Son of Homer Wanted!
by Uncle Dave Lewis
Homer Rodeheaver (1880-1955) was the single most important figure in sacred music recording in the acoustic era. He wouldn’t have claimed that though; instead, he would have deferred to Henry Burr, whom among his multi-multitudinous recording activity from 1902-1930 made a concerted and detectable effort towards making records for sacred purposes. His 1916 label Angelophone, founded in collaboration with Watch Tower publisher Charles Taze Russell — who died in the middle of the project — was the first American label devoted exclusively to sacred records. However, it was a short-lived and not very successful enterprise; Russell’s death and the entry of America into World War I assured that Angelophone would never advance past its initial slate of 46 releases. Although it only lasted from 1920 to 1926, Homer Rodeheaver’s first Rainbow Records label at least demonstrated some staying power, putting out about 150 issues containing close to 500 master recordings owing to Homer’s habit of replacing sides. While Rainbow stopped issuing new discs in 1926, the Silvertone re-issues kept several titles in print through about 1930, extraordinary, as the Rainbow Records label was overwhelmingly acoustical.
I have already listed the Rainbows that I need and the Specials that I know about which I do not have. This should be a far shorter want list, consisting of Homer Rodeheaver records made for the commercial record companies outside of Gennett, which of course mirrored the offerings on Rainbow.
Homer Rodeheaver began his recording career with Victor in 1913, and his Victors sold far better than records he made for other labels, including Rainbow. One of the reasons he founded Rainbow, however, was the resistance he encountered within Victor to the idea of expanding their sacred offerings beyond the limited area that they seemed interested in. Most of Homer’s acoustical Victor recordings were made by 1917, although the best selling one, Vi 18706 “The Old Rugged Cross” with Virginia Asher, was waxed during an isolated session in 1920. Then, with the introduction of electrical recordings in 1925, Victor called Rody back to remake practically his entire Victor catalog, but they did not press him for new material, which he contributed anyway. In my view, from a performance standpoint, Rody’s electrical Victors represent his personal best. Victor house organist Mark Andrews seemed to have the right feel for the pacing and expression that Homer was seeking, and Homer’s voice was not yet compromised by the slight wobble that it developed later.
Listening to Homer sing in Victor electricals is instructive, as is experiencing his duets with Henry Burr, among the last recordings that Burr made. The hooty and somewhat pretentious sound of Homer’s acoustical efforts fall away and reveal an instrument that is clear, well-bodied and throughly sincere. With Burr, the adenoidal and pinched sound of his acousticals likewise vanishes, but his few electrics reveal a raspy side to his singing that’s a bit of surprise. One may chalk that up to wear on a voice that made more records than any other, but I theorize that to some degree the rasp was always there, and that acoustical recording technology concealed it, smoothed it out. In Homer’s case, his first electrics sound fresher than any of his acoustics, though some Rainbows capture him a little better than average. The reason I pursue this topic with such interest is that I wonder how the acoustical process may have enhanced, or compromised, singers that we only know through acoustical recordings — Caruso, Melba, Tamagno, etc.
Homer’s Victors were his best sellers, and yet the electricals are not as common as his acoustics. Needless to say, I don’t need very many of Homer’s Victors.
Victor 17478 Homer Rodeheaver: Daddy — That Little Chap [of Mine]
Victor 17478 Homer Rodeheaver: To My Son — A Mother’s Love
Victor 19452 Homer Rodeheaver: Christ is All
Victor 19452 Homer Rodeheaver: Trusting Jesus, That is All
Victor 21463 Homer Rodeheaver: You Can Smile
Victor 21463 Homer Rodeheaver: He Keeps On Loving Us Still
Victor 21464 Homer Rodeheaver: There’s a Rainbow Shining Somewhere
Victor 21464 Homer Rodeheaver: Christ of the Cross
Victor 35545 Homer Rodeheaver: When Malindy Sings
Victor 35387 Homer Rodeheaver: The Great Judgment Morning
Victor 35387 Homer Rodeheaver: Mother’s Prayers Have Followed Me
Gramophone (UK) 4-4183: Asher & Rodeheaver: The Old Rugged Cross
Montgomery Ward MW 4350: Asher & Rodeheaver: In the Garden
Victor Canada 11820 Asher & Rodeheaver: In the Garden
Once enshrined at the Victor company, Homer went duly trotting off to Mr. Edison’s concern. And actually, he may as well have started there, as Edison marketed most successfully in rural areas where Homer’s popularity as a performer was greatest. By virtue of his start in late 1914, Homer became one of the last artists to make direct-to-cylinder recordings; after January 1915, the Edison Company elected to dub them from Diamond Discs. I do believe that Homer paid attention to some of the technical aspects of making records at Edison; he seems to have adopted some of their methodology in variable speed cutting on his Rainbow records, as there are 10″ Rainbows that run close to four minutes in length. Although, as at Victor, Homer observed a break from recording at Edison during his Rainbow Records days, he resumed and continued to record until very late in the company’s history.
Unlike the situation with Victor, I have very few of these recordings. I only recently acquired an Amberola which plays the Blue Amberols, and I have yet to score a Diamond Disc machine, though that’s in the plan. You can hear practically all of Homer’s Blue Amberols at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Preservationa and Digitisation project at: http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/ And it’s worth your time; I think Homer’s Edison recordings are quite good, with strong support from professional vocal groups and spirited singing all the way around. Later on, Rody also recorded selections for Edison that he took up nowhere else.
These were issued, in most instances, in multiple takes. I’m not quite ready to deal with that aspect of the Edisons just yet; although the books show that various takes were all “grafted and plated,” it is not known which ones were used.
Edison BA 2349 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: If Your Heart Keeps Right
Edison BA 2350 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: I Walk with the King
Edison BA 2352 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: My Father Watches Over Me
Edison BA 2353 Homer Rodeheaver: The Old-fashioned Faith
Edison BA 2354 Homer Rodeheaver: Somebody Cares
Edison BA 4972 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: The End of the Road
Edison BA 5113 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: I Need You, Jesus
Edison BA 5173 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: Where They Never Say Goodbye
Edison BA 5174 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: Tell Me the Story of Jesus
Edison BA 5483 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: Carry Thy Burden to Jesus
Edison BA 5583 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: Take Up Thy Cross
Edison DD 50229 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: If Your Heart Keeps Right
Edison DD 50229 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: The Old-fashioned Faith
Edison DD 51399 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: Carry Your Cross with a Smile
Edison DD 51399 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: All the Way to Calvary
Edison DD 51461 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: Where They Never Say Goodbye
Edison DD 51461 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: Tell Me the Story of Jesus
Edison DD 51484 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: The End of the Road
Edison DD 51682 Homer Rodeheaver: My Wonderful Dream
Edison DD 51682 Homer Rodeheaver: Goodnight and Good-Morning
Edison DD 51683 Homer Rodeheaver: When the World Forgets
Edison DD 51838 Homer Rodeheaver: Jesus Rose of Sharon
Edison DD 51838 Homer Rodeheaver: An Old-Fashioned Meeting
Edison DD 51889 Homer Rodeheaver: The Church by the Side of the Road
Edison DD 51889 Homer Rodeheaver: Back to the Faith of My Childhood
Edison DD 51926 Homer Rodeheaver: At the End of the Way
Edison DD 51926 Homer Rodeheaver: So Wonderful
Edison DD 51278 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: Carry Thy Burden to Jesus
Edison DD 51278 Homer Rodeheaver: You Can Smile
Edison DD 52187 Homer Rodeheaver & Edison Mixed Quartet: Take Up Thy Cross
Edison DD 52187 Homer Rodeheaver: In the Garden with Jesus
Edison DD 52452 Homer Rodeheaver & Thomas Muir: Where the Gates Swing Outward Never
Edison DD 52452 Homer Rodeheaver & Thomas Muir: The City Unseen
Edison DD 52500 Homer Rodeheaver: Have You a Friend Like That
Edison DD 52500 Homer Rodeheaver: He Whispers His Love to Me
Edison DD 52581 Homer Rodeheaver: God’s Tomorrow
Edison DD 52581 Homer Rodeheaver: Carry On
Edison Needle Cut 11024 Homer Rodeheaver & Thomas Muir: Where the Gates Swing Outward Never
Edison Needle Cut 11024 Homer Rodeheaver & Thomas Muir: The City Unseen
COLUMBIA, OKEH and EMERSON
Apparently dissatisfied with the traction he was getting at Victor, in 1916 Homer connected with Columbia — Victor’s biggest competitor — and began to record the same hits for them that he had already done at Victor. This can’t have endeared him to the dog and phono show, though Victor did continue to record him. Moreover, Homer recorded one of his most important hits, “Brighten the Corner Where You Are,” at Columbia before he took it to Victor. I feel this may have been deliberate; Victor tested Homer’s singing partner Virginia Asher early in 1916 but dragged their feet on recording her, and when they finally did so they rejected nearly everything she sang on, even pulling a planned issue before its release and recombining the Homer-only B-side to something else. Some of Asher’s records finally did appear on Victor years after the fact, and the 1916 Rody-Asher disc of “In the Garden” became the second best selling title that Rodeheaver made at Victor. But clearly there was someone at Victor who did not like her reedy voice and its limited range.
Virginia Asher was a remarkable person; she led a feminist Bible study group that lasted into the early years of the 21st century and did considerable outreach and charity in causes centered on women. She had tried to sing for the Sunday campaigns on her own, but did not go over well; when she harmonized with Homer there something special about the combination that proved irresistible to audiences. Asher ultimately made more records than any singer born in the 1860s except for Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink. And while the couple of 1916 Victors that found ultimate release are her earliest recorded documents, it was at Columbia that she was recorded in some kind of depth for the first time. From reading Homer’s letters you can get a sense of the immense respect he had for Mrs. Asher, and he likely took Victor’s dismissive treatment of her personally.
Anyone who collects acoustical Columbias will attest to their lack of consistency. Some acoustic Columbias sound amazingly lifelike, clear and present, but others — most others — are dim, dull and inconsistent in pitch. Charles A. Prince, who led the band at Columbia since 1901 and was clearly burnt out on recording by the time Homer arrived in 1916, disliked accompanying singers, particularly Bert Williams and Al Jolson. However, through some stroke of fortune, some of Homer’s Columbias are among his best acoustical recordings, particularly A-1990, “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” — it is grand, uptempo and exciting. By comparison the Victor is too slow, and you get the sense that Rody is kind of hating it by the end of the disc. I’m sure that if he’d stayed at Columbia that he would have done most of his standard rep for them, but with the outbreak of war, Rody went to France to entertain troops and did not return to the studios until 1920.
In this context it is also useful to list Homer’s Emersons and Okehs along with the Columbias. As Merle Sprinzen has shown, Columbia had a little share in Victor Emerson’s operation in the years when Rody made his few Emersons. Although Okeh was not yet in Columbia’s stable when Rodeheaver recorded for them, they would be soon after, and he didn’t record much for them; a pity, as his Okehs are exceptionally good. When he rejoined Columbia in the electrical period, his huge re-recording project with Victor was winding down, and Homer mostly recorded material for Columbia that Victor didn’t want; some of that was also recorded for Edison. Mrs. Asher decided to call her recording career over after remaking her key titles for Victor, and it was a rest well earned; she was 56 years old. Homer entered into a new partnership with Doris Doe, a singer who happened to be Mrs. Asher’s daughter in law. While their partnership on commercial records ended with the Columbia contract, private, instantaneous cut recordings of the two exist at the Reneker Museum in Winona Lake; those were made in the 1940s.
I have most of Homer’s Columbias and Okehs, but I could really use some help with the Emersons.
Columbia A2248 Homer Rodeheaver: A Rainbow On the Cloud
Columbia A2248 Homer Rodeheaver: Somebody Cares
Columbia A3359 Asher & Rodeehaver: Heab’n
Columbia A3359 Homer Rodeheaver: Some of These Days
Columbia 705-D Homer Rodeheaver: I Need Jesus
Columbia 705-D Rodeheaver & Doe: Carry Thy Burden to Jesus
Columbia 872-D Homer Rodeheaver: Satisfied There
Columbia 872-D Rodeheaver & Doe: The Unclouded Day
Columbia 873-D Homer Rodeheaver: If Your Heart Keeps Right
Columbia 873-D Homer Rodeheaver: Brighten the Corner Where You Are
Columbia 1101-D Rodeheaver & Doe: In the Dawn of Eternal Day
Columbia 1101-D Rodeheaver & Doe: Dearer Than All
Columbia 2432-D Rodeheaver & Rodeheaver Singers: There’s a Rainbow Shining Somewhere
Columbia 2432-D Rodeheaver & Rodeheaver Singers: You Can Smile
Conqueror 9103 Olive Marshall & Doris Doe: Whispering Hope
Conqueror 9103 Olive Marshall & Doris Doe: Somewhere a Voice is Calling
Emerson 5194 Homer Rodeheaver: Brighten the Corner Where You Are
Emerson 5195 Homer Rodeheaver: A Rainbow On the Cloud
Emerson 5224 Homer Rodeheaver: Since Jesus Came into My Heart
Emerson 5225 Homer Rodeheaver: If Your Heart Keeps Right
Emerson 7191 Homer Rodeheaver: Since Jesus Came into My Heart
Emerson 7191 Homer Rodeheaver: If Your Heart Keeps Right
Okeh 40490 Homer Rodeheaver: My Wonderful Dream
Okeh 40490 Homer Rodeheaver: Goodnight and Goodmorning
Standard A2248 Homer Rodeheaver: A Rainbow On the Cloud
Standard A2248 Homer Rodeheaver: Somebody Cares
Vocalion 02960 Homer Rodeheaver: Satisfied There
Vocalion 02960 Rodeheaver & Doe: The Unclouded Day
Note: Homer’s proper Vocalions are listed below, but this one is an ARC re-issue of the 30s, using a recording made by Columbia.
BRUNSWICK and VOCALION
Homer’s Brunswick and Vocalion recordings are interesting in that many of them were made “out of school,” during the Rainbow period. And some of them, particularly “Life’s Railway to Heaven,” show imaginative arrangements and Homer in excellent voice. Homer’s first Vocalion session was the first he made upon returning from the European theater, and he sounds fresh and ready to go. At the time Homer began to record for Vocalion, they were not yet merged with Brunswick, and indeed, both were relatively new companies. But by the time he made his last Brunswicks, the two had become enjoined. As with Columbia and Edison, he recorded some selections for Brunswick that he undertook nowhere else. I have most of the Brunswicks, but the very last Vocalions are particularly elusive.
Brunswick 3259 Homer Rodeheaver: Mother’s Prayers Have Followed Me
Brunswick 3259 Homer Rodeheaver: Shall We Gather at the River
Brunswick 3260 Homer Rodeheaver: Yield Not to Temptation
Brunswick 3260 Homer Rodeheaver: Throw Out the Lifeline
Supertone 2118 Homer Rodeheaver: Throw Out the Lifeline
Vocalion 14351 Homer Rodeheaver: Brighten the Corner Where You Are
Vocalion 14351 Homer Rodeheaver: I Shall See the King
Vocalion 14627 Homer Rodeheaver: Into the Woods My Master Went
Vocalion 14627 Homer Rodeheaver: A Rainbow On the Cloud
Vocalion 15309 Homer Rodeheaver: Tell Mother I’ll Be There
Vocalion 15309 Homer Rodeheaver: Meet Mother in the Skies
Vocalion 15310 Homer Rodeheaver: When the World Forgets
Vocalion 15310 Homer Rodeheaver: An Evening Prayer
BRIDGEPORT DIE & MACHINE
A real surprise is the little group of recordings Homer made for Bridgeport Die & Machine, a manufacturer of cheap records that didn’t last very long. Rody resisted all of the hill & dale and budget labels, and yet managed to record for this little company about 1923. These records are so obscure that I’m not sure that the four sides I know about were all there was, and chances are these sides were scattered hither and yon among various budget labels. Perhaps you can inform me as to where these sides ultimately landed — I list the two sides that I have on Claxtonola in case you know of alternate issues for the recordings involved. Although all four sides probably appeared on Federal-something, I have no idea of the issue numbers.
Baldwin 1006 Jesus, Blessed Jesus
Baldwin 1006 Drifting
Claxtonola 10111 Brighten the Corner Where You Are
Claxtonola 10111 Carry Your Cross with a Smile
DECCA & THE REST
After 1927, Homer Rodeheaver went from making dozens upon dozens of records a year to making a couple a year, with no records at all in 1930. With his last Victor couplings waxed in 1932, Rody finally took a break from recording. He had submitted his resignation to the Billy Sunday Campaign in 1927, but did not leave until 1929 as Ma Sunday was too afraid to show Rev. Billy the angry, 16-page resignation letter that Rodeheaver wrote. From about 1931, Rodeheaver turned his attention to radio, which proved a very successful medium for him, both as a folksy evangelist and as an opportunity for fundraising. He established the Rodeheaver Boys’ Ranch in Florida, where troubled youths could have the opportunity to right themselves through the experience of working as ranch hands and learning from the Gospel. The RBR mission was a magnet for donations, and still exists today, under another name.
In 1933, Homer made a theatrical film short in Winona Lake entitled “Homer Rodeheaver in Community Singing” in which he leads an unseen chorus in three songs, with lyrics, in an attempt to get movie audiences to sing together. He was 53 years old and looks hale and hearty, but in his voice you can hear a trace of the wobble that would ultimately become an uncontrollable factor in his singing. As his popularity on radio grew, the call came out from his fans for him to start making records again, but he did not respond until 1939 when he signed a contract with Decca. The wobble in his voice was getting pretty pronounced by this time; like the rasp actor Jack Klugman was left with after surviving throat cancer, you can get used to it, and then Homer sounds like any other singer, just an older one. There are some very moving, and well sung, recordings to be found among the late Rainbows he made from 1946-50. But the glorious instrument that made his electrical Victors so extraordinary and exciting was gone, and it was not coming back.
Therefore, the Deccas are a mixed blessing. Homer’s Decca output consists of two 78 rpm album sets, “Gospel Hymns” and “Gospel Hymns No. 2”, and while my dear friend Dr. Michael Biel may disagree with me, these are notable in that they are among the first album sets to be conceived as executed as albums and not compiled from singles. Only one single coupling was made out of the 20 tracks he recorded for Decca, issued in a special “Faith Series” Decca tried out at the end of the 78 era, putting them out ina both 78 and 45 formats. Homer is backed up with stale and disinterested accompaniments and while for the most part Homer acquits himself nobly, he is clearly struggling in some spots. He did undertake some newish material that he had sang principally on radio, some of which he got a second shot at in his last record endeavor, the 1946-50 Rainbow label.
I have all of the Deccas, some in multiples. What I could use is an album book for “Vol. 2,” as I have the discs but no book. I guess I would accept a book with discs in it, and if either album set was issued by Decca as a 10″ or 12″ LP I’d be interested, but I see no evidence that any such issue was ever made. However there are some Homer Rodeheaver odds and ends that I am looking for in addition to the above.
Homer claimed to have made recordings in Japan while he was there on a missionary trip in 1923-24; these would either be on Nitto, Nipponophone or Japanese Columbia; probably the last company, as he had a couple of Japanese Columbias in his personal collection, but they were of traditional Japanese music, and not him. Likely the selections would be the same as the Japanese-language hymns he recorded on Rainbow, “Jesus Loves Me” and “Whiter Than Snow” among them. The Reneker contains a prompt book in which Homer notated phonetic versions of these songs in Japanese which he sang in his personal appearances there.
Very little of Homer’s work on radio is accounted for, and yet he was a constant presence between 1931 and the start of the Second World War. Religious programming is not a premium for those who collect OTR (“Old Time Radio”) and for good reason; it tends to be boring and is not nearly as funny as Fibber McGee and Molly. But I did find one OTR vendor, who had this to offer about ten years ago.
Homer Rodeheaver and his Gospel Singers
This is verbatim from the entry other than the indication that these were fifteen-minute programs. By the time I went back to order them, they were gone. Anyone able to follow up with these, or something similar, please contact me. There are some open reel tapes at the Reneker Museum in Winona Lake of very late shows in which Rodeheaver participated as a guest; I know of nothing else.
Finally, I would like to mention a couple of LPs that Rodeheaver made, and two more that he is on. The era of vinyl was in no way kind to Homer Rodeheaver; while his later Rainbow label did issue 45s, it never issued an album apart from 78 rpm album sets. In the fall of 1955, Paul Mickelson and Tedd Smith rolled through Winona Lake on their way back from the Billy Graham Crusade in Toronto with a portable stereo tape recorder in tow. This was fortuitous, as its use made it possible for Homer Rodeheaver to join a very small fraternity of recording artists who had managed to survive from the days of cylinders to that of stereo recording. However, by this time Homer was in terrible shape; he had suffered a stroke, and on the recordings he sounds old and feeble. I do not have the content list for “Homer Rodeheaver Souvenir Album,” and it may be identical to the other one.
International Sacred 5101 Homer Rodeheaver & Ruth Rodeheaver Thomas: Memories Musical
International Sacred 10081 Homer Rodeheaver Souvenir Album
These were the last recordings made by Homer Rodeheaver, but there’s more! The following is a posthumous issue of an entire documentary feature film soundtrack in which Homer was a participant, and has a lengthy passage:
Word LP W-3267 The Billy Sunday Story
Homer’s segment was shot in 1954, but the film was not completed until 1956 and the mono soundtrack LP appeared on Word in 1964, a full decade after Rodeheaver recorded the material.
And I guess that’s it, though it seems as though there’s always more. And indeed, is it enough?
Uncle Dave Lewis, Lebanon, OH 1-25-2014