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The Canadian Connection: Brunswick
Brian Boyd, discographer

This is the first in a series of articles authored by the late Brian Boyd. a well-known and respected collector and discographer, and a member of CAPS. Brian, who died on February 26th 1991, built up over many years an extensive collection of "personality" records, mostly of popular vocalists of the 1920's and 30's. He was a regular speaker at CAP meetings.

Brian Boyd dictated the following in January 1991 from memory alone, without referring to his records nor to his books. He stressed that some of the statements are based, not on positive proof, but on the evidence that he had built up over many years of astute observation of the physical records. He was anxious that the reader understand that what follows is not a definitive history. Rather, he hoped that this article would arouse interest and foster research so that the definitive history could be written by others.

The American Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company used Canada to test-market the production, distribution and sale of their phonograph recordings. This seems to have occurred between 1916 and 1920. Most of us have seen those fabulous green and gold labels that were used. it was a vertical-cut record. The patent situation had not cleared up and they were unable to make lateral-cut records, which were controlled by Columbia and by Victor.

The Brunswick verticals appear in a 5000 series. They don't appear to be Canadian recordings - that is, recordings by Canadian artists. I believe some work has been done to try to trace the source of them, and it may be a company like Pathe or one of the other smaller American companies that supplied pressings for sale in Canada.

Around 1920 the patent situation was resolved in favor of the non Victor-Columbia interests, and everybody was able to produce lateral-cut records. At that point Brunswick abandoned its attempt in Canada to market a vertical-cut record and began to make lateral-cut records that could be played on a standard phonograph.

The standard Brunswick record was introduced in 1920 simultaneously, or almost so, in Canada and the U.S.A., and that may give an approximate date for the establishment of a Toronto pressing facility. I believe the green-label Brunswicks had not been pressed in Canada.

The black-label ten-inch records were a standard popular series, much like the black-label ten-inch Victors. They started at the number 2000, or perhaps 2001, and ran right up into the 4000s and 6000s with a gap for the 5000s. The 5000s had been a series for premier artists such as Isham Jones in the early twenties. They had a purple label instead of the black, and had all the characteristics of those acoustic Brunswick labels that we've seen so often.

In terms of the corporate continuity of Brunswick in Canada, it continued in one form or another as, what I would call, an independent company. Of course, It was a subsidiary of the American Brunswick- Balke-Collender Company only one of many subsidiaries because Brunswick continued to make pool tables and phonograph cabinets both under contract for other companies and under their own name. So the music division was a separate entity from some of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company's other activities.

It continued to produce records. I don't know if it recorded much in Toronto, but it recorded occasionally around Montreal. There is evidence that the Jack Denny Orchestra, which was popular in one of the Montreal hotels, made some of its records in 1928 - tunes like "Hello, Montreal" on Brunswick 3884 - in Plattsburg which was right over the border and very accessible to Montreal. Possibly there were union problems that might dictate a location in the United States instead of Canada, especially if the particular orchestra was augmented with musicians from New York. There are several masters that show up with a PB prefix, and Brunswick had a habit of using the location for the letter prefix to the actual master number. So you had KC for Kansas City, C for Chicago and so on.

The Canadian labels were printed in Canada and identified "Made in Canada". There's absolutely no difficulty at all, at least from the time of the introduction of the 1920 lateral-cut record, in distinguishing a Canadian pressing. Everything about it makes it obvious that it's Canadian and not an American pressing, unlike Columbia where the information is a little harder to decipher. The mere fact that it says "Made in Canada" is obviously the critical point.

There are some interesting things with the labels in the early electrical period. Many collectors will have seen the little tag "Light-Ray Electrical Recording" on the label of a circa-1926 Brunswick. That note was on the Canadian label in the upper-left position just around the level of or slightly higher than the spindle hole. It also showed on west-coast American pressings, but the east-coast American pressings never used "Light-Ray Electrical Recording". I'm not sure why. I'm fairly certain that I've never seen an east-coast American pressing with "Light-Ray Electrical Recording" on the label.

An interesting thing about the Canadian and west-coast American pressings that show the legend on the label is that there's a slightly different period when it appears. I can't remember if the Canadian pressings show it earlier and end earlier, or vice versa. But the introduction of that legend and then its disappearance vary slightly in in time between the two countries. The Canadian version, I believe, does not abbreviate "Light-Ray Electrical Recording". The American ones use "Elec." for "Electrical and "Rec." for I guess just because of the space requirements.

That was Brunswick's famous touted electrical recording system which had been developed somewhat independently from the Western Electric process which Victor and Columbia had joint interest in. It was not a very good electrical system, and had to pay the exorbitant royalties that Columbia and Victor always charged for access to those patents.

From my perspective Brunswick was a city label. They had sophisticated artists in their vocal catalog people like Libby Holman, Belle Baker, and so on. They had Al Jolson, the world's greatest entertainer. They had Harry Richman. These were the cafe favourites, the people who were big in New York but probably had a relatively limited appeal in the smaller urban centres in the U.S.A. They also had a strong Los Angeles component, and in the twenties Brunswick did quite a lot of recording on the west coast. They had a west-coast pressing facility, certainly as of about 1924/1925. There's a wonderful photo in a book I've seen of Al Jolson holding a pressing that's just come off one of the Los Angeles pressings. All of the majors established west-coast pressing facilities in the early to mid-twenties because shipping costs were just so high. By that time there was a sufficient population on the west coast that it made more sense to send a metal part for stamping purposes out to the west coast and press the records there, saving a very considerable amount of shipping cost across a largely unpopulated middle of the continent.

Brunswick Factory, Hanna Avenue, Toronto, 1921

Brunswick did quite a lot of recording on the west coast. They also had a pressing facility in the Chicago area and one in New York. I have no proof of this other than differences in pressing characteristics. It seems to me quite evident from physical evidence that Brunswick had at least two pressing facilities by the middle twenties, and three later on in the twenties. It may be that the Vocalion works were one of those facilities. I think it's Muskegon, Michigan, that was the factory location in the mid-west.

Although I call it a New York or city label, Brunswick's headquarters were in Chicago as a company, and they always maintained a business address in Chicago. For example, the Brunswick Brevities radio pressings that were made to advertise Brunswick records and products in the late twenties identify the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company of Chicago, Illinois. So that was definitely their corporate headquarters, probably for all of their operations including the music division.

Brunswick was a slightly anomalous company. It had subsidiaries all over the world - Argentina, Germany, France, perhaps other eastern European countries, Britain of course where it started out using the Chappell company's Cliftophone label as the Brunswick label in Britain, and Canada. It's a gold mine of interesting information.

Multiple takes were a phenomenon on Brunswick, surprising for a major label. I have one recording in which the English issue uses one take, the American west-coast issue uses another, and the American east-coast uses a third take, while the Canadian issue uses one of the two American takes. So there's three takes of one side, and with evidence of differences that are indisputable in the rendition of the song. It's almost as if the two singers, who are Esther Walker and Ed Smalle, are rehearsing in the earlier two takes and finally come up with a definitive version in the third take. But, of course, because we don't have the master numbers we can't actually put them in exact sequence of recording. But that was so typical of Brunswick. In the late twenties there would even be separate versions of the same title. On Brunswick 4873, "If I Could Be With You" and "Little White Lies" by Marion Harris, there are two separate recordings made at different times with different master numbers of both sides of the record. If you hunt hard enough you can find these different versions issued under the same catalog number and noticeably different, at least to a tuned ear.

The same occurred with some of the Hal Kemp sides. For the first four sides on which Bunny Berigan appears, there are two takes of each. I have them and they are noticeably different in Bunny's solos and in some of the other musical aspects of the arrangement. Why Brunswick did this - these multiple takes, issuing more than one take, and making a re-recording in which they'd record the same song on a new master and issue it with the same catalog number as the original - is just impossible to decipher. There's just no logical reason other than that they really didn't care very much. There usually isn't any technical reason. On the Marion Harris record I was referring to, she does a rather different softer version of the titles on one recording than the other, but you can't hear any technical fault on either that would have suggested why they were re-recorded. It's just a total mystery.

In Canada, only one take ever seems to have been issued. There may be examples where more than one take was issued in Canada, but my belief remains that they sent up a metal part and that was usually sufficient for all the Canadian pressings that needed to be made. The market in Canada was just so limited compared to the American market. They may have sent off different takes to different countries because it saved them in metal parts. If they had a mother of two takes it might have been just as simple to send one to Britain for the British pressings and keep the other for the American, and not make off yet another metal part from the American mother for the foreign issues. But it's just impossible to say. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

There were also the foreign-language recordings in which you'd get the essentially identical recording but with no vocal refrain. These were used a lot in Germany, but an unexplored area where there were a great number issued was South America. They appear to be American pressings but with Spanish-language labels. It may not even have been for South America; it may have been for Mexico. I have at least three or four examples in a 40,000 series; I think the lowest number I have is in the 40,900s, and the highest in the 41,200s or 41,300s. That suggests that the series continued for some time; whether it started at 40,000 or 40,500 is hard to know. But these recordings for a non English-speaking market were regularly made by Brunswick. We know of a few that were made by Columbia for Brazil or Argentina. But I think there were far more U.S. Brunswicks made for those markets than Columbias.

The music division of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender company continued in operation until circa early 1930 when Warner Brothers Pictures purchased the music division from Brunswick. That gave them a music-publishing interest as well as the record division. With talking pictures, Warner was interested in having a label that it could market its stars on.

Jim Kidd has a dealers' catalog which is a gold-mine of information. It's a numerical listing of all Brunswick records in stock, I think, as of January 1931. I guess it was called the 1931 dealers' list but it really only went up to the end of 1930. It lists in numerical order, for virtually every Brunswick series that was available, the records that were still in the catalog, and also noted those which were going to be deleted before the next annual catalog. There are quite a substantial number marked for deletion, mostly pop tunes that would have had a relatively limited vogue. A lot of the standard numbers went right back to The acoustic era and were kept in the catalog. The popular items always had a more limited appeal and would be deleted more quickly.

It was an American publication, with gaps for items which were meant to be territorial, regional, foreign-language, or whatever. Very often you'll find a dotted line with no entry except a hand-written word such as "Spanish". Jim Kidd has verified that the hand-writing belongs to H.S. Berliner, the founder and president of Compo. Many of these hand-written entries are in short-hand or in such an illegible hand that it's difficult to make them out. an example I can think of is Brunswick 4770. I don't know if the entry has "Canada" printed in it. Sometimes they have the name of the country that the number was assigned to, sometimes they don't. But the titles are there, and I can make them out although I've never seen the record. lt's "Hallelujah" by Harry Richman, coupled with "Sometimes I'm Happy" by Vaughn de Leath. Interestingly, that was the same as the English coupling of those titles when they were released in Britain, but by the time Brunswick 4770 came out they were at least a couple of years old. Maybe it had something to do with a film version of the musical coming out and their wanting to have something back in the catalog. But, interestingly, that number was never issued in the U.S.A. - it was Canada only.

In that dealers' list there were some numbers or entries assigned to Canada. There's some Scottish ethnic recordings which I have never seen but which are entered as "Canada" in the book. And then there are the odd jazz recordings which appeared issued on those Brunswick numbers only in Canada coming from Vocalion or whatever, or in a couple of instances re-coupling American Brunswick recordings onto a different number for Canadian issue. One Jazz-related item - Brunswick 4723, the famous recording of "Goin' Nuts" by the Six Jolly Jesters - came from American Vocalion 15843 and was not issued on Brunswick in the United States.

So there are a number of interesting things to be discovered in that list, which was clearly used in Canada and must have been acquired by Compo when it took over Brunswick. There appear to be inventory numbers written in pencil in the left-hand column, which probably indicate the stock of records that were still extant at the warehouse. For the most part the numbers are very small - it would be five, ten, three, seven. I assume that Compo was able to acquire that stock, limited though it appears to have been.

The dealers' list in numerical order was obviously kept up during the year because after the last number entered there are pasted-in entries which probably came from supplements which continue the numerical series through quite some time in 1931. It stops suddenly at the point that Brunswick went under and there were obviously no more Brunswick releases or supplements. I believe that Brunswick 6128, on which the Boswell Sisters are vocalists with the Victor Young orchestra on "I Found A Million-Dollar Baby" and "Sing A Little Jingle", is one of the items that's included in those pasted-in numerical entries. I have seen a copy pressed by the Brunswick company (not by Compo). the highest number pressed by Warner Brunswick - I think the company became known as the Brunswick Radio Corporation, subsidiary of Warner Brothers Records with a similar name in the U.S.A. - was Brunswick 6214, a Cab Calloway recording.

The Melotone label was introduced in Canada at approximately the same time as it was in the United States. Brunswick's first budget label was an extremely attractive silver and blue, although the Canadian version of the label is not quite as bright and shiny as the American. But it was a quality product. Given the low numbers that I've seen in the Melotone series pressed in Canada, I think Melotone started in Canada just about the same time as it did in the U.S.A. and continued along with the Brunswick label until Brunswick's bankruptcy in the United States. Calling it "Brunswick's bankruptcy" is a bit unfair. Warner Brothers allowed it to go into bankruptcy because they just weren't making any money. I guess it was a separate corporate entity as part of the Warner Brothers Pictures empire and they Just let it go into receivership. At the same time the Canadian company followed suit.

I think it was in December 1931 that Canadian Brunswick ceased operation. I'm fairly sure that it went into receivership. It wasn't immediate bankruptcy, and it took quite a number of years for the bankers to get rid of the remaining assets of the company. I have a friend who remembers, at the age of less than ten, visiting Vancouver with his mother from the Okanagan Valley (I think he lived in Penticton at the time). Outside the Hudson's Bay store on Georgia Street at Granville there were big trestle tables with piles of absolutely brand-new Brunswick records from 1931 which were being sold off at ten to the dollar. Bob was allowed to spend a dollar and bought ten records, most of which he still has in his collection. So I think it was just in the very early post World War Two years that the assets were finally being disposed of.

Alex Robertson told the story of learning that there were Brunswick materials - I think it was mostly paper material (whether it included things like ledgers I don't know) - in a factory building in Toronto that was unused, and had been for many years, and apparently was a Brunswick warehouse.

In the United States ARC never purchased the Brunswick interests. They leased the name and the copyrights that were necessary to make Brunswick records. The factory that was used to make Brunswick records or at least the principal factory, was left doing odd things as a pressing plant - radio transcriptions, and so on. It was eventually acquired by Decca in 1934 when the Decca label was established in the U.S.A. If you look carefully at the sequence of master numbers you can see that Decca picks up the old Brunswick master series with a gap of maybe a couple of thousand numbers, which probably represents transcriptions and other personal recordings that were pressed at the old Brunswick plant in that interval of close to three years, between late 1931 and 1934. I think the Brunswick master numbers were in the 36,000s when they ceased operation as an independent entity in 1931, and Decca started with 38,000s. But it's interesting that in the U.S.A. Decca acquired the Brunswick facility rather than build a new one. Of course, Decca being a budget label it probably made sense to acquire an existing unused, or largely unused, facility to do its pressing.

When Canadian Brunswick went into receivership, there was no buyer to purchase the facilities. Compo acquired the licence rights to press and market the Brunswick and Melotone labels in Canada. They never used the Brunswick facilities. they did acquire a few stampers which they used - you can read the Brunswick-style catalog numbers in the wax. But very soon it became an entirely ARC-oriented product.

There were some metal parts obviously prepared for further pressings and they were used by Compo. In the U.S.A. you will find these recordings with an "E" followed by five digits and a take. I don't know that there are many that show the ARC-style matrix number in Canada. Compo hand-wrote the master number on its pressings as It did for all of its other products with rare exception. I can recall one Isham Jones recording which has the Chicago matrix number with the American-style stamped number, rather than a Compo-style hand-written master number. That would date from, say, 1932. So it wasn't an infallible rule but it certainly was the case that most of the master numbers were done by Compo. I presume they just marked the metal part they got accordingly to keep it in their own system.

I want to go back now to 1925 and the acquisition of the Vocalion company by Brunswick. There was a Canadian Vocalion company pressing in Canada, and the records are easily distinguished from the American counterpart. The Canadian pressings have "Stamped in Canada" on them in the wax area after the end of the recording before the label starts. The American Vocalion was a red-wax record and most of the Canadian Vocalions have black wax. The typefaces used on the printed label for the artist, catalog composer, and title, are distinctively different to my eye. It's clear that it's a different product and that the labels were, in fact, printed in Canada.

The real point is that Brunswick-Balke-Collender company in Chicago acquired the Vocalion company. At that point, for one reason or another, there were no further Canadian Vocalions. The label was no longer pressed in Canada, although it may have been imported in limited quantities. I think that was in early 1925. It could be that Brunswick didn't think there was a sufficient market to have another label in Canada. It's hard to know why they didn't maintain the label in Canada. It certainly hadn't been in existence very long in Canada, at most maybe three or four years. It was one of the labels that began in Canada with the patent situation resolved so that they could do lateral-cut records. I think there are vertical-cut Vocalions at the beginning. Whether any of the vertical cuts were done in Canada I can't say; I don't recall ever having seen one. but the Canadian Vocalion Label is a relatively scarce item. They did do twelve-inch pressings, as did Brunswick in Canada.

Despite perhaps evidence to the contrary, even In the early thirties Compo had the very occasional twelve-inch pressing of a popular catalog item. The one that I know of particularly that I've actually seen and handled is a twelve-inch Guy Lombardo medley of songs from "The Cat and the Fiddle" on one side.

So that basically is a very brief discussion of what happened to Vocalion in Canada in relation to Brunswick. Again, it's an area that would be useful to research to find out where its facilities were. Curiously enough, the Vocalions that I've found have largely been in the Ottawa Valley, but I don't know if that had to do with where they were made or whether there was just a good salesman marketing the product in that part of the world.

That's all I have to say about Brunswick, up to the period where Compo took over. The Compo story is one of very considerable complexity, and I don't really think I'm the one to tell that story. It is Brunswick that to me is the most fascinating subject.

(Our thanks to Jack Litchfield for transcribing Brian's taped memoirs and submitting them to us for unedited publication.)