Some August – September Additions to the Collection
Some favorite recent additions to the collection, for your enjoyment. August and September have been very good months.
If you have similar material for disposal (strong E– or better, except for true rarities) lists are always welcome. Please include your asking price, and be brutally honest with the grading: E+ should look and sound like the day the record came off the press, with E just a touch less fine, and no more than a whisper of needle wear on E–. Be sure to note all defects, including any audible scratches, stressed grooves, cracks, needle drops or gouges, warping, surface graininess or dulling, and label damage. Click here for e-mail contact info.
THOMAS A. DORSEY & MOZELLE ALDERSON (as Georgia Tom & Jane Lucas): Terrible Operation Blues (EE–)
Richmond, IN: November 11, 1930
Champion 16171 (mx. GN 17276 – B)
Acc: Dorsey (piano), Big Bill Broonzy (guitar).
SYLVESTER WEAVER: Penitentiary Bound Blues (E+)
New York: August 31, 1927
Okeh 8504 (mx. W 81402 – B)
TOMMY McCLENNAN: Bottle It Up and Go (E+)
Chicago (Victor Studio A): November 22, 1939
Bluebird B-8373 (mx. BS 044241 – 1)
CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ ORCHESTRA: Lazy Mama (E+)
New York: June 3, 1928
Okeh 8592 (mx. W 400818 – A)
JELLY ROLL MORTON’S RED HOT PEPPERS: Tank Town Bump (E)
Camden, NJ: July 12, 1929
Victor V-38075 (mx. BVE 49459 – 2)
DICK JUSTICE: Cocaine (E)
Chicago: May 20, 1929
Brunswick 395 (mx. C 3156 – )
Two takes were recorded. The take used is not shown in the Brunswick files or on the pressing.
CHRIS BOUCHILLON: Speed Maniac (EE+)
Atlanta: October 30, 1928
Columbia 15373-D (mx. W 147339 – 2)
HARRY RESER & MAURICE ATEN (as Len & Joe Higgins): Slippery Elm Tree (E–)
New York: October 17, 1928
Columbia 15354-D (mx. W 147124 – 1)
Artist identities are confirmed on the Columbia matrix card. Reser self-published this composition as “Slippery Elm” in 1928; someone at Columbia added “Tree” to the title, per the matrix card.
Collector’s Corner (Free MP3s) • Some May 2020 Additions
Louisville Jug Band, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie & Kansas Joe, Fletcher Henderson, Cliff Jackson, Carolina Tar Heels
Some of this month’s favorite new additions to the collection, for your entertainment. We’re always looking to purchase more records of this type, if in top condition; let us know what you have on your disposables list.
CLIFFORD HAYES’ LOUISVILLE JUG BAND (as Old Southern Jug Band): Blues, Just Blues, That’s All (E– to V++)
St. Louis: November 24, 1924
Vocalion 14958 (mx. Ch 336)
MEMPHIS MINNIE & KANSAS JOE: You Got to Move (You Ain’t Got to Move) — Part 2 (EE–)
Chicago: August 31, 1934
Decca 7038 (mx. C 9389)
BIG BILL (BROONZY): C and A Blues (E-)
Chicago: June 20, 1935
Oriole 5-12-65 (ARC mx. C 1020 – B) Probably Louis Lasky, second guitar.
FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Hop Off (EE+)
Chicago: September 14, 1928
Brunswick 4119 (mx. C 2315 – A or -B) The take used is not indicated in the pressing or the Brunswick files. This recording was made just two weeks after Henderson sustained serious injuries in an auto accident in Kentucky, while on an extended tour with the band.
CLIFF JACKSON & HIS KRAZY KATS (as Tuxedo Syncopators):
Horse Feathers (V+)
New York: c. January 1930
Madison 5098 (Grey Gull mx. 3866 – A / Madison ctl. 337)
CAROLINA TAR HEELS: Shanghai in China (E–)
Charlotte, NC: August 11, 1927 Victor 20941 (mx. BVE 39795 – 3) Gwen Foster (vocal, guitar, harmonica) and Dock Walsh (vocal, banjo), per the Victor files.
110 Years Ago at Victor: Introducing the
Fisk University Jubilee Quartet With Photographs from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s When Malindy Sings
Victor announces the first Fisk Jubilee Singers releases (catalog courtesy of John Bolig)
On February 19, 1910, the Victor Talking Machine Company released the first recordings by a quartet from the Fisk Jubilee Singers — a widely celebrated group that nevertheless had been ignored thus far by the recording companies. They were not the first black vocal group to record, by any means (see Tim Brooks’Lost Soundsfor more on that), but those groups had failed to gain traction in the record market, and their names were mostly dim memories by the time Victor released its first Fisk records.
Blues-and-gospel purists often dismiss these records as pandering to white audiences with “sanitized” or “Europeanized” treatment of traditional spirituals. But that was precisely the strategy — to present black music and performers in a concert setting, in a bid to attract white audiences who might otherwise have never considered attending a performance or purchasing a record by a black artist — and it succeeded wonderfully. Victor’s initial Fisk offerings were outstanding sellers and are still among the most commonly encountered records of the period. The Fisk singers, with periodic personnel changes, went on to make dozens of recordings for Victor, Edison, and Columbia from 1910 to early 1926.
FISK UNIVERSITY JUBILEE QUARTET: I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray
Camden NJ: December 8, 1909
Victor 16448 (mx. B 8422 – 2)
Released February 10, 1909; Deleted 1923.
For their other February 1910 Fisk release, Victor slipped into more typical “good-old-plantation-days” mode, having the group record Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe,” and backing it with J. A. Myers’ recitation of the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem, “When Malindy Sings.” Although Dunbar was African-American, and his work can be deeply moving at times, he employed stereotypical minstrel-show dialect that is almost unreadable, and difficult to stomach, today. Myers’ recitation is an anomaly among the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ recorded output.
From Paul Laurence Dunbar’s When Malindy Sings (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1903). The book is notable for its photographs by members of the Hampton Institute Camera Club, headed by Leigh Richard Miner; names of the individual photographers unfortunately were not given. (Mainspring Press collection):
“Waiting for a Train” (an October 1928 recording) was released on February 8, 1929, but was soon replaced by a dubbed version using a master that was transcribed on April 26, 1929 (easily identified by the “4R” marking in the wax, at the nine o’clock position; original takes show just plain 4). The -4R pressing are still quite common, but pressings from the original, unmolested master tend to be elusive, especially in decent condition. They’re well worth seeking out for the rich bass and “forward” quality that were lost in the anemic-sounding dubbing.
Austin, Texas (January 1930)
Hamlin, Texas (March 1929)
Huntsville, Alabama (July 1931)
H. C. (Henry Columbus) Speir is best remembered as the free-lance talent scout who landed recording sessions for the likes of Tommy Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, and other blues greats. His role in promoting white country music performers has been largely overlooked and will be the subject of a future posting. (Jackson, Mississippi, January 1929)
Jackson, Mississippi (January 1929). Note the offer to autograph records. Signed records still turn up today, mainly in the South, but forgeries likely exist. .
Marshall, Texas (May 1932)
On a roll at Victor — The ad picturing the ever-dour Carter Family is from September 1931, and “Blue Yodel” is from October. The latter of course is Rodger’s celebrated side with trumpet accompaniment by Louis Armstrong, recorded in Hollywood on July 16, 1930, but not released until September 11, 1931. Armstrong was still under exclusive contact to Okeh at the time, and Victor took pains to ensure his anonymity, leaving his name off the labels and not even listing him in the original recording ledger.
Rodgers with W. I. Swain’s traveling tent show, “In the Flesh” and sharing billing with “Plenty of Girls” (top: Pampa, Texas, May 1930; bottom: Camden, Arkansas, March 1931).
Jimmie Rodgers’ Record Royalties: The Actual Story
By Allan Sutton
Ken Burns’ Country Music (PBS) offers up its share of errors and hoary, now-debunked anecdotes, some of which are sufficiently egregious that they’re worth addressing here. For starters, there’s the matter of the royalties paid on Jimmie Rodgers’ Victor record sales.
As the Burns team would have, Rodgers enjoyed sudden wealth from the royalties on sale of his records — but that was not the case. In fact, during his first two years with Victor, Rodgers not only received no royalties on his record sales, but was one of Victor’s lowest-paid artists.
Any sudden wealth that might have come Rodgers’ way from 1927 into early 1929 would have come from live-performance fees and sales of his sheet music (which Ralph Peer published, and on which he held the copyrights), not from record-sale royalties — because none were paid during that time.
Fortunately, there is reliable, primary-source documentation concerning this matter, in the official minutes of the Victor Talking Machine Company’s Managers’ Committee — a source with which the Burns team was obviously unfamiliar and in which, had they looked, they would have found some fascinating glimpses into the workings of Ralph Peer and the nascent market for country music records.
As the minutes make clear, in three separate entries at various times, Rodgers was paid no royalties on sales of his records from 1927 until mid-February 1929. During that period, he received only a flat payment of $75 per approved title, with an agreement to raise that figure to $100 in July 1929 and to $150 in July 1930, but still without a royalties provision. By comparison, Victor at the time was paying pseudo-hillbilly Vernon Dalhart a $400 advance per title, against an artist royalty of 1¢ per side (½¢ for duets) on his record sales.
In early 1929, Rodgers finally “expressed dissatisfaction” with the existing pay agreement, and Victor executives approved a revised package, superseding the original agreement. Beginning on February 15, 1929, Rodgers was to receive a $100 advance per approved selection, against an artist royalty of ½¢ per side. The change was reported in the Managers’ Committee’s minutes for March 6, 1929:
That still fell far short of what Victor had been paying Dalhart. However, Dalhart had priced himself out Victor’s good graces some months earlier, insisting on a $25,000 annual guarantee and the right to record for any other companies he chose. (Managers’ Committee minutes, June 6, 1928). Estimating that Victor would have to sell 2.5 million records a year just to meet that guarantee, management decided not to renew Dalhart, who soon began a long downward spiral.
Dalhart’s loss of his Victor contract almost certainly worked to Rodgers’ advantage, with Victor officials noting, “While [Dalhart] is practically the leading artist of his type, we have other artists which we can build up to take his place… .” And build they certainly did, in Rodgers’ case.
For the stories behind the many country music labels and producers you won’t hear mentioned on Ken Burns’ Country Music, be sure to check out American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950, a special limited edition available exclusively from Mainspring Press and Nauck’s Vintage Records.
North Carolina native Samantha Bumgarner inspired Pete Seeger to take up the banjo, performed for British royalty, and (with Eva Davis) was the first female country music performer to make records.
The team of Bumgarner and Davis cut five titles in Columbia’s New York studio on April 22, 1924, three of which were released. Bumgarner returned to the studio the following day, without Davis, to record seven more titles, five of which were released.
Bumgarner’s records appear to have sold reasonably well throughout the Appalachian region; we’ve found copies as far north as the South Mountain area in Pennsylvania, and as far west as the Alleghenies in West Virginia. But Bumgarner failed to attract a national following, and Columbia did not invite her or Davis back.
However, Bumgarner would remain active in the Asheville, North Carolina, area for several decades. Beginning in 1928 she was a star attraction at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, an annual Asheville event founded and managed by folklorist/performer Bascom Lamar Lunsford. Pete Seeger, who heard Bumgarner perform there in the mid-1930s, claimed her as his inspiration for taking up the five-string string banjo.
In June 1939, Lunsford took Bumgarner to perform for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at a White House concert staged by the WPA, which featured such diverse talent as Marian Anderson, Kate Smith, Josh White, the Golden Gate Quartet, and the Coon Creek Girls. Bumgarner continued to perform into the late 1950s.
Asheville, North Carolina (July 1924). The caption is reversed; Bumgarner is on the right.
.Bumgarner (with Bill McCanlass, top) performing at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville (August 1942)
At the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival (Asheville,
Asheville (March 1960)
December 25, 1960
April 23, 1924, was a busy date at the Columbia studio, with Bumgarner recording in the morning, followed that afternoon by Bessie and Clara Smith. Here are two historic sides from that day:
SAMANTHA BUMGARNER: Fly Around, My Pretty Little Miss
New York: April 23, 1924
Columbia 146-D (mx. 81716 – 1)
SAMANTHA BUMGARNER: Georgia Blues
New York: April 23, 1924
Columbia 166-D (mx. 81719 – 1)
Sam Moore was noted for playing unconventional musical instruments, but this one surely tops them all. It’s his “Guitar Accordion Pipe Organ,” from the collection of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. Unfortunately, he don’t know of any recordings he made with it.
Our thanks to Music Maker Relief Foundation program manager Aaron Greenhood for supplying the photographs. The MMRF website and blog are well worth a visit if you’re a fan of American roots music. Based in Hillsborough, North Carolina, the organization was founded “to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time. Music Maker will give future generations access to their heritage through documentation and performance programs that build knowledge and appreciation of America’s musical traditions.”
Riley Puckett, Gid Tanner, and The Skillet Lickers: Newspaper Highlights (1915 – 1951)
Among the first superstars of real country music (as opposed to the synthetic stuff cranked out by the likes of Vernon Dalhart), Riley Puckett and Gid Tanner worked their way up from humble beginnings in Georgia — Puckett performing for spare change on the streets of Atlanta, and Tanner competing at the “old-time fiddlers’ conventions” that were so popular at the time. Here’s a glimpse of their stories, from newspaper clippings of the period:
Riley Puckett appeals for aid (Atlanta Constitution,
October 22, 1915)
One of the earliest mentions of Gid Tanner, getting ready to perform at the spring convention of the Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers’ Association
(January 17, 1915)
Another early mention of Tanner (Atlanta, April 1916)
Hillbilly hubris (February 1919)
Gainesville, Georgia (July 1924). The Skillet Lickers had yet to be formed at this point, leaving the makeup of Tanner’s Famous Orchestra an intriguing mystery.
Columbia’s first full-page ad for Tanner and Puckett (May 1924), pre-dating formation of the Skillet Lickers
Montgomery, Alabama, with Puckett misidentified as a fiddler
Greenville, South Carolina (May 1928)
Centreville, Alabama (July 1928)
Election night before the advent of television. Note the mention of Puckett also playing piano. (Alexander City, Alabama,
November 1, 1928)
Ashville, Alabama (November 21, 1929). Note the absence of fiddler Clayton McMichen and the substitution of Claude Davis for Riley Puckett.
At the movies: The Skillet Lickers share a bill with “Working Girls”
(Chillicothe, Ohio, December 1931)
Puckett, Tanner, and friends on Bluebird records
One of the last ads for the Skillet Lickers, with only Tanner remaining from the original group (Jasper, Alabama, April 1951)
And a few favorites from their vast output:
GID TANNER & HIS SKILLET LICKERS
(Riley Puckett, lead vocal): Dixie
Atlanta: March 29, 1927
Columbia 15158-D (mx. W 143795 – 2)
San Antonio (Texas Hotel): March 29, 1934
Bluebird B-5435 (mx. BVE 82677 – 1)
CLAYTON McMICHEN, RILEY PUCKETT, GID TANNER, LOWE STOKES, FATE NORRIS, BOB NICHOLS & BILL BROWN: A Corn Licker Still in Georgia — Part 4
Atlanta: April 12, 1928
Columbia 15258-D (mx. W 140322 – 2) Bill Brown (playing the hapless visitor on this side) was a manager in Columbia’s Atlanta office. This was not a pseudonym for Harry C. Browne, as columnist Jim Walsh once claimed.
GID TANNER (vocal with own banjo): You’ve Got to Stop Drinking Shine
Atlanta: December 6, 1930
Columbia 15716-D (mx. W 151062 – 1)
Sam Moore’s 1921 Victor recording of “Laughing Rag” is an astonishing record for the period, blending Southern folk, Hawaiian, and ragtime influences in a way unlike anything that had been heard on records up to that time. Music historian Dick Spottswood has praised Moore’s performance on that record for its “aggressive mainland verve…which stands halfway between Hawaiian and the 1920s country guitar rags of Sam McGee, Blind Blake, Roy Harvey, and Sylvester Weaver.”
The Moores had already established a reputation as musical family when Samuel Pasco Moore was born in Monticello, Florida, on June 28, 1887. His father, Samuel Lewis Moore, was a Civil War veteran and holder of a Confederate Cross of Honor. Music, however, was only an avocation for the family, which operated a successful construction business.
Sam Moore with his family and banjo, both circa 1895
(courtesy of Betsy Loar)
Proficient on the violin by age seven, Sam was later sent to Macon, Georgia, to study under Professor W. C. Kaler. After a badly healed broken arm ended his aspirations as a violinist, Moore turned to the banjo and guitar and also began to experiment with everyday objects — most notably, the ordinary hand-saw — as musical instruments.
In 1919, Moore left home to audition for Florenz Ziegfeld in New York. The result was a six-moth run at Ziegfeld’s Roof Garden. For a time, the newly arrived Georgian was the toast of New York society, even serving as guest of honor at a reception hosted by the editors of TheMusical Courier that was attended by Enrico Caruso and other luminaries. “Those eminent artists,” a New York paper reported, “were so delighted by Mr. Moore’s playing on a carpenter’s hand-saw, that they hovered so closely around him that he hardly had room to play.”
Moore traveled to Chicago during the summer of 1920. There he met Harry Skinner, an employee of Lyon & Healy, the city’s leading music retailer. In September, Moore made a well-advertised appearance in Lyon & Healy’s auditorium, at which he played his hand-saw.
Moore’s appearance at Lyon & Healy (Chicago, September 1920)
Skinner introduced Moore to his new invention, an eight-string steel guitar named the octo-chorda. (Although several accounts credit Moore with its invention, a 1926 news article confirms that Moore’s eight-string steel guitar was “the recent invention of Harry Skinner of Lyons & Healy in Chicago.”) Together, Moore and Skinner composed a showpiece for the octo-chorda, titled “Laughing Rag.”
Moore was soon traveling on the Keith and Orpheum vaudeville circuits, sometimes with Horace D. Davis. A great-grandson of Robert E. Lee, who also performed under the name of John Powell, Davis was an accomplished guitarist.
During the summer of 1921, Moore recorded “Laughing Rag” as an octo-chorda solo for the Gennett, Okeh, and Victor labels. Gennett 4747 was the first to be recorded, in New York on June 11, 1921, with piano accompaniment by Frank Banta. The recording was erroneously entered in the Gennett files as a hand-saw solo, and was even advertised as such in some newspapers, but the records are correctly labeled.
Okeh 4412 was released in November, coupled with Moore’s “Chain Gang Blues,” using an uncredited accompanist. Moore recorded two more octo-chorda solos for Okeh at about the same time — “Wang Wang Blues” and “Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old ‘Tucky Home” (the latter with Davis, coupled on Okeh 4423).
But Moore’s most successful recording of “Laughing Rag,” musically as well as in terms of sales, was made for the Victor Talking Machine Company in their New York studio on August 24, 1921, originally as part of a trial session. For this version, Moore used Horace Davis to accompany on the harp-guitar, an odd hybrid instrument with six primary strings plus an additional set of strings that resonated sympathetically.
SAM MOORE & HORACE DAVIS: Laughing Rag
New York: August 24, 1921 (Released March 1922)
Victor 18849 (mx. B 25543 – 1) Recorded as a test and later accepted for commercial release, per the Victor files. Originally scheduled for release on Victor 18846, coupled with Moore & Davis’ “Cry Baby Blues,” which was canceled before release.
Victor inexplicably delayed its release of “Laughing Rag” for seven months, only to discover that they had a hit on their hands. The guitar interplay between Moore and Davis proved to be irresistible. Victor’s version remains a perennial favorite with collectors and has been commercially reissued several times, most recently on RCA’s “Classic Ragtime” CD. But of the fourteen titles Moore and Davis recorded for Victor between August 1921 and September 1922, only three were issued, the other two being straightforward “Hawaiian” numbers.
Unfortunately for modern listeners, “Laughing Rag” was an anomaly. In 1922, Moore and Davis split, and Moore teamed with Carl Freed, a ukulele- and guitar-playing comedian who also played the musical spoons. Together, they developed a novelty vaudeville act entitled “Spooning and Ballooning,” in which Moore played an inflated rubber balloon and other gadgets to Freed’s spoon accompaniment. The Columbus [Georgia] Ledger for April 9, 1924, reported that “Among the most appreciative of Sam Moore’s audiences are the negroes who go north… [they] often talk to the performer from the galleries, which makes the act ‘go big’…”
An early review of “Spooning and Ballooning” (Altoona, Pennsylvania, October 1922)
The long-running “Spooning and Ballooning” plays Allentown, Pennsylvania
Although Moore’s guitar work is what interests most modern collectors, his use of offbeat instruments is what captivated audiences in the 1920s. In April 1924 Moore’s father told the Columbus Courier, “That boy can music out of anything. When he was a small boy, I’ve seen him get music out of a pitchfork.” Moore didn’t leave any known recordings on the pitchfork, but he made a number of hand-saw records, beginning with “Mother Machree” for Gennett, on the reverse side of “Laughing Rag.”
By the time Moore recorded for Columbia in 1922, however, the musical-saw fad was fading in New York. Moore’s April 7, 1922, Columbia session yielded a single release (A3750), which appears to have sold poorly. A few Moore saw-solo releases followed during 1923–1924 on Brunswick and Vocalion, on some of which Horace Davis made a reappearance, but again, sales appear to have been small.
From a 1924 Vocalion supplement
By the mid-1920s, with several firms marketing cheap musical saws and instruction courses, the hand-saw was largely relegated to the status of an amateur’s novelty instrument. Moore carried on, championing the hand-saw as well as a host of other instruments that had fallen from (or, in the case of the rubber balloon, never attained) grace. Interest in “Spooning and Ballooning” faded, and Moore and Freed eventually went their own ways.
By 1927, Moore was once again working with Horace Davis, but no issued recording resulted. Together, they recorded Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” for Brunswick on November 8, which was to have been coupled with a remake of “Laughing Rag” on Brunswick 3713. However, there is no evidence in the Brunswick files that the latter title was recorded, and Brunswick 3713 was canceled before release. Two October 1928 Brunswick duets with ukulele player Edmund Evans were rejected.
But “Laughing Rag” had not run its course. In 1928, Roy Smeck cut his own country-inflected version, which was issued on the Plaza-group of dime-store labels:
ROY SMECK: Laughing Rag (octo-chordo)
New York: March 5, 1928
Regal 8547 (mx. 7824 – 3) Labels mistakenly show piano accompaniment by F. Henri Klickmann.
A formal 1920s portrait of Sam Moore (left), and a snapshot taken during his stint with KFSO radio’s “Country Store” (courtesy of Betsy Loar)
In the 1930s, Moore left the stage for radio work, writing for and performing on several NBC shows into the 1940s. For a time he teamed with his wife, Carolyn, in a stereotypical “blackface” act called “Sambo & Mandy” for local radio broadcasts and personal appearances.
Moore suffered from asthma, and eventually he settled in San Francisco for health reasons. There he was featured in the cast of KFSO’s “Country Store.” He died in San Francisco on November 13, 1959, at the age of 72.
Thanks to Betsy (Moore) Loar, the grand-daughter of Sam Moore, for sharing her rare photos and other source materials. Discographical data are from the original company files, via the University of California–Santa Barbara’s Discography of American Historical Recordings site and John R. Bolig.
The earliest known personnel listing for the Louisville Jug Band, 1914. “Colvin” presumably is a typo for Ben Calvin, who worked on-and-off with McDonald for many years; could “John Smith” be a typo for Cal Smith, a long-time McDonald associate? (Louisville Courier-Journal, October 20, 1914)
A 1918 iteration of the Louisville Jug Band, interrupting their Chicago engagement for a week’s appearance at the Antler cabaret in Dayton, Ohio. Can anyone identify the members? (Dayton Daily News, April 14, 1918)
McDonald and company fared far better than most race-record artists during the early Depression years, thanks to their popular “Ballard Chefs” broadcasts. Originating in Louisville, the program aired in many major cities. (What’s on the Air, April 1930)
Earl McDonald entertains at the University Kentucky. (Louisville Courier-Journal, February 15, 1948)
(Louisville Courier-Journal, April 29, 1949)
SARA MARTIN & HER JUG BAND: I’m Gonna Be a Lovin’ Old Soul
New York: September 1924
Okeh 8211 (mx. S 72837-b)
Clifford Hayes, violin; Curtis Hayes, banjo; Earl McDonald, jug
The Gennett Record Gazette was a nifty promo publication filled with photos, release lists, facts, and “alternative facts.” Here are a couple of excepts from Vol. I, No. 4 (April 1924) — one correcting a likely error in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Records and Film, and the other opening a discographical can of worms.
Joie Lichter’s and Bob Tamm’s Milwaukee orchestras visited Gennett’s Richmond, Indiana, studio on March 4, 1924 — Lichter recording five sides, with Tamm squeezing in a single title midway through the session, according to the Gennett ledgers. (“Tamm” or “Tamms”? It appears both ways in press reports and ads of the period, but “Tamm” is favored by a good margin.)
For god-only-knows what reason (since its compilers give none), ADBRF lists the Tamm side as a pseudonymous Lichter recording, even though the ledger, and the detailed information reported below, make that seem unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Rust credited the Tamm side to Tamm in his earlier American Dance Band Discography, from which ADBRF was largely taken. If anyone can offer any credible reason for the change in ADBRF (credible excluding things like “so-and-so is sure he hears such-and-such” or “Joe Blow remembers that somebody said…”), please let us know, and of course be sure to cite the source. If it checks out, we’ll be happy to post it.
Our next excerpt involves the ubiquitous Bailey’s Lucky Seven. For years it’s been taken for granted that this was a Sam Lanin group, and aural evidence does strongly suggest that was the case on many sides. Many others, however, are more generic-sounding. Unfortunately, the Gennett ledgers offer no clues in either case. (Note that the Bailey’s personnel listings in the various Rust and Johnson & Shirley discographies are all conjectural, even if the authors don’t make that clear. None of it is from file data or other primary-source documentation.)
But here we have one “Gene Bailey, of Bailey’s Lucky Seven” running a question-and-answer column in the Gennett Record Gazette. Not surprisingly, “Bailey” gave no answer whatsoever to the fan’s question concerning the Lucky Seven’s personnel, or where the band was performing, other than a vague reference later in the column to one “Saxophone Joe.”
So, was there a real Gene Bailey involved with these recordings, and if so, in what capacity? Or was this just yet another case of the Gennett folks having fun with pseudonyms? We favor the latter, since we’ve found no trace of a Gene Bailey having been active on the New York-area musical scene, either as a musician or a manager, at the time. (These were all New York recordings. The cartoon above, by the way, is based on a well-known 1923 photo taken in the New York studio, which was configured differently than the Indiana facility).
There’s an old anecdote about Gennett borrowing the names of employees or other locals for its artist pseudonyms. And a Gene Bailey does turns up in the social notices of several eastern Indiana newspapers at the time, although with no mention of any musical connection. But just to muck things up a bit, Gennett once issued a record credited to “Jene Bailey’s Orchestra,” claiming (in the ledger as well as in their ads) that Mr. Bailey personally conducted the side:
Of course, much of Gennett’s promotional material should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. This was, after all, a company whose “Colored Records” catalog included a photo of an unknown black band that was captioned “Ladd’s Black Aces” — a confirmed pseudonym on Gennett for the all-white Original Memphis Five.
While we’re on subject, here’s a terrific book that all Gennett fans should own, by Charlie Dahan and Linda Gennett Irmscher (Arcadia Publishing). It’s available on Amazon.com, and a real bargain at just $21.99 — crammed with rare photos and little-known facts, and covering a much broader scope than the earlier Kennedy tome. Highly recommended! .
(That’s Art Landry’s Call of the North Orchestra on the cover. At the top, you can see the heavy drapes that contributed to the Indiana studio’s notoriously muddy acoustics.)
John O. Prescott ranks high on the list of undeservedly forgotten recording pioneers. Although eclipsed by his brother Frederick (founder of the International Zonophone Company and the Berlin-based International Talking Machine Company, the producers of Odeon records), John O’s accomplishments — which ranged from co-founding what would become the Nipponophone Company in 1910 to serving as Gennett’s chief technician in the 1920s — were equally impressive.
John Prescott’s role in the American Record Company (which was backed by brother Fred’s Odeon operation) and its marketing arm, Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott, is covered in detail in American Record Company, Hawthorne & Sheble, International Record Company: Histories and Discographies (Bryant & Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015) and need not be repeated here. What we’ll be examining in this article is Prescott’s career after American Record’s demise. .
The American Record Company discs — nicknamed “Blue Indian records” by the trade, for their distinctive blue pressings and American Indian trademark — were quite successful until Columbia succeeded in shutting the company down for patent infringement in January 1907.  The partnership split, with Ellsworth A. Hawthorne and Horace Sheble regrouping as the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company, and John Prescott going his own way. Little more was heard of Prescott until November 1907, when The Talking Machine World reported, “He left last week for a fortnight’s hunting on Long Island, and on returning he may have something of interest to announce to the trade relative to his work in a fresh field.” 
The “something of interest” probably was the Twoforone Champion Record (presumably a double-sided disc), for which Prescott filed a trademark application on February 24, 1908.  Prescott had been quietly preparing to resume record production ever since the collapse of the American Record Company. In January 1907 he had applied for a U.S. patent on a new pressing process that included a provision for double-sided discs.  Two months later, TMW reported that he had taken over the former American Record Company studio, which he was managing in the guise of “The Laboratory Association.”  But with the means of production all in place (but not the necessary patents, assuming it was to have been a lateral-cut disc), Champion apparently failed to launched.
Prescott’s trademark filing for Champion Records (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).
Instead, Prescott retired to his home in Summit, New Jersey, where his new neighbor was brother Fred (who, having sold his interest in International Talking Machine and returned home a wealthy man, was now happily engaged in his new hobby of raising chickens). But Prescott could not remain idle for long, and in May 1909 he sailed on the Lusitania for what was to have been a brief visit to London. Instead, he ended up on an extended tour that took him from England and France (where he was highly impressed by Emil Pathé’s demonstration of the vertical-cut disc) to Russia, then on to China and Korea—and, finally, to Japan, where his career would soon take an unexpected turn. Prescott was no fan of the country, as he made clear upon his return in August 1909. “Excuse me from permanently living in Japan,” he declared. “The beautiful pictures we see there of entrancing landscapes … are on postal cards only … Nobody has any money excepting the very rich, and they are comparatively few in the teeming millions of ordinary Japs.” 
Back in the U.S., Prescott leased the Laboratory Association studio to the Sonora Phonograph Company in September 1909. The company was planning to produce its own discs in both vertical- and lateral-cut formats (Sonora’s April 1910 TMW ad depicted a vertical-cut Sonora disc and a lateral-cut Crown disc, although the latter is not known to have been produced). However, Prescott does not appear to have had any involvement with the company, other than as landlord. The studio initially was managed for Sonora by former Zonophone engineer George Cheney, who departed for Phono-Cut before production got fully under way. 
In the meantime, Prescott had returned to Japan, despite his professed dislike of the place. In January 1910, The Talking Machine World reported that he was managing a recording studio in Tokyo.  The owner of that studio (whose name was not given by TMW) was the Japan-American Phonograph Manufacturing Company, Ltd., the only record manufacturer operating in Japan at that time.  Financed, owned, and managed by American businessmen, including Prescott, the company initially produced the Symphony Record label.
The now-rare Symphony label was soon supplanted by the Nipponophone brand. Nipponophone got its start as the sales agent for the Japan-American Phonograph Manufacturing Company. (Author’s collection)
Japan-American’s sales agent was the Nipponophone Company, which soon substituted its own Nipponophone label for Symphony. By the autumn of 1910, the Japan-American / Nipponophone combine was producing and marketing records on a fairly large scale under Prescott’s management.
Prescott (seated at left) in Japan, 1910
In addition to his expertise, Prescott brought along a ready-made catalog of Western recordings — the American Record Company masters. Nipponophone’s “Foreign Records” catalog of c. 1910–1911 included a substantial number of old American recordings that were renumbered and offered in new couplings, sans artist credits, with the occasional amusing mistranslation (“A Gay Gossoon” became “A Gay Cartoon,” “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” became “Dream of the Rabbit King”).  The records were intended for foreign residents and tourists, but demand for them must have been meager, and they are extraordinarily rare today. A badly damaged specimen, showing the original American numbers in the wax, was found on the West Coast many decades ago. A second specimen was later reported, but as so often happens, the supposed owner did not respond to a request for a confirming photograph or other proof of its existence.
A page from Nipponophone’s “Foreign Record” catalog listing anonymous reissues from American Record Company masters. The uncredited artists included Arthur Collins, Byron G. Harlan, Frank C. Stanley, Len Spencer, and Steve Porter. (Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press)
By the end of 1910, Prescott had enough of Japan. He resigned from the Japan-American Phonograph Company, and his place was taken by Thomas Kraemer,  who had been associated with the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company. Prescott’s stay had done nothing to improve his opinion of that country, its climate, or its workforce. Upon his return to the States in early 1911, he complained,
“The air is so humid that you soon fall into a condition of lassitude difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. To be sure, if you can adapt yourself to Oriental ways; that is, take things as they come in an indifferent, easy-going way, perhaps one could manage. An active American, coming from home full of life, snap, and ginger, and wanting to take hold and accomplish something the way we do it here, is forced to give up or become Orientalized. Excuse me, I am not built that way.” 
In June 1911, Prescott departed once again for Europe, where he “expected to look the trade over a little” before attending the coronation of George V in London.  Perhaps not coincidentally, his trip occurred at about the time that the London-based Disc Record Company, Ltd., acquired some American Record Company masters, which were parceled out to Britannic, Defiant, Pelican, The Leader, and other minor labels for the British and export markets. Whether the masters came from Prescott, from the Lindstrom organization (which had taken over the International Talking Machine Company’s assets), or from some other source, has not been established.
Little more was heard of John Prescott until August 1912, when The Talking Machine World reported that he had been in Constantinople for “a year or more,” managing an unnamed record company.  For the next eight years, Prescott’s name would be largely absent from the American trade papers.
Prescott eventually resurfaced in the 1920s. In 1920, brother Fred had placed some rather boastful ads in The Talking Machine World soliciting work as a consultant, but it was John who landed a steady job, at the Starr Piano Company’s Gennett Records division in Richmond, Indiana.
Brother Frederick in search of work, 1920 (Talking Machine World)
In August 1921, Gennett resumed recording in Richmond, after a hiatus there of nearly five years.  John Prescott was hired as chief technician of the Richmond facility, with duties that included wax formulation and oversight of the pressing plant. He also seems to have had some say in regard to master approval, and notes referring to “J. O” are sprinkled throughout the Richmond recording ledgers of the mid-1920s. It’s tempting to speculate that he was responsible for naming the company’s budget-priced Champion label, hearkening back to his aborted 1908 venture, but documentary evidence of that is lacking.
The “Blue Indian” man finally came face-to-face with actual Indians in May 1926, as part of a Gennett team that traveled to Arizona’s Grand Canyon to record traditional Hopi songs. The expedition was undertaken in association with the Smithsonian Institution, under the supervision of Dr. J. Walter Fewkes, head of the Smithsonian’s Department of Ethnology. Music Trade Review reported that the Santa Fe Railroad was assisting in moving the recording apparatus from Richmond and had obtained government permission to transport the Indians and their ponies the one-hundred miles from their reservation to the Grand Canyon.
Along with Gennett recording engineer Ezra C. A. (Wick) Wickemeyer, Prescott oversaw the cutting of fourteen masters (# 12526 – 12537, with a single take each for first ten sides, and two takes each for last two) in a makeshift studio at the El Tovar Hotel. The company, having experienced mixed results in its initial attempts at electrical recording, dispatched its more trustworthy acoustic equipment. Twelve masters were received in Richmond on June 2, followed by the two alternate takes on June 15. The masters were processed for commercial release under standard Gennett catalog numbers, after which they were deposited with the Smithsonian. 
KAKAPTI: Ma’Qutu (Rabbit Hunt) (as “Makwatu”) El Tovar Hotel. Grand Canyon, Arizona: Late May 1926 Gennett 5759 (mx. 12530)
Exactly when Prescott left Gennett has not been discovered, but he apparently continued to work in the sound-recording field at least into the early 1930s. On January 27, 1929, he and Frederick A. Kolster filed a patent on a photo-electric sound-recording system that they assigned to the Federal Telegraph Company of Newark, New Jersey.  After that, Prescott’s trail grows cold. He died in Pasadena, California, on July 14, 1946.
American Graphophone Co. v. American Record Co., 151 F. 595.
 Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (November 15, 1907), p. 79.
 Prescott, John O. “Twoforone Champion Record.” U.S. Trademark application #32,975 (filed February 24, 1908). Prescott was well acquainted with double-sided pressing methods. American Record had pressed double-sided discs as special-order items, under Ademor N. Petit’s patent #749,092, which was controlled by Frederick Prescott. Assuming the Twoforone was double-sided and had been launched in a timely manner, it likely would have beaten Columbia’s Double Disc to market.
 Prescott, John O. “Mechanism for Making Sound Records.” U.S. Patent #847,820 (filed January 15, 1907).
 Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (March 15, 1907), p. 39.
 “’Talker’ Conditions in Foreign Countries.” Talking Machine World (September 15, 1909), p. 41.
 “Geo. K. Cheney to Boston.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1910), p. 14.
 “J. O. Prescott in Japan.” Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1910), p. 3.
 “The Talking Machine Trade in Japan.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 1911), p. 4.
 The Nipponophone Company, Ltd. “Foreign Records” (Tokyo, c. 1910–1911). A listing of the Nipponophone issues can be found in American Record Company, Hawthorne & Sheble, International Record Company: Histories and Discographies (Bryant & Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015), available from Mainspring Press.
 Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (April 15, 1911), p. 30.
 “Returns from Japan.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1911), p. 35.
 “J. O. Prescott in Europe.” Talking Machine World (July 15, 1911), p. 54.
 “A Visitor from Turkey.” Talking Machine World (August 15, 1912), p. 25.
 “Starr Recording in New York.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1917), p. 100. Gennett recorded in Richmond during 1915–1916, using often-obscure Midwestern artists. Recording activities were moved to New York in late 1916 or early 1917, to take advantage of better-known East Coast talent and accommodate those who “found it rather inconvenient to travel out to Richmond.” Regular recording sessions resumed in Richmond on August 20, 1921, according to the Gennett ledgers.
 “To Record Hopi Indian Songs on Gennett Records.” Music Trade Review (May 29, 1926), p. 81.
 Prescott, John O., and Frederick A. Kolster. “Sound-Reproducing System.” U.S. Patent # 1,776,046 (filed January 7, 1929).