How did a Wisconsin chair company, producing records on the cheap and run by men with little knowledge of their audience or the music business, build one of the greatest musical rosters ever assembled under one roof? The answer lies in 'The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records 1917-1932,' an epic, two-volume omnibus of art, words and music housed in a limited-edition, hand-sculpted cabinet-of-wonder, to be jointly released by Jack White's Third Man Records and John Fahey's Revenant Records.
'Volume One,' which covers the label's improbable rise from 1917-1927, will be released exclusively through Third Man on October 29, and worldwide on November 19. The project is co-produced by leading Paramount authority Alex van der Tuuk, and 'Volume 2' will be released in November 2014.
Paramount Records was founded on a modest proposition: produce records as cheaply as possible, recording whatever talent was available. Over its lifetime, the label would become a "race records" powerhouse, its sound and fortunes directly linked to the Great Migration.
By the time Paramount ceased operations in 1932, it had compiled a dizzying array of performers still unrivaled to this day, spanning early jazz titans (Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller), blues masters (Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, Skip James), American divas (Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters), gospel (Norfolk Jubilee Quartette), vaudeville (Papa Charlie Jackson), and the indefinable "other" (Geeshie Wiley, Elvis Thomas). Paramount would also directly influence the style of Robert Crumb and countless other 20th century artists and illustrators, through a series of hand-drawn ads promoting its releases in the pages of the Chicago Defender.
The 'Rise and Fall' wonder-cabinet gives equal status to page-turning narrative and new scholarship; original and newly created graphic art; industrial design; and compelling analog and digital music experiences. 'Volume One' contains the following: