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Shellac Stack

Wednesday, from 04:00 PM to 05:00 PM

I’ve been collecting 78 rpm records for most of my life. Something about these heavy, scratchy old discs caught my ear when I was a kid and I’ve been fascinated by them ever since. In this digital age of heavily-produced music that involves layering and piecing together snippets of sound recorded on multiple tracks over days, weeks, or months, then tweaking pitches and rhythms to create a “perfect” performance that never existed, there’s something refreshing to me about placing the needle in the groove of a 78 rpm record and listening to a musical performance captured in a single, uninterrupted “take” by talented musicians working side-by-side. Essentially, each disc offers one or two studio-recorded “live performances” that allow me to appreciate completely the talent of the musicians; I never have to wonder if what I’m really enjoying are the mixing and editing skills of a nameless engineer.

I have fairly eclectic tastes in music and 78 rpm records offer so many choices. Whether it’s the ragtime banjo stylings of Fred Van Eps, the western swing of Milton Brown and His Brownies, Jesse Crawford at the Mighty Wurlitzer, the tight vocal harmonies of the Revelers, the hot jazz of Jelly Roll Morton, the cornball comedy of Homer and Jethro, the sophisticated piano of Cy Walter, the hard-driving swing of Benny Goodman, the haunting voice of Om Kalsoum, or even the syrupy violin-laced parlor music of Joseph C. Smith, I enjoy them all. (Though I have to admit a particular affection for the hot dance bands of the late 1920s and early 1930s.)

78 rpm record collectors seem to have a variety of ambitions. Some collect because they get a thrill from owning the original artifacts associated with their favorite music. They may be willing to spend $500 or more to own an original Victor 78 of Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Band, even though the music is readily available on CD reissues. Others collect because they enjoy music that can’t be had any other way; so much of what was recorded in the early 20th century has never been reissued on LP or CD and likely never will be. Like most collectors, I suppose my collecting interest is fueled by a little of both. So much of what I want to hear has never been reissued, and I can’t deny that in this day of MP3s and streaming audio, I get a certain satisfaction from holding a clean 90-year-old copy of Roger Wolfe Kahn’s recording of “She’s A Great, Great Girl” and admiring the elegant scrollwork on the Victor label before placing it on the turntable and watching it spin while Jack Teagarden’s robust trombone fills the room.

Of course, one of the real joys of collecting is sharing my finds with others. I’m fortunate to have some fellow collector friends nearby, and we enjoy getting together occasionally to listen to records and learn about the music from each other. My Shellac Stack podcast began in 2006 as a way to share the communal listening experience with far away friends. In the years since then, I’ve made some new friends through the podcast and they have provided the encouragement to continue. In an ideal world, I would record and post new podcast episodes according to a regular schedule, but my life these days just doesn’t seem to have enough time to make that possible. I will post new podcasts here as I record them. If you enjoy what you hear, please use the contact form to send me a message. I would love to hear from you! (Encouraging feedback inspires me to keep it up!)

I am grateful to the Shellac Stack‘s sponsors, who help me to cover the ongoing costs of producing and presenting the program. 

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