OKeh Historical Survey: OKeh "Remote" Recordings and Field Trips

Discography of OKeh Records, 1918-1934, compiled by Ross Laird and Brian Rust.

In mid-1923 OKeh began what was to become a very extensive series of field recordings. Many cities and rural towns were visited by OKeh’s recording engineers using portable equipment. The principal reason for these field trips was to obtain various types of repertoire not available in the New York area where the U.S. record industry had historically always been centered. The types of material recorded included bands and dance orchestras from regional cities, rural blues and folk, jazz, string bands, and ethnic material of all kinds (especially Spanish language vocals).

The following is a complete list of OKeh “remote” recordings (those taken outside New York) which includes the matrix numbers allocated to those masters recorded in each location. After the American Odeon Corp. was disbanded in 1922 the 8000 matrix series which had been used for the recordings made for release on Odeon was designated as a series to be used for recordings made outside the main New York studios. After mid-1923 this series was mainly used for recordings made on the many field trips. The 8000 series continued to 9982 in 1926. No exact dates are known for many of the earlier recordings. Those recordings made on the same field trip in different locations are grouped together.

Table 1a:

“Remote” Recordings, 8000 Matrix Series, 1923-1924

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Atlanta June 1923 8361—8390
Chicago June 22—July ?? 1923 8391—8455
St. Louis September 1923 8456—8463
Detroit October 1923 8464—8474
Chicago October 1923 8475—8502
St. Louis January 1924 8503—8515
Chicago January ??—February 4, 1924 8516—8555
New Orleans March 1924 8556—8575
Atlanta March 1924 8578—8628

A report on the above field trip appeared in The Talking Machine World of May, 1924 headed: “First OKeh Recordings by Southern Orchestra”:

R. S. Peer, director of record production of the General Phonograph Corp., New York, manufacturer of OKeh records, returned recently from a trip to several trade centers, including Chicago, New Orleans and Atlanta. He states that the OKeh jobbers in these cities spoke optimistically of general conditions, commenting on the stability of OKeh sales throughout the year. Mr. Peer stated that arrangements were recently made whereby John A. De Droit and His Orchestra, of New Orleans, La., would record exclusively for the OKeh library. The first record by this popular Southern organization is now ready for distribution and features two well-known hits, “The Swing” and “New Orleans Blues.” The De Droit Orchestra is very popular throughout the South, and during recent years has appeared at Grunewald’s Hotel, New Orleans, and Kolb’s Restaurants. Their records were made during a visit to New Orleans by an OKeh recording expedition, headed by Charles L. Hibbard and P. Decker. At the same time recordings were made by five other well-known orchestras, together with a series of negro recordings, all of which will be announced in the near future.

Table 1b:

“Remote” Recordings, 8000 Matrix Series, 1924-1925

[Recordings made on the same field trip are grouped together.]

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Cincinnati April 10, 1924 8631—8637
Chicago June 1924 8638—8689
Atlanta Aug 26—30, 1924 8690—8745
Dallas October 1924 8746—8758
St. Louis November 1924 8759—8782
Chicago December 4—9, 1924 8783—8822
Atlanta January 1925 8828—8864
St. Petersburg, Fla. January 1925 8865—8885
New Orleans January 22—23, 1925 8886—8911
Detroit January 28—29, 1925 8912—8924

A further article in The Talking Machine World of July, 1925 refers to recordings taken during the above expedition:

The first recording of a “Cajan” folk song for OKeh records has been made by the Hart Piano House, Southern jobbers for the OKeh line.

The “Cajans,” or Arcadians, have a type of music all their own. They are the descendants of the French colonists banished from Grand Pre by the British after the cession to England of some of the French holdings off the Canadian shore, near Newfoundland. These people have lived along the Louisiana bayous, weaving and spinning and raising the peculiarly tinted cotton made famous in the cloths they weave, and the dialect they speak and the songs they sing in the fields and over the cradles are heard only in the bayou country. As portraits of bayou life they are real poetry, connoisseurs say, telling stories of the strange water creatures that inhabit the bayous, and the uneventful life of the fisherfolk.

The initial record is “Gue gue Solingail,” or “Song of the Crocodile.” It is sung for OKeh by Dr. James F. Roach, a New Orleans non-professional, who is gaining a widespread reputation for amateur and radio appearances. The success of the first recording will mean, it is believed, further experiment along the same line and the introduction of typical Cajan music and dialect lyrics to many music lovers, via the talking machine.

Table 1c:

“Remote” Recordings, 8000-9000 Matrix Series, 1925

[Recordings made on the same field trip are grouped together.]

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Cleveland February 1925 8927—8953
Chicago February 1925 8954—8987
Buffalo March 25 8988—9006
St. Louis March 25 9007—9045
Atlanta April 14—16?, 1925 9046—9106
Kansas City May 15?—18, 1925 9107—9130
Chicago May 19—2?, 1925 9131—9172
Annapolis Jun-25 9173—9183
Atlanta June 2?—July 7, 1925 9184—9269
Asheville, N.C. August 25—September 1, 1925 9270—9329

The Asheville sessions were reported in fascinating detail in the local Citizen newspaper, with the first article being published on August 26, 1925:

There was a lot of respiration and perspiration connected with the making of phonograph records, that is, the putting of the music on the rapidly whirling master disk, of brownish wax. This was demonstrated in the recording laboratory of the George Vanderbilt Hotel yesterday when the OKeh record company began making a series of “hill country records.” The laboratory is on the roof, a tightly enclosed room, which has been pronounced by officials of the recording company to be as nearly perfect as any used by them in New York or elsewhere.

In order to get perfect reproduction everything has to be “just so.” At a signal from the producing engineer the disk begins whirling and players begin playing and everybody begins perspiring. But the perspiration doesn’t show up in the finished product. The recording device is like an ordinary phonograph mechanism in appearance. A thick wax disk rests on a circular bed that revolves when the motor is turned on. A needle or stylus bears down on the wax disk when the motor is turning. Five minutes and a new record is made. The wax disk is shipped, most carefully packed, to the factory where the commercial recordings are made.

Yesterday Henry Whitter, famous OKeh entertainer from Fries, Virginia, made several records for... the OKeh Company. Among the ones made… were: “Wild Bill Jones” and “Little Mohee.” The instruments used were the harmonica and the guitar. He was assisted by Kelly Harrell of Field Dale, Virginia, who sings to Whitter’s accompaniment. Harrell formerly made records with the Victor Company, but is now singing for OKeh. Test records were made by Smith and Allgood, of Winston-Salem, banjo entertainers. Their playing of “American and Spanish Fandago” was said to be unusually fine by the reproducing engineer.

Later in the week a number of test records will be made by the Carolina Club Orchestra of the Foor and Robinson Hotels, now playing daily at the Vanderbilt. William Truesdale, the young director of this orchestra, is putting the finishing touches on preparations for recording some of the numbers that have been so popular with dancers in the Vanderbilt ballroom.

Among the officials of the OKeh Company stopping at the George Vanderbilt and participating in the recording of these records are: R.S. Peer, director of record production; Charles L. Hibbard, recording engineer; G.S. Jeffers, general sales representative; and P. C. Brockman of Atlanta, the Southeastern distributor of OKeh records. This is said by officials of the company to be the first time phonograph records have ever been made in the Carolinas. It is customary to have the artist come to New York and the records are made there. However, the company has found the atmosphere of Asheville to be the best in the country for the reproduction of the human voice and instrument music as well in the summer season and it is expected that the present tests being made will be so satisfactory that the company will make the majority of its Southern records in this city.

Today a number of singers and players from the mountain country will be tried out before the reproducing device. The first test is said to be one of the severest experiences the singer or player ever has to undergo and more difficult than an appearance before a large audience.

Table 1d:

“Remote” Recordings, 9000 Matrix Series, 1925-1926

[Recordings made on the same field trip are grouped together.]

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Chicago September 1925 9330—9347
Dallas September 1925 9348—9390
St. Louis October 24?—November 4, 1925 9391—9445
Chicago November 6—14, 1925 9446—9500
Chicago February 22—March 4?, 1926 9501—9577
Atlanta March 1926 9578—9650
St. Louis May 11—15?, 1926 9651—9707
Chicago June 14—26, 1926 9708—9801

After Columbia acquired the OKeh label in November, 1926 there were frequently combined field recording expeditions where material was recorded for both labels. Items intended for release on OKeh were numbered into the OKeh master series, while items intended for release on Columbia were numbered into the Columbia master series. From this point on all Columbia field recordings are shown so the extent of the collaboration in this area can be easily discerned (these recordings are shown with master numbers in a 140000/150000 series). The Columbia recordings mentioned can be found listed in the “Columbia Master Book Discography” (also published by Greenwood Press).

Table 1e:

“Remote” Recordings, 9000 & 140000 Matrix Series, 1926-1927

[Recordings made on the same field trip are grouped together.]

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Atlanta October 2?—November 4, 1926 9802—9876
Atlanta November 1—8, 1926 143000—143119
Chicago November 15—27, 1926 9877—9982
Chicago November 22—December 10, 1926 142950—142996

Following the above sessions the separate matrix series OKeh had used for location recordings since they began in 1923 was discontinued. See below for the new system which was adopted from March, 1927.

Los Angeles  February 15—26, 1927  143400—143421
San Francisco March 1—3, 1927 143422—14327
Los Angeles  March 7—8, 1927 143428—143439

From this point OKeh recordings were all numbered into the same matrix series as used for the New York recordings. As part of the general re-alignment of recording practices with the new Columbia parent-label the same procedure as used by Columbia was adopted whereby blocks of numbers in the main matrix series were allocated to recordings made in all locations. Until December, 1927 all OKeh masters were numbered into an 80000 matrix series. In January, 1928 this was changed to a six digit 400000 matrix series for 10” recordings and a 500000 matrix series for 12” recordings (to match up with the six figure Columbia 140000/150000 matrix series).

Table 1f:

“Remote” Recordings, 80000 & 140000 Matrix Series, 1927-1931

[Recordings made on the same field trip are grouped together.]

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Philadelphia March 15, 1927  80629—80634
Atlanta March 14—23, 1927 80517—80662
Atlanta March 25—April 8, 1927 143751—143948
New Orleans April 11—15, 1927 143949—143984
St. Louis April 25—May 3, 1927 80741—80831
Chicago May 4—21, 1927 80832—80932
Chicago June 7—24, 1927 144300—144363
Atlanta June 15—16, 1927 144277—144284
Chicago September 1—6, 1927 81300—81317
Minneapolis September 7—9, 1927 81318—81338
Los Angeles September 23—0ctober 27, 1927 144700—144775
Winston-Salem September 19—28, 1927 81339—81399 & 81600—81650
Atlanta October 3—12, 1927 81652—91765
New Orleans October 22—28, 1927 145000—145042
Atlanta October 31—November 11, 1927 145043—145223
Chicago December 2—19, 1927 82000—82099
Dallas December 2—7, 1927 145300—145346
Memphis December 9—14, 1927 145347—145381
Memphis February 11—29, 1928 400200—400377
San Antonio March 3—14, 1928 400378—400515
Los Angeles March 20—30, 1928 145900—145933
San Francisco March 29—April 2, 1928 400516—400555 & 500534
Los Angeles April 2—30, 1928 145934—145949
Los Angeles April 4—May 5, 1928 400556—400596
Los Angeles May 3 146227—146230
Honolulu May 18—June 2, 1928 146650—146729, 146827, 146963—146964 & 147673—147678
Honolulu May 20—31, 1928 400873—400883 & 401360—401384
Seattle June 18—25, 1928 146451—146492
Spokane June 28-29, 1928 146493—146504
Chicago March 19—31, 1928  145800—145868
Atlanta April 10—21, 1928  146000—146175
New Orleans  April 24—28, 1928 146176—146226
Chicago  June 19—July 10, 1928  400900—401002 & 500008—500011
Detroit July 11—14, 1928  401003—401034
Atlanta July 30—August 13, 1928  402000—402144
Detroit September, 1928  500015—500020
Johnson City, Tenn.  October 15—18, 1928  147176—147243
Atlanta October 22—November 2, 1928  147244—147386
Chicago  November 10—27, 1928  147500—147533
Chicago  December 1—12, 1928  402145—402226
Dallas December 3—9, 1928 147550—147623
New Orleans December 12—17, 1928 147624—147665
Los Angeles January 10—24, 1929 402227—402258
Los Angeles  January 10—23, 1929 147800—147827
San Francisco  January 26—31, 1929 402259—202268
Los Angeles January 28—February 5, 1929 147828—147844 & 147993—147996
Atlanta March 11—22, 1929 402269—402412
Atlanta April 8—19, 1929 148200—148370
Los Angeles May 22—29, 1929 401900—401928 & 403297—403461
Los Angeles May 26—June 14, 1929 148559-148591
San Francisco June 19—25, 1929 148596—148599 & 148730—148733
San Antonio June 10—21, 1929 402601—402713
Dallas June 25—28, 1929 402714—402779
Chicago July 9—12, 1929 402800—402849,500122—500123 & 501000—501020
Richmond, Va. August 15, 1929 402598—402600
Richmond, Va. October 13—18, 1929 403100—403192
Johnson City, Tenn. October 21—24, 1929 149200—149265
Atlanta October 28—November 6, 1929 149266—149402
Chicago November 15—16, 1929 403300—403343
Dallas November 27—30, 1929  403344—403403
Dallas December 2—6, 1929  149500—149569
New Orleans  December 10—11, 1929  149570—149599
New Orleans  December 13—17, 1929  403404—403449 & 403500—403505
Los Angeles January 7—8, 1930 149800—149805
Los Angeles February 5—20, 1930 149806—149816
Shreveport, La. February 17—18, 1930  403800—403813
Los Angeles March 7—23, 1930 149820—149827
Los Angeles April 10—24, 1930 149828—149839
Los Angeles April 25, 1930 403983—403986
Atlanta April 14—23, 1930 150200—150375
Atlanta April 23—25, 1930 403900—403935
Los Angeles May 23, 1930 149840—149841
San Antonio May 29—June 20, 1930 404050—404199 & 404300—404361
Brownsville, Tx. June 21, 1930 404362—404375
Los Angeles June 13—??, 1930 149842—149850
Los Angeles July 1, 1930 404400—404402
Los Angeles July 21, 1930 404403—404404
Los Angeles August 19, 1930 404405—404406
Los Angeles September ??—23, 1930 149851—149858
Los Angeles October 3—November ?, 1930 404407—404416
Los Angeles October 15—November 19, 1930 149859—149870
Atlanta December 1—13, 1930 40460—404708 & 404801
Atlanta December 3—8, 1930 151000—151106
Jackson, Miss. December 12—18, 1930 151119—151134
Jackson, Miss. December 15—19, 1930 404709—404800
Los Angeles December 2—5, 1930 149871—149876
Los Angeles December 23, 1930 404417—414419
Los Angeles January 21, 1931 149877—149878
Chicago January 22, 1931 151238—151239
Los Angeles March 9, 1931 404420—404421
Los Angeles March 24, 1931 149879—149884
Chicago April 20—29, 1931 404422—404425 & 404870—404873
Los Angeles April 22, 1931 149885—149886

Columbia made very few recordings outside New York after 1931, and none that were allocated master numbers in the OKeh matrix series.


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Discography of OKeh Records, 1918-1934 . Compiled by Ross Laird and Brian Rust. Reprinted by permission.