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Author Topic: Blind Lemon and recording technology  (Read 5256 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?

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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

Offline bnemerov

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #15 on: September 18, 2008, 09:43:44 AM »
More from ARSC Journal:
"There is very little information about Orlando R. Marsh. Even his name is a point of confusion since some printed sources present his name as Orlando B. Marsh. Consequently, recordings issued by Marsh Laboratories are typically treated by collectors as unique and special. We know that Marsh was a pioneer recording engineer. In 1924 he located to room 707 in the Lyon & Healy Building at 78 E. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, IL. Lyon & Healy was a well known store that attracted music lovers and for years sold sheet music, records, pianos, and the famous Lyon & Healy harp. The move to the Lyon & Healy Building put Marsh close to music customers, as well as close to the Chicago Symphony, and a variety of theater venues.

Marsh produced a number of commercial 78-rpm labels including Autograph, Electra, and Messiah, as well as recordings for Greek Record Company, and Wallin's Svenska Records. He also sold or leased matrices of his recordings to other labels such as Paramount, Silvertone, and Gennett.

In 1923, the January 13th issue of The Billboard, under the heading of ''A New Invention,'' showed a photo at Marsh Laboratories of a recording session which used a baffle-covered sound collection device. The accompanying write-up pointed out the ''simplicity of the recording device'' and how the new method at Marsh Laboratories ''opens up new possibilities for lyceum and chautauqua artists''.15. Presumably this was the fabled electrical recording system used later for the Jesse Crawford and Milton Charles theater organ recordings. As radio grew and his recording techniques improved, Marsh made electrical broadcast transcriptions of programs such as ''Amos 'n' Andy'' in 1928 on the Electra label and ''Eskimo Pie Time'' in the early 1930s.

The fact that electrical recording methods were around in 1924 is not a surprise. Radio was becoming more competitive with the phonograph. E.R. Fenimore Johnson reported in his father's biography that in February 1924 Victor Talking Machine Co. personnel scheduled a round of visits to David Sarnoff, Lee DeForest, as well as to Kraft and Jewitt of Western Electric.5. He stated: ''It became evident that electrical recording of records with vacuum tube amplification and perhaps electrical reproduction of records was on the way even though it was not already there.'' However, by April 1925 when Western Electric Co. personnel demonstrated to Victor the Orthophonic phonograph, Fenimore Johnson wrote that, ''the W. E. Co's electrical recording system was not the only one in existence''.

The essence of Johnson's statement is confirmed by Geduld's work concerning how sound cinema was born.4 There were many efforts to electrically record sound: magnetic sound patented by Poulsen in 1900, optical sound invented by R?hmer and demonstrated in 1901, and groove-on-film sound by Madaler in 1916. Lee DeForest was very active in the film sound field and in 1919 filed patent applications for methods using vacuum tube technology.

For all we know, Orlando Marsh perhaps as early as 1922 may have machined an electric earphone to operate a cutting stylus from the amplified microphone signal. Regardless, we've found no documentation on how he actually mastered the recordings of Jesse Crawford and Milton Charles. We know that Marsh's electric Autograph Records were not produced like those of Columbia and Victor using the Western Electric process of 1925. The Columbia and Victor records of this vintage can be readily played back with a bass turnover of 250 to 300 Hz and a 10 kHz rolloff of-5 or -8.5 dB producing a reasonable sound balance of bass, midrange, and treble.7. ,8. Also, recordings by Marsh from the late 1920s and early 1930s have much less of a ''squeezed'' tone and more bass. In contrast, the Marsh theater organ recordings in this project required a turnover of at least 700 Hz. With our post-equalization, the true bass turnover was closer to 2 kHz. Still, bass was lacking. On the other side of the spectrum, a treble rolloff of zero dB seemed to work well.

Somehow Marsh was able to minimize many of the distortions caused by resonances and obtain relatively clear recordings by 1924. This was a notable accomplishment since Maxfield and Harrison of Bell Telephone Laboratories presented details on how they controlled cutter resonances in their 1926 paper.14. The Bell inventors showed amplitude vs. frequency plots for three kinds of record cutters ( Fig. 4 ). The top curve shows the cutter response with resonances damped by means of a special laminated ''rubber line''. This was the kind of cutter used in the Western Electric system by Columbia and Victor in 1925. The middle graph shows irregular response for the lump loaded kind of cutter. At the bottom is a curve for an early cutter with a prominent resonance."

I'll stop now, I promise.
Bruce N.

 

Offline Stuart

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #16 on: September 18, 2008, 11:54:53 AM »
Bruce:

Thanks for taking the time to post this info. It helps to shed light on the nature of the "horn" at Grafton, as well as to fill us in on some interesting developments in the history of recorded sound.

The teens and twenties were a very exciting time for the development of radio, recording, and EE in general.

J. Baxter

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #17 on: September 18, 2008, 06:16:41 PM »
I don't know if anyone has gone to the link I also posted below the picture, the caption may be illuminating:
Quote
in 78 Quarterly # 10, page 10 Gordon Simons of Milwaukee provided an illustration of a parabolic microphone which may have been used in the studio. Check the article by Wardlow and Calt: Paramount's Decline and Fall. I then checked newspapers from that period and it appeared that such a recording device was mainly used for broadcasting purposes and to record operas. Hence theNYRL studio being part of an acoustical experiment? By a guy named Fertington, possibly from the engineering department of U. of Wisconsin at Madison. The newspaperclipping is from The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh), dated December 13, 1930. When Sig Heller recorded in July 1932 they had mikes on a stand, I will see if I have a decent picture of that. In all: NYRL was following the latest techniques!

Also from the Paramount site:

Quote
local fim takes over Black Swan 1924
Here's the (incomplete) article as it appeared in the Port Washington Herald of April 2, 1924, front page!
http://www.paramountshome.org/gallery/displayimage.php?album=4&pos=145

EDIT:
Found this too:

Quote
1932 NYRL studio- used type mike
Here's the illustration Sig Heller gave me in 2003 when I visited him and asked him about the type of microphone used in the studio. He came up with this one. It's not the best but maybe we can find a better illustration of this device on the internet.
http://www.paramountshome.org/gallery/displayimage.php?album=4&pos=2

« Last Edit: September 18, 2008, 06:33:27 PM by J. Baxter »

Offline jostber

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Re: Blind Lemon and recording technology
« Reply #18 on: November 25, 2008, 10:03:36 AM »
Here are all the great articles on Blind Lemon from Black Music Research:

Editor's introduction
by David Evans

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3540/is_/ai_n28815809

Blind Lemon Jefferson: the myth and the man
by Alan Govenar

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3540/is_/ai_n28815810

Blind Lemon meets Leadbelly
by Kip Lornell

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3540/is_/ai_n28815811

The language of Blind Lemon Jefferson: the covert theme of blindness
by Luigi Monge

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3540/is_/ai_n28815812

Musical innovation in the blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson
by David Evans

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3540/is_/ai_n28815813


 


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