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What do you do when you’ve got thousands of rarely seen ads for blues records?
Well, if you’re John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records, you create calendars featuring the ads so other fans of the blues can enjoy them, too. He’s been doing just that since 2004.
“My greatest joy is being able to share this artwork and images with people, to see what great lengths people went to advertise these back then,” Tefteller said.
He considers the annual Blues Images calendar a labor of love. The “labor” part of the equation is a nine-month process during which Tefteller selects the artwork; tracks down the songs; compiles the companion CD; researches and writes artist biographies and checks facts.
“It’s all actually fun,” he said. “It’s a little difficult deciding what to do to give people a balanced CD and balanced calendar, so it’s not all Charley Patton, who is one of my favorites.”
While Tefteller restricts himself to just one Charley Patton song per calendar, he likes to indulge himself and other fans by providing bonus tracks on each year’s CD. Typically, those tracks are songs for which no ads have been found, or they may be alternate takes or test pressings.
“There’s something special about them that gives people an added ‘bam’ at the end,” he said. “It basically creates an irresistible package for anybody that’s into the blues.”
How a song gets featured in the calendar comes down to a series of judgment calls.
“I tend to pick tracks that I think are historically important and entertaining at the same time,” he said. “I also throw in some things that are very rare or have particularly good artwork, because there’s some really stunning graphic art for some of these blues songs, but the songs themselves are not that stunning.”
That was the case for the 2011 calendar, when he chose to include an ad for Jabo Williams’ “Ko Ko Mo Blues.” Tefteller couldn’t resist featuring the image, so he decided to include the recording on the CD — even though he finds it to be barely listenable — because Williams’ recordings are impossibly hard to find.
“What you can hear of it is his piano playing; the lyrics are indecipherable, and the voice is distorted, but the piano playing comes shining through, despite all the noise and sludge from a battered record,” he said.
Tefteller hopes the song’s inclusion may help to turn up a better-quality copy of the record than the two known versions, both of which are battered.
Things have come a long way from the first calendar, which used a full-length photo of Charley Patton discovered in a cache of advertising Tefteller acquired.
“When I first got the initial batch of advertising material that sort of founded this whole company, there were no color advertisements anywhere to be seen,” Tefteller admits. “There were some where they shaded the entire ad in green or pink, but there was no attempt at full color advertising that I was aware of.”
Fast forward a few years. Tefteller gets a call from a guy in Atlanta who says he has something Tefteller has to see the next time he’s in town. On his next trip, Tefteller was stunned by the caller’s find.
“He brought out this gigantic folded color advertisement for one of these blues records, and not only did he have one, he had multiples of them,” Tefteller said. “Totally unbeknownst to me, not only did they do them in black and white, they did them in color, as well.”
Tefteller acquired the ads on the spot and reproduced “Dopehead Blues” by Victoria Spivey for the next cover.
“Once I’d discovered that these things were actually done in color back then, and I’d always suspected they might be,” Tefteller said, “I thought that it might be neat, rather than run a black and white one on the cover, that we could go in and color them digitally and try to make them look like I imagined how they would’ve looked originally.”
Tefteller studied drawings and comic strips of that time period to learn the rules of how color was used back in the days the ads were created. He was thrilled to discover his instincts were right.
Tefteller hasn’t set an expiration date for the calendar project. He says he’ll keep making the calendars as long as people keep buying them. He’s got advertisements for more than 4,000 different records in the Blues Images archives.
“Every time I think I have them all, once or twice a year, other people show up with more,” he said. “Last year, we found a half-dozen more advertisements.”
But, he’s also a realist.
“I’m not going to live long enough at 12 advertisements a year to do calendars for 4,000 advertisements,” Tefteller said. “I’m hoping someone comes forward with an offer to do a gigantic book and box set.” ?
To order Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920s 2011 Calendar send $19.95, plus $6 S&H ($10 if ordering two or more) to Blues Images, P.O. Box 1727, Grants Pass, OR 97528-0200 or call 800-955-1326, fax; 541-467-3523 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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