Tag Archives | 78rpm

Buddy Bolden Blues

Dallas Blues on JOCO label

Back in the early days of the danceband, ad hoc bands with some weird and wonderful names were the norm.

The Original Memphis Five, for example, recorded under such names as Jazzbo’s Carolina Serenaders, Bailey’s Lucky Seven and The Cotton Pickers, despite none of their members having anything to do with the South. The bandleader Johnny Dodds was known for putting together a great group of musicians.

Here’s an example of a band called Blues in Dixieland, playing ‘Buddy Bolden Blues’, a song which began life as ‘Funky-Butt’ by the inspirational cornetist Buddy Bolden. This recording (1949?) is from the compilation Jazz Heritage – Volume IV and the label was a small outfit called JOCO, based in Northfield, Minnesota.

The number features Doc Evans on cornet; Al Jenkins on trombone; Art Lyons on clarinet; Mel Grant on piano; Micky Stienke on drums; and Biddy Bastian on bass. It’s possible that Jelly Roll Morton was also playing – information in the catalogues is often contradictory.

❦ To listen, click the audio player below. ❦

Photo © Rachel Cowan

Music

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Jean Sablon

JeanSablon

Jean Sablon, a popular French singer and actor, was born in Nogent-sur-Marne in 1906. The son of a songwriter, he studied piano at the Lyceé Charlemagne and the Paris Conservatoire. He began his career in musical comedy but shot to fame when he was spotted by the legendary performer Mistinguett who chose him as her partner at the Casino de Paris.

In 1933 he moved to the USA where he became a hit on many radio shows. George Gershwin and Cole Porter wrote songs for him and he appeared in the Broadway musical ‘Streets of Paris’ with screen comics Abbott and Costello plus the singing star Carmen Miranda.

Jean Sablon, with his ‘crooner’ style, was often compared to such singers as Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. His biggest song success, for which he won the Grand Priz du Disque in 1937, was “Vous qui passez sans me voir,” written for him by Charles Trenet and Johnny Hess. He also helped to popularize swing music in France by teaming up on several occasions with Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt.

Jean Sablon’s records sold in their millions around the world and he became one of the most widely acclaimed male French singers second only in reputation to Maurice Chevalier. He is frequently referred to as the French equivalent of America’s Bing Crosby. He died in 1994 at Cannes and was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

Label details:
Si Tu M’aimes
(Michel Emer & Ordner)
Sung by Jean Sablon
Garland Wilson at the Piano
Columbia DB 1709
1936

❦ To listen to my 78rpm record of ‘Si Tu M’Aimes’, click the audio player below. ❦

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The Anniversary

the anniversary graphic small

As Jenny pinned a rosebud cut fresh from the garden onto her frock, she remembered standing in this scullery for the very first time exactly a year ago. Then, she had been an excited bride clutching a posy of lily-of-the-valley tied up with blue haberdasher’s ribbon.

Now, she thought, Arthur and she were a very ordinary couple living very ordinary lives. But back then at the Locarno, a time that seemed so long ago, her first impression was that he was like a god, so tall and fair. Arthur, in reality a hardworking clerk for Henry Hughes & Hughes, had come along mainly to keep his friend Sidney company and it was he who suggested they ask the two laughing dark-haired girls to dance.

The band struck up ‘Happy Feet’ and Arthur asked his dancing partner if she’d ever heard Jack Hylton & His Orchestra play. She hadn’t but smiled anyway, a lovely, natural smile, Arthur thought.

For the rest of that summer, they walked out together and eventually Jenny took Arthur home to meet her parents. Her father, a porter at Covent Garden fruit market, took him out into their tiny back yard and, while puffing on a venerable pipe, grilled the polite young man before him on his intentions towards his eldest daughter.

The Dickens family was a large one and Jenny’s mother often struggled to keep poverty from the door. Arthur however was the only child of a comfortably off couple originally from Kent. Although his mother doted on him, Arthur Charlesworth Snr took care to instill in his son a keen awareness of life’s responsibilities.

Soon enough, they were officially engaged. Their world was bounded by the busy drag that was Streatham High Road. They saw a Jack Buchanan film in the Odeon’s cheap seats and caught the trolleybus to Streatham Hill to watch ‘Murder in Mayfair’ at the theatre. There were some half-hearted tennis lessons and long walks, hand in hand, with stolen kisses in the shrubberies of the Common. And on Jenny’s twenty-first birthday, they spent a magical evening at Crystal Palace where Jenny squealed with pleasure (and Arthur held her tight) as they rode the newest showground ride at Thurston’s Fair.

The wedding was a quiet affair but the men of both families rolled back the carpet at Leigham Avenue, the groom’s family home.

Arthur brought a blush to his new mother-in-law’s cheeks with an energetic foxtrot and Jenny thought she would never have a day so happy as this one in her whole life.

And now here she was, daydreaming, when she had still to make the sandwiches for today’s outing. Plain ham for her and some English mustard spread on top for Arthur. Two crisp green apples, along with a flask of tea, were already packed in the basket.

To celebrate their first anniversary, Arthur had suggested taking the early train down to Brighton and making a day of it at the coast. Jenny knew that the wind-up gramophone would accompany them, as it did everywhere, and she’d tucked a record of ‘Happy Feet’ into its lid. No matter if Arthur thought her sentimental – she still remembered that first dance.

She wore her favourite blue frock but had replaced the rather tired collar with one she’d sewn out of some pretty lace. And on her slim feet were new shoes bought at Pratt’s Department Store which she felt showed off her ankles to perfection.

Arthur’s colleagues would scarcely have recognised him. Day in and day out dressed in a drab grey suit, he was today resplendent in tan knickerbockers, matching argyle patterned socks and co-respondent shoes. Jenny thought what a very handsome husband she had and how lucky they were to have each other.

As they sat on the train together, she considered when the best moment would be to break her news to him. Perhaps after they’d had their first cup of tea on the beach or when the gramophone was playing their favourite song.

Catching her reflection in the window, Jenny saw that Arthur was smiling at her and as she turned, he reached out his hand to take hers.

Arts, Stories

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Wild Man Blues

Louis-Armstrong-young

I have a passion for old shellac 78rpm records which I play on my cherry red HMV 101 wind-up gramophone. My tastes run from 1920s dancebands through classic French chanteuses et chanteurs to early tango orchestras. The collection is modest by most collectors’ standards (about 120) and is governed purely by the amount of space I have to store the records – 78s are heavy and bulky. Creating a personal collection isn’t a costly affair: I have only one or two rarities and don’t care if a particular record was so popular in 1925 they pressed hundreds of thousands of them. I buy my records, usually costing £1 or £2, from my old friends at The Gramophone Emporium in Edinburgh.

Perhaps surprisingly, I have only a few classical 78s and these are of iconic opera singers of the time. No sopranos though – the recording process wasn’t kind to the soprano sound. But tenors, including of course Caruso, the first real recording star, are a different matter. Singing directly into a huge recording horn with the orchestra placed around and behind the singer, the tenor voice rang out clear and true.

The appeal of 78s is mysterious, but their appeal for me is largely the immediacy of the sound. It’s like sitting in the front row of the stalls as Caruso gives it his all, or leaning on the bar while Fats Waller tinkles the juke joint ivories.

The first taster of my 78s collection is a number by the inimitable Satchmo. As he continued to record right up to his death in the 1970s, most people are familiar with the name of Louis Armstrong, but this earlier recording is Armstrong at his raw best.

Label details:
Wild Man Blues
(Armstrong-Morton)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG
Trumpet Solo, acc. by His Original Washboard Beaters
Parlophone
R 2162

❦ To listen, click the audio player below ❦

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The Gramophone Emporium

The Gramophone Emporium was a place out of time. Its window (broken) crammed with gramophone parts. It had no website, no phone line, and, despite being in a trendy boho part of town, no passing custom.

But it did have customers: collectors of vintage wax and vinyl who knew of the shop’s existence by word of mouth. Although some jealously guarded the secret of where they got their records, collectors came from as far away as Germany and even the US.

They were virtually all male, some young but mostly older and much older. Their interests ranged from 1902 Caruso recordings (single sided discs) through Fats Waller in 1924 (the sound as live and immediate as if you were leaning on Fats’ piano) to esoteric Gaelic songs that could have been recorded in a croft somewhere in the Highlands.

The shop began its life in St Stephen Street, Edinburgh in the mid-70s. Part of the street was threatened with demolition and rents plummeted. Because the area was central, people took advantage of these low rents and low-budget businesses moved in along with a whole community of ‘hippies’. Many of the small businesses remained – I have photos of an antique shop and a shop selling only gas mantles and oil lamp parts, both further along the street from the gramophone shop.

It gained sufficient fame in the 1980s to have a whole radio feature devoted to it on Radio Scotland, the radio crew and presenter filling the shop.

After squeezing through the front door, with its tinkling brass bell, there was a front room which doubled as an assault course for the unwary. The machines on which to play the treasures of the 78 disc were everywhere: reconditioned wind-ups, stately table tops and furniture-sized models. The walls were lined with shelf upon shelf of discs, loosely (very loosely) categorised. At floor and ceiling level were collections of 33rpm vinyl, looking almost uncomfortable in such riches of an earlier recording age. Boxes full of records that had ‘just come in’ lay randomly about and, as customers plundered them, stray discs spilled out and some were crushed underfoot in the limited floor space.

There was Victorian sheet music and piles of vintage music magazines. If you have a portable wind-up gramophone (imagine a 1920s picnic with strawberries and cream by the river), there’s a cavity into which you can stuff some material to muffle the sound, the origin of the expression ‘put a sock in it’! So N. would sell you packs of gramophone needles in soft, medium or loud tone. Each needle was used only once and of course, each record requiring cranking the gramophone handle about twenty turns.

A disc-lined alley led to the ‘back room’ which doubled as an unofficial club. This was presided over by A. and B., who held court among their ordered shelves of classical 78s. You’d like an example of a Russian bass from 1920? No problem, B knew just the one. And while it’s playing, how about a cup of tea (laced with a wee dram if you’d like!) and a biscuit? A. and B. had known each other for years (neither were in their green and salad years) and there was a steady flow of banter. When I asked those gents about their backgrounds, I was told that B. was a retired art teacher and an expert on the recordings of the Irish tenor, John McCormack. A. described himself, with a customary twinkle in his eye, as ‘a man of the world’.

In the corner of this inner sanctum, there was often a customer hunkered down with a heavy pile of records on his knee: sifting and searching for that one dreamed-of treasure. A lot of the stock cost between £1 and £3, so it was an affordable hobby. There were rarer discs, but it was mostly dealers who handled those sales. The internet has invigorated the market recently, and four figure sums for one disc are now not uncommon.

The shop stock was sourced mainly from house clearances and people who came in with their deceased relatives’ boxes of records. N. (the manager) remembered one case where they participated in the clearing of a house belonging to a Scots-Italian violinist who had grown increasingly reclusive in his final years. When he died, the rooms of the house were knee deep in his collections and among his treasures were about 5,000 78rpm records. His taste was eclectic, and there was everything from opera to jazz in the collection.

How did I find this place? Well, I lived just along the street and one day the door was open. They only opened one and a half days a week, so I was lucky. I seemed to become a kind of mascot – lady collectors are rare birds indeed. N. (who, in his other life, taught the Gaelic and also the Scots moothie (mouth-organ), would put aside discs he thought I might like – he got the idea that 1920s Cuban tangos, American dancebands, jazz pianists and Italian tenors were my kind of thing.

I learned so much. Did you know, for example, that the famous His Masters Voice label (with dog) issued all their records during WWI and WWII with a white label out of respect for the war? Or that the plainer the label on an early Russian 78, the closer to the Holy Grail of 78s it is? Or that not all 78s were created equal – some were recorded at 80rpm, others at 76rpm – and for that reason, wind-up gramophones have an adjustable slide.

In short, it was the kind of place which I didn’t think existed any more. But there it was, thriving, in the heart of a busy city. A quiet delight. So twice a week back then, you’d find me propping up a wall in the Gramophone Emporium.

POSTSCRIPT: Nowadays the revamped Gramophone Emporium, orderly and clean, is sited directly across the street from the old shop, which was bought by one of the Emporium’s customers. Now it’s a popular record shop, smart and trendy, selling the best of vinyl. But if you want 78rpm records or a beautifully restored wind-up gramophone, the Gramophone Emporium is still the last shop in the UK to exclusively sell them. It’s well worth a visit. Tell Billy I sent you.
The Gramophone Emporium, 12 St. Stephen Street, Stockbridge, Edinburgh, EH3 5AN
0131 225 1203
billybeltona@gmail.com

All Photographs © Rachel Cowan

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Swedish Design in the ’30s

Sleeve 1 small

Sleeve 1b small

In 1932, Erik Ljungberg established a record label, AB Sonora, produced entirely in Sweden. Sonoras were sold originally at 2 krone but the price was reduced to 1.65 krone during 1933. Ljungberg sold the label to Philips in 1958. The company also produced a portable gramophone.

Although all that’s interesting, what really grabs my attention about this record sleeve is the fabulous design. There are two fonts in classic black and red. I particularly love the uppercase E & S and lower case f & r of the script font. The contrasting blocky font has just a few subtle serifs and is mainly used in uppercase. One text block reads “Giv arbete åt svenska arbetare” which translates as “Give work to Swedish workers”.

And just look at that great little logo at the foot of the sleeve. Feet like musical notes and a disc-shaped body – but what’s with the little flag apparently flying from the bridge of his nose? Who cares when it’s designed with such flair?

[More information on Sonora can be found here.]
Arts

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Whatever became of

Edinburgh-sleeve-5

I’m always interested in paper ephemera and the record sleeves for my 78rpm discs are fascinating little pieces of social history and design. So, while listening to some of my records today, I wondered what became of those shops who once supplied Edinburgh’s listeners with gramophones, records and music?

There was Methven Simpson Ltd – Piano and Musicsellers to H.M. The King, whose main branch was at 83 Princes Street. I’m guessing that the King was George V. They were obviously a prosperous company, with branches in Dundee, Forfar, Perth and St Andrews. They stocked pianos, player pianos, gramophones, sheet music and music rolls, also offering a tuning and repair service. I like the art deco border and those stylish numerals 83. Number 83, near Hanover Street, was once part of the Life Association of Scotland building. It now houses offices and Superdrug.

Edinburgh-sleeve-2

Only a street away at 28 Frederick Street was Pentland’s. The advertising here is less grand than Methven Simpson. Under the ‘Pianos and Player-Pianos’ is CASH or CONVENIENT TERMS. People who bought from Methven Simpson could probably afford to buy their piano outright, but Pentland’s was aiming more at the middle classes who had recently discovered Hire Purchase. And now? 28 Frederick Street has yet more offices and a branch of Thomas Cook.

Edinburgh-sleeve-1 Moving up Lothian Road, there was James Beaton’s The Gramophone House at Number 96. This building once housed opticians G Prescott & Co & a branch of Black & Lizars is still there. Beaton’s takes the prize for fanciful sleeve design, with smiling lambs at the foot of a classical column upon which sits a Pan-like figure playing two pipes. In the distance, a strange couple dance to the music, he wearing Cossack costume and she with a gay straw hat.

Edinburgh-sleeve-4A little further away from the centre of town was Kilgours at 66 Nicolson Street, boasting that they were agents for Columbia and His Master’s Voice for over a quarter of a century. Just a few doors away used to be La Scala Electric Theatre which opened in 1912. The cinema changed its name to the Classic in 1974 and has subsequently been converted for use as a bingo hall. Now Nicolson Street is one of the main places on the Southside for restaurants and cafes.

Charles M. Brown were Electrical, Wireless and Gramophone Suppliers, situated at 1 & 2 Melville Terrace on the edge of The Meadows. Or as the sleeve helpfully says Opposite Dick Veterinary College. The Dick Vet has since moved to modern accommodation on the outskirts of Edinburgh and there’s a Thresher’s off licence at No 1 Melville Terrace. The typography on this sleeve has pronounced serifs rather reminscent of Kelmscott and there’s a marvellous ampersand with swash.

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Gallimaufry

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Vintage Jazz

Sissle-&-Blake
In 1924, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle wrote a stage show named ‘The Chocolate Dandies’. The show was unfortunately ultimately a flop because it failed to fit the stereotypical ‘fast dancing and negroid humor’. The name, however, lived on and was used by a number of different jazz ensembles from the late 1920s to 1940.

Don Redman, one of the first great jazz arrangers, was also a reed player and vocalist, appearing with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra until 1927, when he moved onto McKinney’s Cotton Pickers as well as working with Louis Armstrong and his Savoy Ballroom Five. In 1928, Redman brought together a small group of players to record with Okeh under the name The Chocolate Dandies. My 78rpm record is a pressing by Parlophone Records, headed at that time by Oscar Preuss.

DonRedman

Parlophone established a master leasing arrangement with Okeh and issued the Rhythm Style Series which included the two fabulous 78rpm numbers included here. Cherry was written by Don Redman himself and the vocals may be by him. Four or Five Times, written by Hellman & Gay, have what sounds like a quartet of voices including interjections in a woman’s voice. Note that on one side, the billing is The Big Chocolate Dandies and the other side The Little Chocolate Dandies!

In 1950, Oscar Preuss of Parlophone Records hired a young man named George Martin and five years later, Martin succeeded Preuss. The rest, as they say, is recording history.

‘Cherry’
(Redman)
THE BIG CHOCOLATE DANDIES
With Vocal Refrain
Parlophone
R365

❦ To listen to ‘Cherry’, click the audio player below ❦

‘Four Or Five Times’
(Hellman/Gay)
THE LITTLE CHOCOLATE DANDIES
With Vocal Refrain
Parlophone
R365

❦ To listen to ‘Four Or Five Times’, click the audio player below ❦

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