the lombardo orchestra circa 1920
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gennett labelGuy's First Recording
The 1924 session
by Christopher Doty

What a difference four months can make in a career.

When the Lombardo orchestra left its hometown of London, Ontario in November of 1923 they had no name, no recordings and no distinctive sound.

By March of the following year they were known as the Royal Canadians, they had waxed four sides for Gennett and their sound was...well, two out of three isn't bad.

Gennett Records, located in Richmond, Indiana was one of the most intriguing labels in American history. While it was never a major recording force, it did debut some of the most influential musicians of the 20th century on to record. The list includes Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke.

In their biography on Beiderbecke, Richard Sudhalter and Philip Evans describe the primitive conditions of the Gennett studio:

"On the back wall, just below the words ' Gennett Records' in old English script, two horns were suspended to pick up the sound. Even getting at them to take a solo...was more often than not an invitation to a catastrophe like tripping over some fellow-bandsman's feet or kicking something over in the process."

"The room was poorly ventilated, and the combination of the steam locomotives puffing by outside and the creaking equipment within, forever going out of adjustment or simply breaking down when cold weather hardened the heavy gear grease in the turntable mechanism, guaranteed that no recording session would go uninterrupted."

Fortunately (if that's the word) the Canadian division of the Starr Piano Company, which owned Gennett, was located in London. It's a good bet that Guy used the connection to crash the company's recording studio on March 10, 1924. The songs included So This Is Venice and Cotton Picker's Ball. None of them amounted to much.

While the Royal Canadians must have been delighted, the recordings did little to further their careers. At the time, the band sounded like every other pop orchestra and the records sold poorly. Guy didn't even bother mentioning the session in his autobiography.

Although the band had a second chance on the Brunswick label two years later, they did not begin recording regularly until 1927 when they were signed by Columbia Records. By then, they had developed their distinctive sound and it was all gravy from that point on.

But the Gennett records did produce an interesting nugget of Canadian trivia. They were the first - and last - Lombardo recordings pressed in Guy's hometown of London. Today, these are the rarest of all his discs.

Click here for more information on Guy's recording career