The Old Swing-Master Label


© Robert L. Campbell & Robert Pruter

Latest update: June 10, 2013


Floyd Jones,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Revision note.Old Swing-Master 15, by the Benson All Star Orchestra, has surfaced at last.

Old Swing-Master was the first record company to involve the prominent DJ and occasional recording producer Al Benson (1908 - 1978). Al Benson, whose real name was Arthur Leaner, is profiled in more depth on our Parrot/Blue Lake pages.


Benson All Star Orchestra,
From the collection of Armin Büttner

Contrary to what has been thought, Old Swing-Master was not intended as a vehicle for Al Benson's efforts as a record producer. Just two sessions were recorded under his direction: one by the Benson All Star Orchestra (which was released on Old Swing-Master 15 and 16), and one by the Four Shades of Rhythm (which led to Old Swing-Master 23). All of these sides were actually cut before Old Swing-Master opened. Old Swing-Master rose from the ashes of a Chicago-based company called Vitacoustic. While Vitacoustic made its splash in White pop music, scoring a huge hit with its first release by the Harmonicats, the company launched an ambitious "race" series in September 1947. Because the management of Vitacoustic had fallen out with Bill Putnam of Universal Recording, most of the "race" material was cut at United Broadcasting. After recording vigorously in October through December 1947, Vitacoutstic fell victim to overexpansion and declared bankruptcy in February 1948, at which time it owed United Broadcasting $13,800. Old Swing-Master was launched by Egmont Sonderling, the owner of United Broadcasting, so he could recoup some of his losses by releasing material that Vitacoustic had recorded and masgtered at his studio.

Old Swing-Master kept going by acquiring material from two small local labels (Marvel and Planet) that lacked enough capital to keep their wares in front of the public. Old Swing-Master also made leased sides from the Jazz Ltd. label, a boutique operation run out of the club of the same name. These were supplement by scavenging from the defunct Rhumboogie operation and from the Sunbeam label, whose remains had been acquired by Vitacoustic. Toward the end of its lifetime, the much more substantial Miracle operation ran into financial difficulties; its owner, Lee Egalnick, unloaded masters by Memphis Slim, Sonny Thompson, and others, which Old Swing-Master put out in December 1949 and early 1950.

A 1947 ad for United Broadcasting Studios

An Accidental Record Company

The founding of Old Swing-Master (shortened in the trade papers—and possibly on some labels—to Swing-Master or Swingmaster) was reported in Billboard on January 29, 1949 ("Swingmaster & Gong in Wax Sweepstakes," p. 40). The prime mover behind the label was Egmont Sonderling. Born in Germany on February 27, 1906, Sonderling came to the United States in 1923. He began a career in broadcasting as a radio announcer. In 1939, he opened United Broadcasting Studios at a location previously used by RCA Victor for recording. In 1945, he moved his studio operation to 64 East Lake. Toward the end of 1945, he entered the pressing business with Master Records; he ran an ad in Billboard on January 5, 1946, declaring that he was ready to take orders to press 2 million records for delivery that year. By 1947, United Broadcasting was drawing major business from independent labels in Chicago. At some point between June 1947 and March 1948 (judging from phone book listings), Sonderling bought the old World Broadcasting Studios at 301 East Erie and moved United Broadcasting there.

Sonderling was very much an accidental record company owner. He had held onto a pile of masters that the Vitacoustic company had recorded in his studios during the last quarter of 1947, as well as some that had been recorded elsewhere but were entrusted to his operation for mastering and pressing. In October 1948 he refused to turn them over the receivers to be auctioned off with Vitacoustic's other assets, citing liens that he held over masters that he had not been paid for. If he was to get any of his money back, he would have to issue and sell the material himself. He must have figured that bringing in the powerful local DJ Al Benson would give his records a head start in the market. The name, Benson's favorite moniker for himself, was designed to butter him up, and the equity he was probably given in the label was an obvious incentive as well. The general manager was reported to be Leonard Davis, who previously worked as purchasing manager for Mercury. The owners took pains to discount Benson's involvement ("Davis... denied that Benson was financially interested"). That Benson's role was made an issue in the story was very telling.

Sonderling's idea was to run a record label by picking up the masters of defunct or tiny labels rather than spending hours in the recording studio, hiring studio time, paying engineers, paying arrangers, and signing recording artists. (In fact, despite several years running a commercial recording studio, Sonderling never issued any newly recorded material—he had no yen for this side of the business.) He was thought that the connection with Benson was all he needed to run a successful label. It did not work out that way, as the company expired after less than a year and a half in business, with just 20 known releases under its belt.

The original address for Old Swing-Master was 154 East Erie Street, on the city's near North Side, just down the street from United Broadcasting Studios at 301 East Erie Street. By early 1949, 154 East Erie was the address of the subsidiary Master label as well. By July of 1950 the now moribund Old Swing-Master was located on the near South Side, at 2406-08 South LaSalle (this was in fact the address of Chord Distiributors, now moribund as well).

Upon its founding, Old Swing-Master reported that its first releases would be all be recovered from the Vitacoustic operation: sides by Kitty Stevenson, Howard McGhee's All-Stars, the Four Shades of Rhythm, and Christine Randol, "with others set by Miss Cornshucks, Johnny Bothwell, and Ed McAfee" (Billboard, January 29, 1949, p. 40). Vitacoustic was a Chicago-based label that had been active from March 1947 through February 1948. Initially all of its material (including its big hit record, "Peg o' My Heart" by the Harmonicats) had been pop music aimed at White audiences. After a split at the end of August 1947 between the label's owners, Lloyd Garrett and Jack Buckley, and Bill Putnam of Universal Recording, where the label had done its studio work and was physically housed, Vitacoustic made a stab at the "race" market (it also recorded several country artists, though just one country record actually saw release). Most of what Vitacoustic actually issued in its 1000 R&B series was derived from the Detroit label Sensation, but at the very end of the year, Vitacoustic recorded a pile of material in anticipation of the recording ban scheduled for January 1, 1948, then went under before it could release it.

The last releases in Vitacoustic's pop and race series appeared in January 1948; in its bankruptcy petition, Vitacoustic claimed that the cost of recording 400 masters in anticipation of "B-day" had gotten the label irretrievably into debt. Because Vitacoustic had recorded most of its "race" series at United Broadcasting Studios, and hadn't paid Egmont Sonderling for his services before it ran out of money, he held onto the unissued masters. In October 1948, fearing that he would never get any of his money back, he refused to turn them over to the receivers to be auctioned off with the rest of Vitacoustic's assets. (Sonderling had reason to worry: Vitacoustic's pop material failed to attract adequate bids when the auction took place in April 1949; so far as we know most of it never found a home.)

The first four artists mentioned had all indeed recorded for Vitacoustic. The Miss Cornshucks sides had been cut by Sunbeam, a small Chicago independent that operated from the fall of 1946 through summer of 1947. However, it turns out that Vitacoustic had struck a deal with Marl Young, the proprietor of Sunbeam, to reissue some or all of his material. Although the deal was made in September 1947, nothing of Sunbeam origin came out on Vitacoustic; Sonderling must have impounded some of the masters when Vitacoustic folded. Ed McAfee was a member of the Four Shades, who definitely did record for Vitacoustic. Johnny Bothwell was a jazz alto saxophonist who had been one of the soloists in the Boyd Raeburn "modern" big band and had cut some sides with his own bands for the Signature label; he was featured in an advertisement for Vitacoustic's pop and country artists in Billboard on January 24, 1948. Apparently his sides were done at United Broadcasting and were retained by Sonderling along with the sides intended for the "race" series. Old Swing-Master never got around to using any Bothwell sides, and we don't know what happened to this material. (Howard McGhee recalled doing a session with someone else's big band for Vitacoustic, but couldn't recall the leader's name. As an ex-Raeburnite, Bothwell would have been motivated to get a prominent bebop soloist for a recording date.)


The Old Swing-Master 10 Series

The Old Swing-Master operation was controversial from the start. On March 26, 1949, Billboard, in a story by Johnny Sippel, "Chi Dealers Tackle Problems," reported on the formation of a trade organization of African-American record shops, and of its dispute with Al Benson. It was bad enough, from their point of view, that Benson ran his own store at 40th and State, and frequently plugged it in on the air. Even worse, "Shop owners in the new org contend that Benson has a financial interest in Swingmaster label, a new Chi race label, and that he is overplugging his own disks to the detriment of other disks" (p. 44).

The Kitty Stevenson disk, "Blues by Myself," was promoted in a March 26 issue of Billboard: "Gal intones an earthy, moody blues here. Drag orking gives a strong assist." Also listed was the Christine Randol 78 (Old Swing-Master 12).

In the April 2, 1949, Billboard, a listing of the coming release of two T-Bone Walker sides—"Don't Give Me the Run Around" [sic—on the record the title was "She Is Going to Ruin Me"] and "My Baby Left Me"—sparked a dispute with the West Coast label Black & White, which had Walker under exclusive contract. T-Bone's manager, Harold Oxley, sent a letter to a letter to Old Swing-Master demanding to know the origin of those recordings. (Since they had been cut back on December 19, 1945 for Rhumboogie, they were not in violation of T-Bone's contract with Black & White, signed in September 1946.)

An April issue of Billboard supplied a review of "Reminiscing of You Dear," which featured Ethel Duncan on vocals and the Benson All Star Orchestra (Old Swing-Master 15). "Gal sings a mediocre ballad with fair feeling and phrasing," the reviewer concluded, "but little style or individuality."

By May of 1949 Old Swing-Master was apparently running short of interesting leavings from Vitacoustic. During that month, Billboard reported that Swing-Master had picked up six Jazz Ltd. masters that had been produced in Chicago by musician and club owner Bill Reinhardt. The article noted that Muggsy Spanier and Sidney Bechet were featured. Some coverage in Down Beatexplains what was happening more clearly. In March 1949, Jazz Ltd. had put out an album of 4 Dixieland 78s in a limited edition of 1000. Intended strictly as a promotional device, the album had sold out quickly and Bill and Ruth Reinhardt, who ran the club and label, realized there was additional demand for the individual 78s. On June 17, 1949, Down Beat announced that Jazz Ltd. was being "'Forced' into Disc Business." "The albums... will not be recut, although six of the eight sides will be issued as singles... Label, too, will be switched from [red on] silver to red and white." (The new labels actually came out maroon and gray.) The Down Beat item also specified that the Jazz Ltd. items were not actually being acquired by Old Swing-Master: "Discs will sell for $1 and will be distributed by United Broadcasting Studios through Swingmaster distributors." See the Appendix for more about the Jazz Ltd. items.


Snooky and Moody,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

A review in May covered Old Swing-Master's reissue of Snooky & Moody's "Telephone Blues," which had been picked up from Planet. This was a tiny operation that Near North Side record shop owner Chester A. Scales probably had an interest in. In any event, Scales had recorded the sides. The Billboard reviewer was typically negative ("not especially inspired"), but the record was already a classic of postwar Chicago blues. Mike Rowe said of it, "It is the lilting swing imparted by Moody's guitar that makes the record sound so modern for the time. Equally rhythmic is Snooky's singing and the interplay of the voice, harmonica, and guitar is particularly exciting." November or December 1948 is the most likely recording date, given the apparent reference to John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" on the "Boogie" side, and the artists' recollections of the Old Swing-Master release coming out not long after the sides were recorded.

Another Planet-derived item by the Bob Perkins Trio was reviewed in Billboard on May 7, 1949 (our thanks to Bo Sandell for bringing this item to our attention). The Bob Perkins item was recorded later than the blues sides—between January and March of 1949, when he was playing an extended enagement at a club called the Music Bowl. (One of the titles is virtually a musical advertisement for the club.) It is possible that Chester Scales was not involved in recording Perkins, who was after all a jazz alto saxophonist with some ambitions in the Louis Jordan direction. A little later, Old Swing-Master would reissue two 78s that had come out on Planet's companion label, Marvel.

July 1949 found Billboard reviewing "I Can Dream" by the Four Shades of Rhythm, which came from the freelance session they had done for Al Benson the previous year. Of course there was a comparison (favorable, in this case) to the vocal group the Orioles, who were taking the country by storm at the time.

In September 1949, Billboard reported that Old Swing-Master had obtained some Little Miss Cornshucks sides originally recorded in September and October 1946 for Sunbeam. The announcement was followed by a review of Miss Cornshucks' great hit record, "So Long." Running a record company off the release of old masters may have been a dubious proposition for most of Old Swing-Master's releases. But it was not a bad idea to re-release Little Miss Cornshucks' old recording, "So Long," which had enjoyed local popularity when it came out in the fall of 1946 on Sunbeam 104, but suffered from inadequate distribution. In 1949, the blues ballad singer with the hick gingham dress and big bow in her hair was still wowing audiences in the major clubs across the nation, including the Club De Lisa in Chicago, where through a good part of 1949 she headlined various revues. The song she was still wowing them with was "So Long."

As too often happens with trade magazine reviewers, Billboard completely dropped the ball, severely slamming the record. "So Long" was one of the great songs that everyone talked about in the late 1940s. Miss Cornshucks' national fame dissipated after she suffered a nervous breakdown in 1951 or 1952, but while maintaining a residency in Kenosha, Wisconsin, she continued through the decade to headline at the Club DeLisa, as well as Little Joe's High Hat Lounge, The Flame, the Crown Propeller Lounge, and Budland (with King Kolax in 1956). Her last major appearance, at Roberts Show Lounge in July 1960, produced a recording contract with Chess and an LP but led to few other appearances. On the LP she reprised "So Long," which the liner note writer referred to as a "tune nobody else could touch."

Also in September 1949, Billboard ran a review of the Four Shades of Rhythm's "Don't Blame Me." This item was a Vitacoustic relic, recorded at the group's first session in December 1947; the flip, "Yesterday," was from their second session done just before the recording ban hit. We haven't heard of any Old Swing-Masters between 27 and 32 (up to this point the issue numbers had been consecutive). Maybe the Four Shades were given number 33 because of their previous releases on 13 and 23? In any event, 33 was the last in the original Old Swing-Master series.


The Old Swing-Master 1000 Series

By the end of 1949, Miracle apparently owed Egmont Sonderling (whose studio and pressing plant the company used regularly) and label owner Lee Egalnick dealt some sides to Old Swing-Master, where they appeared in a new 1000 series. Though we have not previously heard of the records by Joe Petrak as a Miracle product, they were recorded in 1948 at Sonderling's studio and were released a year or so later as Old Swing-Master 1000, 1001, and 1002. On December 24, 1949, Billboard (p. 32) carried reviews of two Joe Petrak releases (1001 and 1002). The same issue of Billboard(p. 99) reviewed Old Swing-Master 1010, Memphis Slim's "Country Girl." Old Swing-Master 1011, a Sonny Thompson release derived from Miracle, probably also came out in December 1949.

On March 25, 1950, Billboard reported that Lee Egalnick of Miracle had sold 10 masters by Memphis Slim to Egmont Sonderling of the Swing-Master label (this may have been on top of the earlier transaction; see our Miracle listing for these, which were given non-informative matrix numbers in an MS series). "While Slim is still with Miracle, the masters turned over to Sonderling were made with a quartet two years ago. Slim is now working with a different six-piece group" (p. 45). Master 1020 and 1030 followed the announcement of the Memphis Slim deal in March; they are not known to have Old Swing-Master incarnations.

The 10 series releases that we have seen used a dark red label with silver print (Old Swing-Master 17 is the one exception, appearing on a black label). The 1000 series sported a dark blue label with the same logo.


Matrix Number Serial Number Artist Title Recording Date Release Date
[Vitacoustic] (P-Vine Special [J] PLP 708) Kitty Stevenson Train No. 1 December 1947
[Vitacoustic] (P-Vine Special [J] PLP 708) Kitty Stevenson Comes the Day December 1947
V1941Sw [Vitacoustic] 10A Kitty Stevenson Blues by Myself December 1947 March 1949
V1943Sw [Vitacoustic] 10B Kitty Stevenson I'm Satisfied December 1947 March 1949
[Vitacoustic] (P-Vine Special [J] PLP 708) Kitty Stevenson That Jive December 1947
[Vitacoustic] unissued Kitty Stevenson Things Will Change December 1947
[Vitacoustic] unissued Kitty Stevenson Someday December 1947
1040 (1040SW in wax) [Rhumboogie] 11A T-Bone Walker My Baby Left Me December 19, 1945 March 1949
1036 (1036G-SW in wax) [Rhumboogie] 11B T-Bone Walker She Is Going to Ruin Me December 19, 1945 March 1949
V1957Sw [Vitacoustic] 12A Christine Randol Goodie Goodie late December 1947 March 1949
V1960Sw [Vitacoustic] 12B Christine Randol Mood Indigo late December 1947 March 1949
V1950Sw [Vitacoustic] 13A 4 Shades of Rhythm | Eddie McAfee, piano Oscar Pennington, guitar; Eddie Myers, bass; Oscar Lindsay, drums My Blue Walk late December 1947 March 1949
V1953Sw [Vitacoustic] 13B 4 Shades of Rhythm | Eddie McAfee, piano Oscar Pennington, guitar; Eddie Myers, bass; Oscar Lindsay, drums Baby I'm Gone late December 1947 March 1949
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra Flip Lip October 15 or November 10, 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra Belle from Bunnycock October 15 or November 10, 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy SJL2219) Howard McGhee Orchestra Belle from Bunnycock [alt.] October 15 or November 10, 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra The Last Word October 15 or November 10, 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra The Man I Love October 15 or November 10, 1947
V892 SW [Vitacoustic] 14A Howard McGhee Orchestra Hot and Mellow [Yardbird Suite] late December 1947 March 1949
UB 9110SW [Vitacoustic] 14B Howard McGhee Orchestra Messin' with Fire [Donna Lee] late December 1947 March 1949
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra Merry Lee [Hackensack] late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra Short Life late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra Talk of the Town late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra Bass C Jam [Byas a Drink] late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy SJL2219) Howard McGhee Orchestra Bass C Jam [Byas a Drink; alt tk.] late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra Down Home late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra Sweet and Lovely late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra Fiesta [Short Life] late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] (Savoy MG 12026) Howard McGhee Orchestra I'm in the Mood for Love late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] unissued Howard McGhee Orchestra Out of Nowhere late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] unissued Howard McGhee Orchestra Little Bird late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] unissued Jimmy McPartland How High the Moon late December 1947 (Halcyon 116)
[Vitacoustic] unissued Jimmy McPartland I Found a New Baby late December 1947 (Halcyon 116)
[Vitacoustic] unissued Jimmy McPartland ? late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] unissued Jimmy McPartland ? late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] unissued Jimmy McPartland ? late December 1947
[Vitacoustic] unissued Jimmy McPartland ? late December 1947
UB 9232 15A Ethel Duncan, Soloist | Benson All Star Orchestra Reminiscing of You Dear c. September 1948 April 1949
UB 9230 15B Benson All Star Orchestra Benson—Bop c. September 1948 April 1949
UB 9231 16A Burress Courtney, Soloist | Benson All Star Orchestra In Our World Alone c. September 1948 April 1949
UB 9229 16B Benson All Star Orchestra Wiley Willie c. September 1948 April 1949
PL-108 [Planet 103] 17A Bob Perkins Trio | Vocal Bob Perkins Boogie Woogie Bowl Janurary to March 1949 May 1949
PL-109 [Planet 103] 17B Bob Perkins Trio | Vocal Floyd Morris Fool Again January to March 1949 May 1949
PL101 [Planet 101/102] 18A Snooky & Moody (Vocal by Snooky) Telephone Blues November or December 1948 May 1949
PL102 [Planet 101/102] 18B Snooky and Moody (Vocal by Snooky) Boogie November or December 1948 May 1949
PL103 [Planet 103/104] 19-A Vocal by: Man Young | Accompanied by: Snooky & Johnny My Baby Walked out on Me November or December 1948 May 1949
PL104 [Planet 103/104] 19-B Vocal by: Man Young | Accompanied by: Snooky & Johnny Let Me Ride Your Mule November or December 1948 May 1949
523Sw [Vitacoustic] 20A Kitty Stevenson Hold Them Joe December 1947 May 1949
524Sw [Vitacoustic] 20B Kitty Stevenson With You December 1947 May 1949

21? ? ? ? ?

21? ? ? ? ?
M-1312 [Marvel 702-A] 22A Vocal Floyd Jones | Accompanied by Snooky & Moody Stockyard Blues November or December 1948 July 1949
M-1313 [Marvel 702-B] 22B Vocal Floyd Jones | Accompanied by Snooky & Moody Keep What You Got November or December 1948 July 1949
UB 9495 Sw 23A Four Shades of Rhythm I Can Dream c. November 1948 July 1949
UB 9497 Sw 23B Four Shades of Rhythm Master of Me c. November 1948 July 1949
T 1305-1 [Trilon 244, Marvel 701-A] 24A Jimmie McCracklin and his Blue Blasters South Side Mood 1948 July 1949
T 1307-1 [Trilon 244, Marvel 701-B] 24B Jimmie McCracklin and his Blue Blasters | Vocal Jimmie McCracklin I Can't Understand Love 1948 July 1949
T 1304 [Trilon 245] 25A Jimmy McCracklin When I'm Gone 1948 July 1949
T 1306 [Trilon 245] 25B Jimmy McCracklin Listen Woman 1948 July 1949
1145S [Sunbeam 104] A26 Little Miss Cornshucks with Marl Young Orchestra So Long late September 1946 September 1949
2675 [Sunbeam 105] B26 Little Miss Cornshucks with Marl Young Orchestra For Old Time's Sake October 1946 September 1949
V 1952 SW-3 33 The Four Shades of Rhythm Don't Blame Me late December 1947 September 1949
V 1909 33 The Four Shades of Rhythm Yesterday December 1947 September 1949
UB-9511 SW [Miracle?] 1000 B Joe Petrak | Accordion Solo and Orchestra Barbara Polka c. November 1948 December 1949
UB 9510 SW [Miracle?] 1000 A Joe Petrak | Accordion Solo and Orchestra Lady of Spain c. November 1948 December 1949

[Miracle?]
1001 Joe Petrak | Accordion Solo and Orchestra | Vocal by Skip Farrell The Christmas Waltz c. November 1948 December 1949

[Miracle?]
1001 Joe Petrak | Accordion Solo and Orchestra Oh, Marie c. November 1948 December 1949

[Miracle?]
1002 Joe Petrak | Accordion Solo and Orchestra Avalon c. November 1948 December 1949

[Miracle?]
1002 Joe Petrak | Accordion Solo and Orchestra Fiddle Faddle c. November 1948 December 1949
UB 21938-SS [Miracle] 1010A (Master 1010A) Memphis Slim Country Girl c. September 1947 December 1949 (March 1950?)
UB 21745-SS [Miracle] 1010B (Master 1010B) Memphis Slim Believe I'll Settle Down c. July 1947 December 1949 (March 1950?)
UB9670 M1
(in wax, UB9670-MI with SW over the UB)
[Miracle]
1011A (Master 1011A) Sonny Thompson and His Orchestra The Fish-I c. April 1949 prob. December 1949 (after March 1950)
UB9793 M-2
(in wax, UB9793M2 with SW over the UB)
[Miracle]
1011B (Master 1011B) Sonny Thompson and His Orchestra The Fish-II June 1949 prob. December 1949 (after March 1950)

Kitty Stevenson,
From the collection of Mike Kredinac; see Mike's Pix.

The Old Swing-Master Artists

About Detroit-based pianist and blues singer Kitty Stevenson we know just a little. Born in 1918, she was the regular female vocalist with the Todd Rhodes Orchestra out of Detroit during this period. She recorded two singles with Todd Rhodes' band for Sensation before her Old Swing-Master release; this, plus the evidence of the matrix numbers, makes us rather confident that she was backed by Rhodes on Old Swing-Master 10 and 20. (For more on Todd Rhodes' extensive recordings for Sensation and Vitacoustic see our Vitacoustic page.) She recorded again with Rhodes for Sensation in 1950 and for King in 1951 (after Sensation went inactive and Rhodes signed with the larger company). She died in Detroit Memorial Hospital in June 1952; after she became ill, first Connie Allen and then LaVern Baker took her place with Rhodes. On December 28, 1952, Egmont Sonderling or Al Benson unloaded 9 Kitty Stevenson tracks (including the four that had been issued on Old Swing-Master) to Art Sheridan of Chance Records. Chance issued none of this, but 6 of the 9 tracks appeared years later on a P-Vine Special LP of Chance-derived material. The Chance documentation rendered her name as "Kitty Stevens," and discographies for years have treated these sides as though they were newly recorded for Chance. The original matrix numbers were probably V1938 through V1946 or V1941 through V1949.


T-Bone Walker,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

As one of the most influential of all blues guitarists, Aaron Thibeaux "T-Bone" Walker (born in Linden, Texas, on May 28, 1910; died in Los Angeles on March 16, 1975) should need no introduction here. The story of his Rhumboogie sides, cut on October 10, 1944 and December 19, 1945, is told on our page devoted to that label; the sessions are also listed on our Red Saunders page. Old Swing-Master 11 contained two of the four sides from the December 19, 1945 session, none of which was ever released on Rhumboogie; there had been a previous release of "My Baby Left Me" with a different B side on Mercury in October 1946. The December 19, 1945 session backed Walker with an 8-piece recording ensemble led by Marl Young. Lending an interesting edge to the proceedings, trumpet soloist Melvin Moore was leaning in the bebop direction, as was Young himself (one of his piano solos on the session sounds like the work of Thelonious Monk). T-Bone is in top form and the band was captured in excellent record quality for the period.

In 1952, Egmont Sonderling or Al Benson would deal all four sides from the 1945 session to Chance and to T-Bone's current label, Imperial. Major-league litigation was avoided when neither company did anything with them at the time, but the sides eventually appeared on LPs many years later. (Constellation, a company partly owned by former Chance proprietor Art Sheridan, made the first move in 1964.)


T-Bone Walker,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Christine Randol,
From the collection of Dan Kochakian

Christine Randol was a singer who accompanied herself at the piano. Her name is misspelled "Randall" in most secondary sources. The correct spelling can be found in most Local 208 documents, and on her Old Swing-Master release. According to Local 208 records, she was born on December 25, 1915. The contract lists maintained by the local show that she worked in Chicago from 1946 through the early 1960s. Most often she appeared in the clubs as a single. She was married to jazz musician Frank Gassi (1909 - 1952), who played guitar in Eddie Wiggins' sextet when it recorded for the Sultan label (we are grateful to Vince Gassi, Frank's nephew, for this information). In fact, her Local 208 file card identifies her as Chrisine Gassi Randol. Her husband was working a day job on the El (Chicago's elevated train system) when he was electrocuted in an accident in Feburary 1952.

The backing on the two issued sides from Randol's Vitacoustic session is extremely spare: just her piano and a string bass. From the matrix numbers her session appears to have taken place at the eleventh hour, not long before the recording ban went into effect on January 1, 1948. Her sides are the very last that we know of in the V1800 series. And as far as we know, this was the only released recording from her only session.


4 Shades of Rhythm,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

The Four Shades of Rhythm came together in Cleveland in 1945. The original members were Oscar Lindsay (drums and vocals), Willie Lewis (guitar), Sim London (piano), and June Cobb (bass). For the next few years the group, with some personnel changes, toured around the Northeast and took some engagements in Chicago. They returned to the city in late 1947; by this time Eddie "Bones" McAfree had taken over at the piano bench. They cut "One Hundred Years from Today" b/w "Howie Sent Me" on Vitacoustic 1005; these sides were recorded during the frantic activity of December 1947 and just made it out in January 1948 before Vitacoustic folded. The Four Shades made a second session even closer to B-day, right after the Kitty Stevenson session in the Vitacoustic matrix series; this one never appeared on the parent label but was picked up by Old Swing-Master (we don't know what happened to V 1951 from the second session). By this point the group consisted of Lindsay, Oscar Pennington (guitar), Eddie McAfee (piano), and Eddie Meyers (bass). For the next 17 months the group remained in Chicago; during their extended stay they recorded once again, with the same personnel, in a free-lance session directed by Al Benson (the matrix numbers suggest that this took place around November 1948—that is, before Old Swing-Master opened).


4 Shades of Rhythm,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Disillusionment set in for the group after the failure of their Old Swing-Master sides, and in 1951 Pennington and Meyers returned to their hometown of Cleveland. They were replaced respectively by Adam Lambert (late of the Cats 'n' Jammer Trio) and bassist Booker Collins, who had spent years with Andy Kirk's big band, then played in Floyd Smith's long-running trio (for more on the Smith trio see our Hy-Tone page). This version of the group made a single for Chance in 1952; around the same time Chance bought some of their Vitacoustic material, but never issued any. The Four Shades cut one single for the Apex label in 1959, which included a remake of "One Hundred Years from Today." They made their last recording in 1960 (for Tommy "Madman" Jones' low-circulation Mad label), then commercially allied with Apex. When interviewed by Peter Grendysa in 1983, Oscar Lindsay was still leading a trio in Chicago.

Tom Lord's Jazz Discographygives January 1949 as the recording date for the two Four Shades numbers on Old Swing-Master 13. Since Lord offers no matrix numbers and doesn't mention any of the other Four Shades sides for the label, this date can be safely discounted.

Trumpeter Howard McGhee's solitary release on Old Swing-Master was the only visible trace, for nearly a decade, of a much larger mass of material. McGhee, who was born in Oklahoma City on March 6, 1918, was already becoming known in Swing bands (he recorded with Andy Kirk in 1943) before he switched his allegiance to bebop. During a West Coast stay, he recorded with Coleman Hawkins in 1945, with his own band later the same year and in early 1946 (he had Tom Archia in his band for a couple of months in the summer of 1945, but that edition went unrecorded), and with Charlie Parker in 1946 and 1947 (before and after Bird's stay at Camarillo). McGhee, who came to the attention of Vitacoustic while on tour with Jazz at the Philharmonic, recorded no fewer than four sessions as a leader for the label during the last quarter of 1947. When Old Swing-Master took over the remains of Vitacoustic, two of the McGhee sides were issued with misleading titles (we have put the correct titles in brackets; the titles of some other things that appeared on Savoy are equally bogus). The rest stayed in the vault. In December 1952, Sonderling or Benson unloaded 9 McGhee masters to Art Sheridan of Chance Records, but there is no evidence that Chance issued any of them. Finally, in 1955, Benson sold 12 McGhee masters (plus two alternate takes) to Savoy Records. That same year Savoy put out the 12 tracks that it had acquired on an LP, Savoy MG 12026. In the late 1970s, Savoy SJL 2219, Maggie—The Savoy Sessions, consolidated on 2 LPs all of the material acquired from Benson, including the two alternate takes, with two other sessions that were recorded off McGhee's broadcasts in the Philippines and Guam during 1951 and 1952. While doing research for SJL 2219, Art Zimmerman was able to check the audition acetates that Benson had provided to Savoy.

From Zimmerman's research, we know that the first four McGhee titles for Vitacoustic were cut the day after a Jazz at the Philharmonic Concert in Chicago, which places them on October 15 or November 10, 1947. Tenor saxophonist Kenny Mann, still a teenager at the time, had played in a local group that opened one of these JATP concerts, and was invited by McGhee to make the Vitacoustic session. (Mann was already an alumnus of the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, where he worked from late December 1946 through at least April 1947. In 1950 he would participate in Al Benson's TV show band and record for Seymour, before leaving the music scene.) The rest of the lineup was drawn from the JATP touring ensemble: Billy Eckstine (sticking to valve trombone on this occasion), Hank Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass), and J. C. Heard (drums). Local bebop vocalist Marcelle Daniels sang on "Flip Lip" and "The Last Word." Ted Hallock's Chicago column in the December 31 Down Beat (which went to press nearly 2 weeks earlier), stated that "Howard cut four sides for Vitacoustic and four for Dial before B-Day. One side scratched was a McGhee horn solo, MAN I LOVE" (p. 4). In fact, a session by McGhee and other JATP musicians had already been mentioned in Billboard on November 22. It appears that the original Vitacoustic matrix numbers on these were V1896 through 1899.

The bulk of the McGhee material was cut in three different sessions that took place during the last 9 days of December 1947, while McGhee's combo was starting a month-long gig at the Argyle Lounge (according to the December 31 Down Beat, the engagement commenced on December 23). The late-1970s Savoy release gives February 1948 as the date, but McGhee was no longer in town by then, Vitacoustic was filing for banktuptcy, and the most solvent of labels is unlikely to have braved the wrath of the Musicians Union during the initial phase of a recording ban. (This, after all, is the same Musicians Union that shut down Chance Records for over 6 months in 1951-1952 because it had used non-Union session men.) The lineup for all three sessions (which produced 12 known tunes) was McGhee (trumpet), Jimmy Heath (alto and baritone saxes), Milt Jackson (vibes), Will Davis (piano), Percy Heath (bass), and Joe Harris (drums). On "Yardbird Suite" and "Out of Nowhere" Eckstine-style balladeer Earl Coleman sang. McGhee (when interviewed by Zimmerman) also recalled doing another Vitacoustic session that week, with a big band under someone else's leadership. (The leader was most likely alto saxophonist Johnny Bothwell.) But these items remain completely untraced.

We'll let Art Zimmerman explain how most of these McGhee recordings ended up at Savoy:

Eight other titles from the December [McGhee] sessions, plus the four with Kenny Mann, [Al Benson] sold to Herman Lubinsky of Savoy. Apparently, for purposes of audition, Lubinsky was furnished with two 16-inch acetate transfers containing a total of 16 tracks, in all. Probably, in order to prevent Lubinsky from issuing the material without first paying, Benson added brief bursts of multi-frequency beep tones, much like Morse code, about every fifteen seconds. Lubinsky must have paid for only twelve titles. The Savoy files had only tape copies of the recordings, not the original masters that Benson must have had.... In addition to the twelve sides issued by Savoy, the four titles on one of the discs include the two issued on Old Swing-Master plus two that were never issued in any form, Out of Nowhere and Little Bird,the latter tune named for Jimmy Heath.

Old Swing-Master 14 poses one more quandary: mismatched matrix numbers. The matrix number for "Yardbird Suite" was V892 SW. Peeling off the SW (Swing-Master) suffix gives us a Vitacoustic master number, in a continuation of the U600 series rather than the V1800 series. The implication is that "Yardbird Suite" was mastered while Vitacoustic was still extant. The matrix on "Donna Lee," however, is UB 9110 SW. This comes from the UB9000 series of United Broadcasting Studios, and implies a date in August or September 1948. The implication is that Sonderling was already mastering some Vitacoustic material that he hoped to sell in partial recoupment of his losses. The V892 matrix implies that one session took place at Universal Recording instead of United Broadcasting; since there is a gap in the V1800 series between V1910 and 1918, it's likely that the rest of the McGhee sides originally bore numbers in this range.

We know a lot less about the Vitacoustic recordings of cornetist Jimmy McPartland. McPartland was by this time a veteran of the Chicago scene, having appeared on his first record in 1924, when he had the unenviable task of replacing Bix Beiderbecke in the Wolverines. In the January 14, 1948 Down Beat,Ted Hallock praises McPartland's current band, then working the Capitol Lounge on State Street. The band included Jack Golly (cl, as); Marian McPartland (p, arr); Ben Carlton (b); and Chick Evans (d); it was playing an eclectic repertoire that Jimmy McPartland referred to as "Dixie-bop." In passing, Hallock comments that "Jimmy managed to record six sides for Vitacoustic before B-Day" (p. 4). Whether these were intended for release in the "race" series or the pop series we don't know; Vitacoustic didn't last long enough to put any of them out. We are listing them here because Egmont Sonderling probably acquired them, but there is no known release on Old Swing-Master. Two tracks said to have been recorded in "Chicago, 1948" by this same lineup were issued in the 1970s on an LP on Marian McPartland's Halcyon label, along with material recorded for Unison in 1949 and Prestige in 1950. (Unison was, in fact, the McPartlands' own label, formed after the Vitacoustics failed to appear and other labels failed to record the band; four newly released sides on Unison were reviewed in Down Beat on October 21, 1949.) Since Hallock points to the McPartland group's performances of "How High the Moon" as proofs of its modernity, we can be reasonably sure that these two tracks are one-third of the missing Vitacoustics. The McPartland sides may have also borne V1800 numbers between 1910 and 1918.


Benson All Star Orchestra,
From the collection of Otto Flückiger

There is no doubt that Al Benson produced Old Swing-Master 15 and 16, by the Benson All Star Orchestra. This was a pretty impressive aggregation of local musicians; it consisted of Melvin Moore (trumpet), Willie Randall (alto saxophone), Eddie Johnson (tenor sax), Buddy Hiles (baritone sax), Burrington (so referred to on the label, but usually spelled Barrington) Perry (piano), Rail Wilson (bass), and Oliver Coleman (drums). From Charles Walton's interview with trumpeter Lewis "Bill" Ogletree (the interview is among the Bronzeville Conversations listed at http://jazzinstituteofchicago.org/index.asp?target=/jazzgram/bronzeville.asp), we gather that the orchestra was a cut-down version of a band that Ogletree had put together under Al Benson's sponsorship to play at the Savoy Ballroom during its last days. Benson posted an indefinite contract with the Savoy on April 15, 1948 (the notation WGES on the Local 208 list indicates that live broadcasts were included in the package). The band probably worked the Savoy on weekends until the venerable ballroom folded in July.

As Ogletree told Charles Walton:

I had a band for Al Benson for a long time. We played his broadcast from the Savoy Ballroom. It was my band but I let Paul King take charge because he was doing a little arranging as well....
Besides Paul King and me, Calvin Ladnier was on trumpet; Willie Randall, Eddie Johnson, Nat Jones, Mac Easton, saxes; Ruth Murray, piano; Oliver Coleman, drums; and Quinn Wilson, bass. We were getting $11.58 per man for that job.

Benson put the recording session together after the Savoy had closed and the band broken up. For some reason Ogletree wasn't available, but Willie Randall, Eddie Johnson, and Oliver Coleman had been in the Savoy band, while Barrington Perry and Rail Wilson were regular members of violinist Leon Abbey's trio. Willie Randall was the de facto leader; he got composer credit on all four sides and appears to have been the arranger on the ballads. Following a standard commercial strategy at the time, the band cut two up-tempo instrumentals and two schmaltzy ballads: Burress Courtney was the rather syrupy baritone singer on "In Our World Alone"; on "Reminiscing of You Dear," soprano Ethel Duncan, who later worked with King Fleming's combo, did the vocal honors. The ballads were also designated as the A sides.

The B sides ("Wiley Willie" and "Benson—Bop") were bop numbers; the trumpet soloing by Melvin Moore goes as expected, but bop soloing by Willie Randall and Eddie Johnson is a rare treat. The matrix numbers on Old Swing-Master 15 and 16 are in the UB 9000 series from United Broadcasting Studios, and indicate a recording date in the early Fall of 1948. In other words, Benson had gone into the studio the year before to produce them "on spec" and had not been able to sell the masters to another label at an agreeable price. In fact, this is the first studio session that Benson is known to have supervised (he had done some clandestine live recordings at the Pershing Ballroom in the spring of 1948, featuring Gene Ammons and Tom Archia; six sides' worth of these were released on Aristocrat in 1948 and 1949).


Benson All Star Orchestra,
From the collection of Armin Büttner

In snapping up pioneering down-home blues recordings by Snooky Pryor, Moody Jones, Floyd Jones, and Johnny "Man" Young, Old Swing-Master was trying to get in on the action after Aristocrat's big local success with Muddy Waters in June of 1948. Al Benson of course had some notion of the local demand for these records. He got these items from the tiny Marvel and Planet labels. Snooky and Moody, Man Young, and Floyd Jones all recorded for Chester A. Scales, who operated a couple of small record stores on the Near North Side. Scales was probably in partnership with someone who worked at the Chicago distributor for the Trilon label, which was based in Oakland, California. Indeed, some Trilon material also appeared on Marvel; see the entry on Jimmy McCracklin below. He may also have cut in someone who worked at Planet Record Sales, a distributor located at 831 South State. It is even possible that Scales owned a piece of that distributor, which was rather short-lived (in business in March 1948, out of business by the time the 1949 telephone book was published).


Snooky and Moody,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

James Edward "Snooky" Pryor was born on September 15, 1921, in Lambert, Mississippi. His style on the harmonica was derived in roughly equal parts from John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson and Aleck Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson #2). He got the idea of amplifying his harmonica while serving in the military during World War II, and began performing along Maxwell Street with portable amplification in 1945. The sides that he made in final months of 1948 for Planet and Marvel were his first recordings. The Snooky and Moody sides initially released on Planet were recorded, Pryor recalled, at a studio on Wacker Drive, which probably means Universal Recording. The Man Young and Floyd Jones items were recorded at the same session; Johnny Williams recalled that it was done at "United Studios on the North side," which would mean United Broadcasting.

Since the Planet and Marvel releases are incredibly scarce, and CD reissues of these titles are apparently dubbed from the Old Swing-Master 78s, we can fairly credit Benson and Sonderling for preserving some historically important music. Snooky Pryor subsequently recorded for JOB, Parrot, and Vee-Jay; after a long period of retirement, he became a hit on the blues revival circuit with a Blind Pig release in 1987, and continued to record into the 1990s. He died in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on October 18, 2006. Snooky's partner on Old Swing-Master 18 and 22, Moody Jones, played guitar and bass; he was born in Earle, Arkansas on April 8, 1908, and died in Chicago on March 23, 1988.


Man Young,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

John O. Young, known as "Man" because he played mandolin as well as guitar, was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on January 1, 1918. He had previously recorded in 1947 for Ora Nelle, a back-of-the-record-store operation on Maxwell Street. In November or December 1948, shortly after the Snooky and Moody session, Chester Scales recorded him for Planet, which was the source for his reissue on Old Swing-Master 19. During the blues revival of the 1960s, Johnny Young recorded for Arhoolie and Testament; he died on April 18, 1974 in Chicago. On his Old Swing-Master release, Young sang and played mandolin; the accompaniment was by Snooky Pryor on harmonica and Johnny Williams on guitar. According to the musicians' recollections, the Snooky and Moody and Man Young sides were recorded the same day, at a studio on the North Side (probably United Broadcasting).

Guitarist Floyd Jones, Moody's cousin, was born on July 21, 1917, in Marianna, Arkansas, and arrived in Chicago in the mid-1940s, playing on Maxwell Street with Baby Face Leroy Foster and Moody Jones. At some point in 1948, Floyd Jones recorded for Tempo Tone with Sunnyland Slim. Chester Scales was planning to use Floyd Jones on the Snooky and Moody session, but on the day of the session Jones could not be found. Not long afterward, Scales recorded Jones as a leader (with Pryor on harmonica and Moody Jones on second guitar—not string bass as stated in sources) and his sides first saw release on Marvel. "Keep What You Got" (a number associated with Howlin' Wolf) delivers its admonitions in a disarmingly jaunty fashion. A plaint about unemployment and rising prices, "Stockyard Blues" is closer in tone to Floyd Jones' later recordings. With their easy, unforced rhythm and superbly integrated ensemble, both sides are major contributions to the down home blues trend that was emerging in Chicago.

Beginning in 1951, Floyd Jones would record for JOB, Chess, Vee-Jay, and Testament; in his later years, he switched to electric bass. He died in Chicago on December 19, 1989. Floyd Jones' second rendition of "Dark Road," cut for Chess in December 1951 in fratricidal competition with his JOB version, is regarded as a blues classic.


Floyd Jones,
From the Big Joe Louis collection

Sonderling and Benson took over Planet's entire release series, which meant they also -picked up a jazz-oriented single by the Bob Perkins Trio. Perkins was a Chicago-based alto saxophonist who had picked up some ink in the The Billboard 1944 Music Year Yearbook. The yearbook ran two photos of "Bob Perkins The Sax-o-maniac and his Swing Quartet" with Earl Hyde on drums, George Dawson on guitar and Everette McCrary on bass (our thanks to Bo Sandell for information on this source). Perkins showed up occasionally as a leader in the Local 208 contract lists from this period: for instance, his contract with the General Lounge for 2 days was accepted and filed on September 5, 1946; he followed this up with a 4-week contract (posted October 3). He then moved over to the Sky Club (2 week contract accepted and filed on November 7, 1946). Perkins resurfaced as a leader at Jimmy's Palm Garden (6 weeks with an option; contract filed on May 15, 1947). The Palm Garden contract was extended on July 3 (6 more weeks, with a 12-week option). By early November Perkins was at the Rag Doll (indefinite contract posted on November 6; another contract for 5 days only was posted on February 5, 1948, and on May 6, 1948 Perkins posted another contract for 3 weeks and 2 days). On June 3, 1948, Perkins announced his move to Green Parrot by posting a 10-week contract; on August 5 his indefinite contract with Jimmy's Palm Garden was accepted and filed. Then on November 4, 1948 he filed a 2-week contract with Club 21 and an indefinite contract with the Rag Doll. From early January through late March 1949 his trio with Floyd Morris on piano and Norman "Flip" Gaines on drums was working as the house band at the Music Bowl, a club in the Loop (Local 208 contract list, January 6, 1949; Down Beat, "Chicago Band Briefs," March 25, 1949, p. 4). "Boogie Woogie Bowl," a Louis Jordan-style number, commemorates this establishment.

Old Swing-Master 17 was a straight reissue of Planet 103: the matrix numbers and artist credits are the same as on the Planet. "Boogie Woogie Bowl" was designated as Side A.


Bob Perkins,
From the collection of Dan Kochakian

In any event the Billboard review was unfavorably disposed toward "Boogie Woogie Bowl," giving it ratings of 46-46-44-48: "Unpromising novelty ditty in boogie tempo gets a mediocre warbling and instrumental rundown by a sax-piano-drums trio." Maybe the reviewers were sated with Louis Jordan; heard with today's ears, Perkins' patter is enjoyable, the band swings, and his alto sax solo is buoyant "Fool Again" did a little better, at 55-57-55-53: "Warbler and sax compete to be heard on a modern ballad number of some promise." This lounge ballad, featuring smooth baritone crooning by Floyd Morris, is in a dated genre, but Perkins' accompaniment and solo are refreshingly low on schmaltz. Matters of taste aside, skepticism about Old Swing-Master's distribution definitely helped to lower the numerical ratings.

Perkins would continue to appear sporadically in Chicago through 1952, occasionally scoring gigs at prominent establishments like the Blue Note. After that he dropped off the scene. Floyd Morris worked the clubs during the 1950s, often playing solo or leading a trio. For a brief time, in 1951-1952, he was the pianist for the Four Shades of Rhythm. Morris recorded occasionally, for Vee-Jay with Red Saunders on drums, and for Federal and Chess in bands led by Johnny Pate. In the 1960s and 1970s he was a major session player for the thriving Chicago soul music industry. He died in 1988.


Jimmy McCracklin,
This Marvel release was the second incarnation of a Jimmy McCracklin 78, and the forerunner of Old Swing-Master 24. From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth.

The sides by pianist and singer Jimmy McCracklin were originally made for Trilon: Old Swing-Master 24 was a straight reissue of Trilon 244, and Old Swing-Master 25 recycled Trilon 245. Both of these had been recorded in Oakland, California, where McCracklin was based at the time. Trilon 244 had also made an appearance in Chicago as Marvel 701 (where the artist's first name was spelled "Jimmie"; we have yet to see the labels to Old Swing-Master 24). Jimmy McCracklin was born on August 13, 1921, in Saint Louis. He began to make records in 1945 for Globe on the West Coast. Trilon was a little outfit in Oakland, run by Rene LaMarre. It had some connection as well with local entrepreneur Bob Geddins (whose imprints included Big Town, Down Town, and Gilt Edge). Trilon opened in 1946 and was responsible for at least 43 releases (the first recordings by blues guitarist Lowell Fulson are the most important historically) but the company was winding down—in fact, Trilon 244 and 245 would be its very last releases.

In March 1948 (according to the Chicago phone book) there was a Trilon Record Distributing Company at 1208 South Spalding in Chicago, which apparently closed down at some point in 1949. Apparently someone at the Trilon distributor went in with Chester Scales on the Marvel releases—possibly also on the Planets; this same person arranged the reissue of Trilon 244 on Marvel and subsequently made a deal with Old Swing-Master. McCracklin has had a long career in R&B, with subsequent stops at Modern, Swing Time, Peacock, Imperial, Hollywood, Irma (a latter-day Geddins operation), Checker, Mercury, and Minit. Most recently he has recorded for Bullseye Blues.


Jimmy McCracklin,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Little Miss Cornshucks,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Little Miss Cornshucks was the marquee name of Mildred Cummings, who was born in Dayton, Ohio, on May 26, 1923. She began her career in Ohio, but by 1941 was singing at the Club DeLisa and also appeared at the Rhumboogie after it opened in 1942. In 1945 she became a headliner at the DeLisa, and in 1946 she began touring widely, returning to the DeLisa in May 1946. She was one of the first artists that Marl Young and his brothers signed to their new Sunbeam label. "So Long," which became her signature ballad at the DeLisa, despite the management's preference that she stick to blues, was cut at her first session for the label in late September 1946. At a second session in October she cut "For Old Time's Sake." Accompaniment on both was by a studio jazz band assembled by Marl Young. Sunbeam was a small, struggling enterprise, and after a year in the business, Marl Young threw in the towel, selling the company's masters to Vitacoustic in September 1947. When Vitacoustic went under, these masters were among those taken over by Egmont Sonderling. Since she was touring regularly in 1947, 1948, and 1949, and had made a session for Miltone immediately after she arrived in Los Angeles in November1947, a reissue of "So Long" seemed like a good bet.


Little Miss Cornshucks,
From the collection of Dr. Robert Stallworth

Little Miss Cornshucks became much less active as a performer after 1951, and retired completely after her last recording session, done for Chess in 1960. She died in Indianapolis on November 11, 1999.


Memphis Slim,
From the collection of Mike Kredinac; see Mike's Pix.

John L. Chatman, aka Peter Chatman, aka Memphis Slim, is covered in some depth on our Miracle and Hy-Tone pages. On Old Swing-Master 1010, which is derived from two of his 1947 sessions for Miracle, Slim (piano, vocals) was accompanied by Alex Atkins (alto sax), Ernest Cotton (tenor sax), and Ernest "Big" Crawford (bass).


Sonny Thompson,
From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Egmont Sonderling also obtained two Miracle sides by Sonny Thompson's popular unit, which appared on Old Swing-Master 1011 as "The Fish-I" and "The Fish-II." These were actually recorded at two different sessions in 1949 with different bands. But the formula had proven remarkably successful when sides from two 1947 sessions were assembled into Thompson's two-sided hit "Long Gone," and Sonderling was not adverse to trying it again.


Swing-Masters without the Old?

We have heard occasional tales of releases appearing on Swing-Master, without the Old. We haven't seen any copies with such labels, but veteran collector Robert Javors recalls two Swing-Masters coming briefly into his possession in the 1970s when he was buying up 78s in large quantities and auctioning them off. One of these, he says, was a Swing-Master 10 (the Kitty Stevenson single with a different label). We are eager to hear from collectors who have 78s with this variant in their possession.


Sonderling Leaves the Recording Business

As 1950 rolled around, Egmont Sonderling had a new business plan in mind; to implement it he began to phase out his recording enterprises. First, he sold his pressing plant to Art Sheridan's Armour Plastics. In Billboard for March 11, 1950, the announcement was made that "Master Record pressery here, operated by Egmont Sonderling, of United Broadcasting, is combining some of its equipment with that of Armour Plastics, pressery operated by Art Sheridan. New plant will enlarge to more plating equipment and will also wax 16-inch e.t.'s [extended transcriptions]." This was not merely a business alliance; the December 1950 Chicago phone book listed Armour Plastics but not Master Records. This deal with Art Sheridan quite possibly explains how several batches of Old Swing-Master items came to be sold to Sheridan's Chance label in 1952.

Once Sonderling unloaded his pressing plant, Old Swing-Master's days were numbered. In June 1950 Billboard reported that Leonard Davis had jumped ship to the Chess operation (formerly Aristocrat; Leonard and Phil Chess had just renamed it). He was described as ex-sales manager at Old Swing-Master, which Billboard said was "once operated by Negro d.j. Al Benson and Egmont Sonderling" but had now folded. The following week, however, Billboard backtracked and said the label was not folding after all, according to Sonderling, who said that the firm was planning on releasing some sides by T-Bone Walker and Kitty Stevenson. But these never materialized. The operation was effectively dead when Leonard Davis departed. And if Sonderling had really wanted to release more Old Swing-Masters, he would have had to pay someone else to press them.

The Master label, also in a wind-down phase, put out a little more Miracle-derived material in March 1950. Besides the items already mentioned, there were Master 1020 and Master 1030, both consisting of Memphis Slim sides not previously issued on Miracle. And there was a Jack Cooley single on Master 102, a mid-1950 release derived from Miracle's successor label Premium—see those pages for details.

After the Cooley single and the closedown of Old Swing-Master, Egmont Sonderling was effectively out of the record business. In November 1950, his new business direction became public when he opened radio station WOPA in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park.

His United Broadcasting Studio was still doing steady business recording for independent labels in 1950. But in 1951 its output slowed down, and we have not seen any records with matrix numbers in a UB52-000 series. Tom Kelly has a 78-rpm dance music single (by Al Saber, Vocal | David Le Winter's Orchestra) on maroon-label Master 1001/1002. The matrix numbers are UB-53-51 for Master 1001 "Love Me Love Me," and UB-53-52 for Master 1002, "What Is There to Say," indicating a 1953 recording date. (1001 also bears K 1106 in the vinyl while 1002 has K 1107.) Le Winter ran a combo at the Pump Room in the Sherman Hotel for several years; composed of several highly accomplished musicians, it played pop music for dancers. This disk, which Sonderling probably put out as a favor to somebody, appears to be the last gasp for the Master 1000 series. We figure it was close to the end of the road for United Broadcasting Studio as well (we don't know exactly when UB closed down).

In later years, Sonderling concentrated on his Sonderling Broadcasting Corporation (we are indebted to his obituary in the New York Times for details). At its peak, the Sonderling operation included 11 radio stations in major markets, a TV station (WAST, the CBS affiliate in Albany, New York), and a movie theater chain in New York and the New England States that included 55 screens. In 1974, Sonderling Broadcasting's Black-oriented radio stations were located in Chicago, New York City, Washington, DC, Memphis (the legendary WDIA), and Oakland. In 1980, most of Sonderling Broadcasting was sold to the Viacom conglomerate. Sonderling retained two radio stations in Chicago and the movie theater chain, but in 1987 he sold his remaining holdings and retired to the wealthy enclave of Bal Harbour, Florida. Egmont Sonderling died on July 22, 1997, at a cancer center in Miami.

The collapse of Old Swing-Master took Al Benson out of the record business temporarily. Benson resumed freelance recording in March 1951 (with an Eddie South session that he sold to the Chess brothers). After building up his recording activity in 1952, he gave his new Parrot label a preliminary launch in December of 1952 (still in close coordination with Chess), then went out on his own in June 1953. In 1954, Benson added the Blue Lake subsidiary to Parrot, which he sustained until early 1956, when he sold the company to John Henry "Lawyer" Burton.


Appendix. The Jazz Ltd. Recordings

We are including this appendix because in May 1949, Old Swing-Master concluded a deal to distribute three 78s (6 sides) drawn from of a limited-edition album of four 78s that was put out by the tiny Jazz Ltd. label. Bill and Ruth Reinhardt started the label to record some of the traditional jazz artists who performed at their club, Jazz Ltd., at 11 East Grand Street.

In March 1949, Jazz Ltd. put out a limited-edition album of 4 78s. (The album was intended for promotional purposes, and only 1000 copies were made). There were three sides by soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet and the club's house band, probably cut in late August 1948; a fourth side from the same session featured the band's pianist Don Ewell in a trio format. A second session featured the Jazz Ltd. house band in February 1949; on two sides the club's current headliner, Muggsy Spanier, played lead cornet; on the other two he was replaced by cornetist Paul "Doc" Evans, who had been previously featured for two long engagements at the club. Both sessions added a string bass player to the club's usual quintet of three horns, piano, and drums. Bill Reinhardt was the clarinetist in the house band throughout this period; he appeared on both sessions. See our Jazz Ltd. page for more about the proper dating and personnel.


Sidney Bechet,
The second issue of Jazz Limited 101, distributed by Old Swing-Master. From the collection of Robert L. Campbell.

In the chart below, the March 1949 date applies to the original album release on the silver and red Jazz Ltd. label. The June 1949 date applies to the singles issued separately on the gray and red Jazz Limited label, as distributed by Old Swing-Master. The "et al."'s indicate that each Jazz Ltd. listed the entire personnel (though we are skeptical about the drummer identifications on the labels to 101 and 201). We have included Jazz Limited 301 for completeness, even though Old Swing-Master chose not to pick it up.

Our guess is that the JL suffix that we have for the matrix numbers of Jazz Limited 101 and 401 appeared on both the original album and the separate singles reissued under the Old Swing-Master deal.

Matrix number Release number Artist Title Recording Date Release Date
UB9101-JL Jazz Ltd. 201A Sidney Bechet et al. Maryland, My Maryland prob. late August 1948 March 1949 (June 1949)
UB9102 JL Jazz Ltd. 201B Sidney Bechet et al. Careless Love prob. late August 1948 March 1949 (June 1949)
UB9103 JL Jazz Ltd. 101A Sidney Bechet et al. Egyptian Fantasy prob. late August 1948 March 1949 (June 1949)
UB9104 JL Jazz Ltd. 101B Don Ewell et al. Maple Leaf Rag prob. late August 1948 March 1949 (June 1949)
UB9181 JL Jazz Ltd. 301A Doc Evans et al. Wolverine Blues February 1949 March 1949 (no reissue)
UB9182 JL Jazz Ltd. 301B Doc Evans et al. It's a Long Way to Tipperary February 1949 March 1949 (no reissue)
UB9183 JL Jazz Ltd. 401A Muggsy Spanier et al. A Good Man Is Hard to Find February 1949 March 1949 (June 1949)
UB9184 JL Jazz Ltd. 401B Muggsy Spanier et al. Washington and Lee Swing February 1949 March 1949 (June 1949)

The original issue numbers are derived from George Hoefer's detailed review of the Jazz Ltd. album, in Down Beat, June 3, 1949. The Jazz Limited releases are mislisted in Lord's Jazz Discography: there is no mention of the original album, nor of the fact that 101, 201, and 401 reappeared as separate 78s under the Old Swing-Master deal while 301 did not. Moreover, Lord puts "Egyptian Fantasy" on a non-existent 202, stranding "Maple Leaf Rag" on 101 without a flip side!

As we noted, the two Doc Evans sides were left out of the Old Swing-Master deal, though they have appeared on subsequent reissues. George Hoefer's Down Beatreview complained of "fuzzy" sound on them—perhaps Sonderling and Benson found this a deterrent? (The trouble must have been a pressing fault, as the CD reissues sound OK).

We don't know how long the distribution deal was in force. In any event, not beyond the collapse of Old Swing-Master in June 1950! In 1951, Jazz Ltd. licensed all 8 sides to Regal, which put them on a 10-inch LP. There was also a limited edition LP on Jazz Ltd.'s own label, distributed out of the club. In any event, after a year the Reinhardts cut another deal with Atlantic, which would reissue the sides on a 10-inch LP in 1952, and again in the 12-inch format in 1957. Jazz Ltd. cut another session in 1951, and two final sessions in 1955 and 1956. Each was put on a 10-inch Jazz Ltd. LP with limited circulation; each session was also (eventually) leased to Atlantic.

In the early 1990s, Jazz Ltd.'s output was purchased by Bob Koester, who reissued all 8 sides from 1948-1949 on Delmark DE-226, a CD that came out in 1994 under the title Jazz Ltd. Volume 1. For the rest of the Jazz Ltd. story see our new page devoted to the club and the label.


Don Ewell,
The red-on-gray Old Swing-Master edition. From the collection of Robert L. Campbell

Out thanks to Tom Kelly for turning up Old Swing-Master 1000 by Joe Petrak. It is not mentioned by Kratochwil, or any other source on the label that we have been able to find. The titles would be sufficient to specify the instrumentation: accordion, circus tenor saxophone, guitar, and string bass. The flip side, "Barbara Polka," adds a trumpet. Petrak's group was basically a Slovenian-style polka band, but from the titles on 1001 adn 1002 we can see that they had some standards in their repertoire. The labels identify 1000 as coming from a Popular Series. The other two Petraks, 1001 and 1002, were announced in Billboard just in time for Christmas 1949; we have yet to see copies.

Apparently Old Swing-Master was feeling a need to compete with Aristocrat, which put out 9 (maybe 10?) singles by Lee Monti and his Tu-Tones, and Rondo, with its voluminous 550 polka band series.


Our historical sources are Galen Gart's First Pressings: Rock History as Chronicled In Billboard Magazine, Volume 1 1948-1949 (Big Nickel, 1986) and Bernd Kratochwil's "Die Geschichte des Entrepreneur Al Benson aus Chicago oder die labels'Old Swingmaster,' 'Parrot,' and 'Blue Lake' Teil 2: Old Swingmaster Discography," Rockin' Fifties,1997, 45-49. The All Music Guide to the Blues supplied background on several of the blues artists, which we augmented with information from Eric LeBlanc. Many thanks to Shirley Klett and Art Zimmerman for help on the Howard McGhee sides, to Art Zimmerman for information about a copy of Old Swing-Master 23 in his collection, and to Ferdie Gonzales for help on the extremely elusive Old Swing-Master 33. Dan Kochakian provided us with detailed information about the Old Swing-Masters in his collection; Helge Thygesen provided us with label copy for Old Swing-Master 20; Bo Sandell provided details about Planet 103 (Old Swing-Master 17); and Dr. Robert Stallworth did likewise for Marvel 701 (Old Swing-Master 24) and Old Swing-Master 26. Bill Daniels provided us with detailed enough information about early recordings on the Sensation label, during its relationship with Vitacoustic, that we have been able to pin down the stretches in the Vitacoustic V1800 matrix series where the material that later passed to Old Swing-Master was recorded.


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