Universal music fire

Masters from Decca, Chess and loads of other labels lost.

Among the incinerated Decca masters were recordings by titanic figures in American music: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland. The tape masters for Billie Holiday’s Decca catalog were most likely lost in total. The Decca masters also included recordings by such greats as Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and Patsy Cline.

The fire most likely claimed most of Chuck Berry’s Chess masters and multitrack masters, a body of work that constitutes Berry’s greatest recordings. The destroyed Chess masters encompassed nearly everything else recorded for the label and its subsidiaries, including most of the Chess output of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Little Walter. Also very likely lost were master tapes of the first commercially released material by Aretha Franklin, recorded when she was a young teenager performing in the church services of her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, who made dozens of albums for Chess and its sublabels.

Virtually all of Buddy Holly’s masters were lost in the fire. Most of John Coltrane’s Impulse masters were lost, as were masters for treasured Impulse releases by Ellington, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and other jazz greats. Also apparently destroyed were the masters for dozens of canonical hit singles, including Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88,” Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley/I’m A Man,” Etta James’s “At Last,” the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” and the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”


Christ. I actually had to give up in the opening paragraphs because fucking hell.

You just have to press “show full article”


Honestly though, it makes me feel a bit sick to think of all the various irreplaceable things being destroyed. Just a general thing for me when it happens.

For me this is weirdly comforting (assuming nobody was hurt), all things have their time and then they are gone

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Great article (and has made me late for work) - thanks for sharing.

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Someone went to a lot of effort to destroy those Sting tapes.

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Just the loss of the Impulse John Coltrane masters would be tragedy enough in itself - as last year’s reissue revealed he was recording all of the time in the 60s and only a tiny fraction of that material was released. The music on Both Directions at Once was amazing.

Christ, so there were some really significant masters lost. I saw the headline on the BBC and didn’t think much of it:

But then it was written by Mark Savage…

How about dat.