Kendra Steiner Editions

August 10, 2017

5th in the series of Natchez poems, THE DIFFICULTIES, THE IMPOSSIBILITIES, from Bill Shute (KSE #382)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 10:04 am

(note: thanks to all who came out to my reading at Artpace on August 8th, as part of the Right Now Experimental Music Festival….we had an audience of 65-70 for my set, and the entire evening was a great success with exciting performances from many cutting-edge experimental sound artists…including KSE recording artists MORE EAZE and DANE ROUSAY)

the fifth release from the recent poems written in Natchez, Mississippi


(KSE #380, poetry chapbook)

edition of 41 hand-cut, hand-assembled copies

$6 US postpaid / $7 elsewhere postpaid

payment via paypal  to     django5722(at)yahoo(dot)com

please leave note with your order letting me know which items you are ordering and your mailing address…..thanks!

“to trust chance is to hear voices” — Jean-Luc Godard

the difficulties cover pic

I composed SEVEN six-page poems during my two weeks in Natchez, Mississippi, in May 2017, and here is the fifth one to be edited and formatted: THE DIFFICULTIES, THE IMPOSSIBILITIES. The final two will come out gradually throughout the year, and I also hope to record all seven later this summer for 2018 release. As usual, it’s open-field poems filtered through the consciousness of a narrative persona who is up to his waist in the muck, but looking toward the horizon (I’d say stars, but these were written during the daytime)—-JUNK SCULPTURE FROM THE NEW GILDED AGE.

Cork-lined reveries of  exploding water-heaters and garage doors that won’t close….frozen music on the brink of intelligibility….no subject, no object….like the butterflies, I strive to remain well-camouflaged, sensitive to the tonal changes between the tragic & the absurd.

These seven pieces written in Natchez will eventually be collected in a full-sized professionally printed book, but as always, the home-made KSE chapbook publication is the only publication in the original formatting, with the original art, with the original epigraph (this time from Jean-Luc Godard, see top of post), and in the intended form of its creation. There are only 41 copies….grab one now, while you can.

Each of these chapbooks is a stand-alone piece (the “serial poem” concept of Jack Spicer seems to fit my work well), so don’t worry about what order they are in. I consider each narrator to be a unique person telling his/her unique story from his/her unique perspective. I as poet am just the actor playing the part, the gallery-operator assembling the exhibition.

Many times I see a film or view a painting or hear a piece of music and feel as though its creator has experienced the same kind of epiphany which I experienced in the creation of a particular poem—-or perhaps I should say that the work creates in the viewer/listener the same kind of epiphany which I feel the poetic assemblage I am offering up SHOULD create in the reader. I’m not mentioning poetry here because if I felt another poet was doing what I do in the way that I do it, there would be no reason for me to take the time and effort to repeat what’s already been done. I learned my craft when I was younger through close study of the works of Paul Blackburn, Ted Berrigan, Larry Eigner, Frank Samperi, Diane Wakoski, Robert Creeley, William Carlos Williams, and others. I took what I learned from them and combined that along with my own aesthetic and life experience and structural tendencies and reading and education, and the result has been my poetry. I still consider someone like Hart Crane or Emily Dickinson the ultimate in what one can achieve poetically, and I continue to read with a passion the poems of Melville, W. S. Merwin, John Ashbery, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Leland Hickman, and many others, but I can’t really talk about “influence” in those cases because my work does not resemble theirs in any obvious way….and with a Crane or a Dickinson, who could EVER be worthy to loosen their sandal straps….or even be mentioned in the same sentence? In the case of, say, a Blackburn or a WC Williams, it should be clear to most readers what I have taken from those gentlemen and how I have developed it and/or extended it. You can take or leave the end result (or, in most cases, be blissfully unaware that it even exists), but that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

I mention all this about feeling a kinship with works in other disciplines because as I re-read THE DIFFICULTIES to write this post, it dawned on me that it reminded me of a silent comedy short I used to own back in the 1980’s on a VHS tape…..the 1927 short MOVE ALONG, featuring Lloyd Hamilton. It’s not on You Tube,, but you can read an excellent appreciation of the film here:

Also, at the time of this writing, you can view the film in so-so quality (about the same as my old VHS tape, actually) here:

You don’t need to watch the entire thing….check out the first three or four minutes, and you’ll get a good sense of where I feel I’m coming from with this series of poems, and THE DIFFICULTIES in particular. In fact, while it is too pretentious a title for a comedy short, you could probably re-title MOVE ALONG as THE DIFFICULTIES, THE IMPOSSIBILITIES and it would be a fairly accurate label. This comparison may seem odd or confused to many—-however, if it makes sense to you, then you are probably my ideal reader. Nice to meet you!

I hope you find THE DIFFICULTIES, THE IMPOSSIBILITIES interesting and worthwhile. Thanks for your reading all these years!

Also available, for the same price:

($6 US ppd/$7 elsewhere ppd)

KSE #380 (poetry chapbook), BILL SHUTE, “Time Crystals,” 4th of the Natchez poems

KSE #378 (poetry chapbook), BILL SHUTE, “Meltdown,” 3rd of the Natchez poems

KSE #376 (poetry chapbook), BILL SHUTE, “New Jerusalem,”  2nd of the Natchez poems

KSE #374 (poetry chapbook), BILL SHUTE, “Guest Register,” 1st of the Natchez poems

the difficulties cover pic


August 7, 2017

WOW, WOW, BABY! 1950’s R&B, Blues & Gospel From Dolphin’s Of Hollywood, Volume 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 7:05 am

WOW, WOW, BABY! 1950’s R&B, Blues & Gospel From Dolphin’s Of Hollywood, Volume 3

Ace Records (UK) CD, CDTOP 1438, released in 2015

01  Heavy Artillery (aka The Solid Rock) – Big Boy Groves & His Orchestra featuring Roland Mitchell

02  Man Have I Got Troubles – Scatman Crothers

03 Wow Wow Baby – The Hollywood Four Flames

04  Pete’s Boogie – Memphis Slim

05  S.K. Blues – Jimmy Witherspoon

06  Years And Tears Ago – Little Margie with Big Boy Groves & His Orchestra

07  Oh Baby – Floyd Dixon

08  Step In The Right Direction – Brother Prince Dixon

09  I Walk All Night – Johnny Fuller

10  Elaine – Scatman Crothers

11  Yak Yak Woman – Marvin & Johnny

12  Sleep, Drink And Play – Earl Burton

13  Traffic Ticket – Big Boy Groves & His Orchestra

14 My Love Is Real – James Reed

15  Hey Rube – The Mellow Tones

16  Never Can Tell (When A Woman’s Going To Change Her Mind) – Floyd Dixon

17 Lonely, Lonely Woman – Little Eve with Big Boy Groves & His Orchestra

18  Teenage Party – Jimmy Witherspoon

19  Fancy Pants – Tap Anthony & His Orchestra

20  Don’t Blooper – Grady Chapman & The Suedes

21  All Messed Up – Vernon Anders

22   I Need The Lord To Guide Me Everyday – Brother Prince Dixon

23   Teenagers Only – Little Margie with Big Boy Groves & His Orchestra

24  Oh Yeah! (aka Rock And Roll) – Chuck Higgins & The Mellotones


Los Angeles music entrepreneur John Dolphin first came to fame as the colorful owner and operator of a 24-hour-a-day record store DOLPHIN’S OF HOLLYWOOD (not located in or near Hollywood) , which opened in 1948 and became famous locally for having a DJ broadcasting live from its window. Dolphin soon realized that if he had his own labels and controlled all aspects of recording/pressing/etc., then he would not have to be paying OTHER people or companies, so he launched in 1950 his Recorded in Hollywood label, eventually to be followed by the Cash and Money labels. There was always a refreshing rawness and spontaneity to the Dolphin operation. Supposedly, his release schedule is a discographical nightmare, with numbers repeated or skipped, B-sides replaced without warning or logic, etc. And the recordings themselves have a refreshing, one-take quality (even if they weren’t one-take). The labels continued until Dolphin’s death in 1958….although his widow Ruth revived the Money imprint in the 1960’s and released a good number of first-rate soul singles into the early 70’s (these are collected on three Ace-label comps, The Soul of Money Records, all very much worth owning). Specialty released a compilation of 1950’s R&B from the Dolphin archive in the 1990’s, compiled by Billy Vera, and eventually UK Ace acquired Dolphin’s catalogue and so far they have issued three various artists compilations devoted to 1950’s R&B/blues from this rich archive.

Dolphin did not seem to have some grand scheme or over-arching vision for his labels; he was not searching out a particular “sound” or exploring the limits of some vision of music. He was looking for records which he could sell at his store, promote locally, and perhaps get a national or regional hit out of. His was a cash-based business, and he was not a man who wasted time with contracts or royalties. This approach might have driven a business major crazy at the time, but in hindsight it led to a wide variety of recordings (he even recorded country music, including one song I’ve heard which was composed by Murry Wilson, pre-Beach Boys!) from a wide variety of artists—-people who didn’t record for anyone else, local performers who were popular in clubs but not on record, artists from elsewhere who were temporarily in the Los Angeles area, performers whose managers/producers felt they were “on the way up” and saw Dolphin as an outlet where they could “break” their talents, and well-known professionals who could easily knock out a solid, quick session for Dolphin for pocket money and not worry about where or when or how it would be issued. With this approach, Dolphin managed to document a wide swath of the rich music and cultural scene of Black Los Angeles in the 1950’s. That’s what has made these three volumes of Dolphin material so exciting and enjoyable. YOU are there on Central Avenue during one of the great periods of music history, essentially dipping your ladle into the soup pot of Los Angeles R&B and pulling out 24 rich and delicious sips, all of which are obscure and raw and fine and flavorful.

You get two tracks from Scatman Crothers (many years ago I reviewed a compilation of Crothers’ singles for various labels, on the German “Hydra” label, for Ugly Things magazine, and you should find that comp ASAP), which alternately showcase his skills as a blues singer and as a vaudeville artiste; vocal group rarities from The Mellow Tones and The Hollywood Flames and the young Marvin & Johnny; two deep Gospel tracks from Brother Prince Dixon; rockin’ sax-led nightclub R&B from Big Boy Groves; one-off material from well-known blues artists Memphis Slim, Floyd Dixon, and Jimmy Witherspoon; and finally, an anthemic track by sax honker Chuck Higgins. It’s all hardcore Los Angeles R&B (except for the Gospel tracks, of course) and shows the diversity of the scene, and it’s all new to me, except for a handful of tracks which are either alternate versions of things issued elsewhere or taken from that 1990’s Specialty album. However, that’s not a major problem—-I can’t imagine anyone who owns that album (as I do) complaining because this 24-track collection contains one excellent track after another. It’s as if you are a fly on the wall in Dolphin’s back-room studio during one of the richest periods of Los Angeles music.

Can’t wait for Volume 4—-thanks to Ace for doing such a great job mining the Dolphin vein (and also for mining the other Los Angeles labels they control: Dootone, Combo, Modern, etc.). By the way, vinyl collectors might want to seek out an old vocal group compilation called DOLPHIN’S OF HOLLYWOOD: THE DOO WOP SESSIONS on the Swedish Mr. R&B subsidiary label “Earth Angel,” which was of course a label devoted exclusively to Los Angeles recordings. You can still find that LP for a reasonable price.

WOW, WOW, BABY! 1950’s R&B, Blues & Gospel From Dolphin’s Of Hollywood, Volume 3 offers up an instant party, one which will satisfy the hardcore collector of this kind of music and which should hook the neophyte, who will surely be ordering the other albums in the series and then Ace’s MELLOW CATS AND KITTENS series of archival digs through the Modern records catalogue. WOW, WOW, BABY! has been a regular visitor in my home and in my car for a few years now, and I want to share the excitement with YOU!


August 6, 2017

WHO’S GUILTY (15-chapter serial, 1945)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 7:17 pm


a 15-chapter Columbia Serial, produced by Sam Katzman

first chapter released in December 1945

directed by Howard Bretherton and Wallace Grissell

starring Robert Kent, Amelita Ward, Tim Ryan, Jayne Hazard, Minerva Urecal, Charles Middleton, Davison Clark, Wheeler Oakman

approximate running time: 5 hours

chapter titles:

  1. Avenging Visitor
  2. The Unknown Strikes
  3. Held For Murder
  4. A Killer at Bay
  5. Human Bait
  6. The Plunge of Doom
  7. A Date with Fate
  8. Invisible Hands
  9. Fate’s Vengeance
  10. The Unknown Killer
  11. Riding to Oblivion
  12. The Tank of Terror
  13. White Terror
  14. A Cry in the Night
  15. The Guilty One

who 1

WHO’S GUILTY, an early Sam Katzman serial at Columbia, after he moved on from Monogram, is not highly regarded among serial fans. If you judge it according to the same criteria which make early 1940’s Republic product the standard by which you judge serials, then it surely would fail. However, I think I’ve viewed this serial 10-12 times in the last 25 years, and I find it very entertaining. It’s a shame that so few of the Sam Katzman-produced Columbia serials have ever been given a legitimate release by Columbia/Sony. Other than the Superman and Batman serials, BLACKHAWK is the only one which comes to mind. Surely, the George Reeves serial ADVENTURES OF SIR GALAHAD would sell a good number of copies, based on Reeves’ name alone! Many of the Katzman serials have a slightly goofy quality to them—-I’m reminded of the feel of some straight-to-video action films of the last few decades. That makes them, to me at least, enormously entertaining. Also, remember that most serial viewers would never watch ALL 12 or 15 chapters. Super-fans would, but according to my parents and other people of that generation who attended serials in theaters back in the day, the average viewer might see maybe 1/3 or 1/2 of the episodes. Continuity was not an issue to most viewers, and if the chapter you happened to see had the right “feel” to it and entertained you, it was a good serial to the viewer. WHO’S GUILTY has a delicious collection of whodunit “types” played broadly, each chapter throws out a lot of “mystery” when viewed separately, there is both action and humor in every episode, and the attempt to fit a whodunit into the serial format was a novel and admirable thing to do, IMHO.

who 2

Please remember that this serial was NOT meant to be seen straight through….it was meant to be seen in weekly installments, and by an audience which probably would not have seen every episode. I see that I reviewed this serial 14 years ago at the IMDB. Here are my comments from 2003:

One of the first of the Sam Katzman-produced serials at Columbia, WHO’S GUILTY is a bit different from the standard serial in that it is a murder mystery, and beginning with the second chapter each suspect is trotted out after the credits while the narrator points out incriminating things about him/her. My children saw this part of the film and though it was like the game CLUE come to life on the screen. This feels like a Monogram Charlie Chan film spread out over fifteen chapters, but minus chan and number one son and Mantan Moreland. Reliable b-movie leading man Robert Kent (Phantom Rider, She Shoulda Said No) plays a state investigator called into the case of the murder of a wealthy businessman, a man who lives in a mysterious estate and has all kinds of suspicious relatives who are waiting for their inheritance. Kent’s comic sidekick (combining the number one son and Birmingham Brown roles, to continue the Chan comparison) is longtime comic actor and writer Tim Ryan, who has played similar roles in Bowery Boys and Chan films, but NEVER this dim-witted or clownish. There are constant red herrings, and the film makes some detours into subplots that wear a bit thin (a subplot in Mexico lasts three or four chapters, a gangster subplot comes up later), but 15-chapter serials almost always have some padding. Overall, this film’s old-fashioned over-the-top acting (from the supporting players only–Kent is a stoic hero), occasional mysterious settings, and intriguing murder mystery add up to an entertaining, campy serial. However, unless you like the more humor-laced murder mysteries of the 40s (Boston Blackie, Chan, etc.), you probably will find this film unsatisfying and laughable. Taken in the right spirit, it can be refreshingly unpretentious entertainment and can provide a wonderful mix of laughs and thrills. Special mention should be made of Charles Middleton’s wonderful performance as the suspicious butler–often sharpening knives with a gleeful look on his face!

I still stand by those remarks, and if you like low-budget Monogram or PRC mysteries of the 1940’s, and having a FIVE HOUR serial version of one of them is a dream come true, then you’ll want to check out WHO’S GUILTY, from one of the grey-market dealers offering it.

who 3

By the way, if you want a very different perspective on the film, I highly recommend the review at the website The Files of Jerry Blake, which should be a go-to source for any serial fan. Blake’s write-ups are always accurate and informed, and he’s the kind of guy who will know which 1940’s serial is used to provide stock footage in a 1950’s serial. I just happen to like the elements here; he does not. I should also point out that he describes things very well….his description of Tim Ryan’s character as resembling Pat O’Brien doing a combination of Milton Berle and Huntz Hall is EXACTLY how Ryan comes off. That combination is very appealing to me! Check out his write-up on the film at

August 5, 2017

Billy Dooley Comedies #2 (Grapevine Video)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 6:01 pm


available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Grapevine Video

ordering info:


  1. Dumb Belles (1927)
    Director: William Watson
  2. Wild Wallops (1927)
    Director: William Beaudine
  3. Water Bugs (1928)
    Director: William Watson
  4. Campus Cuties (1928)
    Director: William Watson
  5. Sea Food (1928)
    Director: William Watson
  6. Gobs of Love (1928)
    Director: Arvid E. Gillstrom
  7. Happy Heels (1929)
    Director: William Holland
  8. Off the Deck (1929)
    Director: William Holland

Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, I had a very good collection of silent and early sound comedy shorts on VHS….I traded with other fans, and enjoyed many super-obscure shorts….although as you know, when you make a copy of a tape for someone, the image suffers quality loss with each succeeding generation of copy, so I was able to see some amazing stuff, but the quality was not that great….which is why, I’m assuming, I’ve yet to see a lot of that stuff be reissued on DVD….the quality would be below even Alpha Video standards!  Only the person with the original print could have it duplicated to produce a watchable product, not someone with a fourth-generation copy.

Producer Al Christie, though not as well-known as a Mack Sennett or a Hal Roach, ran a comedy factory for many years, into the early sound era. In the mid-to-late 20’s, he had a stable of comedy-short stars including Billy Dooley, Jimmie Adams, Bobby Vernon, and Jack Duffy.

In this new collection from Grapevine Video, we’re treated to eight Billy Dooley shorts from 1927-1929. The images I’ve included should give you a good idea of what Dooley was like. Billed as “the silly sailor,” he reminds me of some kind of cross between Larry Semon (physically, not in the style of his comedy) and Lupino Lane with a twist of Harry Langdon but much more animated. His persona is a sailor (also named Billy) who means well but stumbles into outrageous situations—-he remains eternally optimistic as he faces pitfall after pitfall, leading to pratfall after pratfall. I mention Lupino Lane because Dooley is also an amazing physical comedian, with gymnast-level abilities in terms of elastic body movement and tumbling skills. It’s no surprise that, according to the Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Billy Dooley got his start doing trick bicycle riding, rope tricks a la Will Rogers, and comedic dancing. He also radiates positivity, and it’s not hard to see why he became a successful star of two-reel comedy shorts.

billy dooley

The eight shorts in this collection were originally released as two-reel comedies (meaning they were probably in the 18-20 minute range), and during this period Christie was distributing his product via Educational or Paramount. The picture quality on all of these is excellent (how else could Grapevine also offer a Blu-Ray of these?). Unfortunately, it seems as though many Dooley shorts do not survive in their original release form.

The sixth and seventh shorts, Gobs of Love and Happy Heels, in this collection are presented in something resembling their original form, with the original inter-title cards (with cute stick-figure cartoons of Dooley!) and silent, but they are from 1937 Hollywood Film Enterprises “Cine Art” re-releases for the home market. According to comments on the Silent Comedy Mafia discussion list, HFE released these in both one-reel and two-reel versions, and the one-reel versions sold much better, so I guess that’s why each of these two “Cine Art” reissues run only 11 minutes each instead of, say, 18. However, not having seen the original two-reel versions, I must say that these two shorts work just great in the abbreviated format. Dooley can still work his magic 90 years after the fact, and lovers of physical comedy will adore his antics. They are fast-moving, feature fun and colorful supporting casts, and provide a great vehicle for Dooley’s amazing acrobatic comedy.

billy billy

The other six shorts appear in a somewhat different form. I’m old enough to remember when, as late as the end of the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, low-budget UHF and indie TV stations played old cut-up and recontextualized silent comedy shorts, often with hokey sound effects and narration, and often totally divorced from their original context, as cheap filler. The children who would catch these would not know any better, and someone watching a UHF station at 3 a.m. would likely not really care about the sanctity of the print of some 20’s slapstick footage used to fill a 14 minute gap between a Hoot Gibson 30’s indie western and a dubbed Italian sword and sandal film. What we get in these six shorts is most (they run about 12 1/2 minutes) of an original  Billy Dooley short, but with the inter-titles taken out (although they do have the original Christie Paramount or Educational title cards) and with constant narration and over-the-top sound effects. I get the sense that the narrator saw each film once, made some notes, and just free-associated his way through the short the way someone would “call” a high-school football game for a small-town radio station. Although Dooley generally played “himself” in these films, he’s given the character name “Harry Heave-Ho” (!!!!) here, and I’m guessing the “plots” of the original are changed quite a bit in the narrating. We’re also often told what we are watching on the screen over and over. Although I doubt I ever saw these particular versions of the Dooley films on UHF as a child, I DO remember this phenomenon of crudely narrating and ham-fistedly (if that’s a word) scoring silent comedy footage, so I did feel a slight (very slight) sense of nostalgia…in that NO broadcast outlet has shown this kind of thing in 40 years, probably. However, it is somewhat annoying….fortunately, though, you can turn the sound off and watch it silent. Even without the inter-title cards (which are cut out due to the narration), anyone could figure out the plot (or listen to the first 10 seconds of narration, and THEN turn it off) to these, so perhaps you should enjoy them silently. In any event, thanks to Grapevine (I’ve been a customer of theirs since the VHS days of the 1980’s!) for presenting these rare versions of these wonderfully entertaining silent comedy shorts of Billy Dooley, probably the only surviving versions of them. As we move farther and farther away from the Golden Age of Silent Comedy Shorts in the 1920’s, with dozens of new selections playing local theaters each month back then, this material becomes more and more precious….and fortunately, just as funny as ever….if not MORE SO, since someone like Billy Dooley is a practitioner of a lost art.

95 minutes of silent comedy joy from a man who delivered the goods short after short after short….although not a name mentioned that much today, alas. Order from Grapevine at the link found at the top of this post….

billy costar vera

(Billy Dooley’s frequent co-star VERA STEADMAN, who’s in six of these shorts)

August 4, 2017

Memphis Jug Band 1932-1934 (Document Records BDCD-6002)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 2:15 pm

memphis jug 1


The Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order 1932-1934

Document Records BDCD-6002

The first rule of acting is that you cannot play a drunken character while you are drunk. Then you are a drunken person and incapable of having the command of your body and your faculties that a successful acting performance requires. You have to, as a trained actor, create a contrived set of speech and body movement particulars which creates THE EFFECT of a drunken person in the way that people expect it on the stage or on film. Similarly, you cannot create a “party” atmosphere on a phonograph record just by setting a mike out at an actual party—-the result would be incredibly tedious. No one would want to listen to it….no one would want to BE AT IT based on what they heard. If you think about successful “party atmospheres” which have been created on record, they are all totally contrived….yet they work. Think about the various productions of Norfork, Virginia’s FRANK GUIDA such as Gary US Bonds’s classic “Quarter To Three”….Guida knew exactly what elements to put on a record to create the idea of a party in the listeners’  minds, and not to put too much there because it would then be too cluttered. Whenever I hear a Guida production with the party atmosphere, I want to be there.

Undoubtedly, one of the main selling points of the recordings of the Memphis Jug Band, who were at their commercial peak between 1927-1930, was that their records had the infectious feel of a party, but it was concentrated on a phonograph record and created the EFFECT of a party through suggestion and atmosphere. The Memphis Jug Band were very popular in their day, and both Black and White (segregated) audiences had a joyous time at their performances, from what I’ve read.

The core of the pool of musicians who were associated with the MJB—-Will Shade aka Son Brimmer, Charlie Burse, Vol Stevens, Charlie Nickerson, “Poor Jab” Jones, Hambone Lewis, etc.—-understood how to create an infectious party vibe on record. While the songs, often country blues-based but with occasional pop references and reflecting the larger popular culture of the day while being totally based in the African-American experience of the South, especially the rural South, always had appeal, the SOUND of these records is for me what made them special. The rich textures of the mandolin, jug, kazoo, guitar, harmonica, washboard, “bones” and cowbell and other rural percussion, create a thick stew of sound, and its rhythm oozes and shakes like jelly.

The individual members of this loose collective continued to record off and on until as late as the early 1960’s, but their best known body of work was for Victor between 1927 and 1930, and these have been available on a Yazoo LP and then CD for decades….an album I’ve played hundreds of times over the years. However, what I’d like to discuss here is a lesser-known collection of recordings, the ones they made immediately post-Victor, between 1932 and 1934, which are assembled on a Document CD.

Evidently the gigs and recordings were organized by Will Shade, and after the band’s recording heyday, 1927-1930, at Victor, there are two groups of sessions documented on this Document CD which are joyous and really worthy of your attention.

Five tracks were recorded by Gennett for their Champion budget label in Richmond, Indiana, on one day in August 1932. This was the heart of the depression in terms of record sales, which were a small fraction in 1932 of what they’d been in 1927-29. It’s no surprise that these were on the budget Champion label, which would be slightly more affordable than a full-priced Victor or Gennett 78 to the working-class jug band lover of the day who wanted a taste of that party flavor in their own home. It’s also clear that someone, either the label or the musicians themselves, decided it would be a good thing to jump on the “hokum” bandwagon—-although that style had peaked a few years earlier with the countless imitations of “Tight Like That”, it still sold records, and even today can still put a smile on people’s faces and get their toes tapping. So four of the five songs are in that vein, but with the patented “deep” and eclectic textures of sound and infectious dance rhythms of the MJB. The fifth, “Come Along Little Children,” sounds like a secular adaptation of a Gospel song, and is a wonderful sing-along track about how we are out to “raise a roo-kus tonight.” It’s interesting to note (see below) that while two of the five songs were released as a solo 78 by the MJB, the other three songs were backed on 78’s with a song by another artist. Was the label hedging its bet here, thinking that two different artists would have twice the appeal of one? At this point, who knows? Also interesting to note the name change of the band here (see credits below and the disc pictured)….budget labels sometimes used pseudonyms so the artists could still use their “real” name on higher-priced labels, but of course by doing that, they were not taking any advantage of the residual name value of The Memphis Jug Band.

memphis jug 2

Next, the other group of recordings, sixteen masters, was recorded in Chicago in 1934 and released on 78’s by Okeh and Vocalion. These hearkened back to the classic MJB sound more than the Champion sessions did, and also benefited from the addition of a raw and jaunty fiddle as one of the alternating lead voices. These songs often have an infection call-and-response vocal, or vocal interjections from a second band member in contrast to the lead vocal (not unlike what Bob Wills would do on his records), and once again we have a rich and thick stew of sound here, with the sweet-and-sour taste of mandolin, jug, kazoo, various rural percussion instruments, a strummed guitar that even the mediocre dancer could latch onto, and the wonderful floating voice of the fiddle. While the 1934 recordings have been reissued elsewhere, this Document album is of great value and is not hard to find, and contains all the 1932-34 post-Victor recordings, a period of the MJB’s career not that well-known.

Of course, all of the JSP albums from the MJB are essential purchases, especially Volume 3 which contains both their later Victor sessions AND alternate takes from the earlier sessions. There is also a CD on Wolf which I’ve owned for decades called MEMPHIS JUG BAND: ASSOCIATES AND ALTERNATE TAKES, 1927-30 (Wolf WBCD-004). This album repeats the alternates from the third JSP album, but also offers 17 additional tracks which are solo recordings under the names of MJB members and colleagues, many of which have essentially the same personnel and are all joyous and richly textured recordings which make you feel like you are at one of “Boss” Crump’s parties or at some rural fishfry. Over the span of many decades, these musicians are STILL able to create a true party vibe and put a smile on people’s faces and get their toes-a-tapping. That’s certainly a wonderful and precious gift. Also, those interested in the area of “African retentions” in the blues of the 20’s and 30’s could investigate the MJB’s sound elements, particularly the “little instruments,” and find much worthy of study.

pic jug 2

(above: Robert Crumb’s classic portrait of the Memphis Jug Band)

Also worth finding for the fan of this sound is the Old Tramp CD of 1939 recordings of the MJB’s Charlie Burse and His Memphis Mudcats, along with sessions from the same year by James DeBerry and His Memphis Playboys. Burse recorded for Sun in 1950 (though the tracks remained unissued at the time), so I guess everything comes full circle.


August 3, 2017

Bill Shute poetry reading at Right Now Experimental Music Festival, Sat. 5 Aug, 7 pm, also with performances by More Eaze and Dane Rousay!

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 10:03 am


Just a reminder (locals and friends of the KSE Facebook page already know this) that I’ll be doing a poetry reading as part of the RIGHT NOW EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC FESTIVAL at Artpace here in San Antonio this Saturday, 5 August, at 7 pm.

Poems read will include

–FIND A PLACE TO DIE (dealing with the current national nightmare, presently available from KSE)


–MELTDOWN (one of the recent Natchez poems, presently available from KSE)

–44  HARMONIES (inspired by the John Cage composition “44 Harmonies From Apartment House 1776”)

–and also, Dane Rousay and I will be doing a poetry-and-percussion duo performance based on my 2009 poem BUTTERFLY MIND.

Many acts will be featured from 3-11 pm, but those with a KSE connection are conveniently back-to-back…..More Eaze will follow my reading, at 7:30, and Dane Rousay in a duo with Svetlana Zwetkof will be performing at 8. Admission is only $5….and FREE if you arrive before 5 pm. Please stop by and say hello before or after the reading. See you there.


August 2, 2017

Manfred Werder, “2005(1)”, Winds Measure Recordings 28

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 9:19 pm
Tags: , , ,

Manfred Werder


Realized and recorded by Jason Kahn

Winds Measure Recordings 28 (8-cd set)

recorded in 2010, released in 2012

further info/ordering:


As with any genre of music/composition, from bluegrass to minimalism, the field recording category rises or falls on the ingenuity and depth of both the composer and the performer. In the case of a skeletal composition such as Werder’s 2005(1) (you can read about the piece here: ), the performer is given an incredible amount of latitude, and among the many performances and recordings of the piece one can find online, for me the interpretation by Jason Kahn deserves special attention and should be considered a kind of “classic” of its type.

We’ve released a number of albums at KSE which have featured field recordings—-the two which come to mind first are Alan Jones’s use of under-water recordings and Russ Alderson/Xanthocephalus’s use of ornithological recordings—-and a number of other albums have used found elements (and Matt Krefting’s works come to mind with that), but the PURE field recording, not altered or “treated” or used as one element in a sound-gumbo, takes things to another level.

It’s ironic that the “field recording” genre has emerged in the last few decades, a period when people are closing themselves off from natural sound. When I find myself in a public place where people are sitting around waiting—-for instance, at the Department of Motor Vehicles or at a tire shop or dentist’s office—-I am usually the only person who is NOT hooked up to a set of headphones or ear buds. When I see runners or walkers moving down my street, most of them are connected to some sound source. Oh, I realize that in past periods most folks probably were on automatic pilot and weren’t really LISTENING to their environment (in the way that a John Cage or a Zen master would have wanted them to), but at least they could HEAR a car horn, or a slipping fan belt, or a skateboard, or whatever. We seem to be experiencing so much of daily life SECOND HAND, consuming and digesting sounds and images PRESENTED TO US rather than from the environment in which we are existing.

I’ve always been someone who has listened to his environment. Once back in the 1970’s, when I was travelling through Western Kansas, the friend who was driving mentioned, somewhere past Goodland, heading toward Colorado, “boy, there’s nothing out here,”….to which I responded, “yes, there’s nothing to get in the way.”

At one of my security guard jobs back in the 1980’s, the employer wanted me from 10 pm to 2 am, and from 4:30 to 7:30 am, but did not want to pay me a full time salary, so I had to clock out for that two-and-a-half hour period. I did not have a car at the time, and there was no bus service in the middle of the night, so the most sensible thing for me to do was to simply stay at the worksite, sit out on the loading dock facing the city below, and soak up the environment. I would turn the lights off on the dock, so the dim glare of the distant lights from the small city below would fade in and out, here and there, one color then another, movement in one direction then movement in another, and for long periods of time, only the stars and the moon, and of course, they would evolve constantly through the night, and some nights not be much of a presence at all. Then there were the sounds of the night. Clanks or thumps or squeals which were miles and miles away, which I could construct scenarios for, the hum of the rare car on the street below or a more distant hum or tire screech from another road to the east or the west. Although I lived at the time in a tobacco-growing state with low taxes on cigarettes, they were still expensive with the little I was getting paid, so I’d usually bring about 4 of them with me to work, and smoke one every half hour or so during this down-time in between shifts. The constantly changing visuals and the distant symphony of varying sounds pulled me in, I’d smoke a cigarette here and there, but time became irrelevant, and before I knew it, 4:30 had arrived, and it was time to clock back in and start my morning rounds and responsibility.  It was far more satisfying than some Light Show with music by Pink Floyd or a screening of Fantasia because it was infinitely more subtle and ever-changing and it was real–it was not being “presented to me.” It was also free.

I  grew up on the side of a mountain, west of Denver, with Highway 6 down the bottom of the hill from me. I would sleep with my window open most of the year, and as my bedroom faced the road below, I would turn out the light after reading, and would just listen to the sounds outside as I fell asleep. Who knows how that affected my dream-life. Ask the fourteen-year-old me, as the present me does not remember.

The raw material of natural sound is something I’ve long appreciated, and I still do. Such is the material from which Jason Kahn’s interpretation of Werder’s piece has been sculpted. I’ve used the term “sound sculpture” for a number of KSE experimental music albums where texture is an important component—-works by Fossils, for instance—-and I’m going to use that term here too because it emphasizes the three-dimensionality of the sound, in a way that the image of a “canvas” does not.

The way Jason Kahn has interpreted this work is to make 31 eighteen-minute field recordings, at the same time each day at the same location within a Zurich train station, for each of the 31 days in the month of March 2010. Kahn has made a number of artistic and technical decisions here to create this 31-installment sound sculpture, something that anyone who thinks the field recording genre is “easy” should consider. He wisely chose a recording location which is NOT near the trains or near the passengers coming to and fro—-one gets the impression that we are located at some less-traveled section of the station…..the trains can be heard at a distance, the murmuring of people can be heard at a distance, although some people come rather close to the recording device and then move away from it. This is not some sound effects recording of trains….it is a recording of a live environment, and placing the sounds of the trains and the passengers and the like at a distance reinforces the resonance and the three-dimensionality of the space. It immerses you in this world. And it’s an infinitely fascinating world….just like the one you and I are in, and can go out and experience as soon as we get off the computer or portable device where we are reading/writing this. Reality has become an installation.

I’ve made a number of references in other writings to Warhol’s massive suite of SHADOWS paintings, which were for many years contained in one room at the Dia Beacon in Beacon, NY, right next to the Hudson River. I had the privilege of experiencing that exhibition and spending many hours among the paintings. I have an analogous experience, but in sound, when I listen to the 31 sections of 2005(1), spread over 8 cd’s.

Kahn has carved 31 sculptures-in-sound for us, and he’s served it up as a series work. Is it tedious, I can hear someone ask (though probably not someone reading the KSE blog). Only if immediate experience and phenomena are tedious, and if they are, I’m sure Netflix has a number of acclaimed series on and available for binge-watching.

For me, it is an important and beautiful work, and one of the most beautiful aspects of it is that when a CD is over, I can go outside, sit on the porch or walk around on my street, and “realize” my own version. A version that is always present, always varying, always rich and unpredictable and full of textural variation…and always free. They may want to  turn water from a natural resource into a commodity, but they can’t do that to our immediate environment and its sensory impressions….or perhaps I should more accurately say, they haven’t figured out how to do that yet. Give them time. Until then, grab one of the remaining copies of this rich and beautiful and deep 8-cd set—-stop, slow down, disengage the gears, and immerse yourself in this world…in 31 installments. As composer Werder states in his interview about this piece, “I’m looking for a situation where for a certain time something like ‘the world’ would appear. Not one to look at or listen to. Not one to project concepts onto. One to be part of, where in a chaotic and infinite becoming something like a real sense of meeting and sharing would emerge.” Indeed!

manfred werder 2005.1

jason kahn: actualization & recording

zürich hauptbahnhof, march 1 – 31, 2010, each day at 10 am

disc number – tracklist:
01-3-10 18:00
02-3-10 18:00
03-3-10 18:00
04-3-10 18:00

05-3-10 18:00
06-3-10 18:00
07-3-10 18:00
08-3-10 18:00

09-3-10 18:00
10-3-10 18:00
11-3-10 18:00
12-3-10 18:00

13-3-10 18:00
14-3-10 18:00
15-3-10 18:00
16-3-10 18:00

17-3-10 18:00
18-3-10 18:00
19-3-10 18:00
20-3-10 18:00

21-3-10 18:00
22-3-10 18:00
23-3-10 18:00
24-3-10 18:00

25-3-10 18:00
26-3-10 18:00
27-3-10 18:00
28-3-10 18:00

29-3-10 18:00
30-3-10 18:00
31-3-10 18:00


Addendum: the day after posting this blog entry, I was reading an article from the BBC News Service about secret codes in the espionage community, and ran across the following passage, which perhaps explains another appeal of the 31 days of train station field recordings:

“It’s quite difficult to generate a completely random number because a system for doing so will, by its very nature, be predictable – exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Instead officers in London found an ingenious solution.

“They’d hang a microphone out of the window on Oxford Street and record the traffic. “There might be a bus beeping at the same time as a policeman shouting. The sound is unique, it will never happen again,” says Stupples. Then they’d convert this into a random code.”

July 31, 2017

I NEED REAL TUXEDO AND A TOP HAT: words and pictures by Wyatt Doyle (New Texture)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 3:51 pm

wyatt tuxedo


words and pictures by WYATT DOYLE

published by New Texture

available from Amazon in the US, Canada, UK, etc.–it’s cheaper to buy from your local Amazon outlet as it’s only local shipping, not foreign


Everyone has a dream. It might be something seemingly minor or insignificant to others; it might be something totally unrealistic that could never be accomplished in ten lifetimes. Every time I see a mom’n’pop business open in my neighborhood, I think of it as someone living their dream—-and when I see it go out of business in a year or two, a part of my heart breaks for the owners, as they tried to live their dream and it did not work out. But at least they got it off the ground for a while.

This collection of photography and short fiction by Wyatt Doyle is about dreams….dreams deferred, dreams denied, dreams laughed at by others, dreams that keep people’s spirits alive. Doyle’s earlier book of fiction, STOP REQUESTED!, took place on the public transportation system of Los Angeles, and thus included a number of homeless and transient individuals. I don’t know what the statistics are—-and even if I did, homeless people (like undocumented immigrants) are rarely counted accurately—-but from personal observation, there are certainly many more homeless folks here in Texas than there were, say, two years ago. The homeless and transient….and the closed-down businesses and abandoned things of the abandoned urban world they inhabit….are the focus of I NEED REAL TUXEDO AND A TOP HAT!

As always, Wyatt Doyle has an incisive and poetic eye as a photographer—-you can taste the atmosphere in every shot, and you can feel the environment in which these abandoned people and abandoned businesses exist. Some people in the suburbs may want a new car or a vacation to Mazatlan….the folks in this book want a safe place to sleep for the night, protected from the elements, and where the few personal belongings they have will not be stolen from them. And each night they must go on another quest to find that.

Wyatt Doyle also has an incisive and poetic eye as a fiction writer. While he certainly possesses all the good qualities of a Charles Bukowski or a James T. Farrell or a Hubert Selby or an Erskine Caldwell, he’s a better stylist than Bukowski, and he doesn’t have some of the personal baggage that a Farrell or a Selby or a Caldwell bring to a text. The writing is as clear, sharp, resonant, and deep as the photography. Each of the short literary pieces is character-based, and there’s not a wasted word or a false note. And each captures the dreams of the character, dreams which never die, dreams which can grow in any soil, no matter how distressed and bleak it may seem.

This is America, circa 2017; the characters depicted here in photographs and in fiction (and the book is mostly photography) are our brothers and sisters, and the environment they live and chase their dreams in may just be a mile or two away from where you are reading this….you may drive through the neighborhood on the way to or from work.

This is a beautiful book (9″ x 9″ square, with crisply duplicated and rich photographs), both in appearance and content. The human spirit cannot be snuffed out, even by the most corrosive circumstances, and I NEED REAL TUXEDO AND A TOP HAT! captures that spirit in both pictures and words. Wyatt Doyle has created a moving and unique work here, and I would not be exaggerating to say that on some level it could be viewed as the 2017 American equivalent to the classic Depression-era photography and literature hybrid LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN by Walker Evans and James Agee. It’s a different world today, and different kinds of works are needed than in 1936. I think Evans and Agee would appreciate what Doyle has done here.

The book is available in both paperback and hardcover editions, and the hardcover contains some extra material. Either version is highly recommended. It’s the kind of work where, after spending time with it, I put it down, shake my head, and think, “this pretty much says it all.” What more could one ask from any artwork in any genre or format?

In the USA, you can get a copy at this link:

Elsewhere, just search for the title/author at the Amazon website in your country. You’ll be glad you did.

July 30, 2017

new solo percussion album from JOHN BELL, “Cambridge Surprise Minor and other peals” (KSE #377)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:58 pm

JOHN BELL 2017 cover


“Cambridge Surprise Minor and other peals” (KSE #377), cdr album

compositions for percussion, recorded in South Korea, New Zealand, and Laos

John Bell: vibraharp, glockenspiel, shell casings, gongs, scrap metal, bells,    piano frame, khong vong

$8 postpaid in the USA  (see below for foreign pricing and ordering instructions)


Vibist, percussionist, multi-instrumentalist, and composer JOHN BELL is probably best-known outside of his home bases of South Korea and New Zealand for his collaborative work, both in concert and in the studio, with ALFRED 23 HARTH, including the much-acclaimed CAMELLIA album for KSE (#318, still available) and the forthcoming CAMPANULA, on the Moloko Plus label from Germany.

After working with Mr. Bell on CAMELLIA, KSE invited him to create a solo album, to further introduce him and his fascinating work to North American listeners. CAMBRIDGE SURPRISE MINOR AND OTHER PEALS is that album, and like Dane Rousay’s recent ANATOMIZE, it is an album of compositions for solo percussion. Along with the human voice, percussion would have to be the “instrument” with the deepest roots in antiquity and in the widest variety of world cultures. Percussion music can be created from the materials at hand, and that’s what John Bell does here on his new KSE album. While vibes, glockenspiel, and gongs are used, so are scrap metal and abandoned shell casings, as well as a piano frame and the ancient “khong vong” gong circles. These 13 sound paintings-in-percussion, suspended on the canvas of silence, resonate in many many ways….and I would suggest that in listening to this album (and I’ve played it dozens of times since getting the master) you try setting individual tracks on “repeat” to get deeper into them and also setting your player on “random” so you can hear the pieces juxtaposed in different combinations. It is a rich and complex yet deep and elemental series of pieces, an album I can’t imagine getting old. I asked John Bell for some comments on the album, and here is his reply (by the way, this lay-person mistakenly thought that the word “peal” referred simply to the ringing of a bell, the generic sound generated from a bell….how wrong I was….it is far more than that, and I would suggest you click on this definition of PEAL from Wikipedia before proceeding further here       ( ):


‘About 15 years ago I felt compelled to visit the peal of bells at St Matthews in the city Auckland (the second largest peal in New Zealand). I was lucky enough to be invited to their rehearsal on a Tuesday night, and even though I didn’t mention my family name, they invited me to enlist in the group of trainee bellringers. Despite the impressive sound I declined the invitation. I must have to blame my mother’s side of the family because, at that time I was somewhat repulsed by any slavish discipline such as precise rope pulling. 15 years ago I would never have contemplated spending even the one and a half days it took to record the title track of this album (a full length version of a common English peal). Bill Shute did me a huge favour when he asked me to record a solo album for KSE. Bill gave me nearly five months to send him the material.

 In the last twenty years I ve performed and recorded plenty of frenetic chime smashing, clappers flying around, and more recently lots of bowing and scraping in some free jazz ensemble or similar. So for this first solo album, I decided to explore the bell-ringing side of things,  limited myself to struck metal, only a tiny bit of bowing some metal on one track (  If once I was a bell ). There was also plenty of time to layer tracks and consider panning and mixing ideas.

 Bells are multi-faceted symbols and salient in many cultures. I have been living in South Korea for more than four years , and sadly there are no church bells anywhere near my house. Like most people in Korea, I live in a valley, nowhere near any of the large impressive temple bells, so have only heard one live once! The compensation for this is the prevalence of beautiful gongs in Korean traditional music. I was also lucky enough to be allowed to spend some time recording on  a set of khong vong at the national school of music and dance in Laos last year.

Thanks to Rod Cooper of Melbourne for showing me the simple idea of polystyrene as a reasonator box.

I hope everyone enjoys this album’

John Bell 30 July 2017

KSE is proud to present our second album of composition for percussion for Summer 2017 (the first one was by San Antonio percussionist and composer Dane Rousay), JOHN BELL’s CAMBRIDGE SURPRISE MINOR AND OTHER PEALS (KSE #377)

Be sure to grab this exciting and satisfying CDR album ASAP….


$8 postpaid in the USA  (see below for foreign pricing and ordering instructions)

NOTE: ALL CDR’s  ARE NOW PRICED @ $8.00, postpaid in the US.

OUTSIDE THE USA , one album is $18.00 postpaid, first two albums are $20.00 postpaid, then $8 each postpaid after that—sorry, but it now costs almost $14 US to send one CDR overseas….you save A LOT by buying more than one—in fact, the price on an order of two or more HAS GONE DOWN!

1 album= $18, 2 albums= $20, 3 albums= $28, etc. Thanks for your understanding of this. The Post Office now charges $14.50 to mail ONE cdr without a jewel box to Europe or Asia!

Payment is via paypal, using the e-mail address   django5722(at)yahoo(dot)com   . It might be helpful for you to also shoot me an e-mail telling me you’ve sent funds and what items you want…or if you prefer, tell me what books/cdr’s you want, and I’ll send you a paypal invoice.

FOREIGN KSE FRIENDS: we have a lot of great albums to use for your second album, costing only 2 dollars more (!!!) than one album, due to the exorbitant foreign postage rates, which are pretty much the same for one or for four or five cd’s. Take advantage of that and get John Bell’s previous album with ALFRED 23 HARTH “Camellia”, our new album of compositions for percussion from San Antonio’s DANE ROUSAY, the latest album by Ernesto Diaz-Infante “Manitas,” Alfred 23 Harth’s BERLIN ENSEMBLES, etc. See below:



KSE #375, MASSIMO MAGEE & JAMES L. MALONE, “The Limits of the Possible”

KSE #373, DANE ROUSAY, “Anatomize” 

KSE #372, ERNESTO DIAZ-INFANTE, “Manitas” solo classical guitar


KSE #362, FOSSILS & BILL SHUTE, “Florida Nocturne Revisited”….new interpretations of Shute’s Florida Nocturne Poems


KSE #355 (CDR), MORE EAZE, “wOrk”



KSE #359 (CDR), TOM CREAN & MATT ROBIDOUX, “Blank Space”–cover art by Jennifer Baron

KSE #336 (CDR), ALFRED 23 HARTH, “Kepler 452b Edition”

KSE #351 (CDR), MASSIMO MAGEE, “Music In 3 Spaces”

KSE #350 (CDR) ANTHONY GUERRA / BILL SHUTE, “Subtraction” KSE  reissue of album originally released in 2011 on Black Petal Records, Australia 

KSE #335 (CDR album), REVEREND RAYMOND BRANCH, “Rainbow Gospel Hour…On The Air!”—a wonderful hour-long AM-radio broadcast, mastered from cassette, capturing the warmth and joy of Rev. Branch in both music (lots of it) and spoken message

KSE #333 (CDR album), ERNESTO DIAZ-INFANTE, “Tunnels” solo 12-string acoustic mantra guitar

KSE #318, ALFRED 23 HARTH & JOHN BELL, “Camellia”

Thanks for your support as we are in our 12th year of operation, dedicated to forward-thinking music and poetry. Our next summer release will be the album from Samuel Dunscombe and Tim Olive, in early-to-mid August….although you can order an advance copy NOW for immediate delivery. See you then….

July 29, 2017

The Mysterious Airman (1928 serial, Sprocket Vault DVD)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 3:53 pm


From the mid-1910’s through the mid-1950’s, the multi-chapter movie serial entertained millions weekly here in North America. During the VHS era, one could amass a good collection of sound-era serials….Republic Pictures Home Video issued high-quality copies of Republic’s serial library, various public domain companies issued the serials of Nat Levine’s Mascot Pictures, and grey-market “collector” copying services offered the serials of Universal and Columbia. While Olive Films has been releasing some of Republic’s serials, and of course the ever-reliable Grapevine Video has never stopped putting out good quality versions of various public domain serials, both silent and sound, here in the DVD/Blu-Ray era, the go-to source for quality restoration and release of serials, including many super-rare silent serials, has been The Serial Squadron, which you can visit at

However, it’s always an event when a lost serial surfaces, and for me it’s even more of an event when it is a silent serial. Serials were huge in the late 1910’s and throughout the 1920’s, and in the genre’s early years, many of its biggest action stars were women, starting with the Queen of the Serials, Pearl White. In this case, the lost serial is the 1928 THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMAN, surfacing in a beautiful print presented by The Sprocket Vault, the new organization run by film archivist and vintage film authority Kit Parker, who for many years released his product through VCI.

THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMAN is a 1928 (meaning late-silent) serial, produced by the Weiss Brothers, best-known to serial lovers for the amazing trifecta of CUSTER’S LAST STAND, THE CLUTCHING HAND (certainly in my top 5 most entertaining serials of all time), and the BLACK COIN in 1936. They also produced the serials for Columbia during that studio’s first year of serial production, 1937 and 1938 (and Grapevine recently released their Columbia serial JUNGLE MENACE, which is highly recommended).

THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMAN is a wonderful find on many levels. First of all, I have never before seen a silent serial produced by the Weiss Brothers. Many of their two-reel silent comedy shorts survive, and the ones with Snub Pollard are must-see comedy. This serial is quite well-done, and while their sound serials often have an “old-fashioned” quality to them, it’s because they were hearkening back to THIS period of film-making–it’s great to see a prime piece of exciting serial product from the time that they were later echoing!

mysterious airman

The plot is one which will be familiar to serial fans from such later releases as Mascot’s THE WHISPERING SHADOW (with Bela Lugosi) or THE SHADOW OF THE EAGLE (with John Wayne) or THE MYSTERY SQUADRON (with Bob Steele)—-a company/inventor is under attack by sinister forces to steal its intellectual property/business, and there are both cut-throat competitors out to shut them down AND a diabolical evil overlord who wears a mask (or is obscured in shadows) and is secretly one of the persons involved with the business. The various characters, except for the hero and heroine, are all at one time or another presented as red herrings to create mystery and suspense, and the many attempts to kill the good guys and gals and/or to derail the company and/or to steal the invention create fine opportunities for cliffhanger endings, which are resolved at the beginning of the next chapter with some piece of information or some camera angle not included at the end of the previous chapter.

Those who enjoy such action-filled serial entertainment will want to get a copy of THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMAN as soon as possible. It is a ten-chapter serial, in excellent condition, and all that is missing is one reel (about half) of chapter nine, and because of the nature of the serial format, some stills and an explanation of what happens during that half-of-a-chapter is quite adequate to fill the gap. The piano score by Andrew Earle Simpson is suitably 1920’s sounding while also laying back and never getting in the way, yet at the same time pulling the viewer along and suggesting moods….it DOES NOT telegraph emotions or plot movement the way some soundtracks do. We are also treated to a commentary track by film historian Richard Roberts, who did a fine job  with his commentaries on Kit Parker’s releases of the Lippert/Hammer UK crime films with imported American stars, released in a number of volumes under the HAMMER NOIR label. Roberts provides a history of the Weiss Family’s rich history in genre films, talks about all the cast and crew, talks about the filming and locations, provides context for the film, and also is knowledgeable about planes and aviation, which adds a lot to our appreciation of the film and the excitement of flying (then, still a novelty) to audiences of the 1920’s (remember, this film was issued the year after Charles Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic flight).

mysterious airman 2

I have a job where I take home a lot of work each night, and many evenings I do not have time for a feature film….and I can’t stand today’s television. A serial episode or two is EXACTLY what I need to wind down after a long day, providing escapist thrills and exciting situations, much like pulp magazine stories or adventure comics or adventure radio programs, the other and similar popular entertainment offerings of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Film being a visual medium, the silent serials are in some ways even more entertaining than sound serials—-they certainly can’t be accused of being overly talky! I’ve watched probably a dozen silent serials thanks to Grapevine and The Serial Squadron, and THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMAN is an excellent quality entry for today’s serial fan. Again, the print is excellent, often tinted, and is so sharp it looks like it was shot yesterday. The actors—-led by serial stalwart Walter Miller, star of King of the Kongo and some early sound serials, who later graduated into character roles, often villains, using the gravitas he’d earned during his leading-man days in serials and action films—-and actresses all fill the hero and villain and grey-area roles quite well, there is a lot of flying footage (though, as the commentary points out, no real “air battles” or crashes, but do you really expect them in a low-budget film), it’s well-paced, and the location shooting (and most of this is shot at existing locations) of 1920’s Southern California is fascinating and beautiful. Just as in the low-budget comedy shorts of the 1920’s, you see priceless footage of a Southern California long gone, the Southern California that attracted millions of migrants and showbiz hopefuls.

If you are a fan of classic action serials, or low-budget independent genre films of the 20’s and 30’s (and if you are not a fan, it’s never too late to become one!), THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMAN is a wonderful find….and an all-around quality presentation. Hats off to the Sprocket Vault for this release, which I’ve already viewed three times and have treated various family members and visiting friends to chapters of. Check out the Sprocket Vault website at and your order will be promptly fulfilled by Amazon. BTW, I highly recommend their HAMMER NOIR series (mentioned above) and their many FORGOTTEN NOIR releases, with little-known low-budget crime gems from the Lippert Pictures library, films I grew up watching on UHF channels 27 and 38 with snowy reception on a 12″ B&W television. Also, fans of the Weiss family’s films should check out Kit Parker/VCI’s releases (available through the Sprocket Vault) of silent comedy shorts on WEISS-O-RAMA, of the 1949-50 CRAIG KENNEDY: CRIMINOLOGIST television series, based on the stories of Arthur B. Reeve, who wrote THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMAN, and whose Craig Kennedy character was featured by the Weisses in their amazing 1936 serial THE CLUTCHING HAND, and also the jaw-dropping patchwork 1945 release WHITE GORILLA. Make a point to order all of those next payday!

The renewed interest in serials in the last few years is long-overdue. Trust me, THE MYSTERIOUS AIRMAN is a true find and well-worth the time and money of anyone who admires the spunk and creativity of the folks who make low-budget action films, then or now. Also, you’ll learn pretty much everything you could ever need to know about the Weiss family’s many decades in film. Highly recommended!

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