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It was a grey, rainy, snowy, wintery day up here in the Arizona mountains. In the afternoon I decided to pull out the little mini turntable and listen to for the first time, some of the old 78s I brought home from my Mom’s house. I had ever heard these before, but played them live for ds106 radio (note, a first segment where I was trying my Zoom H2 as a mic produced ugly white noise, thanks @easegill for letting me know).

I recall seeing these records on the shelves in the basement of the home I grew up in Baltimore, but am not sure if they were my parents, or more likely my grandparents. Regardless, the 78s are old; they have significant heft. Each disk has one song per side (78 rpms go fast) and they certainly have that old scratchy noise.

Here’s the archive, with me reading some from the liner notes in between:

Playing those old 78s on ds106 radio

I kept calling it vinyl, though in twitter, Jason Green suggested they were made of shellac. Anyone know for sure (before I google it)?

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The first one I played was Boogie Woogie Piano, a collection from Brunswick Records – It is described as “historic Recordings by Pioneer Piano Men- Montana Taylor, Speckled Red, Romeo Nelson, Cow Cow Davenport”.

What cool names, “Cow Cow”. The music, recorded in the late 1920s, is definitely blues based, but it’s upbeat, and piano of course providing the sounds, some of it with vocals and some piano solos. I really enjoyed the feel of this music, which according to the liner notes, has a lot going on.

The boogie woogie was probably an outgrowth of the barrelhouse blues which self-taught pianists, all over the South, played chiefly as an accompaniment for blues singing; often it is hard to distinguish one from the other. But the blues ar played or sung most often, in slow or moderate time and in simple rhythms. Boogi woogie applies the same basic form at a fast, sometimes furious tempo; and it is far more complex than any ragtime or jazz piano style.

I have about 4 more disks of Boogie Woogie.

The other music was a real shift; I am fairly sure it wa smy grandmother, since she was of Hungarian and Romanian descent, hence the Decca “Roumanian Gypsy Music”

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This music was both sad and longing and well as fervent dance music, pretty much what you woudl expect to hear in “Fiddler on the Roof”.

In Roumanian folk music one of the most characteristic features is the strange little trills and grace notes in which the composition abound, and the oriental feelings.

DOINA- is one of the most important and characteristic of the folk songs — the song of the shepherds, played on the flute, usually. The melody of the Doina is of an extremely melancholy and plaintive quality, highly ornamented with the typical grace notes. The mournful beginning suggests the shepherd’s unhappy thoughts on losing a sheep. The music interprets the fruitless search up hill and down dale, becoming more and more agitated. At last the sheep is found and the song ends in the wildest frenzy of delight.

Anyhow, this was just a sampling, I have alot more to play eventually.

I like it!

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Shellac it is! Don’t drop them or they >will< break. Vinyl is much more forgiving. My dad once said that he lost most of 78's at a party in the 50's when someone knocked a table over. (It may have been more energetic than a simple knock!).

    See where the format is listed as shellac and you can click through to find 9000 other shellac items listed.

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