Fans of Arthur Fields and other early studio artists will cheer the latest release from Archeophone Records. Even if Fields isn’t your cup of tea, this new CD is enjoyable as a good sampling of American pop songs from the mid-1910s through the late 1920s.
The selection runs the gamut from some of Fields’ best-known recordings to rarities that include an Aeolian-Vocalion side with Ford Dabney’s Orchestra, one of the earliest black bands to crack the color barrier in American recording; “Pershing for President,” from an obscure vertical-cut Lyric issue; and a 1951 private recording on which Fields sings along with some Q.R.S. piano rolls.
As with all Archeophone releases, the transfer quality and production values are impeccable. If you’re not familiar with Archeophone’ work, be sure to visit their website. This is their 75th release, and the scope of their catalog is truly impressive.
The detailed biographical and program notes by Phonostalgia host Ryan Barna are especially praiseworthy, moving beyond the seminal but now outdated work of Hobbies columnist Jim Walsh and other early researchers. Ryan has that rare ability not only to successfully unearth the facts and properly document them, but also to put them in context and bring these early recording stars to life. Whether you like Fields or loath him (and there are plenty of folks in either camp), you’ll come away with a new appreciation for him. Highly recommended!
Cal Stewart (Uncle Josh Weathersby):
1892 – 1919
Of all the pioneer studio artists, Cal Stewart (1856 – 1919) left the most abundant paper trail. Stewart was a master of self-promotion, and unlike most of his contemporaries in the recording business, record-making comprised only a small (if lucrative) portion of his activities.
Stewart spent much of his time on the road, giving recording demonstrations, making free promotional appearances in connection with his records, and mounting traveling theatrical productions complete with orchestra and supporting cast. He also dabbled in the book business, launching his own publishing venture to produce the popular Uncle Josh Weathersby’s Punkin Centre Stories in 1903.
“Happy Cal Stewart” in January 1892, as The Original Jersey Farmer (top); and in January 1897, with his Uncle Josh persona now fully developed.
From The Phonoscope for February 1899, and probably placed by or for Stewart himself, based upon the lack of a specific record-company affiliation.
Stewart on the road with his own “capable company and special scenery” (Allentown, Pennsylvania, September 1900)
Numerous ads appeared in the early 1900s for Stewart’s record-making demonstrations. These examples date from December 1900 (top) and March 1902. This was toward the end of the brown-wax cylinder era, when all that was required to make records was a supply of blanks and an off-the-shelf cylinder phonograph with recording attachment. Note Stewart’s offer in the Bentel ad to make original records to order, a topic ripe for discographic investigation.
An early announcement for Stewart’s popular book. Despite the title, it also included many of his poems, which he never recorded. Early editions were printed on heavy, high-quality paper and credited to the Punkin Centre Company of Chicago. Later printings, often on cheaper paper and with less decorative bindings, bore a variety of imprints. (November 1903)
Stewart’s take on the “rube” stereotype (Minneapolis, July 1906)
Oakland, California, was one of many towns that claimed a close connection with the widely traveled Stewart. (May 1909)
Stewart’s “Politics” (top, January 1910) eventually morphed into “Running for Governor” (bottom, November 1913), an elaborate traveling theatrical production that included five vaudeville acts in addition to Stewart and supporting cast.
Davenport, Iowa (December 1913)
Stewart on “naturalness” in acting (Muncie, Indiana, November 1914)
Making a promotional appearance for his records
(Stevens Point, Wisconsin, October 1916)
Cal Stewart plays Kansas in April 1919, at Kingman (top) and Lyons (bottom). “Gypsy Rossini” was Rossini Waugh Stewart, his second wife.
One of Stewart’s last documented public performances
(Hannibal, Missouri, September 24, 1919)
Chicago (December 10, 1919). In a different obituary, cause of death was given as “tumor of the brain.”
The famed Variety reporter, Ripley’s Believe It or Not commentator, and paratrooping World War II correspondent gives his uncensored take on Korea in this rare, privately issued send-up of Edward R. Murrow’s I Can Hear It Now.
COL. BARNEY AND ASSOCIATES IN KOREA: I Can Smell It Now
RCA custom pressing (mx. E0-LQB-13611), c. 1951 Note: The final portion of the record, consisting of repeated musical numbers, has been deleted from this transfer.
From the Bill Bryant papers at Mainspring Press. Note the issue by Rector’s New York Dance Orchestra (Leopold Kohls, director), which is missing from American Dance Bands on Records and Film. A bit of trivia for the organ fans out there, from a page not pictured: Pathé’s “exclusive” studio organ was a Mason & Hamlin (a popular line of reed organs), model not mentioned.
Clarice Vance, from the November 1907 Victor supplement (top, courtesy of John Bolig); Elsie Janis and Fanny Brice (lower left and right; G.G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
Performances by several leading comediennes of the early twentieth century, ranging from the sublime to a howlingly bad (but historically instructive) example of what white-folk thought the “blues” were in 1917. Like many records of the period, some of these contain derogatory racial and ethnic stereotypes, which do not reflect our views.
CLARICE VANCE: I’m Wise
Probably Philadelphia: August 7, 1907
Victor 5253 (mx. B 4768 – 1)
BLANCHE RING: Yip! I Adee, I Aye!
Camden, NJ: March 29, 1909
Victor 5692 (mx. B 6914 – 3)
BLANCHE RING: The Billiken Man
Camden, NJ: June 24, 1909
Victor 5731 (mx. B 8073 – 2)
ELSIE JANIS: Fascinating Baseball Slide
Camden, NJ: October 22, 1912
Victor 60090 (mx. B 12527 – 1)
ELIDA MORRIS (with BILLY MURRAY): You’ll Come Back
Camden, NJ: May 16, 1910
Victor 16653 (mx. B 8572 – 4)
MARIE CAHILL (CARL GRAY, piano): The Dallas Blues
(Preceded by Mose’s Baptism)
New York: January 2, 1917
Victor 55081 (mx. C 18652 – 3)
FANNY BRICE: The Sheik of Avenue B
Camden, NJ: July 14, 1922
Victor 45323 (mx. B 26800 – 2)
Studio orchestra conducted by Rosario Bourdon
Discographic data from the Victor Talking Machine Company files, courtesy of John Bolig. Except for the last selection, conductors are not listed in the Victor files.
New York: c. April 1921 — Released: July 1921
Okeh 4340 (mx. S 7878 – A)
With “Rega Orchestra” (Okeh studio orchestra conducted by Fred Hager)
Neither F. Wallace Rega nor Milo Rega were actual recording artists or conductors, contrary to some discographies.“F. Wallace Rega” was a pseudonym for Fred Hager, as confirmed in the federal Catalog of Copyright Entries. “Milo Rega” was a composite alias (“Justin Milo” being a pseudonym for Justin Ring, which in turn was the professional name of Justus Ringleben), as disclosed in the same source.
HAM TREE HARRINGTON: Nobody Never Let Me In on Nothin’
New York: March 11, 1924 — Released: June 1924
Brunswick 2588 (mx. 12674, 12675, or 12676*)
With uncredited orchestra (conductor unlisted in files)
*The selected take is not shown on the pressings or in the Brunswick files.
EDDIE HUNTER (piano by C. LUCKEYTH “LUCKEY” ROBERTS): Hard Times
Camden, NJ: November 16, 1923 — Released: July 18, 1924; Deleted: 1926
Victor 19359 (mx. B 28897 – 2)
Shelton Brooks, with his prodigious skill as a songwriter and two successful decades on stage, is an undeservedly forgotten pioneer in black entertainment. Born in Amherstburg, Ontario (not Amesburg, as cited in Rust’s Complete Entertainment Discography) in 1886, Brooks left school in the early 1900s to play piano in Detroit cafes. His first break as a songwriter came when Sophie Tucker introduced his composition, “Some of these Days,” which she recorded in 1911 (Amberol 691). Over the next decade, Brooks wrote a string of hits that included “There’ll Come a Time” (1911), “Ruff Johnson’s Harmony Band” (1914), “The Darktown Strutter’s Ball” (1916), “Walkin’ the Dog” (1917), and “Saturday” (1921). By 1915, Brooks was touring successfully on the Keith and Orpheum vaudeville circuits as a Williams mimic.
In 1922 Brooks was featured as the master of ceremonies in Plantation Revue with Florence Mills (opened July 17, 1922). A European tour with Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds — including a royal command performance before George V — followed in 1923, but in November of that year Brooks returned to the United States. He co-starred with Ham Tree Harrington and Florence Mills in the Broadway production of Dixie to Broadway (opened October 29, 1924). A review of the show in The Messenger for January 1925 predicted that Brooks was “in a fair way to surpass the late Bert Williams, if he can find a producer who can keep him at work and give him his head.”
Apparently, Brooks didn’t find that producer, and he began to fade from public notice after his Okeh recording contract ended in late 1926. There were more vaudeville appearances, including a 1928 tour with band leader Ollie Powers, but in 1931 Brooks made his final appearance in a Broadway musical, a long-running production of Brown Buddies (opened October 7, 1930), with Bill Robinson, Adelaide Hall, and Ada Brown. He died in 1975.
Okeh released 27 sides by Brooks from early 1921 through late 1926 that ran the gamut from comic routines to Williams-style recitations of his own songs and included one race-series release (Okeh 8062) with blues singer Sara Martin. In March 1922, the Chicago Defender announced that Brooks and several other popular black stars would make Echo records as soon as their current contracts expired. But no Echo records, by Brooks or anyone else, have ever surfaced.
Ham Tree Harrington
A diminutive and sometimes cantankerous individual, Ham Tree Harrington developed a following in the Harlem nightclubs, billing himself as “The Pint-Sized Bert Williams.” Louis Hooper, pianist and mainstay of the Elmer Snowden and Bob Fuller bands in the 1920s, recalled Harrington’s ongoing feud with cornet star Johnny Dunn in a 1966 Record Research interview: “Now Johnny was no trouble maker…but there was something on his mind he didn’t like about Ham Tree, and Harrington knew it. Dunn got up and…said something to Harrington. Ham Tree stood up and WHAM! He hit him! The next day they were still ribbing each other.”
After several years in vaudeville, Harrington got a major break with a starring role in the 1922 Broadway productions of Strut Miss Lizzie. Another feature role followed in 1924’s Dixie to Broadway with Shelton Brooks and Florence Mills, about which the New York Post commented, “Harrington pulls off one of his most original pantomimes of ghost-fright seen in a long day…it is effective beyond words.” Despite good reviews, Harrington returned to club and vaudeville work and didn’t appear in another Broadway musical until the ill-fated 1930 production of J.C. Johnson’s Change Your Luck, in which he co-starred with Alberta Hunter for all 17 performances.
Thanks to his association with Alex Rogers (Williams’ collaborator as far back as 1900), Eddie Hunter is more closely linked to Bert Williams than the other performers listed here.
Hunter seems to have appeared on the scene suddenly, first attracting notice in 1923 for his starring role in the Broadway production of How Come? He also wrote the show’s libretto, which was criticized at the time for borrowing too liberally from Sissle & Blake’s Shuffle Along. The show opened on April 16, 1923 to generally poor reviews and ran for only 32 performances. The New York Sun huffed, “It’s getting dark on Broadway. But not very dark, as the young people who make up the personnel of How Come? have hardly the shade of darkness.”
Hunter’s next Broadway appearance came with newcomer Adelaide Hall in My Magnolia during the summer of 1925. Reviewers liked Hunter and Hall but weren’t enthusiastic about the show itself, which closed after only four performances. Hunter did not make another Broadway appearance until Blackbirds of 1933, in which he starred with Edith Wilson and Bill (Bojangles) Robinson. The show opened on December 2, 1933 but survived for only 25 performances. More Eddie Hunter recordings…
Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylindersis the first study of these records to be compiled from the surviving company documentation (including the factory plating ledgers, studio cash books, remake and deletion notices, catalogs, supplements, and trade publications), along with first-hand inspection of the original cylinders. All American-catalog issues from 1897 through 1912, including the Grand Opera series, are covered.
Unlike previously published guides, which don’t list Edison’s numerous and often confusing remakes, this new volume lists all versions — even indicating those initially supplied by Walcutt & Leeds — along with the listing or release dates and the distinguishing details (changes in artists, accompaniments, announcements, etc.) for each. Plating dates for brown-wax pantograph masters and early Gold Moulded masters, which provide valuable clues to the long-lost recording dates, are published here for the first time.
Other features include composer and show credits, medley contents, accompaniment details, pseudonym identification, an illustrated footnoted history of Edison cylinder production during the National Phonograph Company period, user’s guide, and indexes.
For a detailed history of U-S Everlasting and its complete output, with 24 pages of color illustrations, be sure to check out Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderography, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.
GIUSEPPE PIMAZZONI: Carmen — Canzone del Toreador
662 Sixth Avenue, New York; released 1911
U-S Everlasting Grand Opera Record 21133 (4-minute cylinder)
VESS L. OSSMAN (banjo): St. Louis Tickle
662 Sixth Avenue, New York; released c. January 1911
U-S Everlasting 318 (2-minute cylinder)
FRED VAN EPS (banjo; piano by Albert Benzler): Gondolier / Temptation Rag
662 Sixth Avenue, New York; released c. July 1911
U-S Everlasting 1260 (4-minute cylinder)
CAL STEWART: Uncle Josh’s New Years Pledge
662 Sixth Avenue, New York; released late 1912
U-S Everlasting 1598 (4-minute cylinder)
ARTHUR COLLINS & BYRON G. HARLAN: I’m Going Back to Dixie [a.k.a. I Want to Be in Dixie]
662 Sixth Avenue, New York; released c. April 1911
U-S Everlasting 453 (2-minute cylinder)
BOB ROBERTS: Gee, But I Like Music with My Meals
662 Sixth Avenue, New York; released Summer 1912
Lakeside 1498 (4-minute cylinder)
BOB ROBERTS: My Own Adopted Child
662 Sixth Avenue, New York; released c. January 1912
Lakeside 1385 (4-minute cylinder)
An undated letter to Edison studio head Walter Miller from Cal Stewart, requesting an autographed photo of Thomas Edison. The Scott Printing Company in Stewart’s hometown of Muncie, Indiana, was one of several Midwestern printing companies with which he had connections. You can read about Stewart’s publishing activities in “Uncle Josh’s Punkin Centre Stories: Cal Stewart as Author, Publisher, and Entrepreneur,” on the Mainspring Press website. (Photocopy from unknown source, Bill Bryant papers) .