New York City, 1896. A man walks into a bar. He sits down, orders a beer, and
laughs long and hard at the bartender's newest story. It's a good tale, though
a bit too bawdy to repeat at home. The next day he goes into the same bar, gets
his beer, and drops his change into a phonograph. He's listening through rubber
tubes to a man telling a story similar to the bartender's. Without warning Anthony
Comstock's defenders of decency charge into the bar, push him aside, destroy
the record, and escort the bar's proprietor to jail for promoting indecency.
Obscene Recordings from 110 Years Ago
The commercial recordings on this CD are the only known copies that Comstock's
men missed. They were preserved by long-time Edison Recording Manager Walter
Miller and are now in the vault of the Edison National Historic Site. Scarcity
and suppression have kept them silent for a century. They were stories told
readily in the bar; yet they became legally actionable offenses when fixed in
wax and played on a phonograph in that same bar. Brace yourself. Just because
they are from the Victorian era does not mean they are tame by today's standards—far
Pioneer Recording Artist Goes to Jail
They are so indecent that Russell Hunting was imprisoned in 1896 for making
and selling them. Up to that point Hunting had been doing a brisk trade selling
his bawdy cylinders to the exhibitors on Coney Island who had certain "discriminating"
customers. Although he recorded under pseudonyms such as "Charley Smith"
and "Willy Fathand," his voice was so well-known through his "Casey"
routines that he was identified as the creator by aural evidence alone. Hunting's
recording career never fully recovered, and he left the U.S. in 1898 to make
a fresh start in England.
Cal Stewart and James White Join in
If you think you've heard every Cal Stewart routine, think again. In two unique
recordings from early in his career, Cal Stewart assumes his familiar Punkin
Centre dialect in "Learning a City Gal
How to Milk" and performs with an Irish accent in "The
Tapeworm Story." James White, who rose to prominence in the Edison
organization as the director of many of its early films, performs the most bawdy
routines in this collection. "Sim Hadley
on a Racket" is a piece that White inherited from Hunting, and he surpasses
his mentor in making it filthy.
Uncut, Uncensored, and in the Proper Historical Context
Recently retrieved from the vaults of the Edison National Historic Site, these
extraordinarily scarce recordings are presented in their unexpurgated entirety.
They allow us to hear uncut and uncensored what new technology made possible
and the protectors of public morals made illegal: indecent performances driven
out of town, out of business, off the public stage, and into the privacy of
unmixed company in the home.
Bawdy Home Recordings
A second collection of cylinders heard on this CD was made at home by an amateur
who delighted in reciting obscene jokes, limericks, songs, poems, and stories
into the horn. What this tells us about late Victorian America may be shocking
to some—these are extremely racy recordings and are not for the faint-hearted.
But for historians and folklorists, these are primary documents of a poorly
studied tradition. We've indexed the separate texts on these home recordings
into different tracks to aid in research. And for all our audio samples below,
we have judiciously selected non-obscene excerpts.
A Special Critical Edition
Phonograph historian Patrick Feaster and the Grammy-award winning team of co-author
and co-producer David Giovannoni and co-producers Meagan Hennessey and Richard
Martin tell the whole story for the first time anywhere. At 60 pages, the CD's
oversized booklet stands alone as a work of its own merit. It features several
full-length articles, complete transcripts of all the recorded material, selections
from the 1893 convention of phonograph dealers, and extensive footnotes. Plus
the usual attractive design and previously unpublished illustrations you expect
from Archeophone. It may be indecent—but it sure is classy!