During my high school and college years in the 1960s, before I could
afford even the smallest nickelodeon, I collected mechanical music
record albums. The Schwann catalog included tantalizing titles like
"Quarterlodeons," "Dutch Street Organ," "Honky-Tonk in Hi-Fi,"
"Nostaglia in Hi-Fi" (yes, _Nostaglia_), "Nickel Music," and
"Razz-Ma-Tazz in Hi-Fi."
The remainder bin in the old Rose Record store on Wabash Ave. in
Chicago's loop was a gold mine. Every time I visited (once or twice
a year), I was able to give them $4 or $5 for another nickelodeon or
band organ record that they were equally happy to unload.
This was still the era of the roadside attraction in America. Many
record companies searched out unusual sounds to add to their catalogs.
A few made albums of nickelodeons that they found in tourist attract-
ions and museums. Buying these albums was always a gamble. Many
instruments hadn't been tuned since the 1920s. An unstated law seemed
to dictate that the liner notes rarely explained what was on the record
or where it was recorded. (In some cases, this was for the purpose of
evading royalty payments.)
"Razz-Ma-Tazz in Hi-Fi" was originally sold under the "Talking Machine
Records" label. It was their album #1. My copy, purchased in 1961,
has "FFC Barbary Coast Records" stickers hiding the original labels.
Other copies that I've seen have "San Francisco Records" stickers.
The album was made at San Francisco's famous Cliff House collection.
As usual, things are labeled poorly. I've been able to learn most of
what's on the record, in researching the Cliff House Collection for my
new book, "The Golden Age of Automatic Musical Instruments." Here's a
list of what's on the label and what's really playing, for those who
always wondered what they were hearing:
1. "My Blue Heaven Medley:" several tunes on a Nelson-Wiggen 4X.
This is the best sounding instrument on the record, except for two bass
notes that have their tracker bar tubing crossed.
2. "Deep Purple, Cruising Down the River, The Last Roundup:" Tussing
arrangements played on a Wurlitzer BX with flute pipes and drums.
3. "I Wonder What's Become of Sally:" Nelson-Wiggen cabinet piano
with added Deagan Una-Fon sitting on top.
4. "Sidewalks of New York:" sounds like a National Automatic roll
changing piano, with the characteristic blob of notes that occurs
when the rewind hole cluster is torn.
5. "Piano, Xylophone & Drums Medley:" More good Nelson-Wiggen 4X.
6. "Room Full of Roses:" another Tussing roll on the Wurlitzer BX
7. "Off Key Piano:" unknown to me. The description is accurate!
1. "Medley - Piano, Xylophone & Drums:" More Nelson-Wiggen 4X.
Certain 4X songs are played more than once.
2. "French Organ Tune:" an unknown trumpet barrel organ playing
an unknown tune. The barrel pins need to be justified.
3. "Old Black Joe - Regina Sublima:" Correct information!
Several notes cipher throughout the performance.
4. "Palace Motion Picture Organ:" an Aeolian Orchestrelle playing
a great Abe Holzman cakewalk.
5. "Wurlitzer Orchestra Medley:" This sour-sounding orchestrion
is actually a Seeburg H. It plays an unknown waltz and the "Chihuahua
Polka." My shop restored this piano, known as "Old Silver," in 1976-77
for the Lipe Collection. Although it needed extensive restoration,
it was fun to think about how much better it could have sounded on the
record with a simple tuning and regulating. It is currently in the
Sanfilippo Victorian Palace collection.
6. "Chimes Piano - Tune:" the Nelson-Wiggen cabinet piano with
Una-Fon playing "Jealous."
The musical purist should not listen to this record. To those of us
who can listen through the awful tuning and other problems, it does
bring to mind a glimpse of the old days when we could see and hear
nickelodeons in public collections all over the country. These were
days when many original instruments -- 50 years old at the time --
still played better than some of the new ones do today.