrillo.” Life (August 3, 1942), pp. 68–70, 72, 74, 76.

[22] “75% of People Against Petrillo.” Billboard (September 5, 1942), p. 62.

[23] “Independents Form Record Association.” Broadcasting (August 10, 1942), p. 58.

[24] “Tiny Disker Tries to Steal Play from Big Firms with Petrillo Personally, But No Dice.” Billboard (April 3, 1943).

[25] “AFM Rejects Plan.” Broadcasting (March 29, 1943). P. 52.

[26] “Musicraft Asks Petrillo Again, Get Second ‘No.’” Billboard (April 10, 1943), p. 22

[27] Chasins, Gladys. “Recording Ban Grows Tighter; Vocalists Agree to Stop Recording Until AFM Lifts Ban.” Billboard (July 3, 1943).

[28] “Petrillo Won’t Settle Individually with Diskers; April 15 Meeting Set.” Variety (March 31, 1943), p. 35.

[29] “Petrillo Stands Pat.” Billboard (January 16, 1943), p. 20.

[30] “Tune Pile Getting Low.” Billboard (October 31, 1942), p. 62.

[31] Chasins, Gladys. “Recording Ban Grows Tighter; Vocalists Agree to Stop Recording Until AFM Lifts Ban.” Billboard (July 3, 1943).

[32] Chasins, op. cit.

[33] Quoted in Angus, Robert: “Pirates, Prima Donas, and Plain White Wrappers.” High Fidelity (December 1976). An attempt by researcher George Blacker in the 1980s to discover the anonymous music directors’ identity was unsuccessful.

[34] Pee Wee Irwin reportedly told writer Roy Evans that he was responsible for the Willie Kelly side.

[35] Evans, Roy. Undated letter to George Blacker (William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press collection).

[36] Hit 7023, released on October 14, 1942.

[37] “Big Recording Whodunit; 802 to Investigate Oberstein’s Recording of Mysterious Bands.” Billboard (October 17, 1942), p. 20.

[38] “Whither Disk Biz, Petrillo?” Billboard (July 26, 1947), p. 23.

[39] “Discs Cut in Mexico, Says EO.” Down Beat (November 1, 1942). Oberstein apparently did have connections with one or more Mexican studios, as evidenced by the earlier release of some Mexico City recordings on his Varsity label; but “Der Fuehrer’s Face” appears to have been recorded in the same American studio as Hit’s pre-ban recordings, and the voice was unmistakably that of Arthur Fields, who is highly unlikely to have journeyed from New York to Mexico City just to fill a recording date for a cut-rate label. In a bizarre twist, Fields himself reportedly filed for an injunction to  halt sales and distribution of the record (“Now Oberstein Says Discs Are Mexican.” Billboard, October 31, 1942, p. 21). Little more was reported on the case, but based on the large number of surviving copies of Hit 7023, it seems unlikely the injunction was granted.

[40] “Discs Cut…,” op. cit.

[41] “Big Recording Whodunit,” op cit.

[42] “Oberstein Defends Records.” Billboard (October 31, 1942), p. 62.

[43] Ibid.

[44] “Oberstein’s ‘Peter Piper’ May Be 802’s Jack Small; Union Wants Some Answers.” Billboard (January 16, 1943), p. 20.

[45] Oberstein was later re-admitted to the union, but only after threatening to file a half-million dollar defamation suit against Petrillo, the AFM, and its officers, raising fears that “a lot of dirty linen will be washed in public” (“Obie Planning 500G Suit”; Billboard, July 10, 1943). Obertein’s Classic Records recording license was restored in early November 1943 (“AFM Okays Classic Recording License;” Billboard, November 13, 1943, p. 16).

[46] “Calls on Pubs to Put Screws on Black Market Recorders.” Billboard (June 5, 1943), p. 21.

[48] Robertson, Bruce.“Disc Meeting Discusses Performance Fee.” Broadcasting (August 9, 1943), p. 12.

[49] “Petrillo’s Permission.” Motion Picture Herald (September 25, 1943), p. 8. The AFM contracts signed by Decca, World Broadcasting, and the many companies that followed were effective as of January 1, 1944, but Petrillo allowed those companies to resume recording immediately upon signing.

[50] Robertson, Bruce. “Other Disc Firms May Yield to AFM Pact.” Broadcasting (October 4, 1943), p. 9.

[51] Ibid.

[52] “Capitol Records Signs with AFM.” Broadcasting (October 18, 1943), p. 60.

[53] “NAB Hits AFM Fees; Four Disc Firms Sign.” Broadcasting (October 25, 1943), p. 9.

[54] Robertson, “Other Disc Firms,” op. cit.

55] “Editorial: Jimmy’s Opportunities.” Broadcasting (October 9, 1944), p. 44.

[56] “FDR Telegram to Petrillo.” Broadcasting (October 9, 1944).

[57] “Chronological Chart of Events in the A.F.M. Record Ban,” op cit.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Stone, Floyd E. “Victorious Caesar Petrillo Talks; Hollywood Waits.” Motion Picture Herald (November 18, 1944), p. 13.

[60] “Ban Background and Effects.” The Billboard 1944 Music Year Book, p. 146.

[61] “Post-War Deluge of Diskers.” Billboard (October 2, 1943), p. 1

[62] “AFM ‘Stop Work’ Disk Move Irks Congressmen But It Puzzles Justice Department.” Billboard (October 25, 1947), p. 17.

[63] “For the Record — Mr. Petrillo.” Billboard (January 17, 1948), p. 25.

[64] “Whither Disk Biz, Petrillo? Waxers Seen as Pawns in Larger Strategy by AFM, But Big Firms Hold Aces.” Billboard (July 26, 1947), pp. 3, 23.

[65] “Petrillo Says He’s Obeying Taft-Hartley.” Billboard (October 25, 1947), p. 17.

[66] Ibid.,  p 23

[67] “NAB Bids for Disker Reps.” Billboard (October 25, 1947), p. 17.

[68] “Ban Starts Wax Talent Flurry; Rush Is On to Beat Deadline.” Billboard (Ocotber 25, 1947), p. 34.

[69] Ziv, Frederick W. “It Could Only Be Done with Discs.” Audio Record (June–July 1948), pp. 1, 3.

[70] “Small Coast Labels Talk ‘Bootleg’ Wax as Big Countermove to Petrillo.” Billboard (November 1, 1947), p. 22.

[71] “Check the Angles!” Billboard (December 20, 1947), p. 20.

[72] “High School Tootlers Heard on Dana Disk.” Billboard (May 8, 1948), p. 21.

[73] “Dec. 31 Disk Ban Due Hourly; Petrillo Nix on Recordings Held Certain.” Billboard (October 18, 1947), p. 17.

[74] “Ban Side-Stepping Quickens.” Billboard (April 10, 1948), p. 17.

[75] “Dec. 31 Disk Ban Due Hourly,”op. cit.

[76] “Standard Treks to Mexico for Wax-Cutting Session.” Billboard (July 3, 1948), p. 37.

[77] “Ban Side-Stepping Quickens,” op. cit.

[78] “Cap Orders Talent to Wax Despite Ban.” Billboard (February 28, 1948), pp. 3, 17.

[79] “Ike Carpenter Guinea Pig in Petrillo Case.” Billboard (February 28, 1948), pp. 3, 17.

[80] “Diskers Weight Bid to Petrillo to Raise Ban.” Billboard (April 17, 1948), p. 32.

[81] “Petrillo’s Latest Proposal Gives Lawyers a Workout.” Billboard (September 25, 1948),p. 36.

[82] “Petrillo, Record Firms Agree; To End Union Ban.” Motion Picture Herald (November 6, 1948), p. 34.

[83] “Diskeries Set to Cut; A&R Men Polish Ax.” Billboard (December 18, 1948), p. 3.

[84] “A PS (Petrillo and Sarnoff) to Ban’s End; Other Assorted Items.” Billboard (December 25, 1948), p. 3.

[85] Coast Diskers Cold-Shoulder New Recording.” Billboard (January 1, 1949), p. 40.

[86] “Talent Roster Revamping Started by A. & R. Staffers.” Billboard (December 25, 1948), p. 21.

[87] Serrin, William. “James Petrillo Dead; Led Musicians.” New York Times (October 25, 1984), p. 15.

 

_______________

Article © 2021 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Contact Mainspring Press for information on licensing this article or quoting or reproducing any portion in excess of normal fair-use standards.

 

* Recording the ’Forties is currently in development for publication in 2022, along with expanded editions of the three previous volumes in the Evolution of American Recording series.

Columbia Phonograph Company Window Displays (1904 – 1907)

Columbia Phonograph Company Window Displays
(1904 – 1907)

 

The Lost Art of Window Dressing,
from The Columbia Record

 

 

Columbia Phonograph Co.
Rochester, New York (1906)

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Columbia Phonograph Co.
Cleveland (1906)

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Columbia Phonograph Co.
Langely & Winchell, Boston (1906)

.Columbia Phonograph Co.
Detroit (1906)

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Atlanta (1906)

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Columbia Phonograph Co.
New York (1904)

 

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Cleveland (1905)

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.Columbia Phonograph Co.
Kansas City (1904)

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Columbia Phonograph Co.
Brooklyn (1907), with a poster advertising “A Lemon in the Garden of Love,” by Billy Murray. Although it states “Made on Cylinder Only,” Columbia soon issued Murray’s disc version as well.

______________________________

 

Except where noted, the stores are Columbia’s own retail locations.
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Our thanks to Steve Smolian for the loan of his rare original editions of The Columbia Record.


 

From Kodisk to Speak-O-Phone: Victor and A. T. Emerson Launch the Instantaneous-Recording Industry

From Kodisk to Speak-O-Phone:
Victor and A. T. Emerson Launch the
Instantaneous-Recording Industry
By Allan Sutton

Source documents courtesy of Doreen Wakeman

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Father and son: Victor Hugo Emerson and Adelbert Tewksbury (“A. T.”) Emerson (Doreen Wakeman)

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Victor Emerson’s next venture after resigning from the Emerson Phonograph Company in 1922 was the Metal Recording Disc Company. Beginning with the purchase of Henry Wadsworth’s patent on a process for manufacturing pre-grooved metal recording discs, Victor and his son Adelbert built an operation that would corner the market for bare-metal recording discs, in the process laying the groundwork for what would become the instantaneous-recording industry.

The Metal Disc Recording Corporation was incorporated in Manhattan on March 22, 1922, by L. E. Dresser, E. E. Ennison, and A. B. Hermans [1] W. Jay Ennison (Victor Emerson’s personal attorney) made the corporate filing and served as MDRC’s president, while Emerson served as treasurer. The corporate filing stated only that the company would “make phonographs,” with no mention of metal recording blanks.

It appears that the original plan was to manufacture a coin-operated automatic disc-recording and dispensing machine on which Henry L. Wadsworth had filed a patent in 1917. For recording purposes, Wadsworth stated his preference for a disc of varnish or shellac, the surface of which was to be slightly softened by the application of a solvent just prior to recording. [2]

Wadsworth soon came up with a more practical recording blank. In March 1918, he filed a patent on a pre-grooved, uncoated metal disc:

I have discovered that a substantially permanent record groove may be formed in the highly polished surface of a suitable fine grain metal, for example, copper, sheet aluminum, pewter, etc. For best results the surface of the blank is first properly prepared by filling the voids therein as by the application thereto of an element of wax-like nature… Aluminum possess all of the characteristics necessary to make a record by my process, and I prefer to use the metal.

On May 11, 1922 MDRC signed a memorandum of agreement with Wadsworth, agreeing to purchase both patents (the second of which was still pending) and the corresponding foreign patents. Wadsworth was paid $10,000 in cash and received 2,500 shares in the company. [3]

In the meantime, Emerson had filed his own patent embodying improvements to Wadsworth’s pre-grooved metal blanks, which he claimed would make the discs more suitable for use “in connection with the ordinary talking machine.” Chief among them was a wider groove that he claimed would offer less resistance to the cutting stylus. In his patent filing Emerson boasted, “I have produced a new type of disc record in which the public, that is the unskilled person, can utilize his talking machine for the purpose of recording and thereby making permanent and indestructible records.” [4]

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Victor Emerson’s metal-disc patent, showing the wide groove that Emerson claimed offered less resistance to the cutting stylus. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

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With strong patent protection in place, the Metal Recording Disc Company was ready to commence operations. The idea of manufacturing Wadsworth’s automatic disc-recording machine apparently was dropped. Instead, the company focused on creating a market for pre-grooved aluminum discs and an accompanying recording attachment that could be used to make home recordings on ordinary phonographs.

There had been earlier, short-lived attempts to market home-recording devices for the disc phonograph, including the Landay Brothers’ widely advertised Land-O-Phone of 1906. None had been a technical or commercial success, in part because the discs usually were composed of wax or other materials that were easily damaged in playback. MDRC’s aluminum discs solved that problem, being largely immune to damage provided that they were played with thorn or fiber needles rather than steel.

MRDC sold its pre-grooved blanks under the Kodisk brand beginning in May 1922. [5] Recording was accomplished by simply shouting into the phonograph’s horn (preferably with the aid of a megaphone), allowing the phonograph’s own reproducer and stylus serving as the recording mechanism. For better results, the company offered a $6 recording attachment consisting of a pivoting recording horn attached to a reproducer. An early advertisement pictured the device being used by Irving Kaufman, a popular Emerson recording artist.

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Irving Kaufman plugs Kodisk, August 1922. As an exclusive Emerson recording artist for a time in the early 1920s, Kaufman would have been well-known to Victor Emerson. (Talking Machine World)

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Although MRDC at first warned that only Kodisk blanks were the genuine article, it was soon supplying other companies who sold the discs under their own names. The Plaza Music Company, which had recently taken over Emerson’s Regal label, marketed the blanks under the Echo brand. Even Eugene Widmann, president of the Pathé Phonograph and Radio Corporation, got involved. [6] For a short time, Pathé phonographs could be purchased with a home-recording attachment employing the MRDC blanks. The idea apparently failed to interest many consumers, but it would not be Widmann’s last involvement with Emerson’s metal discs.

Unfortunately, due to the low volume inherent in the acoustic recording process and the mechanical resistance of the metal blanks, the recordings were often barely audible. As Douglas Cooke noted in his early account of the operation, “While an important step had been taken, there were still further obstacles to be overcome — the record was right, but mechanical recording was deficient.” [7] Interest in the Emerson–Wadsworth system of home recording faded in the mid-1920s. It would take the advent of commercial electric recording to rekindle that interest.

Little was heard of the Metal Recording Disc Company during 1925–1926. Management of the company had already passed to Victor Emerson’s son, Adelebert Tewskbury Emerson (or “A. T.,” as he called himself for business purposes) by the time Victor died on June 22, 1926. In early 1927, A. T. incorporated the Emerson Foundation Company to carry on the family’s business interests. H. T. Leeming, who had developed the inexpensive Regal label while an Emerson Phonograph executive in 1921, served as the company’s treasurer. [8]

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Emerson Foundation Company stock certificate #1. (Doreen Wakeman)

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On September 21, 1927, the Metal Disc Recording Company licensed Frederick H. Sanborn to manufacture blank metal discs, with or without pre-grooving, under the Emerson and Wadsworth patents. MDRC retained ownership of the underlying manufacturing rights, which it transferred to the Emerson Foundation Company on or about October 1, 1927. [9] Sanborn’s as-yet unnamed company was licensed to manufacture and sell the blanks in the United States, its territories and dependencies, and Cuba “in connection with installations of phonograph recording machines to make personal recordings on said discs at such installations.” [10]

Sanborn would be allowed to sell the blanks to his agents or sub-licensees, with several restriction. The blanks, and the machines on which they were to be recorded, were not be employed for commercial record production, broadcasting, home recording, or office dictation. The question of whether or not to enter the latter market, which at the time was dominated by Dictaphone and Ediphone, would resurface several times in the coming years. Ultimately, the machines and blanks would be marketed for dictation and other business purposes, but not until the early 1930s.

Sanborn was required to pay MDRC a royalty on each blank sold, ranging from ¼¢ for five-inch or smaller discs to 2¢ for ten-inch or larger. In addition, effective January 1, 1928, Sanborn would be required to manufacture and sell a minimum of 200,000 discs that year, and 500,000 discs in each succeeding year. The agreement prohibited Sanborn’s agents and licensees from duplicating recordings made on the blanks, effectively precluding their use in commercial record production.

By late 1927, Sanborn had acquired rights to an electrical recording system and was in the process of assembling a group of investors to develop and market that system. On December 30, 1927, Henry Blum, J. H. Schiller, and Helen Marsak, filed a certificate of incorporation for Speakeophone Incorporated in New York. Their names thus far had not appeared in connection with the metal-disc business, and they were inconsequential from an operating standpoint. The driving forces behind Speakeophone would be Frederick Sanborn, as president, and A. T. Emerson, as its largest stockholder. [11]

Speakeophone’s purpose, according to the incorporation filing, was:

To make, sell, lease, and otherwise deal in, metal or other discs for the recording, perpetuation or reproduction, or otherwise, of sound; and also recording and reproducing machines, their parts, thereof, and accessories therefor, relating to metal or other discs, and the making of phonographic records thereon, by any means, for the production, recording, or reproduction of sound. [12]

Incorporated as a separate entity, the Speak-O-Phone Corporation would serve as the public face of Speakeophone. It would handle distribution and licensing, while Speakeophone would continue to handle manufacturing. The distinction, although seemingly a fine one, would prove contentious in the later legal battle for control of the business.

The Speak-O-Phone Corporation filed a trademark application on the Speak-O-Phone name on August 28, 1928, claiming use since May 1. A second application covered the phrase, “A Snapshot of Your Voice,” a slightly revision of the old Kodisk slogan that would appear only on the earliest Speak-O-Phone discs. [13] The company planned to franchise walk-in Speak-O-Phone studio throughout the country.

The franchise operation Speak-O-Phone experienced steady growth. Licenses were granted to any financially qualified party wishing to open their own recording studio and willing to abide by a lengthy lease agreement that bound the licensee to purchase discs only from Speak-O-Phone.

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Page 1 of the Speak-O-Phone studio operating and lease agreement. (Doreen Wakeman)

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Before the advent of Speak-O-Phone, individuals wishing to make their own disc records had to deal with commercial record producers. Turnaround times were slow and costs were high, and most companies required customers to purchase multiple pressings. With the advent of Speak-O-Phone, anyone could walk into a studio, record their talk or performance, and walk out a few minutes later with an electrically recorded disc at prices ranging from 50¢ to $1.50 per side, depending upon the diameter.

The entire unit was housed in a cabinet the size of a large console phonograph. The licensee was responsible for set-up, maintenance, and repairs. Sound quality of the finished discs could vary, depending upon operator skill and the microphone selected (the choices, all carbon microphones, included the default Speak-O-Phone model, of unknown manufacture; a Western Electric model; and a couple of off-brands). But in the hands of a skilled operator working with a decent microphone, the technical results could be surprisingly good.

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Early Speak-O-Phone discs had full-size back-plates (top). They were soon replaced by the familiar Speak-O-Phone label (bottom left), which allowed for recording on both sides. The slotted, embossed-label Remsen blank — essentially just a rebranding of the Speak-O-Phone disc — was introduced in 1930. Another  version of the Remsen disc, not pictured here, had Remsen’s name and patent notice embossed in a circle around the regular Speak-O-Phone label. (Author’s collection)

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A demonstration studio — little more than a closet, judging from the advertisements — was opened to the public in the “economy basement” of Snellenberg’s Philadelphia department store on September 3, 1928. [14] By October, the studio was doing so much business that it was moved to a more prestigious location, in the fifth-floor music department.

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Speak-O-Phone’s first demonstration studio, in the “economy basement of Snellenberg’s department store in Philadelphia. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

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Speak-O-Phone’s license #1 was granted to the Famous-Barr Company’s St. Louis store, which first advertised its studio on September 18. [15] Speak-O-Phone made international headlines in May 1929, when it installed a studio aboard the luxury liner Ile de France. It was back in the headlines on June 22, when Dorothy Caruso (Enrico’s widow) opened Speak-O-Phone studio #7 in New York. [16]

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Speak-O-Phone studio #1, in the Famous-Barr Company’s St. Louis department store, 1928. (Doreen Wakeman)

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Speak-O-Phone studio aboard the S. S. Ile de France, one of at least five ocean liners that licensed Speak-O-Phone equipment. (Doreen Wakeman)

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Dorothy Caruso, Enrico’s widow, opened Speak-O-Phone studio #7 in June 1929. (Doreen Wakeman / Brooklyn Daily Eagle)

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By the late summer of 1929, new Speak-O-Phone studios were being opened almost weekly. A 1930 list of contracts showed seventy-one active Speak-O-Phone installations at the time, in department stores, music and record shops, free-standing studios, colleges, and aboard at least five ocean liners.  [17]

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Speak-O-Phone brochures, c. 1929, announcing the opening of a new studio in Boston (top); and explaining the system and touting its profit potential to aspiring licensees (bottom). (Doreen Wakeman)

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Speak-O-Phone provided portfolios of customizable newspaper ads to its licensees and distributors. This copy was sent to Herman Germain, of the Plaza Music Company, retailers of Banner and other inexpensive records. Plaza had been one of the earliest sellers of rebranded Kodisk blanks in the early 1920s.

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On August 14, 1929, Emerson wrote to Sanborn proposing a new partnership with the Emerson Foundation Company to further develop the technology for commercial purposes, including dictation machines, to be called the Metal Recording Products Company. [18] The way was soon cleared for Speakeophone to transfer all licensing, distribution, and sales rights to Speak-O-Phone. The agreement between Speakeophone and Speak-O-Phone was signed on August 28, 1929, at which time Sanborn also signed over the rights to his electrical recording process to Speakeophone. [19]

Speakeophone further consolidated its control of the operation in October 1929, when the Emerson Foundation Company assigned it all of its remaining U.S. manufacturing, distribution, and sales rights in return for a royalty agreement on disc sales. [20] On February 17, 1930, however, Emerson suddenly reversed himself, writing to attorney Thomas H. Matters, “I believe that the Emerson Foundation Co., Inc., should immediately take steps to cancel all of the  arrangements which it has with the Speakeophone Corporation of America.”

At issue was some bad publicity over the company’s failure to deliver machines and records for which customers had paid. The issue came to a head after crooner Rudy Vallee publicly complained that he had not yet received a machine and discs for which he had paid $750 many months earlier. Complaints to the Better Business Bureau increased as a rumor flew that executive Jacques Blevins was misspending company funds. Emerson was also displeased over the company’s failure to pursue the home-recording and radio markets. [21]

The next few months would be marked by ongoing disputes between Emerson, Blevins, Sanford, and various shareholders, involving accusations of questionable loans, overdue notes, missing stock, and unpaid salaries, among other issues. Thomas H. Matters (who ten years earlier had been of the receivers for the Emerson Phonograph Company), was finally called in by Emerson in an attempt to resolve some of most contentious issues. The ongoing legal squabbling had no apparent effect on Speak-O-Phone’s day-to-day operations, which so far seemed to be weathering the early effects of the Great Depression reasonably well.

By April 1930, Eugene Widmann — now working in banking after having resigned as president of the Pathé Phonograph and Radio Corporation three years earlier — was preparing to step into the fray. Blevins clearly wished to be out of the business. On April 8, he wrote to Widmann,

In connection with the proposal that you step into the situation and furnish the necessary capital to meet the requirement of the Corporation and develop its business, I propose to turn over to you the control of the business and its management and supervision on whatever basis you deem fair to the respective interests involved. [22]

At the same time, Blevins turned over a list of Speak-O-Phone accounts payable, notes payable, and studio contracts to Widmann, and Sanborn supplied him a breakdown of disc-production costs and an estimate of costs to produce attachments for home and radio recording. [23]

On April 11, Emerson informed Widmann that the Presto Machine Company could supply Speak-O-Phone fifty large studio recording machines within six to eight weeks and was also prepared to look into the production of home-recording equipment. Furthermore, Emerson reported, Presto was eager to take over production of the metal discs, with eighteen presses available and the capacity to “take care of unlimited quantities.” Emerson concluded his letter by writing, “I consider this an ideal plant for our work and for all of its future development.” [24] However, no agreement with Presto was forthcoming. The announcement that RCA Victor was about to introduce its own home-recording system may have dissuaded Emerson from further pursuing a Speak-O-Phone home system.

The long-simmering feud between Blevins and Sanborn came to a head toward the end of 1930, with Blevins complaining to Emerson that Sanborn had conducted “practically no business” since June, and had spent only $100 on sales. Blevins wrote to Emerson in January 1931, “In the interests if the creditors of Speak-O-Phone Corporation of America, I should like to see you and the other stockholders place a management in charge which will immediately take advantage of the demand for the product and give the business a progressive management.” [25]

As the sniping continued, Emerson finally moved to assume full control of Speakeophone Incorporated, canceling the Emerson Foundation Company’s contracts with Blevins and Sanborn. On January 20, 1931, he requested the return of their stock from the Harriman National Bank and Trust Company, which had been holding it in escrow. [26] Full manufacturing, licensing, and sales rights were transferred from the Metal Disc Recording Company to Speakeophone, which was now firmly under Emerson’s control (Speak-O-Phone now being little more than a trade name). In addition, MRDC lifted some earlier restrictions on its products’ use, although it inexplicably continued to prohibit their use for dictation purposes. [27]

On January 22, 1931, Emerson authorized the Emerson Foundation Company to sell any or all of its shares in Speakeophone Incorporated. [28] The move roughly coincided with the formation of H. T. Leeming’s Remsen Corporation, and it appears that Emerson accepted Remsen stock in exchange for some or all of his Speakeophone stock. By February, Emerson was negotiating to have Remsen take over manufacturing of the metal discs.

The Remsen Corporation left little in the way of a paper trail. It was affiliated in some way with inventor Douglas H. Cooke, who wrote a rambling, six-page document “not for public consumption” extolling the Remsen record’s virtues, although there is nothing to indicate that the Remsen disc was anything more than a rebranding of the regular Speak-O-Phone disc. [29]

According to Cooke, Remsen either owned or otherwise controlled (it is not clear which, from his wording) the Emerson and Wadsworth metal-disc patents, in addition to holding Cooke’s own pending patent on portable and home-recording machines. [30] When Cooke balked at the idea of manufacturing recorders, preferring to contract the work to outside suppliers, Emerson went to Widmann to with a proposal that they form a new company to manufacture recording machines. Widmann was not interested. [31]

On August 10, 1931, Sanborn wrote to Emerson, “Being completely out of Speak-O-Phone, I would like to clear it all up. The sum total of my loans to you is somewhere over $1,000. I would like to see this taken care of in some way… Trusting that Speakeophone is now doing all that you have expected from it.” [32] Emerson replied, “Am more than anxious to take care of the loan you were good enough to give me just as soon as I can… As to Speakeophone — Say Uncle Freddy, why pick on me?” [33]

On September 14, 1931, Emerson authorized sale of his Remsen stock through Widmann. [34] Speak-O-Phone would go on to flourish for a time in the 1930s, especially after finally getting into the dictation-machine market, although its bare-aluminum discs would be rendered obsolete by the Presto Recording Corporation’s superior lacquer-coated recording blanks. Speak-O-Phone’s later history will be the subject of a future posting.

 

The Sound of Speak-O-Phone

As many collectors have learned from disappointing purchases, surviving Speak-O-Phone discs are only rarely of any musical or historical interest. Here are two interesting exceptions. The first is by Martha Wilkins, a professional radio and concert performer who also sang occasional minor roles at the Metropolitan Opera. Her collection of personal records and air-checks from 1930 through 1948 now resides in the Mainspring collection.

The second (courtesy of David Giovannoni) is an excerpt from a 44-minute talk, extending over multiples discs, on the rosy future of dirigibles. The craft mentioned suggest the recording was made in 1933 or thereabouts. If any of you aviation-history buffs out there know who this might be, we would love to hear from you.

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MARTHA WILKINS: Indian Love Call
Norfolk, VA: May 22, 1930

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UNKNOWN SPEAKER: Talk on lighter-than-air aircraft (excerpt)
Unknown location: c. 1933

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Notes

 

[1] “New Incorporations.” New York Times (Mar 22, 1922), p. 23.

[2] Wadsworth, H. L. “Sound Recording and Reproducing Machine.” U.S. Patent #1,312,461 (filed Mar 7, 1917; granted Aug 5, 1919).

[3] Memorandum of Agreement Between the Metal Disc Recording Company, Inc., and Henry L. Wadsworth (May 11, 1922.

[4] Emerson, Victor H. “Record for Talking Machines and Method of Making the Same.” U.S. Patent #1,444,960 (filed April 25, 1921; granted February 13, 1923).

[5] “Kodisk Placed on Market.” Talking Machine World (May 1922), p. 33.

[6] Cooke, Douglas H. Unpublished manuscript, c. 1930.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Emerson Foundation Co., Inc. Stock certificate issued to A. T. Emerson (Mar 10, 1927).

[9] Emerson Foundation Co., Inc. Letter to Frederick H. Sanborn (Aug 14, 1929).

[10] Memorandum of Agreement Between the Metal Recording Disc Company, Inc., and Frederick H. Sanborn (September 21, 1927).

[11] Blevins, Jacques E. Letter to A. T. Emerson (Jan 31, 1931).

[12] Certificate of Incorporation of Speakeophone Incorporated (Dec 30, 1927).

[13] Speak-O-Phone Corporation. U.S. trademark filings #268,321 (Aug 28, 1928) and #268,322 (Oct 10, 1928).

[14] “Tomorrow in Our Economy Basement” (ad). Philadelphia Inquirer (Sep 2, 1928).

[15] Famous-Barr Co. (advertisement). St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Sep 18, 1928).

[16] Speak-O-Phone Corp. List of Contracts (c. April 1930).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Emerson Foundation Co., Inc. Letter to Sanborn, op. cit.

[19] Agreement Between Speakeophone, Incorporated, and Speak-O-Phone Corporation of America (Aug 28, 1929).

[20] Agreement Between Emerson Foundation Company, Inc., and Speakeophone, Incorporated (Oct 5, 1929).

[21] Emerson, A. T. Memorandum for Mr. Matters (Feb 17, 1930).

[22] Blevins, Jacques E. Letter to E. A. Widmann (April 8, 1930).

[23] Sanborn, Fredrick H. Latter to E. A. Widmann (April 8, 1930).

[24] Emerson, A. T. Letter to E. A. Widmann (April 11, 1930).

[25] Blevins, Jacques E. Letter to A. T, Emerson (Jan 31, 1931).

[26] Emerson, A. T. Letter to Harriman National Bank and Trust Company (Jan 20, 1931).

[27] Agreement Between Metal Disc Recording Co, Inc., and Speakeophone Incorporated (Jan 16, 1931; amended Mar 28, 1931).

[28] Emerson Foundation Company, Inc. Resolution (Jan 22, 1931).

[29] Cooke, op. cit. Cooke and a group of associates invented what he called the Chromatron recorder in the winter of 1927, which he claimed in the document was “developed quite independently of anything of the Remsen Corporation.” It is unclear whether this was the recording device that Remsen marketed.

[30] Sanborn, Frederick H. Letter to E. A. Widmann (Oct 28, 1930).

[31] Emerson, A. T. Memorandum to E. A. Widmann (Aug 18, 1931); Widmann, E. A. Memorandum to A. T. Emerson (Aug 20, 1931).

[32] Sanborn, Frederick H. Letter to A. T. Emerson (Aug 10, 1931).

[33] Emerson, A. T. Letter to Frederick H. Sanborn (Aug 17, 1931).

[34] Emerson, A. T. Memorandum to E. A. Widmann (Sep 14, 1931).


Our thanks to Doreen Wakeman (A. T. Emerson’s grand-daughter, and Victor’s great grand-daughter) for providing the source documents and many of the graphics used in this article.


 

© 2020 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Update: American Record Company Masters on Hawthorne & Sheble’s Star Label

Update: American Record Company Masters
on Hawthorne & Sheble’s Star Label

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The overwhelming majority of Star records were pressed from Columbia masters (see Star Records in Mainspring’s free Online Reference Library). However, a few anomalous issues — presumably pre-dating Hawthorne & Sheble’s switch to Columbia recordings, although their date of production remains unclear — use Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott’s American Record masters.

These obscure issues retain American Record’s original catalog numbers and, like their counterparts, have rubber-stamped label information. On some specimens, the Star label was pasted over the American Record Company original; on others, the label was affixed directly at time of pressing.

These issues don’t appear in any Star catalog or supplement we’ve seen thus far. The corresponding American Record Company issues were released between March and October 1906.

The latest addition to the list comes to us from Robert Johannesson (Kristianstad, Sweden) — in this case, an operatic recording that is fairly rare in the original American Record Company pressing, and no doubt even rarer as a Star disc.

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Courtesy of Robert Johannesson

 

The American Record–derived Stars appear to be far scarcer than the Columbia-derived Stars. Thus far, only the following have been confirmed by sources we know to be reliable. If you have other examples, we would like very much to hear from you (label scans are appreciated, if possible). You can e-mail us at:

 Star 031317
Cheyenne (Shy Ann)
Billy Murray Acc: Orchestra
Mx: X 837

Star 031368
La Golondrina (The Swallow)

Curti’s Mexican Orchestra (Carlos Curti, director)
Mx: —

Star 031369
El Matador — Paso Doble
Curti’s Mexican Orchestra (Carlos Curti, director)
Mx: —  [ctl. M 5284]

Star 031401
Rigoletto: Monologo

Cesare Alessandroni
Mx: X 196

Star 031406
Himno Nacional Mexicano

A. de G. Abello
Mx: X 777

Star 031432
The Bullfrog and the Coon

Ada Jones
Mx: X 1428  [ctl. M 5299]

 

Full details, including corresponding issues on other labels, can be found in the Star Records discography.

Latest Additions to the Phono-Cut Discography

Latest Additions to the Phono-Cut Discography

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Thanks to Robert Johannesson (Kristianstad, Sweden), we now have additional details for the following issues in The Phono-Cut Discography:

 

Phono-Cut 5182:

I Rosens Doft = side A (mx. 1374 [00])

Trollhättan = side B (mx. 1375 [0])

 

Phono-Cut 5253 (previously unconfirmed issue):

Fogeln’s Visa = side A (mx. 1525 [00])

Stephanie = side B (mx. 1446 [0]; catalog number 5209, on which this also appears, is also in the wax)

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These and other recently received additions will be incorporated in our next full revision of the discography (V.3), tentatively scheduled for early November. Our thanks for all who have taken the time to respond.

________________________________

It now appears almost certain that the “0” characters following many of the master numbers are take indicators. If so, that raises the question of whether “0” indicates take 1, or the absence of “0” indicates take 1 (in which case, “0” would be take 2, “00” take 3, etc. — similar to Gennett’s use of no letter for take 1, “A” for take 2, etc.). The relative rarity of “000” markings suggests the latter, but that is still just a guess at this point.

Browse the Mainspring Press Online Reference Library for more discographies, all free to download for personal, non-commercial use.

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The Victor Pict-Ur-Music Story & John Bolig’s Victor Film and Theater Records Discography (Free Download)

Latest Addition to the Mainspring Press Free
Online Reference Library:

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Download Free Personal-Use Edition (pdf, ~1.5 mb)

 

Buy Direct from Mainspring Press:

Winner of the 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research, this unique volume contains more than 1,100 entries covering the record companies, independent studios, and individual producers — and the thousands of disc and cylinder brands they produced for the commercial market (including consumer, jukebox, and subscription labels) — from the birth of commercial recording to the start of the LP era.

“A mighty fortress is this book – and it guards an accumulation of knowledge of unparalleled proportions.”
– Tim Fabrizio, ARSC Journal

American Record Companies and Producers will forever be the ultimate resource.”
– John R. Bolig, author of The Victor Discographies

“I am in awe of the scope, breadth, detail
and documentation.”

– James A. Drake, author of Ponselle: A Singer’s Life and Richard Tucker: A Biography


DETAILS AND SECURE ONLINE ORDERING

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New Online Discography: Vocalion 14000 Series, 2nd Edition (Allan Sutton) — Free Download

New Online Discography (Free Download):
THE VOCALION DISCOGRAPHY — Part 1

14000 Series (Second Edition)

By Allan Sutton

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The latest addition to our rapidly expanding Record Collectors’ Online Reference Library is now available to download free of charge for personal, non-commercial use. 

An updated edition of our 2010 publication, Vocalion 14000 Series includes a substantial amount of newly added data from the Brunswick-Vocalion transfer logs; the files of recording contractor Ed Kirkeby (who booked sessions for the likes of Charles Harrison and Fred Van Eps, besides managing the California Ramblers); the Record Research group’s extensive archival materials (now a part of Mainspring Press’ holdings); foreign-release data from catalogs in the British National Library and private collections; and other reliable documentation that has become available to us since the original edition was published.

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Download for Personal Use (Print-restricted) (pdf, ~2 mb)

 

Part 2 in the Vocalion Discography series — covering the vertical-cut and pre-1925 classical, operatic, and miscellaneous series — is in final fact-checking and editing for release this Spring. Part 3, covering the Brunswick-era issues, obviously is a much longer-range project.

As with all titles in the Library, Mainspring Press holds the exclusive publication and distribution rights to this work in all forms, print or digital. Please be sure to read and adhere to all terms of use as detailed in the individual files.

 

Buy Direct from Mainspring Press:

Winner of the 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research, this unique volume contains more than 1,100 entries covering the record companies, independent studios, and individual producers — and the thousands of disc and cylinder brands they produced for the commercial market (including consumer, jukebox, and subscription labels) — from the birth of commercial recording to the start of the LP era.

“A mighty fortress is this book – and it guards an accumulation of knowledge of unparalleled proportions.”
– Tim Fabrizio, ARSC Journal

American Record Companies and Producers will forever be the ultimate resource.”
– John R. Bolig, author of The Victor Discographies

“I am in awe of the scope, breadth, detail
and documentation.”

– James A. Drake, author of Ponselle: A Singer’s Life and Richard Tucker: A Biography


DETAILS AND SECURE ONLINE ORDERING

 

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The James A. Drake Interviews • Gus Haenschen: The Brunswick Years — Part 1

The James A. Drake Interviews
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Gus Haenschen: The Brunswick Years — Part 1

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> Part 2  | > Part 3

 

Walter Gustave “Gus” Haenschen — perhaps best known to modern collectors as the fictitious band leader “Carl Fenton” — served as Brunswick’s manager of popular recordings from 1919 to June 1927, when he resigned to embark on what would become a successful career in broadcasting.

Compiled by Jim Drake from transcriptions of his interviews with Haenschen during 1972-1979 in Ithaca, New York; Norwalk, Connecticut; and New York City, this remarkable account appears here in its entirety for the first time. The four initial installments will cover Haenschen’s years with Brunswick, offering a firsthand look at operations in what was then America’s third-largest record company.

 

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In what seemed to be no time at all, in retrospect, Brunswick became a serious rival to the Victor Talking Machine Company, the dominant corporation in the recording industry.  What made Brunswick so successful so rapidly?

Well, there were several reasons. First, the Brunswick company was able to offer recording artists a “package“ that not even Victor could match.  We [Brunswick] could offer not only a much higher amount for retainer, but could also give the artist a higher percentage of royalties from the sales of the recordings.

Another advantage that we had was flexible release dates.  We adopted a flexible release-date policy very early in my time there.  Victor, you see, was at the top of the pyramid in the industry, Columbia was one or two tiers down from Victor, and [the] Edison [company], which had been a major competitor in the early years of the industry, had only a fraction of the market by 1919 even though they had the superior technology.  

Victor had a fixed day or date each month, and that would be the date that their new releases would be announced to the trade and the public.  If my memory serves me right, Columbia had the same policy, although I can’t say for sure after all these years.  But Victor was our main competitor, or so we liked to think, and by issuing new releases whenever the moment was right, we could very often “scoop” them.

Our flexible release-date policy was especially important where Broadway shows were concerned.  Take a musical like “Good News” or “No, No, Nanette,” for example.  At the premiere of shows like those, there would be representatives in the audience from Victor, Columbia other record companies, and several of us from Brunswick.   All of us would have one purpose in going to the premiere:  to figure out in advance which of the songs in the show would catch on and therefore sell records.

What was difficult was trying to second-guess the audience by trying to determine whether they were reacting principally to the production, the staging, the performer, or mainly the song.  If we had a hunch from the audience’s reaction that we were right, we could get an arrangement together, record it, and have it in our dealers’ shops weeks before Victor’s or Columbia‘s monthly release date rolled around.  That’s where our flexible-release policy gave us an edge.  We could release a new Brunswick record any day of the week.

 

You spoke about the type of backing Brunswick had.  Would you elaborate on that? 

What I have been calling “Brunswick” here—the phonograph and record company, in other words—was just one subsidiary of the Brunswick-Balke-Collander Company.  Even in 1919, when I was hired, it was an old and well-established company that had made its name in billiards and bowling equipment, and saloon fixtures of all kinds.  Most of the saloon fixtures were made in the mammoth [Brunswick] factory in Saginaw, Michigan, where they employed some of the finest woodworkers and cabinet makers in the world.

Prohibition cut deeply into the saloon fixture business, which is how the parent company decided to get into the recording industry.  A fellow by the name of B. Edward Bensinger, or Ed as we called him, headed the parent company, and he and the board of directors approved a plan to manufacture phonographs, using the equipment and skill they had in the Saginaw factory. 

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Brunswick-Balke-Collender’s facilities included a massive factory in Dubuque, Iowa, and a pressing plant (one of several) in Jersey City.

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Brunswick was only making phonograph cabinets at first, and then they began making their own line of phonographs. This would’ve been about 1909 or 1910, and it was how I became involved with Brunswick when I was a college student at Washington University in St. Louis, my hometown.

I had an orchestra in those days and knew popular music pretty well, and I had a fairly good background in classical music.  After classes and on weekends, I worked at what was then the largest department store in St. Louis.  It was called Scrugg-Vandervoort [Scruggs, Vandervort & Barney], and it took up almost an entire city block.  I began working there part-time in the Music Department, which took up the entire sixth floor and included pianos, player and reproducing pianos, and all of the major brands of phonographs.

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The Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney building, St. Louis (1907)

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Our store was the largest victor dealership in St. Louis.  But during the holiday season each year, we had all kinds of trouble getting Victor to deliver the Victrolas our customers had ordered.  One holiday season when we were particularly troubled by Victor’s backlogging, I succeeded in getting the management to introduce and heavily promote Brunswick phonographs.  Well, the sales exceeded everybody’s expectations.  That made me something of a fair-haired boy at Scruggs-Vandervoort, and also put me in a very good light with the Brunswick sales representatives for getting them a large contract.

 

The Victrola was the biggest selling phonograph of that era. How were you able to persuade buyers that the Brunswick phonograph was equal to or even better than a Victrola?

As you do in any sales business, I pointed out the advantages that the Brunswick had over the Victrola. At the time, and this was in the early 1910s before World War One, a Victor phonograph would only play lateral-cut recordings.  Just as Edison was committed to vertical-cut recordings to the exclusion of any other type, so the Victor Talking Machine Company was committed purely to lateral cut recordings.

There was another company, Pathé, which had at one point a fairly good market share.  Pathé recordings were vertical-cut, like Edison Diamond Discs, but they had much wider grooves and used a ball-shaped sapphire stylus for playback.  Well, Brunswick had made a series of vertical-cut recordings before I joined the company.  I’m not sure when they did them, but I don’t recall any Brunswick vertical-cut records when I was working at Scruggs-Vandervoort.  

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(Left) Vertical-cut Brunswicks were recorded in the U.S. but sold only in Canada. They later were pressed with updated labels (right) stating “Jewel Point Record” (right), again for sale only in Canada.

 

Our recording engineer at Brunswick, Frank Hofbauer, was the one who had recorded them.  He told me that none of those records was ever sold in the U.S.  They were only sold in Canada, which was the main market from what I understood, and some were exported to England for sale there.  But that was before I was with the company, and after I left Scruggs-Vandervoort to join the Navy. 

 

What was it about the Brunswick phonograph that you highlighted as selling points to customers at Scruggs-Vandervoort?

The biggest selling point for Brunswick machines was the tonearm, which was called the Ultona.  It was really a marvelous design from an engineering standpoint because it would play both vertical-cut and lateral-cut recordings, and it had the appropriate stylus for each type of record.  By rotating the playback head, you could select either to use a disposable steel needle to play Victor or Columbia recordings, or a ball stylus—we used emerald rather than sapphire for the ball stylus on the Ultona—to play Pathé recordings. 

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Louis Taxon of Rockport, Illinois, patented the Ultona reproducer and arm in 1917 and assigned his patent to the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company.

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The Ultona had two good-sized mica diaphragms mounted back-to-back, each with its own damping rings, in a nickel-plated “head” that could be rotated to play each type of record.  One of the two diaphragms had an elliptical stylus for playing Edison Diamond Discs.  The [Ultona] also had a sliding weight build into its tonearm, inside the tube that connected the reproducer to the sound box.  That sliding weight was necessary for playing Edison records because it lightened the pressure of the stylus on the grooves of an Edison disc. 

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A June 1919 ad for the Brunswick Ultona. There were already many “universal” reproducers and phonographs on the market, but the Ultona was better-engineered, and the only one to be produced by a major national corporation of Brunswick’s stature.

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It was the Ultona tonearm that made the Brunswick an “all in one” phonograph, and it was priced competitively with the Victor machines.  That “all in one” feature, plus the beautiful cabinetry and a wide selection of styles and finishes and prices of Brunswick phonographs, were the selling points I used at Scruggs-Vandervoort.  

 

Did any of the founding members of Brunswick-Balke-Collander have an involvement in the phonograph part of the corporation?

The founder, John M. Brunswick, had died in the last [nineteenth] century, and his son-in-law, Moses Bensinger, who had married J. M.’s daughter, Eleanora Brunswick, had died just after the turn of the century.  Ed [Benjamin Edward] Bensinger  was a son of Moses Bensinger.  Ed has a son who’s named after him, but who goes by “Ted.”  The first Brunswick, J. M. Brunswick, had bought out another billiard maker, Hugh Collender, who also died before the company became involved in the phonograph business. 

The third founder, Julius Balke (Sr.), also died before the phonograph division was organized.  But Julius Balke’s son, who was named after him [Julius Balke, Jr.], and Ed Bensinger were major stockholders and executives in the overall corporation.  They were what I would call appropriately active in the phonograph division, meaning that they weren’t intrusive and never interfered in what we were planning or what we were releasing.  But they kept a close eye on the phonograph division.

 

How did the new Brunswick phonograph affect the public profile of the Brunswick parent company?

Well, the phonograph division was what gave Brunswick-Balke-Collender a reputable name with the public.  As I said, the company had been known for elaborate saloon fixtures, billiard tables, and bowling equipment.  In the early-1900s, most bowling was done in large bars.  Bowling alleys came later.  So the company was associated with the tavern and bar business, which was anything but reputable in the eyes of most women.  But when Brunswick began producing not only phonographs but a line of recordings, the company was now seen in the same light as Victor.  So in effect, the phonograph business made Brunswick reputable in ways the company had never been, as far as the general public was concerned.

 

When did you join Brunswick?

I enlisted in the Navy in 1917 with hopes of being sent to the front in France, but probably because I was an engineer, I spent my entire tour of duty at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn machining metal parts, doing a lot of welding and working on ship propellers.  I did go to sea, but it was just to repair ship engines in other ports.  When I was mustered out and I docked in New York City in June of 1919, to my complete surprise I was literally met at the dock by Brunswick executives.

I was taken to the Plaza Hotel where Brunswick had a large suite for me and all of my family from St. Louis, whom they had brought to New York to be with me.  They give me a car to use and paid for anything that I wanted my family to see or do in Manhattan.  They gave me two days to do all of that, and then I was to meet with them in another suite at the Plaza.

There, they offered me a position which they had just created for the new record division.  I was to be the founding director of popular music releases. When they told me what they were going to pay me, I actually thought I had misheard them.  They offered me $50,000 a year plus stock options, and also told me to order any make of automobile that I wanted, with any accessories I wanted on it, and that it would be mine as long as I was with the company.  One of the men said, “We don’t mean a Model T [Ford], we want you to get the car you want.”  I took them up on it and ordered an emerald-green Buick convertible.  I’ve driven new Buicks ever since then.

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Early Brunswick managers. These photos appeared in a January 1920 Talking Machine World article announcing the launch of Brunswick records in the U.S.

 

At that meeting I was introduced to one of the great men in the recording industry, Walter B. Rogers, who had been a cornetist with the Sousa band and was also the musical director at Victor.  Walter had been one of the early instrumental soloists, a cornetist for the [Emil] Berliner and early Victor companies in the early 1900s. I was told that Walter would be the director of classical-music releases, and that we would work together as a team to direct all recordings that Brunswick would release.  We were also responsible for auditioning prospective singers and instrumentalists.  Later on, Walter had his own band at Brunswick, and made a lot of successful recordings for the company.

 

Some sources indicate that Walter Rogers didn’t join the company until 1922, but that you were with Brunswick as early as 1916. 

No, no—that’s totally wrong.  Walter Rogers was one of the very first employees at Brunswick.  Now, I’m not in a position to know exactly how he was paid.  I suppose it’s possible that he was on some kind of retainer, or an exclusive consulting contract, and was paid that way.  That’s possible, but I doubt it.  Anyway, he and Frank Hofbauer were the first two members of the phonograph division as far as I know.

 

What was the range of your responsibilities as director of popular-music recordings?

I had to approve all arrangements that were used in the sessions, changing them where necessary—and in most of the vocal sessions I did the studio conducting, too.  When we were recording a dance band, I just directed the overall session, of course.  Acoustical recordings were tough to arrange for, and sometimes the musical groups we would be recording, would naturally want to use their best arrangements.  But we had to revise their arrangements for the limitations of the recording process. 

It was a far different matter, you see, when a dance band was recording a song than playing at in a night club or a ballroom. When a band would play in public, especially in the early-1920s, they tended to follow what was then a current fashion by adding fifth notes to major chords.  It sounded great in a ballroom, but in an acoustical-recording session the fifth note would sometimes give the impression of a minor chord just because of the recording process.  So it would be my job to scrutinize all these arrangements and delete or otherwise revise troublesome parts.

 

Were you involved at all in the development of the Brunswick recording process?

No, none of it.  As I talked about earlier, Brunswick had been involved with Pathé, but that was before my time.  Everything was in place by the time I was hired—the first recording studios, or “recording rooms” as we called them—and a lot of test recordings had been made by the time when I got the offer to become the director of popular-music releases.

 

What was Frank Hofbauer’s background, and why did he become so important to Brunswick?

Frank had worked directly for Thomas Edison and brought all of his knowledge to the design and development of the recording lathes, diaphragms, and cutting styluses for Brunswick.  Before that, he had been with one of the very early companies in the industry, the Leeds Phonograph Company [sic; the Leeds & Catlin Company].  Frank was the man who was responsible for the incredible quality of the Brunswick recording process. 

 

How old was Frank Hofbauer when he joined Brunswick?

I would say he was in his late-fifties, maybe even sixty when he went with Brunswick.  He was really one of the pioneers in the recording end of the industry.  We [Brunswick] also had another very important man in the industry, a fellow named Darby, who had worked with Emile Berliner in the early days of the industry.

 

In what seemed to be a time when men preferred to be known by their initials, Darby’s name is often shown in print as “W.S.K. Darby,” or just plain “S. K. Darby.”  What was he called when you worked with him?

He was called “Will” at Brunwick.

 

For the recording equipment in the studios, did Frank Hofbauer use the Dennison recording machines which Victor used?

No, he had to design his own machines.  We couldn’t use Dennison machines because Victor owned the patent on them.  The design that Frank came up with had a cast-iron frame rather like the harp-shaped frame of a grand piano.  Because of his work with Edison, Frank settled on a groove width of 1/250th of an inch, and a speed of 80 r.p.m.  He used the same formula for wax recording blanks that he had used at Edison, and he also had an electric coil on the cutting stylus, which heated the cutter and made a cleaner groove in the wax master.

 

Were Frank Hofbauer’s recording machines powered by electricity or by clockwork-style weights?

By cast lead weights.  Electricity was not reliable in 1919.  There would be voltage surges and often variances in the voltage that would cause fluctuations in the speed of the motor, and therefore in the speed of the finished recording.  Most electric motors of that time also had a detectable sound when they were running. 

Although leather belts were used to connect motors to machinery, some of that motor noise could be captured by the recording diaphragm.  There was also the problem of power outages, which were much more common then than they are now.  So, the system of weights and pulleys was completely reliable, no matter what the weather. 

 

Did Frank Hofbauer also design field-recording machines?

Oh, yes—those were a necessity.  We used them when we were traveling to other cities and states to make recordings. The field recording machine—and there were a half-dozen of them because there always had to be a back-up machine and also because we started doing a lot of field recording in the first two or three years of the company—was an A-frame design with the lathe, turntable and diaphragm and the cutting stylus mounted on top of the frame.

 

Could you describe one of these portable machines in more detail?

Well, the frame itself was about five feet high, tapered, and had four legs.  The legs were four-by-fours, solid oak, and the recording turntable and lathe and cutting head were mounted on top of an oak platform.  There was oval-shaped lead weight suspended below the deck. That lead weight powered the turntable and the lathe.  There were places all around the tops of the legs where steel rods could be attached to hold up to three recording horns. 

The horns were attached by rubber tubes to the cutting head, meaning the recording diaphragm.  The horns could be tilted downward if necessary, as in, for example, recording a grand piano with the lid open.  The usual configuration for a session like that would be to have one horn angled downward to pick up the sounds of the piano strings, and the singer or instrumentalist would be playing or singing into a second horn. The field recorder could be disassembled for shipping fairly easily.

 

Was there a specific formula for the making of the wax master from which the recordings were made?

Yes, the formula was Frank Hofbauer’s, and it was probably the same one that Edison had used for the wax masters. 

 

Apart from your success selling Brunswick photographs in St. Louis, why do you think the company chose you to be the founding director of popular music releases?

After a while I found out why, and it was because Walter Rogers had been impressed with me when my little orchestra, Haenschen’s Banjo Orchestra, made trial recordings at Victor in 1916.  It was just my trio, with a banjoist and with Tom [Theodore Thomas] Schiffer on traps and my banjoist. 

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Theodore Schiffer (drums) and Gus Haenschen (piano) performing in Scruggs-Vandervoort-Barney’s Victrola department, summer of 1916.

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Although none of those trial recordings was ever approved, Walter took a liking to me.  So it was he more than anyone else who was responsible for my being picked to head the new popular music releases division of the company.

 

Where were the Brunswick studios located when you joined the company?

They were using a temporary studio on East 21 Street.  That didn’t last very long because I remember that we moved the studios to the top two floors, the twelfth and thirteenth floors, of a brand-new building, the Brunswick Building, at 16 East 36th Street in Manhattan.  There, we had executive offices on the twelfth floor and two recording studios on the top floor.  Later, we moved to the top floor of an even bigger Brunswick building at 799 Seventh Avenue.   

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The Brunswick Building at 799 Seventh Avenue, New York. Studios, on the top floor, were taken over by Decca Records in 1934.

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One of our two main competitors, Columbia, had their studios on the thirteenth floor of another downtown building, the Gotham.  The reason we [i.e.,Brunswick and Columbia] built studios on the highest floor of a tall building was to be as far above the noise of traffic in Manhattan, while also being able to have large windows that could be opened during warm weather to keep the studios cool. 

 

We forget that there was a time when air-conditioning didn’t exist.

That’s right—there was no air conditioning back then, and we couldn’t use electric fans during recording sessions because even the quietest of them made just enough of a breeze to cause sheet music to flutter.  Our studios had wire lines stretched from one wall to the other above the recording horn, and the arrangement—not an actual score, but a sheet of paper showing the order of the choruses—was attached to the lines by metal clips.  If you had fans running, even slow-speed ceiling fans, it didn’t take much air to cause those sheets of paper to flutter

At 16 East 36th Street, we had large windows that helped cool the studio, except when it rained.  When that happened, we resorted to fans—not ceiling fans, but several large Westinghouse fans that were mounted on a wood frame so that the blades were an inch or two above a long tub filled with large blocks of ice. 

We used rheostats to control the speed of the fans so that they could run more slowly when we were recording.  As soon as a “take” was finished, we’d turn the rheostats to maximum voltage and hope that the rain would stop.  Sometimes there would be thunderstorms, and we had no choice but to wait out the storm because a thunderclap could ruin the wax master. 

 

Do you have any recollection of the first recording ever issued on the Brunswick label and after you joined a company?

The first singer I can remember making records was Elizabeth Lennox, a wonderful mezzo soprano—more of a contralto, really—who is still my friend.  On the instrumental side, we had a fine violinist, Elias Breeskin, and if my memory is correct, his recordings were the first ones that Brunswick really promoted.

 

What would a typical workday be for you and Walter Rogers, and how much interaction was there between you?

We worked together very, very closely.  Walter would ask me to check the placing of instruments in relation to the singer or the instrumentalist and the recording horn.  My recordings were said to have a very good balance, although I don’t know where that got started exactly—but Walter would ask me to give him my opinion about instrument placements.  I can remember sitting through different takes with Sigrid Onegin, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Edith Mason, Maria Ivogun, Giuseppe Danise, Michael Bohnen, Leopold Godowsky, and Joseph Hofmann among the other great artists we had under contract. 

I have particularly fond memories of Sigrid Onegin, Elisabeth Rethberg and Michael Bohnen.   We were especially lucky with Onegin and Rethberg since both of them were just at the beginning of their American careers when we got them under exclusive contracts.  They were also two of the dearest, loveliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

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Michael Bohnen (left) and Richard Bonelli (G. G. Bain Collection,
Library of Congress)

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Michael Bohnen was big, fun-loving fellow.  Because my family were immigrant Germans, German was my first language and so I spoke German with Bohnen in the studio. I remember one time him coming into the studio looking like hell!  He had welts all over his face, and a few fresh cuts, and his shirt was a mess.  Naturally we asked what it happened to him and he sort of kiddingly said that he had cut himself shaving. Chances are that somebody insulted his heritage, and in good Germanic fashion he probably let them know with his fists that he was not too happy about it!  But what a fine musician he was—and he was as great an actor as he was a singer. 

 

I’m assuming that not all of your memories of Brunswick’s classical artists are as endearing as the ones you just mentioned.

 Two that I could have done without were Claire Dux and Marie Tiffany, even though I had good working relationships with both of them through Walter [Rogers].  Claire Dux had one stock answer every time she encountered any sort of opposition about anything she wanted.  She’d look at you with a well-rehearsed kind of innocence and say, “But—but—I am the golden Claire!”  You can imagine how many responses our studio musicians dreamed up for that line!

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A Brunswick dealer’s ad capitalizing on Marie Tiffany’s appearance in Phoenix, Arizona (November 1920)

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Marie Tiffany, as you might know, later married Bill Brophy, who was my boss, essentially.  She was extremely ambitious career-wise, although her opera career never reached the heights she probably hoped for.  Her ambition, and then her relationship with Bill Brophy, sometimes made things a little tense.  Although he married her, she had been his mistress for some time.  

 

What was the hierarchy of the phonograph division of Brunswick?  Who was the head of it, and who reported to whom?

The head of the company was Ed Bensinger, and the next in line under him was Bill [William A.] Brophy, who was the general manager of the phonograph and recording division.  Technically, Percy Deutsch reported to Bill Brophy, but since he was a Brunswick family member, he had more influence than Bill had.  There was also a “Music Department” in the company’s executive structure, which was put in about the time I joined Brunswick.  It was headed by a fellow named Henry P. Eames, and I think his supervisor was Bill Brophy. 

Bill Brophy was also Frank Hofbauer’s supervisor, as I recall.  Then there were Walter Rogers and I, Walter being responsible for classical-music releases and I being responsible for the popular-music ones.  We reported to Bill Brophy.  There were other departments which had general managers and other executives—the Sales department, the Promotion department—and also regional managers for various parts of the country.

 

Were you involved in any with the annual catalogs that Brunswick issued?

No—those were done by the Promotion department.  Today, we would call it the “Advertising Department.”  It was also responsible for the monthly supplements, the printed advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and all of the company’s announcements and news releases. 

If I had had any say about those catalogs, I would have urged that we not issue them at all because of our flexible-release date policy.  We could have issued monthly supplements to our dealers instead of an annual catalog.  But we were expected to print an annual catalog because Victor and Columbia issued them. 

“We [Brunswick] compiled and published in our annual catalogs all of the records that were available to dealers as of October of the previous year. In other words, the Brunswick catalog for 1925 listed all of the recordings that had been released as of mid-October 1924.”

Like the Victor and Columbia catalogs, ours were divided into two sections, each printed on different-colored paper.  All of the recordings, popular and classical, were printed in alphabetical order, with the price listed for each recording.  Unlike Victor, which issued all of their Red Seals in single-sided form until 1922 or 1923, we issued only double-sided recordings, either ten-inch or twelve-inch. 

All of our popular-music records were priced at $.75 for a double-sided disc.  Our classical recordings, which were printed on gold-colored paper in the second part of the catalog, were priced at $1.00 or a maximum of $2.00 for a double-sided recording.

 

Did Brunswick issue many of the same titles that Victor and Columbia had issued?

Yes, we were a case of what you might call “follow the leader.”  For example, duets like “Whispering Hope” by Louise Homer and Alma Gluck were very popular Victor Red Seals, so we had Marie Tiffany and Elizabeth Lennox record the very same arrangement for us at Brunswick.  We also copied the arrangements and phrasing of Victors instrumentalists like Fritz Kreisler.  We had Max Rosen record many of Kreisler’s most popular Victor recordings, so he became Brunswick’s Kreisler.   We even had our own “Caruso.”  That was Mario Chamlee.

 

Did you audition Chamlee?

Not in the usual sense, no.  Archie Chalmondeley—that was his real name—was still in his khakis when he made a “personal recording” at the Brunswick studios.  Every record company did “personal recordings,” typically after-hours or on a Sunday, because the singer or instrumentalist had to pay for them out-of-pocket and also had to pay for the piano accompanist. 

Archie had made a personal recording in our studio, but we didn’t know anything about it because that was not “commercial,” not part of our responsibilities.  Frankly, we thought that those were just “vanity recordings.”  I know because I made several of them at Columbia when I had my band in St. Louis.  Anyway, Frank Hofbauer suggested to Walter Rogers and me that this young tenor’s “personal recording” sounded very impressive. 

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An early advertisement for Mario Chamlee’s records,
December 1920

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The acoustical-recording process was hit-and-miss, and some voices recorded well and others didn’t.  Archie’s voice on that recording sounded almost like Caruso’s.  In person, he didn’t sound like that—actually, he sounded more like Tito Schipa—but our recording equipment made him sound like Caruso.  Well, we really capitalized on that.  We signed Archie to an exclusive contract and changed his last name to “Chamlee.”  His first series of Brunswick discs show his name as “Archer Chamlee,” but at Walter’s suggestion his first name was changed to “Mario.”

Walter [Rogers], who had conducted many of Caruso’s Victor Red Seal recordings, coached Chamlee to mimic Caruso’s phrasing and dynamics.  If you listen to Chamlee’s Brunswicks of arias and songs that Caruso made famous at Victor, some of Mario’s recordings could pass for Caruso’s if you didn’t look at the label on the record.

Richard Bonelli was another “find” for Brunswick.  Do you recall his audition?

Yes.  He was “Dick Bunn” when we auditioned him, but at Walter’s suggestion he Italianized his last name to “Bonelli.”  His voice wasn’t that large, yet it recorded “big”—even more so than John Charles Thomas, who was nationally known and far more experienced than Dick Bonelli.  And just as Walter had coached Chamlee to mimic Caruso’s phrasing, he did the same with Dick, using Titta Ruffo’s Victor recordings.  Just as Mario became Brunswick’s Caruso, Dick Bonelli became our Ruffo.

 

Your files show that John Charles Thomas was one of the first vocalists who was given an exclusive contract by Brunswick.  Did you play any role in that?

Yes, I’m happy to say that I did.  Walter [Rogers] knew of John from his success in light opera, but he didn’t know John personally, which I did.  I had met him in 1914, when I was at T. B. Harms during the time that Gene Buck was writing the lyrics to my tune that became “Underneath the Japanese Moon” in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1914.  John Charles Thomas was then singing in a Shubert production of a musical called “The Peasant Girl.”  I got to know him then, and we became friends.  I watched him grow into a real Broadway star, especially in “Maytime.” 

When I joined Brunswick, he was one of the first singers I had in mind for our recordings, and he was one of the first to know that I had accepted an offer with Brunswick and that I wanted him in our catalog.  But he had just signed a contract with Aeolian Vocalion, and he couldn’t get out of it.  So we [Brunswick] had to wait until we acquired the Vocalion company and its artists.  From then on, John and any of the other performers who had made records for Vocalion were recorded in our new studios, when the Brunswick building at 16 East 36th Street was finished. — To be continued

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© 2019 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved.

 

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James A. Drake is the author of seven books and more than fifty academic and commercial articles. Two of his biographies, Ponselle: A Singer’s Life (Doubleday & Company), and Richard Tucker: A Biography (E. P. Dutton Company), with forewords by tenor Luciano Pavarotti, were selected as Books of the Month by the National Book Clubs of America. His other books include Rosa Ponselle: A Centenary Biography; Teaching Critical Thinking; Popular Culture and American Life; and Lily Pons: A Centennial Portrait (with K. B. Ludecke). He was also a contributing author to the 24-volume American National Biography (Oxford University Press, 1999) and The International Dictionary of Opera (St. James Press, 2000) and served on the editorial board of The Opera Quarterly.

 

> Part 2  | > Part 3

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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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Vess L. Ossman, “The Banjo King”: Newspaper Highlights, and the World’s Biggest Banjo (1891 – 1923)

Vess L. Ossman, “The Banjo King”: Newspaper Highlights,
and the World’s Biggest Banjo
(1891 – 1923)

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Vess L. Ossman (left) and Vess, Jr. (undated photo)

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Early mentions of Ossman in the New York papers: December 2, 1891 (top), at which time Harlem was an affluent new suburb; and February 12, 1899.  Ruben “Ruby” Brooks made recordings in the late 1890s and early 1900s, including Bettini cylinders, but he died in 1906.

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Ossman participated in several recording demonstrations that have been documented, including this one for Berliner’s Gramophone on December 16, 1897. Three months earlier, Berliner’s New York studio had been opened rather reluctantly for a similar demonstration in which Ossman also participated, with management declaring, “We have yielded to the demand of popular and scientific interest in the process by which our indestructible Gram-o-Phone records are made.” The demonstration recordings are not known to have been released.

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New York (December 1901)

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Ossman went to England in the spring of 1900 (top), where he was a hit. He recalled his experiences in January 1918 (bottom).

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Ossman in the “talkies” (Salt Lake City, November 1908). The Cameraphone Company was launched in 1908 by Eugene E. Norton, an engineer with the American Graphophone Company (Columbia). The process employed synchronized six-inch cylinder records and Columbia Twentieth Century phonographs for the sound source. (For more on Cameraphone and other early attempts at “talking pictures,” see A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900–1919, available from Mainspring Press.)

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Another Ossman appearance on-screen (Independence, Kansas, March 1913). These movies were made for Thomas Edison’s short-lived Kinetophone, which also employed synchronized cylinders.

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A December 1916 El Paso dealer ad for Columbia records by Ossman and “Howard Van Epps” (a typo for Fred Van Eps, Ossman’s only significant rival).

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Ossman and company on the road (Scranton, Pennsylvania, January 1917). The Peerless Records Makers were forerunners of the Eight Famous Victor artists, a traveling promotional troupe in which Fred Van Eps replaced Ossman.

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In 1918, with his recording career over and his style becoming increasingly outdated, Ossman moved to Dayton, Ohio. He spent the remainder of his career performing in Dayton and other Midwestern cities. The ads above are all from Dayton, published in May 1918 (top left), October 1922 (top right), and December 1921 (bottom).

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Dayton, Ohio (December 7, 1923)

Vess Ossman Jr. continued to perform in the Dayton area into the early 1930s; the ad above is from November 1931. He later moved to Kansas City, where he worked as a theater manager.

 

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Ossman’s recorded output was truly monumental. Here are just a few favorites; his “Maple Leaf Rag” was the second recording to be made of that number, preceded only the U.S. Marine Band’s 1906 version.

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VESS L. OSSMAN: Salome Intermezzo

Camden, NJ (Johnson factory building): January 21, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3048
The pianist is uncredited but is likely Frank P. Banta (father of the novelty pianist Frank E. Banta) or C. H. H. Booth, Victor’s house accompanists at the time.

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VESS L. OSSMAN: Maple Leaf Rag

New York: Released June 1907
Columbia 3626 (M-1414)
With studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince

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VESS L. OSSMAN: The Buffalo Rag

New York: March 2, 1909
Victor 16779 (mx. B 6848 – )
The pianist is uncredited, contrary to some discographies. Ossman originally recorded this piece for Victor on January 26, 1906 (mx. B 3049).

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VESS L. OSSMAN: St. Louis Tickle

New York: Released January 1911
D&R Record 3759 (Columbia mx. 4919 – 1)
With studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince

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VESS L. OSSMAN: Hoop-E-Kack

New York: Released July 1909
Indestructible 1113 (cylinder)
With studio orchestra probably directed by Joseph Lacalle

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