A few years ago we mentioned a suspected connection between the blue-shellac American Record Company discs (often referred to informally by their producers as “Blue Indian records”) and Japanese Nipponophone discs. An early Nipponophone catalog — intended more for Western tourists and temporary residents than for the native population — listed many dozens of the same titles that had appeared on the Blue Indians. Although no artists were named, the records were categorized by type (vocals by voice range, spoken, banjo solo, etc.), which were a perfect match to the suspected corresponding American issues.
Our suspicions were confirmed recently, when we came across a 1994 letter to the late Bill Bryant from a West Coast collector, who had acquired a badly damaged Nipponophone disc showing an American Record Company (031000-series) master on one side, and a German Beka master on the reverse. The titles were in English, with no artist credits.
So — how did an American Record Company two-step end up on a Japanese disc? The missing link appears in the articles below, from the January 1911 issue of The Talking Machine World. It was none other than John O. Prescott, formerly of Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott — the sales agents for the Blue Indian discs. The German Beka master on the reverse of the West Coast specimen offers still more evidence of a link. Beka was a product of the Berlin-based International Talking Machine Company, operated by John O.’s brother Frederick M. Prescott — the makers of Odeon records (on which numerous Blue Indian recordings were reissued in England), and an affiliate of the American Record Company.
The Symphony label and recording below are from the Japan-American Phonograph Company’s earliest days, before adopting the Nipponophone label. In all likelihood the recording was done by John O. himself, who several years earlier had been recording the likes of Billy Murray and Collins & Harlan in New York. As you can see from the second clipping, Japan was not to his liking, and he was soon back in the U.S. These weren’t his last recordings of indigenous music, however. In 1926, as Gennett’s chief engineer, he headed a team (with backing from the Smithsonian Institution) that was dispatched to the Grand Canyon to record Hopi Indian songs.
UNKNOWN PERFORMERS and SELECTION
(Can any of our Japanese or Japanese-speaking followers translate?)
Symphony Record 17 (no visible mx. number)
Tokyo, Japan: c. 1910
All of the numerous American Record Company foreign reissues are listed in Bill Bryant’s American Record Discography, coming later this year from Mainspring Press: