HIS MASTER’S GRAMOPHONE

  

PART 1

We made mention of this fine new hardback book a few months back, but feel it deserves more attention, and so, with the kind permission of its creators Christopher Proudfoot and Brian Oakley, we’re starting a series of extracts to give/remind you of the first golden era of  recorded music and the wonderfully crafted machines that allowed it to be heard.

First up is ‘The Improved Gramophone – Trade-mark, (Style No 5).

This was the machine that started the life of The Gramophone Company in Britain in 1897, the first to be sold here by Wilfred Barry Owen and his associates. While the very first machines imported from New York bore The National Gramophone Co name, subsequent imports carried the names of The Gramophone Company (until 1899), The Gramophone Company Ltd. (until the end of 1900), and The Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd (January 1901-March 1902) together with one of the first two addresses of the Company, 31 Maiden Lane or 21 City Road.

Initially retailing  at £5.10s (£5.50), cheaper models were added, retailing at 2,3 or 4 guineas (£2.10, £3.15, £4.20)

With a plain oak case housing the motor and, together with the extension arm, mounted on a baseboard and the mainspring projecting in a nickel-plated cast iron casing, the Improved Gramophone set the standard of craftsmanship and quality that was to epitomise the Gramophone Company’s output for many years.

Other versions, like this one

were made from walnut with gilt fittings, and there were even ‘Extra Fine’ models made from mahogany – all at this stage imported from New York. The witch’s hat horns were either made from tinplate or zinc and painted black, as in the first photo, or single spun from brass. While the first shipment was largely the black version, the brass model, an experiment, proved the more popular and by 1902 nickel plated and even silver plated versions were available.

To complete the purchase, wealthy customers were invited to buy a carrying case. These came in several styles, made in black enamel, brown canvas and green crocodile or tan leather. Classy eh?

Classical Music Sells Millions Of Records!!!

Times are tough in the recorded music business with sales revenues declining significantly and regularly this century. Times are particularly tough in the classical music part of that business with its decline outpacing the market at large.

John Culshaw and Solti (in Plimsoll’s) in the Studio working on The Ring.

We’ve been reading Norman Lebrecht’s marvellously pacey race through the history of classical recording in his book “Maestro’s, Masterpieces and Madness” and would recommend it to all people interested in the story of the record business.

At the end of the book, Lebrecht lists all the classical records that have sold over 1 million records. There are only 25 of them. The first record to do so – and clinging on to the list at #25 – is Gaisberg’s recordings of Caruso. Only ten classical recordings have shifted 3 million or more. The top 5 all time sellers are as follows

1. Wagner Ring – Solti (Decca) 1958 – 1965 18 million. Produced by Decca legend, John Culshaw, this is “a better record than Sgt Pepper” according to its fans. Here is an excerpt from a BBC documentary about the making of the records, starring Solti’s strange jerky style conducting and Culshaw’s calm comfortings. Style fact: Decca engineers (and Solti) wore white plimsolls when in the studio to avoid causing background noise.

2. The Three Tenors (Decca) 1990 14 million

3. Vivaldi: Four Seasons (Philips) 1959 9.5 million

4. The Three Tenors 2 (Warner) 1994 7.8 million

5. Canto Gregoriano 1993 5.5 million

Publicity photos of the early Gramophone stars #4:Louise Kirkby Lunn. Northern Lass.

This is the fourth in a series of publicity shots from the early years of the recording business that our friends at the EMI Archive Trust have made available to us. This photo is of Madame Kirkby-Lunn (known to her friends as Louise) who was a Mancunian contralto who lived between 1873 and 1930. This picture was taken of her in 1909 when she was recording for The Gramophone Company and playing Dalila (or Delilah as Tom Jones might have said) in Saint-Saens’ opera Samson et Dalila at Covent Garden.

Unusually for an English person, Louise spoke 4 languages and sang fluently in each. Even more unusually, for an Opera singer of the era, she retained a Northern English accent throughout her life. An interesting fact about Louise was that she performed in the very first Proms put on by Henry Wood in 1895.

As for Louise’s efforts at PR, we give her a 6 out of 10 for this photo. Although she is dressed well and shows willing – and exhibits excellent technique with the net curtains – her eyes betray her discomfort with the whole sordid affair.

This is her singing in the first decade of the twentieth century, a couple of years before the photo was taken.

Would you like to see Mick Jagger’s organ….?

Sound Of The Hound have been away on their summer holidays, hence the lack of activity in recent weeks. To kick off the new term, here is a link to some lovely pictures of instruments and equipment from the Rolling Stones archives.

The on switch to the Hammond Organ played by Nicky Hopkin for the Stones in the 1970’s

You can see the full collection of photo’s on Rollingstones.com, here.

“Magic”Johnson’s Aladdin caves: where to find out more about the great music inventor

By Carey Fleiner

For a man who is not well-remembered outside of specialist circles, Eldridge Johnson has left behind a lot of physical material and resources. For example, if you’d like to read Johnson’s personal papers, you can visit the American Heritage Center in Laramie, Wyoming, USA; Johnson’s son donated 48 boxes of personal and business papers there in 1975. You can access copies of some of these papers, including Johnson’s diaries from 1901 to 1930 at the EMI Archive in Hayes, Middlesex, England.

One autumn day at the EMI Archive(author’s photo)

 The Victor factory became the RCA complex in Camden, New Jersey, until the 1990s, where it, along with the Campbell Soup Factory, was one of the principle employers in the area; the Camden Historical Society has a number of materials and artifacts related to Victor and RCA-Victor.

Edison has his own museum, of course, but so does Eldridge R. Johnson, the Johnson Victrola Museum in Dover, Delaware, a dedicated building housing lovely things related to the man and all things Victor. The Museum was founded by Johnson’s son in 1975; the mid-‘70s were a boom-time in the US for little Museums because of a huge interest in preserving American culture at the time of the Bicentennial.

Exterior of the Johnson Victrola Museum (author’s photo)

The Museum is a two-story building nestled in the center of historic Dover; the ground backs up to a small church whose cemetery contains the remains of the Fenimore family (Mrs Johnson was Elsie Fenimore, you see.) The Museum holds literally thousands of Victor 78s (the last count the archivist gave me was ‘somewhere between 50 and 80 thousand.’ Think of the weight alone!) There are over 100 Victor and Victrola models from an example of the  earliest improved gramophone model for Berliner to the huge orthophonic machines of the last years of Victor.

Display of Victrola models (author’s photo)

There is a reproduction set-up of a typical record shop of Victor products, and numerous Victor advertising, ephemera, and memorabilia.

Mock-up of a turn-of-the-century record shop at the Museum (author’s photo)

Johnson’s office has been reproduced with his desk and comfy chair and many of his personal possessions, including his posthumous Grammy. Upstairs are more machines and horns related to the whole history of recording, many of which donated by a private collector with an apparently very understanding wife – so you can see an Edison tinfoil machine and a couple of Bell’s graphophones; if you’re looking for anything to do with Zonophone, there is a photo of Mr and Mrs Frank Seaman in one of the cabinets. The other Victor celebrity roosting in the museum is Nipper in lots and lots of forms.

One of many displays of Nipper toys and memorabilia at the Museum (author’s photo)

The pride and joy of the museum is one of the autograph Barraud paintings sent to Johnson from Barraud himself (and the third painting the artist made after the original ‘His Master’s Voice’ and a second one for the Gramophone Company).

Since Johnson secured use of Nipper ‘as he saw fit’ Nipper is more prevalent in the US, whereas in the UK, he is very strictly licensed by HMV. So keep in mind, these are Victor and RCA-Victor flavoured Nippers.

The museum is an Aladdin’s cave of wonderful machines and memorabilia – and while the Museum was closed down in 2009 due to budget cuts in response to the recession in 2008, the State of Delaware has re-opened the museum (as of May 2011) almost to its full schedule. The Museum’s holdings are also kept by the State Archives in Dover in a state-of-the-art facility – while you have to make a formal request to see things kept in the Archives, the Museum is free to the public.

Kylie Minogue, banned drugs and sex songs, and 19th century “exotic” dancers…harumph!

In 2007 the Australian National Film & Sound Archive set up a “hall of fame” for recordings that comprise the history of the recorded sound in Australia. They call it “Sounds of Australia” and each year they induct notable recordings into it. This year’s entries have just been announced and its received a lot of publicity because Kylie Minogue’s recording of “I Should Be So Lucky” is one of them. Anything the lovely Kylie touches causes a flurry of internet activity and this is no exception. In many of the internet posts the other 9 inductees are ignored and forgotten. Here are the nominations for three of them:

1. The first recordings of indigineous Australians in 1898 by the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits under Alfred Cort Haddon, who also took the following footage.


“The Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait in 1898, led by Professor AC Haddon, was the first British expedition to use the phonograph for research purposes. These are the first audio recordings of the songs and music of Indigenous Australians. The recordings were transferred to magnetic tape from wax cylinders by the British Institute of Recorded Sound in 1978. The collection features songs and speech from Mer / Murray Island, Mabuiag / Jervis Island, Saibai Island, Tudu Island and Iama / Yam Island. The original wax cylinder recordings are in the collection of the British Library and 38 can be heard on the Library’s Archival Sound Recordings site. Copies are also held by AIATSIS as collection BNA 01.”

2. I’ll Never Find Another You — The Seekers


“After some success in the Melbourne folk clubs and an LP on W&G Records, The Seekers set sail on a cruise ship (employed as entertainers) in early 1964 as a way of getting to the UK. Within a few months they had been signed to Columbia Records and recording at Abbey Road Studios. Their first single for Columbia was I’ll Never Find Another You, written by Tom Springfield (brother of Dusty) released in December 1964. By February it was No. 1 on the British and Australian charts and reached No. 4 on the American charts. They were the first Australian group to have a top five hit on all three charts at the same time, and the single eventually sold 1.75 million copies.”

3. Living in the 70s — Skyhooks


“Skyhooks’ debut album was notable for having six of the ten tracks banned on commercial radio for drug and sex references, however You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good In Bed was the first song broadcast on the ABC’s new youth station 2JJ in January 1975. Regardless of the controversy it was the first successful Australian pop record to set songs in a local, suburban setting — as one writer has put it ‘legitimising Australian songwriting’ with Balwyn, Carlton and Toorak mentioned in three of the song titles. The album entered the charts in October 1974, where it stayed in the top 100 for 54 weeks and was the best selling album in Australia in 1975. The best selling single from the album Horror Movie also reached No. 1 nationally.”

The full list of 2011 inductees is here and the complete list is here

And if you though you were going to get away without hearing the Kylie song….? You should be so lucky.Here it comes:

Trouble in St Louis. How the Victor Company got its name.

This is the third in a series of articles about the great Eldridge Johnson and his Victor companies.

By Carey Fleiner

Ever tried to think up a name for a fledgeling company? It’s more difficult than you think. You can go literal BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) or abstract such as Google or Yahoo. Why did Johnson choose the name Victor for his company? He never explained it himself, but there are a number of theories ranging from logical to silly.

Johnson had great confidence in his company and its product; this can be seen in Victor’s earliest advertising campaigns. For the first few years the company existed, profits were poured back into advertising – much of which was written by Johnson himself. As we’ve seen these advertisements touted the results of the new technology – the cultural, intellectual advantages and rewards of the use and ownership of a Victrola. The advertising art for Victor products – machines, records, and music – is elegant, beautiful, and sophisticated. It also falls into what is described as ‘feminine advertising’ – that is, an emphasis on the aesthetic, domestic, and educational aspects of the product.

Johnson wasn’t all about pleasing the ladies, however; he was in competition with other companies, and this era (late 19th, early 20th centuries) is sometimes called the time of the ‘War of the Patents’ as people rushed to patent new inventions and lay exclusive claim to them and their rights. One needed to pull out the stops to set oneself apart from competitors (and imitators). Victor did this in numerous ways, from lauding the superiority of its wares to the cultural benefits of its records. Another important venue for demonstrating one’s wares was at trade shows and expositions.  In 1904, Victor machines were among those demonstrated in the Palace of Manufacture at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known by its unofficial name, St Louis World’s Fair;

shortly thereafter, Johnson took out a number of adverts lauding his company’s superiority over his competitors at the show —

Medals and advertising showing Johnson’s win at St Louis (author’s photos)

even though the actual winner was apparently Berliner’s Columbia Records. Berliner surely wasn’t too pleased with this outcome, and Columbia launched an advertising campaign to set the record straight.

Berliner’s counter advertisement

So much for vying for the ladies and competing with the gentlemen in the cutthroat world of the early recording industry – why is Johnson’scompany called Victor? There are several different explanations; Johnson was as enigmatic on the matter as Don McClean is over the meaning of ‘American Pie’ or Carly Simon about ‘You’re So Vain.’ In fact, no one really thought to investigate the origins of the name until American comedian Steve Allen got tired of lying awake at night wondering, and in 1966 wrote a short article for Cavalier Magazine in which he tried to solve the mystery called ‘Schnock Schnock: The Great RCA-Victor Mystery.’

So Victor is Victor because (in order of likeliness)

1. Johnson’s legal victory over nasty copyright lawsuit and success over his competitors in the patent wars: this is the most likely given that he changed the name of his original company (Consolidated Talking Machine Company, 1900) to the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901 after this perilous lawsuit. (Johnson’s family, who still live in the Dover area, however, dislike this explanation as the entire incident was stressful and unpleasant, and they argue that Johnson was not that sort of a vindictive man.)

2. ‘Victor’ was simply ‘one of those words’ that one used in business and advertising at the turn of the century, like ‘Acme’ (from Mr Allen’s discussion with ERJ’s son William Johnson…plausible, too, although ERJ didn’t have a son called William…)

3. Johnson’s ‘victory’ over Columbia et al at St Louis: this doesn’t really make much sense, as the St Louis Exposition was in 1904 by which time the company was already three years old.

4. Victor was called after one Alexander Victor, a mysterious man Steve Allen went to some great lengths to track down – among the many claims of Alexander, he was the one who gave Johnson the idea for creating a lighter-weight tone arm for the improved Berliner gramophone, because he just happened to be working in Johnson’s Camden shop as Johnson and Berliner himself sweat over the project…except, as Mr Allen points out, this development occurred some three years before the company was formed. Was ERJ really that grateful? Of course, Alexander Johnson (no relation) also told Mr Allen that he was Nipper’s owner, and also the Victrola was named after him…

5. The company was called after Mrs Leon Douglas, as this good lady, called Victoria, was married to the Victor Company’s first manager. This is also from Mr Allen’s article, but he states the person who told him this also claimed not only to be Nipper’s original owner, but gave the famous painting its name…

6. Because Johnson’s favorite horse was called Victor…er, perhaps quite likely as any, as a lot of these explanations seem to be a case of closing the barn door after the horse escaped…what do you think?

Johnson astride his horse Victor

The History of the Major Record Companies in the UK #4 Aeolian

This is the fourth and final extract from a wonderful book called “The Talking Machine Industry” written by Ogilvie Mitchell in 1924. This section covers the Aeolian Company of America, a frisky new arrival on the record scene in 1924 having started to make Vocalion phonographs and records in 1917.

Ogilvie, our scribe, seems to have drunk deep from the Aeolian PR cup and this extract feels at times more like a puff piece than his earlier pieces on Pathe Freres, The Gramophone Company and The Columbia Phonograph Company. He describes Aeolian as well financed, with a superior business model and delivering top notch products. He even concludes “we feel certain that, as time goes on, they will hold one of the most exalted positions in the talking machine world.” Aeolian would sell Vocalion with the year, so exiting the record business and the Aeolian business unwinding quickly thereafter…..

Two ladies playing on an Aeolian Player Piano in 1906

“The Aeolian Company of America first came into notice as the manufacturers of player-pianos and instruments of that genre. With untold capital behind them they forged ahead with remarkable vigour. A fine hall, with magnificent show-rooms and business premises, was erected on an advantageous site in New York, and as if by magic the great corporation bounded into the forefront of the musical manufacturing world. But this was not achieved without deep thought and careful planning. For a long time there had been active brains at work, considering, devising, scheming, and not until every action of the future had been thoroughly weighed and balanced was a move made. As soon as the company felt itself to be on a sound and solid basis it mentally bridged the Atlantic and set up an English house in Bond Street, London. The Aeolian Hall on this side, with its high-class concerts and musical entertainments, is now one of the most popular features of the West End, and the Aeolian Orchestra, a specially selected body of musicians, is second to none in thekingdom. The spirit of enterprise pervaded the minds of all those who were in any way connected with the firm, and it was this spirit that brought forth the Aeolian-Vocalion, the talking machine which is the company’s special product.

The Aeolian-Vocalion Talking Machine

We are told that, in the late summer of 1912, there arrived in London a Mr. F. J. Empson, a resident of Sydney, Australia. He brought with him a gramophone in which was embodied a wonderful patented device for controlling musical effects. This, in the opinion of its inventor, added so immeasurably to the musical value and charm of the instrument that he thought he had but to show it to manufacturers to secure its immediate adoption. As has been the fate of so many geniuses, mechanical and otherwise, since the world began, Mr. Empson found it impossible to gain a satisfactory audience with those whom he approached. Discouraged and depressed he purchased his passage home and was on the point of sailing, when he accidentally encountered a friend to whom he related his disappointing experiences. This friend was well acquainted with the officials of the Aeolian Company’s London house, and earnestly advised the poor, disheartened inventor to make one more attempt to have his contrivance exploited.

He told him of the company and directed him to their offices. With just one faint ray of hope illuminating the darkness of his mind, the inventor made his way to Bond Street. For the first time since his arrival in England the reception that he met with was satisfactory. The Aeolian officials were so impressed with the value of the new feature that they took an option on the patents, and instead of returning to Australia, he and his instrument were immediately shipped across to the head offices of the company in New York. There the directors and experts at once grasped the possibilities of the invention. Without delay they had the patents investigated, and on finding them sound and inclusive, closed with the inventor on a mutually satisfactory basis. Thus was the Aeolian-Vocalion, with its Graduola attachment, launched upon the world.

Apart from the advance made by the company in the style of their machines and the accuracy of reproduction of all records submitted to the test of the turntable, the Aeolian-Vocalion itself was voiceless, which means the firm manufactured no records of their own. That was to be a big consideration for the future. In the meantime the energies of the concern were concentrated upon the Graduola. This device obviated the use of different toned needles, the muting of horns, the opening and closing of shutters, and all the various methods which had been adopted of altering the tone of the gramophone to suit the ear of the listener. It gave into the hands of the operator a perfect means of controlling the reproduction of the record. Modulation of the voice of a singer could be governed at the will of the gramophone user, and in that way the listener could guide to his ear inflexions and variations which were more agreeable to him than the actual recording.

It may be said that this principle is altogether wrong, and that if you choose to vary the conception of the vocalist you do not get the true value of the voice. This is undoubtedly quite right, but it very often happens that the idea of the listener is at variance with the idea of the singer. We know many persons who have no liking for the forceful tones of Caruso, but by the use of the Graduola these may be so subdued that their beauty can be acknowledged and appreciated. The musical instinct of the listener imperceptibly directs him while he holds the little attachment in his hands.

The simple contrivance of Mr. Empson, like many other inventions, was merely the adaptation of a known fact to a new outlet. Everybody knows that air carries sound and that if the current be reversed the sound becomes fainter. Therein lies the secret of the Graduola. A slender, flexible tube connects the gramophone with the operator. At the end in the fingers of the manipulator is a valve which he pushes in or retracts according to his personal desire. Thus the sound given forth from the machine is regulated at the will of the performer. He, or she, can therefore listen to the record in the manner desired. It is as simple as A, B, C, but it had never been applied to the talking machine before the Aeolian-Vocalion made their arrangement with the inventor.

We have spoken of the Aeolian-Vocalion being voiceless, inasmuch as the company produced no records, but that deficiency has, happily for all gramophone enthusiasts, been adequately made good. After more than two years of unremitting experiment the company have placed upon the market records which will hold their own, if not surpass, any that have previously been brought before the public. To our knowledge they have scrapped thousands which they did not consider up to the mark, and from their well equipped factory at Hayes, nothing but the very best are issued.They have secured good artists, although the field has been somewhat restricted in consequence of other companies having enrolled the greatest of vocalists and instrumentalists, yet they have made a splendid start and we feel certain that, as time goes on, they will hold one of the most exalted positions in the talking machine world.”

Now that’s what I call a record company office. Delmark Records.

We came across this article about Legendary Jazz and Blues label Delmark Records. What we particularly loved was that the original founder Bob Koester, who set up Delmark Records in 1953, is still running the show and that he clearly has not bought into the concept of the paperless office.

There’s an Apple Mac under a pile of paper somewhere round here…

The label was formed in St Louis in 1953 and moved to Chicago in 1958 where it still resides. He recorded great records by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Bud Powell etc and is still putting out records and DVD’s today. He also continues to run Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart.

Great Logo

Bob at the controls in the studio

Bob, right, helping a customer at the Jazz Record Mart

Bob Koester, Sound Of The Hound salutes you for your contribution to the history of recorded music. Three woofs!!!