Grey Gull Records

Grey Gull Records was founded in 1918 in Boston, Massachusetts by Theodore L. Shaw. He was from a wealthy and prominent family of that state which included Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the 54th Massachusetts the first and famed all-black Union regiment of the American Civil War the century previous. The label hit the market the following year with both vertically and laterally-recorded discs, the latter made possible since Victor's patent on the technology had just expired. They were intended to be competition for the premium labels at a price of $1.00 but their A&R, studio equipment and quality of manufacture proved to be out of that league. Even the small-grooved verticals with two selections on one side didn't sell well and were soon phased out as laterals came to dominate.

Grey Gull was re-branded as a dime-store label in 1922 and sold well for the rest of the 1920s despite those continued shortcomings. Its studio was shut down and masters were leased from other second-tier record companies for the next few years. The Scranton Button Company was contracted to handle its pressing operations. Scranton also pressed for Emerson and several other labels at that time. Yet, Grey Gull also started up some labels of its own like Radiex, Van Dyke and Madison. Grey Gull discs wholesaled for 11 to anyone who could simply place a minimum order and dealers were free to set their own prices, usually 20-25. Prices were also kept down by using in-house staff song compositions on one side of the record so royalties would only have to be paid to outside music publishers for the other side. Studio musicians like Arthur Fields and John Ryan filled the catalog with few big names to be found. Rarely would someone like Clarence Williams or Gene Autry show up in the listings. Some future stars like Tommy Dorsey also appeared as sidemen, unmentioned at the time of course. Even then pseudonyms were often used, "Mr. X" being quite an uncreative example. This all made them the cheapest records for sale on the market. Shaw also introduced rack jobbing to the industry, where racks featuring the newest releases would be set up next to newsstands, drug stores and other businesses. Representatives then stopped by occasionally to restock and settle accounts with the business owners.

Grey Gull opened a new studio with an electrical recording system in New York in 1926. The equipment wasn't leased from industry leaders like General Electric or Western Electric but was either homemade or provided by a party not much more an expert than that. The resulting sound was distorted and over-modulated by an impressive measure, especially the vocals. Grey Gull's acoustical recordings could even sound better. The shellac used to make the records also remained very poor with lots of grit in the material and much of the music would get lost in the resulting surface noise and quick wear. Combined with the lack of big-name talent and the coming Great Depression, the company closed down in 1930 but some of its material continued to appear on related labels for a year or so. Today, information on studio sessions remains scant so recording dates and other data are often lacking.

Encoded Speed: 192 Kbps

Acoustical Recordings

Pick Me Up and Lay Me Down (In Dear Old Dixieland) (vocal by Arthur Hall) Some Sunny Day
Yerkes S. S. Flotilla Orchestra Yerkes S. S. Flotilla Orchestra
Grey Gull 1104-A Grey Gull 1104-B
Matrix# 581 A-1- Matrix# 582 B-3-2
April 1922 April 1922
New York, New York New York, New York

Electrical Recordings

Dawn of Tomorrow Let Us Love Over Again
Colin O'More Westell Gordon
Grey Gull 2352-A Grey Gull 2352-B
Matrix# 2529A Matrix# 2533C (mislabeled)
ca. 1927 July 1927
New York, New York New York, New York
Note: Rough start. Worn. Note: Worn.

I Wanna Sail Away With You Button Up Your Overcoat
John Ryan Betty Brown
Grey Gull 2471-A Grey Gull 2471-B
Matrix# 3368A Matrix# 3377C
February 1929 February 1929
New York, New York New York, New York
Note: Rough start.

In The Baggage Coach Ahead Under Some Old Apple Tree
Arthur Fields John Ryan
Grey Gull 4090-A Grey Gull 4090-B
Matrix# 2738A Matrix# 2370B
late 1920s January 1928
New York, New York New York, New York
Note: Stripped groove at start. Very worn. Last note still ringing when recording ends. Note: Abrupt start. Very worn. Shrill vocal. Last note still ringing when recording ends.

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