The Playlist • What a Difference a Take Makes (Fats Waller & Thomas Morris / Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Band)

Victor retained many alternate backup takes in its early years, designating them “H” [hold], “H30” [hold 30 days] or “HC” [hold conditional] in the files. They’re generally of little interest for pop and classical recordings, but with jazz it’s another story. Here are two of our favorites for comparison, exhibiting striking differences in each performance, along with some subtle engineering variations. We’re extra lucky with the Johnson title, since Victor took the relatively uncommon step of designating two “holds.” Normally, one of the three would have been singled out for destruction [“D”].

The custom vinyl pressings of the unissued takes used here appear to have been made in the 1950s, probably in conjunction with RCA’s “X” reissue program. Apparently a fair number were pressed; they turn up with some frequency in private collections, including ours, and they occasionally still surface on high-end auction lists.

 

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THOMAS [FATS] WALLER WITH THOMAS MORRIS & HIS HOT BABIES: Red Hot Dan

Camden NJ (Church studio): December 1, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 40096 – 1 (“Hold” — Unissued on 78)
From a c. 1950s custom vinyl pressing of the original stamper

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THOMAS [FATS] WALLER WITH THOMAS MORRIS & HIS HOT BABIES: Red Hot Dan

Camden NJ (Church studio): December 1, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 40096 – 2 (“Master” — Issued on Victor 21127)

Other than Waller and Morris, no personnel are listed in the Victor files. Brian Rust’s guess that Victor studio manager Eddie King played drums is incorrect. King was no longer employed by Victor at the time of this session, having moved to Columbia as an assistant A&R manager in late October 1927.

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msp_johnson-c_paradise-orch

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CHARLIE JOHNSON & HIS PARADISE BAND: Walk That Thing

New York: September 19, 1928
Victor mx. BVE 47532 – 1 (“Hold” — Unissued on 78)

From a c. 1950s custom vinyl pressing of the original stamper

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CHARLIE JOHNSON & HIS PARADISE BAND: Walk That Thing

New York: September 19, 1928
Victor mx. BVE 47532 – 2 (“Master” — Issued on Victor 21712)

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CHARLIE JOHNSON & HIS PARADISE BAND: Walk That Thing

New York: September 19, 1928
Victor mx. BVE 47532 – 3 (“Hold” — Issued May 1939 on Bluebird B-10248)

Personnel listed in the Victor files appear to have been added at a later date by an unknown party, from an unknown source, probably in connection with the 1939 Bluebird release.

Discographical data from the Victor Talking Machine Company files, via John Bolig and the Discography of American Historical Recordings.

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1923 Columbia Recording Studio and Factory Film on YouTube

MSP-LOC_immortal-voice-open

An incredible find from the Library of Congress — Bray Studios’  1923 silent film, The Immortal Voice. Now posted on YouTube, it takes the viewer through Columbia’s entire recording and production process.

Filmed in Columbia’s New York studio and Bridgeport, Connecticut factory, it begins with an acoustical recording session by Rosa Ponselle and orchestra — staged for the camera, of course, but giving a good idea of how a real session might have looked, and how closely the musicians had to huddle (look for the horned Stroh violins, a necessary evil in the acoustic days).

From there the film traces the path of the wax master, from auditioning and plating to the pressing of a finished disc. At the end is a surprise tribute to Victor’s Enrico Caruso, with footage purporting to be him onstage at the Met — making it pretty unlikely that the film was commissioned by Columbia.

Our thanks to the ever-vigilant John Bolig for passing along the link.

Life After the Gramophone: Emile Berliner’s Last Hurrah (1929–1930)

Gramophone inventor Emile Berliner stayed active until the end. As owner of the Berliner Gramophone Company, Ltd. (Victor’s Canadian cousin), he established a second residence in Montreal around 1903, but continued to spend time in Washington, D.C. After Victor acquired the Canadian operation outright in 1927, Berliner returned home for good. According to a late 1920s report, Berliner’s estate at 1438 Columbia Road (on what was then the outskirts of the city) included a separate building housing a laboratory and experimental recording studio.

Exactly what went on in there isn’t well-known (there’s no evidence of any commercial recording activity), but these ads from April–June 1930, which appeared some months after Berliner’s death, might be a good starting point for further investigation. It would also be interesting to determine whether son Herbert (a skilled engineer, who developed his own electrical recording system for the Compo Company in the mid-1920s) had any hand in the Berliner Acoustic System.

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(Berliner’s Variety obituary, August 7, 1929)

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Leo Slezak in the Pathé Studio (c. 1913)

MSP-TMW-1914_slezak-patheThe location is probably Vienna, reputedly the site of Slezak’s 1913 Pathé session. The photo was reproduced in the September 1914 Talking Machine World, just as the New York–based Pathé Frères Phonograph Company (the French company’s U.S. licensee) was preparing to unveil Pathé discs to the American public. The company had only recently begun to make its own recordings and thus had to rely heavily on imported discs, like Slezak’s, to fill the initial catalog.

The oversized cylinder master, from which the disc masters would be transcribed pantographically, can be seen at the far right. This photo (along with others taken in the American studio and in various foreign locations) contradicts the popular anecdotal tale that Pathé’s recording equipment was a jealously guarded secret, hidden behind locked doors and never to be glimpsed by performers or the public.