Bowling me over

A vendor in my local Farmers Market sells these bowls, made by warming LPs and folding them over a mold or crimping them by hand.

Scanning the records I thankfully didn’t notice anything that jumped out at me as being terribly valuable, but then again 33-1/3RPM discs are not my forte, so I might have missed one. Regardless of the value of the records, though, it reminded me of some repurposed books that I’ve seen manufactured into pieces of furniture.

I have mixed feelings about these. Friend-of-the-blog Tarquin Tar has often written about the value of the book as an important and worthwhile object in itself – the book is more than the story on its pages. It has a story its own, and an intrinsic value beyond whatever the words within are about. It has provenance, ownership history, and even artistic qualities of its own (binding, jacket illustrations, etc).

Is the same true of records? With rare exception they are simply black shellac discs. Some may have illustrative elements – picture records, decorative labels, sleeves, and so forth. The content contained can exist on any other media and still be the primary artistry of the album. Consider those 78s in my collection that I have featured here (and many I have not yet) that do not exist digitally on the web or on any CDs. Their value is in their scarcity first and their musical quality second, in most cases. Rarely do the two meet: truly great tracks are hardly ever scarce. But that has little to nothing to do with the media.

But the media is scarce, too. These LPs will never again be made. Something about that fact saddens me, even though I know can find these exact tracks as MP3 or on CD very easily.

So, I put it to you. Record bowls: heart breaking destruction of someone else’s art or acceptable/creative work of art of their own? Or both? Or something else entirely?

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Holst On a Moment!

After a very long hiatus Zayde’s Turntable is back! We return with an older record from one of the most prolific record companies in history: Columbia. I’ve already posted about the history of Columbia elsewhere, so I won’t delve much into it here. This record, in a way, ties together some important figures in the earliest jazz recordings and…Holst!

This series is from the Columbia Graphophone Company (not a typo): “Beginning at A1 (10”) and A5000 (12”) the early couplings [on the Columbia A-series] were often wildly inappropriate, sometimes pairing comic songs with concert band selections or vaudeville routines with Victorian sentimental ballads… In early 1916, Columbia’s manufacturing branch…was reorganized as the Columbia Graphophone Manufacturing Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut and New York.” (from Allan Sutton’s 1994 Directory of American disc record brands and manufacturers 1891-1943) Actual manufacturing was done at the Howe factory in Bridgeport, most famous for creating Elias Howe’s sewing machines.

Elias Howe’s factory, most famous for manufacturing sewing machines, was also home to the Columbia Graphophone company.

How “wildly inappropriate” were the pairings? Consider the records immediately surrounding this album (A-1485) in the Columbia catalog. A-1484 offered Eddie Morton singing “While They Were Dancing Around” and Al Campbell and Henry Burr doing a duet version of “I’m On My Way To Mandalay” – and A-1486 carried two harp and zither tracks, one of Offenbach’s “La Belle Helene” and the other Karl Millocher’s “I And My Boy.”

This album is in Good condition. It has some light wear and scratches on both sides, but there is no effect on the recorded audio, and the B-side label shows some soiling. It is an acoustically recorded 10-inch diameter 78-RPM black vinyl disc with lateral grooves and a ¼” spindle hole. The record catalog number is Columbia Record A-1485 and the master number is 39064/38997. It bears a stamped number “51” in the end gap on the A-side. Columbia records after 1924 had a three part code stamped in the same place to indicate the stamper and mother number used to press the record, but as this record pre-dates that practice I am not entirely certain to what “51” refers. If it were a stamper number, it could suggest that as many as 51,000 copies of the record were pressed.

The top label is an example of a 1910s Columbia Graphophone record and the bottom is ca. 1919/early 1920s. The top one is clearly the same as this album, suggesting the 1913 date – not the 1919 date – is correct.

The A-side recording features Prince’s Orchestra led by Charles Adams Prince (1869–1937) playing “Babbling Brook” by Charles W. Rega (?). It runs 3 minutes and 26 seconds. The B-side recording features Prince’s Band, again led by Prince, playing the gavotte “The Village Belles” by Eduard Holst (yes, Eduard) (1843-1899). It runs 3 minutes and 5 seconds. The A-side was recorded in August 1913 and the B-side in October 1913 (Tim Brooks’ Columbia Master Book Discography lists the recording date as August 16, 1919, which does not seem likely as the Columbia A1000s series was produced between 1911 and 1913; a 1919 recording would show a catalog number in the A2500s). Les Docks sets the value at $3-$5. I could find no other current listings of this album for sale online.

If the Columbia Graphophone Company didn’t come onto the scene until 1916, how come the 1913 recording year? My guess is this album carries two tracks that may have been previously recorded and issued on another label in the Columbia family. Many of Prince’s instrumental recordings also appeared anonymously on the affiliated Climax and Oxford labels. This is purely speculation, however, as I could find no reference to either of these pieces existing on any other record besides Columbia A-1485 (the always helpful Online Discography does not have a directory of Climax records and their listing of Oxford albums shows no recording with either of these titles – except Oxford 5600A, a recording of “Village Belles,” however the composer is not Holst but Edwin F. Kendall, a piano composer better known for his ragtime pieces). Another possibility would be that this record is actually from the British branch of Columbia, confusingly also named The Columbia Graphophone Company. I don’t think this is the case for two reasons: first, the British company wasn’t founded until 1922. Second, the record bears a price that is clearly American: “65c”. Both the cost and the currency are consistent with the American record company.

The 65-cent price is visible in the lower right of this image. Note the enigmatic “Grand Prizes” – they refer to those year’s World Fairs, at which the Graphophone itself (not the record) won a prize.

Grapha-what?

Now – what the heck is a Graphophone? It’s really no different from a gramophone or phonograph. The concept was identical, for the most part, to the phonograph originally developed by Thomas Edison. Competing scientists at the Volta Laboratory (founded by Alexander Graham Bell) refined and improved Edison’s machine by introducing a lateral recording method (instead of vertical cuts) and by replacing Edison’s impractical tinfoil-coated cast iron cylinder with wax-coated cardboard cylinders. Some authors breathlessly declare that it was Bell’s return fire against Edison; I think that’s a bit overly dramatic. Nevertheless the end result was no small improvement: “records” became less expensive, easier to produce, lasted longer, and offered much better sound quality. A trademarked name, the Graphophone moniker and the heavily patented technology was passed around by a series of company mergers and bankruptcies between the 1880s and the early decades of the 20th century, ultimately ending its usage in the 1930s as a Columbia disc brand. The technology itself spawned not only the laterally-grooved vinyl disc we are familiar with today, but also the Dictaphone and similar recording devices.

Early Graphophones employed a cylindrical mechanism.

Later Columbia Graphophones played disc type records. A Grafonola was another Columbia product that employed an internal horn and disc records. Confused?

The piece “Babbling Brook” is by the composer Charles W. Rega. Stop reading this for a second, open another tab and head to Google. Enter “Charles W. Rega” and hit search. That’s about as much as I could find about Rega, too.

No Rega.

After checking hard copy references I could still find no reference to a Charles Rega ever existing in this period (except one: Charles Rega was a lay reader in the village of Skaguay, Alaska as part of the Alaska Missionary District in 1895 – I doubt he also wrote songs). Then, a break-through. Brooks’ Columbia Master Book Discography does include a listing for “Babbling Brook” and the master number matches exactly with the one on this record: 39064. It is the same exact song, but in the Discography the composer is listed as “Milo Rega.” Aha. Milo Rega was the pseudonym of Fred Hager (1874-1958).

Hager is best known as one of the first “A&R” guys. He and his colleague Justin Ring were scouts for Okeh records in the 1920s and assembled the group that backed black singer Mamie Smith in some of the recordings that many blues buffs consider the foundations of the “Race record industry.” Okeh would go on to become one of the leading labels for early blues musicians. Hager’s instincts were rooted in his own musical abilities. Starting in the 1900s he wrote songs for the Zonophone (a label founded in 1899 and shortly sold to, yep, Columbia, who affiliated it with its other alternative label Oxford). Hager and Ring worked together on compositions into the 1920s, many of which were credited to the fictitious F. Wallace Rega, Miles Rega, or Milo Rega, aliases derived from Hager’s own name. I cannot find any other reference to his using “Charles W. Rega” but the composer of “Babbling Brook” is almost certainly Fred Hager. A search for Hager’s name in connection with “Babbling Brook” confirms this: in February 1922 Nathan Glantz directed the Xylo Novelty/Specialty Orchestra in a recording of the piece, credited to Hager by name, that appeared simultaneously on Banner Records 1083 and Regal Records 9207. Interestingly, Glantz also directed the “Rega Dance Orchestra” on Okeh Records. Here, however, is the earlier Columbia A-1485 recording of “Babbling Brook” from my collection.

I almost titled this post “Bait and Switch” because when I first picked up this record it was the composer’s name on the B-side that caught my eye: Holst! A Holst song from circa 1913 would immediately precede the famed composer’s most acclaimed work – “The Planets.” Perhaps the “The Village Belles” would provide some taste of the almost hymn-like orchestral masterpiece, an early testing of the resounding bells that fill Gustav Holst’s Opus 32 masterwork (if you listen to it, it clearly does not). I hit the books, but could find no piece – not even a movement within a larger piece – titled “The Village Belles” by Gustav Holst. Thinking it may have been a different title wrongly ascribed to another Gustav Holst piece I listened to his works from the 1910s and 1900s to find a match. No luck. I searched for instrumental works with that title from the period and found reference to a piece with that title by a T.E. Spinney in the 1884 edition of The Monthly Musical Record and in the library of Victorian era English tenor Sims Reeves. The Reeves connection, and a discovery that Spinney also wrote a Te Deum, among other works for vocalists, suggested that his piece “Village Belles” was likely also a piece for vocalist. That and the 1884 date discouraged me from considering this song to be Spinney’s.

Then I stumbled across the other, lesser known but more prolific Holst: Eduard.

Eduard Holst

Eduard Holst was born in Copenhagen in 1843 and was an exceptionally productive composer, dance master, playwright, and occasional actor. Most of his over 2,000 works were songs and solo piano works, the most popular of which were probably his “Dance of the Demons,” “Beautiful Evening Star,” and “Diana Grande Valse de Concert” – a piece arranged variously over the years for 2, 3, and 4 pianos (that’s 4, 6, or 8 hands).

Little else is known of Eduard today, despite his lengthy roster of compositions and his copious output. He died in New York City at the relatively young age of 56. Assuming he started composing when he was 20, that’s 2,000 pieces over 36 years – or an average of about 56 compositions a year, almost five pieces per month every month of his life. In his time Eduard Holst’s piano music was so inexhaustible that one publication included it in a “Litany” that is well worth posting in its entirety:

A LITANY: CANTO II From wedding invitations and from the history of the United States; from the piano pieces of Eduard Holst and from fat women who are afraid of being betrayed; from all plays that run on Broadway more than fifty nights and from the Emmanuel Movement; from female bachelors of arts and from physical exercise in all its hideous forms; from editorials in newspapers and from the theory that it is sinful to chew tobacco; from the streptococci and from serial novels; from denaturized [sic] alcohol and from chilblains; from the works of Henryk Sienkiewicz and from chicken salad; from ecclesiastics who essay to be jocose in the pulpit and from the initiative and referendum; from fresh water oysters and from labor leaders; from theosophy and from the genealogical page in the Boston Transcript; from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and from elderly ladies who sit on the piazzas of summer hotels and swap obstetrical anecdotes; from bier jisch and from glassy potatoes; from perfumed cigarettes and from remorse from the doctrine of infant damnation and from Rosa Bonheur’s “The Horse Fair” – good Lord, deliver us! (The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness, Volume 37, 1912).

Give the type and style of music Eduard Holst composed, the years in which he was most active, and the style and sound of this song on Columbia A-1485 (a gavotte is a type of French dance from the mid-19th century) I am quite confident in saying that “The Village Belles” is the work of Eduard Holst, not Gustav. Here is, as far as I can find, the only audio recording of “The Village Belles” by Eduard Holst available today.

Charles Adams Prince around the time he worked for Columbia.

The “Prince” in Prince’s Orchestra and Prince’s Band refers to Charles Adams Prince. Prince, said to be a descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, was an accomplished pianist and organist, cutting his first recording in 1891 for the New York Phonograph Company and making his way, eventually, to Columbia, where he accompanied on the first Columbia Grand Opera Records through 1902. In that year, Columbia’s orchestra director – Fred Hager (that’s right) – stepped down from the post and Prince was named to fill the spot. Three years later Prince’s Band (or Prince’s Orchestra, largely depending on the instrumentation called for with each piece) was formed at Columbia. He would serve as the director of various Columbia house bands and his own eponymous one until 1923 when he changed labels to Puritan Records and, finally, Victor Records, to serve as associate music director.

Most jazz aficionados are familiar with the Prince’s Band recordings as they are often the first recordings of some true classics of the genre. Their 1915 rendition of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” is one such record, as are their recordings of Porter Steele’s “High Society” in 1911 and Lew Pollack and Ray Gilbert’s “That’s A Plenty” in 1914 (a song that was, incidentally, a standard part of this author’s repertoire when he played in the band Lookin’ For Treble in the late 1990s). The Prince’s Band recording of Handy’s “The Memphis Blues” in 1914 was preceded by the initial recording – by the Victor Military Band – by only one week. In addition to these jazz classics in 1917 the versatile Prince conducted Richard Wagner’s “Rienzi Overture” for what was Columbia’s very first classical music release.

Charles Adams Prince in his later years.

Prince’s Band/Orchestra was made up of some of the top instrumental talent of the day. Most of these men can likely be heard on this particular record: Vincent Buono (cornet), Leo Zimmerman (trombone), George Schweinfest and Marshall P. Lufsky (alternately flute and piccolo), Arthur Bergh and George Stehl (violin), Thomas Mills (xylophone, bells), Howard Kopp (xylophone, bells, drums), Thomas Hughes and William Tuson (clarinet), and Charles Schuetze (harp). While they primarily backed vocalists for Columbia, often without label credit, the band itself had a remarkable 80 instrumental recordings in the Top Forty hit charts between 1905 and 1923, including three #1 hits: “Ballin’ The Jack” in 1914 and “Hello, Hawaii, How Are You?” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” both in 1916.

For the return of Zayde’s Turntable I wanted to go back to the original spirit of this blog and the project that inspired it: to select a record at random from my collection, research it, record it digitally, and share it. When I pulled Columbia A-1485 out from the middle of the stack I was very happy to find the name Holst on one of the sides. Knowing the Columbia label was from around the time period of “The Planets” I got ahead of myself and thought it was Gustav Holst. It took several days of research for me to piece together the truth – though it would have been nice if Columbia had used a first name for the composer, as they did on the other side, or at least a first initial. Then, when I set to work on the reverse side I was flummoxed by the non-existent Rega. Even searches for pseudonyms of Charles Rega were fruitless. A careless typo led me to Milo Rega and then to Fred Hager. It’s not the first time I discovered a pseudonym on a record and, indeed, they were exceptionally common throughout the 20th century of recording.

Still, when I started on this post, I thought it would be a simple one to research. But even the simplest look record on the surface may have an interesting historical mystery beneath. I am quite pleased to place online a recording of Eduard Holst’s “The Village Belles” that – to my knowledge – not only does not exist in audio format anywhere else, but has been lost to history as a song that he even wrote. Given his current obscurity and the volume of his work, of course, that’s not a real surprise. I’m also happy to have been able to connect the enigmatic Charles Rega with Fred Hager. The early Columbia A-series was known for having a sometimes odd combination of songs on a record or in a series of records. A-1485 is two instrumental pieces, sandwiched in the catalog between two other styles of music, and representing two very different – but equally mysterious (and strangely, at the same time, equally prolific) – composers. It may have been a bait and switch, but I have to say that I’m satisfied with the outcome.

Coming soon…

After a recent move I finally yesterday unpacked my 78s collection. Happy to see they all made the trip ok and undamaged. It was also a good opportunity to rediscover some intriguing albums in my collection about which I had nearly forgotten. Now stay tuned in the near future for the the return of Zayde’s Turntable!

Sheepish…

Alas, I have been far too remiss in sharing here what I have been playing on the turntable lately. As we pack up for a big move it seems even more unlikely I will get back to this blog in the immediate future. Hopefully in August or September 2012 I will be able to resume! Until then…

I was in to 78s before they were cool.

Are 78-RPM records making a comeback as the new avant garde hipster medium? Probably not. Still, it is an amusing thought to consider. And what follows after 78s? As one commenter wrote, “Psssshhhhh… trendy hipster wannabes. My band is releasing a wax cylinder.”

On an unrelated note, readers might have realized there was no featured record last week. Alas, there will not be one this week, either. Major life changes in your author’s world at the moment. Once things settle back again I will return with another installment for your enjoyment!

Paper, not plastic

This week on Zayde’s Turntable we find a somewhat untraditional type of record. While the song and the performer are not that remarkable I was looking forward to posting about one of the several albums in my collection from the intriguing “Hit of the Week” label.

Examples of “Hit of the Week” label, with the monochrome illustrations on the back of some of the records depicted on the right.

“Hit of the Week” (HOTW) were a very unique series of albums issued in the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, which were made – not of the standard shellac – but instead of a patented paper/resin product called Durium. Simply put, HOTW records, first issued in February 1930, were an ultra-cheap record for the impoverished nation. Each week the newest HOTW record appeared in flimsy rice-paper sleeves on newsstands  (not, as with other records, at record stores) for just 15 cents – the cheapest record available at the time. Despite the fact that they were printed on paper stock and not vinyl, HOTW records had remarkably good audio quality, often matching or exceeding the quality of shellac records of the same period. The single-sided records were sometimes issued with liner notes or the featured artist’s picture illustrated on the back (a feature missing from this particular album, however). By the summer of 1930, at its peak, HOTW were selling nearly 500,000 records each week (at 15 cents per record, that makes a weekly gross of $75,000 – or about $970,000 in today’s dollars); however, the continually worsening economy quickly claimed even the super cheap HOTW record company. Sales crashed and in March 1931 the company went into receivership. Two months later they were purchased by an advertising agency that attempted to revive the label, expanding the discs to five minutes in length, with two songs per record – still only on one side, and raising the price to 20 cents. The changes did not work and the final HOTW was produced in June 1932. The advertising industry continued to utilize Durium printed records throughout the decade, primarily as 5” and 3” promotional records. The agencies would even print the mailing address and affix postage directly onto the reverse of the miniature paper records. HOTW records are today relatively popular with collectors – even those with less remarkable songs or singers – largely due to the medium upon which they are pressed. HOTW did publish a number of A-list musicians’ works, however, including Duke Ellington (who appeared on the label as part of the group the “Harlem Hot Chocolates”), Eddie Cantor, Rudy Vallee, and Gene Austin.

Hit of the Week #1088.

Rear of Hit of the Week #1088, lacking an illustration.

This album is in Very Good condition. It has a small chip at the edge, but it does not intrude on the grooves at all and has no effect on the recorded audio. It is an acoustically recorded 10-inch diameter 78-RPM brownish red Durium paper/resin disc with lateral grooves and a ¼” spindle hole. The record catalog number is Hit of the Week 1088. The A-side recording features the Vincent Lopez (1895-1975) Orchestra directed by Hymie Wolfson playing the foxtrot “Little White Lies” by Walter Donaldson (1893-1947). The vocalist is Lew Conrad and it runs 2 minutes and 38 seconds. The album was recorded in July 1930 and released by HOTW on September 11, 1930. Les Docks sets the value at $3-$6 and there is one dealer selling it on EBay for $4.

Columbia 45-RPM featuring Eartha Kitt’s 1963 cover of “Little White Lies.”

Donaldson originally wrote the 1930 foxtrot “Little White Lies” for Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, who recorded it on July 25, 1930 for Victor, with Clare Hanlon providing the vocals. As this HOTW version attests, several artists ended up recording the popular tune in 1930, including – besides Lopez on HOTW – Ted Wallace on Columbia, Earl Burtnett on Brunswick, Johnny Marvin on Victor, Marion Harris on Brunswick, Lee Morse on Columbia, and Harry Reser and Annette Hanshaw on budget labels like HOTW. Jesse Crawford recorded an instrumental organ cover for Victor in 1930, as well. Ella Fitzgerald recorded a version of it for Decca in 1939 with Chick Webb’s orchestra. The greatest heights that the song achieved on the US charts was when a 1947 recording of the tune by Dick Haymes for Decca lasted 23 weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at #3 in 1948. Dinah Shore’s 1947 cover of it for Columbia records lasted one week on the charts at #28 and a 1957 version on Bally Records by Betty Johnson lasted one week at #25 in that year. The song was a hit overseas, too, with Ruby Murray recording it for UK Columbia in 1957 and Eartha Kitt doing likewise in 1963 for the same label. According to Paul McCartney the song was a favorite of both him and John Lennon when they were growing up in Liverpool, and likely had some influence on their later output.

This 1930 edition of the sheet music for “Little White Lies” features a photograph of Vincent Lopez. Donaldson’s publishing company simultaneously released versions of the same music with the photographs of a number of other performers who released recordings of the tune, including Ethel Merman, Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith, and Jesse Crawford.

Songwriter and publisher Walter Donaldson.

Donaldson, the son of a piano teacher, began writing original music for school productions as a young boy, demonstrated sheet music for customers in five-and-dime stores, and accompanied nickelodeon films in his neighborhood in Brooklyn. He saw his first published work when he was 22 and continued to perform, even after his enlistment in the Army, when he would entertain troops and play the piano at War Bond rallies. After his service in the Army during World War I Donaldson was picked up by the Irving Berlin Music Company to be one of their stable of in-house songwriters, a gig he kept until 1928 when he set up his own music publishing company. Around the same time he moved from New York to Hollywood, to join many of his fellow Tin Pan Alley songwriters in composing music for the burgeoning film industry; his film music credits include Glorifying the American Girl, Suzi, The Great Ziegfeld, Panama Hattie, Follow the Boys, and Nevada. By the time of his death in 1947 the tremendously prolific Donaldson had penned around 600 original songs, including some major smash hits that are synonymous with Tin Pan Alley and the music of the 1930s to this very day: “My Blue Heaven,” “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” recorded by John Pizzarelli, “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “I’ve Had My Moments” made famous by Frank Sinatra, “You’re Driving Me Crazy” rendered by Mel Torme, “Makin’ Whoopee,” and “Love Me or Leave Me” sung by Lena Horne. Remarkably, Donaldson’s publishing company is still in existence to this day and maintains a terrific website with the composer’s complete biography, his catalog with representative recordings (including a 1995 recording of Julie London singing “Little White Lies” for Liberty records), and information about licensing any of the composter’s 600 odd songs.

Bandleader Vincent Lopez.

Lopez, like Donaldson, was a Brooklyn kid. The song of Portuguese immigrants, Lopez was on track to become a priest before he found a new calling in music and formed his own dance orchestra in 1917. With Lopez at the piano, the band played numerous hotel and dance gigs throughout New York City. Lopez’s piano technique has been called “flamboyant and florid” and was a direct influence on later performers on the instrument, including Liberace. Numerous musicians who would later go on to fame in their own right spent some time in Lopez’s band, including Artie Shaw, Xavier Cugat, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Rudy Vallee, and Glenn Miller. In November 1921 the Lopez orchestra became one of the first to broadcast a regular radio program – a 90-minute weekly show on WJZ out of Newark. The notoriety from the show propelled Lopez to the front line of famous bandleaders of the 1940s and secured both his band and himself roles in a number of the hottest musical movies of the 1940s.

Vincent Lopez leads his orchestra in a photograph from the 1920s.

In 1941 Lopez and his band began a long-term residency as the house band of the Hotel Taft in New York City, delighting audiences into the late 1950s with swing, dance tunes, Dixieland jazz, country-western, and even, in the 1950s, with rock and roll songs. The liner notes to a “Best of the Big Bands” CD compilation from the 1990s offers this description of the show at the Taft:

The Lopez band practically defined the style of popular hotel orchestras of the time…Lopez was also an innovator when it came to the audience participation stunts that generated publicity. Wednesdays through Fridays, for instance, Lopez would have everybody in stitches at the Grill Room with his “Shake the Maracas” show, in which people came great distances to demonstrate their personal skill with the maracas and compete for such prizes as miniature piano cigarette lighters and autographed photos of the bandleader. On many an afternoon, tourists (and hooky-playing office workers) would head off to the Taft for an hour-long 1:00 PM dance session, often broadcast as “Luncheon With Lopez” over the Mutual Radio Network. He even sponsored “Fashions in Music,” a weekly afternoon fashion show in which models would display the latest in day and evening wear to the instrumental melodies of the band. Such novelties may have diminished the impact of his music, but it never affected his pocketbook – or his ability to hire the best musicians in town. For many years, a spot in the Lopez band was a real plum for a musician who also desired a stable family life; the show at the Taft always ended at 9:00 PM sharp, giving a sideman ample time to change into street clothes and be home in time to kiss the kids goodnight and watch the eleven o’clock news.

Singer Lew Conrad.

Lew Conrad was, like Donaldson, the son of a musical family, with both parents sharing a background as vocalists. They decided they did not want their son to be a – gasp – singer, so they had him take up the violin instead. Conrad was promoted by his parents as a violin prodigy for the vaudeville circuit, but he really did not enjoy that realm of the entertainment world. After graduating from Tufts Conrad took his violin to the Cleveland Symphony for a year, before landing a singing and violin gig with the Leo Reisman Band. Conrad also did recording sessions with the studio orchestras of Nat Shilkret and Ben Selvin, until, in 1929, he landed an audition for NBC, who offered him a contract. Conrad’s fame peaked between 1931 and 1933, shortly after he recorded this record for HOTW. His musical performances were being heard nationwide nine times a week on NBC network radio and in 1933 his band was featured in an installment of a series of musical film shorts. His fame seemed to have tapered off, for unknown reasons, into the late 1930s, with the last news account of the band performing coming in 1941.

During times of severe economic hardship the American people have gone with less or gone without, but our innate appetite for entertainment seems to persist, albeit in a diminished form. Consider the last twelve years of movie attendance: during the recession in 2008 1.37 billion tickets were sold at cinemas, just about the same as the number sold in 2000, before the recession after 9/11/2001. At the same time, the dollar amount spent on tickets when considering those two years increased by $2.37 billion – or 32%. This means that despite a tremendous jump in ticket prices and the hit to the economy, people were still willing to shell out for a movie ticket. The HOTW story, as a label, illustrates is just how truly awful the Great Depression was for the average American family. Despite our national natural thirst for escapism entertainment even the cheapest record label of the period felt the sting of the economic collapse. And while Americans were turning to new forms of entertainment around the same time – “talkie” film features, for example – the notion that the industry that was then, and is still today, our leading entertainment industry couldn’t cope is a telling piece of evidence of the disruption of the Depression. On a lighter note, I think any record collector with a stack of HOTW albums in their collection would tell you that the audio quality is generally just as good as their vinyl discs. And they’re a hell of a lot easier to move – and less likely to shatter when you drop one by mistake, as you will inevitably do. Perhaps if the Depression had not been as bad as it was Durium records would have replaced shellac more broadly as the preferred material for record albums. Considering the trajectory of recorded music, from 78-RPM to LP to tapes and CDs, it is interesting to imagine what innovations would have happened, not happened, or happened differently, if the principle medium of recording was so changed.

The last train

Hi all – no featured record this week, I’m afraid. Too many other demands on my time this week. I hope to be back with an especially intriguing offering for next week’s featured album, however. In the meantime, here’s a tribute to a great musician and performer of the 20th century who passed away this week. Enjoy it in its original form: 45-RPM vinyl.