First Record Issued On Crown Label – 1930

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Crown 3001-B label image


“It’s A Great Life If You Don’t Weaken”
Ray O’Hara And His Orchestra; unknown, vocal
(Crown 3001 B mx 1061)            November 1930


“Three Little Words”
Adrian Schubert And His Orch; Paul Small, vocal
(Crown 3601 A mx 1060)      November 1930


Here are two recordings from the very first release of the early Depression-era Crown label.  Sadly, my copy is not in the best of condition. However, I am using some new audio restoration software that enabled me to do a better job at cleaning it up than I previously would have been able to.

Crown was a low-priced label that mostly focused on mass-market, popular hit songs buyers might have heard on radio, in films or on the New York stage.  At a time when most low-priced records sold for 35 cents, Crown records were priced at 25 cents and advertised as “two hits for two bits.”

The label was introduced in November 1930.  However, since the Depression was still far from reaching its bottom, selling records became increasingly difficult, even at a low price, and the label ceased operations in February 1933.

Crown was produced by the Plaza Music Company, a wholesaler of sheet music and various music-related merchandise.  Since 1921, it had been the exclusive sales and marketing agent for the Regal Record Company, which issued low-priced records on the Regal,  Banner, Oriole, Domino, Jewel and other labels.  This profitable arrangement ended in 1929 when Regal and all of its labels became part of the merger that formed the American Record Corporation (ARC).

The label was named after the Crown Music Company, a competitor that Plaza acquired after it became insolvent in June 1930.   Starting in February 1932, Crown Records were pressed under contract by RCA-Victor, which, at the time, was beginning to experiment with introducing its own low-priced line of labels.  But RCA merely pressed the records using masters provided by Crown.

It has recently come to light that, prior to contracting with RCA-Victor, Crown records were made using equipment that had previously pressed Edison records before Edison shut down its record and phonograph division in October 1929.

Most sources state Crown’s recording studios were in New York’s McGraw-Hill Building.  Crown’s low-priced competitor, Hit of the Week, also founded in 1930, had studios in that building.  But neither label’s releases recorded in 1930 and 1931 could have been recorded there as the building was still under construction.

What I have not been able to determine is whether the two rivals, by coincidence, just happened to have separate studios in the same building or if there was some arrangement that enabled them to share a single recording studio, perhaps through renting time from a third party that owned the facility.

Adrian Schubert, who is credited on this recording of “Three Little Words,” was the director of the in-house band for Plaza’s former Regal, Banner, Oriole and other labels and remained after the ARC merger until he moved back to Plaza in the same capacity in October 1930 shortly before the debut of Crown.

While this is the first Crown record to be issued in terms of catalog number, a few other records with higher catalog numbers were, in fact, recorded a couple of months before these sides.

As was common with the era’s low-priced labels, recordings by Schubert and other bandleaders were sometimes credited under various pseudonyms.  Sometimes, these pseudonyms were entirely made up. In other instances, they were the names of actual musicians or bandleaders who might have had nothing to do with the particular recording session (but, undoubtedly, appreciated the enhanced name recognition).

I have not found any discographical information about this recording of “It’s A Great Life If You Don’t Weaken.”  But Ray O’Hara was an actual bandleader who was active in the New York City area throughout the 1930s and, at the time this was recorded, had a 10-month engagement at and radio air time from the Governor Clinton Hotel.  There was also a bandleader by the same name in the 1920s who was prominent in the Chicago area and operated a band booking agency, as well as one who led a band in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1945.   My assumption is they were all the same Ray O’Hara.

As was common in those days, vocal credits were not provided on the label for either side.  However, discographical sources indicate that the vocalist for “Three Little Words” was Paul Small.

I could not find such information for the vocalist on the Ray O’Hara side.  But, interestingly enough, in Adrian Schubert’s final recording sessions for ARC in July and August 1930 prior to moving over to Plaza/Crown, four sides credited a “Ray O’Hara” as the vocalist.  Brian Rust, in his The American Dance Band Discography 1917-1942 speculates that the name might have been a pseudonym for one of the regular studio vocalists on ARC’s roster.

I was able to find and listen to copies of those Schubert/O’Hara ARC sides online and the vocalist on all of them sounds to me to be consistent with the vocalist on “It’s A Great Life If You Don’t Weaken” – though I don’t have the best ear in the world at making such comparisons.  The vocal on “It’s A Great Life….” also strikes me as sounding similar to Frank Luther.

The only other recording I can find mention of being credited to Ray O’Hara’s band was ten issues later on Crown 3011 of “You Are The Melody, I Am The Words.”

What remains a mystery to me is whether this recording was, in fact, made by the actual Ray O’Hara orchestra or whether it was made by Schubert and issued under O’Hara’s name as a favor to a bandleader new to the New York scene and just starting to catch on.

As for the two songs, “It’s A Great Life If You Don’t Weaken” was introduced by Maurice Chevalier in the 1930 film Playboy of Paris.

“Three Little Words” was introduced by the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 1930 film Check and Double Check.  In the film, the vocal to the song was performed by The Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Al Rinker, and Harry Barris).  However, they did not actually appear in the film.  Instead, members of the Ellington band merely lip-synced to the lyrics.

Ellington and the Rhythm Boys also recorded the song for Victor (Victor 22528).  I know for a fact that I have a copy of that recording, but for some reason, I have never added it to Radio Dismuke’s playlist.  It is possible that I might have had a concern about the condition of my copy. But, if not, and its omission was merely an oversight, I will set it aside for digitization next time I come across it.

– Dismuke


If you enjoy these recordings help us spread the word that this wonderful, forgotten music exists by sharing this page with your friends.
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