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The Canadian Connection - Part 4

     By the end of 1921, it was evident that the rosy forecasts for the phonograph industry were not apt to materialize. A downturn in the economy and the increased popularity of radio, reduced sales, and they did not reach the peaks of the immediate post-war years until the late 1930s. Although the larger firms still did well, many smaller companies did not. Phonola dropped their line of records to concentrate on machines (and radios) in 1921. Shortly thereafter, whether because their connection with Okeh was through Phonola or because the Okeh material was not selling well, Compo negotiated an agreement with the Plaza Music Company of New York to issue their masters in Canada (they would deal with the firm and its successors until 1936) and ceased to issue sides from Okeh, instead using sides from the group of "dime-store" labels such as Banner and Regal.

     During the early 1920s, Compo made two efforts to enter the U.S. record market. The first was to set up a subsidiary in Boston to import and sell the line of French language records pressed for sale in Quebec. Due to the large French-Canadian population in New England, this proved fairly successful, but was eventually sold off to Columbia, who used Compo matrices to press their French-Canadian records from about 1925 onward. The second was extremely unusual - the company elected to enter the field of race records, recording black artists in New York and Chicago and issuing them on the Ajax label, which was pressed in Canada. This is all the more unusual in light of the fact that Compo rarely, if ever, pressed blues or jazz material from its U.S. sources, as Berliner felt they would not sell here. Given Berliner's lack of expertise in this field, and the competition from established U.S. forms, the venture proved to be unsuccessful, lasting only a few months in late 1924 and early 1925, leaving behind a hundred-odd rare issues.

     In the fall of 1923, the U.S. Columbia firm went into receivership. The U.S. operations were acquired by the British subsidiary of the company, who wished to maintain access to the experimental Western Electric system of electrical recording then being developed. The newly financed U.S. company then sold its Canadian operations to a group of Canadian investors who continued to operate the firm much as before, pressing records from U.S. and British masters, generally issued with imported labels and thus not recognizable as Canadian pressings. They did not, however, set up any recording facilities, and when they did introduce a line of Canadian records (16000-D series) they were issues of British material or New York recordings, as the R4000 series had been earlier.

     By the end of 1924, the record industry in Canada consisted of the following: The Victor Talking Machine Company of Canada Limited (Victor having bought out Victor), pressing Victor records; The Columbia Phonograph Company, pressing Columbia records; Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company of Canada, pressing Brunswick and probably Vocalion records, as the Brunswick firm had acquired Vocalion; and the Compo Company, pressing Apex records. Compo also pressed other client labels, but most issued only a handful of records, sometimes only one. Other records sold in Canada were imported, primarily from the U.S. It is likely, however, that some of the proliferation of cheap records being pressed in the U.S. were sold here for nearly as low a price. While Brunswick and Victor did not bring out a less expensive line of records until the 1930s, Columbia introduced the Harmony label in 1925 (quite possibly to continue the use of its acoustic recording equipment, since most Harmonys were so recorded until 1930). Compo introduced the Domino record at the beginning of 1925. It was pressed for the Metropolitan store chain who also sold Domino records in the U.S., but does not seem to have been sold exclusively by the chain in Canada unless for a short time. Within a few months these were followed by the Microphone and Lucky Strike labels, which may have been for chain stores or simply to allow dealers to offer less expensive records. Oddly enough, all of these used exactly the same sides available on Apex, and the Apex number was even visible in the wax, although the lesser labels virtually all bore pseudonyms, sometimes quite imaginative. This process continued until Apex was dropped in 1931.

     Compo also broke off connections with the U.S. Gennett label at this point. It may be that the Starr Piano Company of Canada, a branch of Gennett's parent firm, elected to leave the record business (or ceased operations) and sold Canadian rights to the Starr and Gennett names to Compo; on the other hand it may have been caused by the increased orientation of Gennett toward jazz, blues and Midwestern U.S. territorial bands and artists, since this material was not particularly appealing to the Canadian market. In any case, no more Gennett masters appeared on Compo labels after early 1925, with a new 10000 series drawing sides from Plaza supplanting the Gennett based 9000 series. Plaza sides and Apex numbers had been used on Starr-Gennett issues early in 1923 for a handful of issues, but only for a very short time. The Starr name also replaced Apex on Compo's French records and the name, in fact, was used on this until the 1950s, long after the parent company in the U.S. was defunct.