Friday, December 27, 2019

Nat Brusiloff and His Orchestra, 1930-1934

Nat Brusiloff, violin virtuoso and dance band conductor, was among the earliest "personality leaders" on network radio. At the peak of his fame, in the early 1930s, he was musical director for Kate Smith's radio program and led hot dance ensembles that broadcast coast-to-coast over the CBS and NBC radio networks. Because he made almost no commercial recordings, his name has slipped into undeserved obscurity. In fact, his name is known primarily to researchers of old-time radio and Kate Smith historians. There has been little written about him in magazines and old-time radio club newsletters and unless I am mistaken, there is no book or biography about Nat Brusiloff (expect for a possible Spanish language biography that may or may not have been published in the U.S.). Yeah, his name has become a tad obscure.

Thankfully, Brusiloff did record several dozen 12-inch 78s for distribution to radio stations, and those extraordinarily rare discs form the basis of this first-ever Brusiloff collection titled NAT BRUSILOFF AND HIS ORCHESTRA: "Out of a Clear Blue Sky" 1930-1934. Scheduled for release in January 2020 (pre-orders now accepted at, I received a complimentary CD set from David Sager, a research assistant in the Recorded Sound Research Center at the Library of Congress, who himself is a Grammy-nominated jazz historian and jazz trombonist. David also happens to be the grandson of Nat Brusiloff, who provides us with a loving tribute and biography in a 48-page illustrated booklet. Not only is the booklet entertaining but provides us with information not available in any reference guide or magazine article. The ultimately tragic story of the musical prodigy makes the recordings on this two-CD set all the more valuable. 

The recordings, by the way, have been lovingly remastered by renowned sound engineer Doug Benson for the best possible sound. The sixteen Judson sides transferred for the first CD were not from commercial master pressings, but transcription discs meant for broadcast.  Restoring audio is complex and time consuming, as any audio engineer will tell you. The condition of some of the original discs were often not good. Pitch drift and double layers of hum were common problems. Some had vocals that were too loud or solos that were too soft in the mix. Overall volume levels often changed throughout the song. Needless to say, as engineer Doug Benson remarked, "it was a balancing act worthy of cirque du Soleil to massage these into a cohesive, presentable package."

Honestly, I found myself enjoying these recordings and not from a historical perspective. Such hot dance numbers of the times are remnant of the type of music that accompanies silent comedy film shorts and the second CD provided a rare treat: a composite of three radio programs from 1931, The Shuron Musical Showmen, which makes me want to seek out the complete broadcasts of that series and listen to them. 

Looking for vintage 1930s music that you will be certain to enjoy? Grab a set today from Amazon or Rivermont Records direct at the link provided below. You can even sample some of the music at this website.


Friday, December 20, 2019

Yesterday USA Gets an Upgrade

Since launching in 1983, the Yesterday USA radio network has been a successful Internet radio station providing old-time radio programs to the masses, 24 hours a day. Radio hosts Larry Gassman and John Gassman (hosts of Same Time, Same Station) and Walden Hughes continue to broadcast weekly with authors and celebrity guests. Sadly, as a result of the recent passing of Bill Bragg, the founder of Yesterday USA, the radio station's future was in temporary jeopardy. 

But wait! Do not fret! A solution has been found! With the blessing of Kim Bragg, Bill’s widow, Walden and the Gassmans plan to move the home base of Yesterday USA from Texas to California (which will also provide a savings of approximately $1,000 a month in operating costs). To accomplish their mission, they need to replace the outdated computer equipment with new software and hardware, especially because radio hosts Walden, Larry and John are totally blind. On Kickstarter, they provided a breakdown of what they need to accomplish their goal and continue broadcasting old-time radio shows through an automation system.

Breakdown (Justification of Costs)
Two Window 10 PCs ($1,380.84) to be located in John and Larry's office.
Two Station Playlist Software Pro version and special software ($998).
Two Station Playlist tutorials and JAWS screen reading software scripts ($150).
Linksys eight-port Metallic Gigabit switch ($40.67).
AB switch ($38.78)
A desk for Larry and John to operate from ($40).
Two versions of Live Web DJ Broadcast Software ($19.95 per month for each, for a total of $478.80). This software will allow us to broadcast live.
Broadcast board and two phone systems ($1,402) for producing live broadcasts.

(L to R) Radio hosts Michael Biel, Walden Hughes, Larry and John Gassman.

Presently you can listen to their programming at While we can listen to old-time radio through CDs and other venues, it is always comforting to know there are dedicated radio hosts who provide interviews with celebrities, authors and historians on a weekly basis, live on the air. 

If you want to help contribute, visit their Kickstarter campaign here.

Friday, December 13, 2019

HBO's WATCHMEN is Daring and Explosive

Retaining the "deconstruction of the hero" theme from Alan Moore's 1986 graphic novel, originally published as a series of 12 comic book issues titled Watchmen, and with subtle nods to the motion-picture based on the same novel, Damon Lindelof brought back the concept faithfully with a brand new story. Watchmen, in my opinion, is one of the ten best reads -- ever. The 2009 motion-picture was as faithful as it could be from the printed page but I noticed over the years that everyone who read the book loved the movie. Everyone who never read the book, hated the movie. With that in mind... if you never read the graphic novel, the new HBO mini-series will not be your cup of tea. But having watched all nine episodes of this new mini-series, it is fantastic.

Moore initially conceived of the story as a means to reflect contemporary anxieties and satirize the superhero genre, emphasizing that the majority of heroes fighting crime were masked vigilantes -- until the spawn of Doctor Manhattan. Considered one of the 100 greatest reads of the 20th century, the 12 comics were later combined to form a graphic novel which has gone into more than two dozen printings and the estimated sale of more than two million copies. Moore himself was against the 2009 motion-picture, claiming there were certain aspects that could only work in a comic book and never translate to film. DC Comics and Warner Bros., however, have since produced a number of spin-off comics based on the characters from Watchmen, including this new HBO mini-series (consisting of nine episodes).

As a fan of Damon Lindelof, the same man responsible for Lost and The Leftovers, I was excited by the prospect.

This rendition takes place in an alternative 2019, 34 years after the end of events from Alan Moore's Watchmen, now primarily set in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Due to liberal policies set by President Robert Redford to provide reparations to those affected by racial violence, including massive wholesale slaughter in the streets in 1921, white supremacist groups following the writings of Rorschach (a character from Watchmen for whom his story went to print after the climatic cover-up) attack the police that enforce the law, leading to controversial laws requiring police to hide their identity and wear masks. Yes, if the identity of policemen were publicly known, they would become targets for domestic terrorists. This has allowed new masked vigilantes to fight alongside the police to combat the supremacists, with permission from law enforcement, since they were banned from service decades ago. Along the way we have a murder that might have been created to set off a chain of events, using the most deadliest of weapons known to mankind -- fear. 

Moore's love for the Silver Age of comics was dominant in his story, a love of superheroes who fought for truth, justice, and the American way. His heroes, however, presented a darker side of justice where lollypops and rainbows is nothing more than a mask for what happened behind closed doors. They lied, conspired, committed adultery, and beat up bad guys when there was no cause simply because they had to adhere to a code. This HBO mini-series clearly establishes the question of law and order -- not everything is black and white. And yet, the subplot that builds tension in the new America is about black and white. You know that little grey area where law and order involves third-degree methods by police and wholesale slaughter of domestic terrorists that is never questioned by a higher court? Welcome to Watchmen.

Some of the characters from the original comic appear in person such as Silk Spectre, now an official agent for the FBI. Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, now known as "Lord of a Country Manor," is seen briefly in each episode working on some project that means he is up to his old tricks again. What he is planning now will be revealed at the conclusion, I have no doubt. Doctor Manhattan is due to arrive in some shape or form based on previews, but we will have to wait to see the arrival of the superhero deemed by many as a God. (Not a spoiler but episode eight is entitled "A God Walks Into a Bar.")

HBO reported the premiere of Watchmen was the largest in the network's history. Good news for those hoping for a second season, which would also include an entirely new self-contained story arc. Lindelof reported this season is self-contained and concludes with episode nine. So if you are a fan of Watchmen and were on the fence about watching this, make the effort. Lindelof captured the spirit, feel and content that made Alan Moore's graphic novel a fantastic read.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Abbott and Costello's Overdue Preservation

Thanks to Bob Furmanek, the same man responsible for the preservation of numerous motion-pictures including September Storm (1960) and The Bubble (1966), one of Abbott and Costello's most widely-seen motion-pictures is about to receive a facelift.

Having starred in a number of motion-pictures for Universal Studios, and three for MGM, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello agreed to a joint venture producing their own movie, Africa Screams, which was ultimately distributed through United Artists. Filmed from November to December 1948 at the Nassour Studios in Los Angeles, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made a tidy profit from the production, later selling ownership in 1953 to Robert Haggiag, an independent distributor in New York, who quickly re-released the movie to theaters to get a return on his investment. Haggiag failed to renew the copyright registration in 1977 and as a result the movie fell into the public domain. This meant anyone can duplicate and sell the movie on any format. Sadly, many prints of the film were slightly edited, many transferred from 16mm, and duplicated in second and third-generation copies. In short, Africa Screams has been subject to hundreds of VHS and DVD releases but never in superior picture or sound. 

In the late 1980s, film preservationist Bob Furmanek contacted Haggiag to obtain the original nitrate stock. Most of the original camera negatives had decomposed but the nitrate fine grain was still serviceable and promptly transferred to 35mm for preservation. Since October 2015, Furmanek's 3-D Film Archive successfully restored 17 vintage 3-D features for presentation, most released commercially on DVD and BluRay. With his track record for film preservation, Furmanek decided to take the plunge and utilize Kickstarter, a crowd-funding opportunity for fans to make financial pledges to ensure the surviving nitrates safely transferred to digital format to enable him with financial flexibility to do 4K digital scans of all the surviving elements, and a meticulous frame-by-frame digital clean-up of all dirt and damage, flicker reduction, image stabilization and grading to assemble a fully-restored final 4K composite master.

Keeping in mind that all of Abbott and Costello's movies have received 35mm print transfers from the major studios, Africa Screams (1949) remains the only full-length motion-picture needing a major restoration. Fans of the screen comedians can donate any funds beginning with a single dollar, but for $25, fans can receive a DVD of the restored version (estimated release date June 2020).

Bob Furmanek went into detail on Kickstarter about the necessity of having the film restored, with a financial goal of $7,500 to be reached within 30 days. And the good news? Fans came to the rescue and he reached his goal within three days. You can still contribute to the cause until the end of December, which would also get your name on the website and in the DVD/BluRay credits, as well as pre-purchasing the DVD or BluRay in advance. Link provided below.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Christmas Radio Station

Any flat disc record, made between (circa) 1898 and 1959 and playing at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute is referred to today by collectors as a "78." The materials of which these discs were made and with which they were coated were also various; shellac eventually became the most common of materials. Generally 78s are made of a brittle material which uses a shellac resin (which is why collectors also refer to them as shellac records). During and after World War II when shellac supplies were extremely limited (used for the war cause), many 78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac.

In 1948, Columbia Records unveiled the 33 1/3 RPM long playing record. It played for about 20 minutes per side. Then came the battle of the speeds. RCA in 1949 began offering records (and record players) that played at 45 revolutions per minute.

If asked how much these discs are worth, there really is no set guide to determine the value. Anyone with the correct record player can play these recordings and they are a dime a dozen at antique fairs and eBay.

After two months of cataloging more than 3,000 of the old 33s, 45s and 78s to CD format, and separating those with a holiday theme, I loaded more than 300 Christmas songs onto a streaming playlist for you to enjoy. In the spirit of of mixtape from years gone by, I found a modern way to bring these songs to the masses for the holiday season, without having to burn hundreds of CDs. 

If you are like me, every holiday you tune to a local radio station that traditionally plays the same Christmas songs over and over and over... and yeah, it gets tedious hearing the same recordings every year. Christmas is a time to establish a fond look back through nostalgic vocals and my frustration grows knowing that Gene Autry's rendition of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Bing Crosby's White Christmas is going to play on rotation... again and again.

What you will hear on this streaming radio station (accessible with a simple click of a button on your computer, iPad, tablet, iPhone, etc.) are vintage Christmas offerings all dated pre-1960 and chances are you haven't heard these renditions. Examples include:

I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas (1954, Betty Johnson)
Frosty the Snowman (1950, Guy Lombaro and his Orchestra)
Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop (1954, Art Carney)
I Want You for Christmas (1937, Mae Questel as Betty Boop)
All Around the Christmas Tree (1940, Raymond Scott and his New Orchestra)
Barnyard Christmas (1952, Spike Jones and The Bell Sisters)
The Birthday of a King (1949, Judy Garland)
Jingle Bells (1935, Benny Goodman and his Orchestra)
It Happened in Sun Valley (1941, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra)
Christmas in Killarney (1950, Dennis Day with The Mellowmen)
The First Noel (1942, Nelson Eddy and Robert Armbruster's Orchestra)
Let's Start the New Year Right (1942, Bing Crosby)
Hello, Mr. Kringle (1939, Kay Kyser)
Jingle Bells (1934, Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra, and Harriet Hilliard)
All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth (1949, Danny Kaye and Patty Andrews)
Yah, Das Ist Ein Christmas Tree (1953, Mel Blanc)
Silent Night (1921, Florence Easton)
Silver Bells (1938, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys)
Christmas on the Plains (1949, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans)
The Night Before Christmas (1952, Gene Autry and Rosemary Clooney)
O Come, All Ye Faithful (1938, Frances Langford)
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus (1950, Patti Page)
Happy Little Christmas Friend (1953, Rosemary Clooney)
Ol' Saint Nicholas (1949, Doris Day)
A Ride in Santa's Sleigh (1953, Judy Valentine)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934, Harry Reser)
Santa Claus is on His Way (1941, Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra)
Silent Night (1940, Kate Smith)
Suzy Snowflake (1951, Rosemary Clooney)
Auld Lang Syne (1939, Erwin Bendel with Tiny Till and his Orchestra)
Baby, It's Cold Outside (1949, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan)
Christmas Day (1952, Eddie Fisher)
Meet Me Under the Mistletoe (1941, Dick Roberston)
Merry Christmas Polka (1949, Guy Lombardo and The Andrews Sisters)
I'll Be Home for Christmas (1947, Eddy Howard)
Five Pound Box of Money (1959, Pearl Bailey)
The Man with the Whiskers (1938, Hoosier Hot Shots)
March of the Toys (1939, Tommy Dorsey)
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing (1938, Kenny Baker)
I Want You for Christmas (1937, Russ Morgan)
The Kissing Bridge (1953, The Fontane Sisters and Perry Como)
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952, Molly Bee)
Here Comes Santa Claus (1949, Doris Day)
I Believe in Santa Claus (1955, The Mills Brothers)
Little Sandy Sleighfoot (1957, Jimmy Dean)
The Man with the Bag (1950, Kay Starr)
Merry Christmas Waltz (1949, Gordon MacRae)
Christmas Alphabet (1954, The McGuire Sisters)
Let It Snow, Let It Snow (1946, Bob Crosby)
I Saw Mommy do the Mombo (1954, Jimmy Boyd)
The Mistletoe Kiss (1948, Primo Scala and The Keynotes)
My Christmas Song for You (1945, Hoagy Carmichael and Martha Mears)
Christmas Night in Harlem (1934, Todd Rollins and his Orchestra)

Among the highlights you will hear "I Want a Television Christmas" by Mindy Carson (which happens to be a 1949 RCA sales promo), the 1953 Christmas Dragnet spoof with Daws Butler and Stan Freberg, a 1953 commercial recording of Amos and Andy's popular "The Lord's Prayer," Basil Rathbone narrating a musical rendition of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (1942), Bing Crosby's 1942 version of "White Christmas" (not the 1947 re-recording you commonly hear on radio today), Jerry Colonna's 1953 take on "Too Fat for the Chimney," the 1934 version of "Winter Wonderland" performed by Richard Himber (the first recording ever made of that song), and other rarities.

Of the 300 plus recordings, you will no doubt hear the same song (such as "Winter Wonderland" and "The First Noel") performed multiple times but each rendition with a different singer.  

Many familiar songs but with unfamiliar renditions from your favorite singers. (Believe me, I will have this radio station playing all day at home, and streaming through my iPhone when I travel during the holiday season.) The radio station will expire January 1 so enjoy this while it lasts. And I hope this musical yule log not only suits your palate, but many of these songs become a favorite of yours. My Christmas present to you.