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MMD > Archives > March 2012 > 2012.03.20 > 03Prev  Next

How Did Wurlitzer Choose Songs for Music Rolls
By Matthew Caulfield

Gary Watkins asks a good question here.  I have often wished that
the publishers of the tunes on early Wurlitzer rolls had been given,
because I suspect that having that information would show a close
relationship between Wurlitzer and the Vandersloot Music Publishing
Company in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

But when Gary Watkins began what is now my online Wurlitzer roll
catalogs -- yes, it was Gary who started the 165 catalog back in 1969
and established its format, which I continued and eventually put online
-- he researched the tunes in the Copyright Office records to get
accurate titles, composers, and dates.  That was enough of a research
job without adding the burden of noting publisher too.  And I did not
change Gary's practice, although I too researched the tunes in copyright
records.  But today I often wonder what patterns in Wurlitzer's tune
selection process might be revealed by knowing who the publishers were
which Wurlitzer used.

Gary mentions cost, popularity, ease of arrangement as possible factors
in Wurlitzer's choices of tunes for use on its rolls.  I have noticed
that a large number of the tunes on early style 165 rolls came from
Vandersloot.  It is possible that Wurlitzer had a business arrangement
with Vandersloot whereby Wurlitzer was given copies of Vandersloot
sheet music in exchange for using, and thereby promoting, Vandersloot's
tunes.  Perhaps these tunes were royalty-free to Wurlitzer?

Roll 6658 is not documented in any Wurlitzer literature, and the only
original copy, found in Clark's Trading Post, was missing tune 1.  It
was recut by Play-Rite and sold by Ray Siou as a 9-tune roll.  Recent
research by Glenn Thomas led to the feeling that there is a good chance
that the missing tune is "Telling It To The Daisies," a 1930 fox trot
by Harry Warren, so Rich Olsen made a nice arrangement of that tune for
addition to recuts of roll 6658.  The tune fits very well there and
makes a great addition to the other nine tunes.  But as Gary notes in
predicting what tunes he might have expected to find on roll 6651,
Wurlitzer's tune choices are rather unpredictable.

While there is often a close correlation between what tunes Wurlitzer
used on its style 125 rolls and its style 150 rolls, that correlation
often breaks down when it is used to predict 165 tunes.  And there
seems to be no correlation with other styles of Wurlitzer rolls like
APP rolls and Pianino rolls.

Wurlitzer's royalty arrangements are undocumented, although the company
did reflect in its advertising the royalty requirements that fell on
users of its music when playing the music in public for profit.  Up to
about 1924, some Wurlitzer rolls bore the notation "Non-taxable,"
Wurlitzer's quaint way of stating that playing such a roll did not make
the user subject to royalty payments to the copyright owner.  But
Wurlitzer's May 1924 Monthly Roll Bulletin bore this notice:

  "Owing to the fact that practically all publishers of modern music
  are affiliated with organizations exacting a tax from operators using
  their music for profit, such tax being upheld by law, the Rudolph
  Wurlitzer Company cannot guarantee any music appearing in any of their
  music catalogs to be non-taxable -- whether listed as such or not."

Thereafter the legend "Non-taxable" ceased to appear on any roll labels
or advertising.   By 1931, reflecting the power of ASCAP as an
effective collector of music-playing royalties, Wurlitzer stopped
listing tune composers on its roll labels, instead giving the
publisher's name for each tune.

Matthew Caulfield
Irondequoit, New York

(Message sent Tue 20 Mar 2012, 18:11:43 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Choose, Did, How, Music, Rolls, Songs, Wurlitzer

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