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.
Compiled from the Original Columbia Documentation by Allan Sutton
Columbia did a healthy business with its jazz and “blues” records by Black artists in the early 1920s, as this representative sampling from Columbia’s files confirms. On average, shipments were on a par with many records by Columbia’s White pop performers of the period, and they far exceeded those of some prestigious Symphony Series artists. Columbia at the time was marketing these records across racial lines, but that would soon change, with its introduction of the segregated 13000-D / 14000-D series.
Not surprisingly, Bessie Smith was Columbia’s sales champ in this category, although none of her records came close to the million-seller mark, as some pop-culture writers have claimed (nor did any Columbia record during the early 1920s). Columbia underestimated the sale potential of her first release, with an initial pressing run of only 20,000 copies, which turned out to be insufficient to even fill the advance orders. During 1923, she handily outsold such White headliners as Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson, as will be seen in a future installment.
Most of these records had a relatively short life in the catalog, averaging a little over two years. As with ephemeral material in general, the largest sales occurred within the first few months of release, then dropped steadily. Most of the records listed here, if not already deleted, were cut from the catalog during the summer of 1925, when Columbia began purging its acoustically recorded material. The most notable exception was Bessie Smith’s A3844, which managed to avoid the axe until November 1929.
The following is a representative sampling from the Columbia files. It is important to note that these are the number of records shipped, not the actual number sold (actual sales statistics for this period have not survived).
Not reflected in these figures are unsold copies that were returned for credit, although those numbers likely would not have been large, since Columbia placed strict limits on such transactions. And it is not known if these figures include sample, review, and other complimentary copies, which would not count as sales. Nevertheless, they provide a good gauge of relative sales and, by projection, the degree of relative scarcity today. None are true rarities, of course (and a few, like A3844, are still downright common), but some can be surprisingly elusive, especially in decent condition.
A3365 • Stafford: Crazy Blues / Royal Garden Blues
A3511 • Stafford: Down Home Blues / Monday Morning Blues
A3537 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: West Texas Blues / I Don’t Want Nobody
A3541 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Bugle Blues / Birmingham Blues
A3579 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Put and Take / Moanful Blues *
A3653 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: He May Be Your Man / Rules and Regulations
A3696 • L. Williams: Sugar Blues / The Meanest Man in the World
A3736 • L. Williams: Uncle Bud / Mexican Blues
A3739 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Four O’Clock Blues / Hawaiian Blues
A3746 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Evil Blues / Pensacola Blues Shipped: 62,979
A3787 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Dixie Blues / He Used to Be Your Man
A3815 • L. Williams: I’m Going Away / Bring It with You When You Come
A3835 • L. Williams: If Your Man Is Like My Man / That Teasin’ Squeezin’ Man
A3839 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Hallelujah Blues / Spanish Dreams
A3844 • B. Smith: Down Hearted Blues / Gulf Coast Blues
A3888 • B. Smith: Baby Won’t You Please Come Home / Oh Papa Blues
A3893 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Vampin’ Sal / Sweet Lovin’ Mama
A3897 • L. Miles: Sweet Smelling’ Mama / Haitian Blues
A3910 • B. Smith: Mama’s Got the Blues / Outside of That
A3915 • Gulf Coast Seven: Daybreak Blues / Fade Away Blues
A3915 • L. Wilson w/ Jazz Hounds: Deceitful Blues / Memphis Tennessee
A3920 • L. Miles: Family Trouble Blues / Triflin’ Man
A3921 • A. Brown: Michigan Water Blues / Tired o’ Waitin’ Blues
A3922 • Baxter: You Got Ev’rything / Taylor: My Pillow and Me
A3936 • B. Smith: Bleeding Hearted Blues / Midnight Blues **
A3939 • B. Smith: Yodling Blues / Lady Luck Blues
A3942 • B. Smith: Nobody in Town / If You Don’t I Know Who Will
A3950 • J. P. Johnson: Worried and Lonesome Blues / Weeping Blues
A3951 • Henderson’s Hot Six: Gulf Coast Blues / Midnight Blues
A3958 • R. Henderson: Afternoon Blues / I Need You Shipped: 10,716
A3959 • Fowler: Blues Mixture / Satisfied Blues
A3965 • Ridley: I Don’t Let No One Man Worry Me / Alabama Bound Blues
A3966 • C. Smith: Play It / All Night Blues
A3978 • Gulf Coast Seven: Papa Better Watch Your Step / Memphis Tennessee
A3992 • C. Smith: I Want My Sweet Daddy Now / Irresistible Blues
August 10, 1920 • Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues”
MAMIE SMITH & HER JAZZ HOUNDS: Crazy Blues
New York: c. August 10, 1920 (released October 1920)
Okeh 4169 (mx. S 7529 – B)
Transferred at 80 rpm, the correct playing speed for Okeh records of this period
Mamie Smith and the Birth of the “Blues Craze”
By Allan Sutton
Excerpted from Race Records and the American Recording Industry
(Mainspring Press, 2016)
While George Broome was busy launching the first Black-owned record company in 1919, another relative newcomer, the General Phonograph Corporation, was struggling to carve out a niche in a glutted market. Founded in mid-1918, and backed in part by the Berlin-based Carl Lindstrom conglomerate, the company was an outgrowth of the Otto Heineman Phonograph Supply Company, a manufacturer of phonograph motors and parts. Its Okeh label, like other start-ups of the period, relied heavily on the usual studio free-lance performers. The early artist roster was so lackluster that for the for the first eighteen months of its existence Okeh often listed only song titles in its trade-press advertising, without bothering to mention the performers.
Okeh’s unlikely saviors would be Perry Bradford and Mamie Smith — the former a struggling Harlem songwriter and music publisher, the latter a recent arrival in Harlem who was slowly gaining a following as a cabaret singer. Setting up shop in New York in 1918, Bradford quickly earned the nickname “Mule” for his tenacious promotion of blues-inflected pop tunes.  Bradford recalled meeting resistance from members of the local Black musical establishment, who found his material to be “low-class,” unpleasant reminders of life in the South. Bradford claimed that he “walked out several pairs of shoes trying to show…the value of the blues,” and he was not alone. W. C. Handy recalled,
I caught another glimpse of the same prejudice when I tried to introduce colored girls for recording our blues. In every case the managers quickly turned thumbs down. “Their voices were not suitable.” “Their diction was different from white girls. “They couldn’t possibly fill the bill”… Viola McCoy, who was under contract with me, made test records for seven companies, all of whom turned her down. 
Bradford was particularly impressed by Mamie Smith, a singer he first heard performing with comedian Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set company. She soon left to pursue solo work in the local cabarets, at which point Bradford hired her to appear in his Made in Harlem, a quickly cobbled-together production that opened at Harlem’s Lincoln Theater in 1918. There, she scored a hit singing his “Harlem Blues.” Determined to capitalize on Smith’s popularity, Bradford shopped her around to the local record companies, with no success.
In early 1920, Bradford finally got a foot in the door. Edward King, Victor’s New York studio manager, agreed to schedule a test session for Mamie Smith.  On January 10, 1920, Smith made an unnumbered trial recording of Bradford’s “That Thing Called Love” with Bradford at the piano.  When Victor showed no interest, Bradford renewed his search and found an unlikely champion in Okeh’s Fred Hager, a veteran white recording artist and studio director whose career had begun in the 1890s. For the last decade, Hager had moved from one failed label to the next while relying on his music publishing business to keep him afloat financially. Now well into his forties, and with Okeh so far showing only faint promise, he must have been open to new opportunities.
Hager agreed to schedule an Okeh recording session for Mamie Smith. Short of cash, Bradford tapped band leader George Morrison (freshly arrived with his orchestra from Denver, at the behest of Columbia records) for a loan to buy Smith some suitable attire. As Morrison recalled,
[Bradford] came up to my hotel, at the time I was recording. He says, “Morrison, you wanna make some money? I’ve got a sure bet — sure thing… And he took me up there to this house, and there she was in this old house, and the old lamp light burning — in the daytime, now, mind you. It was simply awful in there — whooo! simply awful. And who was it? Mamie Smith… She was up there ironing. Perry said, “Kid, we’ve got it made! Mr. Morrison here’s gonna finance this thing, and we’ve got it made….
And so I went and got a hundred and fifty dollars and I bought Mamie a hat — great big old hat, and then I bought her some lingerie, and shoes. I dressed her from the inside out. Everything. I had never heard of that woman — never seen her before. Mamie said she was gonna pay me back. She was going to record for Okeh records.
On or about February 14, 1920, Mamie Smith reported for her first Okeh session in the company’s studio on West 45th Street, where she recorded Bradford’s “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” accompanied by the so-called Rega Orchestra, a cover name for Okeh’s white studio band.  Hager directed the session in the company of Ralph Peer, a newly arrived Okeh employee who within a few years would play a major role in the development of race records.
“That Thing Called Love” / “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” (Okeh 4113) was listed in the June 1920 Talking Machine World advance bulletin as a July release. Cataloged in Okeh’s Tenth Supplement alongside the latest offerings by Billy Murray, the Waldorf-Astoria Dance Orchestra, and other mainstream white artists, it was the first pop release by a Black female soloist. Okeh avoided any mention of Smith’s race, describing the record merely as “Contralto with orchestra,”  but the African-American press was quick to spread the news. On March 13, two months before Okeh formally announced the record, TheChicago Defender broke the news:
Well, you’ve all heard the famous stars of the white race chirping their stuff on the different makes of phonograph records. Caruso has warbled his Jones to the delight of millions; Tetrazzini has made ’em like it heavy, and Nora Bayes has tickled their ears with a world of delight; but we have never — up to now — been able to hear one of our own ladies deliver the canned goods. Now we have the pleasure of being able to say that at last they have recognized the fact that we are here for their service; the Okeh Phonograph Company [sic] has initiated the idea by engaging the handsome, popular and capable vocalist, Mamie Gardener Smith of 40 W. 135th Street, New York City, and she has made her first record… 
Many questionable or false claims have been made over the years regarding Mamie Smith and her first record. Smith was by no means the first Black woman to make commercial recordings. Nor does her first record appear to have been the sensational hit sometimes portrayed by modern writers, based on its relative scarcity today and its failure to make Okeh’s own list of top sellers for the summer of 1920. However, the mechanical royalties were good enough that Bradford was able to repay George Morrison’s loan, and Okeh decided to gamble on another Mamie Smith release.
Mamie Smith returned to the Okeh studio on or around August 10. Her first release had featured two Pace & Handy publications, but for Smith’s second session, Bradford chose to promote two titles from his own catalog — “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here for You (If You Don’t Get It, ’T’ain’t No Fault of Mine).” The former was a retitling and slight reworking of two earlier Bradford pieces (“The Broken-Hearted Blues” and “The Harlem Blues) that he had already sold to other publishers, a move that would soon land him in serious legal trouble.
In a marked departure from the first Smith session, the stiff Rega Orchestra was replaced on Bradford’s recommendation by a hastily assembled band he dubbed the Jazz Hounds. Their raucous, uninhibited style, unlike anything heard so far on records, took Okeh’s studio staff by surprise. As Bradford recalled, the session became a battle of wills between himself and recording engineer Charles Hibbard, whose insistence that the band soften its approach was roundly ignored.  Rising above the cacophony, Smith shouted her way through Bradford’s lyrics, which in the case of “Crazy Blues” included a threat to “get myself a gun and shoot myself a cop” — a line that most companies of that period almost certainly would have censored.
Okeh announces the release of “Crazy Blues” (October 1920)
“Crazy Blues” was released with considerable fanfare in October 1920, and this time there was no dodging the race issue. A full-page ad in The Talking Machine World featured Smith’s portrait.  The record caused a sensation among Black and white buyers alike. Trade papers soon were awash in planted stories like this one, masquerading as press releases:
The advertising department of the General Phonograph Corp., New York, received recently an interesting letter from a Mamie Smith enthusiast in North Carolina. … It reads: “I rite you to please send me one of your latest catalog of latest popular songs and musical comedy hits popular dancing numbers I got the Crazy Blues all ready and if you have any other latest Blues sung by Mamie Smith and her jazz hounds send along 2 or 3 C.O.D. with the catalog I want something that will almost make a preacher come down out of the pulpit and go to dancing and hang his head and cry I want all you send to be Blues.” 
Early Okeh advertisements make it clear that Mamie Smith’s records were not intended solely for Black customers, contradicting widely published claims by such modern writers as Daphne Duval Harrison that the records “were sold exclusively to Blacks.”  In one Okeh distributor’s full-page, Mamie Smith was even pictured along with the celebrated tenor John McCormack.
Smith’s records were widely advertised by white dealers, and several even found their way into Canada, where they were pressed under the Phonola and Sun labels. A full-page ad for “Crazy Blues” in November 1920 employed a stereotypical minstrel-show theme that was clearly aimed at white buyers, with a cartoon figure in blackface proclaiming in minstrel-show dialect, “I’s heard Blues, but I’s telling you Mamie’s beats ’em all. O! Man, her voice is as sweet as honey! It jes flows and flows and ev’ry note gets richer until I can just sit back and expire with joy.”
Okeh chose a stereotypical “minstrel” theme for its
November 1920 ad.
In the same month, Okeh announced that it was supplying dealers with special Thanksgiving window displays featuring Mamie Smith, “colored queen of syncopation,” alongside several of its white artists. By then, the records were turning up in all sorts of unlikely venues. TheTalking Machine World reported that even the manager of the Summit-Cherry Markets of Toledo, Ohio, was stocking Mamie Smith records in his grocery stores:
Demand for Mamie Smith numbers has been particularly large, and Mr. Richards has expressed himself on numerous occasions as being very enthusiastic about the line and well pleased with his merchandising policy of bringing music to the attention of housewives when they are doing their marketing.
Okeh dealers reported that they were delighted with the “unlimited sales possibilities” of blues records. Unfortunately, Okeh’s sales data have not survived, but the large number of surviving copies of “Crazy Blues,” and the many variations seen in early pressings and labelings (strong indicators that outside plants were used to keep up with demand) are certainly evidence of a strong seller. However, claims that “Crazy Blues” sold 75,000 copies the first month, and a million copies within seven months of release — which originated with Bradford’s self-aggrandizing (and often demonstrably inaccurate) autobiography, and which have since been slavishly repeated in countless works — are questionable, given what is known of record sales in general during this period. 
But Bradford’s boastful sales claims pale in comparison with those made by some modern pop-culture writers, who have inflated them considerably over the years, without ever citing a documentary source (because there is none; the Okeh files for this period have not survived, and there was not yet a method of certifying sales results within the recording industry):
“For months, the disc sold some 7,500 copies a week.” (Paul Oliver, Blues Fell This Morning, 1960)
“It sold 75,000 copies in the first month, and over a million in the first half-year.” (Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz, 1968)
“The disc is reputed to have sold a million copies within a few weeks.” (Louis Barfe, Where Have All The Good Times Gone?, 2004)
“A wild success, selling over a million copies in less than a year, and finally ending up selling over two million copies.” (Red Hot Jazz website, 2008)
By January 1921, Okeh had released eight sides by Mamie Smith. In the same month, Harry Pace began laying the groundwork for Black Swan, the second Black-owned record company.
Whatever the actual sales might have been, they seem to have justified the risk that Fred Hager and Okeh’s management had taken in issuing and promoting “Crazy Blues.” Anecdotal tales have appeared over the years of dealer resistance and even outright hostility, and although none has been convincingly documented, they likely have some basis in fact, given the rampant racial prejudice of the time. In later years, Perry Bradford expressed his appreciation for the opportunity that Fred Hager had afforded him and Mamie Smith:
May God bless Mr. Hagar [sic], for despite the many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerve and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which echoed around the world… He prised open that old “prejudiced door” for the first colored girl, Mamie Smith, so she could squeeze into the large horn — and shout with her strong contralto…” 
Now well on her way to national stardom, Smith needed more professional management than Bradford alone could offer. In early 1921 she agreed to let the Standard Amusement Company handle her stage appearances. The company lost no time in sending Mamie Smith & her All Star Revue on the road, in a production that featured Smith singing her Okeh hits, interspersed with comic acts, a magician, a juggler, and dance numbers by the Jazz Hounds.  By April of that year, the troupe had completed a circuit that began in Chicago, worked its way through the Midwest down to Texas, then swung through the deep South before eventually heading north to end in Philadelphia.
Smith returned to New York just in time to see “Crazy Blues” become embroiled in a legal controversy that temporarily halted sales of all recordings of the song. In May 1921, two major music-publishing houses — Frederick V. Bowers, Inc., and Shapiro, Bernstein & Company — filed for a temporary injunction restraining Bradford and wife Marion L. Dickerson from publishing and selling “Crazy Blues.”
The lawsuit also sought to restrain fourteen record and piano-roll companies from distributing any recording of the song, and from paying any royalties on sales to Bradford, his company, or his wife.  Bowers alleged that twelve bars of “Crazy Blues” came from “The Broken-Hearted Blues,” which his firm purchased from Bradford in 1918. Shapiro, Bernstein & Company alleged that “Crazy Blues” incorporated parts of “The Harlem Blues,” which they had purchased from Bradford in the same year. 
The settlement required Bradford to pay substantial damages to both companies. The lesson seems to have been lost on him, however. A similar legal scrap in 1923, over the authorship of “He May Be Your Man, But He Comes to See Me Sometimes,” saw Bradford convicted for subornation of perjury, for which he served four months in jail.
In the meantime, the working relationship between Bradford and Smith was becoming increasingly strained. The inevitable split came during the summer of 1921, while Bradford was preparing his new stage production, Put and Take. Exactly what transpired between the two is unclear in Bradford’s rather jumbled account, but the result was that the starring role went not to Smith, but to Edith Wilson, for whom Bradford quickly negotiated a Columbia recording contract. 
For Mamie Smith, it meant the loss of the Jazz Hounds (by now under the nominal direction of cornetist Johnny Dunn), who went along to Columbia with Wilson as part of the package deal. Smith was allowed to continue to use the Jazz Hounds name in her stage act, but on records, the name as well as the band itself now belonged to Columbia.
With demand for new Mamie Smith releases still running high, and another extended tour scheduled to begin on September 23,  Okeh spent the late summer of 1921 stockpiling new Smith recordings, minus the Jazz Hounds, with unsettling results. A group of white musicians, reputedly drawn from Joseph Samuels’ commercial dance orchestra, was pressed into service in place of Bradford’s band. Variously known as Samuels’ Jazz Band, the Synco Jazz Band, or the Tampa Blue Jazz Band, the group had been churning out stiff, cliché-laden “jazz” records for many of the smaller labels since 1919.
Beginning with “Daddy, Your Mama Is Lonesome for You” and “Sax-O-Phoney Blues” (Okeh 4416) in August 1921, the ill-conceived collaboration dragged on into September, yielding twelve issued titles before Smith left for her tour. While she was away, Okeh attempted to cover its tracks by publishing a photo purportedly taken during the recording of “Sax-O-Phoney Blues” that showed Black musicians accompanying Smith.  The subterfuge should have been apparent to anyone who compared the photo to the record, since the instrumentation does not match, and the two saxophonists who figure so prominently in “Sax-O-Phoney” are nowhere to be seen. 
Ultimately, Mamie Smith would be eclipsed by far better singers cashing in on the blues craze she had started. She returned from her tour to find Edith Wilson and the Jazz Hounds already selling well for Columbia. Okeh kept Smith on until the summer 1923, but as Perry Bradford recalled,
I didn’t bother Mamie anymore, because she was coming down the ladder… Mamie’s records were falling down and melting away like snow balls on a hot July day, and Okeh was feeling the pinch of competition. 
 The “Mule” nickname appeared in print as early as May 1919, in a column by songwriter Tom Lemonier (“Lemonier’s Letter.” Chicago Defender, May 24, 1919, p. 9).
 Charters, Samuel B., and Leonard Kunstadt: Jazz: A History of the New York Scene, p. 82. New York: Doubleday (1962). Much of this information comes from Dan Burely’s 1940 profiles of Perrfy Bradford and Mamie Smith in the Amsterdam News.
 Handy, W. C. Father of the Blues, p. 200. New York: Macmillan (1941).
 King is remembered today primarily for having ejected cornetist Bix Beiderbecke from his first recording session with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra.
 Victor trial session ledgers. Sony Archives, New York. Bradford was not credited by name in the ledger, but stated his biography that he was the accompanist. Bradford recalled being given a test pressing, which apparently no longer exists.
 Morrison, George. Interview by Gunther Schuller. Quoted in Schuller, Gunther: Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development, p. 367. New York: Oxford University Press (1968).
 The recording date of February 14, 1920, was supplied many years later by Perry Bradford (an often unreliable source) and should be considered approximate. The Okeh recording files for this period have not survived.
 “Rega” was a pseudonym for Fred Hager, as confirmed by multiple entries in the U.S. Copyright Register; “Milo Rega” was a pseudonym for Hager in collaboration with his long-time associate, Justin Ring. The accompanying personnel shown for this session in Dixon, Godrich & Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records is incorrect, having apparently been based on the erroneous assumption that the Jazz Hounds accompanied this session. Photographs of the Rega Orchestra in The Talking Machine World and other trade publications show an all-white group with Hager present.
 “Okeh Records Tenth Supplement” (advertisement). Talking Machine World (July 15, 1920).
 “Making Records.” Chicago Defender (March 13, 1920), p. 6.
 That honor might have been held by May C. Hyers, who recorded at least fourteen titles, including several syncopated songs, on cylinders for the Kansas City Phonograph Company, c. 1898.
 “Six Best Sellers.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920), p. 144.
 Morrison, George. Interview by Gunther Schuller, op. cit.
 See note 6 concerning the accuracy of Okeh recording dates.
 In his autobiography, Bradford made the questionable claim that the session took eight hours to complete, which would have been unprecedented given what we know of studio practices during this period. Bradford also erroneously claimed that the recordings were “hill & dale” (i.e., vertically cut), and his recollection of the band personnel present at the session (particularly cornetist Johnny Dunn) has been widely questioned by modern jazz scholars.
 “Okeh Records — To Hear Is to Buy!” (advertisement). Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920).
 “Has Designs on the Preacher.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1921), p. 127.
 Harrison, Daphne Duval. Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s, p. 46. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press (1988).
 “Doing Big Okeh Record Trade.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 21), p. 146.
 “Records for the Okeh Library.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920), p. 200.
 Million-sellers appear to have been very rare occurrences in the early 1920s, based on surviving company documentation. Although sales figures for most of the smaller companies have long since vanished, some reliable statistics that survive in the Victor and Columbia archives offer a good picture of record sales in the early 1920s, in the process debunking some other “million-seller” myths. Paul Whiteman’s “Whispering” (Victor 18690), for example, is often said to have sold nearly 1.5 million copies, although the Victor files show sales of only 214,575 copies. A similar case is Ben Selvin’s “Dardanella” (Victor 18633), which is said in Faber’s Companion to Twentieth Century Music to have sold an incredible six million copies, although the Victor files shows that only 961,144 copies were pressed.
 Bradford, Perry. Born with the Blues, p. 119. New York: Oak Publications (1965).
 “Mamie Smith Co.” Chicago Defender (April 2, 1921), p. 6
 “Songwriter Faces Two Suits.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1921), p. 149.
 Bowers admitted that he had not copyrighted “The Broken-Hearted Blues” owing to an oversight on his part that he attributed to “changes in the personnel” at his firm.” Bradford was the initial publisher of “The Harlem Blues,” but he assigned copyright to Shapiro, Bernstein & Company, as was duly registered with the Copyright Office.
Put and Take opened at the Town Hall (New York) on August 23, 1921, and Wilson made her first Columbia recordings on or about September 12.
 “Mamie Smith on Extended Tour.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1921), p. 64.
 “Making Sax-O-Phoney Blues.” Talking Machine World (November 15, 1921), p. 160.
 On March 9, 1940, clarinetist Bob Fuller told New York Amsterdam News columnist Dan Burely that he and cornetist Bubber Miley were present in the purported “Sax-O-Phoney” session photo.
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.
Ajax has been called “the forgotten race record label.” It was an odd creature, the product of Emile Berliner’s rebellious son Herbert, and his Canadian-based Compo Company; but the masters were recorded in New York (for the most part), and the records, although pressed in Canada, were intended for the African-American market in the U.S.
Although the “Ajax Record Company” was officially headquartered in Chicago, it was little more than a sales and distribution office, managed by Compo Company personnel. Unfortunately, Ajax never recorded there (the sides listed as Chicago recordings in some discographies were actually made in Montreal, as the surviving Compo ledgers confirm). Berliner instead brought locally available artists to his New York branch studio. Most of them were contracted by promoter and publisher Joe Davis (who oversaw the recording sessions along with Berliner), and few measured up to the Chicago-based artists that Paramount was promoting so successfully at the time. Nevertheless, there are some gems to be found in the Ajax catalog.
Although Compo’s files have survived, those of its Ajax subsidiary (which used a separate series of master numbers) have not. Therefore, this is a reconstruction, based in part on first-hand inspection of the now-rare original discs, and in part on what can be inferred from surviving documentation, including relevant portions of the Compo ledgers, and listing and release dates from The Chicago Defender,The Talking Machine World, and other period publications. Recording-date ranges have been extrapolated based upon Berliner’s monthly week-or-so absences from Montreal (as noted in the ledgers), which are believed to correspond with his visits to the New York studio, and which correlate very nicely with the confirmed release dates. Personnel listings are based upon the recollections of Louis Hooper, Joe Davis, and others who were present at the recording sessions.
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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
– James A. Drake, author of Ponselle: A Singer’s Life and Richard Tucker: A Biography
.In February 1920*, a vaudeville blues singer named Mamie Smith showed up at the General Phonograph Corporation’s Okeh studio, in the company of songwriter and publisher Perry Bradford, having been rejected by Victor a month earlier. Bradford was shopping around two of his new titles — “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.”
Bradford recalled that Fred Hager, General Phonograph’s musical director, was interested in both songs, especially if Sophie Tucker would agree to record them for Okeh. She wouldn’t, so Bradford took a chance and instead pitched Mamie Smith to Hager, recalling:
“[I] handed Mr. Hager this new line of jive: ‘There’s a colored girl, the one I told you about up in Harlem. Well, she will do more with these songs than a monkey can do with a peanut; she sings jazz songs with more soulful feeling than other girls, for it’s only natural with us…
“May God bless Mr. Hager, for despite many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerve and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which echoed aroun’ the world. He pried open that old ‘prejudiced door’…
“After Mamie finished recording ‘That Thing Called Love’ and ‘You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down’ that snowy morning in February 1920, I was itching to jump and yell, right there in the studio, ‘Hallelujah, it’s done!’ It was a happy moment, for I’d schemed and used up all my bag of tricks to get that date.”
Okeh initially did nothing to promote Mamie’s record, nor did it need to. During the five months it took the company to finally release the disc, Bradford made sure that news of the session reached The Chicago Defender and other black-owned newspapers, and word-of-mouth did the rest. When Okeh 4113 finally appeared in July, it found an eager audience.
Okeh initially did nothing to promote Mamie Smith’s first release. By the time this ad appeared in the autumn of 1920, her second release, “Crazy Blues,” was on its way to becoming a hit, and Okeh was promoting her aggressively.
The record’s release was a symbolic victory, if not a musical one. Accompanied by Okeh’s plodding Rega Orchestra (“Rega” being a pseudonym for Hager, as confirmed in the federal copyright registers), Mamie played it straight. There is little to distinguish her performances on these sides from those of Marion Harris and some other white comediennes of the period, who in turn were trying to sound a little black-ish.
MAMIE SMITH: That Thing Called Love
New York: Probably February 10 or 18, 1920*
Okeh 4113 (mx. S-7275 – E) Accompanied by the Rega Orchestra (house group directed by Fred Hager); Charles Hibbard, recording engineer
MAMIE SMITH: You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down
New York: Probably February 10 or 18, 1920*
Okeh 4113 (mx. S-7276 – D) Accompanied by the Rega Orchestra (house group directed by Fred Hager); Charles Hibbard, recording engineer
That would all change six months later, when Mamie Smith returned to Okeh and cut loose on Bradford’s “Harlem Blues” (renamed “Crazy Blues” for the occasion, a hastily made decision that would come back to bite Bradford, and badly; but that’s a story for another post). This time she was accompanied by the Jazz Hounds, a raucous little band that Bradford had thrown together for the session. They sorely taxed recording engineer Charles Hibbard’s patience, Bradford recalled, but produced what is generally acknowledged as the first true blues recording — or, perhaps more accurately, the first blues-like recording by a black woman. Whichever take you prefer, there’s no disputing that Mamie Smith’s records sparked the early-1920s blue craze and resultant birth of the race-record industry, which would provide opportunities for black performers that had been undreamed-of a decade earlier..
* When Was Mamie Smith’s First Session?
Okeh’s recording files for this period have long-since been destroyed, so we have to rely on circumstantial evidence — in this case, the weather reports. Discographies traditionally put the date at Saturday, February 14, with no source cited. But that’s almost certainly a bad guess, if Bradford’s recollection of a “snowy morning” is accurate. The weather in Manhattan on the 14th was fair and dry, as it had been (and would continue to be) for much of the month. It did snow there on Tuesday the 10th and Wednesday the 18th — either date being a far more likely candidate than the sunny-and-mild 14th.
Quoted excerpts are from Perry Bradford’s autobiography, Born with the Blues (New York: Oak Publications, 1965).
Advertisement for Clarence Williams’ first record, on the C&S label (1922). The C&S Phonograph Record Company was a short-lived venture of Thomas Chappelle and Juanita Stinnette Chappelle, who encouraged Williams to marry singer Eva Taylor.
With Sara Martin, one of Okeh’s early race-series stars
With wife Eva Taylor (July 1923)
“Papa De-Da-Da” was among the Blue Five sides featuring
Louis Armstrong. (July 1925)
A vocal release by Williams and Clarence Todd, here misspelled “Dood.” Todd, along with Eva Taylor, was a member of the Clarence Williams Trio, which broadcast regularly for several years. (July 1925)
Williams was Okeh’s New York studio workhorse in the mid-1920s. Here, his Blue Five accompany a young Sippie Wallace. (August 1925)
New York (June 1926)
Williams’ ill-fated Bottomland opened on June 27, 1927, and closed after only nineteen performances.
New York Age (January 3, 1953). Member of the Clarence Williams Trio pictured above are (left to right) are Williams, Eva Taylor, and Clarence Todd.
The success of Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” in 1920 set off a mad scramble among record companies for similar artists. Many of the women who were signed in the early days of the “blues craze” — like Esther Bigeou — were not blues singers at all, but vaudeville comediennes who specialized in blues-inflected pop tunes.
From a prominent New Orleans Creole family, Bigeou married theatrical producer Irvin C. Miller and was soon landing featured roles in his stage productions. She first attracted the critics’ attention in 1915, in Miller’s Mr. Ragtime.
Miller and unidentified female cast members, one them presumably Esther Bigeou, from Mr. Ragtime (September 1915)
Praise for Bigeou in The New York Age (September 9, 1915)
Bigeou went on to star in Miller’s Broadway Rastus, which opened at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem in July 1917, after a try-out on the road that took the company throughout the mid-Atlantic states.
An overworked Esther Bigeou takes a break (August 1917)
Suffering from “a variety of ailments due to overwork,” Bigeou took a break for several weeks after Broadway Rastus closed its brief run at the Lafayette. The company was soon on the road again, embarking on a year-long tour during which audiences and critics alike heaped praises on Bigeou.
Broadway Rastus on the road: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (September 1918)
By early 1920, Bigeou had parted ways with Miller and was touring in Perrin & Henderson’s Lyric Road Show, an obscure revue that also starred “Mlle.” Rosa Henderson, who would become one of the most prolific of the “blues craze” recording artists. Miller’s Put and Take opened at the Town Hall, New York, on August 23, 1921. The female featured role, which might have gone to Bigeou, instead was given to Edith Wilson. Miller went on to marry Kathryn Boyd, who was given a position as Miller’s road manager that she found to be “a little too strenuous.”
The Okeh label signed Bigeou in the autumn of 1921. Her first release, a coupling of the already over-used “Memphis Blues” and “St. Louis Blues” (Okeh 8026) appeared in the Christmas 1921 list but seems to have attracted little attention. “Stingaree Blues,” her November follow-up (Okeh 8025), seems to have sold reasonably well based on the number of surviving copies, despite its plodding accompaniment.
Many of Bigeou’s Okeh releases were covers of other artists’ hits on competing labels — in this case, Bessie Smith’s popular Columbia recording of “Gulf Coast Blues.”
Although Okeh did not renew Bigeou at the end of 1923, she continued to promote her records for a time (Pittsburgh, February 1924)
Overall, Bigeou’s Okeh output will disappoint hard-core blues enthusiasts. The performances are purely in the vaudeville-blues vein, with accompaniments ranging from mediocre to awful, and many are simply cover versions of other singers’ hits on competing labels. Okeh released seventeen Bigeou titles before letting her go at the end of 1923. Only her last is of above-average interest, with a rollicking accompaniment by the Piron orchestra that imparts a Creole flavor not evident on her other recordings:
ESTHER BIGEOU with ARMAND J. PIRON’S NEW ORLEANS ORCHESTRA: West Indies Blues
New York: December 1923
Okeh 8118 (mx. S-72175 – B)
Okeh recorded Bigeou again in December 1926, accompanied by Clarence Williams’ Blue Five, but no issues resulted. By then, Bigeou was touring with her own company on the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit. In late 1927, she joined the cast of Southland Follies. But perhaps her most visible role was as a celebrity endorser of Hi-Ja beauty products, in whose ads she appeared from 1925 through 1929.
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.
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:
(Label scan courtesy of Kurt Nauck. MP3 conversion from
a tape dubbing supplied by the late Mike Stewart.)
LOTTIE KIMBROUGH BEAMAN (as LENA KIMBROUGH) with PAUL BANKS’ TRIO: City of the Dead
Kansas City: Late 1924
Meritt 2201 (mx. X-22)
Winston Holmes’ Meritt label is one of the rarest race-record brands of the 1920s, and although anecdotes concerning it abound, reliable documentation has been hard to come by.
Traditionally, works like Dixon, Godrich & Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records, 1890–1943 have cited mid-1926 as the date of Meritt’s first release. However, we now know otherwise, thanks to a blurb on p. 8 of the National Edition of The Chicago Defender for January 10, 1925. Clearly, Meritt 2201 had already been recorded by that time; based on the article, the correct recording date would be late 1924, approximately eighteen months earlier than has been assumed by discographers:
There are also some discrepancies in the personnel listing, although here we are not certain which account to trust — the Defender wasn’t particularly reliable when it came to fine details, but on the other hand, BGR doesn’t cite its sources. Clifford Banks is shown as a clarinetist in the Defender article, but as an alto saxophonist in BGR; Simon Hoe is shown as a one-string violinist in the Defender, but as a clarinetist in BGR. Personally, we don’t hear either a saxophone or a violin on either side, although admittedly the few copies we’ve heard have been so worn, and that questionable third instrument is so faintly recorded, that we wouldn’t want to bet on what it was. (By the way, these are acoustic recordings, not electrical as one might expect had they actually been made in mid-1926.)
Lena Kimbrough was one of several names used by Kansas City blues-belter Lottie Kimbrough Beaman; this is the first mention we’ve seen of her having studied in Europe. The revised recording date could explain why Holmes used a pseudonym for her — perhaps he did so to avoid a conflict with Paramount, for whom she was still recording in the fall of 1924?
POSTSCRIPT — THE WINSTON HOLMES “SESSION” PHOTOGRAPH
Back in the late 1960s, Doug Jydstrup located Lottie’s sister Estella, who had two versions of a photo that Winston Holmes used to promote Meritt 2201. Turns out, Lottie was sick on the day of the shoot according to the far slimmer Estella, who filled in for her sister in the photo. Just to add to the deception, Simon Hoe also failed to show up, so Winston Holmes himself filled in, posing with a clarinet (which, by the way, he could not play), and Clifford Banks was posed with a saxophone — in other words, a rather fanciful re-creation all around. You can find the details and both photos in 78 Quarterly (Volume 1-2) — The entire run can be downloaded free at 78 Quarterly Download (on the late, lamented Dinosaur Discs blog, which sadly is no longer active but is still online as of this writing).
Radio Digest in the early 1930s had plenty of photos of white men in burnt-cork, doing the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” bit, but photos of actual black performers are a rarity. RD made an exception in November 1932, when it ran a two-page spread headlined “Darktown Harmonizers.” We’ll spare you the embarrassing text, but here are the photos, all of stars who also had a substantial following among white audiences. The Mills Brothers didn’t actually play the instruments noted in the caption; they imitated them vocally (and amazingly well).
This stunning double-sided ad ran in the May 1918 Talking Machine World. Paramount had recently introduced 10″ discs to replace its initial 9″ offerings; the last of the latter appear in the No. 6 Supplement, alongside the 10″ offerings. At this early stage, the trademark eagle perched on a phonograph rather than the more familiar globe.
The large structure to the left is the Paramount pressing plant at Grafton, Wisconsin, a converted water-powered mill that already had a long and varied history when this ad appeared. The smaller structure to the right would eventually house the studio in which the likes of Son House and Skip James recorded.
In 1918, however, Paramount was recording exclusively in New York, and doing its best to imitate Columbia and Victor. Note the usual NYC studio free-lancers — Henry Burr, Collins & Harlan, Louise & Ferera, Arthur Fields, Grace Kerns, the Shannon Four, et al. Even some of the portraits are the same as those used in the major companies’ catalogs. Fortunately for posterity, the powers at NYRL eventually realized there wasn’t much money to be made by following the pack, and instead turned their attention to the new race-record market (although there wasn’t much money to be made there either, as it would turn out).
There were three Bessie Browns on records in the 1920s, two of them apparently New York–area singers. The last of the three to record worked in Cleveland and signed with Brunswick in 1928. This announcement appeared in the March 1928 Talking Machine World:
“Chloe” was a straightforward rendition with conventional orchestral accompaniment. The reverse is also a commercial pop tune, by Irving Berlin, but is interesting for its piano accompanist, who unfortunately wasn’t named on the labels or in the Brunswick files:
A couple more early Okeh race-artist ads, from 1921 editions of The Talking Machine World. Okeh spared no expense for these ads, which were specially printed as single-sided color inserts.
Incidentally, “Milo Rega,” the purported composer of “Sax-o-Phoney Blues,” was not a real person, contrary to some discographies. He was a fictional character, created by cobbling-together two other pseudonyms — “F. Wallace Rega” (actually Fred Hager) and “Justin Milo” (actually Justin Ring). The poor fellow sometimes suffered a split personality, appearing in some Okeh composer credits as “Milo – Rega.” (For more on these and 6,200 other aliases, be sure to check out the new expanded edition of Pseudonyms on American Records.)
These pseudonyms were used in Hager’s publishing business as well as in his and Ring’s work for Okeh. The actual identities of both are confirmed in multiple early-’20s listings in the U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries, the official federal registry of copyright filings.