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SH Spotlight Echo/Reverb history in recorded music..

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by ROLO46, Mar 8, 2010.

  1. ROLO46

    ROLO46 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Steve says in the Al Bowlly thread:

    'Just remember, no 1925-50 recordings from England or the USA have any fake echo or reverb on them, they were recorded DRY. If your CD's or LP reissues have it, dump them.'

    Abbey Rd had an echo chamber in 1931 which was restored quite recently and BBC Broadcasting House also had them in the 30's.
    So was no echo applied?
    Movies used it dramatically and obviously radio drama too but not on music?

    Strange but on my Lew Stone Abbey Rd recordings(1932-34) I can hear a tiny splash of slapback on the horns,but mostly they are nearly anechoic.

    When did echo become fashionable in music and when did some genius delay the feed to the chamber with a tape machine?

    Slapback from tape was RnR 50's but where did it originate?

  2. Greg1954

    Greg1954 New Member

    Echo chambers and reverb plates aside, there's also the odd recording that has natural reverberation.

    I had a 1920's Victor scroll of Blue Steele & His Orchestra playing not too long ago which was very reverberant, I believe, because it was not recorded Victor's own studio, but somewhere else. Possibly an airplane hangar that they were using as temporary recording location.
  3. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Guys, I just wrote about this. Was it in the Duke Ellington thread?

    Again, that is natural 'verb on the pre-1934 records, NOT any kind of chamber. Just sound slightly bouncing off the walls of the recording venue. Columbia from 1925-31 did this on purpose to add a slight resonance to their recordings. Listen to a Columbia Potato Head P.W. vs. a Victor of the same time (around 1928). Hear the difference? The Columbia sounds more lifelike..

    December, 1934, Jukebox Operators Of America send open letter to record companies: "Stop making "tinny" sounding records, stop recording in "natural" places like churches, etc". By this they meant tinny on their crappy sounding jukeboxes of the era. The records themselves sound wonderful from the 1925-34 era, the best 78's of all time.

    1935-52: Dry as a bone, drapes, carpets in studios to make that thuddy sound of the era (the Swing Era).

    The home environment was expected to furnish whatever reverberation there would be.

    After 1952, the "High Fidelity" era began, upstart Mercury LIVING PRESENCE records had natural hall reverb so the trend began on ALL records. Radio station-like echo chambers were built. Bill Putnam built the first deluxe groovy chamber at his Universal Recorders, Chicago, USA.

    Some companies like Sam Phillips' MEMPHIS RECORDING SERVICE used a cheap form called "slap". Really not so cheap because one needed TWO expensive reel to reel machines, one to record, one to "slap". Sam Phillips got around that by using a non-pro second machine for the slap until he could afford two Ampexes (which he needed for tape copies, etc.)

    Remember, CD's and LP reissues of 78 RPM era material may have had fake echo added in remastering to make them sound "modern". Avoid that stuff.. The end credits of Ken Burns' History Of Jazz used the great Ellington "I LET A SONG GO OUT OF MY HEART" which had fake echo added to it in the 1950's. Drove me bat**** crazy each night. The real record is nice and dry and it's too bad no one caught the goof..
    GerryO, Brian Mc, CusBlues and 4 others like this.
  4. MikeM

    MikeM Senior Member

    Youngstown, Ohio
    FWIW, an article from this web page:

    I found this article by doing a search on Bernie Besman (who's mentioned later on the page), the producer who signed John Lee Hooker to his first recording contract. Though the exact dates are unclear, it's said that Hooker may have begun recording for Besman as early as December 1947.

    What I was looking for was something I had read many years ago in an account by Besman of these early Hooker recording sessions. I thought this was in the box set that collects these sessions -- John Lee Hooker's Detroit, released on the United Artists label in the early 70s -- but I can't find it there. So I either read it elsewhere or it was in an insert that I no longer have.

    Anyway, Besman spoke of his unique "adaptation" of the Vitacoustic echo technique. I can't find it in his own words, but many other articles online make reference to it.

    For example, there's this account:

    As both the Vitacoustic harmonica records and many of these early John Lee Hooker recordings predate 1950, perhaps the history of echo/reverb needs to be rewritten slightly.
    PDK likes this.
  5. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Rewritten? No, not at all. Radio was using echo chambers as early as 1929 for dramatic effect. They knew the trick technology well as did movie sound departments by 1930. So it went until the late 1940's and tape recording came in.

    Please remember that at this stage, around 1950 (and I knew Bernie B. well at the end of his life and he told me this) the "reverb" effect was intended to (how should I say this?) be a gimmick to black audiences. A gimmick to appeal (don't ask me how) to ethnic music lovers. This morphed later into the white records just as the distorted guitar sound did.

    1953 is the year the white guys got into echo. Before that, echo denoted "cheap" or used only for Race Records. After 1953 it meant HI FI.

    The history of recorded music in the far-away 1920's is a fascinating story. If you are interested in it you really need to get this wonderful book, Recording the ’Twenties:

  6. John B Good

    John B Good Forum Hall Of Fame

    NS, Canada
    I had a metal waste-paper basket in my bedroom in the early 1960s, which I used to sing into in my attempt get the effect I was thrilled by from my older brother's copy of Heartbreak Hotel.

    (That's the most embarrasing post I have ever made here!)
  7. xios

    xios Senior Member

    Frederick, MD
    It's A Good Day by Peggy Lee from the '40's has a echo fadeout.
  8. audiodrome

    audiodrome Senior Member

    North Of Boston
    My favorite natural echo/reverb is the stairwell of the old Columbia 30th St. Studios in NY. I'm not sure if this was usually combined with the live chambers but that classic Mitch Miller/Ray Conniff "slapback" reverb is one of the best sounds in recording history. :)
    Brian Mc likes this.
  9. ROLO46

    ROLO46 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    EMT made great plates
    Where did that come from?
    AGK great spring units
    Gibson Oil can/Fender spring gtr verbs
    Meatsi/Binson/Watkins/Echoplex/Roland tape loops
    Lexicon digital delays and verbs.
    Convolution now
    So many amazing devices.
  10. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    Putnam was a genius, no question about it. The number of advances he made to the recording industry... things would be very primitive today without guys like him. Somebody really oughta write a book about him.

    I think Steve's point was, there were a lot of reissued 78s in the years that followed, and some of those have artificial reverb mixed in to make them sound more "modern." And I've also heard this done on CD as well. You never quite know what you're going to get, partly because a lot of people don't know how the original records sounded.

    Even today, I'll hear "wet" (reverb) and "dry" (no reverb) versions of hit 1950s songs, and I'll wonder, "man... which is the real thing?" Unless you have an original 45RPM single, you won't really know.
    McLover likes this.
  11. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Recorded at:

    TRINITY BAPTIST CHURCH aka VICTOR CHURCH STUDIO, (deconsecrated 1919, used by Victor Talking Machine Co. 1919-29 and RCA-Victor 1929-1935).

    114 North 5th Street, Camden, New Jersey

    Attached Files:

  12. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    I don't know much about the history of plates and loops. I've used them in mixing for years. The EMT Plate is groovy. With a little tweeking it can sound just like a real echo chamber (which it is, just smaller). They were the poor man's chamber but evolved into a unique sound. My interest ends at the chamber though (except for a really good 1963 Fender Reverb Unit)....:)
    PDK likes this.
  13. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer

    The West
    That's really cool. Heard of the studio but have never seen a photo. Didn't know RCA used it for that long either. I assume it's long gone?

    dan c
  14. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host

    Yeah, the subway line came in around 1935 making it impossible to record there. That and the mandated move to less ambient product. You can hear the changeover in Victor & Bluebird recordings of the era...
  15. ROLO46

    ROLO46 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Les Paul did his early work with disc cutting lathes dubbing from one to the other and adding parts, but how did he manage delays/echo ?
    2 pick ups playing from the same disc?

  16. Mal

    Mal Phorum Physicist

    I posted these in another thread (see here) but figure they're worth another look.

    Note the drapes being used as an attempt to minimise reflections (ie, echo) from the walls. Once electrical recording has begun they also cover the wooden floor to minimise reflections further. In the acoustic era everyone had to be so close to the horn that they didn't need to treat the floor reflections for ensemble recordings - the players broke up stray sound waves just fine. Their proximity to the horn also explains why the pre-electrical era recordings are usually particularly dry.

    Victor Talking Machine Company, Camden, New Jersey

    Pre 1925 - the acoustic recording era:


    Post 1925 - the electrical recording era:

  17. lukpac

    lukpac Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    It's hard to tell due to the poor quality of the second image, but I have to wonder if maybe those were staged on the same day. The lighting is similar, and the curtains on the walls appear to be in *exactly* the same positions.
  18. Greg1954

    Greg1954 New Member

    They were staged shots, and used in promotion at the time for the 'new' electrical process.


    Above is a photo in what could be the same studio, (if they added the wall mounted lights at some point.) Soprano Mary Garden making one of her records for Victor in 1926 or 27. If you hear those records, they're not really 'dry' or 'wet' but there is a bit of room ambiance that gets through.

    Western Electric carbon microphone there.
  19. Greg1954

    Greg1954 New Member

    I'm pretty sure i've never heard of Paul using two pickups on a disc to achieve echo. In fact those early disc to disc overdubs don't really have any echo or delay on them. He was an early adopter of tape, and what you've heard is likely from one of those.
  20. Greg1954

    Greg1954 New Member

    Acoustic recording rooms were usually heavily damped against wall reflections and such. You couldn't have anything bouncing back into the horn or it'd turn the recording into a muddy mess.
  21. I Am The Lolrus

    I Am The Lolrus New Member

    LA, CA, US
    Impulse response convolution doesn't actually do anything, it relies completely upon the *real* hardware that actually *does* the work.
  22. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    Les Paul's natural echo and reverb on the Les Paul & Mary Ford classics is awesome and a major element that made the sound that we hear on the recordings. These are high fidelity recordings from before the "high fidelity" buzz started.
    McLover likes this.
  23. John D.

    John D. Forum Resident

    I can remember having a Motorola reverb unit in my 56' Chevy back in 1966.
    They were the in thing to have with your 45rpm record player in your car.
    I also remember my dad's oldsmobile having a factory reverb unit.
    Those were the days. :D
    tensummoner likes this.
  24. Taurus

    Taurus Senior Member

    Houston, Texas
    This is mostly off-topic, but just wanted to add that the latest episode of Life After People called "Depths of Destruction" (on the History Channel) includes a segment on the echo chambers underneath the Capitol Records building. I won't include any spoilers :) and they have yet to put this episode up on their site, but I'm sure it will be re-broadcast soon.
    monstermike likes this.
  25. Greg1954

    Greg1954 New Member

    That's a good point.

    Here's a 30 second sample of the ca. 1929 Blue Steel Victor 'scroll' 78 I mentioned.

    Steele Sample Victor record Mp3

    If I didn't know this was straight from an original and rather off a LP/CD reissue, I'd think it had added reverb at some point. None added, though there is some little phase issue going on, which I didn't bother to sort out for this sample.

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