Featuring the Houston-based band of Lloyd Finlay, this record has the distinction of being one of Victor’s first field recordings in the state of Texas. According to the files available on the Discography of American Historical Recordings, the first Victor recording session in Texas took place the day before the one that created this record, on March 17, 1925, when Finlay’s orchestra made their first recording. Victor would not make it back to the Lone Star State until April of 1928. That makes this record one of special interest to me, as one of my primary focuses in collecting is the musical history of Texas. These Lloyd Finlay records also hold the distinction of being the debut recordings of the Houston-born pianist and future singer Seger Ellis, who would go on to become Okeh Records’ answer to popular crooner Gene Austin.
Lloyd Calvin Finlay was born on November 9, 1883, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one of five children to George William and Ella (née Laughlin) Finlay. His father was a traveling nursery salesman from Wisconsin whose work brought him all around the northern Midwest. Lloyd Finlay studied violin and began venturing southward from the land of his birth shortly after the turn of the century to make a living as a musician, settling for a time in Oklahoma, where he married Nebraska-native Grace Coldiron—a pianist herself—before continuing onward until he hit water, settling permanently in Houston, Texas. There, he found employment conducting theater orchestras. By the onset of the First World War, Finlay was musical director at the Majestic Theatre at Texas Avenue and Milam Street. During the days of the “Roaring Twenties”, Finlay was well-regarded as a society bandleader and musician in the Houston territory, and was in-demand for local events. His repute reportedly extended as far as New York City, where vaudevillians were purported to remark that “Houston, Texas, [was] the town to play, they got Lloyd Finlay’s orchestra there.” When the Victor Talking Machine Company brought their recording equipment to Houston on their first field trip into Texas—second only to Okeh, who has recorded in Dallas less than half a year earlier—Finlay’s orchestra was the first to be recorded. On the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth of March, 1925, Lloyd Finlay’s twelve-piece ensemble—featuring local musician Seger Ellis on piano—waxed seven sides, of which all but one were released. Unfortunately, none of his three records proved to be a hit, and likely only saw regional distribution. By 1930, Finlay had separated from his wife, and was living in a boarding house. Around 1933, Finlay departed the Majestic and began directing the orchestra at the Metropolitan Theatre at 1018 Main Street. Thereafter, he went to work managing the Tower Theater at Westheimer and Waugh, a position which he held for the remainder of his life. At the age of fifty-three, Lloyd Finlay died from complications during a surgery to remove his gall bladder on May 10, 1937, at St. Joseph’s Infirmary in Houston.
Victor 19644 was recorded on March 18 and 19, 1925, in Houston, Texas; it was released later in the same year, and remained “in-print” for less than a full year.. Besides Finlay on violin and Seger Ellis on piano, the personnel for this record is unknown. This record was transferred at 76 RPM, as is often accepted for acoustic Victor records.
The first side, recorded March 19, is “Jews-Harp Blues”, and features a solo by the titular instrument beginning around two minutes in. Finlay’s orchestra displayed a tight and polished, if rather old-fashioned sound compared to other early Texas-based jazz groups on records, like hot playing of Jimmie Joy’s or the wild and reckless abandon of Jack Gardner’s.
The flip-side features “Fiddlin’ Blues” (apparently also known as “Fido Blues”), recorded the previous day, March 18, and likewise prominently features the virtuosity of Finlay’s eponymous instrument.
Updated on May 26, 2021.