Some New Favorite Additions to the Collection • December 2021 (Free MP3 Downloads)

Some New Favorite Additions to the Collection for November–December 2021 (Free MP3 Downloads)

 

A few new favorites who’ve come to roost here in the past month, for your listening pleasure.

Be sure to check out the previous post about i78s.org, where you can now explore and stream more than 41,000 vintage discs and cylinders. Neat features: Transfers have been made at the correct playing speeds (which often is not 78 rpm), and you can switch between flat (unaltered) transfers, for purists; or judiciously processed audio for more pleasurable listening, with the worst noise removed but the original sound quality preserved. Registration is quick-and-easy, and it’s free.

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JABBO SMITH & HIS RHYTHM ACES: Band Box Stomp (V++)

Chicago: August 22, 1929
Brunswick 7111 (mx. C 4101 – )

Personnel given for the Rhythm Aces sessions in various accounts are often at odds and don’t cite a credible documentary source (because there isn’t one; the Brunswick ledgers for this period don’t list personnel). So we’ll go with the personnel that Jabbo himself recalled for this side, as reported to the ever-reliable Dick Spottswood, to wit: Jabbo Smith (trumpet), Willard Brown (saxophones), Earl Frazer (piano), Ikey Robinson (banjo), Lawson Buford (brass bass). Memories get fuzzy, of course, but we’re much more inclined to trust someone who was actually there than folks from the “I hear so-and-so” school of research.

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WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS: If You’re Thinking of Me (EE+)

Chicago: July 25, 1929
Brunswick 4480 (mx. C 3941 – )

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WALTER BARNES & HIS ROYAL CREOLIANS: Birmingham Bertha  (E)

Chicago: July 25, 1929
Brunswick 4480 (mx. C 3942 – )

The vocalist is uncredited in the Brunswick ledger and on the labels (May Alix has been widely cited, based on aural evidence). An alternate take of “Birmingham Bertha,” without vocal, was recorded at the same session, for release in Germany.

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FESS WILLIAMS & HIS ROYAL FLUSH ORCHESTRA: Number Ten  (E+)

New York: June 24, 1927
Brunswick 3596  (mx. E 23747)

Fess Williams, arranger (per the Brunswick ledger).

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NEW ORLEANS WANDERERS: Perdido Street Blues  (EE–)

Chicago: July 13, 1926
Columbia 698-D (mx. W 142426 – 1)
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Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, with George Mitchell substituting for Armstrong (who was under exclusive contract to Okeh at the time). Columbia originally logged this session as “Armstrong’s Band,” then changed it to “Johnny Dodds and the New Orleans Wanderers,” although Dodds’ name was omitted from the labels. (“Trans. to 5008-S” refers to a late-1940s reissue on the Special Editions label.)

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ANONYMOUS: Chevrolet One Minute Dramatization [selections]  (E)

Sound Studios of New York: c. Late 1933
Unnumbered  (mxs. 6048 – 6 / 6050 – )

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Three of the (unintentionally) funnier tracks from a six-track disc plugging the new 1934 Chevrolet with “knee-action” front wheels. Sound Studios of New York was a custom-recording operation associated with the World Broadcasting System.

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PEERLESS QUARTET: That Fussy Rag  (E)

Probably Camden NJ: June 20, 1910
Victor 5787  (mx. B 9128 -2 or -3)

This is the scarce original version (takes 2 and 3 were mastered; the take used is not indicated in the pressing). It was quickly replaced by the more commonly encountered remake of August 31, 1910. The arranger added an awkwardly positioned repeat at the 1:38 mark to stretch the playing time of Victor Smalley’s little gem.

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Enjoy 41,000 Vintage Recordings Free at i78s.org

Enjoy 41,000 Vintage Recordings Free at i78s.org

 

Vintage-record enthusiasts have cause to celebrate with the recent launch of i78s.org, created and hosted by David Giovannoni. Many of you know David for his role in recovering the Scott Phonoautograms (which pre-date Edison’s first recording by nearly two decades) and other important work in the field of early recorded sound.

At the moment there are more than 41,000 digitized discs and cylinders on the site, from David’s own eclectic collection and those of several other advanced collectors, and that number will no doubt increase as others come onboard. You’ll find some exceedingly rare, unusual, and even one-of-a-kind recordings here. Offerings run the gamut from popular mainstream hits to the virtually unknown or just-plain-weird.

Registration is simple, requiring only a valid e-mail address and a password. No personal information is required, and there are no third-party cookies, trackers, spyware, ads, or other such nastiness. Plus, it’s free.

Once you’re registered and logged in, you’ll find a well-designed and relatively intuitive interface. Be sure to take the video tour, on which David walks you through the various screens and reveals some features and settings that might not be immediately apparent. One setting, for example, allows you to switch between three display modes tailored to users with different needs, from those who just want to stream some tunes, to us hardcore types who like to delve into discographical and historical minutiae.

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You can customize your i78s experience through
an array of special settings.

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Navigation is easy once you’ve familiarized yourself with the layout and features. There are multiple search options, and results appear in a menu on the right side of the screen.

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Multiple options make it easy to browse or search the 41,000+ recordings that are currently posted.

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Once you’ve located a record you’d like to hear or know more about, just click on the link, and a window will open on the left side of screen. The upper portion has two tabs by default, one to display the discographic data, and one to display a high-quality label scan. A nice bonus, for selected records, is a third tab marked Supplemental Materials, which displays ancillary items like record sleeves and original documents or advertisements.

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The Supplemental Materials tabs, available for selected recordings, allows you to view ancillary materials like record sleeves, original ads, and related documents.

 

To stream your chosen selection(s), simply click the arrow icon in the lower left-hand panel. You can also save selections to a custom playlist. Transfers have been made at the correct playing speed, which (as most advanced collectors know) often is not 78 rpm — the sort of expertise and attention to detail that’s lacking in similar sites managed by hobbyists or librarians, rather than by experts in the field of early sound recordings.

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Clicking on an item from the search results opens a panel displaying discographical information and label images. Audio files are launched or added to your playlist in the bottom panel, which also allows you to change the playback speed and switch between flat and processed audio mode.

 

An especially useful feature is the ability to switch between flat and processed audio files. For purists and masochists, the flat file reproduces every snap-crackle-and-pop in glorious detail. But if you’re more into enjoyment, the default Processed Audio option removes the worst of the noise, without altering the original sound quality. The transfers are very cleanly done and, for the most part, made from records that are in decent condition considering their age and, in many cases, extreme rarity.

I could go on, but instead, let me urge you to jump over the site ASAP, and start enjoying all the features this remarkable resource has to offer.

—Allan Sutton

THE GUS HAENSCHEN INTERVIEWS: The St. Louis Years (Conclusion), and Final Thoughts

THE GUS HAENSCHEN INTERVIEWS:
The St. Louis Years (Conclusion), and Final Thoughts

James A. Drake

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Read All Installments in the Gus Haenschen
Interview Series:


THE ST. LOUIS YEARS

Part 1    |    Part 2    |    Part 3    |   Part 4

THE BRUNSWICK YEARS
Part 1    |    Part 2    |    Part 3    |    Part 4

THE RADIO YEARS
Part 1    |    Part 2    |    Part 3    |    Part 4

 

 

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THE ST. LOUIS YEARS — Part 4 (Conclusion)

During the years in which you were living in St. Louis, did you see and hear any of the artists whom you later met and perhaps recorded or conducted?

Back then, there were singers and instrumentalists everyone who wanted to be regarded as “cultured” went to hear. I’m thinking in particular of John McCormack, Fritz Kreisler, Alma Gluck, and of course Caruso. Going to see and hear them was a sort of “rite of passage” in St. Louis. Eventually, I met all of them except Caruso, but I never worked with them.

 

Let’s begin with McCormack, whom you met several years later and with whom, as you mentioned in another of our [interview] sessions, you had in common the same Manhattan dentist. Where in St. Louis did you hear McCormack, and what do you recall about his concert?

I heard him at the Odeon Theater, which was the largest of the real theaters in St. Louis at that time. I say “real theater” because some musical performances were held at the Coliseum, which was larger but was not a theater per se. It was a multi-purpose venue for all sorts of shows and events. But the Odeon, which had been built about 1900, was the best of the several theaters we had in those days. [1]  As a matter of fact, the operetta I wrote as a student, “The Love Star,” was performed at the Odeon.

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St. Louis theaters that Haenschen recalled included the Odeon (top) and Orpheum (center). In 1918 the Rialto took over the former Princess Theater building, which is pictured here (bottom).

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Was the Odeon a vaudeville theater too?

Well, no, although the big vaudeville stars performed there, it wasn’t part of a vaudeville circuit. There were several vaudeville houses in St. Louis—the Columbia, the Rialto, and the Orpheum—which featured what were typical [vaudeville] bills in those days. [2] Most of them had four shows a day, one of them being a matinee. Most of them had pit bands with about seven or eight instruments—usually a piano, violin, bass, clarinet, cornet, trombone, and drums.

 

Did you ever play in any of those pit bands?

No, but my little banjo orchestra was a kind of back-up for an act that didn’t show up in time for one of the shows. If I couldn’t get the whole band together in time, just Tom Schiffer and I would play, or maybe Mary Wade would sing with me accompanying her. We would “sub” for the act that didn’t show up. Gene Rodemich also “subbed” for acts that didn’t show.

 

Returning to John McCormack’s concert, was it a “standing room only” event?

Oh, yes. There were bleachers on the stage to accommodate all the people who had bought tickets. They were seated behind McCormack, and from time to time he would turn around and sing to them. Except maybe for Fritz Kreisler, who had a very similar effect on audiences and whose concerts were always sold out, I don’t think there was ever a concert singer who had the “draw” of John McCormack. I lost count of how many encores he sang after doing everything on the printed program. The audience couldn’t get enough of him. [3]

 

As you know, Milton Cross found McCormack to be irascible and seemingly insecure because of his sharp criticism of any singer who sang “his” songs. When you met McCormack years later, what was your impression of him?

The time I could say I met him was at a party that Fannie Hurst, whom I had known from Washington University, gave for him in New York City. I was still at Brunswick then, so this would have been in the 1920s. Now, make no mistake about it, John McCormack knew exactly who he was and he carried himself that way. I remember he was wearing a swallow-tail coat and pin-striped trousers. He was portly, but his posture was perfect and he had that crown of thick, wavy hair. He had quite a presence!

Particularly at an event given in his honor, he wasn’t about to “work the room” introducing himself to the guests. He stood apart from the rest of us, and one at a time we were taken over to him to meet him. He had a very distinctive way of reacting to being introduced—I remember this very, very clearly. I was taller than he was and was always conscious of my posture, so as Fannie took me to him I figured I would bend down just enough to be at eye level with him.

Instead, when I started to extend my hand, he thrust his hand toward me, gripped my hand, and pulled me down to his level. Then he drew me just close enough to him that he looked me directly in the eyes and after Fannie gave him my name, he said to me, “Mister Haenschen.” Now, as I’m telling this to you, it doesn’t sound like much. But unless somebody had been introduced to him face-to-face, it’s hard to describe the effect McCormack had when he drew you close to him and gave you his complete attention with those eyes of his. It was really mesmerizing. That’s an over-used word but it fits the effect that John McCormack had when you were introduced to him the way I was.

 

Were you able to get an impression of McCormack as a person from Fannie Hurst or others who had various dealings with him?

Yes, but I didn’t get the impression of him that Milt[on Cross] did. What I heard about [McCormack] was that he wasn’t combative, he just liked to argue for the sake of arguing. In other words, he’d say something just to get a rise out of somebody. He seemed to think of arguing as almost a sport.

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Haenschen recalled that John McCormack (left) “seemed to think of arguing as almost a sport,” while praising Fritz Kreisler (right) as “one of the most modest top-level artists I have ever known.” (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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What was your impression of Fritz Kreisler as a person?

I got to know him pretty well, and since German was my first language, he and I spoke in German when we were together. He was the nicest, kindest, and one of the most modest top-level artists I have ever known. He knew his limitations as a violinist compared to, say, Mischa Elman, but Elman and every other violinist I can think of considered Fritz Kreisler a friend rather than a “competitor.” His concerts were standing-room-only, and when he was playing you could almost hear a pin drop. That old show-business saying about holding an audience in the palm of the hand is as good a description as I can think of to convey to you the effect Fritz Kreisler had on audiences.

 

You also mentioned hearing Alma Gluck, and also Caruso.

I heard them together at the Coliseum, in a performance of La Bohème when I was a sophomore at Washington University. [4] Alma Gluck sang Mimì, Caruso sang Rodolfo, and Pasquale Amato sang Marcello. In those days, St. Louis was part of the Metropolitan Opera tour, so we had at least one performance of an opera, sometimes two operas, every spring. When I was still in high school, I saw touring performances of Aida and Bohème with Caruso at the Odeon. [5]

I was so eager to see Aida because of Caruso’s famous [recordings of] “Celeste Aida,” and also because Emma Eames, who was a beautiful woman with a beautiful and rather large soprano voice, sang the title-role. In both operas, Riccardo Stracciari, whom I thought had the finest baritone voice I had ever heard and was also a very good-looking man, was in the cast. So was [basso] Marcel Journet, who also fit that description.

 

Speaking of recordings, I want to ask you about the recordings you made and what you remember of them.

You mean those personal recordings that I paid to have made at the Columbia studios and that Scruggs-Vandervoort let me sell in the phonograph department? I don’t have any of them, but Tom Schiffer still has a couple of them. We made just two [recordings] at first, and both were just Tom and me—he on the trap drums and me on the piano.

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Scruggs-Vandervoort announces Haenschen’s first two Columbia Personal Records, June 27, 1916.

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We recorded medleys that we named [on the record labels] “Sunset Medley” and “Country Club Medley” because we had gotten steady work at the Sunset Hills Country Club that [brewer Adolphus] Busch had founded a couple years earlier. I think Tom must have kept a diary because he said we made those two records in May 1916. As I told you before, we ordered 200 of those records and sold them at Scruggs-Vandervoort and also at the Stix-Baer department store, where I also played from time to time. [6]

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(Above) Scruggs-Vandervoort advertised Haenschen’s later Columbia Personals on November 12, 1916. (Below) A sampling of Haenschen’s rare Personal records; Haenschen recalled that only two-hundred copies were pressed of each. (All but 60781 courtesy of Steve Nordhougen)

 

You also made some test recordings for Victor, correct?

Yes, at the Victor studios in New York City. That was a few months after Tom and I made those two medleys at Columbia. I took the whole band to New York, and we made two or three test recordings hoping that we’d get a recording contract from Victor. Tom says we made those trial recordings over two days, and I think we recorded my rag “Zillo.” I don’t remember the other song we did, but nothing came of the whole thing—no contract from Victor. Let me take that back, though, because something very good did come out of that experience at Victor: I met Walter Rogers, the man who would be my counterpart in classical-music recording when I was hired by Brunswick.

 

Do you remember any of the other personal recordings you made at the Columbia studios?

I only remember one, and that’s because of my involvement with Scott Joplin. I recorded “Maple Leaf Rag,” with my full band. By “full band” I mean two banjos, an alto sax, and Schiffer and me. One of my banjo players could play the violin in a ragtime style, and the sax player also doubled on the clarinet. I was at the piano, of course, and Tom took his whole set of drums for those sessions.

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Only a single copy of Haenschen’s “Maple Leaf Rag” is confirmed to exist. It was located by Colin Hancock, who notes, “It belonged to the late Trebor Tichenor and was inherited by his daughter Virginia and her husband Marty Eggers… It was quite a saga, but against all odds we found it!” So far, rumors of other copies have proven to be just that, but readers are encouraged to e-mail us with photographic evidence of other specimens. (Photo courtesy of Colin Hancock)

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Tom remembers that we recorded two songs with the full band. One was a popular song called “Admiration,” a one-step that we played in a “hot” style for the time, and the other one—and for some reason I mis-remembered the title—was “I Left Her on the Beach at Honolulu.” I think I said “Waikiki,” but it was “Honolulu.” Those records were made so long ago that I have very few memories of them except “Maple Leaf Rag.” But we sold every one of those discs, so even though I had to pay to have them made, they turned out to be a very good investment. [7]

 

When you first went to New York after Max Dreyfus wired you and you worked with George Gershwin when he was writing “La, La Lucille,” Irving Caesar wrote the lyrics for two of the songs. Now that you and he have been reunited after not having seen each other since those days with Max Dreyfus at T. B. Harms, Caesar has spoken somewhat disparagingly about Gershwin. He says that Gershwin would never have been acclaimed as a classical composer, that some of his piano works were derivative and in some cases were little more than counter-melodies to others’ compositions. What do you make of those statements, which he made in the interview I recorded of the two of you?

I’ll tell you in one word: jealousy. After he wrote the lyrics for “Swanee” with George, and Al Jolson made it a national hit, Irving wanted to be George’s only lyricist. He figured he would be because he spent time with the Gershwin family in their apartment, so he knew George’s family. He and George were spending a lot of time together, and I think [Caesar] took for granted that he would always be George’s lyricist. What he didn’t take into account, and to be fair to him very few others did either, was how gifted Ira Gershwin was. Ira was an introvert, just the opposite of George—but George knew how gifted Ira was, and the proof is in what they wrote together.

As I told Irving that day we had our “reunion” in his office, he should be counting his lucky stars that the Broadway musical he contributed some of the most memorable lyrics to in 1925, “No, No, Nanette,” is a smash hit on Broadway almost fifty years later. Two of the biggest hits of that show were “Tea For Two” and “I Want to Be Happy,” and he wrote the lyrics to both of them. He claims he also wrote most of the music for “Tea For Two,” but Vincent Youmans wrote the melody, as he did for “I Want to Be Happy” and every other song in that show—so at most, Irving may have made a suggestion or two to Youmans about one of those songs.
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Gus Haenschen and Irving Caesar enjoy a “reunion” in New York’s Brill Building, May 1972. (Author’s photo)

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Audio compilation courtesy of Robert Fells. The conversation was recorded by the author in May 1972, in Caesar’s Brill Building office. The introductory recording is Haenschen playing “Underneath the Japanese Moon,” from his and Schiffer’s 1916 recording of “Country Club Medley.” The concluding performance is the author’s recording of Haenschen playing the same song in his home in May 1974, at the age of eighty-five.

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Irving has been making the rounds of the talk shows lately because he’s the only surviving member of the team that wrote the songs. When he talks about “Tea For Two” he always wants to sing the verse he wrote because the words to “Tea For Two” are so mundane—which is what they were meant to be in the show because they were written for a character who was naïve. The lyrics to the verse that Irving wrote are much better than the refrain, so he likes to highlight those when he talks about and sings “Tea For Two” on these talk shows. I don’t think he appreciates how lucky he is to have a hit show on Broadway and be able to take credit for his contributions to that show.

 

When you moved permanently to New York when Brunswick made you the offer to become the founding Director of Popular Music recordings, one of your long-time orchestra members, John Helleberg, told me in an interview that you had informed everyone you worked with that you were never going to get married and instead were going to enjoy life to its fullest by staying single. What changed your mind?

Roxanne changed my mind—or rather I changed my mind after I got to know her well. She was young and pretty and one of the most valued staff members at Brunswick because she was Milton Diamond’s personal secretary. Anyone who knew Milt will tell you that he was no bargain to work for, but he could never praise Roxie enough. Because I had to meet with Milt a lot, I got to know Roxie better and better, and I finally decided to propose to her. It made perfect sense to me because she was the only woman I felt I would ever meet who could understand the demands of my work. When we announced our engagement at Brunswick, you can’t imagine how much kidding I had to take about that vow of mine to stay single.

 

How did marriage change you?

Well, at first it didn’t because we were both still working at Brunswick. But we wanted to have a family, and not only Milt Diamond but everyone else who knew us at Brunswick understood why she wanted to resign and become a wife and ultimately a mother. She also liked my idea of buying land in Connecticut so I could get away from New York and enjoy life in the country and raise children there. That’s when I bought sixty acres in Norwalk and built our home and also my workshop there.

 

How did becoming a parent change you?

That was the biggest change of all, and if you ever have children you’ll understand what a change it is in your life. I can tell you that it made me a much better man, being a father. I was used to doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and Roxie was the same way. But when we became parents, everything changed. Not so much for her, but for me because I was now living for our children and not just for myself.

 

In one of our earlier interviews you mentioned being the father of four children, but I have only met three of them—your daughters Barbara and Betty, and your son Richard.

Did I say four? I’m surprised that I still slip and say that when I’m not thinking. This is something that’s a little hard for me to talk about. Before Richard, Roxie was pregnant and everything seemed to be coming along well throughout the pregnancy. In those days you didn’t know whether you were having a boy or girl until the baby came out and the doctor told you if it was a boy or girl. I had hoped for a boy, and as it turned out it was a boy—but it was stillborn, which just crushed me. Roxie and I had agreed that if it was a boy, we would name him Frank Munn Haenschen. Thank God I never told Frank about that because of what happened. But in a way, losing that baby boy at birth made it even harder for me because I had so wanted for Frank to be his godfather. But Richard came along, and he and I are not just father and son but friends.

 

I have heard from people who worked for you on radio—and I’m thinking of Conrad Thibault and Elizabeth Lennox in particular—who have said that to see you and Richard walking together in midtown Manhattan was to see two handsome men who looked almost like brothers. Having met Richard, I have to admit that he not only looks so much like you, but even his speaking voice is almost the same as yours.

As I say, he’s not just my son, he’s my friend. He also handles my investments—he’s a stockbroker and a very successful one. By the way, he’s named after one of my “stars” at Brunswick: Richard Bonelli. My daughter Betty, who full name is Elizabeth, is named for Elizabeth Lennox. The only one who isn’t named after one of my Brunswick singers is Barbara. Her full name is Barbara Roxanne, by the way. Roxie picked “Barbara,” but I insisted that her second name had to be her mother’s name. But back to Richard, he and I are real pals and he’s learned some machining from me over the years.

 

He has told me that when the two of you still walk down any of the major streets in midtown Manhattan, people still look at you because you both have white hair now—identical white hair.

Yes, just as I never went from the dark brown hair I had as a young man to some gray here and there, my hair just turned pure white, as did Richard’s. And he parts his hair the same way I part mine.

 

After being in your home, I can imagine what a wonderful place it was for your children when they were growing up. Your home is both large and very well designed, and is not far from the swimming pool you had put in so you could do laps and keep in shape. Did you design the house yourself?

Yes, and I built a lot of it myself—but that’s our second house, not our first one. The house you’ve been in is about 5,000 square feet under roof, which is fine for Roxie and me and any guests we have for dinner, and for our kids who are now adults and have families of their own. Our first house, which I had an architect design, was 15,000 square feet and had several full-size guest rooms plus quarters for my “houseman,” as we used to call men who lived on the property and did the handy work, and quarters for our cook and maids. We did a lot of entertaining there.

I had the pool put in not so much for myself but for the kids and their friends. Roxie and I wanted our house and grounds to be the place where all of our kids’ friends would congregate. In the summers, our pool was where all the kids’ friends came and would stay most of the day. That gave us an insight into who our kids were associating with and what kind of influence they were having on our children. Although I did use the pool myself, I really had it put in for the kids.

 

That wasn’t all you did, from what your son Richard has told me, on that sixty acres of land. He said you became a big-time farmer. What prompted you to do that?

It was something I had never done, so I decided to use that acreage to create a real farm. Not just crops, but a dairy farm and a horse farm too. I had two large barns built, one for the cows and the other for the farm equipment I bought. I also had chicken coups built, a pen for sheep, and stalls for the horses. As you might guess, I didn’t buy any of the farm machinery new because that’s no fun. I bought older, used tractors and a combine and other machinery, and Frank Munn and I rebuilt the engines and gears for them. I had them painted the original color, so everything looked and worked like new.

 

Richard said that even a casual suggestion could prompt you to plant a new crop. He said that as Christmas approached, he and his sisters wanted to go with you to pick the best pine for a Christmas tree. He said that next thing he knew, you had laid out the acreage to plant a pine forest!

I did, and we gave away some of the best ones to our friends for Christmas trees. And as he told you, this wasn’t just a few trees, it was a real forest of pine trees. I had also planted lots of different fruit trees, especially apple trees. Every year, our corn crop alone was bountiful.

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The Haenschen family on the farm
(St. Louis Dispatch, June 20, 1943)

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When harvest time came, how did you manage that?

I had a lot of “hired hands” who worked other farms, and they would come and do most of the harvesting work. I had several old wagons that I had restored, and we would go to the farmer’s markets in those wagons. We used the horses to pull them. In the wintertime, we would hitch the horses to an old sleigh that I had rebuilt and had made special runners for. The kids and all their friends loved riding in that sleigh!

 

When did you put away your bib overalls and give up farming?

When the kids went off to college. That’s when I built the house you’ve been in, and I also added on to my workshop so I could spend more time in it. And I began selling off part of the acreage since I no longer needed it. Of the original sixty acres, I still have about thirty, which is more than enough for me. It’s all grass now, and in the winter I put a plow on one of my tractors and clear the roadway, and in the summertime I use another tractor to pull a “gang mower” like they use on golf courses.

 

It’s interesting to me that your address is simply “Old Rock Lane,” with no house number or any other designation.

That’s what I named the road when I bought the original sixty-acre parcel. Now that I’ve sold about half of it, there will be subdivisions on the acreage I sold, so in time there will be house numbers on Old Rock Lane.

 

You wrote the music to at least one of the songs in a musical called “Come Seven.” The one song I’m referring to is “Read ‘Em and Weep.” Do you remember that song?

Yes, but neither it nor the show amounted to much of anything. Al Bernard, whom we later used at Brunswick, wanted to do a blackface show like Eddie Cantor did in the Follies and then did on his own. Al pitched the idea of the show to me, and I wasn’t interested because those kinds of shows were on the wane and I didn’t want to be associated with one. He kept after me about this card-playing scene he had in mind, and he had the words but he couldn’t come up with a melody. So I wrote the music for that one song, but as I say nothing much came of it or the show.

 

One “show” you were very much involved with until you decided to retire a couple years ago was the weekly Saturday matinee broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera. How did you get that assignment?

When the contract for producing the broadcasts was up, Gerry (Gerald H.) Johnston won the new contract. Gerry has his own radio “empire,” but he has no interest whatsoever in opera. His only interest is in broadcasting football games. So he hired Henry Souvaine, who had written some songs with Yip Harburg for the Ziegfeld Follies and worked for a while for Frank Hummert as an arranger and a conductor. Seeing what they had done, he decided to go into the production end of radio and he did very, very well with it. For the Met, he produced the intermission features. He worked with Edward Johnson, who was the Met’s general manager then, and he overlapped with the [Rudolf] Bing administration for a couple years but then he died.

 

Had you known Henry Souvaine before you worked with him at the G. H. Johnston Company?

Actually, he played for us in some of our World Broadcasting transcription sessions. He was a competent violinist. But that was before he got into the production end of radio.

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Gus Haenschen conducting at CBS

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Lauritz Melchior for Chevrolet, with Bud Collier announcing and Gus Haenschen conducting, 1949.  (Author’s collection; dubbing and audio restoration courtesy of Robert Fells)

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Although Milton Cross used to broadcast from a specially constructed box in the “Old Met,” the Met broadcasts are now done from the Johnston studio in Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center. I know that Mr. Cross was never comfortable with doing the announcing without being able to witness the action on the stage.

It wasn’t just that, it was what Geraldine Souvaine put him through that made him so uncomfortable. She is a foul-mouthed witch who wants to be thought of as “one of the boys.” After Henry died and she took over, she was all right for a while but when Gerry Johnston got the production contract, she turned into a nightmare—especially for Milt.

She started putting pressure on him by refusing to let him write his own commentary. She had somebody on her staff write it, and he wasn’t allowed to change a word. She had already decided she wanted him out, and after he lost his wife she showed him not the slightest sympathy and instead told him that he was an old man and might have a heart attack or a stroke in the middle of a broadcast. So she put the guy she was grooming to be his replacement at a microphone near Milt, which completely unnerved him.

When the stress he was under began to show in his voice, she gave him a choice of either resigning or being fired. He was such a lost soul, and he simply wanted to die. I last talked to him a few days before Christmas, when I called to wish him happy holidays, but he was so depressed that I ended up being down myself after I hung up the phone. He told me he hoped this would be his last Christmas.

 

He died soon after that, on January 3, 1975. I know that you and Mrs. Haenschen attended his funeral service.

The chapel was standing room only, which would have pleased him. Almost all the great singers of the past and present were there to honor his memory. What I remember the most is that [Richard] Tucker and [Robert] Merrill were among the pallbearers—and not even a week after that, Tucker died of a heart attack while he and Merrill were on tour. That hit all of us hard because Tucker was like a rock, and he would have completed thirty consecutive seasons that weekend if he had lived to celebrate his anniversary. I thought it was very fitting that the Metropolitan Opera board granted his family’s wish to have his funeral held on the stage of the opera house. I remember that the house was filled.

 

This interview session brings us to the present time. I gave you some questions in advance so you could think about them before answering them. Let me begin with the fact that a week ago you conducted the Ithaca College orchestra and Roberta Peters in the annual spring concert at the College. What was your assessment of the orchestra and of her performance?

Well, it’s difficult for me to conduct with the confidence I used to have because—and I discovered this in the middle of a concert I was conducting at the College four or five years ago—I’ve lost my hearing in the higher-frequency range. I’ll never forget when I found it out because I was conducting the orchestra and all of a sudden I thought that all the violinists had completely missed their cues because I couldn’t hear them. I remember turning to them and seeing their bows moving, but not being able to hear them. Luckily, Ithaca College is nationally known for its speech pathology and audiology program, and the professor who heads it, [T.] Walter Carlin, had special hearing aids designed for me. They work fine for speech but not very well for hearing music.

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Gus Haenschen at Ithaca College with guest artist
Roberta Peters at his final concert, 1979.

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What was your opinion of Roberta Peters’ performance? I know you have nominated her to be on the College’s board of trustees.

I nominated her because I’m 89 years old and I won’t be here forever, and the School of Music needs a nationally known performing artist to be on the board of trustees. The other professional schools have their own trustees—in fact, the School of Television and Film Studies has two trustees, Rod Serling and Jessica Savitch, the newswoman who’s a graduate of that program. Roberta should be a good trustee because she’s still a “name,” and she’s married to Bert Fields, who owns a string of hotels in New York City. They aren’t luxury hotels—in fact, some of them are just short of being fleabags—but he has money and she can get him to donate to the College.

 

But what about her performance during the concert you just conducted?

I’ve been trying to duck that question but I can see that you’re not going to let me. I guess a polite way to answer that question is to say that she’s very creative from the standpoint of explaining her repertoire at this stage of her career. As some other singers have done in the past, she decided that she no longer needed any teachers and that she could be her own teacher. What she succeeded in doing was to lose her top tones, the ones that got her into the Met in the first place. Where I give her high marks for creativity is that she tells interviews that her voice has “evolved” from a coloratura to a lyric soprano. Now, that’s creative! She can still sing a high-C, but she used to be able to sing the high-F in the [opera] house before her voice “evolved.”

Not too long ago she decided to try television acting, and she did a guest appearance in one of these medical shows that are so popular. She didn’t need to read the reviews to know that she couldn’t act at all, so that was the end of her television acting career. As long as she becomes a trustee and takes care of the School of Music, then she’ll be serving the purpose I had in mind when I nominated her.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

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Gus Haenschen’s sixtieth-birthday portrait

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Now for the questions I gave you in advance so you’d have time to think about them before we taped this last session. The first one is, whom do you consider to have been the most influential people in the radio and recording industries during your long career?

That’s easy to answer, and no one in the industry who’s been in it as long as I have will disagree with my choice: Ben Selvin. He has done it all and has done it better than anyone else—especially considering how broad his influence has been. He began, as I did, leading a ragtime band just as jazz was coming in. He recorded for just about every label in those early days, and then he became a silent partner with Percy Deutsch and Frank Black and me when we formed World Broadcasting. Just as we had planned, he got the A&R post at Columbia, which gave him access to all the stars they had under contract. Then he went on to form Muzak, which he said was prompted by what we did at World Broadcasting.

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Ben Selvin, c. 1925, with a misleading caption. Until he joined the Columbia staff in 1928, Selvin was never truly exclusive to any one company, since his orchestra recorded prolifically for numerous labels under a bewildering array of pseudonyms.

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He also wrote the definitive report that [James Caesar] Petrillo retained him to write on behalf of the A. F. of M. [American Federation of Musicians] against the recording companies when Petrillo ordered a strike [in 1942] that lasted almost two years. Petrillo thought he could tell Ben what to write, but Ben did one of the finest analyses of the royalties issue that could ever have been done—and he did it his way, not Petrillo’s. After that, while still heading Muzak, Ben became an advisor to Majestic Records after they adopted his suggestion to record light classical albums. [8]

 

A sidebar question about Petrillo: Did you know him and did he ever work for or with you?

No, he was in Chicago when I was at Brunswick, but we did use him when we did field recordings in Chicago. Even then, he was moving up in the Chicago local union [Local 810] and I think he became president. He was a far better union organizer than he was as a musician. He was an adequate trumpet player, but no more than adequate and would never have played the lead in any band. I think his limited ability as a player is what prompted him to become a conductor. He became the conductor of the studio orchestra at one of the big Chicago radio stations [WBBM].

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Widely reviled, union boss James Caesar Petrillo brought the record industry to a near-standstill twice in the 1940s when he banned recording by A.F. of M. members.

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The trouble with Petrillo was that the more power he got when he was made head of the A. F. of M., the more egotistical he got, and he also became really eccentric. He refused to shake hands with anyone, and instead would stick out his pinkie finger for you to shake. By the way, he had a brother named Caesar James Petrillo, who didn’t have any interest in the limelight and was a much better musician.

 

What effect did the A.F. of M. ban have on your radio shows, and how did you deal with the ban?

I always had good-sized choral groups with my orchestras on radio. During the ban I just hired more singers for the chorus. I still paid the orchestra players anyway, because most of us thought that the ban would be over a lot sooner than it turned out to be.

 

Did you have a runner-up for Ben Selvin when you thought about the most influential people in the radio and recording industries?

Yes, if I had to name a runner-up it would be Jack Kapp for saving the recording industry with his American Decca label and getting big-name stars like Jolson and Bing Crosby to invest in Decca. Jack had a wonderful way with top stars, and he had both the drive and the patience you need to work with them and get them to record songs that you know will be just right for them and will really sell discs. Jack was excellent at that. But his influence was not as broad as Ben Selvin’s.

There’s a third one I admire greatly too, and that’s Fred Waring. Fred has had one of the longest and most successful careers of anyone I can think of. What he’s done for choral music, and for training future choral directors at his annual training camps at his country club, is really marvelous. He’ll be the first to say that he owes much of the Pennsylvanians’ success to Robert Shaw, who got his start with Fred and who’s now the top in his field. If you want to measure success by taking into account that Fred can’t really read music and could only play basic chords on a banjo ukulele, then Fred Waring is a huge success.

 

Before I ask you the questions I gave you in advance, is there anything we’ve discussed that you may want to amend?

Yes, and I’m glad you asked because I said that Ted Lewis, whom I’ve known since we started in the business, was the first to play true jazz when he and his band were at Rector’s. I was at the Friars Club for lunch with someone not long ago, and I saw Ted there. He loves playing cards with a group there. I told him what I’d said, and also told him I still wished I’d have gotten him away from Columbia and signed him with us at Brunswick. He told me that no, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was the first to play and record jazz during their time at Reisenweber’s. He said that Rector’s hired him and his band because they wanted to give Reisenweber’s some competition. So I want to correct that because what I said was wrong.

I want to say something else about Nat Shilkret, my “competitor” at Victor, because I don’t think I did justice to him. Now, I could never understand his aloofness and frankly his rudeness to me, considering that Brunswick was no competitor to the gigantic Victor Company. Yet it was his job to make Victor’s light classical and popular-music recordings the top sellers in our industry, and he did that exceptionally well. In a way, at least looking back to that time, I should have been flattered that he regarded me as “competition” because we were just following the leader, Victor, and he was the “head man” for most Victor popular releases.

But that’s just part of what he was—and though you never hear about him these days, he’s still alive but has had cancer and I’m told that he lives with his son here in New York. Nat Shilkret was the most versatile musician I can think of, and I’ve worked with the best. He was a prodigy who began with the clarinet, and he was a virtuoso clarinetist, but was also an equally good pianist, violinist, cellist, mandolin player, guitar player, banjoist, and trombonist.

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Nathaniel Shilkret (front row, center) with the Victor Salon Orchestra, c. 1925–1926. (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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He played under all the great symphony conductors, and he was also a composer. He wrote a concerto for the trombone which was premiered by the New York Symphony under [Leopold] Stokowski, with Tommy Dorsey as the soloist. That concerto was very difficult, and I heard that not even Jack Teagarden wanted to audition for Stokowski. Two of the popular songs Nat wrote, “The Lonesome Road” and “Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time,” he gave to Gene Austin to record but they’ve been done by just about everyone since then. He even put Gene’s name on the sheet music as a lyricist, which of course gave Gene more incentive to make it a hit.

Nat conducted many of “The Victor Hour” broadcasts, and did a lot of radio conducting, just as I did. He also went to Hollywood and wrote the scores for several films. Before then, he had come up with the idea and figured out the logistics to make “electrical recordings” of Caruso by superimposing the electrically recorded Victor studio orchestra over the original acoustically recorded orchestra.

The way he did it, from what some of the orchestra players told me, was to have them wear one earphone so they could hear the original recording being played. They would follow Nat’s baton so they would begin playing over the old orchestra when Caruso was between phrases. Those recordings were heavily promoted in the newspapers and on radio, and he even persuaded [Luisa] Tetrazzini to be interviewed in a newsreel while listening to the re-recording of Caruso singing the aria from Martha. That and the re-recording of “Vesti la giubba” were, I think, the best of those re-recordings.

 

Now for the questions I find the hardest to ask you. What do you hope for in the future, and what do you fear if anything?

You know that I’m staring at turning 90, and I can’t believe that I have lived this long. The top priority for me is to keep my health because without it I’m no good to anybody. I have never had any real health problems, but as you know I had what could have been a fatal accident driving back to Norwalk from Ithaca. I don’t remember anything except waking up in an emergency room and not knowing why I was there. Apparently, I had blacked out and my car had gone off the road and into a tree.

Luckily, I had my seat belt on, and the car didn’t hit the tree head-on. I didn’t break any bones and was all right in just a few days, but from now on I have to have an envelope in my glove compartment with my photo, my name and address and telephone number, and the name of the person who should be contacted if that ever happens again. The only good thing that came out of it was another new Buick.

 

 What don’t you want, and what if anything do you fear?

What I don’t want is to outlive Roxie. The odds are that I won’t because she’s a fair amount younger than I. And God forbid that any of my children or their children should die! As for death, I don’t have any fear of it because I don’t believe there’s any such thing as an afterlife. Roxie was raised as a Roman Catholic but for some reason she switched to the Anglican religion and raised our kids as Anglicans. She saw to it that they were baptized and took communion and whatever other rituals there are in the Anglican religion. I don’t know because I’m not a “God man” and never have been.

 

 What is the hardest part of being almost 90 years old?

Well, the hardest part is having to go to the funerals of people you worked with, sometimes the ones you discovered or helped jump-start their careers. It was hard watching Jim Melton destroy himself with alcohol, and it was really hard on me when Frank Munn died. I loved that man because he was so naturally gifted, and yet so modest because of his shyness. The last time I saw him, which was several years after he had retired, he told me before I came to his home that I might not recognize him.

His wife had devised a very simple diet for him. He would fill his plate as he would normally, and then he would put half of it back in the skillet or pan. He lost over 100 pounds using that method, but he looked like a deflated balloon. His skin was just hanging from his frame. But he could still sing. I know because I sat down at the Steinway upright in his living room and got him to sing for me. He still had that lovely lyric voice that I had first heard soon after I was hired by Brunswick.

 

 On a positive note, what do you still enjoy?

I have to tell you that one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most are these interviews—not the ones you’ve done with me so much as the ones I was able to arrange with the men and women who played in my bands over the years. I’m glad you talked me into this oral-history project, and that you and [co-director] Marty [Martin W.] Laforse did the interviews with so much preparation and research. And I especially enjoyed sitting at the piano here in my home with both of you and playing “Underneath the Japanese Moon.” That was the song that made my career, and I play that for my grandkids now.

I’m lucky that I don’t have any arthritis and can still play pretty well for a man my age. And I still have my old friend Tom Schiffer in St. Louis. By the way, he’s now called “Ted,” and I kid him that he changed from “Tom” to “Ted” only because Ted Kennedy is so popular. I talk to Tom every couple weeks, and I tell him that I’m going to fly to St. Louis so we can start up our band again. Wouldn’t that be something!

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Gus Haenschen’s last formal portrait, c. 1972

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Author’s Note: Walter Gustave Haenschen died at age 90 in a hospital near his home in Norwalk, Connecticut, on March 26, 1980. His wife said that during the space of one week he had steadily lost the use of his legs. She was at his side when he passed away.
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March 29, 1980

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A decade later, in 1991, Roxanne Haenschen was driving and apparently lost consciousness. Her car went off the road, and she died of injuries sustained in the accident. Their eldest daughter, Barbara Roxanne Haenschen Mulliken, died in 1997, and their son Richard Stephen Haenschen died in 2016. At this writing their youngest daughter, Elizabeth (Betty) Haenschen Martin, is in good health and is living in Oregon.

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Lakeview Cemetery, New Canaan, Connecticut
(Courtesy of Peter Passaro)

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Theodore Thomas Schiffer died in St. Louis on December 26, 1980, nine months to the day after the passing of his lifelong friend Gus Haenschen.

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(Courtesy of Robert Fells)

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The author is grateful to Peter Passaro, of the New Canaan Cemetery, for providing a photo of the gravestone of Gustave and Roxanne Haenschen. A special thanks goes to to Robert M. Fells for digitizing an excerpt of the author’s interview of Gus Haenschen and Irving Caesar, and for attaching to that interview digital restorations of Haenschen performing “Underneath the Japanese Moon” in 1916 and in 1984, and his restoration of the audio advertisement featuring Lauritz Melchior singing under the direction of Gus Haenschen.

 

Notes

 

[1]   “Mr. [W. Albert] Swasey is doing much to advance the interests of St. Louis. He is … one of the foremost architects of the country. The Odeon and Masonic Temple, which he is now erecting on Grant Avenue, is designed to be the artistic and musical center of the Empire City of the Southwest.” St. Louis Post, August 24, 1899.

[2]   The Columbia Theater, located in the Calumet Building in St. Louis, and the Rialto, which was completed in 1918 and located on Grand Avenue, were under the management of the States Booking Exchange, which had regional offices in Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Chicago in addition to its headquarters in St. Louis. The much larger Orpheum Theater was part of the national Keith-Orpheum circuit. The dimensions and other details of the three theaters appeared in the 1919 edition of Vaudeville Trails Thru the West, a handbook for vaudeville performers, agents, and managers compiled and published by Herbert Lloyd.

[3]  The critics’ reactions to the McCormack concert bear out Haenschen’s recollections. “Mr. McCormack appeared at his best and fairly reveled in the rich cadences and tonal beauties of the selections which constituted his share of the entertainment. These included the favorite Irish melodies … [but] the more ambitious selections invaded the operatic realm and tested the timbre and technique of the tenor. In the aria, ‘Ah, the Cold of the Morning [Che gelida manina]’ from Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’ Mr. McCormack attained a true artistic triumph. It evoked a wild demonstration.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 12, 1912. (Courtesy of Rev. Dr. Doreen McFarlane)

[4]  The cast of the Aida performance at the Odeon Theater on April 17, 1907 included Emma Eames, Josephine Jacoby, Riccardo Stracciari, Marcel Journet, and conductor Arthur Vigna. Two days later, Gina Ciaparelli (later Gina C. Viafora), Bella Alten, Riccardo Stracciari, and Marcel Journet were heard in La Bohème, again with Vigna conducting.

[5]   The performance Haenschen attended of La Bohème at the Coliseum in St. Louis featured Alma Gluck, Vera Courtenay, Pasquale Amato, and Andres de Segurola, conducted by Vittorio Podesti.

[6]   In 2020, Archeophone Records released a comprehensive CD titled “The Missing Link: How Gus Haenschen Got Us from Joplin to Jazz and Shaped the Music Business,” a compilation of all known Columbia personal recordings made by Gus Haenschen and his banjo orchestra plus recordings of songs by Haenschen which were recorded by various artists on Victor, Columbia, and Brunswick discs. The credits in the booklet for the CD, produced by Richard Martin and Meaghan Hennessy and edited by Martin, credit the “concept, biographical essay and track notes” of the album to Colin Hancock, who assembled most of the recordings from various collectors and traveled to St. Louis to transcribe the only existing copy of Haenschen’s personal recording of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”

[7]   The Victor ledgers show that Haenschen’s Banjo Orchestra made trial recordings of “The Murray Walk” on September 5, 1916, and “Zillo” and a second “take” of “The Murray Walk” on September 6, 1916. The sessions are marked “Not documented” in the ledgers, and other than one pressing each of the three trial recordings, no other pressings seem to have been made and none of the pressings is known to exist.

[8]   “Ben Selvin, director of artists and repertoire for Muzak recordings in N. Y., has been hired by Majestic Records to act in an advisory capacity in the recording of light classical music. He acts in the same capacity for all recordings done by WOR, N.Y., for its ‘Feature’ label. Selvin retains his Muzak post.” (Variety, April 18, 1945).

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© 2021 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved.

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The Playlist • Some October Additions to the Collection

The Playlist • Some October Additions to the Collection

 

A few of this month’s new favorite finds, for your enjoyment. Always looking to acquire similar material in fine condition (true E– minimum, with exceptions made only for real rarities). You are welcome to email your lists of disposables. Please be brutally honest in your assessment of condition, and use standard VJM grading; note all defects, including grainy surfaces and any label discoloration or damage; and state your asking price (no trade offers, please).

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REV. A. W. NIX & CONGREGATION: Pay Your Honest Debts  (EE+)

Chicago: c. January 1930
Vocalion 1470  (mx. C 5197 – )
The take selected is not shown in the pressing, and the surviving Brunswick documentation for this period is largely missing or incomplete.

 

 

JIM JACKSON: Bootlegging Blues  (EE+)

Memphis Auditorium: February 14, 1928
Unissued Victor mx. BVE 41904 – 1  (test pressing)
This take is unlisted in Blues and Gospel Records (Dixon, Godrich & Rye), although it is documented in the Victor files. Take 2 was issued on Victor 21268 in April 1928.

 

 

MEMPHIS MINNIE: New Caught Me Wrong Again  (E)

Chicago: June 22, 1937
Vocalion 03966  (mx. C 2056 – 1)
Accompanying personnel are unlisted in the surviving American Record Corporation documentation. Blues and Gospel Records suggests Blind John Davis as the probable pianist but doesn’t hazard a guess on the bassist.

 

 

CAROLINA TAR HEELS: Shanghai in China  (E+)

Charlotte NC: August 11, 1927
Victor 20941  (mx. BVE 39795 – 2)
Contains racist lyrics, but an otherwise great record. Personnel per Victor ledger: Gwen Foster (vocal, guitar, harmonica); Dock Walsh (vocal, banjo). Victor’s dealer-stock tag describes this as a clarinet polka!

 

 

 

CARROLL DICKERSON’S SAVOY ORCHESTRA: Black Maria  (EE+)

Chicago: May 25, 1928
Brunswick 3990  (mx. C 1977 – A)

 

 

RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: Back Beats  (E)

New York: March 3, 1927
Brunswick 3490  (mx. E 21721 – 2)

 

 

HOPI INDIAN CHANTERS (GROUP OF M. W. BILLINGSLEY):
Chant of the Snake Dance
  (E+)

New York: March 30, 1926
Victor 20043  (mx. BVE 35252 – 2)

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The Man Who Crippled the Recording Industry: James Caesar Petrillo and the American Federation of Musicians Recording Bans

THE MAN WHO CRIPPLED THE RECORDING INDUSTRY
James Caesar Petrillo and the American Federation of
Musicians Recording Bans (1942 – 1948)
By Allan Sutton

An excerpt from the upcoming Recording the ’Forties*

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For professional musicians in the 1940s, membership in the American Federation of Musicians was essential. Among the few to resist were members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, whose management was firmly opposed to unionization. Under pressure from RCA’s David Sarnoff, BSO officials finally capitulated, and the newly unionized orchestra was allowed to return to the RCA studios. No sooner had it done so than the BSO found itself shut out again, this time by an industry-wide recording ban ordered by AFM president James Caesar Petrillo. [1]

Petrillo had long held a vendetta against what he termed “canned music,” blaming it for the downturn in live performances. Widely viewed by recording-industry officials as a coarse, obscenity-spewing petty dictator, Petrillo did not hesitate to employ strong-arm tactics against anyone who opposed him.

In early 1941, Petrillo recruited bandleader-turned-recording director Ben Selvin to undertake a survey intended to prove that recorded music was responsible for the declining employment of union musicians. [2]  Selvin’s questionnaires, individually tailored for commercial record companies, transcription producers, radio stations, advertising agencies, and jukebox operators, were mailed in the spring of 1941. Based upon the initial responses, involving the radio-transcription business, Selvin concluded, “The amount of money spent for musical talent on recorded [as opposed to live] programs is much higher than anyone in the industry would have guessed.” [3]

Armed with Selvin’s rather flimsy findings, Petrillo presented 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. Petrillo estimated that eight- to nine-thousand AFM musicians could be put to work if records were not available and establishments were forced to rely on live music, while admitting that he had no firm statistics to back up his claims.

The issue came to a head in June 1942, when Petrillo ordered members of the Ringling Brothers–Barnum and Bailey Circus Band to strike. 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 rejected. After a brief postponement to allow the band to play a benefit for handicapped children, the strike order was enforced. Circus officials responded by substituting recorded music over a public-address system during the band’s involuntary absence. [5]  It apparently was lost on Petrillo his strike order caused live musicians to be replaced by recordings — the very situation he had recently railed against at the AFM conference.

Having defeated a circus band, Petrillo next targeted American youth. In July he banned the broadcasting of a popular high-school band festival in Interlochen, Michigan. The action brought universal condemnation from the public, the broadcast industry, and members of Congress. Petrillo was unrepentant. “When amateur musicians occupy the air,” he proclaimed, “it means less work for professionals.” [6]

The incident prompted the Federal Communications Commission to launch an investigation of Petrillo, but it resulted in only a mild rebuke from chairman James Fly, and a vague recommendation that a committee be formed to study the situation. [7]  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. [8]  Stanley E. Hubbard, president of radio station KSPT (St. Paul, Minnesota), issued a scathing denouncement of Petrillo that read in part,

[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. [9]

Undeterred, Petrillo next threatened 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, whether needed or not, after Petrillo complained that radio’s reliance on 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. [10]

Petrillo’s next move was to escalate the threat of a recording ban by union musicians, extending it to commercial recordings as well as transcriptions. On June 8, 1942, he announced,

We will make records for home consumption, but we won’t make them for jukeboxes. We will make them for the armed forces of the United States and its allies, but not for commercial and sustaining radio programs.” [11]

But Petrillo was not content to stop there. Within several weeks, he decided to extend the ban to all recordings, including those made for home use. On June 27, he served notice to transcription and record companies that all recording by union musicians would cease on August 1. [12]  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 dictate to the American people what kind of music it shall or shall not hear. But of 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. [13]

In last-minute effort to fend off the Petrillo threat, U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle announced on July 23 that he would file for injunction under federal anti-trust laws to prevent implementation of the ban. [14]   But on August 1, with Biddle having yet to act, Petrillo’s recording ban went into effect.

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August 1, 1942

.

Petrillo agreed informally to exempt transcriptions for the armed forces and government agencies involved with the war effort, although he soon reneged on even that meager concession. Recordings for motion-picture soundtracks would still be allowed, provided that the recordings did not find their way onto the airwaves or commercially issued records.

Private home recording would also be permitted, but only if the manufacturers of recording blanks would guarantee the recordings would not be broadcast or used in jukeboxes, a provision that was obviously impossible to enforce. There would be no cooperation from the blank manufacturers, who disclaimed any responsibility for the uses to which their products were put. With recording blanks and inexpensive portable recording units readily available, a lively underground market soon developed for custom-duplicated discs from private recording sessions, live performances, and broadcast captures.

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. [15]  In New York, union musicians attended clandestine hotel-room recording sessions for Eli Oberstein’s Hit label, which issued the results under some imaginative aliases.

Record-company executives, according to the New York Times, were content “to sit back and try to outwait Mr. Petrillo,” allowing public outrage to work in their favor. Directors and officials of the National Association of Broadcasters met informally with record company executives to coordinate 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, and with Petrillo’s deadline looming, they scrambled to stockpile enough new recordings to sustain them through 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.” [16]  The same article predicted a return to normal recording operations around January 1943, “assuming that all goes as expected.” It did not.

Petrillo’s actions continued to draw fire from members of Congress. Iowa Senator D. W. 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. [17]  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. [18]

The Justice Department’s request for injunction was denied in October by a federal judge in Petrillo’s home district of Chicago. Refusing to hear the defense’s arguments, he dismissed the case on the grounds that anti-trust laws did not apply to labor unions. [19]   As the ban dragged on, the case was referred to the Supreme Court, which in February 1943 upheld the lower-court’s decision that the ban was merely a labor dispute, and thus not covered under the Sherman Act. [20]

Of the major publications, only Life magazine sided with Petrillo post-ban. A fawning, six-page feature article by Robert Coughlan, published two days after the recording ban took effect, depicted Petrillo as a gruff but good-hearted defender of the working class who was only looking out for his “boys.” [21]

Coughlan was largely alone in his assessment. Three weeks after his story appeared in Life, the American Institute of Public Opinion released the results of a George Gallup poll concerning Petrillo and the AFM strike. Seventy-five percent of respondents 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.” [22]

The producers of several small labels attempted to negotiate directly with Petrillo, to no avail. Hazzard E. Reeves of Reeves Sound Studios, and E. V. Brinckerhoff of Brinckerhoff Studios, formed a trade association comprising thirteen New York–area recording studios, which Reeves felt would give them an advantage in negotiating with the AFM. [23]  But so far as can ascertained, they received no acknowledgment  from Petrillo. Neither, initially, did Musicraft president Paul Puner.

In February 1943, Pruner 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, Musicraft would publicly affirm its support of the AFM’s basic principles. [24]  After receiving no acknowledgment, Puner followed up on March 11 with a letter requesting a prompt reply.

Petrillo’s reply was a curt brush-off. [25]  Undeterred, Puner next sent what Billboard termed an “impassioned wire” to Petrillo, desperately 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. [26]  Eventually Puner received a personal rejection letter from Petrillo, who dismissed Musicraft’s offer as “peanuts.” [27]   Clearly, Petrillo was not looking to accommodate small producers or negotiate settlements on a company-by-company basis. [28]

At the outset, the major labels seemed well-positioned to weather what was expected to be a short-lived strike. For a time they made do by drawing down their existing stockpile of masters, combing the vaults for unissued pre-ban recordings, and reissuing some previously deleted material. But they were soon forced to become more creative.

In mid-January 1943, Billboard reported that Decca was about to release the last of its pre-ban recordings, and speculated that Victor and Columbia might soon have to follow suit. [29]  With no more new material to offer, Decca’s solution was to substitute vocal ensembles (vocalists not being AFM members, and thus not bound to honor the ban) for instrumental backing. The idea was soon 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. [30]  But  they infuriated Petrillo, who resorted to personal intimidation in an attempt to stem the flow. “Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and other leading vocalists have been contacted,” he warned a reporter, “and have promised AFM they won’t make records.” [31]

Petrillo stepped up the pressure on recording-studio directors as well. In June 1943, he summoned former ally Ben Selvin, along with 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. [32]

One producer refused to be cowed. New instrumental recordings continued to appear on Eli Oberstein’s new Hit label, although they were not credited to any recognizable bands. 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. [33]

The band sides were attributed to such patently fictitious conductors as Johnny Jones, Peter Piper, and Willie Kelly, leading to a long-standing guessing game among modern discographers as to who was actually responsible. [34]  Pee Wee Irwin reportedly admitted in later years that, being short of cash at the time, he had taken the risk and directed the “Willie Kelly” sessions for Oberstein. [35]

The band recordings soon caught Petrillo’s attention, since there was no evidence that Oberstein had obtained recording licenses for the issued titles. But it was Arthur Fields’ vocal rendition of “Der Fuehrer’s Face” for Hit  that touched-off what would become an epic clash between Oberstein and Petrillo. [36]

Although Fields as a vocalist was not bound to honor the AFM ban, the record’s sparse instrumental backing placed it within the union’s jurisdiction. Oberstein initially claimed that the recording had been made with a “local pickup crew.” [37]  He later changed his story, claiming the masters had come from Mexico, leading some insiders to joke that he must mean Mexico, New Jersey. [38]  “Call it bootlegging,” Oberstein told a Down Beat reporter, “but it’s legal.” [39]

Oberstein’s tale failed to convince 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 testify or be judged “guilty without explanation.” [40]  The outcome was eagerly awaited by industry officials, some of whom expressed hope that Oberstein would successfully defy the union. [41]  They would be disappointed.

Examination of the union logs failed to reveal any evidence that “Der Fuehrer’s Face” was an AFM-licensed recording. Finally facing the AFM board on October 22, Oberstein elaborated on his latest 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.” [42]  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. [43]

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 Mexican sources. In the meantime, union officials were investigating some suspicious artist credits on Oberstein’s labels that had them “scratching their heads,” according to a Billboard report. No one had heard of Oberstein’s mysterious new band leaders, none of whose names appeared on Local 802’s rolls. The break for Petrillo came after Oberstein’s “Peter Piper” was spotted in the union rolls as a pseudonym for Jack Small, who was immediately summoned to testify before the AFM’s trial board. [44]

Petrillo finally had his evidence that Eli Oberstein was recording with union musicians in defiance of the AFM ban. Oberstein was expelled from the union and had his recording license revoked in June 1943, on the grounds that his continued release of instrumental recordings was “damaging to the interests of the Federation.” [45]  Petrillo was not finished with Oberstein, however. Nineteen music publishers whose songs had been recorded by Hit during the ban were summoned to Petrillo’s office, where the trade press predicted they would be strong-armed into withholding recording rights from any company, such as Oberstein’s Classic Records (the makers of Hit), that was deemed “unfair” by the AFM. [46]

While Petrillo succeeded in largely crippling the consumer record industry, he was less successful 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 and undermining the war effort. They asked that the matter be referred to the 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 Labor Board for the time being. He attempted to minimize his defeat at a press conference, dismissing the burgeoning transcription industry as too small to be of any interest to the AFM. [47]  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 recording 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 (Columia), Decca, and RCA had broken down. However, Decca attorney Milton Diamond had continued to meet privately with Petrillo. [48]  On September 18, 1943, Decca president Jack Kapp announced that his company and its World Broadcasting transcription subsidiary had signed four-year contracts with the AFM that would allow them to resume recording immediately. [49]  

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. [50] The proceeds — later revealed to be a flat half-cent royalty per new recording sold — were to be held by AFM officials in an “employment fund” that reportedly would finance make-work projects for AFM members deprived of “normal employment opportunities” because of competition from recorded music. [51]

Capitol Records, which had barely launched before the ban was enacted, capitulated on October 9, agreeing to the same terms as Decca. [52]  Four independent transcription companies signed slightly modified agreements several weeks later, amidst accusations from the National Association of Broadcasters that the payment plans were “as economically and socially unsound as extortion is immoral and illegal.” [53]

Many industry observers predicted that other producers would rush to sign with the AFM in a bid to counter Capitol’s and Decca’s early advantage. Within a matter of months, virtually all of the record and transcription capitulated, leaving only 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.’” [54]

In April 1944, attorneys for RCA and Columbia called for the War Labor Board to lift the AFM ban and 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. [55]

.

A hostile James Petrillo testifies before the National War Labor Board in 1943.

.

Facing rapidly escalating pressure from the recording and broadcast industries, the National War Labor Board ordered an end to the AFM ban on June 15, which went unheeded. After Petrillo refused to cooperate at a show-cause hearing on August 18, the case was referred to the Office of Economic Stabilization. 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.” [56]

However, it would not be the AFM’s loss. After considering the matter for a week, Petrillo rebuffed the president in a rambling nine-page response. Since virtually every other record and transcription company had already settled with the AFM, Petrillo declared, he saw no reason to offer any concessions to the last two major holdouts. [57]

With no alternatives left, Columbia and RCA (including the latter’s NBC Thesaurus transcription 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. [58]

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 lawmakers, declaring, “We are finally accepting because of the government’s unwillingness or incapacity to enforce its orders.” [59]  Although Petrillo denied that the contracts offered to CBS and RCA were punitive, they contained restrictive clauses not found in those the AFM had signed with other companies, including a provision that allowed artists to cancel their recording contracts in the event of an AFM strike.

In the end, industry experts estimated that the AFM ban had done little damage to most record companies, and might actually have benefited some. There had been no decline in record sales or profits during the ban. There had been a lack of significant growth within the industry, but that was attributed more to wartime shortages, and the fact that a vast number of record customers were out of the market until their enlistments were up, than to the ban. In addition, Capitol and other promising newcomers had gained a competitive edge by signing with the AFM and resuming production while the two industry behemoths remained locked in their losing battle with Petrillo. [60]

 

*         *         *

Recording companies — whether large, small, or still in the planning stages — would enjoy an unprecedented postwar boom. As early as October 1943, a Billboard columnist had observed,

Old-timers who remember how recording companies mushroomed in the days that followed the wind-up of World War I would blink in amazement if they could peak at the post-war blueprints now being drawn by dozens of minor diskers with major American ambitions. And there’ll be business enough for all of them, in the opinion of one of the most astute and important record men in the field today. No less than 300,000,000 annual record sale is the figure at which he pegs the post-war potential. [61]

Petrillo monitored that boom with a growing sense of indignation as record-company profits soared and broadcasters made even greater use of transcriptions. Current AFM contracts, signed at the end of the 1942–1943 recording ban and due to expire on December 31, 1947, were now deemed inadequate in light of the recording industry’s strong rebound and rapid growth.

At the AFM’s summer 1947 convention, Pertrillo once again threatened to shut down all commercial recording activity to force further concessions. Members of the House labor subcommittee immediately launched an investigation into the union, only to have it temporarily squelched by a young Richard Nixon, who favored giving Petrillo “a chance to be a good boy.” [62]

For public consumption, Petrillo made the same case as in 1942: Recorded music puts “live” musicians out of work, and musicians do not receive a fair proportion of the profits from record companies and jukebox operators. [63]  This time, however, there was speculation that Petrillo had a hidden agenda. Suspicions arose that he was using the recording companies as pawns in a scheme to pressure Congress to reject the Lea-Vanderberg and Taft-Hartley acts, which had the potential to undermine some union involvement in both the recording and broadcast fields. [64]

Petrillo was said to be especially concerned with preserving his union’s royalty-funded welfare plan, a concession he had wrung from the record companies at the end of the ban. Not subject to outside oversight or regulation, the fund was widely rumored to be enriching union officials at the expense of those it was intended to help. Under the proposed Taft-Hartley Act, it would have to be administered jointly by the AFM and the record companies, with benefits paid directly to the musicians rather than to the AFM — changes that Petrillo was determined to prevent. If record-industry officials were to join him in lobbying Congress to defeat those bills, Petrillo  hinted, then perhaps a new recording ban might be averted.

That alliance never materialized, and both bills were signed into law. Petrillo sprang into action with his usual barrage of threats hyperbole, and personal intimidation, declaring that “none of the union’s 220,000 members ever will record again.” [65]  But this time, the industry’s response was not what he had expected. The four major producers — Capitol, Columbia, Decca, and RCA — brushed off Petrillo’s threat, claiming to have already stockpiled enough new recordings to sustain them for at least a year (or two, in Capitol’s case). One unnamed record-company executive even welcomed the opportunity a ban would provide to weed out some competitors, telling Billboard,

We have the catalogs the smaller record companies don’t. Should a new record ban develop, Petrillo will be helping us to get rid of small-label competition. We’ll spread “revival” disks all over the market, and the minor companies could not follow suit… Year-long holiday is just what we need to clear up the backlog of orders for old discs. How many of the smaller companies can sweat out a year without new pop diskings? [66]

The same report noted that the record companies were paying $2 million in royalties into the AFM’s welfare fund annually, a large portion of which would dry up in the event of a ban. Petrillo’s threat to launch his own record company evaporated after Justice Department attorneys warned  that doing so could cause jeopardize the union’s protection as a labor organization under the Wagner Act.

After weighing Petrillo’s limited legal options, his increasingly close scrutiny by the federal officials, and the union’s potential financial losses should Petrillo impose a recording ban, many record-company executives decided to outwait him. Their confidence must have been bolstered considerably in October, after they received an invitation from the National Association of Broadcasters to join them in what was termed “an all-industry front against the AFM.” [67]

Petrillo also made the mistake of tipping his hand far too early. With a full five months remaining on their AFM contracts, the record companies began stockpiling masters at a feverish pace. There was even a song tribute to the effort, Jon and Sondra Steele’s “They All Recorded to Beat the Ban,” which became a surprise hit for the minuscule (and until then, utterly obscure) Damon Recording Studios of Kansas City. In an attempt to stem the stockpiling, the AFM refused to issue recording licenses to any new companies, to no avail.

Recording activities reached a new peak in October, when a rumor began circulating that Petrillo might move the ban forward by two months, to November 1. Billboard correctly predicted that “the next few weeks may see a good many label switches, in addition to the signing of still more talent.” [68]  Anxious producers went on signing sprees and attempted to lure competitors’ stars with better contracts. Universal, a small Chicago start-up, signed three new bands within a week. Aristocrat, a six-month-old race label, added more than a dozen new artists. Mercury talent scout Jimmy Hilliard, although reportedly “well-entrenched” with the label’s existing roster, signed nine new artists, in addition to purchasing masters from the defunct Vogue operation. Transcription producer Frederick W. Ziv, who had just signed a long-term contract with Guy Lombardo when the rumor surfaced, recalled,

We began a frantic race against time… Guy Lombardo and his crew sweated it out with us. We had them over at a New York recording studio virtually day and night. Occasionally we would take half an hour off to eat at a nearby restaurant, but mostly we had food brought in. Sofas and chairs served for cat-naps… We produced enough in the series to give us a respectable backlog and an assurance that our sales force could go out and sell Lombardo to the hilt, which they did. [69]

On the West Coast, some small independent producers threatened to withhold any further royalty payments to the AFM and openly announced plans to record with non-union talent, or to employ union musicians under aliases, as Eli Oberstein had done during the first AFM ban. Coast Records announced that it would step up its importation of Peerless discs from Mexico, and several other small labels hinted that they were already in contact with Mexican suppliers. [70]

Some enterprising individuals planned to cut masters on their own and offer them to the major labels, despite not holding active AFM recording licenses, only to discover that most companies would not accept them for fear of AFM reprisals. [71]  That did not deter one Dick Charles, an aspiring songwriter who recruited a group of high-school musicians to record his “Man on the Carousel” in his living room. The Dana label took a chance and issued the recording, with no repercussions reported. “Jocks already have been whirling ‘Carousel,’” Billboard reported, “and copies are due on retail shelves sometime this week.” [72]

November 1 came and went, and no ban was ordered. By then, however, it appeared certain that the AFM would refuse to renew its record-company contracts, and that a recording ban would be ordered on December 31. To skirt the new Taft-Hartley Act and avoid possible intervention by the Justice Department, Petrillo would not officially term the action a strike. Instead, union musicians would be instructed to “merely quit work” on that date. [73]

Richard Nixon, having belatedly realized that Petrillo would not be a “good boy” after all, now insisted that the Justice Department prosecute Petrillo and the AFM for conspiracy in restraint of trade if the recording ban was implemented. But he was thwarted by Justice Department attorneys, who after initially expressing puzzlement over Petrillo’s wording, concluded that “quitting work” was not synonymous with “striking,” and therefore was not an issue with which the department should become involved.

Once the ban was in effect, record producers began revisiting strategies that had been developed during the first AFM strike. Non-instrumental accompanists made a comeback, but on a grander scale than previously. For an April 1948 session by Jack Smith and the Clark Sisters, Capitol brought in a sixteen-voice chorus and a band consisting of kazoos and other toy instruments, presumably played by non-union talent. To lend a fuller sound to its vocal offerings by the Sportsmen Quartet, the company overdubbed accompanying tracks by the same group. Tower’s first post-ban session employed an eight-voice chorus, two harmonicas, and a ukulele to accompany singer Jack Owens. The King label recruited the non-union Harmi-Kings harmonica trio. [74]   Several small concerns skirted the ban by licensing European dance-band recordings, on which they overdubbed vocals by American artists.

Columbia was quick to point out that it had recently opened a new studio in Mexico City, far beyond the AFM’s reach. Bob Thiele, the president of Signature Records, also announced that he planned to move some recording operations to Mexico. [75]  But the largest Mexican recording operation was mounted by Standard Transcriptions, which had employed Mexican musicians during the first AFM ban. During the summer of 1948, Standard president Jerry King announced that his company was planning a Mexican trek that Billboard predicted would be “the largest single recording series yet attempted since the Petrillo ban.” Special arrangements were commissioned so that vocal choruses could be overdubbed by American singers once the masters arrived in the U.S.

King also offered to cut masters in Mexico for the other major transcription companies, the only restriction being that arrangements had to differ from those used his own recordings. [76]  There were no takers, but that apparently did not deter other producers from floating similar offers. For RCA and CBS, the Mexican option proved to be problematic. Union musicians were already on strike at Victor’s Mexico City operation, and a work stoppage reportedly was being planned for Columbia’s Mexican facilities.

There was a renewed interest in importing foreign-label pop recordings as well. Even before the ban, several companies had begun negotiating for the rights to foreign recordings, albeit primarily for the classical market. Keynote’s John Hammond had already secured U.S. pressing and distribution rights to what were claimed to be ten-thousand Czech recordings, and Capitol was in secret negotiations with Telefunken in Germany for its classical and foreign-language catalogs. Now it was reported that Capitol and Columbia were looking to license foreign pop material as well, from British sources. [77]  They idea was largely abandoned after encountering stiff resistance from Hardie Ratcliffe, assistant general secretary of the British Musicians’ Union, and a staunch Petrillo supporter.

Capitol Records, whose launch had been hampered by the earlier AFM action, was the first major label to openly defy the new ban. On February 21, 1948, it was reported that the company had ordered several of its most popular artists, including Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, and Wesley Tuttle, to report for recording sessions in defiance of the ban. Tuttle immediately contacted AFM Local 47 for guidance and was told to ignore the order. The situation turned into a standoff as rumors swirled that Capitol was preparing to test the legality of the ban in court. [78]

On the same day the Capitol news broke, Jerry King ordered band-leader Ike Carpenter to report for a February 25 Standard Transcriptions session, openly admitting that he intended to use Carpenter as a “guinea pig” to test the validity of the ban. The matter was referred to Local 47, which made it clear that Carpenter would face expulsion if he reported for the date. [79]

On April 10, 1948, a group of record-company that included James Murray (Victor), Frank White (Columbia), Milton Rackmil (Decca), A. Halsey Cowan (Signature), and Jack Pearl (representing the Phonograph Record Manufacturers’ Association, a consortium of small independent labels) met to discuss the advisability of approaching Petrillo personally. This time, in marked contrast to the earlier AFM ban, the record-company executives did not appear particularly concerned about the situation, or about appeasing Petrillo. Billboard reported,

No conclusions were reached, but the reps decided to think the matter over and go into it further at another meeting late next week… One disc exec reported that he “don’t much give a damn” about bringing the ban to an early close, and intimated he felt that such was the prevalent attitude among fellow diskers. [80]

The ban dragged on through the summer months, with disbursement and use of royalties paid to the union by record companies the major sticking point. But with the work stoppage was now costing many union members jobs, and crimping the flow of royalties into AFM’s coffers, Petrillo faced mounting internal pressure to resolve the standoff. In September he presented a sketchy proposal under which the royalty payments would be used to fund work for unemployed musicians. Among the many missing details was any mention of the new royalty rates the AFM intended to demand. Several major-label executives reported that they were taking Petrillo’s proposal home for further study but remained noncommittal. [81]  By mid-October, both sides acknowledged that they were at a complete stalemate.

Two weeks later, Petrillo and recording-industry representatives unexpectedly announced that they had agreed to terms of a new contract involving concessions from both sides, but particularly from the beleaguered union boss. An earlier demand for payment of royalties on all discs sold during the ban was dropped, in exchange for which the record companies agreed to a slight increase in the royalty rate for records that retailed for more than a dollar (comprising a small portion of total sales, primarily involving higher-end classical records). The proposed solution, including revisions to the way the royalty fund was administered, was to be submitted to the Justice Department, which would rule on its legality under the Taft-Hartley Act.

By the first week of November, one trade publication was predicting that the first post-ban recordings would begin reaching the market within a matter of days. [82]  The prediction proved to be more than a month premature. Recording could not begin until the Justice Department (which had become bogged down in an internal debate over the need to channel the request through the Labor Department) issued its advisory opinion on the new contract. With approval finally imminent, Billboard reported on November 11 that the record companies were gearing up to resume recording. [83]

A new five-year pact was finalized on Monday, November 13, and it was generally expected that record companies would rush to sign with AFM and resume recording, as they had in 1943. However, reactions were mixed among industry officials. At RCA headquarters, the mood was described as “festive.” But when a Billboard reporter encountered Decca’s Jack Kapp enjoying a leisurely lunch and asked why he wasn’t in the recording studio, Kapp replied, “What for? There’s nothing we particularly want to record.” [84]

The small independent labels, many of which were getting by reasonably well with non-union talent, were especially slow to sign. On December 25, Billboard reported, “In New York, indie diskeries have as yet shown no mad rush to take out AFM recording licenses.” On the West Coast, only three independent labels had signed with the AFM by that date. [85]

For union recording artists, the settlement proved to be a mixed blessing. Record-company executives had spent the year evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their artists. Not all were welcomed back to the studios when recording resumed, as Billboard reported on Christmas day 1948:

Brandishing fountain pens in one hand and axes in the other, diskery artists-and-repertoire staffs geared for action on the talent front following the inking of the new recording contract. To date, the pens have been mightier than the axes, but it was plainly indicated that the axes should claim a considerable number of victims before the end of the week. Meanwhile, most of the a. and r. [artists and repertoire] men are propounding a “fewer but better” policy. [86]

The settlement effectively marked the end of James Caesar Petrillo’s decade-long rampage against the recording industry. He would go on to mount further skirmishes, particularly against radio and television producers, but would score no significant victories. In 1958, facing a potential revolt among Los Angeles musicians who believed his policies discouraged the hiring of union members by television studios, he resigned as president of the AFM. [87]

 

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.” 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] “Union Head Protests.” Phoenix Arizona Republic (July 14, 1942), p. 2.

[7] “Action Against ‘Canned Music’ Scored by J. L. Fly.” Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times Leader (Jul 21, 1942), p. 2.

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

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

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

[11] “Petrillo to Put Curb on Making of Records.” Chicago Tribune (June 9, 1942), p. 17.

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

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

[14] U. S. Trust Suit Against Petrillo on Recording Bar.” St. Louis Dispatch (Jul 23, 1942), p. 1.

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

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

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

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

[19] “The Petrillo Decision.” Reno [NV] Gazette-Journal (Oct 16, 1942), p. 4.

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

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

[22] “75% of People Against Petrillo.” Billboard (September 5, 1942), p. 62.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[32] Chasins, op. cit.

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

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

[35] Evans, Roy. Undated letter to George Blacker (William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press collection).

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

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

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

[39] “Discs Cut in Mexico, Says EO.” Down Beat (November 1, 1942). 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” appears to have been recorded in the same American studio as Hit’s pre-ban recordings, and the voice was unmistakably that of Arthur Fields, who is highly unlikely to have journeyed from New York to Mexico City just to fill a recording date for a cut-rate label. In a bizarre twist, Fields himself reportedly filed for an injunction to  halt sales and distribution of the record (“Now Oberstein Says Discs Are Mexican.” Billboard, October 31, 1942, p. 21). Little more was reported on the case, but based on the large number of surviving copies of Hit 7023, it seems unlikely the injunction was granted.

[40] “Discs Cut…,” op. cit.

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

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

[43] Ibid.

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

[45] Oberstein was later re-admitted to the union, but only after threatening to file 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). Obertein’s Classic Records recording license was restored in early November 1943 (“AFM Okays Classic Recording License;” Billboard, November 13, 1943, p. 16).

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

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

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

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

[51] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[58] Ibid.

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

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

[61] “Post-War Deluge of Diskers.” Billboard (October 2, 1943), p. 1

[62] “AFM ‘Stop Work’ Disk Move Irks Congressmen But It Puzzles Justice Department.” Billboard (October 25, 1947), p. 17.

[63] “For the Record — Mr. Petrillo.” Billboard (January 17, 1948), p. 25.

[64] “Whither Disk Biz, Petrillo? Waxers Seen as Pawns in Larger Strategy by AFM, But Big Firms Hold Aces.” Billboard (July 26, 1947), pp. 3, 23.

[65] “Petrillo Says He’s Obeying Taft-Hartley.” Billboard (October 25, 1947), p. 17.

[66] Ibid.,  p 23

[67] “NAB Bids for Disker Reps.” Billboard (October 25, 1947), p. 17.

[68] “Ban Starts Wax Talent Flurry; Rush Is On to Beat Deadline.” Billboard (Ocotber 25, 1947), p. 34.

[69] Ziv, Frederick W. “It Could Only Be Done with Discs.” Audio Record (June–July 1948), pp. 1, 3.

[70] “Small Coast Labels Talk ‘Bootleg’ Wax as Big Countermove to Petrillo.” Billboard (November 1, 1947), p. 22.

[71] “Check the Angles!” Billboard (December 20, 1947), p. 20.

[72] “High School Tootlers Heard on Dana Disk.” Billboard (May 8, 1948), p. 21.

[73] “Dec. 31 Disk Ban Due Hourly; Petrillo Nix on Recordings Held Certain.” Billboard (October 18, 1947), p. 17.

[74] “Ban Side-Stepping Quickens.” Billboard (April 10, 1948), p. 17.

[75] “Dec. 31 Disk Ban Due Hourly,”op. cit.

[76] “Standard Treks to Mexico for Wax-Cutting Session.” Billboard (July 3, 1948), p. 37.

[77] “Ban Side-Stepping Quickens,” op. cit.

[78] “Cap Orders Talent to Wax Despite Ban.” Billboard (February 28, 1948), pp. 3, 17.

[79] “Ike Carpenter Guinea Pig in Petrillo Case.” Billboard (February 28, 1948), pp. 3, 17.

[80] “Diskers Weight Bid to Petrillo to Raise Ban.” Billboard (April 17, 1948), p. 32.

[81] “Petrillo’s Latest Proposal Gives Lawyers a Workout.” Billboard (September 25, 1948),p. 36.

[82] “Petrillo, Record Firms Agree; To End Union Ban.” Motion Picture Herald (November 6, 1948), p. 34.

[83] “Diskeries Set to Cut; A&R Men Polish Ax.” Billboard (December 18, 1948), p. 3.

[84] “A PS (Petrillo and Sarnoff) to Ban’s End; Other Assorted Items.” Billboard (December 25, 1948), p. 3.

[85] Coast Diskers Cold-Shoulder New Recording.” Billboard (January 1, 1949), p. 40.

[86] “Talent Roster Revamping Started by A. & R. Staffers.” Billboard (December 25, 1948), p. 21.

[87] Serrin, William. “James Petrillo Dead; Led Musicians.” New York Times (October 25, 1984), p. 15.

 

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Article © 2021 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Contact Mainspring Press for information on licensing this article or quoting or reproducing any portion in excess of normal fair-use standards.

 

* Recording the ’Forties is currently in development for publication in 2022, along with expanded editions of the three previous volumes in the Evolution of American Recording series.

The Playlist • Some August – September Additions to the Collection

The Playlist (Free MP3s)
Some August – September Additions to the Collection

 

Some favorite recent additions to the collection, for your enjoyment. August and September have been very good months.

If you have similar material for disposal (strong E– or better, except for true rarities) lists are always welcome. Please include your asking price, and be brutally honest with the grading: E+ should look and sound like the day the record came off the press, with E just a touch less fine, and no more than a whisper of needle wear on E–. Be sure to note all defects, including any audible scratches, stressed grooves, cracks, needle drops or gouges, warping, surface graininess or dulling, and label damage. Click here for e-mail contact info.

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THOMAS A. DORSEY & MOZELLE ALDERSON (as Georgia Tom & Jane Lucas): Terrible Operation Blues  (EE–)

Richmond, IN: November 11, 1930
Champion 16171  (mx. GN 17276 – B)

Acc: Dorsey (piano), Big Bill Broonzy (guitar).

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SYLVESTER WEAVER: Penitentiary Bound Blues  (E+)

New York: August 31, 1927
Okeh 8504  (mx. W 81402 – B)

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TOMMY McCLENNAN: Bottle It Up and Go  (E+)

Chicago (Victor Studio A): November 22, 1939
Bluebird B-8373  (mx. BS 044241 – 1)

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CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ ORCHESTRA: Lazy Mama  (E+)

New York: June 3, 1928
Okeh 8592  (mx. W  400818 – A)

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JELLY ROLL MORTON’S RED HOT PEPPERS: Tank Town Bump  (E)

Camden, NJ: July 12, 1929
Victor V-38075  (mx. BVE 49459 – 2)

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DICK JUSTICE: Cocaine  (E)

Chicago: May 20, 1929
Brunswick 395  (mx. C 3156 – )

Two takes were recorded. The take used is not shown in the Brunswick files or on the pressing.

 

CHRIS BOUCHILLON: Speed Maniac  (EE+)

Atlanta: October 30, 1928
Columbia 15373-D  (mx. W 147339 – 2)

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HARRY RESER & MAURICE ATEN (as Len & Joe Higgins): Slippery Elm Tree  (E–)

New York: October 17, 1928
Columbia 15354-D  (mx. W 147124 – 1)

Artist identities are confirmed on the Columbia matrix card. Reser self-published this composition as “Slippery Elm” in 1928; someone at Columbia added “Tree” to the title, per the matrix card.

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The Playlist • Some Vintage Mexican and Tejano Favorites (1906 – 1938)

The Playlist • Some Vintage Mexican and Tejano Favorites
(1906 – 1938)

 

Original Recordings from the Mainspring Press Collection

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CARLOS CURTI’S MEXICAN ORCHESTRA: El Amor es la vida
New York; Released June 1906
American Record Co. 031367  (mx. not visible)
Mislabeled 031361. This was in a cache of American Record Co. discs found in Wyoming, and what a nice surprise it was to discover it’s really not 031361 (which is one of those sorry minstrel-show routines by White folks pretending to be Black).

 

 

TRIO ARRIAGA (Joaquin J. Arriaga, mandolin): Bolero (Curti)
Mexico City; U.S. release September 1910
Edison Amberol 6101

 

 

MAXIMIANO ROSALES: Maria, yo te amo
Probably Mexico City: 1906
Columbia C154 (mx. 5538 – 2)
Although some publications list this as a New York recording, Rosale’s recordings for other companies are known to have been made in Mexico City. Unfortunately, the original Columbia documentation for this series (which included both foreign and domestic recordings) has long-since vanished.

 

 

JESÚS ABREGO & LEOPOLDO PICAZO: La Rancherita
Mexico City; U.S. release February 1910
Edison Amberol 6058

 

 

ENRIQUE ESPINOZA: El Borrachito
Los Angeles: c. October 1925
Sunset 1126 (mx. 777)

 

 

LIDYA MENDOZA: Una cruz
San Antonio (Blue Bonnet Hotel): October 25, 1938
Montgomery Ward M-7982  (mx. BS 028629 – 1)
Acc: Own guitar; probably Maria Mendoza (mandolin); unknown (maracas). Accompanists are not listed in the RCA files.

 

 

LIDYA MENDOZA: Esperanza
San Antonio (Texas Hotel): October 22, 1936
Montgomery Ward M-7115 (mx. BS 02811 – 1)
Acc: Own guitar

 

 

MELQUIADES RODRÍGUEZ (as El Ciego Melquiades): Paulita
San Antonio (Texas Hotel): August 15, 1935
Montgomery Ward M-4870 (mx. BS 94591 – 1)
Acc: Probably Enrique Morales (guitar), who the RCA files credit on the vocal-instrumental sides that he and Rodríguez recorded on the same day. Session supervised by Eli Oberstein.

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Victor’s 1930 Mexican-series catalog, published after the RCA – Victor merger. Material for the Mexican and Mexican-American markets was still being released on the 75¢ Victor label at this point; but in 1933, RCA began shifting most releases for those markets to its 35¢ Bluebird line, from which many found their way onto Montgomery Ward’s 21¢ house label.


 

Columbia Phonograph Company Window Displays (1904 – 1907)

Columbia Phonograph Company Window Displays
(1904 – 1907)

 

The Lost Art of Window Dressing,
from The Columbia Record

 

 

Columbia Phonograph Co.
Rochester, New York (1906)

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Columbia Phonograph Co.
Cleveland (1906)

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Columbia Phonograph Co.
Langely & Winchell, Boston (1906)

.Columbia Phonograph Co.
Detroit (1906)

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Atlanta (1906)

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Columbia Phonograph Co.
New York (1904)

 

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Cleveland (1905)

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.Columbia Phonograph Co.
Kansas City (1904)

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Columbia Phonograph Co.
Brooklyn (1907), with a poster advertising “A Lemon in the Garden of Love,” by Billy Murray. Although it states “Made on Cylinder Only,” Columbia soon issued Murray’s disc version as well.

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Except where noted, the stores are Columbia’s own retail locations.
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Our thanks to Steve Smolian for the loan of his rare original editions of The Columbia Record.


 

The Playlist • Some Vintage Yiddish Favorites (1916 – 1924)

The Playlist • Some Vintage Yiddish Favorites
(1916 – 1924)

Original recordings from the Mainspring Press Collection

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ABE SCHWARTZ’S ORCHESTRA (as Jewish-Russian Orchestra)
Tantzt, Tantzt, Yiddelach

New York: c. ­November 1917
Columbia E4133 (mx. 58784 – 2)

 


MICHAL MICHALESKO (acc. Joseph M. Rumshinky’s Orchestra)
Leicht Bentchen

New York: c. December 1923
New Emerson 13241 (mx. 42488 – 2)

 


BESSIE WEISMAN (acc. uncredited orchestra)

Vie Is Mein Yukele?
New York: c. June 1923
New Emerson 13229 (mx. 42361 – 1)

 


JOE FELDMAN (acc. orchestra, Nathaniel Shilkret, director)
Shmendriks Kalle

Camden, NJ: April 25, 1923
Victor 73961 (mx. B 27781 – 2)

 


AARON LEBEDEFF (acc. Abe Schwartz’s Orchestra)
Ich Bin a Border Bei Mei Weib

New York: c. January 1923
Vocalion 14502 (mx. 10588 )

 


ABE SCHWARTZ’S ORCHESTRA (as Yiddisher Orchester)
Noch der Havdoleh
New York: c. February 1918
Columbia E3839 (mx. 84011 – 1)

 


NELLIE CASMAN (acc. uncredited orchestra)
Shpet Bei Nacht
New York: c. February 1924
Pathé 03672 (mx. N-105165 [- 2] )

A reworking of Bert Kalmar & Ted Snyder’s 1911 hit, “In the Land of Harmony,” with new title and lyrics in Yiddish.

 


RHODA BERNARD (acc. studio orchestra, Walter B. Rogers, director)
Roll Your Yiddish Eyes for Me

Camden, NJ: March 1, 1916
Victor 17994 (mx. B 17241 – 1)

 

Ray Wile’s Research Materials Are Now Available Online

Ray Wile’s Research Materials Are
Now Available Online

 

A Growing Treasure-Trove of Historical Documents Is Now Easily Accessible to Researchers and the Phono-Curious

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Thomas Edison at his New Jersey mining operation

 

For vintage-record and phonograph collectors of a certain age, Raymond R. Wile is a legendary name that needs no introduction. For younger folks, or those who are newer to the field: Ray was among the foremost experts on the early U.S. phonograph and recording industries in general, and Edison in particular. His long-running series of articles in the ARSC Journal set new standards for research in the field.

Ray’s work was based on his astonishing archive of primary-source documents, painstakingly sought-out and copied long before the Internet made such quests considerably easier. At the time of his death several years ago, there was the inevitable question of where this invaluable (and massive) collection should reside.

Realizing that donating the collection to a large institution would probably be condemning it to a black hole — as happened to the late Jim Walsh’s materials at the Library of Congress, which left them uncatalogued for years, and has yet to make them available online — the family made the wise decision to hand  custodianship to a private individual with expertise in the field, who would contractually agree to curate, index, and make the materials easily available to the public, online and free of charge, within a reasonable time.

The individual selected was Ryan Barna, who many of you know from his Phonostalgia website, Archeophone program notes, and other writings — and it’s proven to be an excellent choice. Ryan has been doing a remarkable job of sorting, scanning, and posting these invaluable documents, beginning with selected court cases (oh, how those early companies loved to sue each other!), internal Edison documents, and other materials that are not readily obtainable elsewhere.

To date, Ryan has posted 200 documents on the Internet Archive site, and that’s just the beginning. CLICK HERE to access the currently available documents, or Google “Raymond R. Wile Research Library.” Be sure to check out the site and show your support for the important work Ryan is doing.

 

The Playlist (Free MP3s) • Grey Gull’s Mystery Black Bands (1929 – 1930)

The Playlist (Free MP3s)
Grey Gull’s Mystery Black Bands (1929 – 1930)

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Amongst all the garbage that was Grey Gull are these often-overlooked gems by some unknown black groups. The band names are meaningless; they were also used to cover groups ranging from Clarence Williams’ Orchestra to several obviously white groups, including the so-called Grey Gull house band. Several bear some resemblance to 1929–1930 sides by known J. C. Johnson and Walter Bennett bands on other labels.

We don’t know who the musicians are, despite countless published guesses — some of them reasonable, and some so far off the mark as to be real head-scratchers (such as Brian Rust attributing the January 1930 titles to Grey Gull’s coarse and buffoonish house band). The only clue is that the composers are the same for all titles in each group — J. C. Johnson for the August 1929 sides, Porter Grainger for November 1929, and Claude Austin for January 1930 — so it’s likely that they and/or their publishers had a hand in booking these sessions.

You can see what else Rust had to say about them in our free downloadable edition of Jazz Records, 1892-1942 (the sixth and final edition). But like so much else you’ll find there, take it with the proverbial grain of salt. In early editions of JR, Rust attributed the cornet on “Harlem’s Araby” to King Oliver. Then, in Edition 4, he did a complete flip-flop and changed it to white novelty trumpeter Mike Mosiello. Finally, he changed it to Unknown in Edition 6, after some prodding by his editor — which of course was the correct answer all along.

So, enjoy these on their own terms, whoever they’re by.

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MOONLIGHT REVELERS”):
Alabama Shuffle

New York: c. August 1929
Grey Gull 1767

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MOONLIGHT REVELERS”):
Baby Know How

New York: c. August 1929
Grey Gull 1775

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “JAZZOPATORS”):
Don’t Know and Don’t Care
New York: c. November 1929
Grey Gull 1803

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “MEMPHIS JAZZERS”):
In Harlem’s Araby
New York: c. November 1929
Grey Gull 1804

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “LEVEE SYNCOPATORS”):
The Rackett
New York: c. January 1930
Grey Gull 1843 (take A)

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “NEW ORLEANS PEPSTERS”):
The Rackett
New York: c. January 1930
Van Dyke 81843 (take B)

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UNKNOWN BAND (as “NEW ORLEANS PEPSTERS”):
Harlem Stomp Down

New York: c. January 1930
Grey Gull 1836

 

The Playlist (Free MP3 Downloads) • The Great Harlem Bands (1926 – 1929)

The Playlist (Free MP3 Downloads):
The Great Harlem Bands (1926 – 1929)
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The Playlists are back, by popular request. To get started, here’s a sampling of some the best Harlem bands of the 1920s, from pristine original pressings. Discographical data can be found in Brian Rust’s Jazz Records 1897-1942 (the sixth, and final, edition), free to download for personal use.

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SAVOY BEARCATS: Senegalese Stomp
New York: August 23, 1926
Victor 20182

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CHARLIE JOHNSON’S PARADISE TEN:
Charleston Is the Best Dance After All
New York: January 24, 1928
Victor 21491

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CLARENCE WILLIAMS’ JAZZ KINGS: The Keyboard Express
New York: August 1, 1928
Columbia 14348-D

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FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: The Wang Wang Blues
New York: May 16, 1929
Columbia 1913-D

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LUIS RUSSELL ORCHESTRA (as Henry Allen, Jr. & his Orchestra):
It Should Be You

New York: July 16, 1929
Victor V-38073

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DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Move Over
New York: October 1, 1928
Okeh 8638

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The “Edison Victor Phonograph” (1905)

The “Edison Victor Phonograph” (1905)

 

A disaster narrowly averted — the Edison Victor Phonograph, from the July 1905 catalog:

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From “Edison Phonographs” (Form No. 740 7-15-05)
(Edison National Historic Site)

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This surely would have given Eldridge Johnson and the other Victor folks a collective case of the shrieking fantods, had they gotten a whiff of it. Fortunately for Edison, someone caught what can only be described as a stunning lapse in judgement, and the machine was renamed the Balmoral.

It’s interesting to note that p. 22 is hand-corrected, but p. 23 is not. So the question is, did any of these uncorrected catalogs get into circulation? And more intriguing, might any of these  machines have slipped out with Victor nameplates? Pretty unlikely, but as Fats Waller used to say, “One never knows, do one?”

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Columbia Artists’ Sales Ranking: A Representative Sampling, 1919–1920

Columbia Artists’ Sales Ranking: A Representative Sampling, 1919–1920
Compiled from the Original Columbia Files
by Allan Sutton

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The following statistics provide some insight into who were Columbia’s best- and worst-selling artists of 1919–1920. Compiled from the company’s record-shipment sheets, they show average shipping figures for records that were released from June 1919 through May 1920 by selected artists. They represent the total number shipped; i.e., from time of release until time of deletion (the latter averaging about two-to-three years from release for these records).

It is important to note that these are the number of records shipped to distributors, not the number sold — actual sales statistics for these records are long-gone. Sales would have been somewhat less than the number shipped, since shipping figures do not reflect unsold copies exchanged or returned for credit (although those numbers likely would not have been large, due to strict limits the company placed on such transactions). And it is not known if these figures include review and other complimentary copies, which would not count as sales. Nevertheless, they provide a good gauge of relative sales, and of an artist’s relative popularity.

These figures put to rest any notion of rampant “million-sellers” in the early 1920s. Although Victor had several 1919–1920 releases that probably approached or even slightly surpassed that mark, Columbia (the nation’s second-largest label) did not. One of its top-selling releases for this period (A2895, coupling Ted Lewis’ “Bo-La-Bo” and the Kentucky Serenaders’ “Venetian Moon”) eventually shipped approximately 512,000 copies — and that’s more than double the total number shipped for the typical Columbia “hit” of the period. Total shipments in the 80,000–150,000 range were more the norm, and were still considered highly respectable.

This is just a preliminary survey (in preparation for what will be a detailed statistical analysis at some point), and one should not to jump to any far-reaching conclusions from a selective, one-year sampling. Some points to bear in mind:

 

  • These figures do not reflect artists’ sales ranking during the full run of their Columbia tenure. Some, like Bert Williams, already had many substantial best-sellers behind them, and would have made a stronger showing here had those been included in the tally. Others, like Ted Lewis, were just getting started and would go on to rack up even more impressive figures than are shown here.

 

  • These are average total shipments; shipments of individual releases could vary considerably. Individual Jolson releases during this period, for example, shipped anywhere from 70,705 to 283,004 copies over their life-span.

 

  • Sales of the 1920 releases, in particular, were undermined by the start of a severe recession. Columbia’s average sales declined dramatically in 1921, and they remained depressed well into 1922. Generally, peak sales occurred for only a few months after release; thus, those records released in 1919 had already seen their biggest sales before the recession hit, while those released toward the middle of 1920 saw their sales cut short by the economic crisis. As a result, the figures for artists who are more heavily represented by 1920 than 1919 releases are skewed slightly downward.

 

  • Columbia’s tendency to put different artists on each side of a record also has the potential to skew results. Some popular names (including Billy Murray, Arthur Fields, Charles Harrison, and Henry Burr) do not appear here because their records so often have other artists on the reverse sides, raising the question: Which artist’s side “sold” the disc? Shipment of these and similar artists’ Columbia releases generally hover around the 70,000–90,000 range for the period, but with many outliers on either end of the sales spectrum.

 

  • Records by Al Jolson and some other major stars were coupled with lesser artists’ recordings during this period. In these cases, we’re assuming that it was the “star” side, and not the reverse-side filler, that sold the records. It seems highly likely, for example, that far more customers bought A2836 for Jolson’s Broadway hit, “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet,” than for Billy Murray’s “Come on and Play with Me,” a “dog” of a title if ever there was one. Therefore, that release is tallied with Jolson’s sales, not Murray’s.

 

  • Some records by Fox, Fuller, Hickman, the Jockers Brothers, Jolson, and Stewart were heavily discounted to distributors during 1922–1923, as part of Columbia’s “59¢ Retired Record” clearance. This revived the sales of some records that otherwise had long-since reached the end of the line in terms of sales, adding another 1,000–5,000 copies to the final tally.

 

Average Total Shipments of Columbia Records
by Selected Artists

(June 1919 – May 1920 Releases)

 

Al Jolson • 208,258

Ted Lewis’ Jazz Band • 178,913

Columbia Saxophone Sextet • 173,836

Louisiana Five • 170,162

Art Hickman’s Orchestra • 150,245

Irving and/or Jack Kaufman • 146,729

Bert Williams • 134,984

Kalaluki Hawaiian Orchestra • 124,542

Nora Bayes • 123,567

Wilbur Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band • 121,174

Van & Schenck • 116,686

Fisk University Jubilee Quartet • 103,100

Cal Stewart • 101,904 *

Sascha Jacobsen • 94,235

Harry Fox • 89,001

Earl Fuller’s Rector Novelty Orchestra • 83,698

Jockers Brothers • 76,027

Oscar Seagle • 58,106

Louis Graveure • 34,731

Yvette Guilbert • 1,781

 

*Columbia’s release of multiple, previously unissued Stewart recordings soon after his death in December 1919 might account for this high figure. After an unusually strong showing in early 1920, sales of these records declined quickly and dramatically.

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© 2021 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

Columbia Race Record Shipments (1921 – 1923)

Columbia Race Record Shipments (1921 – 1923)

Compiled from the Original Columbia Documentation
by Allan Sutton

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Columbia did a healthy business with its jazz and “blues” records by Black artists in the early 1920s, as this representative sampling from Columbia’s files confirms. On average, shipments were on a par with many records by Columbia’s White pop performers of the period, and they far exceeded those of some prestigious Symphony Series artists. Columbia at the time was marketing these records across racial lines, but that would soon change, with its introduction of the segregated 13000-D / 14000-D series.

Not surprisingly, Bessie Smith was Columbia’s sales champ in this category, although none of her records came close to the million-seller mark, as some pop-culture writers have claimed (nor did any Columbia record during the early 1920s). Columbia underestimated the sale potential of her first release, with an initial pressing run of only 20,000 copies, which turned out to be insufficient to even fill the advance orders. During 1923, she handily outsold such White headliners as Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson, as will be seen in a future installment.

Most of these records had a relatively short life in the catalog, averaging a little over two years. As with ephemeral material in general, the largest sales occurred within the first few months of release, then dropped steadily. Most of the records listed here, if not already deleted, were cut from the catalog during the summer of 1925, when Columbia began purging its acoustically recorded material. The most notable exception was Bessie Smith’s A3844, which managed to avoid the axe until November 1929.

The following is a representative sampling from the Columbia files. It is important to note that these are the number of records shipped, not the actual number sold (actual sales statistics for this period have not survived).

Not reflected in these figures are unsold copies that were returned for credit, although those numbers likely would not have been large, since Columbia placed strict limits on such transactions. And it is not known if these figures include sample, review, and other complimentary copies, which would not count as sales. Nevertheless, they provide a good gauge of relative sales and, by projection, the degree of relative scarcity today. None are true rarities, of course (and a few, like A3844, are still downright common), but some can be surprisingly elusive, especially in decent condition.

 

A3365 • Stafford: Crazy Blues / Royal Garden Blues
Shipped: 116,188

A3511 • Stafford: Down Home Blues / Monday Morning Blues
Shipped: 18,482

A3537 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: West Texas Blues / I Don’t Want Nobody
Shipped: 25,800

A3541 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Bugle Blues / Birmingham Blues
Shipped: 16,870

A3579 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Put and Take / Moanful Blues *
Shipped: 23,582

A3653 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: He May Be Your Man / Rules and Regulations
Shipped: 56,819

A3696 • L. Williams: Sugar Blues / The Meanest Man in the World
Shipped: 40,553

A3736 • L. Williams: Uncle Bud / Mexican Blues
Shipped: 18,568

A3739 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Four O’Clock Blues / Hawaiian Blues
Shipped: 100,872

A3746 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Evil Blues / Pensacola Blues
Shipped: 62,979

A3787 • E. Wilson w/ Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Dixie Blues / He Used to Be Your Man
Shipped: 50,661

A3815 • L. Williams: I’m Going Away / Bring It with You When You Come
Shipped: 26,885

A3835 • L. Williams: If Your Man Is Like My Man / That Teasin’ Squeezin’ Man
Shipped: 18,004

A3839 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Hallelujah Blues / Spanish Dreams
Shipped: 26,080

A3844 • B. Smith: Down Hearted Blues / Gulf Coast Blues
Shipped: 276,990

A3888 • B. Smith: Baby Won’t You Please Come Home / Oh Papa Blues
Shipped: 152,7679

A3893 • Dunn’s Jazz Hounds: Vampin’ Sal / Sweet Lovin’ Mama
Shipped: 16,899

A3897 • L. Miles: Sweet Smelling’ Mama / Haitian Blues
Shipped: 14,765

A3910 • B. Smith: Mama’s Got the Blues / Outside of That
Shipped: 96,413

A3915 • Gulf Coast Seven: Daybreak Blues / Fade Away Blues
Shipped: 28,425

A3915 • L. Wilson w/ Jazz Hounds: Deceitful Blues / Memphis Tennessee
Shipped: 15,701

A3920 • L. Miles: Family Trouble Blues / Triflin’ Man
Shipped: 9,629

A3921 • A. Brown: Michigan Water Blues / Tired o’ Waitin’ Blues
Shipped: 17,098

A3922 • Baxter: You Got Ev’rything / Taylor: My Pillow and Me
Shipped: 13,624

A3936 • B. Smith: Bleeding Hearted Blues / Midnight Blues **
Shipped: 133,626+

A3939 • B. Smith: Yodling Blues / Lady Luck Blues
Shipped: 45,664

A3942 • B. Smith: Nobody in Town / If You Don’t I Know Who Will
Shipped: 65,887

A3950 • J. P. Johnson: Worried and Lonesome Blues / Weeping Blues
Shipped: 13,447

A3951 • Henderson’s Hot Six: Gulf Coast Blues / Midnight Blues
Shipped: 14,536

A3958 • R. Henderson: Afternoon Blues / I Need You
Shipped: 10,716

A3959 • Fowler: Blues Mixture / Satisfied Blues
Shipped: 7,388

A3965 • Ridley: I Don’t Let No One Man Worry Me / Alabama Bound Blues
Shipped: 18,504

A3966 • C. Smith: Play It / All Night Blues
Shipped: 25,778

A3978 • Gulf Coast Seven: Papa Better Watch Your Step / Memphis Tennessee
Shipped: 20,084

A3992 • C. Smith: I Want My Sweet Daddy Now / Irresistible Blues
Shipped: 20,734

A3995 • Henderson’s Orch: Dicty Blues / Doo Doodle Oom
Shipped: 21,155

A4000 • C. Smith: I Never Miss the Sunshine / Awful Moanin’ Blues
Shipped: 62,435

A4001 • B. Smith: Graveyard Dream Blues / Jail House Blues
Shipped: 206,293

 

* Although some discographies question whether this was a Dunn recording, it is credited to Johnny Dunn’s Original Jazz Hounds on the Columbia accounting sheet.

** Total sales at time of first deletion in Aug 1925. The record was reinstated in the catalog from Jan 1926 to Mar 1928; sales figures for that period are not noted.

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In upcoming installments, we’ll be looking at Columbia shipping figures for pop, ethnic, and classical releases.

 

© 2021 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.