20 December 2015


So you need a name for your band. You will probably settle for something local and alliterative – such as The Stratford Stompers. Perhaps you would like to use a different name occasionally – for the more sophisticated gigs – The Palace Beach Serenaders, for example.

But surely your band won't need more than two names?

I hope not. But there was throughout the 1920s a band that was said to use over a hundred different names in its various combinations and manifestations!
Some of The California Ramblers
This was The California Ramblers. In those days, the main reason for using different names was of course to get round legal contractual commitments to various recording studios. (For some interesting information about this and similar practices, see the comments at the foot of this article.)

Incidentally, their principal name was hardly appropriate. The members of the band had little or no connection with California (most came from Ohio) and they were based mainly in the New York area. Over the years, the band – which was largely studio-based – made a huge number of recordings, many of which were of high quality and extremely popular at the time. They drew from a wide pool of musicians. Their stars included Adrian Rollini and Tommy Dorsey.

The band's most famous pseudonym was The Golden Gate Orchestra. Others included The Little Ramblers, The University Six, Cotton Blossoms Orchestra, The Goofus Five, Ed Blossom and His New Englanders, The Five Birmingham Babies, Ted White's Collegians, Palm Beach Serenaders, The Vagabonds, The Varsity Eight and The Baltimore Society Syncopators. You can find many delightful examples of their work on YouTube.

My good friend Carsten Pigott, who has a vast collection of 78 rpm records and vintage gramophones, has kindly sent me these further comments about 'working for labels':

Your text is spot on; and, although many jazz (and dance) bands, both in the US and here recorded under a variety of pseudonyms, for the reason you give, the California Ramblers are probably the best example - and a great favourite of mine, in any case.

My 78 collection contains many records with pseudonymous accreditation. I try to label and file them under the name by which the band is best known. Brian Rust's unsurpassed discographies of vintage jazz and British and US dance bands - sadly no longer in print (and second hand copies now sell for small fortunes) - are still the finest tools available for unravelling the true identities of all those groups that recorded under more than one name.

A side issue, not directly related to your text, relates to the sometimes quirky decisions musicians made over which labels to record for (other than when recording for a multitude of labels using multiple aliases). There was quite a significant price difference between the major ones (e.g. HMV, Columbia, Decca) and the budget ones. Some musicians stuck with the more expensive labels, reasoning that the prestige of an expensive label reflected their own status as top musicians. Others took a more pragmatic and 'commercial' approach, opting for the budget labels (which, with luck, would sell more records and bring in more income), particularly after they'd already established themselves on the full-priced records and/or on the stage and radio. Examples that spring to mind are the wonderful Australian baritone, Peter Dawson, who insisted on recording for the 'plum' label on HMV (not exactly cheap), rather than the even more expensive red label that was designated for classical music. Sir Harry Lauder decided to go with Zonophone, the budget HMV brand, but only on condition that their green label be made red for any of his records. Jack Payne, after leaving the BBC and the Columbia label, signed up with the budget Imperial label, but on condition that the Imperial crown trade mark at the top of the label was replaced by an image of his face and a facsimile of his signature! Collecting 78rpm records offers up a wonderful field of fascination!