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.
Wild Man Blues
Trumpet Solo, acc. by His Original Washboard Beaters