I stumbled on an old Victor Victrola hand-cranked 78 rpm record player at a flea market one day a few years ago, and was irresistibly lured by the scratchy, distinctly analog sound of the music wafting out of the funny looking horn attached to the arm.
There was something so warm and inviting about the music on these old discs, something very handmade and human to the sound. In our digital world, everything gets reduced to bits of code, ones or zeros, with nothing in between. In the old analog world of these 78 rpm recordings, sure there may be hiss and distortion, but there is something else there too, some ineffable quality between the ones and the zeros, teased out of the old grooves by needle and tone arm.
I discovered a vast world out there of old-time music fans and collectors and dealers. eBay has a huge ongoing auction of 78's. Once in a while incredibly rare discs crop up, and the prices can range from a dollar or two, up to thousands of dollars. There is an intense collector's market for certain pre-War blues 78's, something that I would love to get into, but can not afford at the prices these rare records command.
I found myself eventually gravitating towards three things I was passionate about, and soon got obsessed by: Cuban music from the 30's, 40's and 50's; French and Belgian pre-War Swing Music, and anything by my hero, the gypsy guitar master Django Rheinhardt.
Once I figure out how to do it, I hope to post here on the blog some tracks from my own collection of 78's for you all to hear.
In the meantime, here is a bit of Django himself from YouTube.
I'm talking about the old 78 rpm record label "Rythme", not the Gershwin standard "I Got Rhythm" that became the basic chord changes to a lot of Be-Bop classics from "Anthropology" to "Moose The Mooche".
Among other artists who put out discs on this label, for a time it was the home to one of the most amazing musicians ever, and a personal favorite, Django Rheinhardt.
It was an impulse purchase, as I walked past the dealer and heard the scratchy, nostalgic tones of Glen Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" coming out of the antique horn. But as it turned out, it opened a door to me to the world of vintage 78 rpm recordings.
Popular back-list music will get repackaged and rereleased forever in whatever new music formats arrive on the scene, from Hi-Fi to LP to 8-Track to Cassette to CD to digital MP3 and beyond to infinity.
But so much of what was recorded then has been lost to the shifting vagaries of popular taste and the sands of time. 78 rpm discs are a window back on a trove of small label, regional, international and vernacular music of every style and genre, from spoken word to comedy to vaudeville to early Jazz.
Like everything, there is a passionate community of devoted afficianados who buy, trade and preserve the discs and the music. The King of American 78 rpm collectors is this wild guy Joe Bussard, who has something like 25,00 records, including several one-of-a-kind only known copy discs such as a recording of the classic "Stag-o-Lee Blues" on the defunct Chicago-based Black Swan record label.
My particular obsessions have been European Pre-War recordings by Django Rheinhardt, with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France ("QHCF") or other French or Belgium bands of the era.