Introducing, the Barney Kessel Collection

Image of Barney Kessel (Wikimedia Commons)

One year ago, LaBudde Special Collections (LSC) and the Marr Sound Archives (MSA) made a valuable and historic addition to our collections through the remarkable generosity of Phyllis Kessel, widow of legendary guitar player Barney Kessel. Mrs. Kessel donated her late husband’s collection of nearly 400 audio/video items and hundreds of print documents. It turns out that one of hardest-working musicians to ever pick up a guitar was also a meticulous archivist. As a result, the Barney Kessel collection is a goldmine for music historians and fans alike. Through the efforts of LSC Graduate Student Assistant Anthony LaBat, MSA Public History Intern Taylor Bye, and the rest of the LaBudde and Marr team, we have finished processing the collection. This is the first of a series of posts taking a look at the breathtaking scope of Kessel’s career and offering a tiny taste of what the collection holds.

According to an official biography, “Barney Kessel was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma on October 17, 1923. He started playing guitar at the age of 12 and within a couple of years was playing in a local jazz orchestra. While he was still a teenager, Kessel met guitar legend Charlie Christian by chance in an Oklahoma City nightclub. Impressed by the youngster’s talent, Christian offered to pass his name on to renowned bandleader Benny Goodman. Christian’s guitar playing was a great influence on Kessel’s playing, which was essentially a further refinement of the older guitarist’s style. Kessel worked hard on his technique to create his own exciting, “straight-ahead” bebop jazz guitar, with no blues licks. Although he soon became well known locally as a talented guitarist, Kessel realized that there wasn’t a career for a jazz musician in Muskogee, and he moved to Los Angeles in 1942. Life wasn’t easy there and, at first, he had to make a living out of washing dishes at a restaurant, but he managed to get a break with the Chico Marx (of Marx Brothers fame) Orchestra in 1943, and this led to radio and studio work. A year later he appeared as the only white musician in an award-winning documentary film, Jammin’ The Blues. Word of Kessel’s abilities soon spread and during the remainder of the decade he also played with the bands of Artie Shaw, Charlie Barnet, and eventually Benny Goodman himself.”

By the 1960s, Kessel’s reputation was growing. In 1965, he made his first live record at P.J.’s Nightclub on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, just a few blocks over from the Sunset Strip. 1965 was right as the Sunset Strip was entering its heyday as an epicenter of American Rock & Roll.

Album Cover for On Fire (courtesy of Discogs)

Despite the burgeoning rock scene, clubs like PJ’s still catered to jazz audiences. PJ’s later became the Starwood Rock Club, before closing for good in 1981. Below are excerpts from a test pressing of his 1965 live show, which he released as the album “On Fire” on his own label (Emerald Records.)             

Another singular item in the collection is what we believe to be an unreleased recording made for Reprise Records (part of Warner Brothers) in either the early or mid-1960s. The recording features Kessel playing alongside tenor sax whiz Zoot Sims. With Kessel and Sims were Monk Montgomery, Johnny Gray, and John Piscatelli on bass, 2nd guitar, and drums, respectively. According to a 1992 letter, Warner Brothers never released the album, though Kessel wanted them to release it as a CD. For copyright reasons, we can’t upload any of the material from that session. However, it is just one example of the unique items in the Kessel collection that researchers can use to uncover new stories about the history of American music.

Sources:

Barney Kessel Collection, MS295, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-04-27/entertainment/ca-675_1_sunset-strip

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starwood_(nightclub)

http://martinostimemachine.blogspot.com/2016/12/pjs-night-club-las-first-discotheque.html

Content sharing in the ’30s

It’s probably 16 inches wide, and you hold it carefully by the edges. It could be made of glass or aluminum, coated with black cellulose nitrate. If you’re lucky the coating hasn’t started flaking off yet. Alternatively it might be made of vinyl, like an LP, but bigger. It plays at 33 1/3 RPM, holds 15 minutes of recorded sound, and was a key tool in the development of syndicated radio programming in the United States. We’re talking about transcription discs.

lacquer_metal

Picture 1 of 4

A cellulose nitrate over aluminum transcription disc. Note where the coating has flaked off. When that happens, that part of the recording is lost.

In the 1920s, radio stations needed a way to replicate and share programming consistently. They weren’t allowed to play commercially released records on-air because musician’s unions believed that hurt record sales. So radio content had to come from somewhere else. Live broadcast was inconsistent, time consuming, and expensive. Not every radio station could afford to have its own in-house musical groups, but all stations wanted to attract more listeners. At this time the first radio networks were beginning to form. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was created in 1926, and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) was formed in 1927. As these networks made more programming and acquired more satellite stations, they needed a way to distribute programming. Larger radio stations were creating programming of their own that they wanted to share with the networks. In short, there was a huge market for pre-recorded radio programming, but distribution of content was still a major hurdle. Transcription discs were the solution.

By the 1930s, transcription disc recorders had become ubiquitous at larger radio stations. Program producers were able to pre-record a program, make copies, and distribute it to other radio stations for future broadcast. This meant that stations in networks could all get the same programs. Individual stations could also add out-of-network programming to their repertoire by purchasing them from distributors. A station could also record its own unique local program using transcription discs, and then re-use it later. As a result, small stations could avoid the expense of live programs. Bigger stations and networks could get their shows to a wider audience. This meant listeners in Boston, Kansas City, and San Francisco could hear the same program at the same time. The ability share programming is a big reason why radio contributed to the growth of popular culture across America. To paraphrase Marr Sound Archives director Chuck Haddix, “radio was like the internet” because it brought people closer through information sharing. Everybody got to hear the same radio programs and news broadcasts, giving people similar cultural and political knowledge. We take this for granted today. Imagine for a moment a conversation with someone from two or three states away. They hadn’t heard Adele’s latest song or weren’t able to listen to that Ted Talk that enthralled you. Of course the opposite would be true as well. Its 75 degrees here in Kansas City. What snow storm in Ohio? That political protest in Washington that they went to? You had no idea until weeks later. Certainly newspapers allowed content-sharing, but radio was a huge leap forward, and it’s largely thanks to the humble transcription disc. One of the big 1930s radio stations that made a lot of transcription discs was KMBC here in Kansas City. Many of these discs are now held in the Marr Sound Archives.

KMBC joined CBS in 1928 as the 16th affiliated station. In 1930 station moved to the eleventh floor of the Pickwick Hotel. Under the direction of Arthur B. Church, KMBC became a model for other stations. Church and KMBC produced a wide variety of syndicated shows which were recorded on transcription discs and then distributed. One of these programs was the Texas Rangers. Another example from the KMBC collection that highlights the importance of transcription discs is a recording of one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats.” The recording can be heard below. It was made by CBS at the White House on May 2, 1943. It was then presumably broadcast by all CBS network stations, including KMBC. FDR could not have reached the entire country without transcription disc technology.

Sources

Museum of Broadcast Communications. Encyclopedia of Radio. Edited by Christopher Sterling. Vol. 3. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004.

 

Beyond Respect: Aretha Franklin records in the Marr Sound Archives

Aretha Franklin at the Kauffman center in May, 2012. (courtesy of Media Mikes)

We all know Aretha Franklin. She is (for now) the most successful American female solo artist in history. She’s the Queen of Soul who recorded the song that became an anthem for women everywhere. In 2010 Rolling Stone ranked her as the #1 singer of all time, saying “when it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing.” On February 9, 2017, Rolling Stone also announced that Franklin is retiring from public performing following the release of her next album. With that in mind, we at the Marr Sound Archive want to give you a taste of some of her work that is in our collection. Some of this you may know, some not. We’ll start with the song everyone knows (or should know), and work backwards to her earliest record.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the recording and release of “Respect,” recorded at Atlantic Records Studio in New York City on February 14, 1967. The song was the lead track on the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (released March 10, 1967, Atlantic 8139) and was later released as a single (April 29, 1967, Atlantic 45-2403). We have both the albums and the historic single. “Respect” was produced by Jerry Wexler. Wexler worked with Franklin from 1966-1975. He also has connections to the Kansas-Missouri area. In the 1930s, Wexler attended Kansas State University. Outside of school he received his introduction to Jazz and Blues music by visiting bars and music clubs along Twelfth Street in Kansas City.

Prior to working with Wexler at Atlantic Records, Aretha was with Columbia Records. Her first secular album was Aretha: with the Ray Bryant Combo, (Columbia CL1612) released by Columbia in 1961. In addition to vocals, she played piano on four tracks: “Won’t be Long” “Who Needs You?,” “Are You Sure” and “Maybe I’m a Fool”. At 18 she was still a somewhat raw talent. Below are short clips transcribed from our copy of the album. Listen closely to “Maybe I’m a Fool” and you can hear her voice break just a little.

Ray Bryant and Aretha were both signed to Columbia Records by producer John Hammond in 1959. Like Wexler, Hammond had some connections to Kansas City, having signed Count Basie to Columbia in 1936. 1959 was a big year for Hammond. That year he signed Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, all of whom were under the age of twenty.

Aretha at about 14 years old when she was first recorded by Joe Von Battle. (courtesy www.bless-this-soul.com)

Aretha Franklin got her start singing at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her father, Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, was minister there from 1946 until 1979. C.L Franklin became a central figure in the black community. According to Mark Bego, the Franklin home “played host to a virtual who’s who of popular black music.” Young Aretha was part of the church choir. Her father recognized her talent, and at 14 he began taking her to other churches to perform with gospel groups. As Reverend Franklin’s own legend grew, he organized a “traveling revival show.” As a teenager, Aretha spent several summers traveling with the road show’s choir. At the same time, Joe Von Battles was recording LPs of Reverend Franklin’s sermons. Battles was a Detroit record shop owner, and founder of JVB Records (later changed to Battle Records). In 1956, Battles recorded 14-year old Aretha Franklin at New Bethel Baptist Church. The Marr Sound Archives does not have any copies of Battle’s original album. In fact, original JVB/Battle pressings are quite probably the rarest of all Aretha records. Fortunately, the songs Battle recorded have been re-issued a number of times by Chess, Checker, Geffen, and other record labels. In our collection is a 1982 issue by Checker Records (Checker LP CH8500), for which music critic Peter Guralnick wrote the album notes. Of Franklin’s performance, Guralnick wrote “everything that Aretha would one day become, the same soulful struts that she would put into “I Never Loved a Man, “Respect,” even funky old “Dr. Feelgood,” are all here in the plain, unvarnished, but far-from-simple truth of hymns.” We are not professional music critics, but having listened to this album we think it is pretty extraordinary. The lead track on that album can be heard below.

The preceding barely scratches the surface of Aretha Franklin’s extraordinary life and career. She was a true prodigy, a gifted singer surrounded my other successful black musicians. She was seemingly destined for stardom from an early age. However her personal life was marked by a series of devastating emotional experiences. In his biography, Bego concludes that both of these factors shaped her music. Hopefully hearing her sing at various stages in her life gives readers a greater appreciation for the treasure she truly is.

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Sources:

Aretha Gospel. Recorded September 10, 1991. Geffen, 1991, Streaming Audio. Accessed February 20, 2017.

Bego, Mark. Aretha Franklin : The Queen of Soul. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012.

Marr Sound Archives contains well over 100 entries for Aretha Franklin in our Library Catalog. Among these are many of her classic LPs and singles, including the ones mentioned in this post. We hope you’ll come listen to some of them soon!

Correction: Previously this post had a full version of the 1956 album. Since only UMKC network users could stream it, we’ve replaced it with a youtube link. The whole album can be heard at the Marr Sound Archives.

Tales from the Archives: Disc(h)ord on the Ranch

In October 2012, the Marr Sound Archives completed an 18-month National Endowment for the Humanities grant to catalog and preserve the nearly 3,000 broadcast recordings in the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection. Please enjoy this series of anecdotes recounting the unusual discoveries and amusing happenings in the course of working with this collection.

This is the fourth in a series of Tales from the Archives.

Disc(h)ord on the Ranch

The KMBC Texas Rangers

The KMBC Texas Rangers “Gentlemen in the White Hats.” Credit: Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, Marr Sound Archives, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

It seemed like everyone on the project team had discovered some new interest when working with the collection. One student became so engrossed in the developing drama on the show Vic and Sade, she hoarded all the discs to herself. For me, it was the Western swing group, The KMBC Texas Rangers. The unedited cuts of this musical octet perfectly demonstrate the unique chemistry the group had. It was hard not to be captivated by them, with names like: Clarence “Idaho” Hartman (bass fiddle), Gomer “Tenderfoot” Cool (fiddle), Joe “Monty” Strand (accordion), Herbie “Arizona” Kratoska (guitar and banjo), Fran “Irish” Mahaney (tenor), Rod “Dave” May (tenor), Robert “Captain Bob” Crawford (baritone), and Edward “Tucson” or “Tookie” Cronenbold (bass).

Garbed in Western wear, topped with classic white hats, their versatile musical repertoire included hymns, cowboy songs, novelty, and western swing. When I guest lectured for the Conservatory (UMKC), I ended with the Texas Rangers’ rendition of “Hand me down my walking cane” which inevitably got stuck in everyone’s head. It’s entertaining and hopefully served as a distraction from the terrible guest lecture they just sat through.

Tex Owens

Image above: Tex Owens, the original Texas Ranger? Image courtesy of Orlene “Kit” Johnson and Irene “Kay” Dierks.

As we soon discovered, the Texas Rangers weren’t without their own drama. In their early radio programs, they were often fronted by special guest, Tex Owens. Owens, who played guitar and sang with the group on occasion, was never officially a member, but somehow left his mark in history as “The Original Texas Ranger.” There seemed to be a great deal of tension between Tex and the boys which reached its climax when Texas Governor, James V. Allred, commissioned the musical group The Texas Rangers, along with Tex Owens, as honorary members of the state’s famed law enforcement group. The honor bestowed upon the Rangers prompted them to compose an interoffice memo expressing their disappointment that Tex would be honored alongside them considering he had not been a member. The memo also included some disagreements between the group and Tex. You can read more about this controversy, see the original memo, and learn of the outcome from a blog post written by one of the project students: Tex Owens: A Case of Mistaken Identity?

Find out more about the Church-KMBC collection.

Tales from the Archives: Happy Hollow is a Real Place

In October 2012, the Marr Sound Archives completed an 18-month National Endowment for the Humanities grant to catalog and preserve the nearly 3,000 broadcast recordings in the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection. Please enjoy this series of anecdotes recounting the unusual discoveries and amusing happenings in the course of working with this collection.

This is the third in a series of Tales from the Archives.

Happy Hollow is a Real Place

Happy Hollow cast

Happy Hollow cast and others, including Brookings Montgomery, outside entrance to Pickwick Hotel at the start of troupe’s European and African tour. Credit: Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

Rural programming was pretty common in the 1930s and ‘40s, and KMBC had its own in the town of Happy Hollow which gave listeners a peek into the daily lives of Aunt Lucindy, Uncle Ezra, Harry Checkervest, George Washington White (their own blackface character), and other town folk, along with musical interludes by the Humdinger Quartet.The program’s creator, Ted Malone, would have a long and successful career in radio broadcasting, mostly known for his storytelling and poetry reading, and as we later discovered by going through his fan mail,  he was very popular with the housewives…in an uncomfortable way.

Listeners engrossed in the goings-on of Happy Hollow could find out more by subscribing to the newsletter Happy Hollow Bugle. We came upon the newsletter when I sent my most enthusiastic student upstairs to Special Collections to see if he could find out more about the program, specifically, what radio actors were cast in the various roles. My instructions were simple: Look over the finding aid and pull whatever seems like it might contain some information about the show. I figured this wouldn’t take long since there didn’t appear to be much in the Church-KMBC Collection finding aid. About ten minutes in, I received a phone call from my very excited student telling me that one of the Special Collections staff pulled a newsletter called Happy Hollow Bugle from the Ted Malone Collection, and that there was all kinds of helpful information in it. Relieved that he had found something useful, I instructed him to gather up the relevant data for identifying the characters in the show.

Over an hour passed by, and just as I was beginning to wonder what was going on, he walked in. I saw him from a distance, all wide-eyed, headed straight toward me clutching a pencil and papers in his left hand, and I thought, “This is it. He’s going to tell me how he hit the jackpot of details on this show, and I might even be able to establish some names in the authority file.” He had spent an hour and a half in the archives, after all. But instead, he approached and exclaimed, “Happy Hollow is a real place!” As I was laughing (hard), he proceeded to tell me about the legal troubles that Uncle Ezra had found himself in, how some of the townsfolk had traveled to Africa, and other documented occurrences that had convinced him of its realness.

Tried and tried as I might to crush his new-found beliefs so suddenly (e.g., “So there’s just a guy in town who likes to walk around in blackface?”), he remained convinced and I remained amused. The good news: we were able to identify some of the actors. In fairness to my student, the cast of Happy Hollow and other KMBC stars did tour Europe and Africa. Kudos to KMBC for blending fiction and reality in their marketing so effortlessly. They had at least one person convinced 80 years later!

Find out more about the Church-KMBC collection.

Tales from the Archives: The Stampers Under the Stairs

In October 2012, the Marr Sound Archives completed an 18-month National Endowment for the Humanities grant to catalog and preserve the nearly 3,000 broadcast recordings in the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection. Please enjoy this series of anecdotes recounting the unusual discoveries and amusing happenings in the course of working with this collection.

This is the second in a series of Tales from the Archives.

The Stampers Under the Stairs (Not Surprisingly, Full of Spiders)

Disc stampers in crates

Stampers in original crates. Spiders, too. Credit: Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, Marr Sound Archives, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Shortly after I had hired the project students, I received that news that we all dread hearing. It goes something like, “Oh, by the way, we found a bunch more stuff that belongs to that collection you’re cataloging for that grant.” Ours was more like: “Oh, by the way, we found a bunch of metal stampers at the bottom of a stairwell. I think there’s about 1,000 of them, and they all belong to the KMBC collection.” Actually, it was exactly like that (and there were 1,400 of them). But since I’m always up for a challenge, I came up with a workflow, drew up some guidelines, and unleashed one of my deadliest students. She was a quick-witted graduate Public History major armed with a vast knowledge of home health remedies, construction cleanup experience, and a nice Southern accent with a “no bull” attitude who drank her French press coffee black. She was perfect for the job.

I often walked into the dusty space she was working in to check on her. I felt bad for subjecting her to all the dust and forcing her to handle the heavy stampers, but she didn’t complain much about it. She had accepted the job and planned on doing it right. As it turns out though, some complaint was warranted. About two weeks in, I received a call from the head of the sound archive informing me that they had sent the student back upstairs and she was forbidden to re-enter the space until it had been bug bombed. I was confused. What had happened? Apparently, when asked how things were going, the student casually mentioned the brown recluses crawling out of the crates. That generated an appropriate response of alarm and concern for the safety and health of the student and the archives staff. Her response: “I was just killin’ ‘em with two by fours. I had planned to keep killin’ ‘em.” Like I said. Deadly.

Find out more about the Church-KMBC collection.

Tales from the Archives: The untimely death of KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

In October 2012, the Marr Sound Archives completed an 18-month National Endowment for the Humanities grant to catalog and preserve the nearly 3,000 broadcast recordings in the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection. I served as the project cataloger, managed three students, and coordinated with sound archives staff on the preservation and digital reformatting of the recordings. When asked to write a special feature article for the Music Library Association Newsletter, an informal publication of MLA, I pondered what I should focus on. First, I thought it might be sensible to highlight some unique items in the collection or maybe talk a little about the project, but then I realized that I don’t normally make any sense, and when I do, it puts everyone to sleep. Instead, I decided to focus on a series of anecdotes recounting the unusual discoveries and amusing happenings in the course of working with this collection.

This is the first in a series of Tales from the Archives.

The untimely death of KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

Clipping of report on Heyser's murder

Clipping of report on Heyser’s murder. In other important news, the local stamp club is meeting!

Just over two years ago, I found myself driving by the Pickwick Hotel at 10th and McGee Streets in downtown Kansas City. I wish I could say that I did this to satiate some intellectual curiosity to see the building in which former president Harry S. Truman wrote his autobiographical Pickwick Papers; or that I did it to fulfill a romantic notion that I should see that place which once housed the penthouse headquarters of radio station KMBC, the station whose collection I had been cataloging for the past several months. It was for neither of those reasons I ventured out on that inconspicuous evening.

The truth is hard to admit. In the midst of working with the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, I had run across KMBC program producer and sometimes announcer, Fran Heyser, and as any good cataloger is wont to do, I set about establishing his name in the LC/NACO Name Authority File (basically, a huge registry of names). When I discovered in horror that he had been beaten to death with a metal table lamp at the Pickwick, I had the irresistible urge to investigate. I recently learned that this abandoned hotel is slated for redevelopment as apartments for “young urbanites.” Imagine them moving in with their reclaimed wood coffee tables and vegan faux leather couches (Hey, wait. I have these things…), having no idea their new apartment could be haunted by the ghost of Fran Heyser. I would totally watch that episode of Paranormal Witness on SyFy.

KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

What didn’t occur to me when writing this short anecdote was that the living relatives of Fran might see the article and contact me. All praise the glory of the Interwebs! [which also terrifies me] So when I received an email from the niece of Fran Heyser who had been directed to my article by her cousin, I have to admit to being a bit nervous to open the email. After all, I had told the story of her uncle’s murder in such a casual and darkly humorous way (debate on whether any of the three readers found it humorous). But much to my relief, she had contacted me to inquire about additional information concerning her uncle, who she had only known through the stories that her grandmother and mother had shared. When I sent her a digital copy of his autographed photograph (shown here) and links to every audio recording that we had involving her uncle in some way, she expressed gratitude and even excitement, as she immediately recognized her uncle in the photograph. It was a relief that in my rare act of public service (it’s best that I’m kept behind heavy wooden doors) and in our Archives’ effort to preserve and provide access to the unique and valuable materials we hold, we had managed to provide family members a renewed interest and connection to the artifacts documenting the activities of a relative whose death was truly tragic.

Find out more about the Church-KMBC collection.

Contributed by Sandy Rodriguez, Special Collections Metadata Librarian

Innovations on the B-side: The Tim Gillesse Collection of Caribbean Music, Part 2

Tim Gillesse

Tim Gillesse

Tim Gillesse, a long-time resident of Lawrence, Kansas and avid reggae enthusiast, made his first of many trips to Jamaica in the early 1970s. During these trips he scoured small record shops and sound studios in Kingston in search of rare reggae 45s and LPs. Upon Mr. Gillesse’s passing in April of 2013, his estate donated nearly 1000 of these recordings to the Marr Sound Archives. Dating from the early 70’s to the late 90’s, the Gillesse Collection of Caribbean Music showcases some rare and exciting moments in the history of the reggae sub-genre known as dub.
The Gillesse collection of 45s varies in origin from famed labels like Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle to lesser known, hand-printed labels like African Museum and Zippy, and features the work of many of the most important and innovative figures in the history of “dub”. The collection of reggae and “dub” records provides an invaluable sonic snapshot of an influential and often overlooked development in the history of not just Caribbean music, but popular music in general.

For a quintessential example of Dub style, compare the Lee Perry produced B-side, “Dub of Parliament” to the Meditations’ original A-side “House of Parliament.” Dub of Parliament

First, listen to the original: [audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/03-House-of-Parliament.mp3]

Now compare this to the Lee Perry “Dub” version: [audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/04-Dub-of-Parliament.mp3]

Perry recorded these tracks at his Black Ark Studios, which was well-known as a site of eccentric and experimental techniques, like covering the drum studio in chicken wire, recording and sampling shattering glass, and burying microphones under palm trees.

One of my personal favorites from the collection is Joe Gibbs and Errol T.’s reworking of Ranking Joe’s “Drunken Master” titled “Silver Fox.” Drunken Master

The Original: [audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Drunken-Master.mp3|titles=Drunken Master|artists=Ranking Joe and Errol T.]

Joe Gibb and Errol T’s Dub Version: [audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Silver-Fox.mp3]

The original song begins with 30 seconds of belligerent, drunken rambling, which in the B-side dub version is spliced up and masterfully reworked into the rhythm track.

Perhaps the most well-known and influential artist in dub was Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock. King Tubby is generally credited as the inventor of the “remix” and the man who turned sound engineering into a true art form. Tubby's at the ControlOne of the many “Versions” titled “Tubby’s at the Control,” this track produced for the Pantomine label, features signature King Tubby style, reducing the rhythm to a basic drum and bass pattern while splicing in stabs of melodic instrumentation.

Tubby’s At the Control: [audio:http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/09-Tubbys-at-the-Control.mp3]

 

King Tubby, before his murder in 1989, began focusing most of his energy on managing his Jammy Versionnewly built studios and developing his musical protégés, among whom were included “Scientist” and “Prince Jammy” (or depending on the stage of his career “King Jammy”). Prince Jammy is largely credited with ushering in the “dancehall” generation of dub and was an early innovator of using digital and electronic effects. This 1986 “Version” of King Kong’s “Trouble Again” is typical of dub’s turn towards the “ragga” dancehall sound.

[audio: http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Trouble_Again-Version.mp3|titles=Trouble Again (Version)|artists=Prince Jammy]

Other highlights include dub recordings from such famed labeled as the Hoo-Kim Brothers’ Channel One, Errol T. Records, Ja Man, Impact!, Techniques, Treasure Isle , Bob Marley’s 56 Hope Road studio, famed vocalist Gregory Isaac’s African Museum label, Selector Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes’ Volcano label (named after his renowned Volcano Sound System), and Sly and Robbie’s label, Taxi Records. It also includes tracks from legendary producers like Coxsone Dodd, Bunny Lee, Augustus Pablo, and many, many more.

With the donation of these records to the Marr Sound Archive, the estate of Tim Gillesse has preserved an important piece of music history and created a valuable resource for scholars, reggae enthusiasts and music lovers in general. While the names of producers like Scientist or King Tubby may not be as recognizable as Tosh or Marley, nevertheless, the influence of their “dub” studio innovations can be seen everywhere in popular music today. These early “dub” records have influenced everything from reggaeton and dancehall to British punk, post-punk and new wave, to the last 30 years of hip-hop, to the entire concept of a remix.

Innovations on the B-side: The Tim Gillesse Collection of Caribbean Music, Part 1

A Typical Jamaican Sound System

A typical Jamaican Sound System

These days we are all familiar with the concept of a “remix”. Listen to any pop radio station for more than 30 minutes and you’re likely to hear one. An increased tempo turns a slow country ballad into a dance club hit. A Jay-Z verse turns an R&B song into a radio-friendly single. R. Kelly even turns the last 30 seconds of his “Ignition” into a preview of its own remix.  But according to many music scholars, the roots of the “remix” can be traced back to the innovators and artists in the Jamaican music scene of the late 1960s. The newly established Tim Gillesse Collection of Caribbean Music at the Marr Sound Archive showcases some of the earliest instances of these recording innovations, which eventually led to the development of the reggae sub-genre known as “dub” and the ever-growing remix culture in popular music today.

In his exhaustive study titled Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae, Michael E. Veal explains that in order to trace the development of dub, one must understand the broader context of the Kingston music scene, specifically the importance of “sound system” culture. In economically depressed Kingston, Jamaica, few people could actually afford to purchase recordings, so music was experienced mostly in communal settings around mobile entertainment centers known as “sound systems.” In order to attract larger audiences and stand out from their competitors, the sound system DJs (known as “selectors”) were driven to consistently supply new and unique songs. To fulfill this need, sound system operators and studio engineers began to push the local recording studios to produce new material at a torrid pace.

lee_scratch_perry_black_ark_in_dub

Lee “Scratch” Perry in his famed Black Ark Studio

As a result of the fierce competition and drive for new music, studio engineers began to experiment with new mixing techniques, dropping out vocals or looping certain sound patterns from already popular reggae songs in order to create new recordings for the eager sound system operators. The engineers then began to record these versions onto 10-inch acetate discs known as “dub plates,” which normally were used only for test pressings and sent to record manufacturing plants. However, now, instead of waiting to send these acetate recordings to a manufacturer for pressing, engineers began to simply supply these “dub plates” directly to the sound system operators, thereby cutting out turn-around time and blurring the lines between the musicians, engineers, and the “selectors”. These discs were generally expensive one-off recordings and could only be played a limited number of times before wearing out. Initially, the dub-plates contained song versions in which merely the vocals or instrumentals were absent or would drop out, but as the dancehall crowds responded enthusiastically to these new unique song sound system versions, recording engineers began to experiment with more complex mixing techniques. Initially this practice was called “versioning” but it eventually evolved in to what became known as dub.

As studio recording technology advanced,  engineers and producers in Jamaica began to experiment with their new-found creative freedoms. Through the use of mixing board sound effects like reverb, looping, equalization, filtering, tape splicing, tape speed manipulation and other forms of editing, the pioneers of “dub” such as Lee “Scratch” Perry and Errol Thompson transformed the mixing board from a mere tool of soundrecording into a creative site of musical composition and arrangement. By stripping familiar reggae songs down to their most minimal elements, and then building new sound textures through studio effects, dub producers created new, raw and mesmerizing pseudo-electronic music out of pre-recorded instrumentation and vocals.

See Me Yah Version

A 1975 B-side “Version” mixed by King Tubby

The popularity of these “versions” led many of the Kingston record labels to begin including these tracks as B-sides on their 7” singles. Thus, on over 30 of the records in the Gillesse Collection, the B-side’s label reads simply “Version.”

In Part 2 of this post, I will explore a few of my favorite individual tracks from the Gillesse Collection.

Works Referenced: Veal, Michael E. Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2007.

Free up your Friday night or set your TiVo

Do people even have TiVo anymore?…

The Marr Sound Archives is slated to be featured on this Friday’s broadcast of “Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook” on KCPT! In an episode entitled “Time Machines”, Mr. Feinstein will highlight ways in which technology has preserved sound recordings and made them accessible for generations (look for an appearance by Roobot, I’m betting). So have your popcorn popped and your beverages cold for a 9:00 starting time, lean back into the couch cushions, and enjoy!

If you just can’t wait, here’s a preview.

Watch Time Machines on PBS. See more from Michael Feinsteins American Songbook.

Stuart Hinds, Director of Special Collections, UMKC Libraries