Earl Hines, Lois Deppe, and their 1923 Gennett Specials

The Pittsburgh band that recorded for Gennett as Lois Deppe’s Serenaders in 1923 began life as The Symphonium Serenaders, under the direction of reed player Vance Dixon. Deppe served as manager and vocalist. Earl Hines was already a featured attraction when the band broadcast from the Westinghouse studio in Pittsburgh on August 5, 1922. He performed two piano solos on that broadcast, “Southland” and “Original Blues” (Pittsburgh Courier, “Westinghouse Radio Program for Today”).

A photo of the band, with Hines present, appeared in the Pittsburgh Courier for July 21, 1923. We’re especially fortunate that all members of the band (even the juvenile “mascot”) are identified. Not surprisingly, the personnel are at odds to some extent with the anecdotal listing published in Brian Rust’s Jazz Records and copycat works.

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The Deppe band in July 1923; Earl Hines is in the back row, fifth from the left.

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On September 1, 1923, the Courier reported that Deppe and Hines would go to New York to “register” with Okeh records. Apparently Okeh was not interested. If any recordings were made (and we have no way of knowing for certain, since Okeh’s files for the early 1920s are long-gone), they are not known to have been issued.

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The Pittsburgh Courier on Deppe’s and Hines’ recording activities

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Deppe instead went the private-issue route, paying Gennett records to record his band in their Richmond, Indiana, studio in October 1923. The presumably correct personnel as listed by the Courier, which differs from Brian Rust’s anecdotal listing, appear below, with the personnel from Rust’s Jazz Records (sixth edition) for comparison.

Discrepancies in Rust are shown in red italics. Brassfield is known to have left the band by the time these recordings were made. It’s certainly possible that some changes occurred between the July photo and the October recording session, but since he listed no source (as was usual in his work), Rust’s personnel are questionable at best:

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Gennett “specials” of this type were not listed in the company’s catalogs. Recording and production were paid for entirely by the artists, who were responsible for their own marketing and sales. A few specials are known to have been placed in the Starr Piano Company’s various retail outlets, but most often they were hawked directly by the artists, or were sold by independent dealers (as was the case with Deppe):

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November 1923 announcement of the first Deppe disc
(Pittsburgh Courier)

 

Only two titles by the full band were released. “Falling” is of little interest, but “Congaine” (Hines’ own composition) features a lengthy piano solo. The record is a rarity, so a dubbed reissue will have to suffice until something better comes along:

 

DEPPE’S SERENADERS: Congaine

Richmond, Indiana: October 3, 1923
Gennett (special) 20012 (mx. 11630-A)

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Of more interest are Deppe’s vocal sides, not for the singing (a frankly awful attempt in the Noble Sissle vein), but for Earl Hines’ accompaniments. Again made as Gennett “specials,” on November 6, 1923, they reveal a young Hines still very much under the influence of James P. Johnson.

“Southland,” posted here, is a mash-up of the Harry T. Burleigh’s adaptation of the old spiritual “Deep River,” and “Dear Old Southland,” a popular 1921 rip-off by the black vaudeville team of Creamer & Layton, which added a second strain and retrofitted some cornball “mammy-and-home-on-the levee”–type lyrics to the original melody. We’ve had to rely on a particularly bad dubbed reissue here:

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LOIS DEPPE (EARL HINES, piano): Southland [“Deep River” and “Dear Old Southland”]

Richmond, Indiana: Novmber 6, 1923
Gennett (special) 20021 (mx. 11669 – B)

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Did Lois Deppe Record for Arto?

While we’re on the topic, there’s a reference to someone listed simply as Deppe in band manager Ed Kirkeby’s log for May 2, 1922. (No coverage of Lois Deppe in the Pittsburgh papers has been found from mid-April through mid-May 1922, so it’s possible that he could have visited New York at that time.) The occasion was an Arto remake session for the song “Georgia,” and the cryptic notation reads simply,

10:30 [a.m.] – Remake – Jazz Band
11 [a.m.] – Deppe – Georgia.

So — Did the Deppe band remake this title, and/or did Deppe record it as a vocal for Arto? If so, it was never released. The issued version was credited to the Superior Jazz Band, an obviously white band that played in the style of the Original Memphis Five (although they were not the same band, as has been erroneously stated in some discographies).

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Forgotten American Record Producers: Earle W. Jones

Forgotten American Record Producers:
Earle W. Jones
By Allan Sutton

 

Earle W. Jones isn’t a name that sparks instant recognition among many modern record collectors. Jones wasn’t even mentioned in Brian Rust’s problematic American Record Label Book; some more recent works mention him in passing but misspell his name “Earl.” And yet, he was one of the most prolific of the small independent record producers that operated during the postwar phonograph boom of 1919–1922.

In March 1955, record researcher Dan Mahony ran across Jones in the Alicat Book Shop in Yonkers. A series of interview ensued, which unfortunately were not taped. Mahony instead jotted down some notes and summarized what he considered the salient points in a private report to members of the Record Research group. [1] Jones’ memory, assuming Mahony reported his recollections accurately, proved to be wildly unreliable. The few credible portions of Jones’ interviews are cited throughout this article, but his account is riddled with demonstrable errors.

Jones reportedly got his start as an employee of the Columbia Graphophone Company in the early 1900s. In August 1916, he and Edward R. Harris filed a patent on a process of recording masters on coated glass, which they referred to as “phonoautograms,” the term first used a half-century earlier for Leon Scott’s phonographic tracings. The masters could then be copied to film, from which a photographically sensitized copper stamper could be produced. It was not an original idea; Emile Berliner had patented a similar process in the late 1880s. The patent (#1,461,849) was not approved until late 1923, and there is no evidence that Jones ever used the process commercially. Jones, in his 1955 interview, also claimed to have made electrical recordings with Victor Emerson as early as 1915–1916. However, no evidence of any such activity has been found. [2]

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Jones’ first known display ad (April 1917)

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Jones did not produce any labels of his own, but he recorded masters for many small companies, Lyric being his primary customer. The Jones Central Recording Laboratories (“Central” was soon dropped from the name) were first listed in the 1917 Talking Machine World “Trade Directory,” with the notation that the company “manufactures records in any quantity.” Jones’  studio was at 662 6th Avenue in New York. He also claimed to operate studios at 104 6th Avenue (New York), Madison Avenue at 59th Street (New York), and 76 Court Street (Brooklyn) at various times, although these might have been leased from other companies, based upon a statement he made in 1955. The company also installed its own master-plating plant in the spring of 1917. Jones reported, “Our laboratories are now complete, from the making of the wax to the manufacture of the finished product. We have just affiliated ourselves with a very large concern, who will press all our records.” [3]

The Talking Machine World for April 1917 reported that Jones Laboratories had greatly expanded its facilities over the past few months. “Arrangements are now being completed whereby this concern will manufacture records for several additional houses, TMW stated. “ Its capacity has been augmented considerably, and with its present equipment, records of all sizes up to twelve inches (hill and dale cut), can be produced by these laboratories in any quantity. The company has already signed large contracts with a number of companies for the coming year.” [4] Jones encouraged clients to submit their lists of desired titles, to which he would match the appropriate artists and accompaniments, make the recordings, and deliver finished masters and stampers (and pressings, if desired) to the client.

 

Jones as full-service provider (1917)

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It has long been suspected that Jones recorded the original fine-groove vertical-cut masters for Jacques M. Kohner’s Lyric label (some later fine-grooves masters were dubbed for Lyric by Pathé, from their own masters). A hint appears in a 1919 report that Jones had invented a ten-inch disc with playing time approaching five minutes, [5] just like the fine-groove Lyrics. In addition, Jones later supplied many lateral-cut masters to Lyric and other labels associated with Kohner.

On February 21, 1919, the Piqua (Ohio) Daily Call made the remarkable announcement that the Meteor Motor Car company was “taking over” the Jones Recording Laboratories’ studio at 662 Fifth Avenue in New York. Meteor, a manufacturer of ambulances and hearses, had recently introduced a line of phonographs, manufactured in its Piqua factory, and the company had decided to add a matching line of records. They were to be pressed “temporarily” in an unnamed Pennsylvania factory, which almost certainly would have been the Scranton Button Company. The Record Research group confirmed the existence of fine-groove vertical-cut Meteor discs (now quite rare) with 1919 song titles. However, the “takeover” appears to have been short-lived.

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(Left) A later Jones-produced Meteor pressing, using masters from his main 41000 series (not to be confused with a similarly numbered Emerson series). “Dear Old Girl,” on the reverse side, was also issued on Arto and affiliated labels. The label shows Victor Emerson’s universal-cut patent. (Right) A lateral-cut Lyric pressing using Jones’ 41000-series masters.

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By early 1920, Jones was producing lateral-cut masters that he made available to independent labels. [6]  A large number were produced for Lyric, but Jones also accepted commissions from outside companies. According to Jones, he always cut multiple takes of commissioned selections, giving the contracting party their choice of one take. He retained rights to the unused takes, which he then parceled out to other labels, [7] an arrangement that probably explains the frequent use of artist pseudonyms on  Jones’ recordings.

Jones employed numerous disjointed blocks of matrix numbers, some of which contain only a few known recordings. The largest and most widely circulated block was the 41000 series (not to be confused with Emerson’s identically numbered series of the same period). It was allocated to Lyric, but the recordings also appeared widely on labels marketed by the Arto Company and Clarion Record Company, among others. The series was begun before July 1920, as proven by the existence of several 41000 masters by Billy Murray, who became exclusive to Victor in that month.

Jones actively solicited clients. He traveled to Saint Louis, probably in early 1920, to sell Shapleigh Hardware on the idea of adding records to its Harmograph line. [8] However, he supplied Harmograph only with old “standards” from his backlist; Harmograph’s later pop releases were supplied by several other companies.

In July 1921 Jones entered into a reciprocal agreement with the Siemon Hard Rubber Company, an independent pressing plant in which he was an investor. He would provide masters to Siemon’s pressing customers, including original commissioned recordings. One of the first takers was the newly formed Gaelic Record Company, a small label that specialized in Irish music. Jones recalled that the bagpipes and drums used during one session caused such severe vibration in the studio that he had to pack his recording equipment in sand. [9] He was also commissioned by Alexander Maloof, a prominent Syrian-born composer and musician who launched his Maloof label in 1920.

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(Left) Jones produced the first version of Harmograph, supplying it with “standards” from his extensive master pool. The same recordings could be had on many other labels, often for less than the dollar that Harmograph charged. (Right) An early Cameo release, minus its trademark, produced during Jones’ brief tenure as vice-president. This example was a new recording, but some early Cameo releases were just recyclings of old Jones masters.

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Such arrangements were to be short lived, however. In late 1921, the Jones Recording Laboratories were acquired by the newly formed Cameo Record Corporation, of which Jones was awarded a vice-presidency. He moved his recording equipment to the new Cameo studio, and in an act of true cronyism, contracted pressing to the ill-equipped Siemon Hard Rubber Company.

On Jones’ brief watch, Cameo launched as a rather shoddy 50¢ label whose early offerings included reissues of old Jones masters in mediocre Siemon pressings. In March 1922, Jones resigned his vice-presidency for reasons that went unexplained in the trade press, and for which Jones himself offered no explanation in 1955. His place was taken by Henry Waterson’s son, Henry Jr. With Jones gone, Cameo flourished.

Following his departure from Cameo, Jones launched Standard Records, Inc., a master-brokering operation unrelated to the earlier Standard Talking Machine Company of Chicago. The company acted as clearinghouse for obsolete masters to which Jones held the rights.  Marked with “J” or “S” indicators in the wax (the latter not to be confused with Okeh’s S-prefixed master numbers) the masters were parceled out to Bell, Cleartone, and other minor labels looking to pad out their catalogs during 1922–1923. Most were old Jones Laboratories recordings (sometimes assigned new master numbers) that had already appeared on Arto, Lyric, and other failing or defunct labels.

Jones returned to Cameo later in 1923, as a recording engineer. No longer holding an executive title, he resigned on July 1, 1924, to pursue “important plans in the industry.” [10] A short time later, he was listed as an incorporator (along with M. M. Nassau and J. J. Hanrahan) of the Moon Record Corporation, which had recently been chartered in New York to produce phonographs and records. What Moon produced, if anything, has not been discovered.

By 1931, Earle W. Jones was operating as Jones Research Sound Products, which acquired the patent of Hobart Simpson and Thomas Burhans (#1,928,935) for use in its production of 16mm sound-on-film motion pictures. He claimed to have set up Commodore’s pressing plant in the 1940s for Milt Gabler, whom he described as a “robber.” Gabler, Jones claimed in 1955, still owed him “plenty dough.” [11]

After that misadventure, Jones’ reappeared in the Patent Office records in 1949, with a filing on an improved electrical recording head. At the time of the Mahony interviews, Jones was in the process of suing RCA for infringing his patent, which he claimed was being successfully employed by at least two small companies. Unfortunately for posterity, Mahony “retained bloody little” of Jones’ lengthy discussion of the patent and lawsuit, and after that, Jones’ trail grow cold.

 

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

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Notes

[1] Mahony, Dan. Notes on Earle W. Jones interviews (March 23–April 22, 1955, unpublished). William R. Bryant Papers, Mainspring Press Collection.

[2] Mahony, op. cit.

[3] “Install Large Plating Plant.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1917), p. 120.

[4] “Expand Laboratory Facilities.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1917), p. 30.

[5] “Manufacture Records Soon.” Piqua [OH] Daily Call (Feb 21, 1919), p. 1.

[6] Some labels show Victor Emerson’s universal-cut patent, but auditioned examples are standard lateral-cut recordings.

[7] Mahony, op. cit.

[8] In the Mahony interview, Jones gave the date as “about 1919,” but the Harmograph trademark filing claims the name was first used on records on September 4, 1920. Poorly pressed by the Siemon Hard Rubber Company, their labels bear the ironic slogan, “Quality Counts.”

[9] Mahony. op. cit.

[10] “Earle W. Jones Resigns as Recording Engineer.” Talking Machine World (July 15, 1924), p. 18. Jones gave the date as 1925, in error, in his 1955 interview.

[11] Mahony, op. cit.

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