In reference to Tim Baxter's question about the Mel-O-Dee rolls, these
were products of the Aeolian Corporation in New York City. The Mel-O-Dee
labels (brown ink on buff paper) first appeared around 1920. Prior to
that, most popular and light classical Aeolian rolls appeared on either
the Universal, Uni-Record, or Metro-Art labels. The instrumental (i.e.
not song rolls, no stenciled words) versions of these were numbered in
a 200,000 series.
Although in retrospect it's somewhat hard to understand, Aeolian issued
BOTH Themodist-Metrostyle encoded ("snakebite" expression) versions as
well as non-encoded versions of the same roll. Usually (but not always)
the Universal label rolls did not have snakebites, whereas the Metro-Arts
Rather than use separate numbering series, Aeolian followed a practice
where the Universal (non-expression) rolls were odd-numbered, and the
corresponding Metrostyle rolls were even numbered. An example is Frank
Banta's roll of "Razzberries," which exists on UN 203445 and MA 203444
in identical arrangements.
When royalty arrangements were finally settled upon to allow the
stenciling of lyrics on piano rolls (in the mid-1910's), Aeolian started
up a song roll series in a 4-digit numbering system. The lowest number
in this series which I've seen is 2005 (circa 1915). This is the series
which eventually became the Mel-O-Dee rolls with which we're most
familiar. The Mel-O-Dee numbers basically picked up where Universal
leaves off. The lowest Mel-O-Dee number which I've run across is 2948
(circa 1920), but there may well be lower ones.
The Universal "instrumental" 200,000 series rolls were also replaced by
Mel-O-Dee counterparts with sequential numbering around 1920. These
continued to be issued throughout the 1920s on rolls where lyrics were
not required (marches, light classical and the like).
Since Aeolian made the Duo-Art, it was easiest for them to only have to
deal with one master copy of a given roll title when possible. As a
result, one will find most Duo-Art popular song rolls to be note-for-note
equivalent to the Mel-O-Dee roll versions, with the obvious difference
being added expression coding. The American Piano Co. did the same thing
by coding its non-expression 88-note stock (Rythmodik rolls) as Ampico
rolls, without changing the musical arrangement.
Unfortunately, a large number of the not-so-popular hits-of-the-day never
made it to expression coding, and were only available as Mel-O-Dee song
rolls (Aeolian). Same thing with Ampico. However, the American Piano
Co. did away with its Rythmodik 88-note line of rolls around 1921, and
went fully with the reproducing Ampico roll line, whereas Aeolian always
maintained their 88-note products.
As a point of interest, Mel-O-Dee and Duo-Art arrangements of the same
popular song were NOT always the same arrangement, as is popularly
believed today. I know of at least one instance where completely
different arrangements were prepared of the same song for each label,
with the same artist credited on each! Undoubtedly other examples exist,
but one can ask why all the additional work of a new master was expended.
For a time during the mid-1920s, for whatever reason, Aeolian apparently
stopped issuing Mel-O-Dee label rolls, and started up once again with the
Universal label in a slightly modified design. The numbering of these
seems to overlap the previous Mel-O-Dee series. Aeolian elected to
assign pseudonyms as artist names on these rolls, possibly to infer a
differentiation from the more expensive Duo-Art equivalents played by
"real" artists. So, names like "Hal Katt" and "George Merton" amongst
others were invented, although the arrangements were in fact the same
Duo-Art masters worked up by artists such as Milne, Erlebach, Bloom,
Alpert, Gershwin and a host of others.
Again for unknown reasons Aeolian elected to drop this latter-generation
Universal label sometime circa 1925 or so, and once again re-instituted
the familiar old Mel-O-Dee label. And, they went back to giving proper
credit to the "real" artists on both Mel-O-Dee and Duo-Art equivalents.
So, it's possible to find, for example, Pauline Alpert or George Gershwin
arrangements properly credited on either expression Duo-Art or non-
expression Mel-O-Dee rolls throughout the 1920s. With the return of
the Mel-O-Dee label, a new numbering system was also adopted; a 5-digit
series starting somewhere around 47,000 or so.
Mel-O-Dee rolls continued to be issued (in ever increasing scarcity)
through the mid-1930s. Even after Aeolian and American Piano merged,
these rolls continued to be issued from time to time for the 88-note
consumer market. Examples of both Duo-Art and even later Ampico rolls
are known in 88-note Mel-O-Dee counterparts.
[ Thanks, Frank, for the excellent history. -- Robbie