Guest blog post by Jim Leary
Reissues of historic sound recordings don’t happen without discs in hand. Networking with committed discographers, visionary institutions, and ardent collectors ease the process, yet hunts for limited century-old releases by obscure immigrant labels are challenging. I’d sworn off protracted sonic archeology after an ultimately successful 2016-2018 search with Archeophone to find every Swiss American side issued on Helvetia by Ferdinand Ingold of Monroe, Wisconsin (Alpine Dreaming, Archeophone 8002).
But serendipity sparked a three-year quest for Wallin’s Svenska Records (WSR).
I blame Bob Coon, the genial tireless record collector who provided five rare Helvetia discs for Alpine Dreaming. Visiting his home in August 2017, we learned he had also acquired WSR discs over the years. Soon after, he sold seven to Mills Music Library at University of Wisconsin-Madison, swelling their WSR holdings to thirteen.
A baker’s dozen double-sided discs were enough to imagine a reissue, but how many remained at large? Our gang of four got to work (Meagan Hennessey and Rich Martin of Archeophone, Jim Leary and Marcus Cederström of University of Wisconsin-Madison).
Writing in the jazz magazine Storyville way back in 1973, archivist/discographer Björn Englund reported that matrix numbers for 1924 Chicago tracks by Swedish singers on Wallin’s Svenska Records were in close proximity to electrical recordings for Paramount, engineered by Orlando Marsh, featuring jazz musicians Jelly Roll Morton and Boyd Senter. Englund beseeched subscribers for “further information on the WSR label.” His initial post and a 1974 response yielded basic information for seven Wallin’s discs.
In 1977, Pekka Gronow’s two-volume Studies in Scandinavian-American Discography confirmed existence for four more. Dick Spottswood’s Ethnic Music on Records (1990) added another six. In recent years the pseudonymous Swede Svänga-Benga listed eight more previously unaccounted entries on his Musiknostalgi site; and the Swedish National Library’s Svensk Mediedatabas offered a final three.
These fragmentary discographies collectively revealed a complete series, numbering 100-127, of 28 double-sided discs. But a discography is not a disc. How to find the 15 we lacked?
Discographers and institutions were the key. Pekka Gronow generously connected us with Swedish collectors Per Larsson and Gunnar Sundberg, resulting in three new finds. Three more came from Sweden’s National Library (Kungliga Biblioteket) and Sveriges Radio. Chicago’s Swedish American Museum kindly allowed access to their uncatalogued sound recordings, where we discovered another five WSR disks, and the Scandinavian-American Recordings collection at Gustavus Adolphus College yielded two. Happily, our Swedish friends sent high-quality digital transfers, while our Swedish American friends permitted us to borrow and digitize their holdings.
The twenty-seventh record came via our high bid at a Nauck’s Vintage Records auction. Number twenty-eight, alas, remains elusive: WSR 107, “Dansbacillen” b/w “Släckta fyrar” by the accordion trio Bröderna Berg/Berg Brothers. And even the Brothers’ identities are a mystery. But that’s another story. Stay tuned.