Friday, January 31, 2014

The W-files, Vol. 1

Alright folks, I haven't posted in a while and it's time for the first installment of something new I'm dubbing "The W-files". The 'W' stands for 'weird'. Each volume will contain pictures and audio clips of some of the stranger discs I run across while collecting 78rpm records, discs too bizarre to pass up. So, without further ado...

(Audio clips can be heard HERE)

"Too Fat Polka" - Arthur Godfrey and Orchestra


"I Love You So Much It Hurts" - Skatin' Toons

These discs were played over the loudspeaker at skating rinks, probably because they didn't want to pay for an organ or an organist.

The last two sides featured in this set are shining examples of the art of double entendre. I won't ruin the punch lines, so just have a listen to the audio clips.

"What a Kitty" - Laff-Disc

Laff-Disc was a very unsuccessful comedy label that, as far as I can tell, only released this one disc. Not to be confused with Laff Records.

"The Mustache Song" - John Ryan

As a mustachioed gentleman, I had to throw this one in.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Friend of a friend...

Victor 16453
I decided to take a trip down to the Moccasin Bend Brewery last night for a drink or two (or three), where I ran into a friend who came up to me and said, "Hey, you wanna take a look at some shellac?" I nodded enthusiastically and he proceeded to go to his vehicle and bring back six discs of varying genres. I purchased them from him immediately, then I inquired as to the yard sale he acquired them from. Turns out, the discs were from my friend Clark Williams' yard sale that I was unable to attend due to playing a gig out of town that day. I was regretting not having the chance to peruse the 78s Clark had for sale, when they suddenly got dropped in my lap! So, cheers to Jason for scouting the shellac for me, and cheers to Clark for being Clark. Oh, and check out Clark's musical projects, the Old Time Travelers and "Recordings of Ferns".

Here's the haul from last night:

Victor 16453 - Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"/"Golden Slippers" - 1909 (I've never seen a disc of this age in such immaculate condition! It looks like it's never been played. Also of note, a young Roland Hayes sings lead on "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot".)

Bluebird B-6489 - Wade Mainer & Zeke Morris, "Gathering Flowers From The Hills"/"Cradle Days" - 1936

King 550 - J.E. Mainer's Mountaineers, "John Henry"/"I'll Remember You Love" - 1946 (J.E. is Wade's brother. See entry above.)

Decca 46024 - Red Foley with Roy Ross and his Ramblers, "Foggy River"/"Lay Down Your Soul" - 1946 (Gonna be doing a blog about a Red Foley cut soon.)

Columbia 36974 - Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys, "All The World Is Lonely Now"/"That Glory Bound Train" - 1946

Columbia 36735 - Burl Ives, "Peter Gray"/"1. Sweet Betsy From Pike 2. On Top Of Old Smoky" - 1941

Thursday, June 27, 2013

New acquisitions...

Here are the latest additions to the collection. Being from Bessie's hometown of Chattanooga, I'm especially proud to have them.

Bessie Smith - "Weeping Willow Blues"/"The Bye Bye Blues" - Sept. 1924
                          "Graveyard Dream Blues"/"Jail-House Blues"  - Sept. 1923

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Vernon Dalhart - "Death of Floyd Collins"

Floyd Collins was a pioneer cave explorer in Kentucky during the early 20th century. Kentucky is home to the world's largest cave system, Mammoth Cave. Many of Kentucky's caves share this interconnected, labyrinthian structure. Being a bit of a cave diver myself, I can only imagine the challenges and dangers Floyd encountered, given the inferiority of the equipment used back then. In early 1925, Floyd became trapped while trying to discover a new entrance to Mammoth Cave. Efforts to rescue Collins became a nationwide newspaper and radio sensation. Four days in, a collapse happened in the soft sandstone cave, no longer allowing rescuers to send Floyd food and water. Collins died of exposure, thirst, and starvation ten days later after spending two weeks underground. His body was recovered two months later.

For a month or two now, I've had a copy of Vernon Dalhart singing "Death of Floyd Collins" on Silvertone label (Sears and Roebuck) hanging on my living room wall as a decoration. The reason it's up there and not in my record collection is that it has a HUGE FAT crack all the way through half the disc. I'm pretty sure it's a heat fracture, because the crack has a sizable gap instead of the typical hairline fractures that one sees with shellac records. I got the record because it was priced very reasonably. Free. Thinking it wouldn't play, I hung it on a nail to look pretty.

Until today.

I decided to at least test it and, to my surprise, both sides played flawlessly without skipping! So, unlike the real Floyd Collins, this record was rescued and continues to live on to this day, weaving the legacy of a great pioneer and explorer of the nether-realms. So here's to you, Floyd, I'm thinking of you today!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Did you know?

Did you know... 

...that shellac (the brittle black stuff most 78 records are made of) is made from the resinous secretion of the lac bug, Kerria lacca?

So yes, my preferred audio format is vintage bug poop.

Billy Murray - "Alcoholic Blues"

I just obtained a copy of "Alcoholic Blues" by Billy Murray on Columbia record label. This seemingly mundane piece of shellac is pretty interesting for three reasons: 

1. Billy Murray was an exclusive Victor recording artist from 1909 until January 1, 1919. He then became a free agent, able to record with any label he chose. This particular cut was recorded in January of 1919, just days after his release from Victor. Murray remained a free agent for about a year and a half, recording with a variety of labels, including Columbia and even Victor. Then on July 1, 1920, he signed another exclusive contract with Victor. This record is from that short free agent period.

2. "Alcoholic Blues", which makes light of the coal and sugar shortages due to rationing during WWI but woefully bemoans the absence of alcohol, was recorded just one year before the 18th Amendment took effect, banning the production, sale, and transportation of all alcohol in the US. However, the amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919, just days before Billy Murray recorded "Alcoholic Blues". So, this record was an extremely current and germane piece of music upon its release, given the impending ban of all alcohol.

3. The B-side of the record, "I'm Goin' to Settle Down Outside of London Town", is also an anti-Prohibition song. The singer praises the good ol' USA, but he must abscond to England because they still have liquor there.

In short, Billy Murray was a rock star.

Roland Hayes - "Hear de Lambs a Crying"

"Hear de Lambs a Crying" by Roland Hayes (Columbia Masterworks 69812-D)

What’s your dream? What if you could accomplish anything you set your mind to? What if fear was out of the picture?
Roland Hayes was born in Curryville, Georgia (Gordon County, near Calhoun), on June 3, 1887. His parents were former slaves, and Roland was raised in the heyday of the Jim Crow South, when racism and ignorance reigned supreme. The odds, as it were, were stacked against him, especially since his father died when Roland was at a young age. The future did not look promising by any stretch of the imagination for a young black boy from Georgia.
But he could sure sing.
Hayes’ family moved to Chattanooga when he was eleven. Despite all the hardships encountered, Roland received vocal training and was able to attend the prestigious Fisk University, a historically black school in Nashville. He toured with the world-famous Fisk Jubilee Singers while attending there. Afterwards, he studied in London, he performed at Carnegie Hall, toured Europe and the United States numerous times, and sang with the Boston Symphony Orchestra… just to name a few of his accomplishments. Hayes was one of the highest paid singers in the world at the time, and the first African-American to achieve international notoriety in the field of classical music. Often noted for his remarkable linguistic skills, he could sing in English, French, Italian, and German. The concert hall in the UTC Fine Arts Center bears his namesake.
So what pushes a man from such low depths to such great heights? Passion, I believe. Yes a passion for music, but something much more than that. Passion for life. An almost obsessive drive to see the odds shifted and one’s world bettered. A belief that anything is possible, and a refusal to settle for the status quo. Roland Hayes is a stunning and inspiring example, not just to musicians, but to anyone who was ever afraid to do something.
This love for life and justice shines through on Hayes’ recording for Columbia Records, titled “Hear de Lambs a Crying”. This song is Roland’s arrangement of the traditional spiritual of the same title. Hayes’ brilliant tenor voice, coupled with the dark and exiguous piano stylings of Reginald Boardman, make for an intense and heart-wrenching spiritual experience. In the song, Jesus asks Peter, “You hear the lambs a crying?” Jesus then answers his own question with the command, “Shepherd, feed my sheep.” I believe that Roland Hayes saw the condition of his people, harassed and oppressed, and took those words to heart. You can hear it in his voice as he sings. Roland decided (perhaps even subconsciously) that something needed to be done. He had music, so that’s what he ran with. He did what he could, with what he had, where he was. And soon enough, he had turned the tables of racial stereotypes. He became the shepherd, helping to lead the lambs to greener pastures.
A Georgia state historic marker says this of Roland Hayes:
“He is and ever was at once one voice, one race, one citizen, one triumph in belief, one compromise with nothing… he is a country to himself that borders not on nations whole or sundered, but on art, on life- on people prizing now and then nobility in man.”
So as you listen to this piece (along with the contrasting “Plenty Good Room” that appears on the same side), think about what it is that you can do to make your world a better place, using what you do. You may not become a world class tenor vocalist like Roland Hayes, but you don’t have to. Whatever you do, big or small, is just as important. Just do it, and make sure it comes from you.