The Old-Time Herald Volume 14, Number 2

There Are Still a Lot of Records You Haven’t Heard
By Dan Margolies
1931 Victor catalog cover
collection of Todd Cambio

The allure of scarcity is mother’s milk to old-time musicians and collectors of 78 rpm records alike. Since generations of master 78 collectors have already found so much of the good stuff, what is to be done for the obsessed still on the hunt for records and riveting music?

It helps to broaden your horizons. Sometimes scarcity in the quest has pushed devoted collectors in new directions and often yielded some incredible new finds and valuable new collections. One prominent example is Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records and a patron saint of vernacular music recording. He found that while blues and old-time collectors had already secured vast swaths of classic 78s when he was building his musical empire, virtually nobody was collecting the varied and superb body of Mexican and Mexican-American 78 recordings. Pretty soon he built the largest collection of this music in the world, and saved an almost impossibly rich but largely ignored component of the nation’s musical heritage. You can listen to the vast fruits of his labors, for free in 50-second increments, online at the Fronteras Collection at UCLA.

Even in the era of such instantly accessible digital collections as Fronteras or the Digital Library of Appalachia, as well as other newly opened digital archives of field recordings and commercial streaming services, there still remains a vast amount of compelling music of natural interest to old-time musicians waiting to be discovered, unheard, on 78s. Much of it has not been heard in decades or since its release in the pre-War period. Indeed, much of this music has never even been heard of in modern times by more than a handful of the anointed or lucky collectors. Obscure and great music on vanishingly scarce 78s with that lost timbre of the era: sounds like the perfect thing for any old-time musician to seek out.

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