That old scratchy sound.
November 25, 2007 4:21 AM   Subscribe

Collectors of 78rpm records are a breed unto themselves. Obsessively scouring the flea markets of the world in search of sonic treasures from yesteryear, they are a big part of the reason we can today enjoy so much wonderful old music. One such collector who's bringing some of his finds to the internets, sharing with us his scratchy old audio ghosts from eras long gone, is Johnny Bitterman. Currently up on his audio player is You Gonna Look Like a Monkey When You Get Old, along with 3 other tunes for your listening/downloading pleasure. You'll also find there a fabulous gallery of photographs featuring lovely old labels from many of his discs.

Regarding the labels pictured on Bitterman's site: aside from the antique graphic design interest angle, there's those song titles: "What Is It That Tastes Like Gravy?", "Married Girl's Troubles", "The Terror", "Too Tight Blues", "In the Garden Where the Irish Potatoes Grow" (by none other than 'Dr. Smith's Champion Horse Hair Pullers Orchestra'), "I Had To Give Up Gym" (by the 'Hokum Boys'), "I Ain't a Bit Drunk"... Anyway, it seems Johnny changes up his selection of audio clips from time to time, so if any of these colorful titles whet your appetite, stay tuned, cause they may well show up at one time or another in audio form there on his page. The man really has a fantastic collection.

BTW, one of the labels on Bitterman's page shows "I Got Your Ice Cold Nugrape" by the Nugrape Twins, a very curious little recording duo who you can hear here. The tune in question appeared on the Revenant release "American Primitive". Recommended!

Otherwise, I stumbled across this little diversion while snooping around for 78rpm stuff: Vinyl Record Generator. Never know when something like that might come in handy...
posted by flapjax at midnite (22 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
On rainy days, I used to go through stacks of these in a mothball'd attic space on grandma's Vitrola.

Yet my first thought when one of your mp3 links starts: Does Beck have a new CD out?
posted by hal9k at 4:58 AM on November 25, 2007

posted by asok at 5:42 AM on November 25, 2007

What's that taste like gravy? Mama says I know you want to know.
S' that taste like gravy when you're sore?
Said kill that chicken and cook him down low,
Said shoot that chicken a sweet jelly roll.
Aw what's that tastes like gravy? Mama said I know you want to know.

I was down in Alabam way down in Dixieland.
Said they caught a possum and they name him Joe and they put him in his barn.
Said they shoot that possum and they cooked him down low,
When the grease come running from his Joe Joe Joe.
That tastes like gravy? Mama said I know you want to know.

Well I was born in Alabam way down in Dixieland
Oh the peoples come for miles around just to hear that (???)
Well sound so loose, sound so blue,
Sound just like he couldn't blow.
That taste like gravy, Mama says I know you want to know.

Oh skeedle dee dee de leedle beedle de bum,
I said mama said I know you want to know.
Oh skeedle deedle deedle deedle beedle de bum,
I said you don't know my road.
Late night last year when time was tough
I was laying in the coalyard struttin my stuff.
That taste like gravy? Mama said I know you want ot know.
posted by gregvr at 6:14 AM on November 25, 2007

mmm -- this stuff is good -- i keep tracking these ol paths too -- but the real internet gem for scratchy tunes is the brazillian music blog : : el diablo tun tun also the kiddie records guys (don have the link on hand, but googlble shirley) : :

regardless, the 78rpm collection is simply astounding -- see esp the al jolson & eddie cantor collections (if, as i think srboisvert so gracefully alludes to above, you can stomach revolting polick -- but even for that archeology is where we go how it just what.. .). like so many great growing internet archives, there is TOO MUCH an insurmountable overbrimming of material.

speaking of : : the edison site at the national library of congress is something to be reckoned with!
posted by j.henry at 6:56 AM on November 25, 2007

Mm, mmm good! nickyskye beat me to it, but 78MAN over at YouTube has about 200 more videos of his little spinning discs than he did when she made her post 6 months ago.
posted by carsonb at 7:07 AM on November 25, 2007

I have three orange crates full of 78s that I found in a garage in L.A. They are apparently from a Mexican radio station as they are in plain brown sleeves with something that looks like an old library checkout card that shows play dates or something along those lines. I can't recall if there is a radio call sign stamped on them or not. They seem to be from the 1930's and 1940's. They are covered/caked in dust so it is sort of a half hour time commitment to get one clean enough to put on my record player. There are a few from people I recognize like Artie Shaw but most of them seem to be Mexican acts that I have never heard of. Any recommended research resources?
posted by well_balanced at 7:27 AM on November 25, 2007

The other thing I forgot to ask is if anyone knows of a resource that details best practices for cleaning and digitization of 78s. I guess this probably belongs on Ask Mefi but as long as this is on the front page....
posted by well_balanced at 7:36 AM on November 25, 2007

Cleaning - buy some record cleaner like gruv glide and begin wiping. Digitizing is easy if you have a turntable with a digital out, and most of the new turntables do.
posted by iamck at 8:08 AM on November 25, 2007

Yes, the 78s at the Internet Archive and Nugrape Twins were definitely postworthy.
posted by y2karl at 9:45 AM on November 25, 2007

And did you see who is playing with Bitterman on his Myspace photo? Why if it ain't R. Crumb.
posted by Termite at 9:47 AM on November 25, 2007

See also. Ethnomusicologist Robert Garfias's totally incredible website has a bunch of 78 rips from Japan, Korea, and Romania (possibly others, although much of it is field recordings).
posted by synaesthetichaze at 9:58 AM on November 25, 2007

The other thing I forgot to ask is if anyone knows of a resource that details best practices for cleaning and digitization of 78s.

You can clean 78s with cheap vodka and a very soft non-scratching cloth, such as the type used to clean eyeglasses.

Digitization would involve a record player you could plug into a mixer or computer. You could then use Audacity, a free/open source program, to record it. Or you could do what we did and stick a mic in front of your 78 player, although obviously that doesn't make for optimal fidelity. This is the method we used to record Whispering Hope from a 78 of my husband's grandmother and aunts singing a hymn. We added some reverb but not much -- the recording is basically what you hear, unprocessed.

I suggest starting out by contacting places like the Marr Sound Archive for advice or services -- and since you are in LA there may be local options I don't know anything about (but I bet the Marr staff would).
posted by melissa may at 10:09 AM on November 25, 2007

And then there is the Secret Museum of The Air and the spin off CD collections of The Secret Museum of Mankind on Yazoo. I love world music on 78 for the same reasons I love vintage American music on There is something still there from the times music was played and sang and heard in person rather than from a machine. I would also recommend Yazoo's The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of..l.

I would swear that on the cover of that last CD that is a portrait of the late Bob Jeniker who ran Park Avenue Records down on Queen Anne Avenue and Mercer back in the day. He was a big 78 collector and a friend of Robert Crumb's. A friend of mine has a great story about him and Jeniker and Crumb going out to some guys house around here and going through boxes and boxes and boxes of 78s. Man, those guys were in hog heaven.
posted by y2karl at 10:10 AM on November 25, 2007

As an added bonus, old 78's can be used to shellac new wood to match the existing old furniture.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:25 AM on November 25, 2007

And speaking of 78's, mediareport's post of Tim Gracyk's Phonographs, Singers, and Old Records deserves a mention. Gracyk has more tips on the care and collecting of 78s than you can shake a stick at.
posted by y2karl at 11:33 AM on November 25, 2007

check out for some 78 goodness.
posted by josephtate at 1:50 PM on November 25, 2007

There's also the excellent Joe Bussard, who has all kinds of treasures at his website. There's a box set of his collection out, called "Down in the Basement," and the last I looked he would also make mix tapes if you asked nicely.
posted by speedlime at 2:03 PM on November 25, 2007

Great post! Man oh man, flapjax, I hereby declare you King of Ferreting Out Marvelous MySpace Musical Stuff.
posted by madamjujujive at 2:05 PM on November 25, 2007

There's an amazing old shop in Edinburgh specialising in 78's - Bill Breslin's Gramophone Emporium
posted by Lanark at 2:34 PM on November 25, 2007

Wow, great link's here in the comments, y'all! Drinks all around!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:03 PM on November 25, 2007

And that's links with an apostrophe, which is good luck.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:04 PM on November 25, 2007

Well, it was only half a double post, all links considered. ;)
posted by y2karl at 4:11 PM on November 25, 2007

« Older I could smother the child. I could not smother the...   |   A Boy, His Dog, and Their Descent Into Madness Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments