Vess L. Ossman, “The Banjo King”: Newspaper Highlights, and the World’s Biggest Banjo (1891 – 1923)

Vess L. Ossman, “The Banjo King”: Newspaper Highlights,
and the World’s Biggest Banjo
(1891 – 1923)

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Vess L. Ossman (left) and Vess, Jr. (undated photo)

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Early mentions of Ossman in the New York papers: December 2, 1891 (top), at which time Harlem was an affluent new suburb; and February 12, 1899.  Ruben “Ruby” Brooks made recordings in the late 1890s and early 1900s, including Bettini cylinders, but he died in 1906.

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Ossman participated in several recording demonstrations that have been documented, including this one for Berliner’s Gramophone on December 16, 1897. Three months earlier, Berliner’s New York studio had been opened rather reluctantly for a similar demonstration in which Ossman also participated, with management declaring, “We have yielded to the demand of popular and scientific interest in the process by which our indestructible Gram-o-Phone records are made.” The demonstration recordings are not known to have been released.

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New York (December 1901)

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Ossman went to England in the spring of 1900 (top), where he was a hit. He recalled his experiences in January 1918 (bottom).

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Ossman in the “talkies” (Salt Lake City, November 1908). The Cameraphone Company was launched in 1908 by Eugene E. Norton, an engineer with the American Graphophone Company (Columbia). The process employed synchronized six-inch cylinder records and Columbia Twentieth Century phonographs for the sound source. (For more on Cameraphone and other early attempts at “talking pictures,” see A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900–1919, available from Mainspring Press.)

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Another Ossman appearance on-screen (Independence, Kansas, March 1913). These movies were made for Thomas Edison’s short-lived Kinetophone, which also employed synchronized cylinders.

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A December 1916 El Paso dealer ad for Columbia records by Ossman and “Howard Van Epps” (a typo for Fred Van Eps, Ossman’s only significant rival).

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Ossman and company on the road (Scranton, Pennsylvania, January 1917). The Peerless Records Makers were forerunners of the Eight Famous Victor artists, a traveling promotional troupe in which Fred Van Eps replaced Ossman.

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In 1918, with his recording career over and his style becoming increasingly outdated, Ossman moved to Dayton, Ohio. He spent the remainder of his career performing in Dayton and other Midwestern cities. The ads above are all from Dayton, published in May 1918 (top left), October 1922 (top right), and December 1921 (bottom).

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Dayton, Ohio (December 7, 1923)

Vess Ossman Jr. continued to perform in the Dayton area into the early 1930s; the ad above is from November 1931. He later moved to Kansas City, where he worked as a theater manager.

 

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Ossman’s recorded output was truly monumental. Here are just a few favorites; his “Maple Leaf Rag” was the second recording to be made of that number, preceded only the U.S. Marine Band’s 1906 version.

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VESS L. OSSMAN: Salome Intermezzo

Camden, NJ (Johnson factory building): January 21, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3048
The pianist is uncredited but is likely Frank P. Banta (father of the novelty pianist Frank E. Banta) or C. H. H. Booth, Victor’s house accompanists at the time.

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VESS L. OSSMAN: Maple Leaf Rag

New York: Released June 1907
Columbia 3626 (M-1414)
With studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince

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VESS L. OSSMAN: The Buffalo Rag

New York: March 2, 1909
Victor 16779 (mx. B 6848 – )
The pianist is uncredited, contrary to some discographies. Ossman originally recorded this piece for Victor on January 26, 1906 (mx. B 3049).

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VESS L. OSSMAN: St. Louis Tickle

New York: Released January 1911
D&R Record 3759 (Columbia mx. 4919 – 1)
With studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince

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VESS L. OSSMAN: Hoop-E-Kack

New York: Released July 1909
Indestructible 1113 (cylinder)
With studio orchestra probably directed by Joseph Lacalle

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Collector’s Corner (MP3s) • Some Recent Cylinder Finds: Sophie Tucker, Elida Morris, Murry K. Hill, Goldin Hebrew Quartet, Kukzuoka Sokichi & Others

Collector’s Corner • Some Recent Cylinder Finds: Sophie Tucker, Elida Morris, Murry K. Hill, Goldin Hebrew Quartet, Kukzuoka Sokichi & Others

 

Cylinders seemed to turn up everywhere the past couple of months; here are a few favorites. A heads-up — There’s politically incorrect language (by current standards, but perfectly normal for its day) on many of these. We don’t censor history.

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GILMORE’S BAND: By the Sycamore Tree — Medley

Columbia XP 32413
New York – Released April 1904

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BOB ROBERTS: I Wants  a Graphophone

Busy Bee 261 (Columbia mx.)
New York – Released July 1905

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GOLDIN HEBREW QUARTET: Die Seider Nacht

Columbia XP 32786
New York – Released October 1905

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KUDZUOKA SOKICHI: Komori Uta – Japanese Lullaby

Edison Gold Moulded 12822
New York – Released August 1903

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EDWARD M. FAVOR: O’Brien Has No Place to Go

Indestructible 841
New York – Released September 1908

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MURRY K. HILL: A String of Laughs, intro. “Don’t” and “Four-Hundred Nursery Rhymes Brought Up to Date”

Edison Amberol 401
New York – Released April 1909

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NAT M. WILLS: Down in Jungle Town — Parody

Edison Gold Moulded 10178
New York  – Released June 1909

A great send-up of “Ted” (Theodore Roosevelt). Wills starts out knocking Roosevelt for using English guns, instead of American, on his African safari.

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SOPHIE TUCKER: Knock Wood

Edison Amberol 852
New York – Released October 1911

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ELIDA MORRIS: Stop! Stop! Stop! (Come Over and Love Me Some More)

Indestructible 1457
New York – Released April 1911

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BOB ROBERTS: Fables

Edison Blue Amberol 1632
New York – Released March 1913

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ADA JONES: Oh, Mr. Dream Man (Please Let Me Dream Some More)

U-S Everlasting 1504
New York – Released 1912

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VESS L. OSSMAN: St. Louis Tickle

Indestructible 1453
New York – Released October 1911

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The Playlist • Indestructible Cylinder Favorites (1908 – 1911)

MSP_indestrictible-boxes

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BAND: In Darkest Africa (from Sousa’s “Three Quotations”)

New York: Released June 1908
Indestructible 785

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JOHN J. KIMMEL (accordion): Indian Intermezzo

New York: Released June 1909
Indestructible 1090

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FRED VAN EPS (banjo): Trombone Johnsen

New York: Released February 1908
Indestructible 722
“Johnsen” is the correct spelling, per the sheet music and copyright registration.

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VESS L. OSSMAN (banjo): Hoop-E-Kack

New York: Released July 1909
Indestructible 1113

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ELIDA MORRIS: Stop! Stop! Stop! (Come Over and Love Me Some More)

New York: Released April 1911
Indestructible 1457

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ARTHUR COLLINS: Come After Breakfast (Bring ’Long Your Lunch, and Leave ’Fore Suppertime)

New York: Released June 1910
Indestructible 1345

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Cylinder Fans — We still have a few copies left of Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderography (an ARSC Award winner). Quantities are limited , and we won’t be reprinting — order soon if interested!

 

Oddball Record Updates • 1907 Mercury Record; Indestructible Dictaphone Training Cylinder

A couple of unusual special-use records that we’ve not seen before, courtesy of Tim Brooks (Mercury) and David Giovannoni (Indestructible). If anyone has other examples of these, or more information on them, we’d like to hear from you.

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MERCURY RECORD (1907)

MSP-TB_mercury-1907

 

The Mercury Record above obviously has nothing to do with the well-known label that was founded in 1945. It was made by American Graphophone (Columbia) for the Electric Novelty and Talking Machine Company. The company exhibited telegraphic equipment at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, although it was not formally incorporated until April 4, 1905. It was chartered in Jersey City, New Jersey, by George R. Beach (a prominent bankruptcy attorney who served as a receiver in at least two phonograph-related cases), Walter P. Phillips, and Thaddeus R. McCartie.

So, what to make of the Bridgeport address? On closer investigation, Electric Novelty’s official business address (15 Exchange Place, Jersey City) turns out to have been the office of George R. Beach, an unlikely venue for this sort of operation. The consistent use of the Bridgeport address (where Columbia had its factory), and the specially customized “conditions” sticker (below), suggest that Columbia was handling all operations and fulfillment for Beach, or possibly had even closer ties to his company.

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MSP-TB_mercury-1907B

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Numbers embossed under the label are T503-1-1, and M-1700-1-1. Tim notes, “That’s apparently a Columbia ‘M’ number, and it falls into a blank section in Bill [Bryant]’s M-number log. Judging by other M-numbers I would date it as 1907 or 1908, around the end of the period in which M-numbers were used. It’s embossed rather than hand-written like most M-numbers. The record doesn’t seem to have been assigned a standard Columbia number of the period (which were in the 3000s). This would seem to add more weight to the theory that the M-numbers were the true matrix number during this period, and the 3000s were in fact catalog numbers assigned after the fact.”

The copyright filings below, from the Library of Congress’ Catalog of Copyright Entries for July–December 1907, mesh nicely with Tim’s 1907–1908 estimate for the Mercury label:
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At the end of 1912, the Governor of New Jersey declared Electric Novelty & Talking Machine to be in default after having failed to pay its 1910 taxes. Apparently things were resolved; the company was still listed as an active corporation in the 1914 register, and the ad above appeared in May 1915. The “Diamond Disk” notation is puzzling; clearly, this was still a Columbia-affiliated venture, based on the photo. Could there have been an Edison Diamond Disc version as well, or was that just an ad writer’s flight of fancy? (We suspect the latter, but will check our copies of the Edison files.)

 

INDESTRUCTIBLE DICTAPHONE RECORD

MSP_DGIO_ind-dictaphone

Many collectors are familiar with Edison’s Ediphone training cylinders, but this is the first such cylinder we’ve seen for the competing Dictaphone. It’s a standard 4″ celluloid Indestructible, with 150 grooves per inch (as was usual for dictating machines; standard “entertainment” cylinders were 100-gpi (two-minute) or 200-gpi (four-minute). Like this example, the first Indestructibles had raised lettering on the rim, suggesting a very early Indestructible master. However, David notes that it has “the look and feel of a late 4-minute Indestructible.” Unfortunately, it didn’t have its original box; has anybody seen one?

 

MSP_dictaphone-gerson_1908

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The Dictaphone began life as the Columbia Commercial  Graphophone, an example of which is shown above, mounted in Gerson cabinet. The Dictaphone name was first registered as a trademark, by the Columbia Phonograph Co., Gen’l., on September 18, 1907; the first Indestructible cylinders were released a little over a month later.

The Columbia–Indestructible affiliation was cemented (for a time, anyway) in 1908, when the former bought the latter outright. There’s much more to that story, of course, which can be found in Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderopgraphy (Nauck & Sutton), still available from Mainspring Press while supplies last.

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The Playlist • Bob Roberts Favorites (1904–1909)

MSP_victor-mon_2832_B1412Robert A. “Bob” Roberts came from theatrical stock (his father was Nicholas “Nick” Roberts, one of the crustier characters in nineteenth-century popular theater). He was a well-traveled headliner, and as the early 1900s progressed he spent an increasing amount of time touring, including long stays on the West Coast. As a result, his recorded output diminished markedly after 1909. Roberts’ family background, and his recording and performing careers (which began in vaudeville and ended three decades later on radio), are covered in  “American Recording Pioneers: Bob Roberts” on the Mainspring Press website.

As was symptomatic of the period in which they were written, some of these songs contain racial stereotypes and demeaning language, which does not represent the views or attitude of Mainspring Press.

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BOB ROBERTS: Good Bye, Eliza Jane

Philadelphia: May 23, 1904 — Released August 1904
Monarch Record 2832 (mx. B 1412 – )
Orchestra probably directed by Arthur Pryor *

Roberts also recorded this song with piano accompaniment on the same date (mxs. A and B 1341, in 7″ and 10″ form, respectively). The orchestra-accompanied versions apparently were  made as unnumbered tests, but then were assigned mxs. A and B 1412 in early June, having been selected for issue instead of the piano-accompanied versions. The Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings’ entries for these recordings are scrambled, erroneously showing the orchestra-accompanied version as having been issued only in 7″ form and 10″ Monarch 2832 as being piano-accompanied only (although it is obviously orchestral, as heard here, and as correctly listed in Victor’s August 1904 supplement).

* Arthur Pryor’s likely presence is based upon recording engineer Harry Sooy’s recollection that Victor hired Pryor as its house conductor in late 1903, when the company began regular experiments with orchestral accompaniments. There was not yet a resident Victor studio orchestra when this recording was made; free-lance musicians were hired on an as-needed basis, according to Sooy. Pryor eventually found the job “too confining,” and around September 1904 the position was given to Walter B. Rogers, who built Victor’s own in-house orchestra.

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BOB ROBERTS: ’Tain’t No Disgrace to Run If You’re Skeered

New York; Released March 1904
Columbia XP cylinder 32398 (-2)
Self-announced; Studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince
Hear Bob Roberts’ Victor version of this title

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BOB ROBERTS: I’m Just Barely, Living, Dat’s All

New York; Released June 1904
Columbia 1768 (mx. 1768 – 3; “X” under label)
Self-announced; Studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince

The Columbia Master Book Discography shows this take only on the Fairview label.

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BOB ROBERTS: I’ve Got a Tickling Sensation ‘Round My Heart for You

New York; Released March 1908
Harmony 3743  (Columbia mx. 3743 – 1)
Studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince

The Harmony issue is unlisted in The Columbia Master Book Discography.

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BOB ROBERTS: That Was Me

New York; Released June 1909
Columbia A667 (mx. 4003 – 2)
Studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince

This take is unlisted in The Columbia Master Book Discography. The speed change  in the first verse is a flaw in the original recording.

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BOB ROBERTS with FEMALE CHORUS: The Boogie Boo

Brooklyn, New York (352 Livingston St.); Released July 1909
Indestructible 1104 (two-minute cylinder)
Studio orchestra probably directed by Joseph Lacalle. The female singers are unidentified.

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Highlights from “The Columbia Record” • Indestructible and the 15¢ Wax Cylinder Sell-Off (1909)

Today we start a new series of highlights from a long-forgotten dealer publication, The Columbia Record. The first two pages below, from the June 1909 issue, deal with the remaindering of Columbia’s two-minute wax cylinder inventory following the company’s purchase of the Indestructible Phonographic Record Company — producers of the Indestructible celluloid cylinder. The third page is from the February 1910 issue, by which time Columbia was marketing a four-minute Indestructible to compete with Edison fragile wax Amberols.

You’ll find the whole Indestructible story, and details of the company’s complete output, in Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders: An Illustrated History and Cylinderography (Kurt Nauck & Allan Sutton), available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries.

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MSP_COL-REC_indestructible-