One Last Word on “Prison Fire” Recordings

January 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm (Uncategorized)

In record collecting circles, a “completist” is someone who collects every single variation of a recording or, perhaps, a record label.  That means that if he (there are a few, but not many, shes) collects a particular artist, it’s not enough to have every recording that the artist made, but also a copy on every label that issued it.  And if the information on the record label changed during subsequent pressings, well the completist would need to have one of each.  Some collectors aren’t particularly interested in the music per se; they just want a copy of every record that came out on a given label.

Now, I have to admit I have completist tendencies, but, so far, I have kept them under reasonable control.  That is why I am not going to actively pursue obtaining copies of all the variations of the Carson Robison recording of “Columbus Prison Fire.”  I have, however, spent a few minutes on the internet seeing how many I could turn up.  As far as I can tell, all of these records were the product of a single recording session; just the names have been changed (and, sometimes, not even that).

Here is what I found. The song was released by Bud Billings & Carson Robison on the Montgomery Ward label and by Bud & Joe Billings on the Victor label.  When it came out on Broadway, the artist was listed as John Moore, but on Parmount he was billed as John McGhee. The Carson Robison Trio are credited with the song on the Challenge, Perfect, Banner, Jewel, and Oriole lables.  On Columbia, it was simply Carson Robison and on Harmony Frank Tuttle.

Now, one reason for this was geographic.  Several of these labels were small and not widely distributed.  Another reason was contractual; the artists who did the recording were under contract to a given label and could not appear under their own names on others.  However, a few of these labels were considered premium and charged the customers more for the exact same recording.  Of course, it wasn’t unusal at this time for several artists to have a “hit” with the same song.

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