At the behest of one of our most loyal readers, I've decided to start posting issues of 78 Quarterly magazine, the world's greatest publication when it comes to prewar blues, jazz, and hillbilly music. Published by Pete Whelan, founder of the legendary Origin Jazz Library label, it was not a true quarterly periodical as it did not come out four times a year. 78 Occasional might have been a more appropriate title. Indeed, after the first two issues appeared in 1967 and 1968, readers had to wait 20 years before No. 3 finally became available. Fortunately, the late 1980s and the entire 1990s were a very prolific time for this magazine in which eight additional issues were released, although - despite No. 11 and No. 12, which were published earlier this decade - it now seems to be back on a prolonged hiatus once again if not ceasing publication altogether. In contrast, 78 Quarterly makes more popular genre periodicals such as Living Blues look like People magazine. Instead of trying to water down its subject matter and make it appealing to the more casual enthusiast, 78 is a publication written by and for hardcore old-time blues (and related music) freaks. This is not a magazine for people who hold Kenny Wayne Shepherd in high regard or think that the blues began with Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Hell, they even got artist, record collector, and hater of amplified music Robert Crumb to do the logo. So that information plus the very title of this publication should give you an idea of its target audience.
The original printings of No. 1 and No. 2 are about as rare as some of the 78 rpm recordings that this magazine profiles, so I had to make due with this reissue that came out in 1992. If you dig blues and similar styles of music from the 1920s and 1930s, you will absolutely love this magazine. The quality of the scholarship and writing is high and advertisements are virtually nonexistent. The amount of information packed between the covers is mind-boggling. What is especially interesting is that when these issues were first published in the late 1960s, many of the details about the lives of particular musicians were still fragmentary as the research was still in progress at that time. Take for example, the excellent article about King Solomon Hill in No. 1 by Gayle Dean Wardlow. During that period, many 78 collectors still thought this name was just an alias for Sam Collins or Big Joe Williams. Wardlow's research demonstrates otherwise and marked the beginning of an ongoing feud with ethnomusicologist David Evans that was not resolved until some 30 years later. Another interesting bit of trivia is the fact that fellow blues scholar and sometime Wardlow collaborator Stephen Calt wrote his articles under the nom de plume of Jacques Roche. (I still don't know the reasoning behind this.) Additionally, this reissue features compelling pieces on the following:
- Jacob Schneider, one-time owner of what was then the world's largest collection of 78s
- The death of Charlie Patton and the evidence that he died from heart problems and was not a murder victim, which was widely assumed at that time
- Parts One and Two of the ongoing and controversial feature, "78 Presents the Rarest 78s"
- Interviews with Son House, Tommy Johnson's brother, Ledell, and Carl Martin
- The Black Birds of Paradise, widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz bands to come out of the Deep South
- Winston Holmes and the neglected prewar blues scene of Kansas City
They just don't make magazines like this anymore, so be sure to check this out, fellow old-time music fans.
Get issue No. 3 here.