History of Recording

The first blues record, Mamie Smithās Crazy Blues, was released in 1920. At the time, songs were recorded through a horn that transmitted the sound vibrations to a diaphragm and on to a needle, which created the actual recording. The equipment was too sensitive for the use of drums, and restricted volume and the range of sound.

In 1925 the electrical microphone was developed, giving recordings the ability to handle a larger range of sound, but heavy bass and drums were still difficult to record. Because of the length of the recording wire, songs could not be more than three minutes in length. The artists played with a traffic light in the studio÷play on the green light, yellow at two minutes and forty-five seconds, red at three minutes. As a result, many 78s have abrupt endings or seem to speed up in the last fifteen seconds of the song.

For the most part, blues recordings were being produced for the "race" market÷the black audience÷and were released as singles. Paramount was one of the leading producers of race records through the depression. The records were as cheaply produced as possible, and as the depression wore on, fewer copies of each record were pressed and the record quality became so poor that people said, "a new Paramount sounds old."

At the same time, field recordings were also being made with funding from the library of congress. The field recordings were made on-site instead of in a studio, and tended to include parts of interviews and ambient sounds as well as music. The development of magnetic recording tape in 1946 made field recording more practical than it had been during the days of wire recording.

In 1948 the LP was developed, allowing twenty-five minutes of music per side of a twelve-inch vinyl record. With the advent of the LP, many recording companies released compilations of earlier blues singles. To this point, many artists had been recording the songs that they played to live audiences cut down to three minutesā length. Occasionally, the record company would give an artist a song to record, but for the most part, singles were representative of an artistās live repertoire. When stereo was developed in 1958, recordings could be mixed for the first time. Heavy bass and drums were possible, and new fidelity to the artistās sound was possible. Junior Wellsā Blues Band with Buddy Guyās Hoodoo Man Blues, recorded in 1965, featured selections over the three minute mark as well as the new percussion and bass sound made possible by stereo.

Bruce Iglaur

Dick Waterman

Richard Shurman