Handmade Animation Shows You “How To Make a 1930 Paramount Record”

The his­to­ry of Amer­i­can music—the blues, jazz, gospel, etc.—has been told, and sold, so many times over that it seems hard to jus­ti­fy yet anoth­er ret­ro­spec­tive. And yet, I for one am very hap­py to see the huge two-vol­ume box set The Rise & Fall of Para­mount Records appear on the scene. Grant­ed, I can’t cough up $800 for, in total, 1600 remas­tered dig­i­tal tracks, 12 LPs, 900 pages of artist bios, por­traits, discogra­phies, and ful­ly-restored adver­tise­ments from the Mid­west­ern musi­cal pow­er­house of the 20s and 30s. And that’s not to men­tion the beau­ti­ful, peri­od pack­ag­ing, “first-of-its-kind music and image play­er app… housed on cus­tom met­al USB dri­ve,” and more. But even those of us too skint to afford all the glo­ri­ous swag can sam­ple some of the fruit of the enor­mous labors that went into this joint pro­duc­tion of Jack White’s Third Man Records and folk gui­tar hero John Fahey’s Revenant Records (if only by proxy). And we can learn a lit­tle about the labors that went in to mak­ing the orig­i­nal records them­selves.

Paramount records label

Just above, we have a beau­ti­ful hand­made video by Kel­li Ander­son which “recre­ates the inner work­ings of the defunct Para­mount Records Fac­to­ry (where records by artists like Blind Lemon Jef­fer­son, Louis Arm­strong and Charley Pat­ton were pressed in the 1920s and ‘30s).” Made “entire­ly from paper atop a ply­wood set,” the stop-motion ani­ma­tion sim­u­lates the pro­duc­tion of Paramount’s “race records,” accom­pa­nied by Charley Patton’s 1930 “High Water Every­where, Part 1,” whose “thick, ana­log noise,” Ander­son writes on her blog, “is a reminder that some of history’s most inven­tive musi­cians were record­ed on the most infe­ri­or equip­ment of their day.” She quotes Dean Black­wood of Revenant, who writes that the Para­mount fac­to­ry “sat perched above the Mil­wau­kee Riv­er riverbed. Dirt from that riverbed was one of the key ingre­di­ents in their shel­lac dough, which was low­er on shel­lac con­tent and high­er on unex­pect­ed com­po­nents like riverbed clay, cot­ton flock, and lamp black.”

But from these hum­ble, dirty, cheap mate­ri­als came a sound like no other—one that can nev­er be dupli­cat­ed and which deserves the high­est qual­i­ty preser­va­tion. Just above, see a video trail­er for vol­ume 1 of the mas­sive box set, and read much more about this project at Third Man’s site (Vol­ume 1, Vol­ume 2).

Relat­ed Con­tent:

R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Coun­try Fea­tures 114 Illus­tra­tions of the Artist’s Favorite Musi­cians

Mud­dy Waters, Howl­in’ Wolf, Sis­ter Roset­ta Tharpe & Oth­er Amer­i­can Blues Leg­ends Per­form in the UK (1963–66)

‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Hobo Blues’: Great Per­for­mances by John Lee Hook­er

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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