Some Recordings by John McCormack

Labels from acoustic recordings of John McCormack on 10" records

Just for fun, I thought I’d share some early recordings from my record collection.  These are 10″ discs which were acoustically recorded between 1916 and 1920.  There were no electrical microphones; the performers were placed around a very large acoustic horn (like those seen on old phonographs, but much larger), and the horn led to a needle in the next room which cut a master disc, from which these records were made.

I have three RCA Victor recordings by John McCormack (1884-1945), who was “Ireland’s greatest singer” according to the John McCormack Society, though I expect that they are a bit biased.   He is very good, though, and his talent comes across even in the low fidelity (at least by modern standards) of these recordings.  I don’t know how much they paid him, but the price marked on the “Prize Song” disc is $1.50 which, adjusted for inflation, has the buying power of  $29.00 as of this writing.

I was able to pull the audio into my computer.  Complicating matters is the fact that all three of these records are severely scuffed and scratched.  They are also designed to be played at 76 rpm, which hasn’t been a standard speed for many decades.  However, I have a turntable that can spin at 78 rpm, so I pulled them in at that speed, used the computer to stretch the recording time and frequency to account for the speed difference, and spent a lot of time editing out the worst of the pops and clicks.  I believe that the results are very much like what one might have heard in their own home 90 years ago.

Of the three, my favorite is “Since You Went Away” (aka Seems Lak’ to Me), with Fritz Kreisler on violin and Edwin Schneider (who co-wrote this “Irish” ballad) on piano.  If you listen closely, you can hear the remnants of a major scratch that went in a straight line from the center of the record to the edge; from the rhythm of the static you can get an idea of just how fast this record is supposed to be spinning.

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2 Responses

  1. Marie says:

    You have infused such care and diligence into digitalizing this! Bravo for transmitting delightful bits of musical history via your blog :)

    I’m toddling off to bed now but I can’t wait to get back to listening to the other two tracks first thing in the mornig!

  2. dmarks says:

    Don’t forget the massive heavy needle Victrola’s had in order to get sound off the record. 33’s are like butter compared to those old 78’s.

    We found this out when we played a 33 1/3 LP on a Victrola. The recording industry would have loved this idea: it was a play-once situation. The heavy Victrola needle gouged a deep white path in the LP as it played, with litttle curles of scraped-out vinyl left behind. But yes, it did play. But once the needle passed through a groove, it was ruined.

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