An Edison Needle Type Electric Dance Band Double Feature – 14003 & 14041 – 1929

B.A. Rolfe, as pictured in a 1932 publication.

Thomas A. Edison’s “Needle Type Electric” records—sometimes called “thin” Edisons for reasons self explanatory—were his last hurrah in the record business, before bidding the industry farewell forever.  Unlike his vertically cut, quarter-of-an-inch thick Diamond Discs, they were plain, ordinary shellac 78s, which could be played on any Victrola or like talking machine.  The completely redesigned labels—with an array of lightning bolts striking from the top, framing the name “Edison”, emblazoned in bold, block lettering—represent the pinnacle of late-1920s commercial art.  Thus, like any of the countless extremely short-lived record lines (e.g. Black Patti, Timely Tunes, Sunrise, etc.—all of which, incidentally, also had beautifully designed labels), they are quite uncommon today.

First up, the famed B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra plays “Dance of the Paper Dolls” and “Fioretta”, both sides featuring vocals provided by an uncredited Jack Parker.  Born on October 24, 1879, Benjamin Albert Rolfe, known in earlier life as the “Boy Trumpet Wonder” was a trumpet prodigy who went on to become a popular radio bandleader and Edison recording artist.  During the 1910s and ’20s, Rolfe spent a stretch as a Hollywood movie producer, following which he established his distinguished career as a bandleader.  Notably. he directed his “Palais D’or Orchestra”—named for his own Broadway cabaret—from 1926 until 1928, at which point it became the “Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra” for the remainder of his time with Edison.  Rolfe remained a radio mainstay into the 1930s, appearing in a pair of Vitaphone short films, and leading the B.F. Goodrich Silvertown Orchestra in 1935 and ’36.  B.A. Rolfe died of cancer on April 23, 1956.

Edison 14003 was recorded on March 19, 1929 in New York City.  Both tunes also appeared on separate Diamond Discs, as the “R” side of their respective discs.  This Needle Type record provides a somewhat uncommon opportunity to hear Rolfe’s orchestra on a standard laterally cut phonograph record. First up is “Dance of the Paper Dolls”, which also appeared on Diamond Disc 52548, backed with “Hello Sweetie”.

Dance of the Paper Dolls, recorded on March 19, 1929 by B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra.

On the “R” side, Rolfe’s orchestra plays “Fioretta”, from the 1929 Broadway musical of the same name.  This disc, unfortunately, is a little moisture damaged, causing some noticeable “swishing.”  This one was also issued on Diamond Disc 52531, backed with “If I Had You”.

Fioretta, recorded on March 19, 1929 by B. A. Rolfe and his Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra.

Next up is another Edison dance band on Edison 14041, recorded on July 18, 1929, also in New York City.  The Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra (under the direction of violinist Bernhard Lewitow) first plays “Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember” I’m not sure who the vocalist is on this one, so if anyone could tip me off, I’d be much obliged.

Where the Sweet Forget-Me-Nots Remember, recorded July 18, 1929 by Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra Under the Direction of Bernhard Levitow.

On the reverse, they play “Smiling Irish Eyes”, from the 1929 Warner Bros. Vitaphone talkie of the same name, starring Colleen Moore, now a lost film.  This tune also appeared on Diamond Disc number 52637.  These two are in better shape than the previous, and if you ask me, the music is too; those last two are just too darned dainty.

Smiling Irish Eyes, recorded July 18, 1929 by Hotel Commodore Dance Orchestra Under the Direction of Bernhard Levitow.

Updated on April 28, 2018.

Edison 14028 – The Edisongsters – 1929

Thomas A. Edison, image courtesy National Park Service, via World Book.

The Wizard of Menlo Park with his electric light.  Image courtesy National Park Service, via World Book, 1977 edition.

February 11 marks the 169th anniversary of the birth of one of America’s greatest inventors, the man who gave us the phonograph, dictaphone, the kinetoscope, and the electric light, Thomas A. Edison.  In remembrance of his birthday, I present one of his least common records (and the only type I’m equipped to reproduce.)

Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio in 1847, and spent his boyhood years in Michigan.  As a youngster, Edison was called “addled” by a schoolteacher, and his formal school career ended after a brief three months.  Instead, he educated himself, with his mother’s teaching and visits to the Cooper Union in New York City.  He began his professional career as a telegraph operator, and through that work began to develop innovations related to that field.  Settling in Menlo Park, New Jersey in 1876, Edison produced countless new inventions and practical improvements on existing inventions that would have great effect on the lives of people all around the world, including the practical electric light bulb, the motion picture camera, direct current (DC) electrical systems, and, most important to this website, the phonograph.  As an aside to the DC power, Edison’s position against alternating current (AC) electricity led to his development of the electric chair to prove how dangerous AC power could be.  By the end of his life at the age of 84 in 1931, Edison held 1,093 patents in his name.

In the phonograph industry, Edison began in 1877 with his recording and playback of “Mry Had a Little Lamb” on a tinfoil cylinder.  Not long after, his company began selling cylinders and the phonographs used to play them.  By the 1910s, disc records began to overshadow cylinders as the public’s preferred medium for sound reproduction, and Edison introduced his Diamond Discs in 1912, requiring an Edison phonograph to properly play the esoterically cut records.  Finally, in 1929, standard laterally cut phonograph records, playable on a Victor or comparable talking machine had far exceeded Edison’s records, and as his last venture in the phonograph business, Edison rolled out a short production of “Needle Type Electric” records, designed to play on regular laterally oriented reproducers, rather than requiring an Edison phonograph.  The “Needle Type” discs were identical in form to ordinary 78s, as opposed to the heavy, quarter inch thick Diamond Discs.  These “thin” Edisons, as they are sometimes called, were only produced for several months, making them quite scarce today.

Edison 14028 was recorded sometime in 1929, I can’t seem to place the exact date or month; if anyone knows it I’d appreciate if you could share it.  The Edisongsters, Edison’s answer to the Revelers, consist of Will Donaldson, J. Donald Parker (aka Jack Parker, aka Glen Wick), that versatile Frank Luther, and Phil Dewey.

On the “L” side (standing for the side that should face left when the record is stored in a vertical position), the Edisongsters sing “Peace of Mind”.

Peace of Mind

Peace of Mind, recorded 1929 by The Edisongsters.

On the “R” side, they sing “I Want to Meander in the Meadow”.  I’m sure both these songs are the kind of conservative, restrained, and by all means not “hot” music the old Edison would have approved of.

I Want to Meander in the Meadow

I Want to Meander in the Meadow, recorded 1929 by the Edisongsters.