A 1901 sampler, from Eldridge R. Johnson’s studios. Several of these recordings pre-date Johnson’s creation of the Victor Talking Machine Company, on October 3, 1901. At the time, Johnson and Harry O. Sooy (his chief recording engineer) were producing remarkably well-balanced, forward-sounding masters that were markedly superior (even with the surface noise) to the later thin, tinny “Victor sound.”
METROPOLITAN ORCHESTRA: Plantation Pastimes
Camden, NJ (Johnson Factory Building): March 2, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3163 (-1)
DAN W. QUINN: Ain’t That a Shame
Philadelphia (424 S. 10th Street): November 21, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3525 (-2) The spoken intro is damaged and has been deleted from this transfer.
DAN W. QUINN: I Ain’t A-Going to Weep No More
Camden, NJ (Johnson Factory Building): February 27, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3149 (-1)
JOSEPH NATUS: The Fatal Rose of Red
Camden, NJ (Johnson Factory Building): February 16, 1901 (?)
Monarch Record 683 (renumbering of Victor Monarch 3114) Natus remade this selection on November 26, 1901. Moran & Fagan’s transcription of the Victor files shows the original version as being used on all renumbered pressings, but this might be in error; the original master was returned as no longer usable on October 3, 1902, pre-dating the 1903–style (sunken-label) stamper used for this transfer.
VESS L. OSSMAN: Salome — Intermezzo
Camden, NJ (Johnson Factory Building): January 21, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3049 (-1)
Studio locations are per Harry Sooy, Victor’s chief recording engineer at the time. The piano accompanists are uncredited in the Victor files and on the labels. Victor’s usual pianists during this period were C. H. H. Booth and Frank P. Banta (the latter the father of 1920s novelty pianist Frank E. Banta). The occasional speed fluctuations are defects in the original recordings.
These extracts are from an August 1898 Phonoscope feature, “Gallery of Talent Employed for Making Records” (entries without photographs are not shown).
All of the artists pictured were active into the early 1900s, and far beyond in many cases, but Russell Hunting and Steve Porter had the longest and most distinguished recording-industry careers. In addition to his prolific recording activities, Hunting was the editor of The Phonoscope (the industry’s first trade journal) in the 1890s, and he was still active in the later 1920s as American Pathé’s technical director.
Stephen Carl (Steve) Porter spent several years abroad in the early 1900s, including a stint as a recording engineer with the Nicole company, for which he made ethnic recordings in India and Burma. Upon his return to the U.S. he resumed recording (often in a stereotypical “dumb Irish” role that belied his brilliance), organized and managed the Rambler Minstrels (a popular recording and for-hire act that featured Billy Murray), and successfully filed for patents on various devices, including the Port-O-Phone, an early hearing aid. His activities are covered in detail in Steve Porter: Global Entrepreneur, on the Mainspring Press website.
This gallery of early recording artists appeared in The Phonoscope for July 1898. Although touted as Columbia stars (on cylinders; Columbia discs were still several years away), they also recorded prolifically for other companies. Several, including Quinn and Gaskin, ran display ads in the same paper, offering their services to any and all.
The “Mr. Emerson” mentioned in the first paragraph was Victor Hugo Emerson, later better known as the manufacturer of Emerson Records. Steve Porter and Russell Hunting would also come to play important roles in the early recording industry, the latter as a Pathé executive.