Flexo – Jack Riley’s Orchestra – 1927

This Flexo disc in its original paper sleeve.

This Flexo disc in its original paper sleeve.

The unusual disc we have here is one of those extraordinarily uncommon and equally intriguing Flexo records, a slightly smaller than usual disc pressed in flexible translucent plastic of some sort.

The first line of Flexo Records rolled off the press in Kansas City in 1925, an invention of one Jesse J. Warner.  They were originally produced by the Warner Record Company until 1927, when Warner presumably joined forces with someone with a name ending in “bine” to form the Wabine Company, which continued to produce the records until 1929.  Some of the earliest recordings feature hot jazz by Johnnie Campbell’s orchestra, and many of the Kansas City Flexos contain religious music, many of them labeled “Unity”.  The sleeve of this one mentions the Unity School of Christianity, though the music is secular.  In ’29, Warner moved the production of Flexo records to San Francisco, where they were produced by Pacific Coast Records.  The California Flexos feature recordings by dance bands such as that of Jack Coakley, and interviews with popular Hollywood personalities of the day, including one with Norma Shearer.

Flexo matrices 845 and 848 make up this disc, the record itself is not given a catalog number.  Given the titles, these two sides were most likely recorded in mid-1927, and were produced by the second entity to make Flexos, the Wabine Comapny.  The sound quality would suggest they were recorded by either an excellent acoustical recording process or a rudimentary electrical one.  Both feature instrumental fox-trots of two popular hits of ’27, played with plenty of pep and excitement.  It is plausible that this was distributed at gigs by Riley’s orchestra.

Jack Riley’s orchestra was a distinguished but scarcely recorded band from Kansas City, Missouri.  In the 1910s, Riley’s orchestra had the distinction of having a young drummer in their ranks by the name of Carleton Coon, a man that would go on to become one half of the leadership of America’s favorite radio band, Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra.  Riley’s orchestra was still active as late as 1937.

First, Jack Riley’s Kansas City territory band plays a delightful rendition of the classic tune “Side By Side”.

Side By Side

Side By Side, recorded 1927 by Jack Riley’s Orch.

Interestingly, this side is labeled differently than the first, written in Spanish, and credited to the “Mexo-Flexo Co.”  This side features “Me and My Shadow”.

Me and My Shadow

Me and My Shadow, recorded 1927 by Jack Riley’s Orch.

Updated with improved audio on May 13, 2018.

An Electradisk Dance Double Feature – 1922 & 1923 – 1932

Peter DeRose and May Singhi Breen. From 1932 publication.

May Singhi Breen and Peter DeRose. From 1932 publication.

For your hopeful enjoyment today, I offer you yet another dance band double feature, this time two Electradisks.  As with our first Bluebird double feature, these two are consecutively numbered, one catalog number falling immediately after other.

Electradisk was the RCA Victor Company’s second venture into the field of budget records, following the failure of Timely Tunes.  Electradisks were introduced in 1932 and originally offered in an eight inch format (which is very rarely seen today) along with a prototypical Bluebird of the same format and sold at Woolworth’s dimestores.  Soon, both Bluebird and Electradisk were upgraded to the standard ten inch format, which seems to have sold better, though Bluebirds of that period are still impossible to find.  The Electradisk label continued into 1933, and was discontinued in that same year.  Around that time, the “buff” label Bluebird was introduced, and began huge success and a mainstay well into the 1940s.

First is Electradisk 1922, recorded on November 22, 1932 in RCA’s Studio 1 in New York City.  On the first of the pair, the Peter De Rose Orchestra (actually Tom Berwick’s Orchestra using DeRose’s name) plays “I’m Sure of Everything but You” with a vocal by the husband and wife duo of DeRose and “the original ukulele lady” May Singhi Breen…

I’m Sure of Everything But You, recorded November 22, 1932 by Peter De Rose Orchestra.

…and on the flip, “Underneath the Harlem Moon”, with a vocal by the Marshall Sisters, no doubt trying to capitalize on the success of the Boswell Sisters (though they’re nowhere near as good, sorry to say).

Underneath the Harlem Moon, recorded November 22, 1932 by Peter De Rose Orchestra.

The second disk splits up its artist credits to Jim Harkins and his Orchestra and Sid Peltyn and his Orchestra, but once again, both are pseudonyms for Tom Berwick’s band.  Both sides of Electradisk 1923 were recorded November 23, 1932 in New York.  On the first side, “Harkins'” orchestra presents a respectable rendition of the 1932 popular song “Play, Fiddle, Play”, featured by the likes of “Street Singer” Arthur Tracy.  According to the distinguished Mr. Paul Lindemeyer, Harkins was a Boston area banjo and guitar player who doubled on the bagpipes.

Play, Fiddle, Play, recorded November 23, 1932 by Jim Harkins and his Orchestra and Sid Peltyn and his Orchestra.

On the flip, “Peltyn’s” band plays the Great Depression topical song “Here it is Monday and I’ve Still Got a Dollar”.

Here it is Monday and I’ve Still Got a Dollar, recorded November 23, 1932 by Jim Harkins and his Orchestra and Sid Peltyn and his Orchestra.

Updated on April 28, 2018.

Black Swan 2005 – Lulu Whidby – 1921

In honor of Black History Month, I present to you a Black Swan phonograph record, from the first line “race records” made by and for African American people, featuring the early sounds of vaudevillian female blues, with an early appearance by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

The story of Black Swan began during the Harlem Renaissance in 1920, when few black entertainers were afforded opportunities to record for any of the major record labels.  A man by the name of Harry Herbert Pace, previously a business partner of W.C. Handy, founded the Pace Phonograph Corporation in New York, and began to produce phonographs and records.  Pace also brought in a young song plugger from Handy’s company to serve as recording director and leader of the house orchestra, Fletcher Henderson.  Early on, Pace had difficulty finding a company that would agree to press records from the masters he recorded.  Eventually, Pace was able to contract his record pressing to the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin, makers of Paramount records.  From 1921 to 1923, Black Swan offered records recorded by black entertainers and intended for black audiences.  Some of the top artists on Black Swan included Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, and W.C. Handy’s Band.  Unfortunately, the company folded at the end of 1923, and all of their assets were purchased by Paramount Records, who began their 12000 legendary race records series shortly thereafter, reissuing many recordings from Black Swan on some of the earliest releases.

Black Swan 2005 was recorded circa April 1921 in New York City by Lulu Whidby with Henderson’s Novelty Orchestra.  It was later reissued on Paramount 12127, and also appeared on Claxtonola 40055.  The early Fletcher Henderson band includes Chink Johnson or George Brashear on trombone, Edgar Campbell on clarinet, probably Cordy Williams on violin, Fletcher Henderson on piano, and possibly John Mitchell or Sam Speed on banjo; the trumpet and tuba players are unknown.  It has been suggested that Garvin Bushell played clarinet at this session, but he did not recall participating.

It has been suggested that the standard 78.26 RPM is too fast for this record, and I can agree to that.  If anyone has a suggestion as to what the correct speed may be, I’ll add new transfers with it corrected.

First, Lulu Whidby sings the classic Harry Creamer and Turner Layton song, “Strut Miss Lizzie”.

Strut Miss Lizzie

Strut Miss Lizzie, recorded circa April 1921 by Lulu Whidby.

On the reverse, Whidby sings Irving Berlin’s “Home Again Blues”.  Henderson’s orchestra really shines on this one.


Home Again Blues, recorded circa April 1921 by Lulu Whidby.

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.

Homestead 16002 – Roy Smeck’s Trio – 1929

An illustration of Roy Smeck from 1930s Perfect record sleeve.

An illustration of Roy Smeck from 1930s Perfect record sleeve.

Roy Smeck, “The Wizard of the Strings” was born on this day 116 years ago, on February 6, 1900.

Roy Smeck rose to prominence in the 1920s with vaudeville performances playing his plethora of stringed instruments, including an eight string Hawaiian guitar known as an octo-chorda.  Riding the Hawaiian music wave of the 1920s and 1930s, he made his great fame in the budding field of radio, becoming known as the “Wizard of the Strings”, and records by his ensembles sold huge numbers.  In 1926, Smeck had the distinction of appearing in one of Warner Brothers first Vitaphone short sound films, called Roy Smeck: His Pastimes.  He would continue to make numerous other filmed appearances over the course of the next decade.  In the 1930s, Smeck’s fame was such that he played at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural ball and King George VI’s coronation review in 1937.  By the 1950s, however, Smeck had slowed down, though he still made occasional performances.  In 1985, Smeck appeared in Wizard of the Strings, an Academy award nominated documentary about his career and life (which is a great film, by the way, and I recommend seeing it.)  Roy Smeck died April 9, 1994 at the age of ninety-four.

Homestead 16002 was recorded April 3, 1929 in New York for the Plaza Music Company by Roy Smeck’s Trio.  It was also issued on Banner 6368.  The vocal on both sides is by Scrappy Lambert, under name Larry Holton, one of his many pseudonyms.  The Homestead label was sold by the Chicago Mail Order Company, and was made from Plaza/ARC masters, much like Sears, Roebuck’s Conqueror label.

First, Smeck’s trio plays a dandy little version of the 1929 hit song, “A Precious Little Thing Called Love”, the theme song of The Shopworn Angel.

A Precious Little Thing Called Love

A Precious Little Thing Called Love, recorded April 3, 1929 by Roy Smeck’s Trio.

The next tune is a Hawaiian one through and through, titled “My Hawaiian Queen”.

My Hawaiian Queen

My Hawaiian Queen, recorded April 3, 1929 by Roy Smeck’s Trio.