Shutting Down the Recording Industry: James Caesar Petrillo and the AFM Recording Ban (1942-1944)

Shutting Down the Recording Industry: James Caesar Petrillo and the AFM Recording Ban (1942-1944)
By Allan Sutton

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The following is an excerpt from the author’s Recording the ‘Forties,
in preparation for 2018 publication.

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For professional musicians who wanted to broadcast or record in the 1940s, membership in the American Federation of Musicians was essential. Among the few to resist was the Boston Symphony Orchestra, whose management was firmly opposed to unionization. Only under pressure from RCA’s David Sarnoff did the BSO’s management finally capitulate; the orchestra, under the direction of Serge Koussevitsky, was unionized and allowed to return to the RCA studios, after a long hiatus. But the BSO found itself almost immediately shut out again, this time by an industry-wide recording ban ordered by AFM president James Caesar Petrillo. [1]

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Petrillo testifies before the National War Labor Board (1943)

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Petrillo had long pursued a very public vendetta against what he termed “canned music,” blaming it for the downturn in  “live” performances. Widely reviled within the recording industry as an inflexible, obscenity-spewing petty dictator, he did not hesitate to employ strong-arm tactics against those who opposed him. In early 1941, he appointed Ben Selvin to undertake a fact-finding mission intended to prove that recorded music was responsible for the declining employment of union musicians. [2]

Selvin’s questionnaires, individualized for commercial record companies, transcription producers, radio stations, advertising agencies, and jukebox operators, were mailed throughout the spring. A long-time AFM member, Selvin delivered the figures Petrillo wanted. Based upon the initial responses, involving the radio-transcription business, he concluded, “The amount of money spent for musical talent on recorded [versus live] programs is much higher than anyone in the industry would have guessed.”  [3]

Petrillo made his case at the AFM’s convention on June 9, 1941. He contended that although AFM members earned approximately $3 million annually in royalties from recordings, they lost $100 million as the result of what he termed “reduced employment opportunities” from the substitution of recorded for live music:

There are 800 radio stations in the United States and Canada, and 550 of them have no live music. They just use canned music twenty-four hours a day. There is a question of who survives—we or they. If the stations can’t get records and won’t hire live bands, that will be their funeral, not ours… We are scabbing on ourselves.

Admitting he had no verifiable statistics to back up his claims, Petrillo nevertheless estimated that eight- to nine-thousand AFM musicians could be put back to work if recordings were banned  and establishments were forced to rely on live music.

The issue came to a head in June 1942, when Petrillo forced a strike by unwilling members of the Ringling Brothers–Barnum & Bailey Circus Band. Director Merle Evans’ assurance that he and his musicians were “perfectly satisfied” with salaries and working conditions were ignored, and John Ringling North’s request to personally negotiate with Petrillo went unanswered. [4] Petrillo’s  demands included higher wages, with time-and-a-half for Sunday performances, which were refused. After a brief postponement to allow the band to play a benefit for handicapped children, the strike order was enforced. “We wanted to play today,” Evans told a Billboard reporter on June 6, “but the union refused to let us.” Management responded by substituting recorded music over a public-address system during the band’s involuntary absence. [5] It apparently was lost on Petrillo that by ordering the strike, gainfully employed musicians had been replaced by recordings—the very situation he had recently railed against at the AFM conference.

Having successfully shut down a circus band, Petrillo next banned the broadcasting of a popular high-school music festival in Interlochen, Michigan, declaring that the teen-aged musicians were not union members. The action brought universal condemnation from the public, the broadcast industry, and members of Congress. Iowa Senator D. W. Clark filed a formal, if ineffectual, resolution charging Petrillo with depriving the students of their freedom to make their musical talents known, while undermining the national music education program. [6] Stanley E. Hubbard, president of station KSPT (St. Paul, Minnesota), issued a scathing denouncement of Petrillo that read in part,

Ten days ago, [Petrillo] forbade the broadcast…from the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Mich., in which 160 teen-age boys and girls from 40 states hoped to play for their folks at home. He stopped eight Chinese Boy Scouts from blowing a fanfare in Chicago unless eight union musicians were hired to stand by while the scouts tooted… That is the kind of power Fuehrer Petrillo wields today… That is the power, and that is the man, and that is the kind of outrageous tyranny which we and the other radio stations in this country…are fighting.” [7]

Undeterred, Petrillo was soon threatening to bar AFM musicians from making radio transcriptions. Key figures in the broadcast industry responded swiftly with a threat of their own. Five years earlier, broadcasters had informally agreed to retain house orchestras in response to Petrillo’s charge that their use of recorded music was causing widespread unemployment of union musicians. Now, Broadcasting magazine predicted,

If transcriptions and recordings are banned, as ordered by Mr. Petrillo, it is generally expected that the [broadcast] industry, almost as a unit, will be disposed to release staff orchestras, since the gentlemen’s agreement will have been violated… In a nutshell, the overall view appears to be that AFM has walked out on its 1937 agreement by banning transcription performance, and that the next move is up to Mr. Petrillo. [8]

Petrillo’s next move was to threaten a strike that had the potential to destroy a recording industry already crippled by wartime personnel and materials shortages. On June 27, 1942, he served notice to all transcription and record companies that he intended to ban recording by union musicians beginning on August 1. [9] The New York Times reported,

As part of a campaign to force radio stations, soda fountains, bars and restaurants to employ union musicians instead of using recordings, Mr. Petrillo has informed all the record manufacturers that the 140,000 members of his A.F. of L. organization will not make “records, electrical transcriptions or any other form of electrical reproduction of music” after July 31…

Even if Mr. Petrillo’s economics were not fantastic, it is intolerable that a labor leader should dicatate to the American people what kind of music it shall or shall not hear. But if we need waste little time in exposing the nonsense in Mr. Petrillo’s economics, we should waste less in denouncing Mr. Petrillo as an individual. It is much more important to remind ourselves that it is our political muddle-headedness and spinelessness that have made the Petrillo type of dictator possible. [10]

Petrillo agreed informally to exempt the production of transcriptions for the armed forces and government agencies involved in the war effort, although he soon reneged on even that meager concession. Recordings for motion-picture soundtracks would be allowed, provided that the recordings did not find their way onto the airwaves or commercially issued records. Private recording for home use was allowed to continue under the ban, but only if the manufacturers of recording blanks guaranteed the records would not be broadcast or used in jukeboxes—an obvious impossibility. Blanks and portable recording units remained readily available, and an underground market soon sprang up for custom-duplicated discs from private recording sessions, live performances, and broadcast captures.

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There would be no immediate concessions from the record companies, nor full-fledged support from most AFM musicians. Black band-leaders in Philadelphia loudly protested the ban, claiming a potential loss of a half-million dollars in income. [11] In New York, Eli Oberstein recruited union musicians for clandestine hotel-room recording sessions, the results of which were issued on his Hit label under some imaginative aliases. Some small labels turned to non-union talent, giving at least a temporary  boost to some rural and African-American artists the AFM had declined to accept.

Record-company executives, according to the New York Times, were content “to sit back and try to outwait Mr. Petrillo,” allowing the mounting public outrage to work in their favor. Directors and officials of the National Association of Broadcasters met informally with record company executives to plan their strategies, but apparently neither group felt any compulsion to meet with Petrillo.

The record companies were allowed to continue manufacturing and selling their pre-ban recordings, so with the strike looming, they scrambled to stockpile enough new material to sustain them during the work stoppage. “This they did on a 24-hour-per-day schedule,” Billboard reported; “when August 1 arrived, they emerged from their studios with enough masters to last well into 1943.” [12] The same article predicted a return to normal recording operations around January 1943, “assuming that all goes as expected.” It did not.

The Justice Department failed in a last-minute attempt to delay the ban, but Petrillo’s actions quickly drew fire from members of Congress. Senator Clark, still seething over the Interlochen incident, took the floor on August 29 to denounce Petrillo as a thug whose actions jeopardized national morale during a time of crisis:

An ugly note has reared its head, causing great disunity in the war effort. That ugly note is a gentleman by the name of James Caesar Petrillo. By virtue of his power, by virtue of his gangster acts, if you please, he undertakes to put out of business a whole industry and prevent working people in that industry from making a living.” [13]

At Clark’s urging, a Senate resolution was drafted empowering the Interstate Commerce Commission to investigate whether the recording ban constituted restraint of trade under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. [14]  AFM’s counsel moved for dismissal on the grounds that anti-trust laws did not apply to label disputes; the Department of Justice countered with a request for an injunction forbidding the AFM to enforce the ban, which was denied.  As the ban dragged on, the case was referred to the Supreme Court, which in February 1943 upheld a lower-court decision that the ban was merely a labor dispute, and thus not covered under the Sherman act. [15]

Of the major consumer publications, only Life magazine sided with Petrillo. Robert Coughlan’s fawning, six-page feature article, published two days after the recording ban took effect, depicted Petrillo as a rough but good-hearted defender of the working class who was only looking out for his “boys.” [16] Coughlan was largely alone in his assessment. Three weeks after his story appeared, the American Institute of Public Opinion released the results of a George Gallup poll concerning Petrillo and the AFM action. Seventy-five percent of participants said they opposed the ban, and seventy-three percent favored intervention by the federal government. Dr. Gallup reported,

A majority of those who disapprove Petrillo’s actions feel strongly, even vehemently, about the subject. Typical of their views were such statements as, “he’s a petty dictator,” “he’s suffering from a bad case of overgrown ego,”  “it’s disgraceful,” and “he ought to go over and join Mussolini.” [17]

Some small-label producers attempted to negotiate with Petrillo, to no avail. Hazard E. Reeves (Reeves Sound Studios) and E. V. Brinckerhoff (Brinckerhoff Studios) launched a trade association comprising thirteen New York–area recording studios that Reeves felt would give them a negotiating advantage. [18] So far as is known, they received no acknowledgment  from Petrillo. Neither, initially, did Muscicraft president Paul Puner. In February 1943, he attempted to contact Petrillo with a proposal that Musicraft, as a small company, be allowed to pay a lower royalty rate than what Petrillo was demanding, in return for which Musicraft would affirm its support of the AFM’s basic principles. [19]

After receiving no response, Puner followed up on March 11 with a letter requesting a prompt reply. Petrillo’s reply was a curt rejection letter. [20] Puner persisted, next dispatching what Billboard termed an “impassioned wire” to Petrillo offering to negotiate with him under any circumstances, at a date of Petrillo’s choosing. This time Puner received a note stating the matter would be referred to the AFM’s International Executive Board on April 15. [21] Eventually Puner received a final rejection from Petrillo, who dismissed the offer as “peanuts.” [22]  Clearly, Petrillo was not looking to negotiate settlements on a company-by-company basis. [23]

The major labels at first seemed well-positioned to weather what they expected to be a short strike. For a time they made-do by drawing down their stockpiles of new masters, combing the vaults for unissued pre-strike recordings, and reissuing vintage material, including re-pressings of some 1920s jazz classics. But as the strike dragged on, they were forced to become more creative. In mid-January 1943, Billboard reported that Decca was about to release the last of its pre-ban masters, and speculated that Victor and Columbia might to have to follow suit. [24] With no more new material to offer, Decca’s solution was to resume recording, substituting vocal ensembles (vocalists generally not being AFM members, and thus not legally bound to honor the strike) for instrumental backing. The idea was soon being copied by Columbia, Victor, and a host of minor labels.

“The wholly vocal disks are not being taken seriously as a long-term substitute,” Billboard reported. [25] But  they infuriated Petrillo, who resorted to his usual strong-arms tactics in an attempt to stem the flow. “Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and other leading vocalists have been contacted,” he told a reporter, “and have promised AFM they won’t make records.” [26] Petrillo next  stepped up pressure on the recording-studio directors.  In June 1943, he summoned Muzak’s Ben Selvin and RCA’s Leonard Joy before the board of Local 802 to demand they take no actions “against the best interests of the union.” A Billboard reporter observed,

Although AFM officials made no threats, their “requests” can be quickly enforced, as arrangers and copyists employed for vocal waxings are AFM members. The union has made it plain that it expects cooperation from all its members, and indicated that practically all the record and transcription firms have executives who hold union cards. [27]

One producer refused to be cowed. New band recordings continued to flow on Eli Oberstein’s Hit label, although they were not by any recognizable groups. One anonymous informant, identified in a 1976 interview only as “the music director of a major label,” remembered participating in a clandestine Oberstein session:

One day I found this ad for an arranger… I was told to report to a certain room at the Hotel Claridge at nine that night…and there was Eli Oberstein. In the room with him was a nine-piece orchestra and a disc cutter. Eli had hung blankets over the windows so that the noise from the street wouldn’t be too loud and had stuffed towels under the door so that we wouldn’t bother other guests. Between nine and six the following morning, that band must have cut a dozen hit tunes. I sat right there and did the arrangements, and they sight-read them. Eli paid us all in cash as we left. I don’t know who those guys were, but they were good. [28]

The records were attributed to such apparently fictitious band-leaders as Johnny Jones, Peter Piper, and Willie Kelly, [29] leading to a popular guessing game among record reviewers (and later, discographers) as to who was actually responsible. In his later years, Pee Wee Irwin reportedly admitted that, being short of cash at the time, he had taken a risk and directed the “Willie Kelly” sessions for Oberstein. [30]

The band recordings caught the attention of Petrillo, who questioned whether Oberstein had obtained AFM clearance to record the titles. But it was Arthur Fields’ vocal rendition of “Der Fuehrer’s Face” on the Oberstein’s Hit label [31] that sparked what would become an epic clash between Oberstein and the AFM. The record included a sparse instrumental backing, placing it within the AFM’s jurisdiction. Oberstein initially claimed that it was a pre-ban recording made with a “local pickup crew.” [32] He also insisted that “Arthur Fields” was simply “a name that’s been used for house dates for years,” which was not entirely without some basis in fact. [33] When that explanation failed to satisfy AFM officials, Oberstein changed his story dramatically. The masters, he said, had come from Mexico, leading insiders to joke that he must mean Mexico, New Jersey. [34] “Call it bootlegging,” Oberstein told Down Beat magazine, “but it’s legal.” [35]

Oberstein apparently did have connections with one or more Mexican studios, as evidenced by the earlier release of some Mexico City recordings on his Varsity label. But “Der Fuehrer’s Face” appeared to be from the same American studio as Hit’s pre-ban recordings, and the voice was unmistakably that of Arthur Fields, a New Yorker who was unlikely to have journeyed south of the border just to cut record. [36]

Oberstein’s tale failed to convince the officials of AFM Local 802, who summoned him before the board to demand he reveal the names of the musicians involved. Oberstein ignored the summons and was given until October 22, 1942, to either face the board or be judged “guilty without explanation.” [37] The outcome was eagerly awaited by industry officials, some of whom expressed hope that Oberstein would successfully defy the union. [38]  They would be disappointed.

Examination of the union logs failed to reveal any evidence that “Der Fuehrer’s Face” had been recorded prior to the ban. Finally facing the AFM board on October 22, Oberstein elaborated on his revised tale, claiming the masters had been purchased by an unnamed “associate” from an unknown Mexican studio through one Manuel Valdez, who was not available to corroborate the story because he was “on his way back to Mexico.” [39] Oberstein went on to claim that Victor and Decca were also obtaining many of their pop-tune recordings  from Mexican studios, which officials of both companies vehemently denied. [40]

On December 24, Oberstein submitted to another grilling by the AFM board, at which he agreed to turn over a list of all masters he supposedly had obtained from Mexico. It was not forthcoming, but in the meantime, union officials were investigating some suspicious artist credits on Oberstein releases that had them “scratching their heads,” according to a Billboard report. No one had heard of Oberstein’s mysterious new band leaders, and their names did not appear on Local 802’s membership rolls. The break for Petrillo came after it was discovered that “Peter Piper” was identified on the union rolls as a pseudonym for Jack Small, who was immediately summoned to testify before the AFM’s trial board. [41]

Petrillo finally had his evidence that Eli Oberstein was secretly recording with union musicians, in defiance of the AFM ban. Oberstein was expelled from the union in June 1943, on the grounds that his continued release of instrumental recordings was “damaging to the interests of the Federation.” [42] Having vanquished Oberstein, Petrillo went after his associates. Nineteen music publishers whose songs had been recorded by Hit during the ban were summoned to Petrillo’s office. There, they were pressured into withholding recording rights from any company (like Classic Records, the maker of Hit) whose operations were deemed “unfair” by the union. [43]

However, Petrillo largely failed in his attempts to intimidate the transcription companies. Many were involved in work for the war effort and could rely on support from Congress, which had already made clear its disdain for Petrillo. Having reneged on his early promise not to interfere with war-related transcription work, Petrillo found himself facing a group of influential executives who charged him with bypassing governmental agencies. They asked that the matter be referred to the National War Labor Board. Just hours after the executives released their statement on June 23, 1943, Petrillo agreed to accept mediation, narrowly avoiding intervention by the board.

Petrillo brushed off his defeat at a press conference, dismissing the transcription business as too small to be of any interest to the AFM. [44]  Several month later, V-Disc director Robert Vincent, with the backing of Pentagon officials, began applying pressure to Petrillo to exempt the V-Disc recording program from the AFM  ban. Petrillo finally acquiesced on October 27, 1943, but only after insisting on a long list of conditions.

In the meantime, negotiations between AFM officials and a committee comprising representatives of CBS, Decca, and RCA had broken down. However, Decca attorney Milton Diamond continued to meet privately with Petrillo. [45] On September 18, 1943, president Jack Kapp announced that Decca and its World Broadcasting subsidiary had signed four-year contracts with the AFM that would allow them to  resume recording immediately. [46]  The terms were not immediately disclosed, although within the month Petrillo let it be known that they included payment of a percentage of Decca’s gross revenue directly to the AFM. [47] The proceeds—later revealed to be a flat half-cent royalty per new recording sold—were to be held in an “employment fund” that was intended to finance make-work projects for AFM members deprived of “normal employment opportunities” because of competition from recorded music. [48]

Capitol Records, which had barely begun operations before the ban was enacted, capitulated on October 9, agreeing to the same terms as Decca. [49] Four independent transcription companies signed slightly modified agreements several weeks later, amidst charges from the National Association of Broadcasters that the payment plans were “as economically and socially unsound as extortion is immoral and illegal.” [50]

With the prospect of Decca and Capitol dominating the pop-record market, industry observers predicted a rush by other labels to sign with the AFM. Within a matter of months, virtually all had done so, leaving RCA and Columbia as the last significant holdouts. “Privately,” Broadcasting magazine reported, “industry leaders made no bones about their feeling that had been ‘sold out’ and are now ‘over a barrel.’” [51]

In April 1944, attorneys for RCA and Columbia called for the War Labor Board to allow their companies to resume recordings, pending a challenge to the AFM’s “employment fund” provision. When a meeting between record-company and AFM officials ended in a stalemate, more-radical solutions (including a temporary government takeover of the Columbia and RCA facilities) were floated in some quarters. [52]

Facing rapidly escalating pressure from politicians and industry officials, the National War Labor Board ordered an end to the recording ban on June 15, which went unheeded. At a show-cause hearing held on August 18, Petrillo refused to comply with order, and the case was referred to the Office of Economic Stabilization for enforcement. President Roosevelt finally weighed in on October 4, 1944, declaring in a strongly worded telegram to Petrillo,

It is the opinion of the Director of Economic Stabilization that under all the present circumstances, the noncompliance by your union is not unduly impeding the war effort. But this noncompliance may encourage other instances of noncompliance which will impede the war effort… Therefore, in the interest of respecting the considered decision of the Board, I request your union to accept the directive orders of the National War Labor Board. What you regard as your loss will certainly be your country’s gain.” [53]

However, it would not be the AFM’s loss. After considering the matter for a week, Petrillo rejected the president’s request in a rambling nine-page response. Since nearly every other record and transcription company had already settled with the AFM, Petrillo declared, he saw no reason to offer any concessions to the final holdouts, for whom the ban remained in effect. [54] With no viable alternatives left, Columbia and RCA (including the latter’s NBC Thesaurus division) finally capitulated to Petrillo’s demands on the evening of Saturday, November 11, 1944, with a formal signing set for the following Monday.

After a twenty-eight–month hiatus, RCA resumed commercial recording activities on Sunday, November 12, at 1:43 pm. Columbia followed suit six hours later. [55] RCA recording manager James W. Murray conceded, “We had no alternative but to meet the demands that we make direct payment to the union’s treasury or to abandon our record business.”

Columbia’s Edward Wallerstein fixed the blame firmly on Washington, declaring, “We are finally accepting because of the government’s unwillingness or incapacity to enforce its orders.” [56] Although Petrillo denied that the contracts offered to CBS and RCA were punitive, they contained clauses not found in those the AFM had signed with other companies, including a provision allowing artists to cancel their recording contracts in the event of another AFM strike.

In the end, industry experts estimated that the AFM ban had done little damage to most record companies, and might actually have helped some. There had been no significant decline in record sales or profits during the first two years of the ban. The lack of significant growth was attributed more to wartime shortages, and the fact that a vast number of record customers were out of  the market until their enlistments ended, than to the ban. In addition, Capitol and other promising newcomers had gained a competitive edge by signing early with the AFM and resuming production while the two industry behemoths remained locked in battle with Petrillo. [57] The end of the ban also marked the beginning of a shift by start-up companies to the West Coast, where support for the AFM was relatively weak and non-union talent plentiful. Recording companies large and small were about to enjoy an unprecedented boom, but Petrillo was not finished with them yet.

 

© 2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

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Notes

[1] O’Connell, Charles. The Other Side of the Record, pp. 260-261. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1947).

[2] Selvin, who had begun his recording career in the late ’teens as the director of a popular dance orchestra, was by this time the vice-president of Associated Music Publishers, and a long-time member of the American Federation of Musicians.

[3] “Cost of Record Music Talent Is Found Above Expectations.” Broadcasting (April 14, 1941), p. 54.

[4] “Settlement Talk Rumored After RB Drops Band in Pay Dispute.” The Billboard (June 13, 1942), p. 38. The strike involved the main circus band, under Merle Evans’ direction, as well as the smaller sideshow band directed by Arthur Wright.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Senate Quiz on Petrillo; Clark and Vandenberg Hits Music ‘Tyranny’ by AFM.” Billboard (September 5, 1942), p. 62.

[7] “Hubbard Labels Petrillo as ‘Fuehrer’ of Musicians, Seeking to Wreck Radio.” Broadcasting (July 27, 1942), p. 8.

[8] “Industry Remains Calm on Petrillo Ban.” Broadcasting (July 13, 1942), p. 12.

[9] “Highlights of the Petrillo Recording Ban that Went Before; From 1942 to 1944.” Billboard (November 1, 1947), p. 20.

[10] “Mr. Petrillo Gives the Word.” New York Times (July 10, 1942), reprinted in Broadcasting (July 13, 1942), p. 12.

[11] “Hubbard Labels Petrillo as ‘Fuehrer’ of Musicians,” op. cit.

[12] “Shellac Shortage, Petrillo and War Have Little Fellows Groggy.” Billboard (August 29, 1942), p. 19.

[13] “Senate Quiz on Petrillo,” op. cit.

[14] “D of J Must Prove That AFM Conspires; ‘Labor Disputes’ Can’t Be Hit By Trust Laws.” Billboard (August 1, 1942), p. 19.

[15] “Chronological Chart of Events in the A.F.M. Tecord Ban.” The Billboard 1944 Music Yearbook, p. 147.

[16] Coughlan, Robert. “Petrillo.” Life (August 3, 1942), pp. 68–70, 72, 74, 76.

[17] “75% of People Against Petrillo.” Billboard (September 5, 1942), p. 62.

[18] “Independents Form Record Association.” Broadcasting (August 10, 1942), p. 58.

[19] “Tiny Disker Tries to Steal Play from Big Firms with Petrillo Personally, But No Dice.” Billboard (April 3, 1943).

[20] “AFM Rejects Plan.” Broadcasting (March 29, 1943). P. 52.

[21] “Musicraft Asks Petrillo Again, Get Second ‘No.’” Billboard (April 10, 1943), p. 22

[22] Chasins, Gladys. “Recording Ban Grows Tighter; Vocalists Agree to Stop Recording Until AFM Lifts Ban.” Billboard (July 3, 1943).

[23] “Petrillo Won’t Settle Individually with Discers; April 15 Meeting Set.” Variety (March 31, 1943), p. 35.

[24] “Petrillo Stands Pat.” Billboard (January 16, 1943), p. 20.

[25] “Tune Pile Getting Low.” Billboard (October 31, 1942), p. 62.

[26] Chasins, op. cit.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Quoted in Angus, Robert: “Pirates, Prima Donas, and Plain White Wrappers.” High Fidelity (December 1976). An attempt by record researcher George Blacker in the 1980s to discover the anonymous music directors’ identity was unsuccessful.

[29] Pee Wee Irwin reportedly told writer Roy Evans that he was responsible for the Willie Kelly side

[30] Evans, Roy. Undated letter to George Blacker. William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press.

[31] Hit 7023, released on October 14, 1942.

[32] “Big Recording Whodunit; 802 to Investigate Oberstein’s Recording of Mysterious Bands.” Billboard (October 17, 1942), p. 20.

[33] “802 No Savvies New ‘Hit’ Discs of Current Pops.” Metronome (November 1942), p. 8. Fields (nee Finkelstein) was one of the most prolific studio singers of the 1920s, and his name had been used on occasion as a cover for Fred Hall’s band, as well as other groups that remain to be identified. He was largely forgotten by 1942; so much so, that some reporters failed to recognize the voice and thus accepted Oberstein’s suggestion that the name was fictional. A Billboard article on November 28, 1942, stated, “Admittedly, the name carrying the billing is merely a handy handle for label purposes.”

[34] “Whither Disk Biz, Petrillo?” Billboard (July 26, 1947), p. 23.

[35] “Discs Cut in Mexico, Says EO.” Down Beat (November 1, 1942); clipping, n.p.

[36] In a bizarre twist, Fields claimed not have made the recording  (despite indisputable aural evidence to the contrary) and reportedly sued for an injunction halting distribution and sales of the record (“Now Oberstein Says Discs Are Mexican.” Billboard, October 31, 1942, p. 21). Further references to the supposed suit have not been found, and based on the large number of surviving copies of Hit 7023, it seems unlikely an injunction was granted.

[37] “Discs Cut…,” op. cit.

[38] “Big Recording Whodunit,” op. cit.

[39] “Oberstein Defends Records.” Billboard (October 31, 1942), p. 62.

[40] Ibid.

[41] “Oberstein’s ‘Peter Piper’ May Be 802’s Jack Small; Union Wants Some Answers.” Billboard (January 16, 1943), p. 20.

[42] Oberstein was later readmitted to the union, but only after threatening a half-million dollar defamation suit against Petrillo, the AFM, and its officers, raising fears that “a lot of dirty linen will be washed in public” (“Obie Planning 500G Suit”; Billboard, July 10, 1943). Classic Records’ recording license was restored in early November 1943 (“AFM Okays Classic Recording License;” Billboard, November 13, 1943, p. 16).

[43] “Calls on Pubs to Put Screws on Black Market Recorders.” Billboard (June 5, 1943), p. 21.

[45] Robertson, Bruce.“Disc Meeting Discusses Performance Fee.” Broadcasting (August 9, 1943), p. 12.

[46] “Petrillo’s Permission.” Motion Picture Herald (September 25, 1943), p. 8. The AFM contracts signed by Decca, World, and the many companies that followed were effective as of January 1, 1944, but Petrillo allowed them to resume recording immediately upon signing.

[47] Robertson, Bruce. “Other Disc Firms May Yield to AFM Pact.” Broadcasting (October 4, 1943), p. 9.

[48] Ibid.

[49] “Capitol Records Signs with AFM.” Broadcasting (October 18, 1943), p. 60.

[50] “NAB Hits AFM Fees; Four Disc Firms Sign.” Broadcasting (October 25, 1943), p. 9.

[51] Robertson, “Other Disc Firms,” op. cit.

[52] “Editorial: Jimmy’s Opportunities.” Broadcasting (October 9, 1944), p. 44.

[53] “FDR Telegram to Petrillo.” Broadcasting (October 9, 1944).

[54] “Chronological Chart of Events in the A.F.M. Record Ban,” op cit.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Stone, Floyd E. “Victorious Caesar Petrillo Talks; Hollywood Waits.” Motion Picture Herald (November 18, 1944), p. 13.

[57] “Ban Background and Effects.” Billboard 1944 Music Year Book, p. 146.

Mainspring Press News • November 2017

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Leeds & Catlin Discography in Preparation for the Discography of American Historical Recordings Site

We’re planning to submit our Leeds & Catlin data to the University of California-Santa Barbara’s online DAHR project within the next several months. The work incorporates additions and revisions  (thankfully, very few) to our Leeds & Catlin Records: A History and Discography (Bryant & Sutton, 2015). A limited number of copies are still available if you prefer your data in print form, but be sure to order soon.

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Update: The Encyclopedia of American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950

We continue to make steady progress on the Encyclopedia of American Record Companies and Producers, 1888-1950, with the addition of thirty-one new company entries since the last listing was posted in October. In addition, we recently acquired a substantial amount of high-quality reference material that is already proving indispensable in expanding and fact-checking the existing entries.

This was to have been an online-only offering, but many of you have asked for a printed version as well. No promises just yet, but we’re currently looking into that possibility (among other options, two important academic publishers have expressed interest).

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Mainspring Press Book Availability

Recording the ‘Twenties (Sutton) and Berliner Records in America (Charosh) have recently sold out. The following titles are now in very short supply, with less than a carton remaining of each:

  • Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919-1945 (Sutton)
  • Leeds & Catlin Records: A History and Discography (Bryant & Sutton)
  • American Records Company, Hawthorne & Sheble, and International Record Company: Histories and Discographies (Bryant & Sutton)
  • Victor Special Labels, 1928-1942 (Bolig)
  • Indestructible and U-S Everlasting Cylinders (Nauck & Sutton)

Remaining inventory is selling out quickly as we wind-down our book operation, and these titles will not be reprinted. Be sure to visit the Mainspring Press website to see what’s still available.

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Where Did the Playlists Go?

We discontinued our free MP3 Playlist feature over the summer. Conventional wisdom was that free music would draw new visitors in droves (which it did), and they would return the favor by occasionally springing for a book or two (which they did not).

Although we saw a massive increase in site traffic as the word spread, that didn’t translate into any significant increase in books sales. Nor did sales fall after we discontinued the feature (just the opposite, in fact; the second half of 2017 has seen our strongest sales, and bottom-line, in some time). In the end, it was an expensive feature that just didn’t pay its way.

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110 Years Ago at the Victor Talking Machine Company (November 1907)

November 1907 marked the return of the Victor studio to Camden, from Philadelphia, after an absence of more than six years. The impending move got only a vague mention in that month’s Talking Machine World, in a story on a visit by distributor Max Landay, who said, “I understand the company will remove their recording laboratory from Philadelphia to Camden, into premises that are ideal.” The move was documented by Harry O. Sooy, Victor’s chief recording engineer:

During November [1907] we moved the Laboratory from 424 So. 10th St., Philadelphia, to the building S.W. Corner Front and Cooper Streets, Camden, N.J., in which we occupied the fourth floor. The first large type “D” recording machine was installed in the Camden Laboratory prior to our moving into same. [“D” refers to Wilbur N. Dennison, who assigned a large number of patents to Victor over the years.]

To repeat a point we’ve made often (and wish we didn’t still have to, but old myths die hard): Any discography showing a Camden recording location between early September 1901 and late November 1907 is in error. For a detailed, documented chronology of Victor’s early studio sites, see Camden, Philadelphia, or New York? Fact-Checking the Victor Studio Locations, 1901-1920.

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Here’s the complete pictorial section of Victor’s November 1907 catalog, courtesy of Victor expert John Bolig:

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By the way, John’s landmark Victor Discography Series titles are selling out quickly as Mainspring winds down its book operation. Several are already out of print, and remaining inventory is in very short supply. If there are any titles you need, hurry over to the Mainspring Press website and order while you still can!

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The Chicago Premium-Scheme Labels Revisited (1904 – 1920)

The Chicago Premium-Scheme Labels Revisited
(1904 – 1920)
By Allan Sutton

 

In 1902, the Victor Talking Machine Company began producing inexpensive Type P “Premium” phonographs that retailers could give away as an incentive to purchase other merchandise. There had been similar premium schemes earlier, employing both disc and cylinder machines as the bait, but Victor’s machines were the first to enjoy any significant popularity. Unlike later premium-scheme models, the Type P played standard records.

Beginning in 1904, several Chicago distributors took the idea a step further, employing a tied-products model (sometimes referred to as the “razor-and-blade ploy”). The phonographs were modified in various ways, most often with nonstandard spindles or mandrels, to ensure that they were compatible only with the matching records. They usually were the manufacturers’ cheapest or discontinued models, given new brand names. According to the distributors’ sales pitch, any loss the dealer took by giving the machines away would quickly be recouped by sales of the compatible, high-margin records to a captive audience.

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ROBERT JOHNS AND THE STANDARD TALKING MACHINE COMPANY

The first to successfully exploit the tied-product models on a large scale was the Chicago-based Standard Talking Machine Company. Launched in 1904, and it was advertising nationally by December of that year. In reality, as later court records make clear, Standard Talking Machine was simply a trade name of Robert Johns, a jobber in pottery and other household goods who was affiliated with the East Liverpool China Company of East Liverpool, Ohio. Standard initially occupied offices at 196–202 Monroe Street and was unrelated to several other identically named firms. (An identically named company was incorporated in Chicago in March 1905, with a meager capitalization of $2,500, but none of its incorporators are persons known to have been associated with Johns’ operation, and its connection, if any, remains unclear.)

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Early Standard ads, from (top to bottom) December 1904, January 1905, and March 1905. These dealers gave away the machines with the purchase of other merchandise; later offers often required the purchase of two-dozen or more Standard records to receive the free machines. Standard’s first phonograph offering, shown here, was Columbia’s bare-bones Model AU; refitted with a ½” spindle, it became the Standard Model AA. More-substantial models were soon made available.

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East Liverpool China was a major manufacturer of tableware and crockery. Much of its output was employed in premium schemes, being given away to stimulate the sale of more profitable items. Johns would employ that model for Standard Talking Machine, offering a free phonograph to individual customers or dealers who purchased a specified number of discs. (Terms of the plans varied considerably, and retailers at first had some leeway to set their own conditions. in later years, Standard also wholesaled the discs outright, unencumbered by any “free” phonograph offers.) The phonographs employed oversized (½”) spindles to thwart the use of ordinary pressings, forcing owners to purchase Standard discs. That was the theory, at least; in reality, there were some fairly easy work-arounds, the simplest of which involved simply drilling-out ordinary discs to fit the oversized spindles.

American Graphophone (Columbia) supplied the records and phonographs, which were rebranded with the Standard name. The phonographs were obsolete or low-end Columbia models with slight modifications, the most obvious being the oversized spindles.

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A rare, early sunken-label Standard 7″ pressing (left), with Standard’s conditions sticker pasted over the Columbia original (right). Produced only briefly, the sunken-label pressings used delicate, tissue-thin labels that that were original to the discs (i.e., not paste-overs).

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Standard originally offered both 7″ and 10″ black-and-silver label single-sided discs, using the same catalog numbers as the corresponding Columbia issues. The 7″ series was phased out after Columbia discontinued production of small-diameter discs in 1906. The black-and-silver (and later, black-and-gold) labels were applied at the time the discs were pressed, disproving the widely circulated tale that all Standard records were simply relabeled dead stock. The later Standard catalogs, in particular, were reasonably up-to-date, sometimes lagging Columbia’s release of a new title by just a few months.

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Contrary to some hobbyists’ accounts, Standard was not solely a dumping-ground for Columbia’s dead inventory (although it did serve that purpose admirably). Current hits sometimes turned up on Standard just a few months after they were released on Columbia. This 1914 Standard catalog includes new titles that Columbia released in the late spring of that year.

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There were, of course, plenty of relabeled surplus Columbia pressings as well, including many titles whose sales potential had long since been exhausted. They are easily distinguished by their slightly oversized labels (at first in green-and-white labels, later in black-and-white), which were pasted over the Columbia originals.

 

BUSY BEE AND THE O’NEILL-JAMES COMPANY

At about the same time that Robert Johns was organizing Standard Talking Machine, Columbia began supplying Arthur J. O’Neill with cylinder phonograph and records for use in premium schemes, under the Busy Bee trademark. The O’Neill-James Company (originally of 185 Dearborn Street, and later Fifth Avenue at Lake Street, Chicago) was founded by O’Neill, Winifred B. James, and Sherwin N. Bisbee, with an initial capital stock offering of $25,000. Incorporation papers for the O’Neill-James Company were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State on April 14, 1904, and the final certificate of incorporation was issued on April 22.

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A December 1904 ad for the Busy Bee cylinder phonograph, in this case given free with a $10 purchase. The machine was Columbia’s bottom-of-the-line Type Q, fitted with a nonstandard mandrel that prevented the use of ordinary cylinders. More-substantial models were later offered.

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O’Neill was a master of the tied-product model, having already employed it successfully in selling non-phonographic goods. In 1904, the O’Neill-James Company began marketing a slightly modified version of the inexpensive Columbia Model Q cylinder phonograph under the Busy Bee brand. By substituting a mandrel with a nonstandard taper, O’Neill was able to create a captive market for Busy Bee cylinders, which Columbia manufactured with a corresponding nonstandard inner taper. Following the same model, in late 1905 or early 1906 O’Neill-James introduced Busy Bee disc phonographs with a large, rigid rectangular lug projecting from the turntable, which required the use of special Busy Bee discs with a corresponding cut-out through the label area. This proved to be less effective than the cylinder design, since the lug could be removed from the turntable with a bit of effort.

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John O. Prescott (of Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott / American Record Company) belatedly filed his patent for pressing Busy Bee discs, with their characteristic rectangular slots, in January1907 — the same month that Columbia won its case against the American Record Company, effectively putting it out of business. Later Busy Bee discs were supplied by several other manufacturers, including Columbia (indirectly, by way of Hawthorne & Sheble minus Prescott).

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The sequence of Busy Bee’s suppliers can be determined from its catalogs and supplements. The earliest advertised Busy Bee discs were single-sided 7″ American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) pressings, duplicating material from that company’s short-lived 7″ series, but pressed in standard black shellac rather than American’s distinctive blue. Busy Bee probably was the unnamed customer that The Talking Machine World reported had ordered a half-million 7″ pressings in February 1906. American Record’s Busy Bee releases included recordings made as early as 1904 (and some later Columbia-made releases used 1903 recordings), which has led some collectors to mistakenly assume that the label was introduced earlier than was actually the case.

American also supplied 10¾” (and, slightly later, 10″) Busy Bee pressings drawn from its catalog of 1904–1906, again pressed in standard black shellac. Some early 10¾” Busy Bee issues used the full American Record catalog numbers, but most used only the last four digits of the corresponding American issues (e.g., American Record Company 031129 = Busy Bee 1129). Like other American Record Company client-label pressings, these records often have spoken announcements that omit the artist and company credits.

Records from several suppliers appear concurrently in later Busy Bee catalogs, in different numerical blocks. Leeds & Catlin was a major supplier to Busy Bee and produced some of the highest-numbered 7″ issues. They also remade some issues that replaced the earlier American Record Company–derived versions, retaining the original titles and catalog numbers but often using different artists (much to the befuddlement of some early discographers).

Leeds’ 10″ single-sided Busy Bee issues (shown as “Grand Busy Bee Records” in the catalog, although not on the labels, and numbered in an A-prefixed series) used the same recordings as Leeds, Imperial, Sun, and related labels. They are easily recognized by Leeds’ mirror-image master-number stampings. Some of the same material was later issued in double-sided form in a short-lived D- prefixed catalog series, examples of which rank among the rarest Busy Bee issues. A wide outer band was added to labels on double-sided pressings to accommodate the disclaimers that normally appeared on the reverse-side stickers.

Masters in Busy Bee’s 2000, 3000, 4400, and 5000 catalog series are from Columbia, by way of Hawthorne & Sheble, which substituted their Star catalog numbers for Columbia’s along the way. The short-lived “Grand Busy Bee Twelve-Inch” series was from the same source, using the same 1200-series catalog numbers as Star, with the addition of a T- prefix. Most of the Columbia-derived Busy Bee discs were pressed in the Hawthorne & Sheble plant, on solid stock. A few late Star issues were laminated pressings,  almost certainly made by Columbia (which held the patent on that process) but still showing Hawthorne & Sheble’s markings and substitute catalog numbers in the wax. The Universal Talking Machine Company (Zonophone) also supplied pressing to Busy Bee for a short time before a Columbia lawsuit put an end to that relationship.

 

HARMONY AND THE GREAT NORTHERN MANUFACTURING COMPANY

Harmony, a new premium-scheme label, appeared in 1907. The records were originally marketed by the Great Northern Manufacturing Company (147–153 Fifth Avenue, Chicago), which actually was the recently reorganized East Liverpool China Company. Thus, the Harmony and Standard labels shared a common connection from the start, although at first they used different suppliers and distributors.

Great Northern marketed a wide array of crockery, tableware, and similar merchandise. Harmony records initially were part of a premium-scheme operation in which inexpensive phonographs were given free to retailers who purchased a certain quantity of Great Northern’s household goods. The company oversaw a network of traveling salesmen who peddled Harmony discs and the accompanying “free” phonographs to small-town and rural dealers. Complaints over deceptive advertisements and sales contracts were common, as exemplified by the 1911 case of Great Northern Mfg. Co. v. Brown, in which Great Northern was found guilty of misrepresentation and fraud in the wording of their advertising materials.

Harmony phonographs were manufactured with ¾” spindles, a ¼” step up from Standard. The records originally were pressed by Hawthorne & Sheble, using many of the same renumbered Columbia masters that appeared on Busy Bee. All known Hawthorne & Sheble-produced Harmony issues are single-sided pressings, with no artist credits on the labels. Hawthorne & Sheble also manufactured the early Harmony phonographs, which infringed patents on lateral recording and reproduction.

Hawthorne & Sheble’s Harmony series was discontinued in 1909, after H&S was forced into bankruptcy. Production for Great Northern was taken over by Columbia, which reintroduced Harmony as a double-sided brand, using the same couplings and catalog numbers as corresponding Columbia releases. The Columbia pressings included reissues of material recorded as early as 1903 and, unlike the earlier Hawthorne & Sheble series, they often credited the performers on the labels.

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An early Columbia-produced Harmony (left), still crediting the Great Northern Manufacturing Company; the anonymous baritone is veteran minstrel-show producer Lew Dockstader. Later versions of the Harmony label (right) credited the Harmony Talking Machine, a trade name of Robert Johns’ reorganized Standard Talking Machine Company.

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As with Standard, the labels usually were applied directly at the time of pressing, dispelling the notion that all Harmony records were relabeled surplus stock. However, many surplus Columbia pressings were also sold under Harmony paste-over labels. One of the most interesting examples is Paul Southe’s “Cubanola Glide,” the original Columbia issue of which was quickly replaced by a Collins & Harlan remake. The unsold Southe pressings ended up as anonymous Harmony paste-overs (and perhaps Standard as well, although we’ve not seen one). Southe’s “Cubanola Glide,” by the way, is not nearly the great rarity that Hobbies columnist Jim Walsh once made it out to be. A fair number of the original Columbia pressings apparently got into circulation before the delisting, and in addition to the paste-overs,  the recording even appeared later on the Climax and D&R labels, in entirely different couplings.

,Great Northern ended its involvement with the record business in late 1911. Although the company was still selling household goods late as January 1918, Harmony records from 1912 onward were marketed by the Harmony Talking Machine Company, a trade name of Robert Johns’ Standard Talking Machine Company.

 

THE BUSY BEE–TO–ARETINO TRANSITION

Although Busy Bee records continued to sell well during this period, the O’Neill-James Company’s reliance on distant, competing suppliers eventually led to the line’s downfall. Shipments from the East Coast pressing plants were often late, and O’Neill filed several lawsuits during 1908–1909 to recover damages and overcharges on rail shipments of the records. There were legal obstacles as well. In 1909, Victor sued Columbia for “the supplying of records to O’Neill-James Company of Chicago for use on infringing machines manufactured by Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company.” In turn, Columbia sued Victor’s Universal Talking Machine subsidiary to prevent it from supplying Zonophone pressings to O’Neill-James and Aretino. In the meantime, Leeds & Catlin had been forced to discontinue operations after losing to Victor in a patent-infringement suit that was decided in the latter’s favor by the Supreme Court.

With its supply line severed, O’Neill-James dropped the Busy Bee line in 1909. The last known advertisements for Busy Bee records appeared during the summer of that year. O’Neill-James continued to use the Busy Bee brand for vacuum cleaners and other household appliances for a time.

Busy Bee was not O’Neill’s only record venture, however. On June 3, 1907, he had launched The Aretino Company, which according to a Talking Machine World report was controlled by O’Neill-James. Aretino marketed phonographs equipped with massive 3″ spindles. They initially were supplied by the Hawthorne & Sheble Manufacturing Company, then later by Columbia. O’Neill’s patent application of April 11, 1907, covering the oversized spindle, as well as square and polygonal spindles that were never put into production, was granted on December 31, 1907. He also patented and sold adapters that allowed Aretino discs to be used on Busy Bee and ordinary turntables. Aretino’s gaping spindle holes reduced the labels to narrow bands with barely enough room for even basic label information.

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Arthur J. O’Neill’s 1907 patent on the Aretino disc, along with square- and hexagonal-spindle versions that were never produced. The specimen pictured is a scarce Leeds & Catlin double-sided pressing, produced just shortly before the company was forced out of business by an adverse Supreme Court decision in 1909.

 

The earliest known Aretino releases were anonymous, single-sided pressings from Leeds & Catlin masters, with A-prefixed catalog numbers (not to be confused with Columbia’s A-prefixed Double Discs). Leeds also produced a series of now-rare D-prefixed double-sided Aretino pressings shortly before suspending operations in 1909. Single-sided pressings from Hawthorne & Sheble matrices, showing Busy Bee catalog numbers in the pressing (which were simply renumberings of Columbia masters) have also been reported.

Ironically (considering that Victor had successfully sued Aretino for patent infringement in 1909), O’Neill turned to Victor’s Zonophone subsidiary as its source of pressings following Leeds & Catlin’s demise. The series was brought to a quick halt by the American Graphophone Company (Columbia), which in the same year sued Universal to prevent its supplying discs to Aretino, the O’Neill-James Company, and other companies whose machines infringed its patents.

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Aretino products were used in several different premium schemes. Some companies gave the machines away with the purchase of other merchandise (top). More often, they were given away with the purchase of a specified number of records (bottom). In the case shown here, the phonograph would not have been truly “free,” since the records were marked up by a total of $6.30 to partially compensate for the cost of the machine.

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After the O’Neill-James Company’s Busy Bee label was discontinued in 1909, the company took over distribution of Aretino records, although its name never appeared on the labels. With Zonophone, Hawthorne & Sheble, and Leeds & Catlin eliminated a suppliers, O’Neill was forced to turn to Columbia, which agreed to supply the records on consignment. Columbia pressed double-sided discs for Aretino in at least two series, both of which drew on standard Columbia masters: An A-prefixed series (which duplicated Columbia’s couplings and should not be confused with Leeds & Catlin’s earlier single-sided A-prefixed series), and a D-prefixed series (which used different couplings). Columbia also produced a few 12″ Aretino pressings. Some late Aretino pressings are known with ordinary spindle holes.

The last known advertisements for Aretino record appeared in the summer of 1915, shortly before O’Neill-James Company (which had recently become a Pathé distributor) was declared bankrupt on June 12. Post-mortem reports claimed that the company’s financial troubles had begun during 1906–1907, with losses incurred from patent litigation, and were compounded by the failure of the Boston Talking Machine Company (the makers of Phono-Cut records), for which O’Neill-James was a jobber.

Columbia filed suit in July 1915 to recover unsold records it had shipped on consignment to O’Neill-James. The petition was dismissed on December 7, and the company’s trustee requested permission to sell the remaining inventory. Some of the records found their way to the obscure Duplex Record Company (unrelated to the earlier Duplex Phonograph Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan), which filled the large center holes and covered over the patch with its own Duplex labels. Similar Aretino patch-up jobs have been seen with Musique labels.

O’Neill announced his intention to re-enter the record business, but nothing further was reported in that regard. Following his death in 1916, the remains of O’Neill James and Aretino businesses were merged with the Johns brothers’ Harmony, Standard, and United operations to form the Consolidated Talking Machine Company of Chicago.

 

DOUBLE AND REVERSIBLE

The D & R Record Company was the last significant new entrant in the Chicago premium-scheme market. Launched in 1908, it was advertising nationally by December of that year. The acronym stood for “Double and Reversible,” a strong selling point at a time when double-sided discs were making their first inroads. Early D & R ads promised that a “splendid talking machine” would be given away to advertise the new records:

We are not selling talking machines, but actually giving them away, without money and without price. We are doing this to quickly advertise and introduce our wonderful D&R (Double and Reversible) Talking Machine Records in every home. … Bear in mind that you simply agree to buy “D&R” Records as you need them — and the machine becomes yours without once cent of cost…. We are absolutely independent. Hence this remarkable offer. Our business is selling records — not machines.

D&R’s early advertising was often vague, with no mention of the strings attached to the free machine. Later D&R advertisements were more forthcoming, disclosing that the machines were indeed free, but only to customers who signed agreements to purchase from twelve to twenty D&R records, depending upon the model of phonograph desired.

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Early D&R advertisements were often vague regarding what was required to secure a “free” machine. This one, from 1909, mentions near the bottom of the ad that a monthly record purchase is required, but doesn’t state how many had to be purchased, or the price.

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Initially, D&R’s records were supplied by Leeds & Catlin, which had recently begun producing double-sided pressings for other client labels. After Leeds was forced to discontinue production in 1909, the label was turned over to Columbia. Unlike the other Chicago premium-scheme labels, the D&R discs were not “handicapped” in any way. They were pressed with ordinary spindle holes, and the artists were usually credited on the labels.

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An early Leeds & Catlin D&R (left). Much to the confusion of some discographers, Leeds retained the original Imperial single-face numbers on its couplings,one of which was chosen to serve as the D&R catalog number; thus, one side will be correctly numbered, while the other will not. For the specimen above, #45179 is actually the number of Henry Burr’s “Will the Angels Let Me Play,” on the reverse side. Columbia’s later D & R offerings included Paul Southe’s “Cubanola Glide,” which had been almost immediately dropped from Columbia’s own catalog in favor of a Collins & Harlan remake.

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D&R also differed from its counterparts in not using Columbia’s catalog numbers or couplings. Many D&R couplings — such as banjoist Vess L. Ossman’s tremendously popular “St. Louis Tickle” and “The Smiler,” each of which had been paired with negligible “filler” titles on Columbia — were more appealing than Columbia’s own. By the end of 1912, however, D & R was no more.

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THE STANDARD – HARMONY – UNITED CONSOLIDATION

While O’Neill-James was struggling, and D&R was just getting its foot in the door, Roberts Johns was building Standard Talking Machine into a major business with strong nationwide sales. He was now managing three premium-scheme operations operating out of three separate offices — the Standard, Harmony, and United Talking Machine companies.

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The latter was a newly added line, sporting 1½” spindles and spindle holes. Also supplied by Columbia, United offered basically the same material as Standard and Harmony. Its dealings were not always the most ethical, if the number of lawsuit filed against the company is any indication. The case of United Talking Machine Co. v. Metcalf (175 S.W. 357) reveals its selling methods. Like Harmony, United employed traveling salesmen who required retailers to sign binding sales contracts. For $20.80, dealers were supposed to receive 32 discs United records (paying the full list price of 65¢ per record), a “free” Symphony Hornless Talking Machine, and a package of 100 needles. Under terms of their contracts, United retailers were required to give away the machines to customers who purchased a specified number of records. The retailers were assured verbally (never in writing) that they would easily recoup their losses on the machine give-aways from sales of the matching discs. Dealers could also order individual records, without the “free” machines, for 39¢ each wholesale. However, as testimony in several lawsuits revealed, the contract terms were not always made clear to United’s customers (who were often rural shopkeepers with little business acumen), the records proved to be unsalable to owners of ordinary phonographs, and the “free” machines did not always arrive as promised.

Such complaints did nothing to stall the growth of the Standard, Harmony, and United operations, which in 1912 were finally consolidated in the Heiser Building at Dearborn and Harrison Streets in Chicago. The Standard Talking Machine Company was reorganized and incorporated in 1913 to manage all three lines, with Robert Johns handling the Standard and United divisions, and Thomas E. Johns handling Harmony. Although each marketed essentially the same merchandise, court records make it clear that the three divisions continued to maintain separate legal identities.

Labeling errors sometimes occurred after the 1912 consolidation. It is not uncommon, for example, to find pressings with Standard labels on one side and Harmony labels on the other. Around 1914, decorative concentric rings were added to the Harmony and Standard labels, spaced at the exact intervals to serve as drilling guides for those label’s larger spindle holes. In a final blurring of the lines, some late Standard issues were produced with regular spindle holes, some Harmony issues appeared with Standard holes, and some pressings carried Harmony labels on one side and Standard labels on the other.

Robert Johns died in February 1915, and Standard appears to have suspended operations a short time later.

 

THE CONSOLIDATED TALKING MACHINE COMPANY

 In January 1916, the Standard, Harmony, United, and Aretino operations were merged as the Consolidated Talking Machine Company. Operating at 227 West Lake Street (later, 227–229 West Washington Street) in Chicago, Consolidated advertised itself as “Successors to Standard Talking Machine Co., United Talking Machine Co., Harmony Talking Machine Co., O’Neill-James Co., Aretino Co.” It offered surplus inventory from those companies for several years, along with a repair service for obsolete premium-scheme machines and with its own line of Consola phonographs.

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Although the company soon introduced its own Consolidated label, it was still advertising surplus Standard, Harmony, and United pressings as late as 1918 when, amazingly, the retail price of those records was raised from 75¢ to $1 each, probably killing what few sales might otherwise have remained. Like the various lines they eventually replaced, Consolidated-label records were simply modified Columbia pressings, often with Consolidated labels pasted over the originals. Harmony-type pressings (¾” spindle hole) pressings seem to have been the default, but Consolidated records are also known with normal, ½” (Standard-type), and 1½” (United-type) spindle holes, reflecting the company’s commitment to supply records for nearly the full range of nonstandard-spindle machines (Busy Bee and Aretino being the notable exceptions).

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The once-orderly allocation of spindle-hole sizes became rather haphazard during Standard Talking Machine’s last days. The Harmony pressing above has a Standard (½”) hole rather than Harmony’s usual ¾” hole, with circular drilling guides for Harmony and United. Consolidated offered pressings to fit all of the Johns brothers’ obsolete premium-scheme machines, as well as ordinary phonographs. The late example shown here has typeset label information, which was typewritten or rubber-stamped on earlier labels.

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Consolidated’s couplings and catalog numbers were identical with those of the corresponding Columbia releases, but Columbia’s “A” prefixes often were dropped from the catalog numbers. The labels were cheaply printed, with a blank space for typed or rubber-stamped titles and credits (some late printings used typeset label information). Catalog numbers confirm that Consolidated continued to purchase and relabel Columbia pressings through at least early 1920. The records were later sold at a deep discount, but any remaining stock probably was destroyed when the Consolidated Building burned in January 1924.

In the meantime, the Consolidated Talking Machine Company had become affiliated with the General Phonograph Corporation (the makers of Okeh records), and it went on to become a major distributor for Okeh. Consolidated invoices and letterheads from the early 1920s state that the company was a “Manufacturer of Talking Machines, Repair Parts, Records, and Accessories and Distributor of Okeh Records, Bubble Books, and Granby Phonographs.”

Consolidated underwent a major shift in its method of operation in the early 1920s, as it became more closely affiliated with General Phonograph. Under E. A. Fearne’s expert management, the company became actively involved in recruiting and promoting Okeh’s race-record talent. Beginning in 1923 it provided space for Chicago’s Okeh studio, and a branch office for Ralph Peer, in the Consolidated Building. The last remnant of the Chicago premium-scheme operations, Consolidated Talking Machine Company finally closed in the early 1930s.

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If you enjoyed this posting, be sure to check out A Phonograph in Every Home: The Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900-1919, available from Mainspring Press. Quantities are limited — order soon.

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Selected References

Biennial Report of the Secretary of State of the State of Illinois (Fiscal Years Beginning October 1, 1902, and Ending September 30, 1904), p. 113. Springfield: Illinois State Journal Company (1905).

Blacker, George, William R. Bryant, et al. Busy Bee ephemera, research notes, and discographical data (unpublished, n.d.). William R. Bryant papers, Mainspring Press archive.

D & R (Double & Reversible) Talking Machine Records. (1909 catalog).

Grand Busy Bee Records — Catalog D (undated).

Great Northern Mfg. Co. v. Brown. Supreme Judicial Court of Maine (February 12, 1915). 113 Me. 51, 92 A. 993.

Johns v. Jaycox et al. March 9, 1912. 67 Wash. 403, 121 P. 854.

Johns v. Wilbur. May 28, 1915. 169 A.D. 905.

O’Neill, Arthur J., Assignor to the Aretino Company. “Talking Machine.” U.S. Patent #874,985 (filed April 11, 1907; issued December 31, 1907).

O’Neill-James Co. Grand Busy Bee Records, Catalogue D (n.d.).

Standard Talking Machine Co.: Standard Double-Disc Record Catalogue (1911–1914 inclusive).

United Talking Mach. Co. v. Metcalf. Court of Appeals of Kentucky (April 22,

Untitled obituary (Robert Johns). The Pottery & Glass Salesman (February 25, 1915), p. 29.

 

© 2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

 

 

 

Forgotten Phonograph-Gadget Inventors: Louis Devineau

Louis Devineau surfaced in Cleveland in the late 1890s as a French instructor, and by the early 1900s he was working for the Federal Manufacturing Company, a Cleveland automobile-chassis manufacturer. He was also patenting some interesting after-market accessories for the phonograph, beginning with a folding horn in 1905. His light-weight self-supporting horn was first advertised for sale in September 1907:

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Devineau’s Biophone, one of many attempts to convert cylinders players to disc, or vice-versa, was quite the monstrosity. A model incorporating some obvious departures from the original patent drawing made it to market in late 1907, although it does not appear to have been a commercial success:

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Devineau eventually endeared himself to some local  politicians, and by 1908 he was serving as secretary of the Cleveland Sinking Fund Commission, which he apparently treated as his private treasury. In February 1909, a $12,840 shortage was discovered, with Devineau nowhere to be found. The papers reported that he had last been heard from in Belgium. A warrant was issued for his arrest on embezzlement charges, but nothing more was reported.

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If you enjoy early phonographs and related items, Be sure to check out Vintage Phonograph Ads, 1895-1925, available from Mainspring Press.

Some Oddball Phonograph Patents (1902 – 1906)

This bizarre phonograph, employing a record and turntable in the form of a truncated cone, was patented by Louis P. Valiquet, of Zonophone fame. One advantage was said to be that the record was less likely to slip on the turntable than a standard flat disc.

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Emile Berliner’s device for increasing volume, employing six synchronized turntables. A later “improvement” stacked the turntables vertically.

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F. F. Shanks of Chicago patented this reproducer-less device consisting of an extended rod that carried the sound vibrations directly from the stylus to an attachment of the user’s choosing (the filing mentions a snare-drum head, banjo, or other stringed instrument), which served as a resonator.

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A more direct approach to musical-instrument-as reproducer, in this case a complete violin. A version of this machine was actually manufactured in France.

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For when the “just stuff a sock in it” approach won’t do, here’s a  marvelous piece of German over-engineering. This sadistic-looking device was patented by Albert Conze of Berlin and specified a muffler-ball of leather, cork, or felt. Edison later employed the same general idea in his Diamond Disc machines, but with the adjusting mechanism neatly tucked away below the bedplate.

The Birth of Commercially Viable Magnetic Sound Recording (1900)

In 1900, Danish inventor Valdemar Poulsen patented the first commercially viable magnetic sound recorder, which he boldly predicted would “replace the phonographs hitherto in use.” References to the potential for magnetic recording can be found dating back to the late 1870s, and there were later patent filings  on  magnetic recorders of questionable utility, including one by Victor Emerson that employed “the crumbling action of a magnetic needle” (1904). But Poulson’s magnetic wire-recorder, the application for which had a rather bumpy ride through the U.S. Patent Office, was the first to find its way into commercial production.

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The device was featured at the Paris Exposition in 1900, where Emperor Franz Joseph reportedly made a recording. In late 1903, Stilson Hutchins chartered the American Telegraphone Company to market the machines in the United States. The ad below appeared in 1906:

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Intended to record phone calls and dictation, the Telegraphone lacked the amplification and technical capabilities that would have been needed were it ever to “replace the phonographs hitherto in use.” Although it was not a commercial success, American Telegraphone somehow survived into 1920, when it was placed in receivership.

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For more on recording-industry pioneers of the early 1900s, be sure to check out A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900 – 1919, available from Mainspring Press and many libraries.

Early Columbia Cylinder Phonograph Outfits (Chicago Projecting Company, c. 1901 – 1902)

Some tantalizing ads for Columbia cylinder outfits from a rare catalog issued by the Chicago Projecting Company (225 Dearborn Street). In addition to projectors, films, stereoptions and slides, and related items, the company stocked a wide array of Columbia and and Victor merchandise.

The catalog is undated but includes Victor Monarch “pre-matrix” discs that were recorded as late as October 1901, suggesting a late 1901 or early 1902 publication. By that time, high-volume molded cylinders were beginning to enter the market, and the ear-tubes, oversized “exhibition horns,” and Concert-type cylinders offered here were on the verge of obsolescence.

One page implies that the company was making its own cylinders, picturing an unbranded cylinder and bragging that “our records…made with much greater care than the ordinary records,” while another shows a Concert-type cylinder in a special Chicago Projecting Company box (but with a Columbia lid). In fact, they were all Columbia cylinders, using Columbia’s catalog numbers.

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NEW • The “World’s Greatest Operas” Discography (RCA Victor Series) by John Bolig

Our thanks to John Bolig for the first fully detailed discography of the RCA-produced “World’s Greatest Operas” records. Data are from original RCA documentation at the Sony archives in New York. All issues were anonymous, but as you’ll see, some first-rate talent was employed.

John’s complete listing of RCA’s “World’s Greatest Music” records (a substantially revised and expanded version of our very basic  listing that was posted a few weeks ago) has also been posted.

Note that this listing is only for the original RCA-produced series. Other producers took over the “World’s Greatest…” series after the RCA Victor connection was severed in 1940.

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NEW • The “World’s Greatest Music” Discography (RCA Victor Series) – Revised & Expanded by John Bolig

Our thanks to Victor expert John Bolig for revising and greatly expanding the very basic “World’s Greatest Music” listing that we posted a few weeks ago. The data are from RCA’s original documentation at the Sony archives in New York. A complete listing of RCA’s “World’s Greatest Operas” series is also being posted later today.

(By the way, several of John’s landmark Victor Discography titles have sold out recently. The remaining volumes are still available on the Mainspring Press website, but supplies are very limited. The listing below will give you a good idea of the high-quality data and attention to detail you’ll find in all of John’s books.)

Note that this listing is only for the original RCA-produced series of 1938-1940. Other producers took over the series after the RCA Victor connection was severed, and later pressings are not RCA products.
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Victor on the Road: Ralph Peer Goes to El Paso (Summer 1929)

Press coverage of Ralph Peer’s summer 1929 visit to El Paso, Texas, gives a taste of the excitement that was generated when  Victor and other large East Coast record companies came to far-flung locations seeking talent. Three local El Paso artists had already been chosen to record by the end of June, in advance of the Victor team’s arrival, and auditions continued through the second week of July:

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El Paso Herald (June 28, 1929)

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Among those whose recordings were issued were M. S. Dillehay, the Rodeo Trio (D. A. Champaigne, Kenneth Deshazo, and Phil Smith), and the Maxwell family string band from New Mexico, which someone at Victor named the “White Mountain Orchestra.” But the artist who got the most attention from the local press was another member of the Maxwell family, Billie Maxwell Warner, whose records were released under her maiden name:

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El Paso Herald (July 2, 1929)

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The local reporters poked a little fun at a couple of unnamed cowboys who came to audition:
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El Paso Herald (July 11, 1929)

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In the end, four of Billie Maxwell’ songs were released in the  Victor V-40000 country-music series. True to form, Peer had her listed as the “arranger” of these numbers, enabling him to file for copyright on what were actually public-domain folk tunes. Here’s her “Haunted Hunter,” which was also issued in Canada on the Aurora label. Both editions are rare:

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BILLIE MAXWELL, “THE COWGIRL SINGER” (vocal and guitar):
Haunted Hunter

El Paso, TX: July 11, 1929 — Released May 16, 1930
Victor V-40241 (mx. BVE 55234 – 1)
From a tape dubbing, courtesy of the late Gilbert Louey

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El Paso Evening Post (Decemebr 5, 1929)

From the “Gennett Record Gazette” – Joie Lichter, Bob Tamm, and the Questionable “Gene Bailey” (1924)

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.

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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.”

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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:

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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.

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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!
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(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.)

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2017 ARSC Award for “Race Records and the American Recording Industry”

Now back in stock

We’re pleased to report that Race Records and the American Recording Industry 1919-1945 had been awarded the Association for Recorded Sound Collections‘ 2017 Certificate of Merit in Recorded Blues, Gospel, Soul, or R&B Research.

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.

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The Phonograph – Lamp Combinations (1920s)

The Phonolamp was one of the early hybrids. The Electric Phonograph Corporation (New York) filed its trademark application on June 28, 1918, claiming use of the Phonolamp since “approximately” April 1, 1917. Several models were produced, including one mounted on a pole. Phonolamp also briefly marketed its own record label in 1921, mainly using masters from Grey Gull. The example above  was originally issued on Grey Gull L-1045 (mx. 11117).

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Modernola was another early combo producer. It filed its first trademark application on November 8, 1918, claiming use of the brand since August 5, 1918 (a later filing claimed July 1918 for first use). Unlike most hybrids, which used electric motors, this model used the traditional spring motor.

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One of the gaudiest phono-lamp combinations, Lampagraph advertised heavily during 1920–1921, but information on its manufacturer is lacking.

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Another obscure combination, the Fairy Phonograph Lamp also advertised during 1920–1921.

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If you enjoyed these ads, be sure to check out Vintage Phonograph Advertisements 1895–1925, available exclusively from Mainspring Press while supplies last:

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Len Spencer Arrested (1897)

Russell Hunting wasn’t the only recording-industry pioneer to be arrested in the 1890s. In March 1897, Len Spencer and two of the Emerson brothers were taken into custody in Newark, New Jersey, charged with stealing cylinders from the United States Phonograph Company.

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Len Spencer’s Phonoscope biography, 1898

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The trouble began in early 1897, after Spencer and the Emersons (Victor H., George E., and Clyde D.) resigned from United States Phonograph to work for the American Graphophone Company (Columbia).

According to the charges, Spencer, George Emerson, and Clyde Emerson took a substantial number of records from U.S. Phonograph, which they allegedly sold to a “rival concern.” The company was not identified in the press reports, but quite likely it was Columbia, which had a history of copying other companies’ cylinders and marketing them as their own (see, for example, American Graphophone Co. v. United States Phonograph Co., et al., U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, In Equity No. 4005, an 1898 case in which Calvin Child confirmed the practice).

Victor Emerson was not charged. Details of the arrest were reported by the New York Sun on March 9, 1897:

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But unlike Hunting, who went to jail for three months for making and peddling “obscene” records, Spencer and the two Emersons  escaped unscathed. On March 25, 1897, the prosecutor declared that the state had no case, and defendants were discharged.

A few weeks later, Spencer formally announced his employment by Columbia:

 

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Spencer didn’t remain exclusive to Columbia for long, and by the early 1900s he had reclaimed his former status as one of the most prolific studio free-lancers. Victor Emerson went on to serve long and well as Columbia’s chief recording engineer before resigning in 1914 to launch his own label.

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