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Disk Sift Yields Smith-Newsie Link

(newsboy, 1921, Library of Congress photo)


I was wading through the Archeophone catalog yesterday, planning my next purchase. 

... It's an incredible record label.  Everything I've gotten from them has been a hoot to listen to, and has revolutionized my perceptions and tastes ...

And I finally noticed their series of reissues of "Hit of The Week" records.  As the Archeophone website describes them,

They sold on newsstands during the Great Depression for 15 cents and quickly became the best-selling records of the early 1930s: the laminated flexible cardboard records known as "Hit of the Week." Featuring the top songs of the day, performed by some of the most noted jazz and dance musicians (often under pseudonyms), Hit of the Week records provided just that — one hit, once a week — to an American public with hardly a dime to spare but hungry for great music by great artists.

As always, it seems, I thought of Harry Smith and the Anthology.

Back in July, I first realized that phonograph records were once distributed on city streets at newsstands and by newsboys. 

Those tough, tragic little kids in short pants and floppy caps hollering "Extra! Extra!" sometimes sold 78's along with newspapers. 

As William Howland Kenney wrote in his brilliant Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904-1930:

... the newsboys of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Defender regularly carried copies of the latest records of the week along with their newspapers.  They sold the disks at $1 apiece; for many customers the records were as important as the news.

Something now made real sense for the first time.  The funny, fake headlines Harry Smith wrote for his liner notes to volume one of the Anthology of American Folk Music may have been based on actual experience. 

Newsboys might really, in fact, have yelled something very much like "Georgie runs into rock after mother's warning!  Dies with the engine he loves!" 

Interestingly, two of the performers on Archeophone's "Hit of the Week" CDs — Vincent Lopez and Rudy Vallee — have loose connections to The Victoria Cafe. 

Therefore, I might have to buy these ... although, times being what they are, I may have to wait until this music is finally released on cheap pieces of Durium.


The Old French Weird America


Someone has started an amazing blog about Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music.  If he keeps going along these lines, it will end up being one of the most important things to happen to the Anthology since its reissue on CD in 1997.

Apparently the work of an obsessive French collector, The Old Weird America (TOWA) is posting at least one entry on each Anthology cut, with large zip files containing wonderful batches of mp3s. These mp3s are other recordings by each Anthology artist, as well as other "covers" of the same song.

TOWA also provides a little writing of his own about the Anthology artists, although that text is often the standard, sturdy, reliable consensus view of the subject.  Very nice, but not usually new.  The real eye-popping, one-of-a-kind value of this blog is the audio files.

Really, the project comes off a lot like the interactive, online version of the Anthology-with-notes that I dreamed of at the end of this post back in July — except for its, let's say, "independent" attitude toward copyright law. 

Two thoughts:

Of course, I'm dying to see what TOWA does with "The Moonshiner's Dance" ... and whether he bothers to contact me to see what I have up my sleeve.  He is not good about citing his sources of information or audio, so I don't know if he swings that way.

Also, I've always wondered what I'd do after my Diamonds in the Rough series is finished.  I guess I've dragged my feet about writing that last entry because I have no substitute for the series.

One idea has been to write one piece on each of the 84 entries in the Anthology.  At my usual pace, the project would take nearly a decade.

Well, in a way, TOWA has beaten me to it.

Certainly, his contribution is these amazing audio collections he's posting, whereas I would do my usual Carl Sagan meets Robert Cantwell routine. 

I would really have new things to say about these cuts ... long, dense, ponderous, new things to say ...