“Every Italian Tenor Is an All Around General Damn Fool” – Thomas Edison

“Every Italian Tenor Is an All Around General
Damn Fool”

Thomas Edison’s Views on Opera Singers

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During 1910–1912, Thomas Edison’s engineers conducted numerous recording sessions using eminent operatic singers in New York and abroad, and Edison reviewed the results closely. He was also fond of reviewing competing companies’ artists and records, which more often than not came in for scathing criticism.

Edison’s handwritten comments have survived and offer a glimpse of the inventor’s general hostility toward opera singers, particularly any who exhibited the dreaded “tremolo.” His musical prejudices — which extended to pop music as well — cost his company dearly, causing it to pass up future best-selling artists ranging from John McCormack (“Terrible tremolo…couldn’t stand it”) to Al Jolson (“Coney Island beer saloon singer, not for us”).

The excerpts below — from a mixture of 1910–1912 sessions, some later issued Diamond Discs, and selected Victor Red Seals — were transcribed by the late Ray Wile from Edison’s notes in the Edison National Historic Site’s archives:

 

ADELINA AGOSTINELLI (Edison mx. 430):
“Her tremolo queers this song. Hold it.”

GIOVANNI ALBANESE (Edison mx. 1067):
“Don’t care for him.”

ALDA, JACOBY, CARUSO & JOURNET (Victor 95209)
“Ridiculous noise.”

ENRICO CARUSO (Victor 95210)
“Caruso is getting big tremolo, tune N.G., all N.G. [no good].”

THOMAS CHALMERS (Edison mx. 813):
“A non-tremolo singer” [i.e., good, in Edison’s eyes].

GUIDO CICCOLINI (Edison mx. 5634):
“Ciccolini is getting so sharp that he drops every overtone and only emits fundamentals… I have about made up my mind that EVERY Italian tenor is an all around general damn fool.”

EDUARDO DE BURY (Edison mx. 469):
“Singer no good.”

GERALDINE FARRAR (Victor 96002):
“Farrar should not be permitted to sing on a phono, she will jump out [of] any record.”

EDUARDO FERRARI-FONTANA (Edison mx. 4332):
“Pretty good. The S.O.B. has got Caruso skinned.”

CHARLES HACKETT (Edison mx. 1050):
“Hackett has a very variable voice, sharp in some notes soft in others, and nasty rapid tremolo.”

ORVILLE HARROLD (Edison mx. 1283):
“One-note tenor – accepted. The next time they get any of our money before I hear the goods, it will be a cold day in Hell!”

HEINRICH HENSEL (Edison mx. 549):
“Rotten. Never use this voice.”

AGNES KIMBALL (Edison mx. 852):
“This singer has too many glaring defects of voice.”

HEINRICH KNOTE (Edison mx. 638):
“Singer good — has some tremolo but not highly conspicuous.”

MARIA LABIA (mx. 861):
“Nip & tuck between Bori & Labia.”

GIOVANNI MARTINELLI (mx. 1064):
“Good tenor has some tremolo and guttural sounds but his high beats Caruso. He is a far better singer than Caruso is now.”

JOHN McCORMACK (general comment):
“Fine voice marred by a terrible tremolo. I turned him down for I couldn’t stand it.”

LUIGI MONTESANTO (Edison trial):
“Tremolo bad, coarse, guttural, very uneven volume. Not wanted.”

GIOVANNI POLESE (Edison mx. 494):
“Not as good as Chalmers.”

GIOVANNI POLESE (Edison mx. 987):
“Some opera perverts have probably got educated to this type of voice.”

ADELE PONZANO (Edison trial):
“Voice fair but awful tremolo. Can’t use her.”

IDA ZIZOLFI (Edison trial):
“Terrible rapid tremolo. Not wanted.”

 

Red Nichols’ Early Years: A Clipping Archive (1911 – 1926)

Red Nichols’ Early Years: A Clipping Archive
(1911 – 1926)

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Ogden, Utah, March 1911

 

Ogden, Utah, December 1920

 

Ogden, Utah, September 1921

 

Brigham City, Utah, February 1922

 

Brigham City, Utah, September 1922. Nichols’ 1922 stay with Paul Whiteman is virtually undocumented, and there is no evidence that he made any recordings with the band at that time. He rejoined Whiteman in 1927 but left after approximately five weeks.

 

Fort Wayne, Indiana, January 1923. The Syncopating Five made several Gennett specials in Richmond, Indiana, in November 1922 (private recordings paid for by the performers and not listed in the Gennett catalog). “Dore” is Clyde Doerr, whose orchestra made some unremarkable Victor records in 1922.

 

Indianapolis, May 1924. The personnel listed here differ somewhat from the listing in Brian Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works, which don’t cite their sources.

 

Scranton, Pennsylvania, January 1925 (with Lanin’s name  misspelled). Among the members of the Scranton Sirens was clarinetist Jimmy Dorsey, whom Nichols tapped for his Five Pennies in 1926.

 

Nichols with the Earl Carroll’s Vanities orchestra (Pittsburgh, September 1925). This was the band’s initial line-up; personnel changed considerably over the course of the show’s run.

 

Hartford, Connecticut, July 1926. There had been frequent personnel changes in the Vanities band by this time, including the substitution of Don Voorhees for Ross Gorman as director. Nichols’ first Five Pennies line-up was drawn largely from this group (note the misspelling of Miff Mole as “Miff Molso”).

 

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Some Early Red Nichols Favorites

 


CALIFORNIA RAMBLERS (as VARSITY EIGHT): Charleston

New York: May 13, 1925
Cameo 741 (mx. 1448 – C)

 


RED & MIFF’S STOMPERS: Stampede

New York: October 13, 1926
Edison 51854 (mx. 11246 – C)

 


RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: That’s No Bargain

New York: December 8, 1926
Brunswick 3407 (mx. E 20995)

 

Pioneer Midwestern Cylinder Companies – Two Excerpts from “American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950”

PIONEER MIDWESTERN CYLINDER COMPANIES

Two excerpts from
American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950

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IOWA PHONOGRAPH COMPANY

Founded: 1889

Offices: Metropolitan Block, Sioux City, IA (to 5/1892); 5th & Jackson Sts., Sioux City (from 5/1892)

A sub-company of the North American Phonograph Company, licensed to deal in Columbia graphophones and Edison phonographs in Iowa. The state originally was to have been covered by the Nebraska Phonograph Company, which was first organized in November 1888 but apparently failed to launch at that time. A reorganized Nebraska Phonograph was formed on January 31, 1889, at which time the Iowa territory was abandoned and reallocated to the newly formed Iowa Phonograph Company.

Iowa Phonograph’s officers included W. P. Manley (president), C. J. Brackenbush (vice-president), Whitfield Stinson (secretary), and G. A. Beach (general manager). Among its directors was Erastus A. Benson, who had been a director of the short-lived Central Nebraska Phonograph Company and was also serving as president of the reorganized Nebraska Phonograph Company. Interviewed by a reporter for The Sioux City Journal, Benson expounded at length on the phonograph’s business uses but mentioned its potential as a entertainment device only in passing, noting, “songs of the finest singers and musical productions” could be had.

In July 1889, Beach secured permission to record members of the well-known Bostonians theatrical troupe (including Jesse Bartlett Davis, H. C. Barnabee, and Marie Stone) during their performance of The Bohemian Girl at the Peavey Grand in Sioux City. When the results proved barely audible without the aid of ear-tubes, additional recordings of the troupe were taken in the company’s offices, with mixed results. A reporter for the Journal concluded, “It is very doubtful if the phonograph will become an important factor in the musical world until is has reached a greater degree of perfection…[it] talks plainly enough but does not as yet sing or whistle becomingly.”

A month later, the recently arrived Walter S. Gray gave a private exhibition to three Journal reporters at which he played cylinders by local performers, including Beach himself. “The instrumental work sounded somewhat ‘choppy’…metallic and strident,” one reporter observed. “The phonograph…imparts to singing a ‘machiney’ flavor.”

In late May 1890, the Iowa Phonograph Company was said to have “hardly got a start,” due to a lack of trust among local business owners after the company placed some unreliable machines in local offices. However, its entertainment business fared better. In August 1890, it was reported that the company was looking into the possibility of making and distributing recordings of the bands that were to perform at that year’s Corn Palace festivities.

In February 1893, Beach employed his son Charles (who at the time was embroiled in a scandalous affair with one of the Beach household’s servants) to record tenor solos for Iowa Phonograph. A month later, he was replaced as general manager by Whitfield Stinson. The company appears to have been inactive by the end of 1893, although its corporate charter was not officially cancelled until 1909.

Selected References

“Corn Palace Preparations.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Aug 22, 1890), p. 22.

North American Phonograph Company. “Local Companies.” Phonogram (Jan 1891), p. 4.

“Organization and Progress of the Phonograph Companies of the United States.” Phonogram (Nov–Dec 1891), p. 247.

“Phonographing Opera.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Jul 14, 1889), p. 6.

Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies of the United States (Chicago, May 28–29, 1890). Milwaukee: Phonograph Printing Company.

Smythe, R. M. Obsolete American Securities and Corporations, p. 523. New York: R. M. Smythe (1911).

“The Iowa Phonograph Company.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Mar 13, 1893), p. 9.

“The Iowa Phonograph Company Ready for Business.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Feb 1, 1889), p. 6.

“The Phonograph.” Nebraska State Journal (Nov 14, 1888), p. 8.

“The Phonograph. An Exhibition of its Powers, More Especially in a Musical Manner.” Sioux City [IA] Journal (Aug 7, 1889), p. 6.

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OHIO PHONOGRAPH COMPANY

Founded: 1888

Offices: 220 Walnut St., Cincinnati (1888–early 1889); St. Paul Building, 27 W. 4th St., Cincinnati (from early 1889); 163 Elm St., Cincinnati (mid-1894); 427 Vine St., Cincinnati; 122 Euclid Ave., Cleveland (branch office)

A sub-company of the North American Phonograph Company, licensed to deal in Columbia graphophones and Edison phonographs in the state of Ohio. A certificate of incorporation was filed on November 30, 1888, by James L. Andem, J. W. Dawson, George Moerlin, Frank Overbeck, and W. J. Overbeck. (Newspapers of the period sometimes stumbled over Andem’s name; he is referred to as Amden, Anderson, and even Adams in various reports.)

The Ohio Phonograph Company was headquartered in Cincinnati, under Andem’s management. Arthur E. Smith managed the Cleveland branch office before resigning in the spring of 1892. In September 1892, Andem published the first detailed phonograph operators’ manual, his sixty-four page Practical Guide to the Use of the Edison Phonograph.

The company opened coin-operated phonograph arcades in Cleveland and Cincinnati in September and November 1890, respectively. Each housed ten to twelve machines, with a single selection on each, and titles were changed each morning. The Phonogram reported, “On Saturdays and Sundays these exhibition parlors are crowded, and oftentimes quite an effort must be made before one can get possession of the coveted hearing-tubes when a cabinet contains a popular selection… Attached to the side of each machine is a napkin and holder to enable parties to cleanse the hearing tubes before listening, in case they desire to do so.”

Many selections in the Ohio Phonograph catalog were likely obtained from the North American Phonograph and New Jersey Phonograph / United States Phonograph companies. However, there are reliable reports from the period that the company also made and marketed its own recordings. It recorded and demonstrated a “choice selection of airs” by Cincinnati baritone Tim Sullivan in February 1891. Four months later, Andem reported that the company had “hired a gentleman from an adjoining territory [Kentucky] to sing a number of banjo songs.” A December 1891 advertisement suggested that Dan Kelly’s “Pat Brady” comic recordings were original, which was later confirmed by a Phonogram report declaring that “Mr. Kelly spends his spare time in making records for the Ohio Phonograph Company.” The Phonoscope for November 1896 reported that Ohio Phonograph was making “some very fine band records.”

The Edison Phonographic News for July–August 1896 confirmed that Ohio Phonograph was operating a studio in Cincinnati, “which, although in the heart of the city, affords perfect quietness.” It was briefly managed by Calvin G. Child, who left the company in late 1896 to work for Emile Berliner and would later be a key figure in the formation of the Victor Talking Machine Company.

In January 1894, J. W. Dawson filed suit against Andem, charging that he had consistently elected a board of directors “subservient to his will,” had been “extravagant in his management” of the company, and had appointed himself agent of a rival company handling graphophones. The company’s sales for 1893 were said to be $6,244 less than in the previous year, while expenses were $4953 more. On January 11, 1897, Ohio Phonograph was placed in the hands of a receiver, although its liabilities were said to be “trifling.”

Andem reorganized the Ohio Phonograph Company in the spring of 1897 as the Edison Phonograph Company of Ohio (q.v.), a large regional concern that had no connection to Thomas Edison’s companies and was eventually ordered to stop using the Edison name. The artists recording for Andem at that time, as listed in The Phonoscope for May 1897, appear to have been local performers. Andem went on to serve as secretary of the New York Phonograph Company during the period in which that company was engaged in a prolonged (and ultimately fruitless) legal battle with Edison’s National Phonograph Company.

Another Ohio Phonograph Company, based in Columbus and operated by H. H. Meyers (who sold it to F. A. Drake in 1899) appears to have been unrelated to Andem’s operation and is not known to have produced recordings.

Selected References

“A Noted Record Maker, Dan Kelly, of Cincinnati, O.” Phonogram (Mar-Apr 1893), p. 363.

“A Practical Guide to the Use of the Edison Phonograph” (ad). Phonogram (Aug–Sep 1892), p. v.

“A Row Among Stockholders of the Ohio Phonograph Company.” Cincinnati Enquirer (Jan 28, 1894), p. 16.

“Cincinnati Illustrated.” Edison Phonographic News (Jul–Aug 1896), p. 21.

“General News.” Phonoscope (Dec 1896), p. 9

“Humorous Talking Records for the Phonograph” (ad). Phonogram (Nov–Dec 1891), p. 265.

New and Selected Records for the Phonograph, for Sale by the Ohio Phonograph Company (1894 catalog).

North American Phonograph Company. “Local Companies.” Phonogram (Jan 1891), p. 4.

“Organization and Progress of the Phonograph Companies of the United States.” Phonogram (Nov–Dec 1891), p. 243.

“Phonograph Company Incorporated.” Columbus [IN] Republic (Dec 1, 1888), p. 1.

“Phonograph Company Liquidating.” New Orleans Times-Picayune (Jan 12, 1897), p. 4.

Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies of the United States (Chicago, May 28–29, 1890). Milwaukee: Phonograph Printing Company.

Proceedings of Second Annual Convention of Local Phonograph Companies of the United States, Held at New York, June 16, 17 & 18, 1891, pp. 62–63. New York: Linotype Reporting & Printing Company (1891).

“The Automatic Phonograph in St. Louis—A New Industry Yet in Its Infancy.” Phonogram (Jun–Jul 1891), p. 139.

“The Exhibition Parlors of the Ohio Phonograph Company.” Phonogram (Nov–Dec 1891), pp. 248–249.

“Trade Notes.” Phonoscope (Nov 1896), p. 9.

Untitled notice (re: Tim Sullivan recordings). Cincinnati Enquirer (Feb 11, 1889), p. 8.
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©2018 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

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For information on all of the other North American Phonograph sub-companies, and dozens of other early cylinder producers, be sure to check out American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950: An Encyclopedic History, available exclusively from Mainspring Press. This is a limited edition — order soon!

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The James A. Drake Interviews: William S. Bachman on the Development of the Columbia LP

WILLIAM S. BACHMAN ORAL-HISTORY INTERVIEW
James A. Drake (Interviewer)

Friday, October 28, 1977    

Ithaca, New York

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How did you and Dr. [Peter] Goldmark divide your work on the Columbia LP project?

Well, we didn’t, really.  Peter was so involved in television [development] that he essentially turned over the LP to me.  He was senior to me, of course, so it was his project and I was his collaborator, but he asked me to run the LP development on a day-to-day basis.

 

To what extent was Mr. [William S.] Paley involved in the LP project?

Not at all until it came time to introduce it publicly.  Mr. Paley was never that interested in the Columbia Records division.  Visionary that he was, he knew that whichever company came up with the best color television system would dominate that industry.  He knew that RCA was working on a color system, and nothing gave Bill Paley more gratification than beating General [David] Sarnoff to the market with the best possible system.

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Although Peter Goldmark took credit for the LP, the actual development work was carried out by William Bachman and other CBS and Columbia Records staffers.

 

Do you know whether General Sarnoff was involved in the 45 r.p.m. system that RCA Victor introduced after your success with the LP?

I don’t want to say that Columbia and RCA had “spies,” but the engineering end of the commercial recording industry is not really that big, so it’s never that hard to find out some information—not all, but some—about what the competition is up to.  Now, I will admit that our two companies put out “junk rumors” every once in a while, just to get a rise out of the other [company]—but that was a waste of time because the engineers could tell in a heartbeat whether a rumor had any substance to it.

 

What was your impression of the RCA Victor 45 when you first heard one?

Well, they marketed a complete system, just as we did with the LP.  But the RCA 45 system was more complicated from a design standpoint because they had to develop a turntable with a changer that would operate faster than any 78 turntable operated.  They were able to do that because the 45 disc was a vinyl compound and therefore was unbreakable, so their turntable could change discs very fast compared to the standard 78 ones, because there was no risk of the disc that was being dropped onto the turntable would crack or break.

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Columbia’s LP-player  attachment (originally manufactured for Columbia by Philco Radio) was often discounted or given away with record purchases. That practice, along with Columbia’s decision to make the new format freely available to other labels, helped to quickly popularize the LP. (January 1949)

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I gather that RCA’s rapid changer was meant to give the consumer the impression that for classical-music recordings, the new changer would work so fast that the time lapse between the disc on the turntable and the one being dropped into place would be minimal.

That was a big part of RCA’s promotion—that and the fact that they had a stable of artists who were the top singers, instrumentalists, and symphony orchestras on their Red Seal label.  And RCA really pushed that promotional angle when they introduced the “EP,” or “Extended Play” version of the 45.  But we had the LP before RCA had the 45, and we also had Mitch Miller and [RCA] didn’t.  Mitch Miller created more careers of pop singers than you could count, and they were all on our label.  We ended up with our share of the great conductors and orchestras too, and we also had Lily Pons and some other great opera singers, but the classical market was never much when you looked at it from a return-on-investment standpoint.  The classical market was a prestige thing, but it never accounted for more than ten or maybe fifteen percent of [Columbia’s] revenue.

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Ads for RCA’s competing 45-rpm system stressed Victor’s stable of stars in the pop and classical fields. Ultimately, the 45 was solidly trounced by the LP in the latter category. (July 1949)

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When you began the LP project, did you go back to the RCA Victor long-playing discs of the early 1930s?

No, never.  Those Victors were a complete failure, you know. There wasn’t anything new about them, even when Victor launched them.  Maybe the grooves were a little bit narrower than the regular 78s that RCA was putting out.  But there was nothing new about the speed because 33-1/3 r.p.m. was already the standard for cutting [radio] transcription discs and also for the old Vitaphone discs.  So there was nothing new about the speed.  And the playback stylus specs were the same that Victor’s 78 players had in those days. 

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“A stale joke in the industry” — RCA’s failed 33-1/3 rpm Program Transcriptions of the early 1930s. (December 1931)

 

Thanks for clarifying that.  Occasionally, there are still some rumblings that the Columbia LP was sort of “inspired,” for the lack of a better word, by the Victor long-playing discs of 1932.  

Those Victors were already a stale joke in the industry, so we would have been wasting our time if we had started by going back to them.  But I will admit that we did pay a lot of attention to an earlier long-playing record, the one that Edison had developed in the mid-1920s.  Do you know about those Edisons?

 

Yes, but I’ve never actually seen or heard one.  

Let me tell you, those records were a masterpiece of engineering.  And not just in the lab, but in their commercial form.  I got two of those thick, long-playing discs from a friend of mine who collected old records.  They were vertical-cut records, like everything Edison put out.  And they were recorded acoustically, not electrically.  The groove specs were almost unbelievable when we put them under a microscope and had them measured.  Now remember, we were cutting the LP with a 1/200-inch groove.  But Edison had cut his with a 1/450-inch groove!  

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Edison’s long-playing 80-rpm discs, introduced in 1926, boasted total playing times of 24 minutes (10″) and 40 minutes (12″). A commercial failure, they were discontinued two years later.

 

And they played at the standard 78 speed, isn’t that correct?

Well, if I remember rightly, Edison used 80 r.p.m. as the standard speed for those old Diamond Discs.  And he didn’t vary the speed like Victor used to do in the acoustical days.  There’s a lady [Aida Favia-Artsay] who has done a study of all of the Caruso records that he made at Victor.  The recording speeds that they were using could vary as much as five r.p.m. from one session to the next. 

 

Yes, I know her, and know her book.  She even included a stroboscope disc with the book so that listeners could check the turntable speeds for themselves, and hear Caruso at score pitch.  

Back to Edison, do you know that the stylus he developed for those records, his diamond stylus, was elliptical, not round?

 

Did he file a patent on that?

No, but it’s there in his notebooks at West Orange.  And each side of those Edisons, by the way, played for twenty-five minutes.  At 80 r.p.m.!  Can you imagine that?  How the “Old Man,” as his staff always called him, could make recording lathes that would consistently cut 1/450-inch grooves is still amazing to me.  That’s one of the truly great engineering feats in the history of this industry.  But, of course, Edison had invented the phonograph, so I guess anything he did was bound to be the best. 

 

Did you ever know anyone who worked directly with Edison in the 1920s?

No.  But I certainly read all of the patents he filed about recording technology.  Do you know that he didn’t file a patent for one of the most important cutting styluses that he designed?

 

I don’t think I’m familiar with that.  What was its design?  

It was a heated cutting stylus.  It had a heating coil on it.

 

But don’t you hold the patent for the heated-coil stylus?

Yes, I do.  And I wouldn’t have that patent if Edison had ever filed one.  He had been using a heated cutting stylus before World War One.  I guess he thought it was so obvious that a heated stylus would cut a much better groove in a warm wax [recording] blank that he didn’t give any thought to patenting it.  But the heating-coil stylus is right there in his lab books at West Orange.  

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Whether Thomas Edison would have been “excited” over the Columbia LP is questionable, given the commercial failure of his company’s long-playing system two decades earlier. (August 1948)

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Do you have any idea why Edison resisted electrical recording?

I don’t know for sure.  That was a little before my time.  But Gus [Haenschen] might know because he was already a big guy when electrical recording came in.  You know, do you, that Gus is an engineer?

Yes.  He’s such an icon here that we know his résumé by heart.  So I know that he graduated in engineering from Washington University, Class of 1912.  

In mechanical engineering.  Which, you know, is one of the reasons why he was so successful at Brunswick.  He could “talk the talk” as a musician with the singers and the bands that he put under contract, and he could talk engineering with his recording engineers and technicians.  He had the respect of both sides.  And he was there when Brunswick switched to electrical recording.  In fact, he probably oversaw the switch.  

 

Yes, he said that he did oversee it with Percy Deutsch and Walter Rogers.

When are you going to see him next?  You have to ask him about the light ray.  He’ll get a kick out of that!  And tell him I was the one who told you to ask him about it.  

 

The Pallatrope?

Yes, or maybe it was the Panatrope.  The one was the recording process, and the other was the phonograph, I think.  Or maybe it was the radio part.  Anyway, Gus will get a kick out of it because that [process] was a debacle. The recordings were pretty bad, full of distortion.

Was the Brunswick light-ray process as innovative as the Western Electric one?

I wouldn’t say “innovative,” no.  It was just a selenium-cell process.  Edison and also Bell, I think, were experimenting with selenium cells in the recording process way back in the 1880s or 1890s.  So there was nothing new about that when Brunswick started pushing it in the 1920s.  Ask Gus was the poor guy who was partly in charge of it, but I don’t think Brunswick stayed with that light-ray system.  Even though [Brunswick’s publicity department] kept advertising it all over the place, I’m pretty sure they junked it and made a deal with Western Electric for the Westrex system.     

And I will also ask him about Edison’s reluctance to go electrical when Victor, Columbia, and Brunswick made the switch.  Did you know Maxfield and Harrison, the developers of the Western Electric process?

Not personally, no.  Again, that was a little before my time.  But the Westrex system that they developed at Bell Labs and Western Electric was a major step forward.  They took the frequency range from about 2,500 Hz in the acoustical days, to about 15,000 Hz.  Now, 2,500 Hz would have been on a very good day in the acoustical era.  And what a difference [their] new condenser microphones made.  Carbon mikes went by the wayside fairly quickly after that. 

Were you involved in the development of Full Frequency Range Recording, or ff/rr as it was called then?

No—that was [British] Decca’s.  The full frequency-range system extended the lows to about 80 Hz.  The highs were still around 15,000 Hz, but the signal-to-noise ratio was really low.  That’s was what set the ff/rr apart.  You can hear a big difference between an ff/rr and a standard recording.  That depends somewhat, of course, on what the content is.

 

On the Columbia “20/20” private album celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of the LP, you say that some of the content of the first LPs was done by splicing tapes of 78s.  Is that correct?

Yes, in some cases.  We began making high-quality vinyl pressings of 78s in our “Masterworks” series so that we could splice them seamlessly for the LP if we had to. 

 

Did you tape-record the 78 vinyl pressings and then edit the tape to make the transitions seamless from one pressing to the next?

No, because that would have added a variable that we didn’t want.  If we had gone to tape and then edited the gap between one 78 and the next one, doing that would have introduced tape “hiss,” which we would have to correct with filters. So what we did was to use two studio-grade 78 turntables and we would stop the one [turntable] and start the other.  Our tech staff got so good at timing the starting and stopping of the turntables that there is no audible change in the content of the final LP recording.

 

One last question about the LP and the 45 disc and the so-called “War of the Speeds”:  at that time did you think the 78 record would continue to be a commercial product just as it had since the turn of the [twentieth] century?

Yes and no. A lot of us thought that the 78 would still be viable if it was pressed in vinyl.  I know for a fact that RCA thought that the 78 would disappear and that their 45 would replace it—and RCA had no doubt that the LP was going to flourish because of the obvious advantages it had over any other format.  In hindsight, we [i.e., Columbia] were rather dismissive of the RCA 45 because there was nothing really new about it, other than the speed—and we didn’t think much of the speed either.  We used to joke that RCA came up with 45 r.p.m. by subtracting 33 from 78!

                                                                

© 2018 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved.

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For more on the development of the LP and 45, be sure to check out American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950: An Encyclopedic History, the latest release from Mainspring Press.

 

The Final Days of Edison Record Production (Oct-Dec 1929)


T
he Final Days of Edison Record Production

From Original Documentation at the
Edison National Historic Site

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The following documents from Blue Folder No. 40 (Edison National Historic Site archives) offer a revealing, behind-the-scenes look at operations during the final days of Edison’s Phonograph Division.


Subject: Discontinuing the Record Business

Arthur Walsh to Charles Edison
(October 12, 1929)

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On or about 1912 the Edison Industries began to manufacture and sell the disc type of record and from that date to this, as far as I can estimate, it has always been a losing business. Without going too far back into history, I have looked over the financial statements of the past five years. The five years show a loss on account of records, as follows:.

Statement of net book loss on disc records according to the financial statements during the past five years:
1924
150,477
1925
102,345
1926
367,443
1927
322,228
1928
390,535
Total
$1,332,928

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In 1929 the estimated net book loss will exceed $500,000….In July 1929 we announced the Edison Lateral Cut Record, which was ultimately to supersede the Hill & Dale Record, previously sold. At the present time we are making both types. The sales in September ran 29,766 for Lateral Cut and 8,479 for Hill and Dale.

Below an attempt has been made to recapitulate the advantages and disadvantages of continuing in the record business…

ADVANTAGES:

1. Help to sell more [radio-phonograph] Combinations.

2. Possible idle equipment and plant.

3. Keeping faith with old owners.

4. Avoid possible embarrassment to trade in discontinuing project just started [lateral-cut discs], which might cause trade to feel we might cut out radio just as abruptly.

5. Possibility of Record Business being reborn, if Combinations become increasingly popular.

6. As Mr. Thomas A. Edison is the inventor of the Phonograph & Record, there is possibility of loss of prestige, if abandoned.

7. Absorbs portion of Thomas A. Edison Industries overhead, which would increase other costs unless something else is found for factory and space.

8. Eliminate loss thru voiding contracts with recording artists, which would be small in comparison with potential losses if business does not succeed.

DISADVANTAGES:

1. Heavy losses, as indicated above.

2. Export situation — Cannot sell Records in Continental Europe, Dependencies or Colonies of a European Country.

3. Unfavorable situation regarding portables, which we do not manufacture but buy and sell at a book loss merely to help sales of records.

4. Increasingly high recording costs due largely to excessive fees demanded by popular artists whose reputations aid in selling records.

5. Necessity for investing large sums for promotion and advertising to increase sales.

6. It is a dying business and without sales of Phonographs it may be merely a question of time until the Phonographs now in hands of public will be discarded.

7. Cheap competition makes sales increasingly difficult. The public is interested chiefly in jazz music and buy cheaper grades of records which can be discarded in few weeks at little loss when popularity wanes.

8. To become world power in record business it will be necessary to establish recording units with plating a pressing factories in Chicago, and the West Coast, in Europe, South America, Australia and the Orient; the question being, can money so invested have the potential profit as money invested in other things.

9. Mr. Walsh and co-workers spending time on record sales and production out of proportion to return.

10. Possibility that present type of record may become obsolete. Mr. Sarnoff of R.C.A. announced at meeting few weeks ago that home talking pictures would play large part in future home entertainment which may be subtle warning that Victor is going into film recording.


Discontinuing Recording

W. H. Miller
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Stop all recording at once. … [Note: The last Edison recording session was a private one for Margaret Rogge Becker, held on the morning of October 19. Subsequent “Edison” sessions, for the Ediphone training cylinders, were contracted to Western Electric.]

Prepare list of Recording Equipment to be retained for recording Broadcast Records.

Retain Electrical Recording Agreements — if they won’t cost us anything. …


Negotiating Release of Contracts with Artists

W. H. Miller
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Discontinue — at once — all recording.

Contact artists at once — advise them of decision and ask them to cancel contracts; also, to treat confidentially until announcement is made public. This is particularly important in the case of Martinelli who should be given opportunity of making new arrangement with another company before an announcement is made.

In cases of refusal to cancel — negotiate cash release always bearing in mind, artists’ expenses, etc. to obtain consent and endeavor to sell their contracts. No arrangement is to be consummated without approval.

All contracts are to be disposed of in one way or another by December 31, 1929.


Sale of Finished Stock

R. R. March and A. J. Clark
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Liquidate inventories of finished stocks, wherever located, by December 31st.Prepare estimated liquidation value of stocks as compared with inventory value.

Consideration to be given to plan to sell entire stocks thru regular jobbers and dealers, piecemeal, and/or entire stocks as job lots to one source of distribution, the question being, can we dump such records to one jobber because of other jobbers’ stocks that they may not want to sell at reduced prices.

Be prepared to sell Needle [lateral-cut] Reproducers at cost to disgruntled Hill and Dale [vertical-cut] users.

All records to be sold by December 31st.All Schuberts and Beethovens [phonographs]… are to be sold with needle [lateral-cut] attachments by December 31st, even if these must be sold for as low a price as $10.00 each.Inventories on hand December 15th to be turned over to Mr. Clark for salvage.

Contact F. R. Schell and set aside records of both types to be retained for [Henry Ford] Museum purposes.


Disposition of Master Moulds

W. H. Miller and A. J. Clark
(Undated; probably week of October 14, 1929)

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Contact Messrs Buchanan and Schell to ascertain moulds to be retained for [Henry Ford] Museum purposes and after setting these aside, Mr. Miller will endeavor to sell needle type [lateral-cut] moulds to other companies, provided this can be done without obligation on our part to artists who recorded such records.

All moulds not thus sold and those not required for Museum are to be sold thru Mr. A. J. Clark.

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[ Note: No masters were sold, as far as can be ascertained. However, the existence at ENHS of a Brunswick sample pressing (below) using Edison lateral-cut masters suggests that the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. might have been contemplating the purchase of some masters. Edison’s New York studio was taken over by Crown Records in early 1930, but no Edison material appeared on Crown. ]

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Discontinuing [Blue] Amberol Record Sales

W. S. Williams
(October 22, 1929)

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… While phonographs are still carried in Cylinder inventory, they were turned over to Mr. Clark some time ago for sale as scrap or junk. ..

A total of 32,408 B.A. [Blue Amberol] Records were sold for $6008.75 between July 1 and October 15. Of this number of records 15,185 were sold under the special $.20 offer which expired September 30. The balance of sales were to jobbers and dealers and to individuals at $.35 each.

Sales have greatly decreased since September 30 as shown by the following comparison of orders, shipments and cancellations.

..

Orders
Received
Shipments
Cancellations
August
11,347
7,463
2,900
September
21,076
13,664
6,095
October
1–19
2,954
5,588
1,324

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Cancellations, which have been exceedingly high due to inability to ship records of customers’ selections, have been very costly because of paper work involved in refunding advance payments. As of October 19, there were unfilled orders on hand for only 43 [cylinder] records.It is apparent from the above that it is now opportune to either
discontinue entirely or take action to endeavor to increase sales…

Therefore, the following recommendations are made.

(1) Entirely discontinue sales [of Blue Amberol cylinders] on October
26.

(2) Burn all [cylinder] records in stock, including 212,566 not carried
in inventory, thus releasing 600 packing cases which may be salvaged
thru Disc Record Sales at $.90 each.

(3) Release the remaining [cylinder division] employees — thus
saving $86.50 weekly.

(4) Close books of Division by December 31. …


To the Trade — Re: Discontinuance of Commercial
Record Production

Arthur Walsh
(October 29, 1929)

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As you know, the Edison Radio is a pronounced success. Present demand is about three time production. We feel that this demand will increase steadily…

Our present manufacturing facilities are inadequate to satisfy the demand for Edison Radios. These facilities must be increased immediately.

After a careful weighing of the record business and its prospects, we have decided to discontinue the production of records, except for special purposes, and to devote our great record plant to the production of radio, and kindred new developments in the radio and home entertainment field.This step is being taken regretfully because the phonograph for home entertainment was one of Mr. Edison’s favorite inventions. But, this is a case where sound business judgement must prevail over sentiment.

We must add that we are happy in the knowledge that there are many competent manufacturers, now producing excellent records, with adequate facilities to take care of all present and future phonograph owners…

We will, therefore, on November 1st discontinue the production of commercial phonograph records such as have been heretofore sold through you.On and after the same date, the name of Radio-Phonograph Division will be changed to Radio Division.

 

Faithfully yours,

THOMAS A. EDISON, INCORPORATED. Radio-Phonograph Division Arthur Walsh Vice President.


To All Dealers

The Edison Distributing Corporation
(November 13, 1929)

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Under date of October 29th a letter was mailed to you from Thomas A. Edison, Inc., Orange, N. J., announcing the “Discontinuance of Commercial Record Production.”

At this time we have in stock a limited supply of Edison Hill and Dale, and Lateral Cut Needle Records, which we will offer you, subject to prior sale, F. O. B. Chicago.

The Edison Hill and Dale Records at five cents each in lots of fifty or more to be selected by us, or ten cents each in lots of fifty or more of your selection.

Lateral Cut or Needle Records of the seventy-five cent series at fifteen cents each in lots of fifty or more of our selection, and twenty cents each, you selection. The two dollar series are priced at forty cents each.

Under no circumstances are the records returnable. …

 

________

These documents (excluding editorial comments) are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission. Please credit the Edison National Historical Site (West Orange, NJ) when quoting.

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Odds & Ends from the Recording Industry’s Infancy (1891-1893)

Sarah Bernhardt recording in Bettini’s “Phonographic Salon”
(New York, 1892)

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Members of the United States Marine Band recording for Columbia; at least six recording machines appear to be in use, each producing a master from which copies will be transcribed for sale. (Washington DC, 1891)

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Getting their nickel’s worth (1891)

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A gallery of first-generation recording artists. Aside from Russell Hunting and Len Spencer (shown here as “Leon”), all retired from recording in the early 1900s, if not earlier. (1892)

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No electricity? No problem! Just hook up this Edison water-powered model to your kitchen sink. (No running water? OK, well there’s a treadle-driven model…) (1892)

An Edison Tone Test Artist’s Contract (1920)

The Edison Tone Tests were highly popular marketing events at which invited guests were challenged to distinguish live performances from the “Re-Created” versions as performed by the Diamond Disc phonograph.

The events were rigged by various means, despite Edison’s vigorous denials, including the surreptitious substitution of special records and reproducers (the latter confirmed in some surviving correspondence between the company and singer Vernon Dalhart). Artists were also carefully coached to match their tone and volume to that of the recordings to which they would be compared. You can find a detailed history of the Tone Tests in A Phonograph in Every Home, available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

Below is a copy of a typical 1920 artist’s Tone Test contract, for Cecil Arden, which we recently found among Ray Wile’s materials in the Bill Bryant papers. Many of Arden’s recordings were flagged “For Tone Test” in the Edison files, and several appear to have been made expressly for that purpose. In Arden’s case, payment probably was on the skimpy side, since she* earned  $36.25 to $40 per song for her studio work (per the studio cash books), without all the rigors of travel and rehearsal that the Tone Tests entailed.

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* Oops! We said “he” / “her” in the initial post. Many thanks to old friend George Sweeny for spotting the mistake, and sending along a photo to confirm. Obviously, we’ve never heard a Cecil Arden recording!
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The Playlist • Mexican Favorites (1905 – 1938)

.“Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.” — Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), whose district spans about 40 percent of the entire southern border

“There will never be a 2,200-mile wall built, period.” — Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina)

Source: Washington Post 4/24/2017

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BANDA DE ESTADA MAYOR DE MÉXICO: Maria y Leonorcita — Danzones Yucatecos

Mexico City; Released 1905
Edison Gold Moulded cylinder 18767

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CARLOS CURTI’S MEXICAN ORCHESTRA: El Amor es la vida

New York; Released June 1906
American Record Company 031367 (mislabeled for 031360)

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JESÚS ABREGO & LEOPOLDO PICAZO: La rancherita

Mexico City; Original release October 1909
Edison Blue Amberol cylinder 22058 (1913 reissue of Amberol 6058)

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TRIO  INSTRUMENTAL ARRIAGA (Joaquín Arriaga, mandolin): El Novio de tacha

Mexico City; Original release May 1910
Edison Blue Amberol cylinder 22076 (1913 reissue of Amberol 6076)

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ENRIQUE ESPINOZA: El Borrachito

Los Angeles: c. June 1925
Sunset 1126 (mx. 777)

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LIDYA MENDOZA: Una Cruz

Blue Bonnet Hotel, San Antonio: October 25, 1938
Montgomery Ward M-7982 (RCA mx. BS 28629 – 1)
Accompanists unlisted in the RCA files

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EL CIEGO MELQUIADES: Paulita

Texas Hotel, San Antonio: August 15, 1935
Montgomery Ward M-4870 (mx. BS 94591 – 1)
Melquiades Rodriguez, violin; Enrique Morales, guitar

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The Playlist • Thomas A. Edison Speaking

EDISON_ore-plant

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: The Liver Complaint Story

Probably West Orange, NJ: Early 1900s
Privately made wax cylinder (commercially unissued)
From the Edison National Historic Site Collection, National Park Service

Walter Miller, whom Edison addresses at the beginning of the recording, was largely responsible for Edison’s recording operations until the phonograph division’s closure at the end of 1929.

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Let Us Not Forget — A Message to the American People
(Introduction by Edison Vice-President William Maxwell)

West Orange, NJ: January 2, 1919
Edison Blue Amberol 3756 (original version; dubbed from disc mx. 6540-B)

The corresponding Diamond Disc release (which originally was sold in a specially decorated box) was # 50509. Blue Amberol 3756 was released in June 1919; in 1926 the cylinder was remade, using the same catalog number and dubbed from the same disc maters, but adding a band excerpt dubbed from the reverse side of the disc.

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Birthday Message from Fort Myers, Florida

Edison experimental mx. 185-A
February 11, 1929 (West Orange studio low-speed dubbing from broadcast)
From the Edison National Historic Site Collection, National Park Service

An except from the first “Edison Hour” broadcast aired, over WJZ on February 11, 1929, and captured at Edison’s Columbia Street studio in Orange, New Jersey. The broadcast celebrated the birthday of Thomas Edison, who spoke briefly via relay from his home in Fort Myers, Florida. Click to hear additional excerpts from the broadcast.

The Playlist • William Howard Taft on Equal Rights (1908)

A sobering look at how far the Republican Party has fallen in recent years — Here’s their 1908 presidential candidate:

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WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT: Rights and Progress of the Negro

The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia: August 3, 1908
Edison 10007 (2-minute cylinder)

 

msp_taft-epm-9-1908-p4

Edison Phonograph Monthly, September 1908

 

The Playlist • Ragtime Accordion Classics (1915-1928)

MSP_bwy-1189A_20608-1Three ragtime pieces with some marked similarities, particularly Frank Salerno’s “Kent Street Blues,” which is a slight reworking of Pietro Deiro’s “Melody Rag.” The latter was originally titled “Philadelphia Blues”; although entered as such in the Victor files, the title never appeared on the record labels.

The third strain of “Melody Rag” has been plagiarized from time to time — as heard here on the Salerno recording, but more famously by Weiss & Baum in their 1949 hit, “Music! Music! Music! (Put Another Nickel In).”

These recordings and thousands of others (US and foreign) are detailed in The Ragtime Discography, 1894–1960: Cakewalks, Rags, and Novelties on Cylinders and 78, a multimedia CD available exclusively from Mainspring Press. In addition to the most detailed ragtime discography yet published, the CD includes 99 historic recordings in MP3 format, plus high-resolution reproductions of 50 rare ragtime sheet-music covers.

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PIETRO DEIRO: Melody Rag (a.k.a. Philadelphia Blues)

Camden NJ: October 5, 1915
Released: January 1916 — Deleted: January 1923
Victor 17895 (mx. B 16597 – 1)

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PIETRO J. FROSINI: New York Blues — Rag Classical

New York (79 Fifth Avenue): September 15 (or 16), 1916
Released: January 1917
Edison Blue Amberol cylinder 3052 (dubbed from disc mx. 4998-C)

The Edison studio cash book shows a combined payment for Frosini’s September 15 and 16 sessions; this recording appears to be from the earlier session, based on master numbers.

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FRANK SALERNO: Kent Street Blues

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): c. May 1928
Broadway 1189 (NYRL mx. 20608 – 1)

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Just Arrived — “Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylinders” — In Stock

NOW IN STOCK — Available Exclusively from Mainspring Press

ED2M-cover-x5EDISON TWO-MINUTE AND CONCERT CYLINDERS
American Series, 1897–1912
By Allan Sutton

398 pages, illustrated • 7″ x 10″ quality softcover
$49 (U.S. –  Free Shipping)
Order directly from Mainspring Press

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Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylinders is 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.

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Early Movie Stars on Records • Marie Dressler (1910)

MARIE DRESSLER: Marie Dressler’s “Working Girl” Song
(I’m a Respectable Working Girl)

New York: Listed July 1910 — Released September 1910
Edison 10416  (two-minute cylinder)
Acc: Studio orchestra

 

MSP_dressler-composite.
(Top) “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” featured a young Charlie Chaplin and was one of 1914’s biggest silent-movie hits.

(Bottom) A Bain News Service photo. Undated, but Bain posed a number of these “heavy drinker” shots with various celebrities on the eve of Prohibition. (G.G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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The Playlist • Sophie Tucker: Edison Cylinders (1910–1911)

MSP_tucker-1910_composite

“When I first heard the playback, I turned to the boys and let out a yell: ‘My God, I sound like a foghorn!” I was terrible. However, the manager seemed satisfied with the recordings… I said to myself: ‘The Edison Company must know what they’re doing. They can’t think I’m as bad as I think I am.'”
Sophie Tucker (from her 1945 autobiography)

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SOPHIE TUCKER: That Lovin’ Rag

New York: January 5 or 11, 1910 — Listed March 1910
Edison 10360 (2-minute cylinder)
The Edison studio cash book shows Tucker’s first two sessions on the above date but doesn’t list the titles recorded.

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SOPHIE TUCKER: Some of These Days

New York: c. February 1911 — Listed April 1911
Edison Amberol 691 (4-minute cylinder)

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SOPHIE TUCKER: Knock Wood

New York: Probably July 27, 1911 — Listed October 1911
Edison Amberol 852 (4-minute cylinder)

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The Playlist • Highlights from the First “Edison Hour” Broadcast (1929)

MSP-EDISON_columbia-street-low-speed(Courtesy of Edison National Historic Site)
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.The first “Edison Hour” broadcast aired over WJZ on February 11, 1929. It was captured at Edison’s Columbia Street studio in Orange, New Jersey, which housed the low-speed recording equipment used to make these experimental airchecks (above). The recordings were made on 12” discs at 30 rpm, using a very thin ( .00379”) cutting stylus, and they survive at the Edison National Historic Site. The technical problems — most notably some severe speed fluctuations, and noise from a power tube that “went Democratic” in the words of the Edison engineer — are distracting at times but of relatively small concern considering the rarity of airchecks from this early period of American broadcasting.

The broadcast celebrated the birthday of Thomas Edison, who spoke briefly via relay from his home in Fort Myers, Florida, and also served to promote the new Edison radio, which had recently been introduced over the old man’s objections. Here are some of the most interesting excerpts. The first three selections are from Edison experimental mx. 185-A, the remainder from 185-B.

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WJZ ANNOUNCER AND CHARLES EDISON: Opening Comments

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THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Birthday Message

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FRIEDA HEMPEL: The Last Rose of Summer

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B. A. ROLFE’S ORCHESTRA: I Can’t Give You Anything But Love

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BILLY MURRAY with B. A. ROLFE’S ORCHESTRA: Doin’ the Racoon

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