The Lost 45s of Sudan (ShellacHead Annual 2015)

So, yeah, I was getting ready to work on this year’s ShellacHead Annual when I realized I haven’t posted a damn thing since last year’s Annual! Wow, I guess 2015 went by pretty quick. I’ve mostly been working on recording an album with my rock band, SKUNK, but I still have been collecting old records and fantasizing about various reissue projects. I promise to try to make 2016 a bit more exciting here at ShellacHead.

This year’s Annual is worth the wait though – 15 super rare tracks from Sudan’s Munsphone label! Go ahead and look on Ebay for a Sudanese 45, there’s one there right now for $500. Take a look on the collecting site Discogs. Yep, there’s one there too and the asking price is $1000. Suffice it to say, these are much sought-after records! The records are difficult to find and so is information about the Munsphone label or the artists, but I’ve included what I know in a downloadable pdf.

Also, this year I’m asking $5 for the compilation to help offset the costs of making ShellacHead happen.

ShellacHead Annual 2014: Tropical Sound Waves

Well, another year, another trip around the sun and all that jazz. It’s been a gray and wet couple of months here in Oakland, and yes, California needs the rain, but it’s left me pining for some sun and fun. The ShellacHead Annual is usually a sample of records I’ve collected over the year, but this year I decided to take a musical sojourn to the Caribbean. Here’s a selection of 78s and 45s from my collection that showcase the great diversity and musical connections of one of the world’s most vibrant musical zones. 26 tracks from Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Colombia, Honduras, Martinique, Curacao, and elsewhere. The first 200 downloads are free, or until the end of January, whichever comes first.

I hope it gives you a bit of warmth and musical sunshine during the depths of winter. Enjoy!


Clarinetist Selimi and vocalist/violinist Hafize were brother and sister, coming from a long line of famous musicians from the city of Leskovik at the southern border of Albania. By the mid-1920s they were living in Istanbul where they were the star attractions of the Albanian music scene. Selimi and Hafize recorded for Columbia during a session in Istanbul in 1928. Columbia made some 300 recordings the following year in Albania itself. To this day, the beautiful deep voice of Hafize is considered a benchmark for female Albanian singers of the southern repertoire, and Selim’s reputation as a clarinetist is highly regarded.

Col 72007a

Col 72007b

Col 72010


One of my favorite recording artists in any genre is the Greek accordion player Andonis “Papadzis” Amiralis (1896-1959). Papadzis was born in Smyrna, like so many of the best Greek musicians of the time. In addition to accordion, (“armonika” in Greek), he played several string instruments. He recorded many instrumentals, with guitar accompaniment, in the 1920s and 1930s, and also recorded with well-known singers of the time, such the legendary Dalgas. His style is highly ornamented, as was the common approach at the time. Contemporaries such as Yangos Psamatianos and Michalis Trimis use a similar approach. The accordion became a regular part of rebetiko ensemble later, in the 1940s and 50s, but the style was a simpler, more modern approach.

First up are two classic zeibekika. The zeibekiko is a dance that was originally associated with the Turkish Zeibeks, and later became a staple of the rebetika repertoire. The zeibekiko is played in 9/4 rhythm, which gives the melodies an unusual loping quality. The Bohoris is an “easy mark”, according to Tony Klein’s Mortika cd. O Bohoris was recorded in 1932.



This record, attributed to “G. Kourtis,” is almost certainly a dub from an early Victor of Papadzis. The Standard label was started by the Tetos Demitriades.



The syrto is a 4/4 dance, one of the most common found in Greece. The syrto has many varieties, and this one’s title suggest it originates from Smyrna.Standard9032a


In contrast, here’s a “kalamatiano syrto” from 1929.Col 5616ba


After Papadzis, the next well-known accordion player is Yangos Psamatianos. He didn’t record as much as Papadzis, at least under his own name. Here he is playing a manes. It’s not an instrumental, but a modal improvisation on both accordion and vocal. This was recorded in 1929.

Col 12318b


Here are a couple Victor sides from 1909. I have no idea who the accordion player is on these records. Another lingering mystery is the question of what kind of accordion is being played on these recordings – piano or button style. Compare the sousta to the version I posted here.





Have you gone through a rebetika obsession yet?

It happens all the time. People stumble on this old Greek music from the 1930s and become completely obsessed. If you have not had the bug yet, do yourself a favor and get on it. Rebetika is definitely one of the musical treasures of the Twentieth century.

Just one of the many distinctive aspects of rebetika music is that it is without a doubt the first example of psychedelic popular music. Rebetika was often played for stoned listeners, by musicians who were smoking hashish, with the music intending to compliment the effects of being high. Additionally, the subjects of the songs often revolved around hashish, being stoned, or the world in the which these Greek stoners lived.

Of course, Greek recordings from the 1920s and 1930s were varied and complex, not all the singers were hash smokers and not all the songs concerned hashish or other underworld topics. The music was not even consider a genre at the time, and wasn’t referred to as “rebetika” until long after the genre had morphed into a more popular, mainstream style.

There are plenty of great reissues of Greek 78s that give detailed histories (see Mortika, Greek Rhapsody, or any of the cds produced by Charles Howard for Rounder records). So rather than discuss the details of the influence of Smyrna or the dichotomy between upper and lower class musicians, I want to give a brief introduction to one of the coolest and unique subsets of early rebetika recordings – the solo guitar.

Rebetika is usually associated with the bouzouki, the long-necked lute that was popularized in the early 1930s by recordings of Jack Halikias and Markos Vamvakaris, among others. While other instruments sometimes took center stage, such as the violin or the accordion, the guitar was generally used as a simple back-up, rhythm instrument, with the exception of a large number of recordings made by Spyros Peristeris playing the guitar as a lead instrument in place of the bouzouki, and using a general “bouzouki style.” But there were a handful of artists who recorded songs played on solo guitar in a manner that calls to mind some American folk and blues finger picking styles.

By far the most legendary is the mysterious “Kostis.” Many rebetika researchers believe that Kostis was a pseudonym for Konstandinos Bezos. Bezos was something of a renaissance man. He was the leader of a successful Hawaiian ensemble made up of Greek musicians (Ta Aspra Poulia = The White Birds), a journalist, actor and more. It’s not certain if Bezos composed the Kostis recordings, of which there are ten songs and two instrumentals, or if he is the guitarist or singer heard on the recordings. The whole detective story is outlined nicely in Tony Klein’s Greek Rhapsody.

Kostis was the most enigmatic, but the most prolific rebetika solo guitarist was undoubtedly Giorgos Katsaros. The majority of his recordings were solo guitar pieces using a two-finger method of picking, in a variety of tunings. Katsaros was born on the island of Amorgos in 1888 and emigrated to America in his teens. Like many well-known rebetiko singers, he recorded more than just underworld songs. His style is very personal and idiosyncratic, with occasional pauses and time changes that are not usually heard in Greek music. He continued performing well into his 90s.

Hthes To Vradi Stou Garipi



Another Greek-American guitarist was Kostas “Gus” Dussas (1897-1949). Dussas may have lived in Chicago at some point, but ended up in Lodi, California, where there was a substantial Greek community. He recorded 18 songs during the 1930s.



To Moro Mou_Miss Hellas___________________________________________

Nondas Sgouros was one of the pseudonyms for Tetos Demetriades. Recorded January 8, 1929. Demetriades was a monumental figure in the history of the early Greek record industry. He recorded a huge number of records in almost every style of Greek music and was also deeply involved in Victor records as head of their international division. In 1940, he left Victor to start his own label, Standard Records. Another claim to fame: he recorded the first version of the song Misirlou in 1927.

This record is an excellent example of a song that has the underworld sound and themes and yet is clearly performed by someone who did not actively live the rebetika lifestyle. I’m not sure who is playing guitar on this recording.


They call me a gambler, a card shark
Everybody condemns me and thinks I’m guilty
I know how to play, how to cheat, and how to make money gambling

I gamble all night long and I lose all the money
and when I return home they ask me to pay the rent

when I don’t have the money to pay what I owe,

they throw my stuff outside my house in a suitcase
I always ask to borrow money and the cards have destroyed my life

(translated by Leonidas Kassapides)




Odeon 82018The estudiantina was a typical ensemble found in Smyrna and Constantinople in the early days of recording. Rather than the instrumentation of bouzouki and guitar that’s usually associated with rebetiko, the estudiantina was more of a mandolin ensemble, often including santouri, violin, and in this case, accordion. This beautiful sousta (a couples dance from Crete and other island traditions, as well as Istanbul) was recorded in 1907.

Odeon X54728Here’s a violin and Santouri led estudiantina from Smyrna, the culturally vibrant port city on the Aegean coast of Turkey. The city was destroyed in 1922, resulting in a huge influx of immigrants into Athens, and to some extent, setting the stage for the formulation of rebetiko. The singer here is Yannis Tsanakas, a well-known vocalist who recorded with the Smyrna-based ensemble led by Yiangos Vlachos. Tsanakas died in 1914 or 1915. The manes is a form of modal vocal improvisation equivalent to an instrumental taxim.


Most aficionados of 78 rpm world music are already familiar with klezmer, the Jewish music that originated in Eastern Europe and was then developed further by immigrants in the United States. One of the great early orchestras was led by clarinetist Harry Kandel. Kandel was born in 1885, in what is now Ukraine. He was a conservatory trained musician when he immigrated to New York in 1905. He began playing on the vaudeville circuit, he then played in Sousa’s band before starting his own orchestra in 1916. He recorded his first session for Victor a year later. He retired in the mid-1920s to run a music store in Philadelphia.
His recordings are always fun, intense dance pieces. While Kandel was part of the new musical melting pot of America, his recordings still have an old world sound reminiscent of bands from other Balkan areas.

To start things off, here are two songs from May 6, 1921.

73058a73058bSide A: Der Broiges Tanz (The Angry Dance)
Side B: Die Lustige Chsideem (The Joyful Chassidim)
Victor 73058 (1921)

77018bHere’s another interesting melody with a tonal center that shifts between F major and it’s relative minor, D. This song was a wedding processional used to accompany the bride and groom home from the temple. Jacob Hoffman is featured on xylophone.

Der Gassen Nigen (The Street Melody)
Victor 77018b (1923)


Another from the same session as Der Gassen Nigen held on January 24, 1923.
Die Goldene Chassina (Golden Wedding)
Victor 73729a (1923)



In the Jewish music of Eastern Europe, the body of modes or scales are called shteyger. This song is in ahava-raba, which is similar to a mode known as hijaz in the Greek and Turkish modal systems (Greek = dromoi, Turkish = maqam).

Simachas Toirah in der Alter Haim (Rejoicing of the Torah in the Old Country)
Victor 77163b (1923)

SEVEN INCHES OF LOVE (ShellacHead Annual 2013)

I’ve been slacking on posting to the blog lately, Kassidat and Longing for the Past took a lot of my record-related energy this year. But I did want to get something out there to wrap up the year, so I now present the lengthily-titled SEVEN INCHES OF LOVE: Twenty Obscure 45 rpm Records from Around the World (ShellacHead Annual 2013)! I had a lot of problems with hosting last year’s Annual on various free services, so this time around I’ll be making the compilation available via Bandcamp. It’ll be free for the first couple of months, but you can throw me a few bucks if you feel like contributing to the cause.

It’s with a sense of irony that ShellacHead is presenting an all vinyl compilation. It’s hard to argue with the antiquarian allure of old 78s, but there are plenty of 45s with intense, hardcore traditional music. Here are twenty heavy tracks from my 45 rpm collection, centered around Africa, the Middle East, and nearby locales, plus a few side trips. None have been re-issued, as far as I know. I’ve included a printable CD cover/tracklist and a booklet with some brief comments and full color sleeve images if you want. This collection should make a good spin for your New Year’s Eve party party, although things might get a bit weird. The 2012 Annual is available through Bandcamp as well, for a nominal fee.

LONGING FOR THE PAST – now available!

(Re-posted from Haji Maji)
Haji Maji has been dormant for some time now, and here’s the reason why – the last two years have been occupied with completing a project of epic proportions, which I’m happy to announce is finished and is officially released today (October 1st)!
Longing for the Past: The 78 rpm Era in Southeast Asia is a 4 CD set with 90 tracks that span six decades of 78 rpm recordings from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. This project is being published by the wonderful folks at Dust-to-Digital, and because of their usual commitment to quality design, I was able to push the limits of what a 78 rpm reissue set can be. The CDs are accompanied by a 9″x 6″, 272-page hardcover book that has over 250 images of record labels and sleeves, and vintage photographs of Southeast Asian musicians. The CDs and book come housed in a handsome slipcase.

Longing_photo 02_web


Longing for the Past is the first reissue set to survey the traditional music of Southeast Asia. It includes essays on the record industry in Southeast Asia, as well as chapters on the music of each country, plus annotations for each of the 90 tracks. One of my goals with this project was to provide a deeper analysis of the music itself, something that I feel is often neglected in reissues of world music from the 78 rpm era. I think that is often due to space constraints or the fact that the producers are often collectors, rather than musicologists. Although I’m a musician myself, I knew I wasn’t qualified to write about the musical intricacies of Lao village music or Cambodian Buddhist chanting. Therefore, I enlisted the help of specialists to tackle the different regions; Terry Miller (Cambodia-Laos-Thailand), Jason Gibbs (Vietnam), Kit Young (Burma), Sooi Beng Tan (Malaysia-Singapore), and David Harnish (Indonesia). The notes on each track cover general material, but often dig deeper into the modes and scales employed,and other details of the music. Likely deeper than the casual listener requires, but it’s there for those that care!

This project would not have been possible without the help of my many collaborators. Terry Miller was the man that really made this possible. We started working on the material from Laos in 2008. Not only is his knowledge of Thai and Lao music vast, he was helpful beyond the call of duty when it came to finding folks with that secret bit of knowledge we were searching for or someone who could provide an elusive translation. Jason Gibbs, Kit Young, Sooi Beng Tan, and David Harnish also contributed a huge amount of time and effort in putting the written material together. Thanks to all their colleagues who assisted them as well. Jonathan Ward (Excavated Shellac) was a great help and huge inspiration. He transferred almost all the tracks, and lent me nearly a dozen tracks to include. Thanks to Michael Robertson and Will Summits for lending a few sides from their own awesome collections. As always, Michael Graves did a fantastic job on the sound restoration and mastering. The tireless research of Pekka Gronow, Michael Kinnear, Philip Yampolsky, Ross Laird, Hugo Strotbaum, Paul Vernon, Pat Conte, Chris Zwarg, and many others, either through published work or private communication, allowed me to paint a picture of the record industry in the region. Thanks to my wife, master book designer Debbie Berne, for design consulting and Amy Armstrong at Asia Pacific Offset. Lastly, thanks to Lance and April Ledbetter of Dust-to-Digital for making the project happen.

NEW RELEASE – KASSIDAT: Raw 45s from Morocco


I’m happy to announce the release of KASSIDAT: Raw 45s from Morocco, an LP project I put together for Dust-to-Digital. Hypnotic and trance-inducing grooves from what I call the “Golden Age” of the Moroccan record industry, the period beginning in 1956 when Morocco gained its independence, until the 1970s. It was a time when many locally-owned record labels flourished, thanks, in part, to the inexpensive 45 rpm format. Most of these companies were based in Casablanca, but they released hundreds of 45s of authentic, hardcore folk music from all over Morocco. KASSIDAT is the third in a series of Dust-to-Digital LPs that explore similar locally-controlled record scenes around the world during the 1950s and 1960s. The first two in the series was LUK THUNG: Classic & Obscure Recordings from the Thai Countryside, followed by Chris Menist’s QAT, COFFEE & QAMBUS: Raw 45s from Yemen.
I designed this one and wrote the notes with a lot of help from Ayyoub Ajmi ( and Tim Abdellah Fuson ( Be sure to check out their excellent web stuff for deeper diving. The recordings were mastered by Michael Graves ( Thanks to Dust-to-Digital for continuing to support these projects.


Digital Download Here


Philips 78562

As promised, here’s another great 78 from Morocco. Al-aita is the music of the urban and rural poor and is found generally in central Morocco. This recording is typical of the style, driven by raspy fiddle played upright on the knee, drums such as ta’rija and darbuka, and the call and response of the Cheikhates, the female singers that front the group. As with female performers elsewhere in North Africa, such as the cheikhat of Algerian rai, the cheikhates in Morocco suffer shame and are regarded as outcasts due to their transgression of social and religious roles. This record was released on Philips around 1950.



I’ll soon be posting some news about a forthcoming LP project I put together for Dust-to-Digital called “Kassidat: Raw 45s from Morocco.” In the meantime, to prime the pump and grease the wheels, I figured I’d do a post or two of Moroccan 78s. Morocco has an interesting diversity of folk music styles, most of which tend toward trance-inducing, hypnotic grooves. There’s the rwais (itinerant musical troupes from the Marrakech area), the female led ‘aita troupes of the central region, the Sufi village ensembles, the music of the Gnawa, Chaabi, and more. The gunbri is a lute that comes in several forms and is used in several of these genres throughout Morocco. The Gnawa are well-known for their large bass gunbri, while the rwais use a smaller, more banjo-like gunbri, sometimes called lotar. A third variety is used in central Morocco and the Rif mountains. It has a distinctive pear-shaped body, and is carved from a single block of wood. It’s often paired with the bendir, as in this recording, by the famous comedic duo of Kachbal and Zaroual. Moroccan music was widely recorded during the early 20th century, but this type of gunbri seems to have been rarely recorded during the 78 rpm era. It wasn’t until local record companies began to prosper after the country gained independence, in 1956, that many 45s of this type were released. In fact, Orikaphone was one of the first of these local Moroccan labels and this record was released on 45, as well as the 78 shown here.



Turkey is well-known for its classical art music developed during the Ottoman Empire. It’s impossible to deny the genius of classical musicians like Tanbûrî Cemil Bey, but I’ve always gravitated toward folk music. In Anatolia, the most popular folk instrument is certainly the bağlama, sometimes called saz (and not to be confused with the tiny Greek baglamas). The bağlama belongs to a family of string instruments used throughout the region; Syria, Kurdistan, Persia, and elsewhere. The instrument comes in many sizes, from the small cura to the enormous divan sazi. The instrument has seven strings, dived into 3 courses, the two highest courses have 2 strings, while the lowest course has 3. The tuning varies depending on the mode of the song, with the open strings acting as drones to emphasize the different characteristics of the mode.
Mucip Arciman was a folk musician from central Anatolia who became popular in the 1940s and ’50s.

20 From 2012 (CD)

20 from 2012_ShellacHead

2012 was a good year. I posted 20 sides here on ShellacHead, pretty much a whole CD worth of material. Jon Ward and I played some good stuff on the Gramophoney Baloney podcast back in September. I also completed two projects for the Dust-to-Digital label, both should be out in the first quarter of 2013 (more on those soon).
As 2012 draws to a close, I thought it might be fun to put together a selection of some of the records I’ve collected this year that have not been reissued on cd, as far as I know. So here it is, “20 from 2012,” a good old-fashioned mix tape type thing. Download the zipped archive (mp3s and a PDF), burn to cd, print the insert and stick it in one of those old jewel cases you’ve got lying around!

(Edit: This compilation is now available via Bandcamp for $1, more if you’re feeling generous!)

Download Here!

1. Leyenda India, Davila y Rodriguez  PUERTO RICO
2. Koulou Liladi, Cheikh Benoubia  ALGERIA
3. Mandolin & Harmonium Ghat, J.D. Marshal & H. Don Vincent  INDIA
4. Das Pintele Yid, Yenkowitz & Goldberg  NEW YORK
5. Lala Satane, Mabulukwe Anzima  SOUTH AFRICA
6. Tsifte Telli, Dimitrios “Salonikos” Semsis  GREECE
7. Seberu Beru, M. Legwara Kadipela  SOUTH AFRICA
8. Mabaad Ghachia, Cheikha Nejma Elouahrania  ALGERIA
9. Not Me , Denzil Laing Trio  JAMAICA
10. Tico Tico No Fuba, Sivuca  BRAZIL
11. Unidentified Iraqi Test Pressing,  IRAQ
12. Parachinka Kolo, Sava Jeremic  SERBIA
13. Keghetzig Erevan, E. Saaruni  ARMENIA
14. Ndamulombu, F. Gwenzi  MOZAMBIQUE/ZIMBABWE
15. Mal Ghusnil Dhahab, Mohamed Faris Alkhalifa  BAHRAIN
16. Lalla Aicha, Raisette Embarka  MOROCCO
17. Rakkosa Kiz, Inst. Group  UZBEKISTAN
18. La Pimienta, Tobias Plicet  PANAMA
19. Jamadal Bardas Aladat, Abdullah Jan  PAKISTAN
20. Cumbia Campesina, Los Corraleros De Majagual  COLOMBIA


StudioChaouyThis post is riffing off the latest from the legendary Excavated Shellac. As JW points out, “There were certain regions in Sub-Saharan Africa where local music was barely recorded – if at all – by commercial companies or ethnographers, until at least after World War II.” But records from these “barely recorded” places have a way of popping up, and his fantastic track Haalpulaar’en people of Senegal and Mauritania is a perfect example. Here’s a companion record, of sorts.
The vast majority of the populations of Mauritania and Senegal are Sunni Muslims. In the 19th century, several Islamic Sufi orders became prominent. Of these, the Khadria (Qadiriyyah) brotherhood is not only the oldest in West Africa, but likely the oldest Sufi order in the world, founded in the 12th century. The Khadria are one of the two main Sufi brotherhoods in Mauritania, and one of several orders in Senegal. The Sufism of the region also incorporates animistic elements from pre-Islamic religions along with the search for an ecstatic experience, often through music or prayer.
This track features a type of ritual drumming and chanting called Tabala Wolof, performed at night on a set of large kettle drums (tabala) with a chorus of singer/chanters. This is the 3rd part of the poem “Inal Mourada” (“Nostalgia of the Prophet”) composed by the famous Cheikh Saad Bouh (1848-1917). The poem is spread over at least four record sides, maybe more.
Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate any information about the Studio Chaouy label, which, according to the label, was located in Senegal’s capitol, Dakar.

For further listening and reading:
An amazing post by Matthew Lavoie on the variety Sengalese Sufi cassettes:

And a contemporary recording from Village Pulse I have yet to hear:


Typical Bulgarian folk instruments like the kaval, gadulka, and gajda were joined by the accordion in the early 20th century. Karlov, born in 1924 in Sofia to a Bulgarian-Roma family, came to be considered the father of Bulgarian accordion style. It was probably helpful that his own father, Karlo Aliev (check him out on Excavated Shellac), was a highly-regarded musician and director of Krenjaska, an ensemble that gained fame playing on Radio Sofia in the 1930s. Boris took over as director of the group when his father died in 1944 and soon became a celebrated musician. His true love was for folk music, and he applied his amazing technique and musicianship to styles from many different regions, although his roots were in western Bulgaria. Here he plays a dance tune in 11/8 from northern Bulgaria called “Gankino Horo.” The label Radioprom was formed by the nationalizing of small local labels in the late 1940s and eventually changed into the Balkanton label.
Boris Karlov died in 1964.


“They have down in Arkansas what they call the Bill Green, and that’s a square dance.
All the partners to their places, straighten up their faces for a Bill Green.”

I’ve been listening to old time country 78s (“Hillbilly”) for nearly 20 years, but I have bothered to collect only a few because so many of the recordings have been reissued on cd. This has always been a favorite record of mine, and as far as I know, it has never been reissued. Unfortunately, it’s not in great condition and I’m always on the lookout for a cleaner copy, but this is the only one I’ve ever seen! Recorded 83 years and 2 days ago in Dallas, on June 26, 1929. I think it’s the finest example of American old-time jaw harp playing on 78. I have no idea who Barnyard Steve really was, but I love how you can hear him imitating the dance rhythm of old-time fiddle bowing by using his breathing, rather than the striking of the harp’s tongue (or “twanger” as some old timers call it). He even calls out square dance figures with the harp still clearly set against his teeth.  It’s a shame that Barnyard Steve only made this single record. However, the flip side is a fantastic series of barnyard animal impressions, some of which are almost chilling.



I was contacted by Mr. Steve Austin, Barnyard Steve’s grandson, who provided me with the following details. Steve Edward Austin was born in Riddleville, Texas on May 29, 1890. He performed on the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit as Barnyard Steve, other times as Uncle Hiram and his Animals. Later, he became a regular performer on WFAA-AM in Dallas. He also toured high schools as a ventriloquist and even supplied animal voices for Walt Disney. According to his grandson, Barnyard Steve played no instruments other than the jaw harp, and was not, to his knowledge, a real square dance caller.
He died in Dallas, Texas on May 12, 1955.


Thanks to Steve Austin for supplying these details and photograph! In honor of this new information I’m adding the B-side to this post.


Tar is the Persian word for “string”, and is the root of many instrument names (guitar, sitar, dotar, etc.) The instrument called tar is used widely throughout Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Afghanistan. It seems to have originated in the region of southwestern Azerbaijan and eastern Armenia. Considered the “sultan of instruments” by Persians, it holds a prime position in radif, Persian classical music. During the 19th Century, a variation of the Persian tar was developed in Azerbaijan with a slightly different shape and additional strings.

George Shah-Baronian was an Iranian of Armenian origin. During the 1920s, he recorded in New York for the Pharos and Sohag labels. At some point, he seems to have relocated to Los Angeles where he performed and recorded this record at the famous  “Radio Recorders” studio in Hollywood, where many greats recorded, including Elvis. If anyone can fill in the details on Shah Baronian please leave a comment (paging Ian Nagoski!).

Unfortunately, this record has a small chip at the edge, so we miss the introduction to this otherwise excellent tar solo.


Abul Hasan Khan (aka Abolhasan Eqbal Azar) was one of the great Persian singers of the 78 era. He was an Azeri, born in 1871 (some say 1866) in the village of Alvand, outside of Qazvin in the northwest of Iran, not far from the borders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and Iraq. As a child, he moved to Qazvin where he studied music with the famed Haji Mulla Karim. He performed in major cities around the country and in 1914 made his first record for the Monarch label. This recording, made with the newly invented electrical recording gear, was recorded in 1929 in Tehran by Frank Rennie and released the following year. Abul Hasan Khan was still performing when he died at the age of 100.


New York was a hotbed of Greek recording after WWII, when small, independently-owned record labels such as Nina and Kalos Diskos seemed to be thriving. Despite all the recording activity, the famous bouzouki pioneer Ioannis Halikias (aka Jack Gregory) was barely recorded, despite being a well-known fixture on the New York scene. Halikias’ place in history was cemented when he first recorded 4 songs for Columbia in 1932. Those records were very influential and, to some extent, kicked off the bouzouki craze in Greece, despite being recorded in New York. Apparently he was angry with Columbia for the “fine print” in his contract and decided to cut ties with the company. Halikias did not record for some twenty years until he finally made a few recordings for the small Athena label in the mid-1950s. During those intervening years he hung out with various Greek musicians touring the states (one can find snippets on the web of home recordings made during this period, which, unfortunately, the Halikias family refuses to release in full unless they are paid an absurdly high price), and is rumored to have run an underground hashish joint. It’s also been whispered that after he died the police found his closet full of (other people’s) wallets (see comments section). Again, these are unsubstantiated rumors from the “rebetosphere.”

Here’s one of the Athena sides, never reissued, that includes his friend, Kostas Kalevas. Kalevas is presumably the singer, but was also a bouzouki player. While Halikias’ most revered records are all zembekika, the heavy 9/4 rhythm that was the backbone of rebetiko songs during the 1930s and 40s, both the songs on this record come from the demotika (folk) repertoire, rather than the urban rebetiko milieu. This song is typical of songs about shepherds, declaring his love his sweetheart and mountains. Admittedly, these recordings do not match the bouzouki virtuosity of some of Halikias’ classics, but it’s interesting to hear a bouzouki master in another context. It makes me wonder if he was merely backing up his friend. There’s also the possibility that it’s actually Kalevas playing bouzouki here, but I’m not familiar enough with his playing to make a guess.


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