Monday, June 18, 2007

Keep 'Em Singin'! (Grind 'em up!)

Have you ever wondered why many 1930-1935 blues and country records have attained a mythically rare status? Why some of these exist either in single copies, if they’ve been found at all? (And, yes, there are a few records that are still being searched for…no copies of them have surfaced. Yet.)

While abysmally small pressing runs (sometimes as few as 15-20 copies) certainly helped, and the state of finances was just as low (in 1932, would a sharecropper shell out 75 cents for the latest hit record, or would he rather eat?) the wartime shellac regrind program ensured that much of the unsold stock in warehouses (and used records in patriotic Americans’ attics and cellars) would be ground up and used as scrap material (to serve as the wretched material that postwar independent labels used to press their records. Even new copies have pimply surfaces and were far more prone to wear than virgin shellac 78s)

--- Five O’Clock Drag
Duke Ellington Orchestra
(link killed 23 February 2009 - Downloaded 15 times)
Broadcast 28 June 1942: Duke Ellington, piano & leader; Wallace Jones, Ray Nance, Rex Stewart, trumpets; Tricky Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, trombones; Chauncey Haughton, Johnny Hodges, Otto Hardwicke, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, reeds; Fred Guy, guitar; Junior Raglin, bass; Sonny Greer, drums.

An interesting curiosity: During a broadcast of the Ellington band, an unnamed announcer interrupts Ben Webster’s solo with a PSA for the American Legion’s record recycling program (Our normal source for shellac had just been taken by the Japanese). When the announcer finally shuts up that's Rex Stewart you hear on cornet, squeezing out freak notes with his half-valve trick.

Johnson Wax Ad
(link killed 23 February 2009 - Downloaded 12 times)
Broadcast 2 February 1943: From the Fibber McGee and Molly radio show, an integrated commercial for Johnson’s Wax. In this show, Fibber and Molly (Jim and Marion Jordan) had just opened their famous closet. This time, in the wreckage, they find a box of old phonograph records. Harlow Wilcox steps in for a quick plug for Johnson’s Wax. The regrind program is mentioned in passing, but it’s the records that they pull out of the box that may interest the 78-collecting community out there…there’s somebody's version of Tell Me, Pretty Maiden (from 1902), an Uncle Josh record
( originally recorded in 1901, but available for many years), and Cohen on the Telephone ( from 1913) .

It occurred to me that the records in the closet go back to around 1913 or so...or around thirty years before this commercial. That'd be like me finding a stash of disco and heavy metal LPs in my closet. However, I wouldn't feel too nostalgic about finding that'd go to the nearest thrift shop and donate them.

You can find the virtually complete Cal Stewart (Uncle Josh) catalog at the Internet Archive: .

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