Before the Second World War, commercial recordings were invariably made using wax masters. Under this recording regime, there were no opportunities to go back and correct a mistake on the same master; it was only when recordings were mastered onto magnetic tape that such a notion could become a practical reality, and this only became possible in the 1950s.
As a result, artists recording in the 1920s and 1930s were required to make two or three takes (sometimes more), thus giving the recording company the opportunity to choose the best version for subsequent issue. Often, the rejected masters were simply destroyed, but sometimes they were held for possible future issue - and luckily for us, some of these have survived to the present day. As a collector of 78s, there are few experiences more satisfying than hearing for the first time an unissued version of a favourite recording - and there is a plethora of these rejected “takes” on this eclectic selection.
There were usually valid reasons for why a particular take was rejected. Maybe a clarinet reed squeaked, a singer hit a bad note or there were technical defects on the master itself. Occasionally though, unissued takes reveal a performance that equals or even exceeds the artistry of the issued side, and with such cases one is left pondering why these “alternative” takes were not selected in the first place! In cases where all of the takes were rejected, then test pressings taken from the original metal parts (masters, mothers and stampers) are sometimes all we have to judge the skills of performers whose work might otherwise have been totally forgotten.
It should be noted that Victor - more than most of its rivals - tended to retain masters (both issued and unissued) in its vaults for long periods, though the company was by no means consistent. With the coming of the LP era and the subsequent rapid demise of the market for 78s, few companies saw the need to retain bulky metal masters and associated mothers and stampers from previous decades: Columbia was fairly systematic in its approach and by the 1960s many of its original metal parts had been destroyed. RCA-Victor had also consigned a number of its original 78 rpm masters to the scrap heap by this stage, though in many instances shellac or vinyl test pressings of the unissued takes survive.
Edna Winston recorded eight sides for Victor, split between a session on November 23, 1926 and one on February 16, 1927, with backing by a five-piece band led by cornetist Thomas Morris. Her voice blends earthy blues with the prevalent vaudeville style of singing. Unfortunately, little is known about Winston and these recordings help to save her from almost complete obscurity.
Genevieve Davis - another blues singer about whom little is known - made three recordings for Victor in New Orleans on March 5th, 1927, two of which were issued on 78 (Victor 20648); what we hear here are the unissued alternate takes of the issued sides. She is accompanied by a band of New Orleans musicians led by trumpeter Louis Dumaine. Victor recorded Dumaine’s band – his Jazzola Eight – on its own two days after these records were waxed. The resulting four numbers made by the band - including Pretty Audrey and To- Wa-Bac-A-Wa - are far better known than these recordings.
On the same day that Louis Dumaine’s Jazzola Eight made its leap into jazz immortality via Victor’s portable recording equipment, March 7th, 1927, a smaller contingent from Dumaine’s band provided the accompaniment for Ann Cook. Again, little is known about this blues singer, apart from the fact that she was born in 1903 and died in 1962 and was apparently a popular vocalist in New Orleans. In her later years, Cook stated that she was paid $100 by Victor for this recording session, which - as with Genevieve Davis - resulted in only one issued 78 (Victor 20579).
These New Orleans Victor recordings are the result of a so-called “field trip”. In the 1920s, leading recording companies - spearheaded by OKeh and Victor - made several such field trips, taking portable recording equipment to areas of the USA (and beyond) where permanent recording facilities were not yet established, recording all manner of performers as a result. Victor may have assumed that the appetite for jazz and blues was such that the regional popularity of Genevieve Davis, Ann Cook and other such artists justified the expense of recording them, but in fact sales of these territory recordings sometimes did not meet the financial expense of the expeditions. Still, we are indeed fortunate that such trips took place, for they allow us to hear many Excellent blues singers and jazz musicians, who otherwise would not have been preserved on wax.
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