The Making of a Delmark Apllo

Born in a record store near the Apollo Theatre building in 1944, Apollo Records presented virtually every kind of popular and ethnic music. By 1962, Apollo ceased recording but continued merchandising its gospel music, primarily the Mahalia Jackson catalog. In the 1980's, Delmark acquired the rights and surviving source material of the long out of print blues and jazz masters, and has been presenting them as the Apollo Series, including numerous unissued performances and alternate takes. To date, Delmark has issued 16 albums in this acclaimed series.

Four new CDs from Apollo are scheduled for release in April, 2002. They include: Illinois Jacquet, Jumpin' At Apollo (DE 538); Piney Brown & Eddie Mack, Hoot and Holler Saturday Night! (DE 754): Alec "Guitar Slim" Seward & Louis "Jelly Belly" Hayes, The Back Porch Boys (DE 755); and Jack McVea, McVoutie's Central Avenue Blues (DE 756)

Following is an explanation of some of the work that goes into creating an Apollo CD.

First, Steve Wagner, the label's general manager, and Bob Koester, label owner, listen to the material available and determine if there is enough to feature one artist for a whole CD or whether there is another concept that ties the material together.

Once the concept for a particular CD has been decided Steve checks the discography for titles that were issued - he begins by searching for the 78's not in Delmark's file. For example, for the four Apollo's in the upcoming series (Illinois Jacquet, etc.), Delmark had 19 of the issued 78's. Steve then contacted collectors internationally to find the remaining 78's and thus determine which takes of the songs have been issued. Often, Delmark has unissued alternate takes of songs and then Bob and Steve make a decision regarding which takes to issue. The collectors supply us with copies of the 78's and the label information, including the exact song title, the composer and publisher credits. Steve said, "Among my list of twenty-five collectors, they have almost everything recorded on 78 in the blues and jazz fields. They are extremely helpful - we even received a cassette of material from a collector in Ireland.

Because the Apollo record label began in the pre-tape era, in 1944, and extended post-1950 when tape was introduced, Steve works from both acetates and tape and occasionally from original 78's, EP's, or LP's. For example, on the new Piney Brown CD some of the tracks were recorded on acetate and some on tape. The masters recorded on acetate are sent to disc-to-tape transfer expert (or should I say genius?) Jack Towers, to be transferred to DAT. These are then sent to Cedar in England for digital removal. In the old days, clicks and pops were cut out of analog tape, but in the new process the computer reads the program, detects foreign sound, removes it and replaces it by duplicating adjoining music or speech. Thus even the most perceptive percussionist will not detect the missing material for there is none.

There are times when Delmark has the rights to a master but the original disc, metal or tape has not survived the several changes of ownership of the Apollo label. In fact, disc recordings are usually transferred from simultaneously-recorded 16" 33/3 rpm (standard groove) recordings made as backup in case the original 78 rpm masters got damaged. These 16" discs are called "playbacks" or "safeties." The original 10" disc masters tended to get damaged in the electroplating process and were discarded. Sadly, the playbacks were often discarded as well after all the release takes were processed to metal. In 1962 or perhaps earlier, the old 78 rpm metal parts were discarded, perhaps to save storage space - a very short-sighted move on the part of Apollo's owner which left them no ideal source material for much of the very early recordings. During WWII the aluminum and chemicals used for recording blanks was critical and rationed and safeties simply seem not to have been recorded, at least not by Apollo.

Fortunately much of the best material was preserved by being issued on LP by Apollo, Vogue, Grand Award, Waldorf and other labels. The Apollo 10" LP's were probably recorded direct from the disc since no 10" LP master tapes have been found. But Apollo did issue a 12" anthology of sax (with tapes derived from original acetates, transfers from metal parts and a few titles with tape spliced in from the tape-recording era). Some of our Apollo albums will include tracks derived from several different media. Occasionally we are forced to make a transfer from the noisy wartime pressings and the surface noise can not be removed without reducing sound quality --- we prefer to let you hear all the music even if some surface noise survives. But thus far we have been releasing projects where we have most, if not all, of the sides on primo source material. We are especially indebted to the marvelous work done by Michael Cuscuna and Mosaic Records... our Illinois Jacquet album comes right out of their box set of I.J. on Aladdin, Apollo, ARA and RCA.
There are a lot of other folks involved in the Apollo projects. We've already mentioned the collectors who provide us with label info and loans of rare records, but one collector tipped us off to some Apollo playbacks that turned up in a New Jersey record auction which filled gaps in the West Coast Apollo sessions. Reissue projects owe an unpayable debt to the discographers and writers who have ferreted out details of personnel and date info on the old sessions (which is why we don't mind answering requests for such info if we are able to provide it). .. But please don't write us for info that's already in the discographies - buy the books and help that movement! (preferably from Jazz Record Mart).


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