Don Pancho y su Quinteto Tipico Argentino (Francisco Canaro) – 1937-1938

Odeon 2384-A label image


“Derecho Viejo”
Don Pancho y su Quinteto Tipico Argentino
(Odeon 2384 B mx 9340)         March 15, 1938


“El Choclo”
Don Pancho y su Quinteto Tipico Argentino
(Odeon 2384 A mx 9216)        November 15, 1937


Here are a couple of tango recordings from Argentina – though the transfers here are from a Brazilian pressing.

While tango music originated in and is associated with Latin America, during the 1920s and the 1930s it enjoyed worldwide popularity, especially in Germany and Eastern Europe.

Both songs on this record were already well-known classics by the time it was made.

“Derecho Viejo” was composed by Eduardo Arolas and first published in 1916, though it is believed that he wrote it as early as 1912.  The song’s title translates into English as “Old Law.” Ariolas died in 1924 at age 32.   In 1951, the song’s title became the title of an Argentine film based on Arolas’ life.

“El Choclo,” composed by Ángel Villoldo, dates back to 1903 and is one of the most famous Argentine tangos.  The song enjoyed a highly successful 1952 revival in the United States when lyrics were added and it was retitled as “Kiss of Fire,” with big-selling recordings made by Georgia Gibbs, Tony Martin, Louis Armstrong, and others.

“Don Pancho” was a recording pseudonym for a quintette led by the popular Uruguayan-born Argentine bandleader Francisco Canaro.  In Argentina, “Pancho” is a popular nickname for Francisco.  In 1940, the pseudonym was changed to “Quinteto Pirincho”- “Pirincho” being a nickname for Francisco in Uruguay.

Canero also made recordings for Odeon under his own name.  As far as I can determine, the recordings under his name seem to have been with a full orchestra, whereas the pseudonyms were used for recordings featuring only a quintette. You can find additional background information about his quintette recordings at this link.

I usually dislike it when people attach stickers other than music royalties stamps to record labels.  But, in this instance, it is interesting in that it indicates the record was sold through the Brazilian discount retail chain Lojos Americanas and, for those who might be familiar with the Brazilian currency that was in use at the time, at what price.

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Stuff Smith And His Onyx Club Boys – 1936

Vocalion 3200 label image


“I Don’t Want To Make History (I Just Want To Make Love)”
Stuff Smith And His Onyx Club Boys; Stuff Smith, vocal
Vocalion 3200 mx 18817         March 13, 1936


“Tain’t No Use”
Stuff Smith And His Onyx Club Boys; Stuff Smith, vocal
Vocalion 3200 mx 18818        March 13, 1936


Stuff Smith was one the 1930’s top jazz violinists.  As the band’s billing suggests, it regularly appeared at New York’s Onyx Club.

Before forming his own band, Smith spent several years as a member of the Alphonso Trent Orchestra.  Though it only made a handful of records and is largely forgotten today,  Trent’s band significantly impacted the history of American popular music.  It was the first black band to become the in-house band of a high-end, big-city hotel and the first to regularly and prominently broadcast over radio.  You can read more about the Alphonso Trent Orchestra at this link.

The song “I Don’t Want To Make History (I Just Want To Make Love)” was from the 1936 film Palm Springs. That film was also the Hollywood debut of a gentleman whose voice will be familiar to regular Radio Dismuke listeners: Smith Ballew. In addition to leading his own successful band, Ballew appeared on hundreds of records as a freelance studio vocalist for most of the major labels between 1929 and 1935.  While Ballew sang in the film, Frances Langford performed “I Don’t Want To Make History.”

Stuff Smith’s musical career continued long after the period of Radio Dismuke’s focus. He spent the last few years living and performing in Europe, where he died in 1967.

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Connie Boswell/Casa Loma Orchestra “Concert Style” Record 1932

Brunswick 20108 label image


“Washboard Blues”
Casa Loma Orchestra; Connie Boswell vocal
Brunswick 20108 mx BX 11520                                  March 16, 1932


“Four Indian Love Lyrics”
Casa Loma Orchestra
Brunswick 20108 mx BX 15211                                  March 16, 1932


Here are two “concert-style” recordings the Casa Loma Orchestra made for a 12-inch Brunswick 78 rpm record.  12-inch records were more expensive than the standard 10-inch size and were primarily used for classical music, which had a greater need for the extended playing time.

Recordings by popular artists were only occasionally issued in the 12-inch format. They were usually devoted to either medlies of songs from popular theater productions or to “concert-style” recordings that aspired to be more “highbrow” and “respectable” than typical jazz and dance band fare.  Some recordings from this genre were innovative and interesting, though many often come across, in retrospect, as being at least somewhat pretentious.

This record is interesting because its extended playing time allowed one of the 1930s top female vocalists, Connie Boswell of the Boswell Sisters, to showcase her talent on “Washboard Blues.”  The song was composed in 1925 by Hoagy Carmichael and had already been recorded by a few bands when Carmichael himself appeared on vocal and piano on a similar 12-inch “concert-style” recording the Paul Whiteman Orchestra made in 1927 – a recording that is in Radio Dismuke’s playlist.

Though the Casa Loma recording is quite different, those familiar with the Whiteman version, arranged by Bill Challis, will notice some similarities.  Boswell herself was co-arranger of the Casa Loma version along with Gene Gifford, who was the arranger for most of the band’s output during this period.  This was Boswell’s only recording with the Casa Loma band.

“Four Indian Love Lyrics” is an instrumental medley of songs that British composer Amy Woodforde-Finden wrote for a collection of poems by Laurence Hope, a pseudonym used by British poet Violet Nicolson, published in Britain as The Garden of Kama and in the United States as India’s Love Lyrics.  The songs featured in the medley are “Kashmiri Song,” which is the most famous of the songs and one of only two songs ever recorded by film star Rudolph Valentino, as well as “Less Than The Dust,” “The Temple Bells,” and “Till I Wake.”

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Teddy Brown And His Café De Paris Band – 1926

Imperial 1655 label image


“Sweet And Low Down”
Teddy Brown And His Cafe De Paris Band
(Imperial 1655 mx 4514)           October 18, 1926


“Two Little Blue Birds”
Teddy Brown And His Cafe De Paris Band; Lionel Rothery, vocal
(Imperial 1655 mx 4513)       October 18, 1926


Here are two recordings by a British band led by American-born Teddy Brown, who was regarded as one of the top xylophonists of the era.   Unfortunately, his earlier recordings, such as these, were recorded for the Imperial label, which did not switch to the new electrical recording technology, already in use by other labels for over a year, until 1927.  Thus these recordings lack the fidelity they would have had if the band had been recording with a different label.

As the label credit indicates, at the time these selections were recorded, the band had an extended engagement at London’s Cafe De Paris, located in the basement of the Rialto Theater. It was one of London’s most fashionable 1920s-era nightclubs and remained in business for 96 years until the loss of revenue during the COVID epidemic forced it to close in 2020.

During an air raid on March 8, 1941, the club survived a direct hit from a bomb that took the life of one of Britain’s most popular swing-era artists, dancer and bandleader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson.  Because the club was underground, it was perceived as relatively safe during an air raid. But two bombs landed in the exact spot needed to pass through a ventilation shaft and land directly in front of the band as it was performing.

Both songs on this record are from musical productions that debuted in New York in 1925 and were playing in London at the time of the recording session.  “Sweet And Low Down” is a George and Ira Gershwin composition introduced in Tip Toes.   “Two Little Blue Birds” is a Jerome Kern composition with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and Otto Harbach from Sunny.


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Lee Morse And Her Blue Grass Boys – 1927

Columbia 1922-D label image

“Moanin’ Low”
Lee Morse And Her Blue Grass Boys
(Columbia 1922 D mx 148846)                  July 24, 1929


Lee Morse And Her Blue Grass Boys
(Columbia 1922 D mx 148847)                  July 24, 1929


Here are two recordings by blues and jazz singer Lee Morse, one of the top-selling female vocalists for both the Pathe and Columbia labels during the 1920s.

Morse had an utterly unique style.  She had a very wide vocal range and, in her recordings, would sometimes break out in whoops and yodels.  She does not do that on either of these recordings, but she does begin “Moanin’ Low” with moaning sounds that I suspect raised a few eyebrows in certain quarters.

Morse was born into a musical family that made a living with its own traveling music show.  After landing a contract with a West Coast vaudeville circuit, Morse eventually made her way to New York and appeared on Broadway.  She began making records for Pathe and its subsidiary Perfect label in 1924 and moved to Columbia in 1927.

In what could have propelled her career to new heights, Morse landed the leading role opposite Ed Wynn in the 1930 Florenz Zigfield production Simple Simon.  But what should have been a big break for Lee Morse went instead to Ruth Etting.  During the show’s initial trial run in Boston, Morse showed up for the opening performance drunk and couldn’t remember her lines.  Ziegfield immediately replaced Morse with Ruth Etting. The show was very successful as was one of its songs, “Ten Cents A Dance,” which became a big hit for Etting.

Despite her Broadway setback, Morse starred in three musical short film features later that year, A Million Me’s, The Music Racket, and Song Service, all of which can be viewed on YouTube.  She continued appearing on radio broadcasts and made records for Columbia through 1933.

A throat ailment brought Morse’s career to a halt with the fear that she might not be able to sing again.  But after spending time with relatives in Gainsville, Texas, her voice recovered and, accompanied by her husband, pianist Bob Downey, began appearing at various venues in the nearby Fort Worth/Dallas area and on regional radio broadcasts.  For awhile, Morse and Downey had a house on the shore opposite of Casino Beach on Lake Worth just outside of Fort Worth.

Multiple online sources, including the Wikipedia article I linked to for her biographical information, claim that, in Texas, she and Downey operated a small club that burned in 1939.  In my own research on Morse’s time in Texas, I have yet to find the name of such a club or any mention of Morse and Downey operating such a club.

Morse did appear regularly in 1934 -1935 at the Sylvan Club, located in what is now Arlington, Texas.  That club was destroyed by an early morning fire on July 12, 1935.  Also destroyed in a dressing room on the club’s second floor where the fire began were 12 expensive gowns and bracelets that belonged to Morse.  Neither Morse nor Downey had any ownership interest in the club.   I strongly suspect that this is the club and fire that the various articles incorrectly refer to.

Morse recorded a handful of sides for the Decca label in 1938.  She moved to Rochester, New York in 1939.  In the early 1950s, she attempted a come-back through local Rochester radio broadcasts and a handful of sides she recorded in 1950 that were issued on the Decca and Coral labels.  But her come-back had only been locally successful by the time she died in 1954.

Morse’s “Blue Grass Boys” was the pseudonym given to a Columbia in-house ensemble.  Its roster varied by recording session but usually featured some of the top New York jazz talent.  Both recordings here feature Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey as well as Phil Napoleon and Frank Signorelli.

The song “Moanin’ Low” was introduced by Libby Holman in the 1929 musical revue The Little Show.

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Jack Payne & His Band – 1933

Imperial 2918-A label image

“I’ve Gotta Get Up And Go To Work”
Jack Payne And His Band;
Trio of Billy Scott-Coomber & 2 others, vocal; Jack Payne intro speaking
(Imperial 2918-A mx 6490-2)           October 13, 1933


“Ah But Is It Love?”
Jack Payne And His Band; Jack Payne, vocal
(Imperial 2918-B mx 6491-3)         October 13, 1933


Here are two recordings by Jack Payne And His Band,  one of the more prominent 1930s British dance bands.

Both of these songs came from the 1933 American musical film Moonlight And Pretzels which was released in the UK under the title of Moonlight And Melody.  The film included a couple of Great Depression themed songs,  “I’ve Gotta Get Up And Go To Work” featured here, as well as “Are You Making Any Money?”

The Imperial label was founded in 1920 and purchased by the Crystalate Gramophone Record Manufacturing Co. Ltd in 1925.  Crystalate owned several low-priced British labels.  In addition to its domestically made recordings, Imperial records often featured pressings of imported American masters originally issued on the Banner label, the parent company of which, Regal Records, Crystalate eventually acquired an ownership interest in.

Crystalate discontinued the Imperial label in early 1934 in favor of its newly introduced Rex label.  Crystalate sold all of its record and phonograph related business to Decca in 1937.

Jack Payne was one of the Imperial label’s top-selling artists which, no doubt, was the reason for the creation of a special picture label for his recordings.

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Two Songs Featured In The Film “The Shining” – 1932

Crown 3335-B label image


Buddy Lane & His Orchestra; Buddy Lane, vocal
(Crown 3232 B mx 1553 3)                       January  1932


Adrian Schubert And His Orchestra; Harold Van Emburgh, vocal
(Crown 3335 A mx 1759)                          June 1932


Here are two songs I only recently learned were featured in The Shining, a film I have yet to see but began hearing about back when I first started sharing vintage recordings online.

Over the years, I have heard from a number of people who have told me that hearing the 1934 British recording of “Midnight The Stars And You,” sung by Al Bowlly with Ray Noble And His Orchestra, in The Shining was what sparked their interest in 1930s era dance bands and vocalists such as Bowlly. (You can hear that recording on this YouTube upload).  The late Rich Conaty used to say that the Ray Noble/Al Bowlly recording was the most requested song on his weekly radio program, The Big Broadcast.

Since its appearance in The Shining, the song has been featured in several other films and is now regarded as a classic – deservedly so, in my opinion.  And it is the song people mention when discussing The Shining.

However, during the 1930s, at least as far as the United States is concerned, “Midnight The Stars And You” was not as well-known as the songs presented here, “Home” and “Masquerade,” which were also featured in The Shining.

A few other recordings of “Midnight The Stars And You” were made in England by Roy Fox, Harry Leader, Maurice Elwin and Fred Hartley.   But the only version I can find any mention of being issued in the United States during the 1930s was a pressing of the Ray Noble/Al Bowlly recording on Victor.  The only mention I can find of any 1930s American recordings of the song is one that Hal Kemp’s band made on a radio transcription disc that was not commercially issued until decades later during the LP era.

By contrast, “Home,” composed by Harry Clarkson, Geoffrey Clarkson and Peter van Steeden, was one of the top hits of 1932 and has been recorded by a long list of artists ever since.  The version here will be the third that I have added to Radio Dismuke’s playlist and I have a few more that I have not yet digitized.

“Masquerade,” composed by Paul Francis Webster and John Jacob Loeb in 1932, was not among that year’s top hits, but the list of artists who have recorded it is also lengthy.  The version here will be the fourth I have added to Radio Dismuke’s playlist.

I should emphasize that the recordings featured here are not the same as those featured in the film.  The version of “Home” in the film was by Henry Hall and the Gleneagles Hotel Band, while the version of “Masquerade” was by Jack Hylton and his Orchestra.  I don’t recall having either version in my collection but will keep my eye out for them in case I do.

Nor do I regard the versions presented here as more significant than any others.  They were simply in a stack of records on the Depression-era Crown label that I had picked out to digitize and I remembered recently learning about the songs’ inclusion in the film.

Unfortunately, discographical information about Crown is not as complete as it is for other labels.  Buddy Lane and His Orchestra is credited on several Crown releases but I was not able to find any information as to whether he was an actual bandleader/vocalist or merely a made-up recording pseudonym.  My strong guess is it is a pseudonym as the only mention of a Buddy Lane I could find with regard to music other than recordings on Crown was a country artist in the late 1960s.  Usually, one can find at least some mention of even the more obscure bands of the era as their engagements and/or broadcasts were often mentioned in the press.   Smith Ballew made recordings for Crown under the pseudonym of Buddy Blue and His Texans due to a contract that gave another label an exclusive on issuing records under his actual name.   But the Buddy Lane credited on the vocal sounds nothing like Smith Ballew.

Adrian Schubert was Crown’s in-house music director, and if “Buddy Lane” was, in fact, a pseudonym, there is a good chance that the band on some or all of the recordings issued under it was Schubert’s.

On “Masquerade” Schubert’s band is joined by Harold Van Emburgh on the vocal.   Van Emburgh was mostly known as a vocalist who performed with several bands and also sometimes performed under the name of Harold Richards.   A handful of sides on Crown are credited to Harold Van Emburgh and His Orchestra and, according to the biographical information that I linked to, he did have his own band around that same time.   But it is conceivable that, even on those recordings, the band was the in-house group led by Schubert.


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Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra – 1923

Claxtonola 40235-B label image


“Gulf Coast Blues”
Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra
(Claxtonola 40235-B mx 1413)                      May 1923


“Down Hearted Blues”
Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra
(Claxtonola 40235-A mx 1406)                 May 1923


From the Edward Mitchell collection, here are two very jazzy instrumental recordings on a rare label of blues compositions that were also recorded by Bessie Smith and others.

Pianist, bandleader and arranger Fletcher Henderson was an important figure in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.  As an arranger, he significantly influenced the evolution of jazz and popular music.  When Benny Goodman came into the national spotlight and launched the swing era in 1935 with his spectacularly successful engagement and broadcasts from the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, he did so on the strength of arrangements that Henerson had written for the band.

Claxtonola records were sold by the Brenard Manufacturing Company of Iowa City, Iowa, owned by James L Records and Theodore O Loveland.  The company was founded in 1892 and, by the early 1910s, had become notorious for operating a scam that induced retail merchants such as jewelers and pharmacists to purchase pianos as part of a promotional scheme with an alleged guarantee to increase the merchant’s business. (You can read how the scam worked in this .pdf document of an article from the April 1, 1912 issue of Grocery World And General Merchant.)

In 1918, the company began selling phonographs and records under the brand name Claxtonola, once again as a dubious money-making opportunity targeting small-town merchants.

In exchange for becoming the exclusive Claxtonola “agent” within their town for three years, the merchant agreed to purchase an exorbitantly-priced phonograph through installment payments to be used as a “store display” along with a minimum of twelve records.  The merchant also agreed to provide a list of names and addresses of nearby potential prospects the company claimed it would reach out to through its direct marketing and salesforce.

I do not know to what degree merchants purchased records beyond the initial twelve for sale in their stores or to what degree records were sold through contact with the prospects the merchant provided.  Regardless, the nature of the scheme undoubtedly contributes to the label’s scarcity today.

Brenard Manufacturing neither manufactured nor recorded the records.  All of the label’s recordings come from masters leased from small, independent labels such as Paramount, Gennett, and Black Swan.  I have seen information that leads me to suspect that the company contracted with Paramount to press the records, but I am not certain.

The company’s owners were also connected with a label called “National Record Exchange.”  This involved a scheme where agents would place ads in their local newspapers promoting ten-cent records through a “record exchange.”  Customers would send ten records to the exchange, and for one dollar plus shipping, they would receive ten different records in exchange.

Other than what was described in the local advertisements, I have no information on how the “exchange” worked or how the brand-new records the company issued fit into it.  My hunch is that becoming a local agent likely required purchasing a certain minimum of the new records. Records on the National Record Exchange label are even more difficult to find than Claxtonoloa records.

By the late 1920s, Brenard Manufacturing stopped selling phonographs and records but continued with the same scheme to recruit merchants as exclusive local agents for the company’s radios.

When the Federal Trade Commission issued a cease and desist order in 1936 for a lengthy list of deceptive trade practices, the company’s owners had also been operating similar schemes that involved targeting merchants as local agents for the sale of refrigerators, oil burners, and air conditioners.  Among that list of deceptive practices was the owners’ companies representing themselves as being “manufacturing companies” when, in fact, they manufactured nothing and merely contracted out to others.

The Claxtonola label featured a variety of musical genres.  But many of their issues are of jazz and blues recordings that their original labels had made to market to black record buyers.  In some cases, copies on their original labels are also hard to find.

I don’t know if the appearance of such recordings on Claxtonoloa was due to any particular effort by Brenard to target merchants in black communities or if they merely issued whatever masters they could obtain at the lowest possible price.

Both sides on the record here were recorded by Paramount and originally issued on Paramount 20235.   But, since Paramount leased its masters to companies besides Brenard,  these recordings were also issued on the Grey Gull, Radiex, Puritan, Harmograph, Famous and Oriole labels.

Additionally, since Fletcher Henderson was not bound by an exclusive recording contract, he was free to record under his name for any and all labels.  Thus, the following month, he recorded both songs here for Vocalion, which were issued on Vocalion 14636, and he recorded “Gulf Coast Blues” for Columbia, which was issued on Columbia A-3951.

Among the members of Henderson’s band on these recordings was future bandleader Don Redman.

Bessie Smith recorded both songs on February 15, 1923 for her very first record,  Columbia A-3844.

“Down Hearted Blues” was composed by Lovie Austin with lyrics by Alberta Hunter, who also recorded it.

“Gulf Coast Blues” was composed by Clarence Williams, who also accompanied Bessie Smith on piano when she recorded it.

– Dismuke

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Jesse Stafford And His Orchestra – 1929

Brunswick 4627 label image


“Feelin’ The Way I Do”
Jesse Stafford and His Orchestra; Charley Blane, vocal
(Brunswick 4627)                                 September 4, 1929


“Last Night Honey”
Jesse Stafford And His Orchestra; Charlie Blane, vocal
(Brunswick 4627)                               September 4, 1929


Here is another record from the Edward Mitchell collection.

Trombonist Jesse Stafford was the associate leader and part owner of the West Coast-based Herb Wiedoeft band.  When Wiedoeft was killed in a traffic accident in May, 1928, Stafford took over as the band’s leader and changed its name to the Jesse Stafford Orchestra.

The band’s success continued under Stafford’s leadership.  Within two months of Wiedoeft’s death, the band was back in the recording studio for Brunswick, for which it had been making records since 1923.  Stafford and the band also appeared in the 1929 talking picture Close Harmony.

In February 1926, the band landed a long-term engagement at San Francisco’s posh Palace Hotel.  According to an article in the June 1929 edition of The Metronome, the hotel spent $5,000 on publicizing the orchestra during the first month of the engagement.   (See images below)  If that amount – the equivalent of about $90,200 in 2024 currency – is true, that is pretty remarkable as an indication of the size of crowds such bands could attract during the 1920s and how lucrative it could be for the more successful ones.

As with other bands, it was undoubtedly impacted by the onset of the Great Depression.

The band’s last recording session was in May 1930.   However, two records made in 1931 were credited to the band even though it did not participate in the recording sessions.  On May 19, 1931, two sides were recorded by the Art Kahn Orchestra, issued on Brunswick 6126 as Jesse Stafford and His Orchestra.   Another recording session on August 18th, led by Bill Challis, resulted in two sides issued on Brunswick 6171 credited to Jesse Stafford and His Orchestra.

I do not know why the two records by other bands were issued under the Stafford’s name. The use of recording pseudonyms was extremely common back then. Perhaps Brunswick thought that issuing the records under Stafford’s name might have resulted in increased sales – though, if so, undoubtedly, Stafford would have had to have given his approval.

One possibility that occurs to me is based on the fact that both 1931 recording sessions took place in Brunswick’s main studios in New York City and the studio’s documentation initially indicated that band was to be the label’s in-house studio orchestra led by Victor Young.  However, on both sessions, Victor Young’s name was crossed out and replaced by a handwritten notation indicating the bands as being led by Art Kahn and Bill Challis respectively.

My thought is that it is perhaps possible that, to save the expense of Stafford’s band having to travel to Brunswick’s Los Angeles or New York studios,  Stafford might have sent the band’s arrangements to New York so that whichever local musicians were at hand could replicate the Stafford Orchestra’s sound.

Record sales were profoundly impacted by the Depression, leaving all record labels fighting for survival. And, even if Brunswick had been willing to pick up the travel expenses, the money the band would have made from the recording sessions might not have been enough to justify the amount lost by any missed live engagements or broadcasts during the trip.

I could not find through quick research how far into the 1930s or beyond Stafford’s band carried on.  Because of slow record sales, there were several bands whose records sold well during the 1920s and continued performing well past the 1930s but stopped recording during the Depression and did not resume until the latter part of the 1930s decade, if at all.

Stafford died from a heart attack while playing golf in 1947 at age 54.

Before discovering this record in Eddie Mitchell’s collection, I was not familiar with either of the songs.  But I noticed that one of the composers of “Feelin’ The Way I Do” was Neil Moret, one of several pen names used by Charles N. Daniels who had composed several very nice ragtime era songs such as “Hiawatha,” “Silver Heels,” and “Poppies.”

1929 news article Palace Hotel advertisement


Palace Hotel advertisement



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1925 Columbia Test Pressing – Sam Lanin And His Orchestra

Label image of test pressing


Sam Lanin’s Orchestra
(Test Pressing Matrix 140868-3, issued on Columbia 447-D)              August 27, 1925


Here is a single-sided test pressing I found while sorting through the Edward Mitchell collection.

Test pressings were just that, a one-off pressing of a recording, usually ahead of it being issued, so that various record label staff members could listen to and/or evaluate it.  Test pressings are always worth looking into because sometimes they contain alternative, non-issued takes of an issued recording or, in some cases, of a recording that, for whatever reason, was never issued.

In this instance, it is of a very nice recording of “Desdemona” by Sam Lanin and His Orchestra recorded on August 27, 1925   One can tell from the arrangement that it was made during the height of the “Charleston” dance craze. The recording was assigned a matrix number of 140868.  On the label, it is listed as 140868-3, indicating it was the third take.

In those days, there was no such thing as “mixing” a recording.   The entire musical ensemble gathered before the microphone or, before the advent of electrical recording, the recording horn and played it “live.”  If one of the musicians messed up or there were technical issues, everyone had to start over again with another blank wax disc and perform however many takes were necessary to capture an acceptable recording.

Multiple discographies indicate that three takes were made of “Desdemona,” with the third take being the one that was ultimately issued on Columbia 447-D, which was coupled with the Lanin Orchestra’s recording of “The Promenade Walk” on the flip side.  Since this test pressing is of that third take, its musical contents are identical to that of the issued record.

Despite not being one of the two unissued takes, the record is still interesting for the label that was attached to it.  Many test pressings only have a blank label and, if one is lucky, it might have handwritten notations regarding song title, artist credit and perhaps a matrix number if it was not already stamped into the pressing.  But, here, the label contains a pre-printed blank template that offers some insight into Columbia’s quality assurance and approval process.

Observe in the above image that there are spaces for approval and/or comments by various departments or individuals: the factory, the operator (whatever that might have indicated), a sub-committee, as well as the final outcome of that process.

If my interpretation is correct, it appears that the recording was given the OK by someone associated with the factory whose initials were H.O on August 31, 1925, four days after it was recorded.  I have no way of knowing if, from there, that same test pressing was to be passed on to the other departments or if the relevant people in each department were provided with and signed off on their own separate test pressings. My guess is the latter, given that the recording was subsequently issued and there are no further notes on the label.

At the bottom is a place to note the matrix number of the recording they ultimately decided to couple with it on the flip side.

What I find interesting is that there appear to be options for indicating whether the recording will be on the record’s A-side or B-side.   But during this period and previously, Columbia was one of the labels that did not show an A-side or B-side.  The same catalog number appeared on both sides underneath the artists’ credits with each side’s unique matrix number listed in smaller font underneath the catalog number.  My only guess as to why it might have been necessary for them to designate an A-side and B-side is that it was perhaps, for some reason, necessary to do so when setting up the stampers in the machinery that pressed the records.

Also of note is the circled letter W in the upper left-hand portion of the label.  That same circled letter W can also be found stamped into the record’s run-out area, indicating that it was recorded electrically rather than acoustically.  The W stood for Western Electric, which licensed the technology to both Columbia and rival Victor (Victor recordings made with the Western Electric system have an oval containing the letters VE stamped into the run-out area).

Columbia started making electrical recordings in April 1925.  However, it was a few months before they fully phased out recording sessions using their old acoustical equipment for new releases on their flagship Columbia label.   During this period, both Columbia and Victor kept quiet about using the new technology and held off announcing it to the public until the latter part of the year.   This gave them time to build up a new catalog of electrically recorded releases and to sell off their inventory of existing records that would soon be regarded as obsolete.

Because Columbia had been conducting recording sessions with both the old and new technologies, it makes sense that, as a recording went through its internal review process, various people might want to see at a glance which technology was used without having to play the record.

“Desdemona” was composed by Maceo Pinkard, a black music publisher and composer whose most famous composition was “Sweet Georgia Brown,” which remains well-known as the theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

One will occasionally come across test pressings of pre-World War II recordings made using the original masters or stampers in vinyl, which did not come into use until after the war.  Sometimes, such pressings were made in preparation for reissuing a recording in a more modern format.  I suspect that, in some cases, they might have been made by record label employees who had the ability to do so for their own personal enjoyment.  Such test pressings are treasured for the significantly quieter surface that vinyl provides versus the shellac-based surface of the original pressings.

– Dismuke

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