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Goner Message Board / ???? / Paramount Records masters in the Milwaukee River?
Posted: Jun 14, 2006 12:52 am

PBS show investigates Grafton records legend

Paramount recordings may be lurking in river


Posted: June 8, 2006

Grafton - When Paramount Records closed its Grafton manufacturing plant in 1932, rumor has it that the record company dumped some of its master recordings and many of its 78 rpm records in the Milwaukee River near Falls and Green Bay roads.

That possibility brought a crew from the PBS show "History Detectives" to Grafton on Thursday, said Rachel Liebling, one of the show's producers.

"A lot of Paramount's inventory went missing," Liebling said while gazing at a series of waterfalls on the river. "People want to know what happened to the 78s and the master recordings."

So as part of a "History Detectives" episode on the history Paramount Records that is expected to air in August, four scuba divers were hired to scour the river's bottom for the master recordings and records. The divers work for the Deep Blue diving center in Milwaukee.

From 1922 until 1932, Paramount made roughly one-fourth of all blues recordings produced in the United States at the Wisconsin Chair Company factory in Grafton.

But would the dumped records be playable after more than 70 years in the Milwaukee River?

"You just don't know how well the shellac will hold up on the 78 records," she said. "But we hope to find out."

The PBS show has found a specialist who has equipment to listen to master recordings if any are found, she said.

The August episode also will tell viewers what happened to Paramount Records and will share something about some of the African-American musicians who came to Grafton, said Tukufu Zuberi, who will host the show.

The 1920s, he said, was a time when many African-Americans migrated to the North, and some of them brought their music with them.

"This town (Grafton) played a critical role in the democratic process" for African-Americans, he said. "So many of these people had experienced the Jim Crow practices.

"Their recordings," he said, "allowed you to listen to the heartbeat of these people and hear them talking about overcoming their problems."

Grafton Village President James Brunnquell watched the filming and allowed the scuba divers to set up their equipment at his home along the Milwaukee River.

The village plans this summer to construct a downtown outdoor meeting area, called Paramount Plaza, where some of the jazz and blues artists who made records in Grafton will be honored. The plaza will be at the three-way intersection of 12th and Wisconsin avenues and Bridge St.

Brunnquell said, "We hope that the television show will help to reintroduce people to the heritage of our village."
Posted: Jun 14, 2006 1:10 am
Sure to make some collectors kill themselves.
Posted: Jun 14, 2006 1:25 pm
One of the great things about this is how it raises the bar for insane record collector behavior:

"Honey, look --- I just want to go to Kentucky to check out this guy's records. It's not like I want to *go scuba diving* for 'em or anything..."
Posted: Jun 14, 2006 3:54 pm
the record company dumped some of its master recordings and many of its 78 rpm records in the Milwaukee River when they realized the records themselves didn't contain any alcohol and were rather difficult to consume covered with mustard and sauerkraut
Posted: Jun 14, 2006 4:40 pm
Didn't the Replacements throw their music in a river?
Posted: Jun 14, 2006 4:58 pm
When we were on tour I saw signs for grafton. I would have liked to detour and had a look around but there was no time.
Posted: Jun 14, 2006 5:01 pm
It's nothing exciting! The town, that is.
Posted: Jun 14, 2006 6:33 pm
This sentence:
"Their recordings," he said, "allowed you to listen to the heartbeat of these people and hear them talking about overcoming their problems."

Should be reworded to say:

"Their recordings," he said, "allowed you to listen to the heartbeat of these people and hear them talking about drinking rotgut whiskey, getting their rocks off, and murdering their women."
Posted: Jun 21, 2006 5:19 am
Anybody seen this? Adam? Looks neat! Pricey though...


Also it looks like the Grafton locals are getting hip, or at least want some of those long green tourist dollars.


In the last ten years or so Wisconsin's been the place to dig for old blues 78s and related ephemera. It's where all that great paramount ad artwork finally turned up. Before they found that stuff, everything that you saw reprinted in books and on records was taken from microfilm enlargments from the Chicago Defender. It's also where the Tommy Johnson demo was found. Alla you guys should be hittin the garage sales every weekend! GO WISCONSIN!!!
Posted: Jun 21, 2006 5:25 am
What? The Fatals threw all of Son House's masters into Lake Michigan?
Posted: Jun 21, 2006 1:37 pm
Hey Andy. I've heard about that Paramount book, but never picked it up. (if it were on sale at a 75% discount...) Gotta love that pic Jack Penewell's card that's in the sample pages, though.

Looks like they're kinda stretching on the tourist front ("...where Paramount?s artists might have stayed overnight") but more power to 'em.

Some pics of our scuba diving friends can be found here:

Posted: Sep 2, 2006 7:46 pm
Based on the "This week's trailer" bit on PBS' site, it looks like this episode is due to air on Monday:


Maybe one of you with a TV could report back on how it went? Thanks.
Posted: Sep 2, 2006 7:49 pm
no tv? i'm sure you could get one on the street for 10 bucks or so...

i'ma watch this sucker- if we're not playing with THOR, that is!
Posted: Sep 2, 2006 8:15 pm
My tube gets zero reception, I just use it for vcr/dvd viewing. Maybe I can get someone I know to tape it.
Posted: Sep 2, 2006 9:21 pm
don't look at me, pal!
Posted: Sep 2, 2006 10:39 pm
don't look at me, pal!

I'm trying not to look at you... but you so damn go-juss!
Posted: Sep 2, 2006 10:44 pm
not today im' not.
Posted: Sep 3, 2006 2:36 am
Umm, chance of them find blues masters: Nothing

Chance of them find 14 year old girl who I kill and dump in river while on tour in Midwestern five year ago: Very 100%

Mine lawyer and my need to have LONG talk...
Posted: Sep 5, 2006 4:47 am
Well, my neighbor taped it, and I just finished watching it. I'm not sure if I should spill the beans on whether or not they found the masters. I'll wait for your instructions.
Posted: Sep 5, 2006 4:50 am
I don't have TV anymore, so...if nobody else minds.

Geraldo looking for Capone's treasure? Or they actually score?
Posted: Sep 5, 2006 5:04 am | Edited by: andy
Hate to do this but ... They struck out. Whatever secrets the Milwakee River is keeping are safe.

Mr. Chung, you can rest easy, too.
Posted: Sep 5, 2006 1:16 pm
Thanks Andy. I kinda figured that would be the case. Maybe Bussard or Tefteller got there first.
Posted: Sep 6, 2006 4:24 am
i stopped watch'n that show when they dumped that big titt'd hottie..that guy with the reverse needle on his machine to play those metal masters.
That Son House drop wa cool too.
Posted: Sep 26, 2006 7:20 pm
Henry Townsend, said to be the last surviving musician to record for Paramount, died on Sunday while visiting Grafton:


Blues guitarist Henry Townsend, who fled to St. Louis as a boy then stayed for a prolific career that spanned eight decades, died Sunday of pulmonary embolism in Grafton, Wis., where he was being honored. He was 96.

Townsend, who wrote and published hundreds of songs and accompanied musicians on hundreds more, began recording in 1929 and continued every decade since, an accomplishment that put him in rare company, said Mark O'Shaughnessy, president of BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups.

"He was the patriarch of St. Louis blues," O'Shaughnessy said. "He wasn't in it for the money. He believed in the music. It told a very honest story."

Townsend, living in the same brick bungalow he shared for 40 years with his late wife, Vernell, who performed with him, was in Grafton to be honored as the last surviving artist with the old Paramount Records. The label recorded one-fourth of all the blues material produced from 1929 to 1932, including "race records" by black artists for black audiences.

He arrived Thursday, and was hospitalized Friday evening. The Grafton Blues Association brought a plaque honoring him to his hospital room hours before he died.

"He was quite a guy," the group's president, Kris Marshall, said. "We listened to his stories. He was very excited to be back here."

Townsend was born in Shelby, Miss., grew up in Cairo, Ill., and left for St. Louis as a 9-year-old to avoid a whipping from his father, after he had "blown some snuff," he told The Associated Press in an interview in June.

He said his father played a button box accordion, but young Henry loved the guitar, and bought himself one. He also learned the piano.

While working as a shoe shine boy in St. Louis, he came to know a generation of piano players who had grown up on ragtime and were teaming up with guitarists to experiment with the blues.

He decided on a career in blues guitar after hearing budding bluesman Lonnie Johnson, the Jimi Hendrix of the 1920s, perform in the old Booker T. Washington Theater in St. Louis.

"He had fiddled with it before, but when he saw Lonnie, he knew it could be a lifetime pursuit," said Kevin Belford, St. Louis blues historian. "Henry made the decision to make it his career."

In the 1930s, Townsend played with blues greats Roosevelt Sykes, Walter Davis and Robert Johnson at neighborhood parties and fish fries. Townsend recalled they'd "jam up and down the street" on top of a coal-hauling truck during the Depression to help raise rent money for people being evicted.

"If you got $2 to play somewhere, you were doing well," Townsend recalled.

In those days, record label scouts gathered up local musicians in cities like St. Louis, and took them to a studio for a recording session, Belford said.

Townsend and other blues musicians deemed worthy of studios' investment survived the Depression. But they fell into near oblivion when the juke box replaced live music, and the materials needed for the war effort slowed down the record industry.

It wasn't until the late 1950s, when the old blues "race records" were rediscovered during a growing folk revival, that Townsend, Lonnie Johnson, Big Joe Williams and others found renewed popularity. They toured the U.S. and Europe and found new audiences, Belford said.

Townsend, who won a National Heritage Award in 1985 that recognized his being a master artist, never stopped performing.

He told the AP he'd paid a price for staying in St. Louis, and lost some good breaks, but had no regrets.

"I never had an agent in my life," he said. "Just being me has got me where I am."

Townsend is survived by three children. Funeral arrangements were pending.
Posted: Sep 27, 2006 2:06 am
Ooooh, that's sad. 96 is a pretty good run though, especially for a musician. His autobio rules. His Paramount sides are great.
Posted: Sep 27, 2006 2:14 am
Ooops. turns out that his first records from 1929, which I thought were on Paramount, were actually on Columbia. Duh. The Paramounts came later and had Roosevelt Sykes on piano. The Columbia sides were solo.
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