Correspondence: Crow On Ancient Technology

Ethan Iverson’s recollection of that quaint piece of audio bass.jpg gear, the reel-to-reel tape recorder, triggered even older thoughts from the eminent bassist and anecdotist Bill Crow.

My memories of early equipment go clear back to the Edison cylinder record player. My dad bought one (used) around 1933. It came with a box of cylinders, maybe a dozen, from which I learned a couple of Harry Lauder songs, some vaudeville tunes, and a song called “The Last Long Mile,” the lyrics of which I remember almost entirely. It was a slightly humorous complaint from a guy marching with the army, and I found out from Doug’s book many years later, that it was written by Paul Desmond’s father! I wish I had found that out while Paul was still with us… I could have cracked him up by singing it to him.
One of my mother’s pupils came by the house one day with a portable disc recorder, on which I engraved a child’s voice singing “On The Good Ship Lollipop.” My first personal record player (1943) was a tiny plastic turntable that I could wire into my table radio, and on which I played my beginning collection of jazz 78s.
When I got out of the army in 1949, I bought the first available tape recorder, a Brush Soundmirror, which had a fatal flaw: the tape went at too sharp an angle around a capstan, and that angle increased as the tape wound off the reel, causing drag that sometimes slowed the tape down. Their next model featured a straight through passage for the tape, but I waited until Wollensak came out with a small portable and I put a lot of music on that. Lost forever, since the tape that was available then was oxide on paper, which deteriorated in just a few years. My college friend went a different way, having bought a Sears wire recorder, on which he recorded my first efforts as a jazz trombonist. All gone, probably fortunately.

To visit Mr. Crow’s web site, click here.

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  1. r says

    I’m not as old as Bill Crow, but I remember wire recorders–wasn’t that the technology Dean Benedetti recorded Bird on? Owners lived in mortal dread of breaking the wire, which would instantly turn itself into an impenetrably tangled, useless mass of thin fibers. Tape–any tape–was a godsend by comparison.
    (For the history of wire recorders, see: –DR)