Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vocalion Catalog - September, 1934

Not only do I collect 78s, but for the past couple of years I have been collecting record catalogs from the 78 era.  I find them fascinating; like 78s themselves, the catalogs are windows to a lost world.  And while any record collection is formed by the taste of its owner, record catalogs give a fuller picture of the taste of the record-buying public of the time.  And of course, it's fun to find records from your collection listed, as well as listings of particularly rare or collectible records.

Most of the major labels issued complete catalogs of their in-print records annually, with supplements containing new releases printed monthly, or at least several times per year.  This post features the September, 1934 Vocalion catalog, listing new releases for that month, along with highlights from previous releases.

The history of the Vocalion label is fairly complex; here I'll just say that at the time this catalog was published, Vocalion was a subsidiary of Brunswick.  Both were owned by the American Record Corporation (ARC), which also owned Columbia at this time.  Vocalion was one of ARC's lower-priced labels; as you can see on the first page of the catalog, their records sold for 35 cents each, or three for a dollar.

This eight-page booklet is a delight to look through, especially for collectors of "race" records, as records marketed to African-Americans were called in the 78 era.  The "Vocal Blues" section in particular has listings for mouth-watering records by Blind Willie McTell (just called "Blind Willie"), The Georgia Browns (a group which included Buddy Moss), and the daddy of the blues, Charley Patton.  (Vocalion spelled his name "Charlie.")  In various instrumental categories you'll find records by Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band, the Beale Street Washboard band (a fabulous little group which included New Orleans jazzmen Herb Morand and the Dodds brothers, Johnny and Baby), Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams, and Joe Robechaux's hot little New Orleans swing band.  There's a Blind Joe Taggart listed in the "Sacred Race Records" section.  Some black artists, like Cab Calloway and Jimmie Noone, apparently had enough crossover appeal to warrant listing their records in the "Popular and Standard Records" section.  The country section, "Old Time Tunes," is not quite as stunning as the Race section, but there are still some interesting names there - (Clarence) Ashley & (Gwen) Foster, Ernest Stoneman, and the Carolina Tar Heels, for example.

I'm posting scans of all eight pages of my fragile copy of this catalog.  Click for a larger view, and in most browsers, and can right-click, choose "view image" and click on the resulting image for an even larger view.  Enjoy the Vocalion record catalog from September, 1934

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Scottdale String Band

Yesterday I listened to some old-time country 78s, and the Scottdale String Band really made me smile.  This three-piece band was based in the mill village of Scottdale, Georgia, east of Atlanta.  The band was unusual in that the instrumental lead was taken by Charlie Simmons on mandolin and banjo, not by a fiddler.  The other members of the band were Barney Pritchard and Marvin Head, both guitarists.  The group made a dozen or so records for Okeh and Paramount between 1926 and 1932.

Scottdale, only a few miles from my house in Atlanta, grew up around the Scottdale Cotton Mill, opened by George Washington Scott in 1901.  The mill remained in operation until 1982.  Many great early country bands sprung up in the shadows of Southern cotton mills - check out Patrick Huber's fine book Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South
The mill has been demolished, although there is a newer steel mill looming over the railroad tracks.  Many of the mill houses built for the workers remain, mostly freshly painted and restored.  The main design seems to have been a rather plain duplex- there are dozens of these nearly identical double houses in Scottdale.

My Scottdale String Band records are pretty worn, as many early country records tend to be.  But one side of Okeh 45103, "Chinese Breakdown," is in better shape than the rest.  You can hear Charlie Simmons' lead banjo, played with a pick, mandolin-style, it sounds like, rather than in the more common clawhammer style.

Unfortunately, the label of my copy of "Chinese Breakdown" is almost illegible, so I'm posting the best-looking label, along with the best-sounding music I have, by this great Georgia country group.  "Chinese Breakdown" was recorded in Atlanta on March 21, 1927.

Scottdale String Band - Chinese Breakdown:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sam Jones (Stovepipe No. 1) on Harmony

Sam Jones was the real name of the musician known professionally as Stovepipe No. 1.  That unusual name came from his trademark stovepipe hat, his kazoo made from an actual stovepipe, and his effort to distinguish himself from the similarly-named performer Daddy Stovepipe.  Jones, from Cincinnati, was an interesting, somewhat primitive musician whose style spanned blues, gospel, and country.  He billed himself as a "one-man band," and often played guitar, harmonica, and stovepipe kazoo in the course of the same song.  Jones, who was born sometime in the late 19th century, recorded for several labels between 1924 and 1930.

Harmony was a Columbia subsidiary, formed in 1925 to make good on a Columbia investment.  About a year before all the major record companies began recording electrically, Columbia had installed state-of-the-art acoustic recording equipment in its New York studio.  The records that resulted were some of the best-sounding acoustic recordings made.  But with the advent of the electric recording process, Columbia's new acoustic equipment instantly became obsolete.  Rather than scrap it, the company began using it to record material for a budget label, Harmony.  The original Harmony label lasted until 1932, but the brand was revived in the 1940s, and remained in existence as a Columbia-owned budget label at least until the 1970s.

Here is the country side of Sam Jones - Harmony 5100-H, recorded in New York on August 20, 1924.  These sides were first issued on Columbia as by "Stove Pipe No. 1 (Sam Jones)" and reissued on Harmony using only his real name.  Enjoy Sam Jones on guitar, harmonica, and stovepipe.

Cripple Creek and Sourwood Mountain:

Turkey in the Straw:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Petite Suite de Concert

I just made a post yesterday, but can't resist posting again today, in honor of this blog's first follower, who is extremely knowledgeable about concert band music.  BHaynes, this is for you.

 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was perhaps the first black composer to achieve international fame.  An Englishman, he was regarded with great pride by African-Americans of the time, and made three concert tours of the United States.  His best-known work was probably the cantata Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, but the Petite Suite de Concert is still sometimes performed.

 The Petite Suite is usually heard in its orchestral setting, but Coleridge-Taylor also wrote a version for concert band.  (I have been unable to determine which version came first.)  In any case, the British HMV version by the Band of H.M. Coldstream Guards must be one of the very first recordings of a "serious" concert band composition.  It was probably recorded in 1920, and issued on a 12" record in 1921.

The record was reviewed as part of a survey of the Coldstream Guards' recordings in the November, 1924 issue of Gramophone.  "Many people know nothing more of Coleridge Taylor than this suite.  The rendering on this record is rather unequal.  The Caprice (No. 1) and the Tarantelle (No. 4) are superb; Demande et response (No. 2) drags badly toward the close, while the Sonnet d'amo'ur (No. 3) lacks distinction.  But the record is well worth having."

You can decide if the reviewer was right.  Here is HMV 1011, with Lieut. R. G. Evans conducting the Band of the Coldstream Guards.

Side one - La caprice de Nannette/Demande et response:

Side two - Un sonnet d'amour/La tarantelle fretillante:

Monday, March 17, 2014

James McCool - The Low Back'd Car

For St. Patrick's Day, here's an early hit record of an Irish song.  James McCool  recorded "The Low Back'd Car" for Victor on April 20, 1905, and it sold well enough to stay in print until 1919, when he recorded a new version.  That recording, in turn, stayed in print until 1926.

"The Low Back'd Car" was composed by Samuel Lover, who also wrote "The Girl I Left Behind Me," in 1851 or so.  It's old enough to have been given "traditional" status among Irish musicians, who still sometimes perform it.  It almost immediately inspired Irish composer William Vincent Wallace to write a Fantasie on "The Low Back'd Car" for piano.  James Joyce quotes the song in both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.  The success of McCool's record spurred many other recordings of the song, including a 1913 Victor Red Seal issue by John McCormack.

McCool recorded 15 or so sides for Victor, but "The Low Back'd Car" remains his best-known record.  My copy is an original one-sided pressing; based on the label style, it dates from 1905 or 1906.  A later pressing would probably sound better, since Victor's surfaces improved steadily throughout the first decade of the 20th century, but I love having an original.  Here it is:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Boyce Brown on Collector's Item

I'll begin this blog as I began my 78 collection, with a never-reissued jazz disc from 1940: "On a Blues Kick"/"I Surrender Dear" on the Collector's Item label.  The personnel is listed on the label, but there is no band name or leader credit.  The letters "BB" appear in the run-off area, though, leading me to believe that Boyce Brown was the leader.

 I've written about the mysterious alto saxophonist Boyce Brown elsewhere, so here I'll just add that this was the record that turned me into a 78 collector.  Several years ago I decided that I wanted to track down all of Brown's meager recorded output, but I soon discovered that this record had never been reissued in any format.  So when I found a copy on Ebay, I bid and won it.  Before the package arrived, I had purchased a late-1960s Miracord turntable, a 78 cartridge, and half a dozen other 78s.

Brown's improvising was imaginative and unique, and he had excellent command of his instrument.  Here are these two rare sides, recorded in Chicago on February 12, 1940.  Also on board are the great Wild Bill Davison on cornet, Mel Henke, a very interesting pianist, bassist Walter Ross, and Joe Kahn on drums. Enjoy!

On a Blues Kick:

I Surrender Dear: