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MMD > Archives > September 1998 > 1998.09.02 > 11Prev  Next

Repeated Tunes On Wurlitzer And B.A.B. Rolls
By Matthew Caulfield

B.A.B and Wurlitzer rolls all repeated some tunes, but for very
different reasons, based entirely on operational considerations in
each case.

Original B.A.B. rolls never repeated tunes, as far as I know, except
for one 66-key note issued late in the game, when because of apparent
production/arranging delays, the company met its timetable for roll
issuing by putting out one roll made up entirely of tunes previously
arranged for other earlier rolls.

But in the late 1950's Ozzie Wurdeman took over the B.A.B. roll
business and a large part of the roll masters.  He made up custom
rolls, numbering them consecutively without regard to key-size (roll
size), beginning with roll no. 300 and going up to the 500's.  A
customer could order any combination of tunes from the masters Ozzie
had access to (some masters remained with Senator Bovey in Virginia
City), for a premium price.  The surplus copies were then sold off to
others at reduced price.

The result of this practice was a terrible amount of repetition of
tunes and an even more terrible roll program, since the customer wasn't
knowledgeable enough about the music to choose tunes that went together

Wurlitzer, to its credit, never issued a custom roll to my knowledge
and tightly controlled the program of each roll.  Style 125 and 150
rolls had no repetition to speak of except in two cases: Wurlitzer
infrequently issued "special review rolls," containing tunes of a type
(waltzes, for example) selected from earlier rolls.

The other case of repetition occurred during the early period when the
company was simultaneously issuing 4-tune rolls for its original small
tracker frame and 10-tune rolls that could only be played on newer
organs equipped with the "long roll tracker frame."  To handle the
demand, the same tunes would be issued on one 10-tune roll as were on
two and a half 4-tuners.  Each size roll was issued in its own
numbering series, so there was no confusion.

When it comes to style 165 rolls, the reason for duplication is more
complicated and the duplication is unpredictable and confusing.  since
all organs playing the 165 roll were equipped with the long roll
tracker frame, there was no need for 4-tune rolls, though a few were
issued, numbered right along with the normal 10-tune rolls.

The typical style 165 roll contained 10 tunes, all currently enjoying
popularity.  One or two of the 10 might be an old standard waltz
or march from bygone days, however.  These rolls were not intended
to be stocked past the time of the tunes' popularity, nor were they:
Wurlitzer periodically advertised roll clearance sales.  The company
encouraged rapid roll turnover and the purchase of the latest hits.

Its style 165 rolls were numbered from 6501 up.  However about 1920,
the company realized the advantage of creating and permanently stocking
a library of rolls of lasting appeal.  So it culled the best of the
previously issued tunes from their stock of masters and issued them on
10-tune rolls numbered from 6501 to 6537, re-using old numbers for new

In 1920 their regular roll series numbering stood at about roll 6568;
so this re-use of obsolete roll numbers caused no problem for the
company -- only immense confusion for us later guys trying to figure
out by inference alone what was going on at Wurlitzer.  (This IS
inference, though very sound inference, based on considerable study.)

These "evergreen" rolls 6501 to 6537 were advertised in a special
permanent Wurlitzer roll catalog, whereas the more ephemeral
popular-tune rolls were advertised in Wurlitzer's "Monthly Roll
Bulletins."  It was still possible to buy them at the end of the
company's business in 1945.

So it is clear the Wurlitzer preserved the masters for these rolls
(they are part of the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum's collection
now), unlike the masters for the popular rolls, which were destroyed
or sold off at some point.  I have heard they were sold to C. W. Parker.

It is impossible to know how many of the tunes in the "evergreen"
6501-6537 series were repeats of earlier tunes and how many were
especially arranged for the series.  That will only be possible if and
when we find information on every style 165 roll from the first 6501 to
6568; right now there are too many gaps.

But almost every time a new discovery of an old roll is made, the roll
turns out to contain one or more of the tunes on the "evergreen" rolls.
For example, when Bill Black unearthed a copy of 6505 (the earliest
known style 165 roll, from 1914 or early 1915), it was found to contain
"Hands Across The Sea," "King Of The Air," and "Zaraida," three tunes
re-issued later on rolls 6501, 6502, and 6522 and believed until then
to be unique to those rolls.

The twenties evergreen roll 6519, titled "Old Favorites (the familiar
"Little Annie Rooney" roll found in almost every 165 roll collection),
was originally issued note-for-note in April 1919 as roll 6551, titled
"Old-Time Familiar Songs."

The practice of re-issuing style 165 tunes ceased when Wurlitzer got
to the 6600 series after 1920.  The fox-trots and waltzes of that period
were virtually all unique.  The one exception that comes to mind is
"Peggy O'Neil," which is found on two different rolls, but in
completely different arrangements.

When Ralph Tussing took over the Wurlitzer roll business, he did re-
issue the old "evergreen" masters as 6-tune rolls concurrently with his
own new 6-tune rolls, usually containing 5 current rock-and-roll tunes
and an old, moldy march from his personal sheet music library from his
days as a bandmaster.

Now, Marc, aren't you sorry you asked?

Matthew Caulfield

 [ Matthew, I changed "BAB" to "B.A.B." in your letter to agree
 [ with the official company name given in Bowers' Encyclopedia.
 [ In other recent letters I've changed "WurliTzer" to "Wurlitzer",
 [ because the latter is the proper company (and family) name,
 [ whereas the former appears only as a logotype on the instruments.
 [ -- Robbie

(Message sent Wed 2 Sep 1998, 16:45:42 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  B.A.B, Repeated, Rolls, Tunes, Wurlitzer

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