Back in 1917, the Wisconsin Chair Company formed Paramount Records, whose catalog featured artists such as Louis Armstrong, Ma Rainey, Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henerson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, King Oliver and Ethel Walters—you know, no biggie. Unfortunately, there is no official or complete catalog, so of course, it’s Jack White to the rescue. White has once showed his love of old-school vinyl by teaming up his Third Man Records with John Fahey’s Revenant Records to release a Godzilla-sized archival release, The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-27).
The collection will include 800 songs (we dare you to take that down in one listen), 200 restored ads and images, two informational books on Paramount and its artists, six 180-gram vinyl LPs (all of which contain 87 cuts and come in a hand-crafted oak case) and a USB drive with a music and image app. If that’s got you overwhelmed, then just wait until you get your hands on the 800-song volume two, which is due for release in November of next year. This huge undertaking is Revenant’s first release in a decade.
The Rise and Fall started two years ago when Revenant co-founder Dean Blackwood showed White a timeline of Paramount’s history that he’d been working on. “That was really the revelatory moment, just sort of staring at that timeline on my wall, like, ‘Why hasn’t this story been told?’” Blackwood said.
Even though Revenant and Third Man have undertaken this sort of excavation and preservation project, there will likely still be pieces of the record label’s history missing, simply because of poor management. “It’s funny,” Blackwood said. “You have people whose business it was, like the Library of Congress, to preserve these bits of, in this case, African-American culture, and yet it was a commercial record company, like Paramount, who didn’t give a shit about any of that! They wanted to move a record; they only cared what was selling this week and had no idea of any kind of preservation mentality, unless it was going to be useful to them to repress a record and sell it. They ended up unintentionally being this source for the greatest archive efforts in American arts.”
The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-27) will be released on Oct. 29 on Third Man Records and will get a worldwide release on Nov. 19.