Kendra Steiner Editions

August 24, 2019

pay a visit to THE SHELLAC STACK

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:24 pm

THE SHELLAC STACK

an hour-long podcast from Bryan S. Wright, now up to show #176, featuring music from 78 RPM discs, pre-1952, available at Shellac Stack homepage

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I’ve been enjoying Bryan Wright’s SHELLAC STACK podcast for years. Initially, I would burn CDR’s of the hour-long shows and listen in the car on long road-trips or at home while making dinner, paying online bills, etc., but now that I’ve got a recent computer and not my old 2004 clunker that would not stream more than 12 seconds at a time before cutting out for ten seconds, I’m listening online, as I did today on this leisurely Saturday morning.

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Although the first 30 episodes are no longer available, the ones from episode 31 on still are, so you’ve got OVER 140 HOURS of exciting and enjoyable music at your fingertips.

Mr. Wright is an acclaimed pianist and musicologist, and also runs the superb RIVERMONT RECORDS label, which most recently issued a fine 2-cd set of the complete works of the NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM KINGS, which now replaces the old two volumes on Italian “King Jazz” as the definitive collection of the NORK. Rivermont also issued a new 78 RPM record earlier this year, so you know where Wright’s heart is! He brings a lot of knowledge and a lot of passion to the show (he’s not unlike the 78 RPM music world what Leonard Maltin is to the vintage film world, an expert and scholar who still has the enthusiasm and passion to share the work with others which one associates with a fan, someone who says, “hey, you’ve GOT to here this”). Also, since Wright plays his own records, everyone of them is something he once found in the wild, purchased online, or traded with another collector for, so he has a personal stake in each record. He liked it enough to buy it and preserve it, and now he’s sharing it with us! That “personal” quality really comes through on the show.

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While much of the show is dedicated to 20’s and 30’s dance bands, he also goes back to the 1900’s and 1910’s and plays ragtime, banjo solos, ethnic music, and a lot more. He also plays—-and you don’t find this championed much anymore—-original records from the 1940’s and early 50’s  traditional jazz revival, both records with an original jazz figure like Bunk Johnson at the helm, but also bands of players then in their 20’s taking on New Orleans standards or new songs composed in that manner. And where else today are you going to get 78’s of theater organ instrumentals from the 1920’s, instruments that are to music what an elephant is to a poodle dog, and acoustic recordings by parlor vocalists who roll their R’s. The most recent show featured a wonderful 1928 recording by Sophie Tucker with Jimmy Dorsey on alto and Miff Mole on trombone that reminds us almost 100 years later why Ms. Tucker was truly The Last Of The Red-Hot Mamas!

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Let me quote Bryan Wright’s own comments on the show, as he puts it better than I ever could:

I’ve been collecting 78 rpm records for most of my life. Something about these heavy, scratchy old discs caught my ear when I was a kid and I’ve been fascinated by them ever since. In this digital age of heavily-produced music that involves layering and piecing together snippets of sound recorded on multiple tracks over days, weeks, or months, then tweaking pitches and rhythms to create a “perfect” performance that never existed, there’s something refreshing to me about placing the needle in the groove of a 78 rpm record and listening to a musical performance captured in a single, uninterrupted “take” by talented musicians working side-by-side. Essentially, each disc offers one or two studio-recorded “live performances” that allow me to appreciate completely the talent of the musicians; I never have to wonder if what I’m really enjoying are the mixing and editing skills of a nameless engineer.
I have fairly eclectic tastes in music and 78 rpm records offer so many choices. Whether it’s the ragtime banjo stylings of Fred Van Eps, the western swing of Milton Brown and His Brownies, Jesse Crawford at the Mighty Wurlitzer, the tight vocal harmonies of the Revelers, the hot jazz of Jelly Roll Morton, the cornball comedy of Homer and Jethro, the sophisticated piano of Cy Walter, the hard-driving swing of Benny Goodman, the haunting voice of Om Kalsoum, or even the syrupy violin-laced parlor music of Joseph C. Smith, I enjoy them all. (Though I have to admit a particular affection for the hot dance bands of the late 1920s and early 1930s.)


 

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78 RPM records, like silent films, but unlike paintings and literature (which have a different kind of value), provide a document of an actual period (2-3 minutes usually) of living time—-a document which can be replayed today, in many cases more than 100 years after the fact. You are experiencing the living (now there’s a phrase that could come out of the Gertrude Stein of the 1910’s!) of a human being, probably long gone by now, alongside that person for a period of time. There is something magical about that. Also, while I won’t go as far as Robert Crumb, who once claimed to not listen to any music not recorded on 78 or any music recorded after 1934 (!!!), I will definitely say that coming from a 78 RPM disc (or a scratchy acetate from the 50’s or 60’s) gives the music a kind of gravitas, a deeper specific gravity. Because 78 rpm records spin faster than a 45 or 33, there is more INFORMATION in the grooves for each second of sound. When that sound is played with the correct stylus from a fine quality 78 and the information in the grooves extracted with care, the sound is rich and full in a way that digital sound just cannot capture. The late sound archivist John R. T. Davies was a master of bringing that sound out of 78 RPM discs, and fortunately Mr. Davies worked on hundreds if not thousands of reissue LP’s and CD’s, making that musical treasure available to future generations who will never hold an actual shellac disc in their hands. It’s similar to how seeing a film projected from 35mm provides a richer, more grounded viewing experience than something coming from a digital source.

Thanks to Bryan Wright for the hard work he’s put into doing 176 shows so far…and he doesn’t look like he’s going to stop anytime soon. Put the show on while you are doing something around the house, or if you can access it in your car, while you are driving. I predict you’ll be coming back often….and sampling the older shows. Many shows have a theme of one sort or another (recent ones have included ladies’ names, names of cities, and songs related to “heat,” which he did in the midst of the 2019 extra-hot summer), and you can wander among the older shows in his back catalogue and find a theme you like. Enjoy! There is gold to be found online if you know where to look….

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