Collector’s Corner (Free MP3 Downloads) • Some June-July 2019 Finds — Mendello’s Five Gee Gee’s, Cotton Pickers, Earl Hines’ Orchestra, Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, Red Allen’s Orchestra, Louis Armstrong’s Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra)

Collector’s Corner (Free MP3 Downloads):
Some June – July 2019 Finds

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Some nice jazz additions to the collection in the past month or so, starting off with two sides that allegedly include Glenn Miller on trombone, although the sources of those claims are sketchy at best. Brian Rust and others have made that attribution, with no sources cited, as usual (and if you believe everything you read in Rust and the various Jazz Records clones, let’s talk about a big bridge in Brooklyn on which we can make you a terrific deal).

The Miller attribution on the Mendello side has also been made by a descendant. Granted, family tales are sometimes embroidered, but it adds perhaps a bit more credibility to the claim. If anyone has credible, verifiable documentary proof that Miller is on either of these records — not “I hear Glenn” or “so-and-so remembers” — please send us a scan of the document, and a note telling us where you found it, so that Miller can finally be properly credited. It’s good trombone work, for sure.

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JAMES G. G. MENDELLO & HIS FIVE GEE GEE’S
(as DIXIE JAZZ BAND): High Hattin’ Hattie
(E-)

New York: August 15, 1928
Oriole 1363 (mx. 8150 -1 / Plaza control 1804 – 1)

Vocal by Jack Kaufman, as Dick Holmes. Personnel listed in Rust’s
Jazz Records and derivative works are apparently speculative (no source cited; not Plaza-ARC file data).
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The Five Gee Gee’s appear to have been purely a studio pick-up group; no reliable report of the band performing in public has been found so far. All of the titles they recorded are what the recording industry used to call “dogs” — those “B”-side fillers that hack songwriters peddled to the record companies for a modest flat fee, no royalties required. Mendello was primarily a New York theater-band trumpeter who also recorded with Gus Haenschen’s “Carl Fenton” Orchestra for Brunswick (per the Paterson [New Jersey] Evening News, April 14, 1927) and reportedly directed one of the Ben Bernie orchestras (Paterson Morning Call, June 13, 1931). He died on June 12, 1931, at the age of twenty-eight.

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THE COTTON PICKERS: Kansas City Kitty (EE-)

New York: March 27, 1929
Brunswick 4325 (mx. E 29525 -)
Personnel listed in Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works are apparently speculative (no source cited; not Brunswick file data). The selected take is not indicated in the pressing, nor in the Brunswick files; two takes were made.

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FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Sensation (E)

New York: March 19, 1927
Brunswick 3521 (mx. E 22029)

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EARL HINES & HIS ORCHESTRA: Grand Piano Blues
(E- to V++, with label damage)

Chicago: October 25, 1929
Victor V-38096 (mx. BVE 57322 – 2)
This master was later dubbed for reissue on Bluebird and British H.M.V., being stripped of much of its bass in the process. The inferior dubbed version was also used on RCA’s various LP reissues.

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LUIS RUSSELL’S ORCHESTRA (as RED ALLEN & HIS ORCHESTRA): Funny Feathers Blues (E)

New York: September 24, 1929
Bluebird B-6588 (mx. BVE 55853- 2)

Vocal by Victoria Spivey. Henry (Red) Allen, director, per the Victor files. October 1936 original-stamper reissue of Victor V-38088.

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LOUIS ARMSTRONG & HIS SEBASTIAN NEW COTTON CLUB ORCHESTRA: You’re Driving Me Crazy! (What Did I Do?) (E-)

Los Angeles: December 23, 1930
Okeh 41478 (mx. W 404418 – B)

Vocal by Louis Armstrong; opening dialogue by Armstrong and Lionel Hampton.

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RCA Enters the Cheap-Record Market (1931 -1934)

RCA Enters the Cheap-Record Market (1931 – 1934)
By Allan Sutton

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In early 1931, RCA Victor executives took what was, for them, an unprecedented plunge into the budget-label market. It was a move that would have been unimaginable to Victor founder Eldridge Johnson, who had adamantly opposed cheap records from the start. By 1931, however, Johnson had been retired for five years, and the former Victor Talking Machine Company — now just a division within the sprawling Radio Corporation of America — was in the hands of executives who were more interested in radio, and the commercial development of television, than in a struggling record business.

The minutes of RCA’s management committee tell the tale. At meeting after meeting, it was reported that record sales were continuing to plunge. At the same time, the company was accumulating a mountain of scrap records that needed recycling. The solution, first proposed on February 11, 1931, was to put some of that scrap to use in a cheap disc that had been developed by RCA’s Engineering Department, to be sold in “chain store outlets such as Kresge, Grant, etc.”

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The initial “cheap record” proposal: Minutes of the RCA Victor Management Committee, February 11, 1931.
(Hagley Museum, Wilmington, DE)

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The result was RCA Victor’s first attempt to produce a cheap label — the 35¢ Timely Tunes, for sale by Montgomery Ward. Some recordings were made exclusively for the new label, using special ABRC- and BRC- master-number prefixes that usually aren’t shown in modern discographies. Most of the artists on the newly made recordings were masked by pseudonyms, with Gene Autry masquerading as “Gene Johnson” and “Jimmy Smith,” Frank Luther as “Eddie Bell,” Johnny Hamp as “Carl Graub,” and Nathaniel Shilkret as “Ronald Sachs,” to name but a few.

The remainder comprised reissues of deleted Victor recordings, usually with the artists correctly credited. The entire Timely Tunes catalog, consisting of forty records, was released in a single batch on July 1, 1931, after which the label was quietly retired. Timely Tunes made virtually no impact, and little more was heard of the “cheap record” idea at RCA until early 1932.

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Pseudonym use was rampant on Timely Tunes. “Jim New” was country singer Newton Gaines.

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In February 1932, RCA took over pressing for the Crown Record Company in an attempt to put some of its idled factory capacity to use. A struggling start-up cobbled together by former Plaza Music Company executives, Crown marketed a mediocre 25¢ record that at the time was bring pressed in a former Edison facility. RCA’s involvement was limited to pressing the discs, under the supervision of Eli Oberstein, with Crown supplying its own masters. However marginal the venture, it at least signaled RCA’s continued willingness to be involved with budget-label production.

In June 1932, RCA Victor started making recordings expressly for sale at cut-rate prices in the Woolworth Company’s department stores. The timing could not have been better for RCA. In the same month, Columbia suspended production of its budget-priced line, which included the once-popular Clarion, Harmony, and Velvet Tone labels. Crown was already flirting with bankruptcy, and the few other budget labels that had survived the early Depression years, including Cameo and Perfect, had been absorbed by the American Record Corporation, a division of Herbert Yates’ Consolidated Film Industries.

A July 15 report to RCA’s board of directors noted, “We are making a definite drive to obtain as much of the cheap record business as is possible. Durium [Hit of the Week] have closed their American business, and the American Record Company [sic] is constantly becoming weaker.* We have hopes of obtaining a very big part of what may be left of the cheap record business.”

RCA maintained a separate ledger for the Woolworth recordings, which, like the earlier Timely Tunes recordings, were not intended for release on the full-priced Victor label. The master numbers were given special prefixes (ESHQ- for 8”, BSHQ- for 10”). To keep costs low, pressings consisted of 50% recycled scrap, and RCA employed its in-house recording equipment rather than the superior Western Electric system, which would have required royalty payments to WE.

A June 15 report to RCA’s board directors contains the curious claim that the company had already placed “experimental” 10¢ and 20¢ records in selected Woolworth stores. What these records might have been remains unclear. Documented recording sessions for Woolworth’s had begun just two days earlier, on the morning of June 13, in Victor’s New York Studio 1. The day began with four titles by Graham Prince and his Palais d’ Or Orchestra and ended with a three-hour marathon by Gene Kardos and his Orchestra, the latter yielding a dozen titles in mixed 8” and 10” formats. Another full day of recording followed on June 14. Clearly, these records could not have arrived at Woolworth’s in time to have been mentioned in the June 15 report, leaving us to wonder what that “experimental” batch might have comprised.

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RCA’s Electradisk label, produced for Woolworth’s. Sunrise, RCA’s fourth budget label, was largely redundant, using the same material as Bluebird (note the Bluebird catalog number under the Sunrise number).

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The June 13–14 recordings were in fact released in July, according to the Victor files, and bore Electradisk labels. Woolworth’s sold out initial run by the end of August, at which time the 8” series was dropped. The experiment was pronounced a success, and in September, Woolworth’s executives decided to place the 10” Electradiscs in a minimum of fifty stores. With that go-ahead from the chain store, recording activity (which had stalled after June 14) resumed on September 28, now under the direction of Eli Oberstein. The disappearance of Woolworth’s special BSHQ- master prefix at that time suggests that RCA might have already been looking ahead to “repurposing” some of these recordings on other labels — which is exactly what happened.

Electradisk proved to be a hit for Woolworth’s, mixing newly made recordings with reissues of deleted Victor and Timely Tunes material. Use of artist pseudonyms was rampant on the new recordings. Tom Berwick’s Orchestra (with Oberstein conducting per the RCA files, and not Sid Peltyn, as some discographies claim) appeared as “Rex Blaine and his Orchestra,” “The New Yorkers, “The Pennsylvania Collegians,” “Sid Peltyn and his Orchestra,” “Harold Mooney and his Orchestra,” and “Bob Miller’s Memphis Orchestra,” among others. The real Bob Miller (a country-style singer) appeared as “Bill Palmer.” However, much of the reissued Victor material appeared with correct artist credits.

Electradisc was quickly joined by another new budget label that would do much to halt and then reverse RCA Victor’s downward slide. Bluebird — RCA’s third attempt to crack the budget-label market — proved to be the charm. Launched without fanfare in the summer of 1932, it was destined to become one of RCA Victor’s most popular brands. Initially, however, Bluebird was just a companion label to Electradisk, and was also made exclusively for Woolworth’s.

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(Left) The original 1932 Bluebird client-label design for Woolworth’s, lacking any mention of RCA Victor. (Right) The 1933 redesign, reflecting Bluebird’s transition to an RCA-owned brand.

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Bluebird’s belated 1937 trademark application declared April 5, 1933 as the date of brand’s first use. That date, approximately eight months after Bluebird was actually launched, apparently reflects its transition from a Woolworth’s client label to a fully owned RCA brand. The earliest indication in the ledgers of a change in Bluebird’s status appears on May 18, 1933, which for the first time lists “recordings for Woolworth and Bluebird.” The label had proven public appeal, and in the spring of 1933, Bluebird was reintroduced to the public as RCA’s flagship budget label. The original label design was retained, but the RCA and Victor trademarks (missing from the Woolworth issues) were added, and the rather dull black-on-blue color scheme was replaced by light-blue on buff.

Initially, management of the Bluebird division fell largely to Ralph Peer, who had signed Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family for Victor in 1927. Peer had begun his relationship with Victor as an independent talent scout, making a good living by publishing his artists’ songs, controlling their copyrights, and earning a commission on their record sales. However, his position within the company eventually changed from independent contractor to employee. By the time Bluebird was introduced, he was just another RCA manager, quietly plotting his transition to full-time music publisher. Nevertheless, his influence is still apparent in the early Bluebird catalog, which was largely aimed at the same lower-income markets he had developed so successfully for Victor. Under Peer’s control, much of the early Bluebird catalog was cobbled together from deleted Victor recordings by the likes of Rodgers, the Carters, and others he had discovered.

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Ralph Peer’s influence is evident in these 1934 Bluebird ads.

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RCA’s executives at first seemed hesitant to promote Bluebird. The first known advertisements of the records as RCA Victor products, which appeared in May and June 1933, were placed not by RCA, but by local merchants. The company itself did little to publicize the label until early 1934, when it began touting Bluebirds as “The fastest-selling low-priced records.” The Radio-Music Merchant (successor to The Talking Machine World) did not begin publishing Bluebird advance listings until May of that year.

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Although Bluebird records were officially priced at 35¢, some discounting was allowed in the label’s early days. These Bluebird ads — among the earliest to appear after the Woolworth connection was severed — ran in the summer of 1933.

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Sunrise, yet another RCA budget brand, was launched in August 1933, for reasons unknown. It simply duplicated portions of the Bluebird catalog; the corresponding Bluebird catalog numbers even appeared on the labels, in small type below the Sunrise numbers. A month later, the first RCA-produced Montgomery Ward records appeared in that retailer’s Fall catalog.

The label was the creation of Ward’s executive Sewell Avery, who had approached RCA with a proposal for an ultra-cheap disc that could be advantageous for both companies: Ward’s would obtain high-quality, low-cost records featuring nationally recognized artists, while RCA would generate business for its pressing plant (which was still operating well below capacity), and wring out some additional revenue by recycling previously issued Victor and Bluebird recordings. The discs were openly credited to RCA Victor in Ward’s advertising, but never on the labels. Well-pressed and retailing for only 21¢ each, or 10 for $1.79, Montgomery Ward records were an undeniable bargain for consumers, although RCA’s margins must have been razor-thin.

RCA was now suffering from a case of label bloat, producing three largely redundant budget brands of its own, in addition to pressing for Montgomery Ward. The company continued to produce the latter through 1941 (aside from several short-lived dalliances with other producers), but Electradisk and Sunrise were targeted for elimination. After allowing Electradisk to languish for several months, RCA finally scuttled the label in February 1934. Sunrise somehow survived until May of that year. With the passing of those labels, Bluebird claimed its place as RCA’s sole budget brand.

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* The RCA executives were mistaken in their assessment of the American Record Corporation. ARC had recently been licensed to produce the Brunswick and Vocalion labels (along with Brunswick’s cut-rate Melotone line), and its acquisition of Columbia in April 1934 would elevate the company to the nation’s second-largest record producer.

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Selected References

“Bluebird.” U.S. trademark filing (June 8, 1937). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Bolig, John R. The Bluebird Discography, Vol. 1. Denver: Mainspring Press (2015).

— . The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1942. Denver: Mainspring Press (2014).

“RCA Victor” (advertisement, with first known trade-publication listing of new Bluebird releases). Radio-Music Merchant (May 1934), p. 14.

RCA Victor Co., Inc. Crown Records production-history cards. New York: Sony Music Archives.

—. Minutes of the Management Committee (1931). Hagley Museum, Wilmington, DE.

—. President’s Reports to the Board of Directors (1931–1932). Hagley Museum, Wilmington, DE.

—. Recording ledgers and production history cards. New York: Sony Music Archives.

 

For more on RCA Victor and its predecessor companies, see American Record Companies and Producers, 1888 – 1950: An Encyclopedic History, newly released by Mainspring Press

 

© 2019 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Collector’s Corner • Some August Finds (Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Johnson’s Cracker Jacks, Tiny Parham)

Collector’s Corner • Some August Finds (Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Johnson’s Cracker Jacks, Tiny Parham)

August highlights: A nice little stack of Victor V-38000s in generally decent shape, hiding where one would least expect to find them; and some hot Bluebirds (reissues, sure, but old reissues in great shellac, unbeatable for “listening” copies).

July was a cylinder month, with a big local haul; we’ll try to get some of the most interesting titles posted next month. In the meantime, here are a few August favorites (VJM grading; Victor file data courtesy of John Bolig):

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KING OLIVER & HIS ORCHESTRA: The Trumpet’s Prayer (E- -)
New York: February 1, 1929 / Released: March 29, 1929
Victor V-38039 (BVE 48334 – 1)

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TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS: Subway Sobs (E- to V++)
Chicago: February 2, 1929 / Released: April 19, 1929
Victor V-38041 (BVE 48849 – 1)

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BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Rite Tite (V+)
Chicago: July 17, 1929 / Released: January 17, 1930
Victor V-38104 (BVE 55423 – 1)

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BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Sweetheart of Yesterday (E)
Chicago: October 24, 1929
Bluebird B-6851 (BVE 57316 -1R, from -2)
1937 dubbed reissue of Victor V-38114. Label shows James Rushing vocal, in error.

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JOHNSON’S CRACKER JACKS (Benny Jackson, vocal): The Duck’s Yas Yas Yas (E)
Egleston Auditorium, Atlanta: February 22, 1932
Bluebird B-6278 (BVE 71625 -1)
1936 original-master reissue of Victor 23329

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BENNIE MOTEN’S ORCHESTRA featuring WILLIAM (COUNT) BASIE: Prince of Wales [sic] (E)
Church Studio #2, Camden, NJ: December 13, 1932
Bluebird B-6851 (BS 74854 – 1)
1937 original-master reissue of Victor 23393­

 

“Race Records” Nominated for 2017 ARSC Award

We’re pleased to announce that Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919–1945 (Allan Sutton, Mainspring Press) has been nominated for a 2017 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Winners will be announced later this year.

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MSP_race-records_cover
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Race Records
is available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries. Here’s a peek inside the book, at some of our favorite race-record ads:

msp_race-record-ads_1

 

 

The Playlist • “Hot Nuts” and Others 1930s Bluebird Favorites / New Year, New Dog

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TINSLEY’S WASHBOARD BAND (as WASHBOARD RHYTHM KINGS)
(Vocal by TED TINSLEY): Hot Nuts

Camden, NJ (Church Studio 2): September 12, 1933
Bluebird B-6278 (mx. BS 77815 – 1)
Released: February 26, 1936

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TEMPO KING & HIS KINGS OF TEMPO with QUEENIE ADA RUBIN
AT THE PIANO (Vocal by Tempo King): Papa Tree Top Tall

New York (Studio 3): August 21, 1936
Bluebird B-6535 (mx. BS 0232 – 1)
Released: September 9, 1936

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GID TANNER & HIS SKILLET LICKERS (featuring TED HAWKINS, mandolin): Hawkins Rag

San Antonio (Texas Hotel): March 1, 1937
Bluebird B-5435 (mx, BVE 82677 – 1)
Released: April 18, 1934

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MODERN MOUNTAINEERS (Vocal by SMOKEY WOOD):
Drifting Along

San Antonio (Texas Hotel): March 1, 1937
Bluebird B-6976 (mx. BS 07435 – 1)
Released: May 26, 1937

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CLIFF CARLISLE: That Nasty Swing

Charlotte, NC (Southern Radio Building): June 16, 1936
Bluebird B-6631 (mx. BS 102651 – 1)
Released: November 4, 1936
Accompanying personnel are not listed in the files or credited on the labels; published personnel listings are speculative.

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TOMMY McCLENNAN: Bottle It Up and Go

Chicago (Studio A): November 22, 1939
Bluebird B-8373 (mx. BS 044241 – 1)
Released: March 1, 1940

Discographical data from the RCA Victor files (Sony Music archives, NYC) by way of John Bolig’s Bluebird Discography, available from Mainspring Press.

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New Year, New Dog!

nick1

On New Year’s Eve we welcomed Nick to his new home in the U.S. He’d been picked up as a stray overseas and was flown to Colorado by a local rescue group in December, after receiving a clean bill of health and his official doggie passport. He doesn’t understand any English yet — but he has a huge heart (and a huge head to go with it) and is already turning out to be the perfect gentleman and office companion.

The Playlist • Melquiades Rodríguez, the Blind Fiddler (San Antonio, 1935)

Two selections from Bluebird’s B-2400 Spanish-language series that would not have sounded out-of-place in the country-music list (a fact not lost on RCA, which also issued  them in Bluebird’s domestic B-6000 series, with label credits in English to “The Blind Fiddler.” Ethnic Music on Records shows English credits on the corresponding Montgomery Ward issues as well, but copies inspected thus far are in Spanish:

MSP_MW-M4870B_rodriguez

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MELQUIADES RODRÍGUEZ (violin; probably with Enrique Morales, guitar): Paulita — Polka

Texas Hotel, San Antonio: August 15, 1935
..(Eli Oberstein, recording director)
Montgomery Ward M-4870 ( as “El Ciego Melqiuades”)
Mx. BS 94589 – 1 (reissue of Bluebird B-2411)

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MELQUIADES RODRÍGUEZ (violin; probably with Enrique Morales, guitar): Delgadita — Polka

Texas Hotel, San Antonio: August 15, 1935
..(Eli Oberstein, recording director)
Montgomery Ward M-4870 ( as “El Ciego Melqiuades”)
Mx. BS 94591 – 1 (reissue of Bluebird B-2411)

Eli Oberstein is not credited in the RCA files, but photographs exist of him on the August 1935 San Antonio trip. Morales is not credited in the RCA files for these particular titles; however, the adjacent masters, recorded at the same session, are guitar duets by Rodríguez and Morales.

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