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"You can't play no blues unless you have some hard times. Young people today, I don'y care whether they're black or white, they didn't come up like Muddy and me, they come up too easy" - Howlin' Wolf to Peter Guralnick, Feel Like Going Home.

Author Topic: Blind Lemon and recording technology  (Read 5257 times)

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Blind Lemon and recording technology
« on: September 11, 2008, 06:25:30 AM »
I bought a used CD of the Milestone Lemon compilation yesterday. I used to own this on vinyl and it was my first exposure to a whole lot of Lemon. Maybe its the tendency to take as your standard the version of things that first made you love something, but I prefer this particular grouping of songs to the admittedly better sounding Yazoo compilation.  Hearing it again brought to my attention the differences in vocal presence recording to recording. I began to wonder at what point Lemon started to be recorded with a microphone as opposed to a horn if ever?
It seems that in some recordings we are hearing a voice formed by performing outdoors characterized by a great sense of projection and power, pitched for audibility over long distances. In others I imagine that I detect a more intimate indoors quality, more of the sounds of the mouth than the lungs if you know what I mean.
I figure one o' youse probably has the skinny on this, right?

My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2008, 09:45:35 AM »
Good question, O'Muck. The notes to the Lemon JSP set say that the 78 of "Rabbit Foot Blues" was the first to boast of being "electrically recorded" on the label. That's the 22nd song Lemon recorded, out of the over 90 we have. The session that day (c. December 1926), however, started with "Booger Rooger Blues", so not sure why one would be acoustic and the other electrically recorded. Going by purely aural evidence, and being no expert myself, I would take a wild, completely speculative guess that Lemon's electrical recording might have started with "Stocking Feet Blues" in November 1926. One interesting thing is that I believe this is the first song that features something of the "intimate" Lemon sound you refer to. The second song in that session is "Black Snake Moan" and Lemon almost overwhelms the mic/horn with his opening "Ohhhh...". The recording session prior to that goes back to August 1926 and sounds pretty acoustic to me (Beggin' Back and Old Rounders Blues). Would be interested in knowing the actual answer myself.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2008, 09:48:55 AM by uncle bud »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2008, 12:04:21 PM »
Stumped the band, it seems, OMuck.  :o A little further information. As Weenies will know, Lemon had to re-record his first blues record, "Got the Blues/Long Lonesome Blues" for a new pressing a couple months later. Turns out the re-recording was done in Marsh Laboratories. Not that one can tell much from the crappy Paramount pressings, but one could imagine that since Marsh Laboratories were pioneers of electrical recording with microphones, which they started to do in 1923, that when Lemon re-recorded those two songs at the Labs in 1926 (located on the seventh floor of the Lyon and Healy Building in Chicago sez wikipedia - maybe Lemon grabbed a guitar on the way up) that electrical recording technology would have been used. I say one could imagine, but don't want to start any ugly rumours.  :P

David Evans writes in his essay on Lemon's musical innovation in Black Music Research Journal (Vol. 20 No. 1 Spring 2000) that the electrical recording process came into use in 1925 but Lemon's initial recordings were still being made acoustically. No more detail.

Perhaps Dixon and Godrich's "Recording the Blues" book could provide more insight, but I don't have a copy.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2008, 03:33:46 PM »
Well perhaps when I release my Blues, Zombie, Horror flick, "Night of the Living Dead Blues Singers" we could have Lemon answer the question directly.
But seriously folks, there must be some characteristic sonic artifact of each process embedded in the recordings that a knowledgeable sound engineer familiar with 78 era sound could discern don't you think?
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

J. Baxter

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2008, 08:22:16 AM »

Offline dj

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2008, 05:53:29 PM »
Quote
Perhaps Dixon and Godrich's "Recording the Blues" book could provide more insight, but I don't have a copy.

"Recording The Blues" is silent on the issue of when Paramount started recording electrically.  Does anyone have a copy of Alex van der Tuuk's "Paramount's Rise And Fall"?

Offline Stuart

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #6 on: September 16, 2008, 07:43:58 PM »
Does anyone have a copy of Alex van der Tuuk's "Paramount's Rise And Fall"?

PP.153-154: "Acoustical or Electrical Recording?

One mystery surrounds the recording equipment at Grafton. Although all known Grafton masters were recorded electrically, several eyewitness recalled seeing a very large, acoustic-style horn in the new Grafton studio...But whatever the horn's nature or purpose might have been, no acoustical recordings from Grafton are known to have been issued."

Also ran across this site--it might yield a few leads:

http://www.recording-history.org/HTML/library1.php


Offline dj

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2008, 04:48:08 AM »
Van Der Tuuk has an article at paramountshome.org that discusses the issue.  The full article is here.  The short version is that The New York Recording Laboratory (Paramount) moved its base of operations to Orlando Marsh's studio, and thus started recording electrically, sometime around August of 1926.  Complicating matters a bit, Gennett did quite a bit of recording for Paramount during this period.  I'm not sure when Gennett started electronic recording, but "Recording The Blues" places the date sometime in 1926.   

By the way, Drew Kent, in his notes to the JSP issue of Lemon's recordings, claims that the May 1926 session at which Lemon re-recorded "Got The Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues" took place at Marsh Labs and thus would have been electronically recorded.

Ok, who's going to listen to all existing reissues of Lemon's 1926 recordings on ultra high-end audio equipment and make a detailed case for when the electronic recording started?   :D

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2008, 06:49:06 AM »
By the way, Drew Kent, in his notes to the JSP issue of Lemon's recordings, claims that the May 1926 session at which Lemon re-recorded "Got The Blues" and "Long Lonesome Blues" took place at Marsh Labs and thus would have been electronically recorded.

This is what I surmised above. I must have missed this point in the notes.

So Paramount was recording regularly at Marsh studios? You'd think Orlando Marsh would have taken them aside at one point and said, "Guys, about those records you're pressing..."

« Last Edit: September 17, 2008, 06:51:45 AM by uncle bud »

Offline dj

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2008, 07:38:28 AM »
Uncle Bud, what's your source for the statement "Turns out the re-recording was done in Marsh Laboratories."?  Obviously, that's regarded as fact by some.  But from Van Der Tuuk's article, it would seem he thinks it more likely that it occurred at Rodeheaver Studio, and was done acoustically.  Of course, I have no idea how reliable a source Van Der Tuuk really is...

       

       

Offline dj

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2008, 10:09:22 AM »
To add even more to the confusion, Alex Van Der Tuuk has another article here which questions whether the Marsh Laboratories were recording electrically at all in 1926.  The relevant part of the article:

Quote
Although it is stated that Marsh used an electric-carbon microphone, artists like Bob Shoffner and Big Bill Broonzy as well as Mayo Ink Williams referred to recording horns. Williams: ?When I was there, they had no microphones but recorded into a horn?. Williams left the Paramount company by mid-1928. So did Marsh not use a microphone?


This is getting to be a case of "The more you know, the more you realize you don't know".

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2008, 11:34:54 AM »
Uncle Bud, what's your source for the statement "Turns out the re-recording was done in Marsh Laboratories."?  Obviously, that's regarded as fact by some.  But from Van Der Tuuk's article, it would seem he thinks it more likely that it occurred at Rodeheaver Studio, and was done acoustically.  Of course, I have no idea how reliable a source Van Der Tuuk really is...

Hi dj - My source was Blues and Gospel Records, which says the two titles "are Marsh Laboratories recordings and no takes are shown." Looking back at the notes for the JSP set, Disc A -- where I got the info about "Rabbit Foot Blues" being the first Lemon record advertised as electrically recorded -- I see Drew Kent also mentions Marsh Labs a few paragraphs up from that. He doesn't talk about Got the Blues/Long Lonesome Blues being electrical recordings in that paragraph however, just that they were done "using the Marsh Labs' superior recording system". Is there another spot in the notes where he specifically mentions electrical recording that I'm missing?

Thanks for posting the Van Der Tuuk material. Will take a look. I agree, confusion seems to reign. However, the entry for Orlando Marsh on Wikipedia includes a respectable citation for an article in the ARSC (Association for Recorded Sound Collections) Journal, which is peer-reviewed etc. Citation as follows:

 Powell, James R., Jr., Randall G. Stehle, and Jonathan D. Powell. Vintage microphones and the restoration of early Marsh Laboratories electrical 78-rpm recordings. ARSC Journal 2006; 37 (1): 36-47.

I haven't seen the article (anyone have online access to this journal?). It seems to have led the wikipedia author(s) to the following item from Time magazine Apr 28 1923:

"Hitherto it has been impossible, it is said, to make successful gramaphone records of organ music, but the other day in a Chicago laboratory the feat was accomplished, by means of a device invented by Orlando R. Marsh. Pietro A. Yon played his organ composition Jesu Bambino for the records, and the reproduction is described as excellent. Mr. Yon is the organist of a Jesuit church in New York. This accomplishment seems to open a new field for the phonograph." http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,880630,00.html

Seeing the ARSC article would help, obviously. It's of course possible (again pure speculation) that Marsh's early electrical recording projects were reserved for classical or at least more "respectable" material than blues.
« Last Edit: September 17, 2008, 04:00:47 PM by uncle bud »

Offline dj

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2008, 11:39:05 AM »
Quote
Is there another spot in the notes where he specifically mentions electrical recording that I'm missing?

No.  I'd just made an assumption that when Kent mentioned Marsh labs, he implied electrical recording.  I guess that's reading a bit too much into his words.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2008, 12:27:45 PM »
Andrew:

UW has some issues, but V.37, n.1 doesn't appear to be in its holdings. I'll make a note and check on-line when I get down there.

OCLC lists McGill, but I'm sure you already ran that info down. You might cross post at PWBG.

Offline bnemerov

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2008, 09:28:22 AM »
Here's the synopsis of the ARSC article: seems Marsh was using carbon-button mics ( radio type mics) pretty early.....and mounted at the (narrow) end of a horn!!

"This study involves ten 78-rpm theater organ recordings of Jesse Crawford and five of Milton Charles made by Marsh Laboratories during 1924-25 before electrical recording was common. Phono-equalizer settings known to be satisfactory for playing Columbia and Victor recordings of this vintage were inadequate for playing Autograph Records and other Marsh Laboratories recordings. When the Marsh recordings were played back using a bass turnover of 700 Hz and a zero treble rolloff in the phono-equalizer, the resulting sound was better but had a strident midrange quality or ''squeezed'' tone and weak bass. Post-equalization settings subsequently developed by the authors for the playback of these discs were found to improve overall bass, midrange and treble balance.

Interest developed further into the kind of microphone employed by Marsh in making these recordings and focused on single and double button types of carbon microphones used in 1920s radio work. Playback curves were employed to compensate for the amplitude peaks typical for each type of carbon microphone. In these Marsh recordings, a compensation curve matching the Western Electric 600A double button carbon microphone yielded much less rumble, somewhat better bass, as well as improvement in the clarity of the tibias, solo reeds, glockenspiel, and chimes of the organ. The authors point out that the persistent weak bass of these recordings is also consistent with the use of a carbon microphone equipped with a megaphone style horn."

bruce nemerov

 


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