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MMD > Archives > March 2012 > 2012.03.21 > 05Prev  Next

How Did Wurlitzer Choose Songs for Music Rolls?
By Julie Porter

Adam Ramet wrote to the MMD:

  "Our perception of music from the present day is shaped wholly by
  the intervening years -- never by the moment of creation. The musical
  hit-of-the-moment in any age is, by definition, ephemeral. Therefore
  in observing the titles on period material from 1929 we are only
  observing the ephemeral. Looking for the evergreen amongst the
  ephemeral is an abstract pastime in which we try to connect our
  understanding of our present to our perception of the past."

This is well put.

A number of years ago (I think it has been around five now) Matt
Caulfield and Dana Johnson loaned me Wurlitzer's APP catalogs 7 and 8.
Catalog 7 was the earlier of the two.  Based on song titles listed in
Catalog 8, Matt estimated that the later catalog could have been
printed no earlier than 1925.

I think it was in response to the ephemera that Matt loaned me which
prompted him to write in this thread:

  "... And there  seems to be no correlation with other styles of
  Wurlitzer rolls like APP rolls and Pianino rolls."

My request for Caliola catalog information here online a decade ago
provided me with a large sampling of "modern" (dating from the mid
1960s through 1980s) collection of Ray Siou ephemera, as well as the
listings of private collections such as the one done by the late Ed
Sprankle.  Much of this was prompted by my purchase of Tom Grace's APP
Caliola roll collection.  This was mostly the recuts of Doyle Lane from
the T.R.T masters.  These form a separate catalog.

I refer in my work to these catalogs respectively as the "1920 catalog,"
the "West coast catalog," and the "East coast catalog."  Depending on
where or when you lived, which catalog you were aware of would shape
your impression of "Wurlitzer style music."

I merged the three catalogs into one really large spreadsheet database.
Over 10,000 song title entries, it has become too large for one person
to manage.  What was interesting is that there is NO correlation what-
so-ever of the songs offered for sale in the three different catalogs.
The grouping of song titles is unique to each and no other.  I think
this is why Matt turned the task of cataloging the APP rolls over to
me, as his interest is in the 165 and there are not enough lifetimes 
to do both.  Have I really spent ten years analyzing these data?

The 1920s catalogs are divided into "Ethnic" music.  This is
Wurlitzer's word; it fits.  Wurlitzer must have seen the market of
people with money to be first generation European immigrants.  The
cultural division is described in precise detail, more so than most
people now feel comfortable with.  Each Balkan city-state gets an
entry.  So there are not categories for German, Italian, Greek, or
French music.  Instead each subculture within the culture gets a
reference.  The uncomfortable part is that within ten years from
publication most of these cultures were destroyed or assimilated.
Especially when one reads the separation of the "Jewish music" (again
Wurlitzer's word).  This is divided into sections such as Lithuanian
Jewish Music, Polish Jewish music, and so on.

Reading through such listings with the knowledge of Cassandra is
depressing.  When such dry history is mentioned, there is a desire to
switch off and stop listening, because we have all heard it so many
times before.  It may be important to note that these songs do
represent the best, hat such were a way to escape, a way such as we
can no longer comprehend.

The music of general interest recorded in the 1920s catalogs are Broadway 
and other show tunes.  There are also film score songs.   It seems even
then as now, if a song was nominated for an academy award, it is likely
to be listed in the old catalog.  A collection of such music could be
most interesting as  showing the popular tastes compared against the
nostalgic recollections of the era.  In this case the winners are often
the losers, and the other nominees the winners in the long term.

Much of the evergreen song titles in the 1920s comes across as
"highbrow."  Even the marches and such are from operas: Verdi, Wagner,
Victor Herbert.  There are our own "patriotic" sections where one could
find marches of Sousa and his contemporaries.  Ironically what we know
of Sousa and E.T. Paul comes from the use of these in TV and film use.
Most people recognize "Liberty Bell" as the Monty Python theme tune.
Or "Stars and Stripes" from the Boston Pops.

On a more fun note, there is a sub-class of Hawaiian music too.

Not listed in the 1920s catalog are many of the evergreens we associate
with the time of 100 years ago.  Where are the rags, jazz, blues and
other songs we think of as coming from that era?

The modern catalogs from the 1970s tell a different story.  Most of the
material offered for sale on the West Coast by Ray Siou came from Ed
Sprankle.  These were mostly cut by Play-Rite.  What is interesting is
that the rags, jazz, blues and such, missing from the catalog, fit into
numbering gaps.  The dates of these numbering gaps fit with the era
that the roll was likely produced.  There are exceptions, which result
from the practice of mixing songs from different rolls to make one that
is more saleable.  This catalog has come to represent the nostalgia
most people associate with the "golden age,"  rolls that quicken the
heart and form the Holy Grail of the modern collector's quest.

The third catalog group is the T.R.T. catalog.  This is what is left 
of the Wurlitzer-produced masters.  We are lucky that it is in the
Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum.  Last year I was able to work with
Doug Hershberger and his staff, to understand better the numbering
system used by Wurlitzer and then Ralph Tussing.  From Matt we have
Ralph's sales ledgers.  Based on eBay sales and other ephemera Matt
collected, these rolls date to about 1939.  Doug has indicated that
some of the masters are from earlier rolls and re-used.

What is interesting is that the East Coast catalog, is made up of
mostly show and film tunes.  The other song listings, which probably
reflect Ralph Tussings taste in music, are of a conservative nature:
marches, waltzes, foxtrots and such.  Doug also indicated that Ralph
wrote music for advertisements.  Last fall Doug was in the process of
cataloging some of these.  My understanding is that such would have
been used for radio and early TV.

What is somewhat confusing, is how this gap from 1928 through 1939
jumps out in my master list.  Art Reblitz has remarked, both here and
in private correspondence, that Wurlitzer at this time licensed a lot
of the Q.R.S. songs.  What has survived in the collection of Ed
Sprankle and others, confirms this, as many of the rolls, which bear
numbers that fit into the gap in the 1930s, are the same as the QRS

I have mentioned this here before, but I think that by 1927 the "noise"
music of the young people was removed from the catalog, this to favor
the highbrow music of the parents and grandparents, who would have had
the money.   I find this to hold true, as some of the last rolls issued
in the 1960s contained Beatles tunes.   A modern kid would ask, "But
where are the Elton John songs?"  The lack of Rolling Stones and
Grateful Dead will confuse future researchers, as this was the music of
the 1960s.

Recently I discovered (again?) Les Baxter and his music of the 1960s.
This was a sort of adapted Big Band sound, with emphasis on the drums
and percussion.  "It's A Big Wide Wonderful World." is something I have
on the Caliola.  All this makes the study of these old rolls all the
more important.  As Adam notes, we are attempting to "connect our
understanding of our present to our perception of the past."

Julie Porter

(Message sent Wed 21 Mar 2012, 18:45:15 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

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

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