The Gennett Record Gazette was a nifty promo publication filled with photos, release lists, facts, and “alternative facts.” Here are a couple of excepts from Vol. I, No. 4 (April 1924) — one correcting a likely error in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Records and Film, and the other opening a discographical can of worms.
Joie Lichter’s and Bob Tamm’s Milwaukee orchestras visited Gennett’s Richmond, Indiana, studio on March 4, 1924 — Lichter recording five sides, with Tamm squeezing in a single title midway through the session, according to the Gennett ledgers. (“Tamm” or “Tamms”? It appears both ways in press reports and ads of the period, but “Tamm” is favored by a good margin.)
For god-only-knows what reason (since its compilers give none), ADBRF lists the Tamm side as a pseudonymous Lichter recording, even though the ledger, and the detailed information reported below, make that seem unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Rust credited the Tamm side to Tamm in his earlier American Dance Band Discography, from which ADBRF was largely taken. If anyone can offer any credible reason for the change in ADBRF (credible excluding things like “so-and-so is sure he hears such-and-such” or “Joe Blow remembers that somebody said…”), please let us know, and of course be sure to cite the source. If it checks out, we’ll be happy to post it.
Our next excerpt involves the ubiquitous Bailey’s Lucky Seven. For years it’s been taken for granted that this was a Sam Lanin group, and aural evidence does strongly suggest that was the case on many sides. Many others, however, are more generic-sounding. Unfortunately, the Gennett ledgers offer no clues in either case. (Note that the Bailey’s personnel listings in the various Rust and Johnson & Shirley discographies are all conjectural, even if the authors don’t make that clear. None of it is from file data or other primary-source documentation.)
But here we have one “Gene Bailey, of Bailey’s Lucky Seven” running a question-and-answer column in the Gennett Record Gazette. Not surprisingly, “Bailey” gave no answer whatsoever to the fan’s question concerning the Lucky Seven’s personnel, or where the band was performing, other than a vague reference later in the column to one “Saxophone Joe.”
So, was there a real Gene Bailey involved with these recordings, and if so, in what capacity? Or was this just yet another case of the Gennett folks having fun with pseudonyms? We favor the latter, since we’ve found no trace of a Gene Bailey having been active on the New York-area musical scene, either as a musician or a manager, at the time. (These were all New York recordings. The cartoon above, by the way, is based on a well-known 1923 photo taken in the New York studio, which was configured differently than the Indiana facility).
There’s an old anecdote about Gennett borrowing the names of employees or other locals for its artist pseudonyms. And a Gene Bailey does turns up in the social notices of several eastern Indiana newspapers at the time, although with no mention of any musical connection. But just to muck things up a bit, Gennett once issued a record credited to “Jene Bailey’s Orchestra,” claiming (in the ledger as well as in their ads) that Mr. Bailey personally conducted the side:
Of course, much of Gennett’s promotional material should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. This was, after all, a company whose “Colored Records” catalog included a photo of an unknown black band that was captioned “Ladd’s Black Aces” — a confirmed pseudonym on Gennett for the all-white Original Memphis Five.
While we’re on subject, here’s a terrific book that all Gennett fans should own, by Charlie Dahan and Linda Gennett Irmscher (Arcadia Publishing). It’s available on Amazon.com, and a real bargain at just $21.99 — crammed with rare photos and little-known facts, and covering a much broader scope than the earlier Kennedy tome. Highly recommended! .
(That’s Art Landry’s Call of the North Orchestra on the cover. At the top, you can see the heavy drapes that contributed to the Indiana studio’s notoriously muddy acoustics.)
Due to unexpectedly high demand, we’ve run out of copies several times recently but now have a fresh supply in stock and ready for immediate delivery. The book is available exclusively from Mainspring Press.
Harry Gennett, Jr., and the Gennett Sound Effects Records (1928 – 1956)
By Allan Sutton
In November 1956, Harry Gennett Jr. (the son of Gennett Records president Harry Sr.) recalled his involvement with the Gennett Sound Effects records for a reporter from the Richmond, Indiana Palladium-Item. Much of the following information came from his recollections, supplemented by data from the Gennett ledger sheets.
Gennett Record’s sound-effects program was launched in 1928 as a client service for the Hannaphone Company,  a Philadelphia-based theater-management company. On November 21, it was announced that Hannaphone had contracted with Gennett to produce sound-effects records for use with motion pictures.
Harry Gennett apparently already had such a venture in mind at the time of the Hannaphone announcement. Sound-effects recording began to appear regularly in the Gennett ledgers beginning on October 16, 1928,  several of which were played for a gathering of the Richmond Foreman’s Club at which Gennett announced the deal. 
Demand for sound-effects recordings quickly mushroomed as producers of sound films began dubbing pre-recorded sound effects into their soundtracks. Gennett’s offerings included “Hog Calling Contest,” “Poultry—Roosters and Geese Predominant,” “American Can Factory,” “Electric Washing Machine—Not Much Suds,” “Single Man Walking Through Sand and Gravel,” “News Room—Confusion of Sounds,” “Winds Howling–Continuous,” “Auto Crashes with Screams,” “Auto Race with Crashes,” and the ominous “Railroad Comes Through the Middle of the House.” 
Gennett’s original mobile recording laboratory. The truck was outfitted with assistance from William C. Kaeuper, woodworking supervisor of the Richmond, Indiana, plant.
The sound-effects operation was quickly handed off to Harry Gennett’s son, Harry Jr., along with Richmond plant manager Robert Conner. The corner of Eighth and Main in Richmond was a favored spot for early recording sessions, providing numerous recordings of street and railroad sounds, factory whistles, and the occasional car wreck.
But Gennett and Conner also traveled widely in their pursuit of sound. In 1929, they and William C. Kaeuper (the plant’s woodworking supervisor) equipped a large panel truck with what Harry Jr. recalled as “a ton” of recording equipment  and began taking to the road — at first, just scouting around the Richmond area, but later (after recording equipment became sufficiently compact to transport in a car) traveling across the country. They recorded the mission bells in Santa Barbara, California,  Hopi Indian dances in New Mexico (with the recording equipment hidden in nearby vegetation),  and braying mules in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
In later years, as recording equipment became more portable, Gennett and Conner employed a car as their mobile unit and traveled widely. Here, it’s parked in front of the Santa Barbara Mission in California.
Among the films employing Gennett sound effects was Frank Buck’s “Bring ‘Em Back Alive,” which used animal noises that Harry Jr. recorded at the Cincinnati Zoo. Gennett recalled that he was allowed to stay overnight on the zoo grounds but was ordered to remain in his car to avoid being shot by the zoo’s guards. He was also warned that his cables could spook the giraffes, who might mistake them for snakes.
Some recordings, like the boxing-match, railroad, and airplane-noise sides, were straightforward live captures, unstaged and untinkered-with. But in many other cases, Harry Jr.’s creativity and technical expertise came into play. The “Alley Cat” record employed a human imitator, but “Braying Mule” used the real thing, with a bit of coaxing. Gennett recalled having a boy lead one mule away from the herd, causing “a loud voice of disapproval” from the others. Studio personnel were recruited to re-create a medieval battle and other chaotic scenes, and Gennett sometimes tested new noise-makers in the main factory, much to the displeasure of some employees.
Thunder effects were obtained by recording shotgun blasts, then dubbing the results at a slower speed, which Gennett claimed gave better results than the real thing. To create the gear-shifting effect in “Automobile Continuously Running” (reportedly a top seller), Gennett simply altered the recording speed while the car remained stationery. Gennett also became a master of overdubbing. One of his most popular efforts combined a long tire screech and collision noises (the latter recorded live on a Richmond street) with the existing “Automobile Continuously Running” recording to create a sensational car-crash record. 
The original 1928 sound-effects label (upper left); a sound-effects recording on the Gennett Electrical Transcription label, marketed for radio use (upper right); an Electrical Transcription test pressing (lower left); and the later-1930s version of the sound-effects label (lower right)
Some attempts at staging backfired, but probably none so badly as when Gennett and Conner accidentally set the recording-studio building on fire in an attempt to capture crackling flames on disc.  There were human perils to be dealt with as well, including a suspicious local patrolman who fired a shot their way while they were parked on a country road one dark night.
When Gennett could not obtain a desired effect, he dubbed recordings from other sources, perhaps not always legally. He paid K. I. Sakai of Tokyo for his recording of “Japanese Traffic Noise,” but there is no indication in the ledger that he paid for or sought permission from Victor to use two of their recordings, which he dubbed and cobbled together as “Traffic Noises of England, with Big Ben.” 
The sound-effects records helped to keep the Gennett operation afloat after Harry Gennett, Sr., discontinued commercial record production in 1934. However, demand for the records declined after the 1930s, as special-effects recording techniques became more sophisticated. Still, the operation remained in business (later under the “Speedy-Q” name) into the mid-1950s. In his 1956 interview, Gennett reported that he still received the occasional order. 
 “Richmond Plant Joins in Making Sound Pictures.” Richmond [IN] Item (November 22, 1928).
John O. Prescott ranks high on the list of undeservedly forgotten recording pioneers. Although eclipsed by his brother Frederick (founder of the International Zonophone Company and the Berlin-based International Talking Machine Company, the producers of Odeon records), John O’s accomplishments — which ranged from co-founding what would become the Nipponophone Company in 1910 to serving as Gennett’s chief technician in the 1920s — were equally impressive.
John Prescott’s role in the American Record Company (which was backed by brother Fred’s Odeon operation) and its marketing arm, Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott, is covered in detail in American Record Company, Hawthorne & Sheble, International Record Company: Histories and Discographies (Bryant & Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015) and need not be repeated here. What we’ll be examining in this article is Prescott’s career after American Record’s demise. .
The American Record Company discs — nicknamed “Blue Indian records” by the trade, for their distinctive blue pressings and American Indian trademark — were quite successful until Columbia succeeded in shutting the company down for patent infringement in January 1907.  The partnership split, with Ellsworth A. Hawthorne and Horace Sheble regrouping as the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company, and John Prescott going his own way. Little more was heard of Prescott until November 1907, when The Talking Machine World reported, “He left last week for a fortnight’s hunting on Long Island, and on returning he may have something of interest to announce to the trade relative to his work in a fresh field.” 
The “something of interest” probably was the Twoforone Champion Record (presumably a double-sided disc), for which Prescott filed a trademark application on February 24, 1908.  Prescott had been quietly preparing to resume record production ever since the collapse of the American Record Company. In January 1907 he had applied for a U.S. patent on a new pressing process that included a provision for double-sided discs.  Two months later, TMW reported that he had taken over the former American Record Company studio, which he was managing in the guise of “The Laboratory Association.”  But with the means of production all in place (but not the necessary patents, assuming it was to have been a lateral-cut disc), Champion apparently failed to launched.
Prescott’s trademark filing for Champion Records (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office).
Instead, Prescott retired to his home in Summit, New Jersey, where his new neighbor was brother Fred (who, having sold his interest in International Talking Machine and returned home a wealthy man, was now happily engaged in his new hobby of raising chickens). But Prescott could not remain idle for long, and in May 1909 he sailed on the Lusitania for what was to have been a brief visit to London. Instead, he ended up on an extended tour that took him from England and France (where he was highly impressed by Emil Pathé’s demonstration of the vertical-cut disc) to Russia, then on to China and Korea—and, finally, to Japan, where his career would soon take an unexpected turn. Prescott was no fan of the country, as he made clear upon his return in August 1909. “Excuse me from permanently living in Japan,” he declared. “The beautiful pictures we see there of entrancing landscapes … are on postal cards only … Nobody has any money excepting the very rich, and they are comparatively few in the teeming millions of ordinary Japs.” 
Back in the U.S., Prescott leased the Laboratory Association studio to the Sonora Phonograph Company in September 1909. The company was planning to produce its own discs in both vertical- and lateral-cut formats (Sonora’s April 1910 TMW ad depicted a vertical-cut Sonora disc and a lateral-cut Crown disc, although the latter is not known to have been produced). However, Prescott does not appear to have had any involvement with the company, other than as landlord. The studio initially was managed for Sonora by former Zonophone engineer George Cheney, who departed for Phono-Cut before production got fully under way. 
In the meantime, Prescott had returned to Japan, despite his professed dislike of the place. In January 1910, The Talking Machine World reported that he was managing a recording studio in Tokyo.  The owner of that studio (whose name was not given by TMW) was the Japan-American Phonograph Manufacturing Company, Ltd., the only record manufacturer operating in Japan at that time.  Financed, owned, and managed by American businessmen, including Prescott, the company initially produced the Symphony Record label.
The now-rare Symphony label was soon supplanted by the Nipponophone brand. Nipponophone got its start as the sales agent for the Japan-American Phonograph Manufacturing Company. (Author’s collection)
Japan-American’s sales agent was the Nipponophone Company, which soon substituted its own Nipponophone label for Symphony. By the autumn of 1910, the Japan-American / Nipponophone combine was producing and marketing records on a fairly large scale under Prescott’s management.
Prescott (seated at left) in Japan, 1910
In addition to his expertise, Prescott brought along a ready-made catalog of Western recordings — the American Record Company masters. Nipponophone’s “Foreign Records” catalog of c. 1910–1911 included a substantial number of old American recordings that were renumbered and offered in new couplings, sans artist credits, with the occasional amusing mistranslation (“A Gay Gossoon” became “A Gay Cartoon,” “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend” became “Dream of the Rabbit King”).  The records were intended for foreign residents and tourists, but demand for them must have been meager, and they are extraordinarily rare today. A badly damaged specimen, showing the original American numbers in the wax, was found on the West Coast many decades ago. A second specimen was later reported, but as so often happens, the supposed owner did not respond to a request for a confirming photograph or other proof of its existence.
A page from Nipponophone’s “Foreign Record” catalog listing anonymous reissues from American Record Company masters. The uncredited artists included Arthur Collins, Byron G. Harlan, Frank C. Stanley, Len Spencer, and Steve Porter. (Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press)
By the end of 1910, Prescott had enough of Japan. He resigned from the Japan-American Phonograph Company, and his place was taken by Thomas Kraemer,  who had been associated with the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company. Prescott’s stay had done nothing to improve his opinion of that country, its climate, or its workforce. Upon his return to the States in early 1911, he complained,
“The air is so humid that you soon fall into a condition of lassitude difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. To be sure, if you can adapt yourself to Oriental ways; that is, take things as they come in an indifferent, easy-going way, perhaps one could manage. An active American, coming from home full of life, snap, and ginger, and wanting to take hold and accomplish something the way we do it here, is forced to give up or become Orientalized. Excuse me, I am not built that way.” 
In June 1911, Prescott departed once again for Europe, where he “expected to look the trade over a little” before attending the coronation of George V in London.  Perhaps not coincidentally, his trip occurred at about the time that the London-based Disc Record Company, Ltd., acquired some American Record Company masters, which were parceled out to Britannic, Defiant, Pelican, The Leader, and other minor labels for the British and export markets. Whether the masters came from Prescott, from the Lindstrom organization (which had taken over the International Talking Machine Company’s assets), or from some other source, has not been established.
Little more was heard of John Prescott until August 1912, when The Talking Machine World reported that he had been in Constantinople for “a year or more,” managing an unnamed record company.  For the next eight years, Prescott’s name would be largely absent from the American trade papers.
Prescott eventually resurfaced in the 1920s. In 1920, brother Fred had placed some rather boastful ads in The Talking Machine World soliciting work as a consultant, but it was John who landed a steady job, at the Starr Piano Company’s Gennett Records division in Richmond, Indiana.
Brother Frederick in search of work, 1920 (Talking Machine World)
In August 1921, Gennett resumed recording in Richmond, after a hiatus there of nearly five years.  John Prescott was hired as chief technician of the Richmond facility, with duties that included wax formulation and oversight of the pressing plant. He also seems to have had some say in regard to master approval, and notes referring to “J. O” are sprinkled throughout the Richmond recording ledgers of the mid-1920s. It’s tempting to speculate that he was responsible for naming the company’s budget-priced Champion label, hearkening back to his aborted 1908 venture, but documentary evidence of that is lacking.
The “Blue Indian” man finally came face-to-face with actual Indians in May 1926, as part of a Gennett team that traveled to Arizona’s Grand Canyon to record traditional Hopi songs. The expedition was undertaken in association with the Smithsonian Institution, under the supervision of Dr. J. Walter Fewkes, head of the Smithsonian’s Department of Ethnology. Music Trade Review reported that the Santa Fe Railroad was assisting in moving the recording apparatus from Richmond and had obtained government permission to transport the Indians and their ponies the one-hundred miles from their reservation to the Grand Canyon.
Along with Gennett recording engineer Ezra C. A. (Wick) Wickemeyer, Prescott oversaw the cutting of fourteen masters (# 12526 – 12537, with a single take each for first ten sides, and two takes each for last two) in a makeshift studio at the El Tovar Hotel. The company, having experienced mixed results in its initial attempts at electrical recording, dispatched its more trustworthy acoustic equipment. Twelve masters were received in Richmond on June 2, followed by the two alternate takes on June 15. The masters were processed for commercial release under standard Gennett catalog numbers, after which they were deposited with the Smithsonian. 
KAKAPTI: Ma’Qutu (Rabbit Hunt) (as “Makwatu”) El Tovar Hotel. Grand Canyon, Arizona: Late May 1926 Gennett 5759 (mx. 12530)
Exactly when Prescott left Gennett has not been discovered, but he apparently continued to work in the sound-recording field at least into the early 1930s. On January 27, 1929, he and Frederick A. Kolster filed a patent on a photo-electric sound-recording system that they assigned to the Federal Telegraph Company of Newark, New Jersey.  After that, Prescott’s trail grows cold. He died in Pasadena, California, on July 14, 1946.
American Graphophone Co. v. American Record Co., 151 F. 595.
 Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (November 15, 1907), p. 79.
 Prescott, John O. “Twoforone Champion Record.” U.S. Trademark application #32,975 (filed February 24, 1908). Prescott was well acquainted with double-sided pressing methods. American Record had pressed double-sided discs as special-order items, under Ademor N. Petit’s patent #749,092, which was controlled by Frederick Prescott. Assuming the Twoforone was double-sided and had been launched in a timely manner, it likely would have beaten Columbia’s Double Disc to market.
 Prescott, John O. “Mechanism for Making Sound Records.” U.S. Patent #847,820 (filed January 15, 1907).
 Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (March 15, 1907), p. 39.
 “’Talker’ Conditions in Foreign Countries.” Talking Machine World (September 15, 1909), p. 41.
 “Geo. K. Cheney to Boston.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1910), p. 14.
 “J. O. Prescott in Japan.” Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1910), p. 3.
 “The Talking Machine Trade in Japan.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 1911), p. 4.
 The Nipponophone Company, Ltd. “Foreign Records” (Tokyo, c. 1910–1911). A listing of the Nipponophone issues can be found in American Record Company, Hawthorne & Sheble, International Record Company: Histories and Discographies (Bryant & Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015), available from Mainspring Press.
 Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (April 15, 1911), p. 30.
 “Returns from Japan.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1911), p. 35.
 “J. O. Prescott in Europe.” Talking Machine World (July 15, 1911), p. 54.
 “A Visitor from Turkey.” Talking Machine World (August 15, 1912), p. 25.
 “Starr Recording in New York.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1917), p. 100. Gennett recorded in Richmond during 1915–1916, using often-obscure Midwestern artists. Recording activities were moved to New York in late 1916 or early 1917, to take advantage of better-known East Coast talent and accommodate those who “found it rather inconvenient to travel out to Richmond.” Regular recording sessions resumed in Richmond on August 20, 1921, according to the Gennett ledgers.
 “To Record Hopi Indian Songs on Gennett Records.” Music Trade Review (May 29, 1926), p. 81.
 Prescott, John O., and Frederick A. Kolster. “Sound-Reproducing System.” U.S. Patent # 1,776,046 (filed January 7, 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:
Alexander Maloof was a second-generation Syrian immigrant who carved a niche for himself in the 1920s with the Maloof and Music of the Orient labels. Although known primarily for championing Middle Eastern music, Maloof was also a capable pop composer. He was a survivor as well — when times got tough in the early 1930s, he kept himself afloat by recording pipe-organ solos for skating rinks and funeral homes.
Maloof’s exact birth date remains questionable. His Social Security death record states that he was born on August 10, 1886. However, his tombstone states 1887; the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Census files state 1885, while the 1940 Census goes far afield with “about 1895″; and a copyright filing with the U.S. Patent & Trademark office lists 1884. Although various publications in the 1920s stated that Maloof was Turkish or Egyptian, his passport application and Social Security records state that he was born in Syria. The family, headed by Chames Maloof, apparently arrived in the U.S. in or around 1894, based on a 1925 report. On October 29 of that year, Maloof filed a declaration of intent to apply for naturalized citizenship.
By the early 1910s, Maloof was becoming well-known on the New York musical scene. In 1913 he recorded two of his original piano compositions — “Al-Ja-Za-Yer” (made as a test on July 24, and subsequently accepted for release) and “A Trip to Syria” (on September 16) — for the Victor Talking Machine Company. In a unusual move, the titles were assigned to both the ethnic and standard catalogs, as Victor 65830 and Victor 17443, respectively. Apparently, neither release sold well enough to earn Maloof a second Victor session.
The E. T. Paull Music Company published two of Maloof’s dance numbers, “Ticklish Sensation” and “The Egyptian Glide,” in 1914. The latter was available in two arrangements — Maloof’s own tango version, and a one-step-step/two-step/trot arrangement credited to Paull himself. By the late ’teens, Maloof was operating his own music studio in New York and was attracting notice for concert appearances at which he featured his original compositions.
The tango version of Maloof’s “Egyptian Glide” (1914). E. T. Paull also provided a “One-Step,Two-Step, Trot” arrangement.
The Maloof Phonograph Company was launched in 1920 to specialize in traditional Middle Eastern fare. Its earliest labels show either no copyright date, or a 1920 copyright, which does not appear to have been formally registered. The earliest pressings are from masters in a three-digit M-prefixed series of unknown origin, some of which show master-broker Earle W. Jones’ characteristic handwritten “J” in the wax. Physical characteristics suggest that they were pressed by the Siemon Hard Rubber Company, with which Jones was affiliated.
By late 1922 production of the Maloof label had shifted to the Starr Piano Company (Gennett), corresponding to a new (and also apparently unregistered) 1922 label copyright date. Maloof would become one of Gennett’s most active clients, rivaling that other highly prolific customer — Homer Rodeheaver — for the amount of time booked in Gennett’s studios.
A second Maloof line, Music of the Orient (credited to the likely fictitious “Orient Company”) appeared in or around 1923, also produced by Gennett, and using some of the same masters as the Maloof label. Although Maloof’s masters were numbered in the standard Gennett series, most were recorded for his exclusive use.
The Maloof and Music of the Orient labels seem to have disappeared by late 1925, but Maloof and his associates continued to record in Gennett’s New York studios into the summer of 1931, covering everything from Egyptian and Syrian folk music to old warhorses like “Home Sweet Home” and assorted Christian hymns. Gennett picked up the occasional title for its own use, but most were pressed as Personal records, at Maloof’s own expense. In-between, there was a visit to Victor’s New York studio on February 15, 1926, with his Oriental Orchestra. The session yielded four ethnic-catalog releases, one of which (“Egyptiana”) was also issued in the Mexican series, where it was retitled “Somali.”
Maloof held the dubious honor of having recorded the last masters ever made in Gennett’s legendary Long Island City studio, in late June 1931. (June 30, shown on the ledger sheet, is the date on which masters were received in Richmond, not the recording date. The ledger sheet for the final Long Island session is headed “1932” in error; master numbers are contiguous with the May–June 1931 sessions listed on the previous sheets.) Maloof’s final Gennett sessions included organ solos intended for use in the company’s Chapel series, which was marketed to funeral parlors.
From the Gennett ledgers — Top: The final session in the Long Island City studio, in late June 1931. Bottom: One of several earlier 1931 Maloof sessions. Note that the recordings were dubbed to new N-series masters; several dubbings from these sessions were released commercially on Champion and Superior in the early 1930s, and even on Decca’s revived version of the Champion label in the mid-1930s.
Chames Maloff died in1930, and Alexander moved to Los Angeles in 1931. He was living there by September 2 of that year, when his application for citizenship was finally accepted. However, he seems to have returned East on occasion, launching his new Orient label (credited to the Maloof Music Company of Englewood, New Jersey, and using newly recorded material) at some point in the 1940s. He died in Los Angeles on May 1, 1968.
The Maloof family plot in Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles. George Maloof made a few recordings for his brother’s label in 1920. (Courtesy of Irv Lightner)
RACE RECORDS AND THE AMERICAN RECORDING INDUSTRY, 1919–1945: An Illustrated History
By Allan Sutton
388 Pages / 208 Illustrations 6″ x 9″ Quality Paperback
$39 US (Free Shipping) $59 All Foreign (w/ Insured Airmail)
From the Preface:
Race Records and the American Recording Industry is the story of those remarkable companies and individuals who gambled on a new and often unpredictable market in the face of racial prejudice and entrenched business practices, and in doing so made the American recording industry more inclusive, and far more interesting, than it once had been.
This work takes a broad view of what were once termed “race records” — recordings intended primarily for the African-American market, which often were segregated in specially numbered series and not listed in the record companies’ main catalogs. Many modern writers associate race records solely with blues and gospel, the equivalent of assuming that rural whites bought only records of mountaineer tunes, or that Italian immigrants bought only opera. While blues and gospel made up a large portion of race-record offerings, they were only part of a broad spectrum that also included religious material of all sorts, jazz and dance music, mainstream pop, comedy and novelty selections, concert and classical material, and even the occasional country-music offering, all of which are explored in this work
Because the music itself has been amply covered elsewhere, this work instead focuses on the making, marketing, and distribution of race records prior to the late 1940s, exploring the ways in which those activities affected, and were affected by, conditions within the nation and within the recording industry as a whole. That is why (to respond in advance to inevitable criticism by Robert Johnson’s legions of fans) an entire chapter is devoted to Mamie Smith, whereas Johnson is covered in several pages. Were this a musical rather than a business and social history, the ratio, of course, would be reversed.
But Mamie Smith’s early records, whatever their musical shortcomings, had a profound impact on the recording industry, revealing a huge untapped market, opening the way for many other black artists to make records, and encouraging aspiring black entrepreneurs to get involved with record production, which until then had been completely controlled by whites. On the other hand, although Robert Johnson is now revered by mass-media rock stars and the pop-culture establishment (as much for the hoary legends surrounding him as for his music), in the 1930s he was just another talented but obscure local artist whose records went largely unnoticed outside of his home region, and who had no significant impact on the recording industry or American musical culture at the time his records were issued. Johnson receives as much coverage as he does mainly because his story provides an excellent example of how the record companies handled, or mishandled, their race artists.
The book also debunks many common myths and misconceptions that stubbornly refuse to die, having been perpetuated for decades by writers who are content to parrot anecdotal material from questionable secondary sources. Some long-standing discographical errors have been corrected as well, based upon examination of primary-source materials that have been missed by earlier researchers…
We continue with our corrections to the undocumented (and thus, often very incorrect) personnel listings in Johnson & Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Films and Records, successor to Rust’s American Dance Band Discography.
The following listings, taken from Ed Kirkeby’s payroll books, correct ADBFR’s speculative personnel for the California Ramblers’ 1926–1927 “Vagabonds” sessions at the Starr Piano Company’s Gennett studio in New York. Names in boldface are confirmed in the payroll books. Struck-out names are incorrect guesses that appear in ADBFR. Perhaps the most important correction to note is the absence of Tommy Dorsey on all of these records.
In addition to Ed Kirkeby’s “diaries” and payroll books (two separate sets of documents, which when merged provide a very complete picture of each session), we are using Perry Armagnac’s unpublished annotations, which were made with Mr. Kirkeby’s personal assistance in the early 1950s. At that time, Kirkeby was able to clear up some of the ambiguities in his files, which included providing full names for some of his lesser-known part-time musicians (generally, only last names were entered), and the instruments they played. In other cases, he was unable to recall full details; rather than guess (although in some cases the answers seem fairly obvious), we’ve listed those personnel as [?], to avoid muddling the original data.
New York: March 19, 1926
“Gimme a Little Kiss” (mxs. X-43) / “Could I? I Certainly Could (mx. X-44) / “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain” (mx. X-45)
Tpts: Chelsea Quealy, Frank CushLeo McConville, Roy Johnston
Tbn: Abe Lincoln George Troup
Reeds: Sam Ruby, Bobby Davis, Arnold Brillhart, Adrian Rollini
Pno: Irving BrodskyF. Fabian Storey
Bjo: Tommy Felline[?]
Percussion: Stan KingHerb Weil
Unknown instrument(s): [?] Deacon, [?] Frink
Note: The vocalist (Arthur Fields) was not on EK’s payroll.
New York: August 19, 1926
“Looking at the World Thru’ Rose Colored Glasses” (mx. X-227) / “On the Riviera” (mx. X-228) / “The Birth of the Blues” (mx. X-229 — Rejected per Gennett ledger; remade by Willie Creager’s Orchestra on X-259*)
Tpts: Frank CushChelsea Quealy, Roy Johnston
Tbn: Tommy Dorsey George Troup
Reeds: Arnold Brillhart, Bobby Davis, Sam Ruby, Adrian Rollini
Pno: Irving BrodskyJack Russin
Bjo: Tommy Felline
Percussion: Herb Weil
Unknown instrument(s): [?] Stark
* Musicians’ pay was reduced proportionally (to two titles from three) because X-229 was rejected. ADBFR’s claim that X-229 appeared on Champion 15079 is unconfirmed. If you have the Ramblers’ version of this record and can supply confirming photo and audio evidence, please let us know.
Kirkeby paid himself $26.65 for unspecified services on this session.
New York: “Seeley — Starr,” January 14, 1927
“College Girls” (—) / “Sam, the Old Accordion Man” (—)
It is not certain that this was a California Ramblers session. It is listed only in Kirkeby’s logbook; no corresponding entry has been found in his payroll book or the Gennett ledgers. Although it’s tempting to speculate this refers to Blossom Seeley, we’ve so far found no evidence to support that.
New York: May 2, 1927
“I’m Back in Love Again” (mx. GEX-635) / “Yes She Do — No She Don’t” (mx. GEX-636) / “Sluefoot” (mx. GEX-637)
Tpts: Frank Cush, Chelsea Quealy
Tbn: Tommy DorseyEdward Lapp
Reeds: Arnold Brillhart, Bobby Davis, Bob Fallon,Sam Ruby, Adrian Rollini
A sampling from Gennett’s summer 1927 trip to Birmingham, Alabama. A temporary studio was set up in the Starr Piano Company store at 1820 Third Avenue. It was an exceptionally productive stay from a historical (if not commercial) standpoint, preserving a rich cross-section of Birmingham’s musical heritage.
Many discographies show incorrect recording dates for these sessions because their compilers misunderstood the Gennett ledger sheets. The dates given in the ledgers (in the “From N.Y.” column, which was used regardless of the actual origination point) are those on which the masters were received at the Richmond, Indiana, facility. Masters — the original waxes (indicated by a “W” in the ledgers) rather than metal parts, in the case of the Birmingham sessions — were shipped in batches by rail, so the actual recording dates, with allowance for packing, transport, etc., are probably at least a week prior to the Richmond receipt dates.
REV. J. F. FOREST & CONGREGATION:
Revival for Sinners
Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. receipt date not entered (c. August 29)
Silvertone 5143 (Gennett mx. GEX 849 – A) Estimated receipt date based on entered dates for other mx’s
JAYBIRD COLEMAN (as Rabbits Foot Williams):
Man Trouble Blues
Birmingham: July–August 1927 — Mx. received in Richmond August 5
Champion 15379 (Gennett mx. GEX 771 – [replacing rejected GEX 694]) The pianist is not credited in the Gennett ledger
GEORGE H. TREMER: Spirit of ’49
Birmingham: July–August 1927 — Mx. received in Richmond August 8
Champion 15436 (Gennett mx. GEX 779 – A)
FRANK BUNCH & HIS FUZZY WUZZIES (as New Orleans Strutters):Fourth Avenue Stomp
Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. receipt date not entered (c. August 20)
Champion 15398 (Gennett mx. GEX 832 – A) Estimated receipt date based on entered dates for other mx’s
TRIANGLE HARMONY BOYS (as Alabama Harmony Boys): Chicken Supper Strut
Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. receipt date not entered (c. August 20)
Champion 15398 (Gennett mx. GEX 838 – A) Estimated receipt date based on entered dates for other mx’s
DUNK RENDELMAN & HIS ORCHESTRA (as Down Home Serenaders): Mean Dog Blues
Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. receipt date not entered (c. August 29)
Champion 15399 (Gennett mx. GEX 852 – A) Estimated receipt date based on entered dates for other mx’s
EVA QUARTETTE (W. J. Smith, organ; as Ellington Sacred Quartette): You Can’t Make a Monkey Out of Me
Birmingham: August 1927 — Mx. received in Richmond August 11
Challenge 404 (Gennett mx. GEX 792 – A) An anti-evolution song. This is one of the few Birmingham sides that is relatively easy to find, appearing on seven different labels under various names.
LOTTIE BEAMAN (Acc. by Milas & Miles Pruitt): Honey Blues
Chicago: c. March 1924
Paramount 12201 (mx. 1695 – 1)
LOTTIE BEAMAN (Acc. by Jimmy Blythe, piano; unknown, banjo): Mama Can’t Lose
Chicago: October 1924
Paramount 12235 (mx. 1904 – 1)
LOTTIE BEAMAN, as LOTTIE EVERSON (possibly acc. by Miles Pruitt, guitar):
Rolling Log Blues
Richmond, IN: August 21, 1928
Champion 15636 (mx. 14162)
LOTTIE BEAMAN, as LOTTIE EVERSON (possibly acc. by Miles Pruitt, guitar):
Going Away Blues
Richmond, IN: August 21, 1928
Champion 15591 (mx. 14163-A)
The accompanist for this session is not listed in the Gennett ledger. Pruitt is listed as “probable” in Dixon, Godrich & Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943.
MR. O’CONNELL (as BILLY REYNOLDS): I Got It (The Fidg-e-ty Fidge)
New York (master shipment date): March 17, 1923
Gennett 5111 (mx. 8282 – A) With uncredited orchestra
A mystery artist — We’re going out on a limb here by lumping whoever this is in with the vaudevillians, but his style certainly suggests some stage experience. The Gennett log sheet attributes this only to a “Mr. O’Connell” (not M. J. O’Connell, based on the aural evidence), and the record was issued under the equally obscure name of “Billy Reynolds.” Anyone know anything about him?
EDDIE NELSON: I’ve Got the Joys
New York — Released October 1921 Emerson 10426 (mx. 41919 – 3) With studio orchestra probably directed by Arthur Bergh
Eddie Nelson (1894–1940; not to be confused with song-writer Ed G. Nelson) was a California native who toured in vaudeville with a succession of partners. His first major role in a musical comedy was in the 1921 production of “Sun-Kist” (Globe Theater, New York), from which he took his nickname. Nelson was a hit in London in 1927, where a reviewer opined, “He is starring at a very big salary…and evidently jusitifies it.” He made one Vitaphone short in 1928, and additional single-reelers in the 1930s as “Sun-Kist Nelson.”
JANE GREEN: Somebody Like You
New York: January 30, 1925 — Released April 24, 1925; Deleted 1926
Victor 19604 (mx. B 31451 – 6) With studio orchestra directed by Nathaniel Shilkret
Another California native, Jane Green got her start as a child actress in Los Angeles, toured in vaudeville as a teenager, then headlined at the major New York houses from 1918 into the late 1920s. Her Broadway credits include “The Century Revue” and “The Midnight Rounders” (1920), “Nifites of 1923,” and various editions of the “Grenwich Village Follies.” She began broadcasting over station WOR (Newark, NJ) in 1925.
Here’s an extract from a wonderful tongue-in-cheek review of the Gennett sound-effects records, which we found among Bill Bryant’s papers. Unfortunately it’s just a clipping, with a note that it was “from The New Yorker, c. 1940,” and those are all the details we have at the moment. Harry Gennett kept his legendary label afloat into the early 1940s with these records, which were popular with radio stations. The catalog at one time listed 375 releases, and there are still a lot of them around.
A white-label sample pressing of #1008, which is mentioned below
“CRASHES AND SCREAMS”
“Anybody who wants to drop around to my apartment with a wheelbarrow some evening can have all my phonograph records… From now on there’s going to be no room in my record library for anything but Gennett Electrical Transcription Effects…
“I was won over to sound effects when I read in the Gennett catalogue about their record No. 1205, which is listed under ‘Crashes.’ (The catalog listings are alphabetical, I might explain, running in thirty fascinating pages the gamut from ‘Adding Machines’ to ‘Wolves Howling.’ ‘All from life,” the catalogue remarks with justifiable pride. One side of 1205 is tersely described as ‘Crashes and Screams,’ a full minute and a half of them. The other side is a ‘Heavy Vibration,’ said by Gennett to be‘suitable for earthquakes, battle scenes, falling buildings, general destruction.’ It would be well worth two dollars, don’t you agree, to have the sound of crashes, screams and general destruction at one’s finger tips?…
“Gennett’s chef d’oeuvre, however, is 1099A, demurely catalogued as ‘Man walking on gravel road, wearing squeaky shoes and corduroy trousers. Incidental bird calls.’ Baroque, certainly, but I love it.
“The possessor of a complete set of Gennett Effects can say goodbye to dull evenings. You are sitting at home, let us imagine, alone and in the dumps. You conjure up a little gaiety with 1002B (‘Several Men Laughing’), and add a bacchanalian touch with 1096A (‘Putting Ice into Glass and Filling with Liquid’). Then you fall to cards (‘Shufflingand Dealing Cards, or Rolling Dice’ — 1092A). It is a stormy night outside (1070B, ‘Rainfall and Thunder’). Suddenly a shot rings out (1007A: ‘Gun Shots’), and a woman screams (1003B). The police arrive in a squad car (1008B: ‘Six-Cylinder Automobile Running at Even Speed’) with the siren on (ll03A). They knock at the door (1133A: ‘Knocking and Pounding on Door’); then, failing to gain admittance,they chop it down (1092B: ‘Chopping Down Door’) and drag you off through a rapidly gathering crowd (1109A: ‘Crowd Yelling’). You can now go quietly to bed, satisfied that the neighbors are envying your thrill-packed life.
“One Effect should besaved for moments of suicidal despair. This is 1095B, which, you can believe it or not, is a recording from life of the noise a man makes breaking up a piano with an ax. If that doesn’t bring about a complete catharsis, nothing will.”
Victor and others also offered their own sound-effects lines, although none were as extensive or occasionally bizarre as Gennett’s. Details of the Victor issues can be found in John Bolig’s newVictor Special Labels, 1928–1941, just released by Mainspring Press.