A closer look at the music from the Prohibition era and America's earliest recordings, courtesy of Archeophone Records and Leon Redbone.
Rich Martin and Meagan Hennessey, founders and owners of the Champaign, Ill.-based Archeophone Records, have added a new feature on the home page of the Archeophone Web site. In a “news” box on the upper right side of the site’s home page, there’s a list of the songs played thus far in the first two episodes of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, set in 1920s Atlantic City.
The list also references the artists in addition to one of the dozens of Archeophone albums that a particular song appears on.
(Click here to listen to the Paul Whiteman Ambassador Orchestra's "The Japanese Sandman" from the Archeophone release, 1920-Even the Water's Getting Weaker.)
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, it’s “release day” for the married couple — they met each other while attending graduate school at Indiana University — as the company’s 50th CD of reissued tracks from America’s “acoustic era” (1890-1925, before the microphone was used) is ready for distribution. Still, the couple is gracious enough to chat for about an hour with Atlantic City Weekly.
Since 1998 the pair has been a self-contained reissuing machine, doing most everything themselves, from the cleaning and preparing of antiquated recordings on things such as Edison wax cylinders to the artwork for their CDs, which have garnered eight Grammy nominations, including a win — in 2006 for the 2005 release Lost Sounds - Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry: 1891-1922.
Other titles in Archeophone’s rich catalogue include 2003’s Eddie Morton: The Sound of Vaudeville, Vol, 1, which offers 28 songs from the Philadelphia-cop-turned-Vaudeville singing star (who eventually moved to Wildwood and opened a restaurant on the Boardwalk there) to 2009’s Sophie Tucker: Origins of the Red Hot Mama, 1910-1922, which includes, for the first time ever, all of the earliest recordings from one of the “20th century’s most colorful stage personalities.”
Martin says he recalls reading an interview with actor Steve Buscemi (who plays Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire) that Sophie Tucker will make at least one appearance in the HBO series.
Apart from the “songs heard on Boardwalk Empire” section of Archeophone’s Web site, looking through the company’s massive online catalogue, it’s easy to find music from the Boardwalk Empire period, or rather tunes that would have been played right before, during, and after 1920.
Archeophone’s Phonographic Yearbook series, for example, has an entire CD of 25 songs from 1920 alone. There are several CDs in this overview series featuring songs from early 20th century America.
“Our goal with that series is to eventually have a CD to represent each year of the acoustic era,” says Hennessey during a phone call with Atlantic City Weekly on the company’s big release day. “Right now we’re sort of filling them in piecemeal. But we have two volumes from the 1890s. And we’ve got 1906, 1907, 1908, 1912, 1913, 1915 and 1916.”
“And 1914 is coming out in November,” adds Martin, also on the line for the interview.
(Click here to listen to Sophie Tucker singing "Some of These Days," which appears in HBO's Boardwalk Empire series, as well as on the Archeophone Records CD, Sophie Tucker - Origins of the Red Hot Mama: 1910-1922.)
Cleaning up and assembling these early recordings and producing these beautifully packaged collections is no easy task, and takes a lot of time — even just tracking down and waiting for the rare recordings to come into their hands for the purpose of reissuing. Each Archeophone release is researched extensively.
In a slow year, says Martin, Archeophone, which officially went into business in 2000, releases maybe four CDs. But this year, it should be around eight, including one in October and two in November.
The pair is hoping that the success of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire will mirror the successes of other mainstream smashes — such as HBO’s former hit series The Sopranos and 2000’s Oscar-nominated film O Brother, Where Art Thou — both of which lead to a fan frenzy for the music heard within.
If Boardwalk Empire’s Prohibition-era soundtrack strikes a chord with modern listeners, Archeophone may see a big increase in Web traffic and, ultimately, sales.
Flashback to 1999, the year HBO debuted The Sopranos. Just before the holiday season that year, an album featuring music from the series was released and went on to spend several weeks in the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart in 2000. In May of 2001, the overwhelming popularity of The Sopranos led to the release of the two-CD collection The Sopranos - Peppers and Eggs: Music from the HBO Original Series, which included a partly Italian reading of Dean Martin’s “Return to Me” sung by Bob Dylan.
Expect HBO’s Boardwalk Empire to inspire equally compelling collections of songs — perhaps by this or next holiday season. In the meantime, visit Archeophone’s Web site, listen to sound clips and start your holiday list early this year.
“We’re trying to keep people interested [in the music],” says Martin when asked about the new Boardwalk Empire feature on the Web site. The list of songs played in the series will be updated as the season progresses, he says. “We don’t want them to forget about us!” he adds with a laugh.
“We certainly hope there’s just more awareness [with Boardwalk Empire],” says Martin, “and that it opens up this whole musical discussion [with regard] to our culture.”
The Vaudeville era, which overlaps the Prohibition era music heard in Empire, is by no means a “cut and dry” period, says Martin, adding that its years overlap other musical formats.
Vaudeville routines, as depicted in Empire — such as the Eddie Cantor scene in the Martin Scorsese-directed pilot — were the rage in America for a long time, but the format’s days were waning by the ’20s — due to the rise of the motion picture industry — and vaudeville was nearly non-existent by the end of the ’30s.
Leon Redbone, whose music career has spanned about five decades, and was built upon the foundation of early American song, appears Oct. 9 in Elmer, N.J. at Appel Farm Arts & Music Center. In a recent phone chat with Atlantic City Weekly, Redbone gave his impression of the music from the 1920s.
Musically, Redbone says that the 1920s can be seen as an almost limbo-like period for American music — hanging between the songs and instruments of hundreds of years ago, marching bands from Britain and the early “jass” musicians in New Orleans on one side, and the dawn of the Jazz Age on the other side, which would lead to an electric blues and R&B explosion, followed by rock ‘n’ roll and all else that followed.
But the music of the 1920s certainly has its own sound and individual style.
“It does,” says Redbone, who often includes songs from the 1920s in his sets. “I never think of them that way, but sure, yeah. It’s an era that cannot be omitted in the popular music sense. [You can’t omit] any decade, actually. [But the ’20s era] was a bonanza, really. It was all of the great and wonderful combinations of songwriters and musicians, the piano players and songwriters — it was an amazing period.”
Redbone is in his glory talking about the music from and around the Prohibition years. The more obscure the artist, the better.
“A name that surfaced within the last few years, [was] of an individual who was probably the best singing talent in the country at the time. She recorded for Columbia successfully for a number of years and just faded away and died in obscurity in the 1950s. [Her work] has now been resurrected fortunately, and her name is Lee Morse.”
Morse was a singer-songwriter who started performing in the 1910’s; her music career continued through to the early 1940s.
“Her successful period was in the '20s,” says Redbone. “I don’t think anybody with one ear, never mind two, could [not hear] that talent.”
Redbone names another singer from America’s wild past whose outstanding music was recently discovered in the archives of an institution in Idaho. Archives across America, Redbone surmises, are filled with such treasured materials, as are other places — “trash dumps,” says Redbone.
A trash dump is not where Archeophone gets its material from, but rather a network of collectors of rare early recordings.
Redbone is happy to hear that the Boardwalk Empire producers use original music from the period on the show. He’s also impressed with Archeophone’s record of preserving early American music. “They do a pretty good job for a small operation,” says Redbone. "They do nice work."
The clean sounding recordings included on Archeophone’s collections are a result of two things: Martin and Hennessey’s intense work and getting the best recordings from the best selections of such rare copies.
“They obviously have a good collection of people they can rely on to send them material,” says Redbone. “It’s a labor of love [for Rich and Meagan] and I believe they’re doing pretty well.”
Redbone says World War One was not only a defining moment in the country’s history, but in the history of American music. He advises, however, that “music before the war was pretty good too — in fact, quite good,” adding that it was during the war years of 1914-19 that America’s music continued to develop into what would eventually, on the other side of the war years (i.e. 1920), become the music of the Prohibition era and Roaring ’20s.
[The below portion is the continuation of the 9/30/2010 cover story and does not appear in the print version.]
“It’s an interesting, changing period,” says Redbone, adding that all American music started with guns and swords.
“Basically the whole entire concept started with military music, which started in England,” he says. “So in actual fact it was met with great popularity because of the social movement in England back in the 1870s and ’80s where you had a whole social movement of the workers and this new movement of the rich who felt a guilty about their wealth, who encouraged the workforce to have sort of a self-worth kind of a thing, and encouraged them to have band competitions. This was the great day of the military band. It was cornet players, you name it, just the marching band sounds.
“This is the thing that set it up,” says Redbone. “It’s the reason why that in New Orleans you’ve got the jazz music, you’ve got the band music, you’ve got [the legendary and unrecorded New Orleans jazzman] Buddy Bolden — Buddy Bolden wasn’t necessarily playing jazz; they were playing what they were playing in England at the time of the 1870s, 1880s and ’90s.”
In the decades right before the ’20s, American music was similar to the sounds we think of as marching bands playing the popular music of the day.
“They played music in the brass band style,” says Redbone, the same style “which created morale” among the British workers (“who made pittance”) of the late 1800s.
“That’s what propelled music across the ocean and into this country, and it’s my theory and I’m sticking to it,” says Redbone with a laugh. “And I don’t think anybody would refute it because there’d be no reason to.”
It’s not a coincidence, explains Redbone, that Buddy Bolden played a brass instrument — because that was the type of instruments and music carried over from England — which were then mixed with the sounds and instruments of other countries and continents.
It was “band music,” says Redbone, which was popular in America during the late 1800s, building a foundation for the American styles — jazz, country, R&B, you name it — that followed. But at the time of the late 1910s, “band music” was still the rage.
“And things change,” says Redbone. “What’s popular changed, and the format changed and you’re not dancing and prancing around streets playing it, but now you had clubs, you had drinks, you had the popularity of clubs, the development of clubs, more money coming into the mainstream. Things change slightly so the balance changes. People have money [and] they have to be entertained and then entertainment places started — in the teens and the ’20s, you had these larger and larger facilities and Prohibition encouraged it even more so.
“And so that’s the progression of music, and that’s essentially the combination of blacks or whites playing the same kind of music because it was the music to play,” says Redbone.
America, because of its melting pot of different cultures, is where music morphed into jazz.
“Because of the multi-ethnicity of the U.S., it was an accelerant really,” says Redbone of the birth of jazz in America’s early 1900s. “The Germans were playing German music in their communities, the Italians were playing Italian music, and the thing that busted it wide open was this new age of popularity and of instruments, and new money, and the individuals having a means of expressing whatever they wanted to express instead of being stuck in a factory some place doing what needed to be done by the land owners and so forth and so on. And so the whole thing changed. And after World War One, things changed even more so.”
Minstrelsy would eventually become basically unnecessary and outdated, says Redbone. But for a number of years leading up to 1920, it was a very popular form of live entertainment across America.
“It was actually the entertainment format for America,” says Redbone.
“Minstrelsy is essentially the other propellant to the development of music in America,” he adds. “The minstrel show was a very popular entertainment format in the same years as the military band years. In fact, a lot of the music that was performed [in each format] was very similar. And, [along with] some eccentric numbers, as songwriters were coming up with new ideas, had it not been for minstrelsy there would be no American popular music.
"Unfortunately, the American popular music, which had created its own legs, was also the demise of the minstrel show. So by the late 1920s, the big show that [American minstrel show performer and major influence on country music singers] Emmit Miller was with, [was] the Al G. Field [Minstrels] Company [shows]. Field died in ’21, but his son-in-law carried it through the late ’20s, when they had to call it quits, some time around ’28-’29. That was pretty much the end of minstrelsy. It carried on for many years in amateur [form] right into the 1950s. And maybe into the ’60s actually.
"In fact, it still goes on in some areas."
Along with the vaudeville and minstrelsy traditions, marching band music and the early American “band” orchestras — such as those led by Paul Whiteman and Art Hickman — ragtime and church/gospel music were two other forms of American music, which were not only popular in the first decades of the 20th century, but had an influence on the music brewing around the country in the 1920s.
Vaudeville grows out of minstrelsy among other things, says Martin, and as Redbone says, although the minstrel show was largely outdated by the 1920s, its impact on American music to follow is undisputable.
“It is an important part of American music,” says Hennessey, “but it is a little bit sticky because the minstrel era started well ahead of recorded sound. So when they recorded minstrel stuff in the 1890s and early 1900s, some of the material was already 50-60 years old. It wasn’t exactly current material!”
Still, along with the 50 compilations of rare recordings reissued by Archeophone, the songs that appear in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, as well as some of the tunes you might hear during a Leon Redbone concert, there are unknown treasures waiting to be found in archives and garbage dumps across America.
And mysterious figures — and their songs — from America’s “acoustic era” and beforehand.
As Redbone puts it, there is still “what you might call the propellant for enthusiasm. Because the thing that you don’t know, you can’t get, you never heard, you’re never going to hear is a little more interesting than something that you heard about and finally did hear and doesn’t sound as good as you thought it was going to ... I think that’s the stuff of legends.”
• Leon Redbone on American music before 1914:
“I don’t think you’re going to hear much from that period. I think people would be quite surprised to know what it sounded like before the First World War because things didn’t change until afterwards. And that’s why … the Roaring '20s basically roared into effect because of this music introduced in 1917. I think — nobody wants to hear this, by the way — that that’s an interesting transition.
“Music is music,” says Redbone, “people sort of gravitate to something that rings their bell and they try to do something with it. That’s what music is. It’s an international thing."
Redbone argues that the Original Dixieland Jazz Band of 1917 is “chronologically” the first jazz band, contrary to popular belief and certainly to the attitudes of early jazz musicians such as Jelly Roll Morton, who claimed he invented jazz. Some of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's recordings appear on Archeophone releases.
Although the modern mainstream media has ignored this specific fact, one of many Redbone is quick to point out, one could easily look up such things in the “newspaper archives,” adds Redbone.
It’s no surprise that Diana Krall — whose sultry voice, good looks and evocative piano playing made her an instant star in the jazz world beginning in the 1990s — has always had one foot in the past and one foot in the present.
Among the genres of music A Night at the Speakeasy embodies are country (catapulted into popularity in the mid-1920s by the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast, which originates from Tinnon’s home town of Nashville, Tennessee) and gospel, also made widely popular by radio in the 1920s.
A public discussion entitled “The Atlantic City Experience: The Roaring ’20s” will be hosted by the Atlantic City Free Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 13, in the Atlantic City Historical Museum
"The game has changed quite a bit. Things have gotten a lot more violent, a lot more competitive, and Nucky has sort of had to up his game as well in order to survive. "
Plus ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Return Date Announced , Tribeca Cinema Series and Drew Toonz
According to the Hollywood insider publication Variety, HBO "will bring back the 12-episode third season of Boardwalk Empire on Sept. 16 while New Orleans saga "Treme" is back for 10-episode third season on Sept. 23.
When the Big Day arrives this weekend, some 40 celebrants will assault 15 pounds of corned beef, 10 pounds of ham, and 15 pounds of potatoes at the Absecon home of Charles Coyle.
Justified and True Blood actor Stephen Root will appear on Boardwalk Empire starting in season three as "recurring lawman," according to Hollywood Reporter. Root will play "Gaston Means, a former swindler and murder suspect who now works for the Department of Justice."
'The whole world now will start listening and really finding out how great the music of the 1920s is. It brings it up to the forefront.'
New York big-band leader Vince Giordano talks to Atlantic City Weekly about working on HBO's Boardwalk Empire and its GRAMMY-nominated soundtrack.
"Eddie lived in a kind of musically optimistic 1920s place even though he had a shitty childhood. His parents died when he was young but his grandmother raised him and he was little and scrawny so he got beaten up a lot. He learned to make jokes so he could avoid getting beaten up, so from then on he realized this singing and dancing thing could work."
"When I recorded the first two songs I got to record with the band, which I prefer — in the same room, we did it live. Coming from a musical theater background, I prefer to sing live because there's just this synergy when you have a band playing behind you."
“It’s been my love and passion ever since I was five years old and I think this music moves people. People who come to see us, they say, ‘When I got here I was in kind of a blah mood, not so good, or depressed, or whatever and I come out in just a whole different place. I’m laughing, my spirits are lifted, it’s cheaper than going to a psychiatrist!’”
"We wanted to do it as if it was a behind-the-scenes video of the first rap video ever made [in the 1920s]. But we had trouble getting some of the props we needed for that, like a period movie camera — you know, that would have been our whole budget, just getting that camera."
Plus DrewToonz, the Album of the Week (The Roots), and music history exhibit at WheatonArts in Millville.
Tis the season to be ... buying. If you are in the 99 percent, of course, you may not have much to spend this season, but don’t fret; there are plenty of low-priced options for holiday gift giving and we’ve listed a selected bunch below. If you’re in the one percent, you probably have someone else ...
“So she sings it the way Sophie Tucker would have sang it? That’s good. It was the most unusual style [of singing] that she had. She had a staggered style of singing."
The long-awaited DVD set featuring the complete first season of HBO's Boardwalk Empire will be released in January 2012.
"When that piece of thing was falling out of the sky I said that I was going to try to go outside and try to get hit by that thing and try to commit suicide, but nobody would see it as a suicide though, so I was going to try to take advantage of it."
Seventy-five years ago, then Atlantic City Mayor Charles White decided to sponsor a songwriting contest. The prize was a cool $1,000 — pretty big bucks in those days — and the mission was to write a song about Atlantic City.
President Woodrow Wilson also spoke to the convention crowd at the theater situated at St. Charles Place and the Boardwalk, a vaudeville house jointly owned by developer/impresario Samuel F. Nixon (who leased Atlantic City’s famed Apollo Theatre from saltwater taffy tycoon Joseph Fralinger) and an entertainment combine featuring the notable Erlangers ...
Along with the premiere screening, at least three Boardwalk Empire actors have been confirmed to appear at the event — Anthony Laciura (Eddie Kessler), Adam Mucci (Dept. Halloran) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Arnold Rothstein) — and they will likely do meet-and-greets with fans.
"I wasn’t the only critic that wrote that there is nothing new on broadcast TV that’s as good as Boardwalk Empire. It used to be that cable wouldn’t counter-program against broadcast TV, but in the last few years they’ve gotten stronger and tougher and more arrogant."
Terry Winter, the executive producer, creator and one of the chief writers for the award-winning, Martin Scorsese directed HBO drama series Boardwalk Empire, has finally wrapped filming on the second season's last episode as of Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Plus Roomful of Blues at Kennedy Plaza for free concert, the Album of the Week and DrewToonz comic
Plus Atlantic City Ballet set to celebrate 30 years; DrewToonz on 'Livin' de Life' and the Album of the Week.
Cable TV giant HBO has released an official trailer for the second season of its award-winning and milti-Emmy nominated drama series Boardwalk Empire.
The second season of HBO's highly acclaimed drama series Boardwalk Empire, set in 1920s-era Atlantic City, premieres in late September.
At Missouri Avenue, for many years, was the carnival-looking stand of the “weight guesser.” If he didn’t guess your weight within three pounds, after you stepped on his huge scale, you received one of the many prizes displayed.
They never could enforce it, not really. In Atlantic City, the ban was a boon. The Amendment went out with the next tide.
The heyday of the minstrel show had been in the middle decades of the 19th century. Performers (both white and black) in blackface sang, quipped, and cavorted in a lively if decidedly stereotyped depiction of African-Americans. To label it caricature would be charitable. Yet the richness ...
The next two Girls parties are scheduled for Thursday, April 21, and Thursday, May 19, and include four courses, raffle prizes and live music for $32, and specially priced martinis and wine selections.
Maybe labeling the success of Boardwalk Empire as the sole catalyst in a fashion trend toward popular styles of the past would be padding the stats a bit, but there’s certainly a huge correlation. And this weekend’s Atlantic City Antiques & Collectors Show ...
Boardwalk Empire picked up a couple more awards last night from the Screen Actors Guild. The SAGs are the most prestigious awards next to the Oscars, since the SAGs are voted on by a performer’s peers.
In real life, Nucky Johnson, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk emperor during the 1920s, did eventually marry a former showgirl and actress, a local woman named Flossie Osbeck. But that didn’t happen until one day before Johnson began serving a four-year prison term for tax fraud in 1941. There’s little historical evidence to support the fact that Lucy is patterned after Osbeck.
Each Friday acweekly.com presents a new episode in the "Atlantic City History: Conversations & Storytelling" web video series, inspired by HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" series, and featuring the conversations on six selected topics between Atlantic City historians Vicki Gold Levi, All "Boo" Pergament, Pinky Kravitz, Ralph Hunter, Jim Waltzer and Israel Posner.
Seashore history is slippery — some accounts place Capone and his fellow delegates at the President, and Nucky’s digs on the Ritz’s eighth floor — but by any measure, the 1920s roared extra loud in Atlantic City.
The Web site – atlanticcityexperience.org – provides some of the extensive resources contained in the library’s Alfred M. Heston Collection. The collection contains books, photographs, postcards, audio, video, digital files and memorabilia pertaining to the city’s history.
In the 10th episode of this ongoing web video series, hear the panel of Atlantic City historians tell stories about the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Tune in next Friday, Dec. 10 for part two.
Answer the following trivia questions correctly and be entered to win a large Boardwalk Empire poster. We have two available. Participants must be 18 or older and provide correct e-mail address when answering (in the comments portion below) so we can contact you for shipping of the winnings. OK, here they go: 1. What did Senior Prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden claim to be the cause of death of his partner Agent Sebso? 2. Which of the following six themes have not yet been presented in the multi-part Atlantic City Weekly web video series "Atlantic City History: Conversations & Storytelling"? The web video series was filmed at Caesars right before the viewing party for the debut episode of HBO's Boardwalk Empire on Sept. 19 and included a panel discussion of the following topics by Atlantic City authors and historians including Vicki Gold Levi, Allen "Boo" Pergament, Ralph Hunter, Jim Waltzer, Pinky Kravitz and Israel Posner. a. "Entertainment & Nightlife" b. "The Boardwalk" c. "Nucky Johnson" d. "Gambling (Legal or Otherwise)" e. "The African American Experience" f. "Sports in AC and Camp Boardwalk" Leave your answers below in the comments portion. Two winners will be contacted....
Here are the Golden Globe nominations for 'Boardwalk Empire,' and what they face as challengers. The Golden Globes will air live on NBC on Jan. 16, 2011 at 8pm.
In the 11th episode of this multi-part series, a distinguished panel of Atlantic City historians and authors continue to discuss the history of Atlantic City's famed Boardwalk.
The next-to-last Webisode in this 13-part series, "Success in A.C." aka "Gambling (Legal or Otherwise)" featuring Stockton College's Israel Posner
Brainstorm Digital is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company, with an office in Los Angeles, that specializes in high-quality visual effects, such as those that were used on Boardwalk Empire during the series' first season on HBO last year. ...