In the fall of 2018, Jim Leary sent me an email with plans to track down and reissue all of the songs from Wallin’s Svenska Records. It was just an idea at that point and Archeophone hadn’t even signed on to the project, but Jim had already started identifying discs needed for the set. Having grown up in a bilingual Swedish-English-speaking household and having spent years researching a Swedish American poet, Jim asked if I could help with transcription and translation. Like a fool, I said yes.
Transcribing and translating lyrics is hard. There’s really no way around it. It takes time and patience and more stubbornness than I care to admit. Thankfully, not every song from Swede Home Chicago: Wallin’s Svenska Records, 1923–1927needed to be fully transcribed. Some of the Wallin’s sleeves included lyrics, and others could be found in hymnals or songbooks like Dalkullan Sångbok, which was published just down the street from Wallin’s music store. Even still, the musicians often sang different versions, adding lines here, dropping entire stanzas there, thus requiring careful listening to ensure accuracy. Of course, most challenging were the songs that had no lyrics to be found, which meant that before any translations could happen, transcription had to happen. And for transcription to happen, the records had to be tracked down so that the team at Archeophone could begin to transfer and restore the songs. Luckily, Jim Leary is a dogged researcher and with the help of many people along the way was able to track down all but one disc.
It’s only been a little more than a year since Colin Hancock first wrote us up with a rough idea about reissuing the six personal records made by Gus Haenschen and his banjo orchestra in 1916. We’d already released one of them, “Sunset Medley,” on our 2003 issue, Stomp and Swerve—and we’re big fans. So, had Colin located the other five discs?
Well, not exactly.
He had a line on four of the six, thanks to David Sager and Mike Kieffer, with a strong likelihood of the fifth. When that fifth came through, from Rob Chalfen in Boston, we were all getting pretty excited. So close! There was one more, elusive, with rumors of it being in the collections of two mutual friends: “Maple Leaf Rag,” the legendary piece by Joplin, performed by one of his students while the master was still alive. Sager knew where to find it. He told us to go to Joplin’s one-time home, St. Louis, and there we would find it in the collection of the late St. Louis Ragtimer, the great Trebor Tichenor.
Trebor’s daughter Virginia and son-in-law Marty Eggers took David’s advice, went searching among his thousands of 78s and found it! Marty and Virginia, who are spending time between Oakland and St. Louis, graciously worked out a time for us all to meet, Colin drove up from Texas, and we were joined by the fantastic musician T. J. Müller to do a transfer session.
A horror story of improper 78 packing and a photograph documenting the carnage has been making the rounds on the phonograph group boards this week. It seems that, even with the buyer having described safe packing techniques, it all went wrong. Maybe it was the seller trying to cram 60 discs into one priority mail box. Our theory is that the seller didn’t like being told what to do and stomped them before tossing the shards in the box. One observer remarked that the seller probably dropped the box repeatedly until the crunching noises ended. A quick search of the groups will tell you that this situation is far more common than it should be, though most of the destruction is limited to a few records at a time. We’ve certainly had a few nightmares too—as well as a few really oddly packed records that made their way to us unbroken purely by miracle . One recalls an Arthur Collins Berliner, taped between 2 pieces of particle board and mailed to us inside a pizza box.
A box of broken records. (Image by Ric at Kahuna Archives, via the 78s and Phonograph group on Facebook.)