Tag Archives: Jay-Z

Meet Louie’s Woman

There are two successful and conspicuous songs from American music history that share a remarkable and unique coincidence — as well as several minor coincidences.

Each is so well-known that it would be difficult to find many adults raised in America who cannot at least hum along to one of them.  Many could hum along to both, recite a few words, and drop immediately into a comfortable toe tapping when each chorus is struck up. Yet, hardly anyone knows the words to the songs; hardly anyone knows the story behind these songs, or knows the stories they tell.

On the other hand, the songs’ differences are stark.

The later song is rowdy and timeless; for six decades running it’s been a top choice at parties and gatherings, especially if there is a dance floor.  And it seems destined to ride that fame indefinitely.

Fireflies at twilight

Fireflies at twilight

The earlier song is stuck in history, firmly planted in the first decade of the 20th century — the Edwardian Era.  And yet it retains its popularity as a quaint reminder of perhaps simpler times: when powered flight and electric lights were new; when great enjoyment could be found in playing flat music records on a gramophone, or sitting on the porch in the company of a comfortable friend, sipping sweet iced tea, watching fireflies in warm summer twilight.

But that one remarkable unique coincidence: a man’s name, Louie, is repeated in both of the songs’ title and chorus.


There aren’t many finer men than my dear friend Kevin Shepardson. One month after surviving cardiac arrest, he is still in hospital. Finally out of ICU and moved to a hospital closer to his family, he’s still in need of great medical care, and all the love, prayers, good thoughts and wishes we can send his way.

Right up to this past New Year’s Eve day, when the “event” happened, Kevin published a daily newsletter via email, which he called “The Good News Today.”  It came in two parts.  The first was spiritual, connected to the scriptures of the daily office, with a short reflection by a staff member of Creighton University.

The second part was what he called his “ramble”, with whatever was on his mind, from weather to current events.  The rambles frequently contained music tributes to some special event.  Perhaps a birthday  or anniversary of one of his many friends, or an approaching holiday.  They were always appropriate and fitting.  Kevin is a bit of a music expert (OK, music trivia geek), and you could tell he put care into selecting the proper songs, complete with Youtube links so we could hear them professionally performed.

If Kevin were to select a music tribute song for a celebration party (like his 60th, which is next week), or for a nostalgic commemoration of early 20th century America, he might have selected one of these two songs.

Or, maybe not.


Part I

Singer/songwriter Richard Berry was a talented musician, and could perform early R&B as well as doo-wop.  In 1955, aged only 20, he penned the lyrics to a song that may live forever.

It’s about a lovesick guy at a bar, talking to a bartender named “Louie.”[1]  Berry claims he was inspired by a similar song — One for my Baby (and one more for the Road) — best sung by Frank Sinatra, where a lovelorn guy is pouring his heart out to a bartender named “Joe.”  In “Louie Louie” the guy at the bar is talking about his girl back in Jamaica … a three day and night sailing trip away. And it’s time for him to go see her.

The song was finally recorded with his group, The Pharaohs, in 1957 as the B-side to “You are my Sunshine” on the Flip Records label. Their R&B version of “Louie Louie” was totally understandable and was pretty easy to follow.  As a minor hit; it was soon re-released as an A-side.  Richard Berry & The Pharaohs’ original version of Louie Louie is almost painful to listen to. That is, if you’ve been weaned on the later rock version. Their version of the song soon languished, maintaining some popularity on the west coast, from San Francisco to Seattle.

Album Cover - Richard Perry and the Pharaohs

Album Cover – Richard Perry and the Pharaohs

Over the next few years, quite a few groups in the Pacific Northwest picked up the song, and played versions of it in concerts and small gigs. Some recorded it.  In fact, to date, “Louie Louie” has been covered and recorded over 1,500 times. [2]

Well, moving to 1963, “The Kingsmen” were a new group in Portland, Oregon. They had been playing the song for months at parties and gigs, getting wilder and wilder with the song.  No longer Rhythm and/or Blues, it was full raucous Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Ken Chase had a local radio show, and ran a teen night club where the Kingsmen played. After hearing them play the song live, he agreed to set up a recording session for the song.  They did the song in one take, since they were tired from having just performed a Louie-thon. Or because they were cheap (the recording only cost $50).  Or both.

Nonetheless, over the years, it’s the Kingsmen’s almost totally incomprehensible version of “Louie Louie” that has become the standard. Since the Kingsmen, it’s known more for the guitar instrumental bridge than its lyrics or story.  It has been recognized by organizations and publications worldwide for its influence on the history of Rock and Roll.


  • In 2007, in Rolling Stone ranked it #5 in its list of 40 songs that changed the world.
  • In 2004 Mojo Magazine rated it #1 in “Ultimate Jukebox: The 100 Singles You Must Own”.
  • Mojo and Rolling Stone have rated it the #51 and #54 top songs of all time, respectively.


Stories and commentary on “Louie Louie” and the Kingsmen could fill volumes. For example:


  • The lead singer for the famous Kingsmen 1963 recording, Jack Ely, quit the group four months afterward over a disagreement. At the time only some 600 copies had been sold. Ely missed out on large royalties.
  • Washington State considered making it the state song.
  • The states of Washington and Oregon, and the cities of Seattle and Portland have declared “Louie Louie” days. [3]
  • There is an “International Louie Louis Day” [4]
  • The FBI investigated the song to determine if it was obscene [5](the lyrics are that incomprehensible), as it was so popular at raucous parties (as recreated in National Lampoon’s movie “Animal House” [6]).

    • Which is pretty laughable today, considering how “artists” like Barrack Obama’s good friend Jay-Z fill their “songs” with the F-word and the N-word – not to mention gratuitous violence, usually against women – and are rewarded with critical acclaim and Grammy awards. Not that most true music aficionados or anyone with common sense would give two BMs about that.



Another somewhat famous song nearly shares this unique “Double-double” Louie coincidence.  Each is named “Brother Louie”, wherein “Louie” is repeated in the song lyrics, but not in the title.  One version was recorded by Hot Chocolate (in the UK), and was covered by the group Stories (US based).  The Stories’ recording came in at #13 in the US for 1973; Hot Chocolate’s recording was #86 that year in the UK.

There is a second “Brother Louie” which is completely different, by Modern Talking (1986). It did not crack the top 100 for that year. I’m not familiar with this song, but it seems mildly annoying.

After Jack Ely had left the Kingsmen he soon realized he was going to miss out on those royalties.  So he wrote and recorded several songs with his new group, The Courtmen, alluding to his “Louie Louie” connection, including “Louie Louie ‘66”. But it is really the same song, although this time easier to understand.

Subsequent lawsuits between the Kingsmen and Ely resulted in him getting paid $6,000 and label credit as the lead singer on future record pressings.

You can read much more about the history, mystery and saga of “Louie Louie” here, here and here. And about a zillion other sites.


Louie, part deux

July 1848 was a seminal moment.  The Seneca Falls Convention kicked off what could be called the Women’s Movements that still have modern-day repercussions.  Historians have suggested that it was not so much a feminist movement or a woman’s rights movement – it was a wide reaching social movement. [7]

By the turn of the 20th century, it was women who had led the charge for founding the Red Cross (Clara Barton) and for humane treatment of severely ill mental health patients (Dorthea Dix).  Women were becoming doctors and surgeons (not the same thing then).  They supplied the energy and drive to reform labor: advancing stricter child labor laws, organizing unions to drive for better and safer working conditions (especially for garment workers), and for five day work weeks, instead of the usual seven days. And pushed for forty hour work weeks, instead of the usual 60 or 70, with paid overtime compensation.

Alcohol abuse – in fact downright drunkenness – was a huge problem in 19th century America.  The temperance movement – based on the desire for a healthier family life – owes all of its early energy to Women.

Yes, women were feeling their oats and ready to do more.  They were shockingly daring to smoke in public and demanded the right to vote (By 1900, several western states, — Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Colorado — had already granted full women’s suffrage [12]).

In marriage, women grew less and less inclined to be totally subservient to their husbands.  Yes, they loved their men and were devoted spouses and mothers, but – especially in the middle and upper classes – they were eager to get more out of married life than children and laundry.

Women, their influence and their interests, cut a wide swath across the social milieu as America approached the grandest, the largest, and the most extravagant World’s Fair in history: the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, to be hosted at Forest Park, in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1904.

In 1890, Saint Louis was the nation’s second largest producer of beer. By 1904 they had dropped to number five, but that’s still a lot of beer. The big brewer Anheuser-Busch sold large quantities on the East Coast thanks to enhanced distribution via refrigerated cars they had helped pioneer on the nation’s ever expanding railroad capacity.[13]

Early in 1904, New York lyricist Andrew Sterling was trying to come up with a song to promote the upcoming World’s Fair in Saint Louis.  Two stories of his inspiration for the earlier “Louie” song survive, although it is likely that each is apocryphal.

The first story claims that in New York, those Saint Louis beers (Budweiser and Busch) were often called “Louis”, pronounced “Lou-ee” —the same as the French Saint, King Louis IX, after whom the city is named. It seems that at a bar one night, Sterling hailed the bartender, whose name happened to be Louis (Louie).  Wanting another beer, he called out, “Another Louis, Louis.” [8]

A second, similar, version of the song’s inspiration has Sterling and co-composer Kerry Mills (who wrote the music) sitting together across a bar from a bartender named Louie and ordering a mixed-drink called a Louie. [9]

In any case, it was the repeating of the name “Louis” — pronounced “Louie” — that caught on and inspired Sterling to pen the lyrics to the song “Meet me in Saint Louis, Louis.” He must have been feeling a bit jolly, since he wrote each half-verse and the chorus in the form of a limerick (A-A-B/B-A).

In the opening verse of the song, we find that Louis’ wife (Flossie) has left him, apparently without warning.  She leaves a note with the line: Life is just “too slow for me here.”  She’s perfectly willing to re-connect with him, but on her terms, as her note continues in the chorus:

Meet me in Saint Louis, Louis. Meet me at the Fair.
Don’t tell me the lights are shining anyplace but there.
We will dance the Hoochee Koochee. I will be your Tootsie Wootsie.
If you will meet me in Saint Louis, Louis; meet me at the Fair.

Billy Murray was a very popular singer of that era.  In fact, his voice graces four of the top ten hits of 1904.  His recording of “Meet Me in Saint Louis, Louis” was made in May of that year and was immensely popular.  It was the #2 song of 1904 (behind Sweet Adeline, which actually had three different recordings make the billboard).

The Murray version is kept light and cheery – it skips a key verse that makes it quite clear that Flossie (Louis’ wife), is making an extreme act of defiance.  She wants more out of this marriage.

The dresses that hung in the hall,
Were gone; she had taken them all.
She took all his rings, and the rest of his things.
The picture he missed from the wall.

“What? Moving?” The janitor said.
“Your rent is paid three months ahead.”
“What good is the Flat?” said poor Louis, “Read that!”
And the janitor smiled as he read.

Chorus: “Meet me in St Louis, Louis …”[10]


Flossie had not only left, she took all of HIS things.

Further fixing the song firmly in a long ago era, Flossie’s note pledges “We will dance the Hoochee Koochee; I will be your Tootsie Wootsie.”

We might recognize Tootsie Wootsie from context, as it also appears in “In the Good Old Summer Time”, the #6 song of 1902 as recorded by William Richmond, charting at #1 for seven weeks.

You hold her hand and she holds yours
And that’s a very good sign
That she’s your Tootsie Wootsie
In the Good Old Summertime

“Tootsie Wootsie” is a sweetie pie: a boyfriend or girlfriend you can cuddle up to. And more.

The Hoochee Coochee was a dance that was considered very daring – even lewd – at the time. It was sexually provocative with lots of mid-section gyrations. It had become somewhat popular through exhibits at two earlier well-attended World’s Fairs in America; the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.

The Hoochee Coochee was an “entertaining” dance to observe —usually men observing women with a bare midriff.  Flossie says “we will dance” it — as in, together.  Hmmmm.

If you think about it, Louis’ runaway wife, Flossie, really had a lot on her mind, and lot to offer.  As Michael Lasser says in “America’s Songs II” — “It offers a tempting invitation: She promises him a good time at the Fair and afterwards. … the promise borders on sexual abandon.” [10]

So Flossie was not simply rebelling and running out on poor Louis.  Her offer was all, or nothing.  As in: All of her, or none of her.  She was promising him some exciting “action” — connubial pleasure, if you will — if he would simply comply with her demand to leave home and…

“Meet me in Saint Louis, Louis.  Meet me at the Fair!”

No wonder it was so popular!

Yes indeed!  Marriage can be plenty interesting in a fun way if men would just take the time to listen to their wives once in a while!

Here’s hoping and praying that Kevin, and his Tootsie Wootsie Sue, can very soon run away and enjoy the delights of “hoochee koochee” as well.

Kevin and Sue Shepardson

Kevin and Sue Shepardson

Until then, I wish you all peaceful snuggling; or rowdy dancing.  Or both.  Your choice.


Joe Girard © 2015



Final notes and thoughts, followed by footnotes and bibliography.


  • Neither Sterling nor Mills attended the Fair in Saint Louis.
  • The Song was revived in the 1944 movie starring Judy Garland “Meet Me in Saint Louis” (this time pronounce the American way: like “Lewis”), wherein the chorus is sung by quite a few excited folks in the opening scenes. [Plot flaw: this is mid-summer of 1903, and according the sources I cited, the song’s words and sheet music were not written yet, nor had it become popular]
  • My Friend Max Storm, founder of the 1904 World’s Fair Society, has his doorbell set up to play the chorus to “Meet me in St Louis, Louis” when it rings. His Tootsie-Wootsie, Shara, lovingly puts up with this, and much more.
  • The song is often shown without the second “Louis” and  without the comma between.  This is incorrect.
  • The Berry song “Louie Louie” is often shown with a comma between the two Louies.  This is also incorrect.




[1] “Louie Louie,” the saga of a lovesick sailor pouring his heart out to a patient bartender, named Louie. — and other “Louie Louie historical highlights: http://seattletimes.com/html/entertainment/2003643550_louietimeline01.html

[2] According to some references, Louie, Louie has been recorded over 1500 times. LouieLouie.net and Peter Blecha, 4/1/2007 Seattle Times: http://seattletimes.com/html/entertainment/2003643548_louie01.html ]

[3] Washington, Oregon, Portland and Seattle “Louie Louie Day”.  April 12, 1985 (Washington), April 14, 1985 (Seattle), April 2, 1986 (Oregon): http://www.louieday.org/default.htm

Finally, in the city where the Kingsmen recorded it, Portland celebrated “Louie Louie Day” October 5, 2013: http://koin.com/2013/10/05/its-louie-louie-day-in-portland/

[4] April 11 (the birthday of Richard Berry) is celebrated as International “Louie Louie Day“ [http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Louie_Louie_Day]. It is also listed by Chase’s Calendar of Events, and the National Special Events Registry

[5] FBI investigates “Louie Louie” for obscenity.  http://vault.fbi.gov/louie-louie-the-song

[6] Plot error.  Animal House supposedly occurred in 1962, one year before the Kingsmen’s recording was released.

[7] Women’s movement as Social Movement. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/647122/womens-movement


“Women and women’s organizations also worked on behalf of many social and reform issues. By the beginning of the new century, women’s clubs in towns and cities across the nation were working to promote suffrage, better schools, the regulation of child labor, women in unions, and liquor.” http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/progress/suffrage/

“Women were key players in the push for prohibition (meaning outlawing the sale and consumption of alcohol), improved housing standards, regulations of the food and drug industry and government inspections of factories. ”

The above link has been changed to: http://study.com/academy/lesson/womens-suffrage-early-feminism-movement-19th-amendment-leaders.html

[8] The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought,  William R. Everdell [chapt 14/pg 206]; https://books.google.com/books?id=yVRb9sJ2KjEC&pg=PA206&lpg=PA206&dq=sterling+get+me+another+louis,+louis&source=bl&ots=znJQdCCPif&sig=zfezVLEHcMmQC78dXauLWFRVxJo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=HX7IVPGaIoKnNv7wgqgM&ved=0CD0Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=sterling%20get%20me%20another%20louis%2C%20louis&f=false

[9] America’s Songs II: Songs from the 1890’s to the Post-War Years, Michael Lasser [1901-1905/pg 27]; https://books.google.com/books?id=RlmLAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA243&lpg=PA243&dq=America%27s+Songs+II:+Songs+from+the+1890%27s+to+the+Post-War+Years,+Michael+Lasser&source=bl&ots=H_e1kCaphg&sig=hnTC8TDuh_gj_vV2NjlgW9l9e_A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=U4DIVLK7GYedNrfwgbgN&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=America’s%20Songs%20II%3A%20Songs%20from%20the%201890’s%20to%20the%20Post-War%20Years%2C%20Michael%20Lasser&f=false

Note: In further research, I could find no such drink called a “Louie” or a “Louis.” But that could just be that Google hasn’t found it yet.

[10] Meet me in St Louis, Louis: lyrics. “500 Best Loved Songs”, edited by Ronald Herder, page 219-220.

Verified lyrics; http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/j/judy_garland/meet_me_in_st_louis.html

[11] The Hoochee Coochee (or Hoochie Coochie) in America: http://www.readex.com/blog/hoochie-coochie-lure-forbidden-belly-dance-victorian-america

[12] Women’s suffrage timeline by state in the US: http://constitutioncenter.org/timeline/html/cw08_12159.html
Odd that Washington as a territory granted full suffrage in 1883, but not as a state until 1910. In fact, the territorial laws were twice overturned.  http://www.washingtonhistory.org/files/library/TheFightforWashingtonWomensSuffrageABriefHistory.pdf

[13] Primm, James Neal (1998). Lion of the Valley: St. Louis, Missouri, 1764–1980, pg 328-330


Nipping the Grammys



“… February made me shiver,

With every paper I’d deliver.

Bad news on the doorstep.

I couldn’t take one more step. ”[1]



In 1870, a very young Jewish man leaves his native German culture and emigrates to America. He leaves seeking opportunities and broader horizons. Yet it’s a decision that would presage the next century. He also leaves because his country is clearly headed into a major war soon [2]. He will accomplish many things over the coming few decades, including creating an industry and helping to make a dog immortal.




This February, 2014, marked 55 years since “The Day the Music Died” in Albert Juhl’s Iowa cornfield. Fifty-five years since Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and “The Big Bopper” (JP Richardson) — “the three men I admired most” — died in that tragic plane crash on a crisp snowy February night.

Music may not have died, as Don McLean so eloquently overstated it, but it has certainly changed since then.  A few weeks ago I watched much of the Grammy Awards, and it certainly provided convincing evidence that American music is on life support. That is, if you are looking for quality and not panache.

If you missed it, I’ll give you a few lowlights.

Opening: The stunningly beautiful Beyonce’ put on a mostly one-person sex show with lots of weird (mostly dark) lighting, fake smoke and flashy lights …it had some singing mixed in.  She wriggled her gorgeous mostly naked body over and around a chair in ways that would make a pole-dancer proud.  Toward the end of her act, her husband, Jay-Z came out dressed in a tux, while rapping.  At one point he spent a moment to caress her wonderfully round and bare buttocks.  Then he rapped a bit more.  I know some swear words were used, because the audio went out a few times (at least that’s what the reviews said later) for each. [3]

Speaking of Jay-Z, he won the best rap award for a song called “Holy Grail.”  The song is not holy.  Instead of anything resembling music, he uses the “N” word nine times and the “F” word four times.  So that’s what passes for award winning creativity and performance these days. [4]

As an aside, Beyonce and Jay-Z are married, so I don’t mind him fondling her buttocks. Why does it have to be on television?  If rumors are true, they are expecting a second child this year.  Last year they made over $100million (for what?). They are huge Obama supporters, socializers and donors.  More unneeded evidence that it’s true that the upper 1% have done very well under this administration.

Back to the Grammys. There actually were some good songs and people.  I used to think that included Katy Perry.  At some point during the night she came out dressed like, and acting like, some sort of witch.  With lots of Satans dancing around her.  Or maybe she was Satan and there were lots of witches dancing around.  It was so dark and smoky.  It wasn’t at all clear what she was singing, or even if she was singing.  Apparently someone was supposed to burn at the stake toward the end.

At that point I shut ‘er down.  The show was so bereft of any value, taste or enlightenment, that I felt sad and ashamed for our country … yet again.  Thus, I also missed the mass on-stage wedding ceremony, with mixed- and same-sex marriage celebrated together … as if that has any place whatsoever on television, let alone at a celebration of excellence in music.

What an opposite impression we are getting from the 50-year flashback of the original Beatle-mania in America, from February, 1964.  Those boys had no flashy costumes, no flashy lights, no smoke, no “act”, no “schtick.” They just stood there in suits and, yes, even ties, played guitar and drums and sang songs.  They harmonized, played off each other, making the human voice and simple instruments “the show”, not their attire, or anything else (although some of that did come later).

The Grammy Awards make a pretty good metaphor for America; they have become a parody of themselves: a big show of the music and entertainment industry’s self-adulation, self-congratulation, self-gratification. It is a shame they’ve ruined the very idea of “Grammy.” And still they make piles of cash.


German emigration to America in the 19th century was not unusual.  Millions did so for many reasons.  And much to America’s benefit, they brought with them:

  • Appreciation and skill for crafting fine traditional German beers;
  • Discipline for and appreciation of hard work and commitment;
  • Industrial trade skills;
  • Discipline in scholarship, in maths and sciences;
  • Drive, ambition and creativity.



Irving Berliner was born in 1851, one of thirteen children of Sarah Berliner, a musician, and Samuel Berliner, a merchant and Talmudic scholar. In 1870, Otto von Bismarck was forging Germany into a country.  Berliner’s native Hannover had recently been joined to Prussia.  Part of Bismarck’s plan included a war (the Franco-Prussian War), which would eventually force other Germanic regions, like Bavaria, to join a unified Germany.


Fearing an impressment into the Army, and desiring freedom outside of an iron-fisted rule led by militaristic Prussians Bismarck and the Kaiser, Berliner left to America.


He began teaching himself in many areas of literature and technology; his formal education had ceased at the end of elementary school … effectively the 8th grade.


Fascinated by Bell’s telephone, Berliner turned his attention to studying and experimenting with sound.  A great weakness of the telephone, Berliner observed, was the faintness of the transmitted voice. Working alone in his room, with the thinnest knowledge of physics and electronics, Berliner invented — and patented himself without an attorney — a device to effectively “pick up” and relay human voice.  In 1877 he had invented the first effective microphone.  Eventually Bell’s company (precursor to AT&T) learned of the device and purchased the patent rights for a smart sum – effectively setting up Berliner with enough money to continue experimenting.


More importantly, Bell Telephone hired Berliner.  He worked on improving a number of telephony related technologies.  And he developed hands-on experience and training, becoming a first-rate electrical engineer and electrician.


1881 was a big year for Berliner.  After 7 years with Bell, he felt it was time to strike out on his own as an inventor. He quit his Bell job, married his sweetheart Cora Adler (1st Generation German immigrant) and moved to a small house in Washington, D.C. where he set up a small laboratory.

He sold several more inventions to Bell’s telephone company when he was struck by a new fascination: Thomas Edison’s talking machine.

Here was a mass-marketing opportunity: bringing music and enjoyment to the masses.  The main problem with Edison’s machines were that they recorded and played back on cylinders.  These had one main advantage, and two major disadvantages.  Advantage: The cylinder, spinning at a constant speed, had the recordings and playback at a constant speed.  As the cylinder turns, the speed of the linear inches of groove going under the needle stayed constant.  The disadvantages were that they were difficult and expensive to mass produce and difficult to store in large quantities.

In 1886 Berliner invented and patented a method of recording sounds onto a flat disc, and playing them back; a method which allowed hundreds, then thousands, of clear copies to be made of an original relatively inexpensively.

Of course the invention needed a name. He took the word “phonogram” – which is defined as a picture or symbol that conveys a sound or a word – and turned it around to create a new word: “gramophone.”

By 1895 he had the method improved enough to go into production of gramophone playing machines and records. For this, he founded The Berliner Gramophone Company.  Eventually the business evolved into three major parts, each run by Berliner or one of his cohorts. Berliner ran the head office.

Eldridge Johnson was a mechanical engineer with an inventive twist whom Berliner befriended. He helped Berliner solve the problem of getting the gramophone to spin the disks at a constant speed, while recording at different speeds.  He developed a clever mechanical spring to match the disk spin rate to the speed needed to play the sounds back.  Johnson was to run the manufacturing arm of the business.

Businessman Frank Seaman was a marketeer and a businessman: he was given exclusive marketing rights in the United States.

That’s where the problem started.  By 1899, Seaman began to feel that the machines were too expensive, thus cutting into his potential profits.  He came up with a method to build the machines more cheaply. This method was derided even as he developed it by Johnson; so Seaman stopped selling the Gramophones, and, once developed for marketing, started selling his own product, the Zon-o-phone Phonograph – using the exclusive marketing rights he had been given by Berliner.

The case went into the legal system, to languish for years in suits and counter-suits.  Unintimidated, Berliner went off to setup licensed Gramophone businesses in Canada, England, Germany, and eventually Australia.  Meanwhile he sold his Gramophone legal rights in the U.S. to his friend, Eldridge Johnson.

Johnson used the rights to set up the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901. We might recognize here the roots of the “Victrola”; Victor’s trademarked name for a phonograph machine that looked more like a piece of furniture than a mechanical device.

By 1903 the legal actions had finally come to a close: all assets of Seaman’s Zon-o-phone, including patent rights deemed illegally stolen, were turned over to Johnson’s Victor Company. Oddly, Victor began marketing some of its lower end product with the Zon-o-phone label, which they also acquired in the court award.


“Nipper” was a bull and fox terrier mix dog, born about 1884.  He was a stray, rescued and cared for by Mark Barraud, a painter and technophile, in Bristol, England. Mark Barraud passed away in 1887.  He willed his possessions – which included Nipper, an Edison style phonograph and a collection of recordings – to his brothers Phillip and Francis, also painters.  Francis took Nipper, the phonograph and recordings to his home in Liverpool. He cared for Nipper, growing very fond of him, until the terrier died, in 1895.

Nipper was an inquisitive dog, and Francis had many memories of him listening to the cylinder phonograph. He had especially vivid memories of Nipper listening to recordings his deceased brother had made of his own voice.  In 1898, in honor of his deceased brother and beloved dog, Francis painted a picture of Nipper in just such a pose: head cocked, and staring into the horn of cylinder-style phonograph.

Barraud was unable to get the picture published.  So, in a further stroke of inspired desperation, He took the picture to the Edison-Bell Phonograph Company, who actually made the type of phonograph in the picture, hoping to sell it to them. Response: “Dogs don’t listen to phonographs”.

Friends advised Barraud that the horn, as black, was too dull. They suggested that he re-paint the picture with a bright brass horn, like the one used by the Gramophone company. Barraud went to the Gramophone offices in London – the offices that Berliner had opened during the legal dispute with Zon-o-phone – to inquire about borrowing a horn as a painting prop.  Upon hearing the plan the local manager, an American named William Barry Owen, convinced Barraud to repaint the phonograph as well – replacing the Edison cylinder phonograph with the Berliner Disc Gramophone. Now that could be sold! He would buy it.

Soon, in 1900, the re-painted picture and copyrights were purchased, and then shared with the American partner company: the aforementioned Victor Talking Machine Company.  Complete cost 100 pounds: 50 for the picture and 50 for the copyright. [3] The painter’s name of the picture stuck: “His Masters Voice.”  HMV would go on to be one of the most prolific music publishing labels ever.

Nipper had become immortal. In 1929, Victor was bought by the Radio Corporation of America, and RCA gained the US copyright and trademark.  Across the world, from UK to Canada to Australia, Nipper’s picture adorned the His Master’s Voice Label.  Every American kid from 1930 to the CD era knows of RCA-Victor and their label with the cute dog at the gramophone.


Berliner moved on to varied other studies and inventions, including a loom, acoustic tiles and an early helicopter based on a rotary engine. He founded the Motor Gyro Company, to build and market early helicopters and rotary motors, which was located, coincidentally, next door to the Victor Company, in New York.  Berliner also became a philanthropist and social agitator for improved public health and sanitation. He passed away in 1929.


Music as a recording industry has come a long way, and most if it – if the Grammys are any indication – is steeply downhill.  But the industry cannot change its interesting, glorious and intriguing past.  Mostly because they probably have no knowledge of it.

The music recording industry, regardless of how low it slips, will certainly continue to show disrespect for their own history – despite how much they rave about the Beatles – but they cannot ruin it. Not with their blatantly sexual displays. Not with out-of-place social commentary. Not with profanity laced rapping.  And not with its dark smoky sets and flashy lights passing for music. Even the Grammy Awards – the ceremony that’s devolved into a parade of multi-millionaires who suppress any talent they might have, standing around congratulating and stroking each other – can’t destroy that history.

Dance to your own music!


Joe Girard © 2014




[1] From the song “American Pie”, written/recorded by Don McLean, 1971, released under label United Artists (not HMV).  Rated the #5 song of the 20th century, by RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America).

The UA label was originally developed as the music label for the sound tracks to UA movies.  After moving into general music, the label – through a series of mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcy – ended up owned by EMI.  Originally the Electrical and Musical Industries Company, it was formed when UK Columbia records merged with the UK Gramophone company in 1929.  Not coincidental that it’s the same year that RCA bought Victor in the US. At that point EMI owned most of the non-US rights to the picture painted by Barraud. UA Record no longer exists in any practicality, and EMI has been devolved to many components which have been spun off.


[2] As part of von Bismarck’s German unification plan, he helped maneuver for a major war, the Franco-Prussian War. As a result of this, Bavaria, Baden, Württemburg, and Hesse (perhaps others) were fused to the German union.
Baden and Württemburg merged post-war with Stuttgart as its capital (Hauptstadt).

Hesse is best identified by its largest city, Frankfurt am Main; its capital is Wiesbaden.

Bavaria’s (Bayern) capital is of course Munich (München).


[3] Video and Hollywood review of Grammy Opening Act: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/beyonce-jay-z-open-grammys-674153


[4] Lyrics to “Holy Grail”: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/j/jay_z/holy_grail.html


[3] Francis Barraud was a struggling (starving) painter at the time.  So the 100 pounds seemed like a lot.  He was kept on retainer by the Gramophone Company, painting many more “originals” over the next two decades.


[4] The copyright and trademark for the US have expired, except for specific marketing efforts.  Therefore, I may legally reproduce them below.  The first picture actually co-exists with the 2nd picture; the old cylinder phonograph and the black horn were painted-over.

Barraud's first painting

Barraud’s first painting


Barraud's re-painted original: His Master's Voice

Barraud’s re-painted original: His Master’s Voice


Phononographs: the Gramophone and the Graphophone. History, and the difference. http://www.recording-history.org/HTML/phono_technology4.php