Sun 5 Aug 2007
In the fall of 2005 one of the most mysterious, elusive and sought after 78's seemingly appeared out of nowhere. The record, Son House's "Clarksdale Moan" b/w "Mississippi County Farm Blues", was recorded by Paramount in 1930 in what has been called the greatest early blues session ever recorded. In addition to Son House, Charley Patton, Willie Brown and Louise Johnson all laid down landmark recordings on that fateful date. It's hard to fathom how records like this surface after so long but in recent years there has been some amazing discoveries of long lost records by King Solomon Hill, Tommy Johnson and Blind Joe Reynolds. Collector John Tefteller has been personally responsible for some of these discoveries while similar discoveries by others, have found there way into Tefteller's collection (including the aforementioned Son House). In addition Tefteller also uncovered a huge cache of Paramount promotional material a few years back. Paramount marketed their "race records", as they were called, to African-Americans, most notably in the pages of the Chicago Defender, the African-American newspaper, and sent promotional material to record stores and distributors. Tefteller bought a huge cache of this artwork from a pair of journalists who rescued them from the rubbish heap some twenty years previously. The depression essentially killed off Paramount's advertising budget so many of these images were never sent out and hence have not been seen by anyone since they were first produced. Tefteller has been making these gorgeous ads available in his "Classic Blues Artwork Calendar" since 2004 and like previous calendars, the 2008 version is another stunner.
Many of us have seen reproductions of those early Chicago Defender ads, tantalizing as they are, the reproductions left much to be desired. Where the earlier reproductions were taken from adverts in The Chicago Defender newspaper, these are copied from distribution posters. They are large reproductions and they have been beautifully reproduced with stunning clarity. Each month features a large sized ad with this year's calendar featuring provocative, lurid and wonderfully politically incorrect artwork promoting the following records: Texas Alexander ("Range In My Kitchen Blues") [a snapshot of this is shown on the back - the full length page is not included which seems to be a printing error?], Blind lemon Jefferson ("One Dime Blues"), Rube Lacy ("Mississippi Jail House Groan"), Blind Joe Reynolds ("Nehi Mama"), Ma Rainey ("Deep Moaning Blues"), Crying Sam Collins ("Jail House Blues"), Banjo Joe ("Madison Street Rag"), Blind Blake ("Seaboard Stomp"), Mississippi Sheiks ("Shake That Thing"), Blind Blake ("Low Down Jail House"), Ida Cox ("Cold And Blues") and Elzadie Robinson ("The Santa Claus Crave"). What's interesting is that many of the illustrations include an actual photo of the artist. In addition we get some smaller ads included on each calendar page that, despite the small size, are just as crisp and readable as the larger images. The usual anniversary dates for Christmas, Easter are listed plus anniversaries for blues singers like Son House and other luminaries such as Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass. Brief artist biographies are included and there is an informative introduction from Tefteller.
The calendar also includes a sixteen track CD, the first twelve songs matching the artwork on each page of the calendar. True to form there is a major discovery on the CD; included is apparently the only known copy of Blind Willie McTell & Mary Willis’ “Talkin To You Wimmen’ About The Blues” b/w “Merciful Blues” (see last post). Which begs the question, "Why are pre-war blues records so rare?" Well, as Tefteller write in his introduction: "With initial pressings of 500 or less, how many could possibly survive all the different ways a fragile 78 rpm record could be destroyed? It can be cracked; broken; ground to a powder with a steel needle and a five pound tone arm; damaged in a flood, fire, hurricane or tornado; or just thrown away because the original owner died or moved or left it behind! And, don't think for a minute that the record companies that put them out had any foresight to save them. There are no masters for most old Blues records. Those were destroyed or thrown out years ago. It is a miracle that ANY of them survive today!"
All in all a beautiful, unique and thoughtfully produced collectable that will bring pleasure to blues collectors year round. Tefteller noted a couple of years back that he was "knee-deep in production of what will be the ultimate book of original Blues advertising material" which hopefully is still in the works. Until then, Tefteller has amassed a huge storehouse of these images (over 4,000) which will ensure years and years of wonderful calendars.