Saturday, April 10, 2021

Shellac for April 2021--Brittle discs that demand to be heard!

DOWNLOAD: Shellac for April 2021

"Shellac for April" is not a very imaginative title, but after a while, "More 78s" just doesn't do it.  I could try "Fewer 78s," though that wouldn't make sense.  But at least I wouldn't be making the "fewer"/"less" error that even professional journalists commit nowadays.  And what, exactly, am I talking about?  Frankly, I have no idea.  Yet, I have the courage to admit it.  You have to give me that.

So, shellac.  AND you get some repeats from my last shellac-athon, because I have made significantly better rips of them.  I even did a perfect rip of Reuben and Cynthia, but I've already done a follow-up Reuben and Cynthia post, and a re-follow-up is out of the question.  Suffice it to say that the vocals are now almost perfectly clear, and it took a simple trick to make them so.  The trick, for pre-electric recordings, is to assume a bass turnover frequency of 300 Hz, and to ignore the fact that, technically, acousticals had no bass turnover freq.  However, what is technically true is not always really true.  I had a long (and I mean long) phone discussion with a top audio guy, and it was all free advice, and I still can't believe I didn't dream it.  Anyway, he noted that the bass turnover for acousticals (or acoustics) is roughly the same as it was for early electrics--250-300 Hz.  Why?  He feels this was so that acousticals and early electrics would both play fine on the gramophones of the day--the dealers didn't want people coming in and complaining that their older 78s no longer sounded good.  A very logical theory.

So, my restorations start with a flat response curve, to which I add the 300 Hz turnover, and this allows me to maximize the low end (with parametric EQ'ing) after I've exported my file(s) to MAGIX.  I fix up my files between two programs--VinylStudio is mainly for declikcing and setting the response curve, and MAGIX is where I do my EQing and the rest of my noise filtering.  Maximizing the bottom end inevitably means having to unmuffle the midrange and highs.

The happy result is a great deal more punch to the sound on pre-electrics.  And so I'm revisiting a few 78s from the last batch--John McCormack's 1920 Wonderful World of Romance, on which John's wonderful voice rings out even more clearly than before, the 1916 Irving Berlin gem Alice in Wonderland (major improvement in the vocals), the Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra's 1919 The Red Lantern (one of my favorite dance band sides ever), and a take-no-prisoners Hot Time in the Old Town.  The old town is even hotter this time.  And I wasn't going to type that, because it's so lame, but...  too late.

Other titles have shown up at the blog before, but I think repeats make sense in music-blogging, since I can't  expect everyone to have grabbed everything I ever put out--often, when I "resurrect" a post, it'll be new to many listeners/followers.  And what's the best noun, there?  "Followers" sounds cult-ish.  As if I'm the leader of a movement.  That would be weird, to suddenly discover that was the case.

Our first track is of special interest, because it's a ragtime piece written by none other than Don Richardson, whose amazing 1916 and 1921 country fiddle sides I recently re-featured here.  This time around, I discovered that I don't own all of Don's 1921 sides, which was news to me.  The online 78 discography is spread across two parts for 1921 Columbia 78s--my only excuse.  Anyway, Don was an expert ragtime composer, as well as a bandleader and an amazing fiddler.  Of course, these are all strikes against Don as far as the "authenticity" crowd is concerned.  I've given my kind thoughts about the idiocy of "authenticity" before, so I won't repeat myself.  I'm forever pointing out that "authentic" is the most relative thing in the universe, and... darn.  I said I wasn't going to repeat myself, and I did.

What can we say about Oh! Sing-A-Loo?  Lots of things, I guess--such as, "There's actually a song by that title?" or "How many of these pseudo-'Oriental' songs did these writers churn out?  There must have been an industry."  And I almost suspect there was.  Or at least an "Oriental number" wing to every music publishing house.  Anyway, I love "Oriental" novelties, so Sing-A-Loo works for me, even if I'm a little uncomfortable putting up an Asian-stereotype song at this particular point in the news cycle, with anti-Asian thuggery.  But this is a blog about the past, not 2021.  It just happens to exist in that year.

Loo is an utterly typical, heard-one-heard-them-all Oriental number, but quite catchy, though the flip--Gee!  But I Hate to Go Home Alone--is far catchier, and fairly famous, too.  Early Okeh sides were pretty badly pressed, but I like the sound of them, regardless.  The studio sound, that is.  They have a full-bodied fidelity I like.  Meanwhile, we'll hear four superb sides by the superb Victor Military Band, which I believe was a collection of top studio pros moreso than a "real" band.  The group's incredible musicianship is reason enough to love them, but they had some ahead-of-their-time arrangers--sides by this group almost border, at times, on big band.  Patrick Conway's band was also ridiculously virtuosic, and we have three amazing numbers by them.  And I've always felt that Earl Fuller's Rector Novelty Orchestra was especially spot-on and "clean" in its technique, and, for me, Teddy Brown's extraordinary xylophone (which some find an annoying intrusion) provides a jazz-style counterpoint that's fascinating.  No fewer than three Fuller sides, including my favorite--Singapore--and it's really only now that I've given full body to its audio that I realize the amount of improvisation happening in it.  Of course, Teddy Brown is improvising nonstop, as ever, but there's also much creative trombone work behind the cornet (which is glued to the melody, Dixieland-style)--with each repeat, the trombone is doing something different, from "answer phrases" (call and response), to held notes, to accompanying lines.  A photo of the Rector group shows a double bass, but there's no way that instrument would have produced a strong and deep bass sound on a pre-electric side (though Brian Rust lists a "sb"--string bass--for the outfit).  I believe the Rector Novelty sides are of far greater jazz interest than Fuller's official jazz sides, which feature a frantic type of almost-Dixieland that's kind of fun, but not nearly as cool.  Art Hickman, who I regard as an early type of big band music (though the official view is that his music had nothing to do with jazz) shows up in our playlist with two rather weird numbers which have his musicians even less on the same page than usual.  Clearly, Hickman's band worked from arrangements, but there was considerable ad-libbing, and on today's two sides--Those Draftin' Blues and The Hesitation Blues--the saxophone noodling takes precedence over form, as if the goal was to produce something like Dixieland.  To my ears, it doesn't work--the musicians sound lost.  I love Hickman, but these are the most monotonous efforts I've heard from him, and the weirdness of the sound had me wondering if my rips were off.  But I compared them to Archeophone's restorations, and they were nearly identical. Maybe there were extra parts to the arrangement and someone lost them, and it was too close to the recording date to fix things.

The Columbia Band, as directed by Charles A. Prince, is listed in the online 78 discography as Prince's Band, logically enough, but I'm going with what the label says.  The band gives us two sides from 1918, both moving at a surprisingly rapid pace, with more of a dance than marching band feel.  For 12-inch dance 78s, there's an amazing lack of monotony, given the amount of repetition (there isn't the usual "introducing" of choruses from other songs to add variety)--I think the extra-creative arranging is what makes these long sides seem not so long.  "Apologies to Grieg," it says on the Peter Gink label.  Far less musically successful is Irving Berlin's Mr. Jazz Himself--Prince's Orchestra, 1918.  The title is far more intriguing than the music, and, in this case, other songs are woven into the arrangement, including (for some reason), Joan of Arc, They Are Calling You.  And their inclusion does nothing to de-bland the proceedings.

And now I have to fill in the rest of the space created by the insertion of the sheet music image.  But I see from the preview page that I'm not even close to filling that space, even though, in pre-published form, it appears that I have.  At least the text has stayed together this time.  Enjoy the old sounds!

Hezekiah (Don Richardson)--Conway's Band--Patrick Conway, Director, 1915
Singapore--Medley (Intro: While You're Away; Gilbert-Friedland)--Earl Fuller's Rector Novelty Orch., 1918
Wonderful World of Romance (Simpson-Wood)--John McCormack, Tenor, 1920
Waiting for the Robert E. Lee--Medley Turkey Trot--Victor Military Band, 1913
When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam'--Medley Turkey Trot--Same
Those Draftin' Blues (Pinkard)--Art Hickman's Orchestra, 1919
The Hesitating Blues (Intro: Beale Street; Handy)--Same
Arabian Nights (David-Hewitt)--Columbia Band, Dir. by Charles A. Prince, 1918
Peter Gink (Cobb)--Same
Mr. Jazz Himself (Berlin-Wells-Schwartz)--Prince's Band, 1917
Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight (Metz)--Victor Military Band, 1916
Pork and Beans (Roberts)--Earl Fuller's Rector Novelty Orchestra, 1917
Howdy (Ted and Josh)--Earl Fuller's Rector Novelty Orchestra, 1918
The Red Lantern--Medley (Fischer-Cowan-Monaco)--Waldorf-Astoria Orch., Dir. Joseph Knecht, 1919
Introduce Me (Mel B. Kaufman)--Conway's Band--Patrick Conway, Director, 1916
The Skyscraper--One-Step (Chester W. Smith)--Same
Gee! But I Hate to Go Home Alone (Hanley)--Natzy's Biltmore Orchestra (Jack Green, Director), 1922
Oh! Sing-A-Loo (Lew Pollack)--Rega Dance Orchestra, 1922
Alexander's Ragtime Band (Berlin)--Victor Military Band, 1911
Slippery Place Rag (Hacker)--Same
Alice in Wonderland (Berlin)--Anna Howard--Harry Macdonough, 1916



Buster said...

"Teddy Brown's extraordinary xylophone (which some find an annoying intrusion)" - I feel seen.

In my experience (much less than your own), the useful frequency response for acoustics is 300-3,000hz.

Thanks for this collection!

Lee Hartsfeld said...


I really should have clarified that I start with a flat curve plus a 300 Hz bass turnover. Then I use my parametric EQ in MAGIX, working with the freqs in the range you mention. I left out half of the process. I find the same thing to be true: 300-3,000 Hz. I do my files in two basic steps: first, setting the response curve at one program, then migrating the files to MAGIX, where I do the tweaking and filtering. The 300 Hz turnover gives me the max "bass"--a solid bottom end I can build upon.

rev.b said...

I always look forward to your 78 collections Lee and appreciate the time and care you spend on restorations. In fact, I had your playlist from March 21 playing in the car today. I imagine there was still some surface noise remaining, but in that environment the records sounded flawless. Perhaps I’ll set this one up for next Saturday’s drive.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

rev. b,

That's awesome! It's cool to learn that my 78s are providing listening for driving. Hope you enjoy this set. I unfortunately have no CD player in my car, and I'm not up to tech, so to speak, on other music-storage options. I figure I'm a good ten years behind the curve in that regard. One of the hazards of collecting ancient records, I guess. Thanks for dropping in!

Eric said...

Are you starting with the actual 78 record? Whatever you do, the end result is great. I love the notations on the label for the dances. Fox Trots were a lot faster than what is now thought of as a foxtrot (think Sinatra's You Make Me Feel So Young). Now that we have the music for it, maybe we can resurrect the Turkey Trot. Thanks as usual.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Thanks for the nice words--and, yes, I'm starting with the original records. I have a couple thousand 78s, and maybe more. I've never counted them, beyond guesstimating based on crate length. And there's a good deal of overflow, too, which goes wherever I can fit it. And, somehow I'd failed to notice that Fox Trots were faster at first--you're right, they slowed down considerably during the big band era. Tempos/tempi were generally faster during the late teens and 1920s--Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller lowered the metronome settings. Dancing, save for the professional type, became more a thing for relaxation than exercise, maybe. Glad you enjoyed!

rev.b said...

Nothing all that hi tech really, just an mp3 player plugged into the car stereo's aux input and away we go.

Ernie said...

Is it just me, or does it seem like every record that didn't fit elsewhere was labelled a foxtrot? I see a little FT label on two out of every three 78s I pick up.

Buster said...

Ernie- Yeah, it was a long-time habit for the record trade. I've seen early rock records labeled "fox trot."

Eric said...

I looked for an article explaining fox trots.
Get out your patent leather shoes, slick down your cootie track and let's dance.

Lee Hartsfeld said...

The dance goes back to 1914. Pretty much, anything with either two or four beats to the bar could be designed a Fox Trot. The correlation between the music for dances and the dances themselves can be confusing. The F.T. was pretty all-purpose. I've seen it on early r&r, too--"Rock Around the Clock," for instance.

Interesting page, Eric.

Buster said...

Those descriptions sound like every dance I have ever done, except the polka, which as I recall involves a lot of hopping around on one foot.

Diane said...

Response curves, turnovers, parametrics -- wow, am I impressed, because I know nothing of this. It's magic to me, so I appreciate your mastery of it. I also appreciate your explanations, though I doubt I'm educable. (Had to look it up to make sure that was actually a word.) Thanks, Lee!

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Thanks for the nice words! I'm flattered, though I think I'm a long way from expert status in this stuff. I'm just lucky that what used to require tons of gear (and $$) can now be done with inexpensive software. And I used to hear "educable" all the time from my foster mother, the English prof--as in "not educable." This was usually in reference to a type of bright, self-educated person who couldn't submit to the discipline of a liberal arts education. She felt such folks had too little sense of their own limitations, and therefore a tendency to be sure they were right, regardless of what the rules say. That wasn't her view of all non-college educated people--just a certain type.