By Steven Lasker

Spurred into action by the recent correspondence in VJM about blue-label OKehs, I asked some local collectors about what they knew and what they had seen/owned . Jim Cooprider reports he once owned a copy of OKeh 8680 that coupled Mahogany Hall Stomp on both sides and was so labelled (also reported by Bernhard Behncke - Ed); James Parten once owned a copy of OKeh 8535 that had Savoy Blues on both sides, and was so labelled. Could these have been jukebox or theater pressings?

There were also blue label OKehs in the 40000 series. Brad Kay has a blue label copy of OKeh 40772, Frankie Trumbauer's Clarinet Marmalade/Singin' the Blues. I have a blue label copy of OKeh 40853, Joe Venuti's Blue Four playing Kickin' the Cat/Beatin' the Dog. The label typography and layout on our two discs varies, with Brad's copy using an older-style font than mine.

James observes that every blue label OKeh he has seen has a large ring under the label (which concurs with my own observations of blue label OKehs), which would date the pressings to between 1931 and 1934.

Center rings, a vestige from the time of pressing that mirrors the join at the intersection of record stamper and center die, might seem a nutty topic to focus on, but in the case of Columbia (and later ARC), the rings can be an important tool in dating a pressing's vintage and origin.

Looking over some Columbia records held here (and in Brad Kay's collection, located just a few blocks away), I notice that the 1917 ODJB and some of my 1921-23 Johnny Dunns don't have any rings at all. My 1923 King Olivers, along with most of my 1923-24 Columbia acoustics, have a center ring of 3 and 1/8th inches in diameter. Shortly before Columbia adopted the Western Electric recording process in March 1925, the company changed the size of the center rings on its pressings to 1 and 3/16ths of an inch diameter. A Canadian collector told me that Columbia records entirely without rings - at least the post-1923 ones - or so I presume - are Canadian pressings, and I have at least one such: Columbia 14075-D by Bessie Smith, with takes two of The Yellow Dog Blues/Soft Pedal Blues (I have several others, including Fletcher Henderon’s Sugar Foot Stomp/What-Cha-Call-’Em Blues, Columbia 395-D, and Columbia 416-D by Ted Lewis which uses the incredibly rare take 1 of Angry - Ed). The labels are black and omit the 'viva-tonal' legend. One other anomalous Columbia held here: Columbia 383-D by Fletcher Henderson, also black label and without the 'viva-tonal' legend. The ring on this specimen is tiny, just a half-inch in diameter, and faint. I don't doubt that other examples exist but, as a general rule, US Columbia's pressings made between 1924 and 1934 bear a distinct center ring.

The size of the center ring on US Columbia's products (which includes all the various subsidiary labels) stayed small through the end of 1930. Here are the latest examples of Bridgeport pressings with small rings found either in my collection or Brad's: Columbia 2352-D (Fletcher Henderson; recorded Dec. 2, 1930); Columbia 14569-D (Bessie Smith; released Dec. 31, 1930 per Dan Mahoney's Columbia 13/14000-D series Numerical Listing); OKeh 41468 (Armstrong/Ellington; released Dec. 25, 1930 per notice of label copy, photocopy held here); OKeh 8842 (Clarence Williams, recorded Nov. 11, 1930, ad in Dec. 27, 1930 Chicago Defender per Laurie Wright's OKeh 8000 Series book).

Columbia's West Coast pressing plant based at Oakland, California, continued to produce small-ring pressings during January and February 1931. Examples: Columbia 2378-D (Ted Lewis); OKeh 41478 (Armstrong); Odeon ONY 36190 (Ellington/Fred Rich); Parlophone PNY 34183 (Ellington, released Feb. 15, 1931 per notice of label copy, photocopy held here).

Records pressed at their main processing and pressing plant at Bridgeport, Connecticut, beginning in January 1931, and at Oakland after February 1931, bear larger rings of 2 and 3/4ths of an inch in diameter. Catalog pressings of earlier releases also bear the larger rings.

After the July 1934 purchase of US Columbia (and its subsidiary labels OKeh, Harmony, etc.) by the American Record Company, the small ring (1 and 3/16ths of an inch) was revived. It can be seen on records on Brunswick, Vocalion, Columbia, and on ARC's own dime store labels. So far as I've been able to tell, records manufactured at the ARC's West Coast pressing plant between 1935 and early 1938 all bear small rings. Some records pressed by ARC on the East Coast also bear small rings, but most of the East Coast product has the larger-size (2 3/4ths inch) ring. West Coast ARC pressings often had surfaces that looked more lustrous and played with less surface hiss than the company's east coast pressings. The only explanation I can offer is speculative, that pure shellac may have been a bit more expensive on the East Coast, which was geographically further from India and Burma where the raw materials for shellac were harvested.

The small ring last appeared on ARC products in 1938, the highest-numbered small ring pressings held here being Brunswick 8089, released circa mid-March 1938, and Vocalion v3985, released March 10, 1938.

These comments don't necessarily apply to Columbia's 16" pressings (of which I know practically nothing). Perhaps readers with holdings of these transcription discs could contact the VJM Editor with their comments on this subject.

Finally, caution is urged against dating the blue label OKehs to late 1932, the date when Columbia changed its labels from black - the highest example James can report is 2718-D - to blue. Blue label stock had long been in use for Columbia Masterworks, Velvetone and Ward's Trail Blazer issues.)

LISTING OF ALL KNOWN ‘BLUE’ 4000, 40000 AND 8000-SERIES OKEHS. Compiled by Mark Berresford.

The following list is based upon the above-noted comments, our own observations, the late Laurie Wright’s indispensible book ‘OKeh Race Records - The 8000 Series’ and Han Enderman’s listing of OKeh Label types that appeared in Names & Numbers 46 (July 2008), the latter of these being very useful but unfortunately did not include the artist/title details. This listing is now thought to be definitive - unless you tell us otherwise!

4678 Louis Armstrong. Blue, Turning Grey Over You/OKeh Laughing Record (!)

8300 Louis Armstrong. Heebie Jeebies/Muskrat Ramble

8431 Richard M Jones Jazz Wizards. Dusty Bottom Blues /Scagmore Green 

8482 Ditto. Willie The Weeper/Alligator Crawl

8519 Ditto. Weary Blues/That’s When I’ll Come Back To You

8535 Ditto. Savoy Blues/Hotter Than That

8592 Clarence Williams. Lazy Mama/Mountain City Blues

8597 Louis Armstrong. West End Blues/Fireworks

8623 Duke Ellington. The Mooche/Hot and Bothered

8657 Louis Armstrong. St. James’ Infirmary/Save It Pretty Mama

8672 Clarence Williams. Mississippi Blues/Steamboat Days

8680 Louis Armstrong. Mahogany Hall Stomp/Beau Koo Jack

8690 Ditto. Basin Street Blues/No

8756 Ditto. Rockin’ Chair/I Ain’t Got Nobody

8800 Ditto. Dinah/Tiger Rag

40772 Frankie Trumbauer. Singin’ The Blues/Clarinet Marmalade

40837 Sophie Tucker w/Miff Mole’s Molers. After You’ve Gone/I Ain’t Got Nobody

40853 Joe Venuti. Kickin’ The Cat/Beatin’ The Dog

40916 Bix Beiderbecke. In A Mist/Tram, Bix and Lang. Wringin’ And Twistin’

40955 Duke Ellington. Black and Tan Fantasy/What Can A Poor Fellow Do?

41204 Louis Armstrong. I Can’t Give You Anything But Love/No-One Else But You

41298 Ditto. When You’re Smiling/Some Of These Days

41350 Ditto. St. Louis Blues/After You’ve Gone

41375 Ditto. Song Of The Islands/Blue, Turning Grey Over You

41423 Ditto. Exactly Like You/Indian Cradle Song

41448 Ditto. Confessin’/If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight.

41478 Ditto. You’re Drivin’ Me Crazy/The Peanut Vendor

41498 Ditto. Blue Again/When Your Lover Has Gone

41552 Ditto. Home/All of Me