It was August 1929. Black Thursday 24th October on Wall Street was only a couple of weeks away. The industry flourished and the sky seemed to be the limit for the booming technology and the consumerism. Ice cream and popcorn were all over in crowded movie theaters; radios sounded cheerfully and cars filled the streets. The stock exchange boosted and money was enthusiastically lent to buy even more stocks and thus contribute to an over evaluation of the business companies. The (conspicuous) consumption was the king.
In the record business, Paramount Records continued its competition with the new star of the mass media, the radio, and tried also to cope with the shifting tastes of the black public that had turned its ears more to performers as Tampa Red and Leroy Carr. The heydays of Paramount’s greatest star, Blind Lemon Jefferson, were over (he would die in December 1929 in circumstances not yet fully clarified), and William Mayo, the successful talent scout had left the Paramount stable two years earlier.
All means were employed by Paramount to increase the sales figures of the records. Following the talent scouting activities of H. C. Speir, Charley Patton had recorded its first 14 sides for Paramount on June 14th in the Gennett Records studio along the Whitewater River in Richmond, Indiana (the recording studio in Grafton, Wisconsin, was not ready yet). With Charley Patton, the company was taking another risk, since, as previously stated, the musical taste was no longer in favor of the old-style, folk and raw country blues, but tended more to the double-entendre hokum and guitar work of Tampa Red and the smooth interplay of Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell. “Idiosyncratic rural geniuses, which Blind Lemon Jefferson had pioneered only a couple of years earlier” (Elijah Wald, 2002) were no longer in the market.
In order to promote the work of Charley Patton, Paramount used a publicity action printing some 10.000 leaflets on which customers could indicate their guess on who was the artist that performed “Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues” and “Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues” under the cover name of the ‘Masked Marvel’ (Paramount n° 12805). The winner of the contest would win a free record of his choice. It is not known how many winners there were, but there are indications that the sales of the 78 record with the Masked Marvel on its label surpassed the 10.000 copies. Later pressings of “Paramount 12805” credited Charley Patton.
As reported in an earlier post here, it wouldn’t do much good to the survival of Paramount records that stopped recording in 1932 and closed down in 1935.
The “Masked Marvel” however had conquered its place in the history of blues and music in general. The first song the “Masked Marvel” performed before the microphones in the Gennett Recording Studios, “Mississippi Bo Weavil Blues“, deserves more ample attention in a later post since in itself the song and its subject helped to shape the country blues.