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Re: [ARSCLIST] Sad news about Dick Sudhalter and Decca archive

Tom Fine wrote:
Hi Michael:

I am not satisfied by a couple of message boards and the words of one mastering engineer.

I agree. I've been very perturbed that we have been given so little information.

On that first board you linked, some asked Marty if he knew for a fact that "all the early Decca and Coral master tapes were destroyed." A clear yes or no answer wasn't forthcoming.
He couldn't lay himself open to lawsuits if they might have moved out some truckfulls a few weeks before the fire after the last time he was there.

The music and movie businesses are famous for rumors and myths. I remember how much media lament there was about "priceless" movies lost but then it turns out that a lot (but not all) of what burned up were release prints of old movies, with negatives and other components still safe somewhere else.

I noted that, and the quotes I used indicated the effect the loss of those release prints has on one aspect of the industry, although the films themselves exist in forms other than 35mm positive projection prints.

Perhaps someone on this list has the juice to track down one of the top Universal Music people out there and ask them point-blank -- what of your property was burned up in that fire? I will shake a couple of trees but I may not get any answers.

This is what I have also been calling for over on the 78-L. There are a number of reasons why I think the answers have been so slow. There is a basic lack of expertise within the company. The people inside the company who knew what was actually or potentially there are either dead or retired. Like most companies they are populated with lawyers and bean counters, not entertainment experts, historians, researchers, and those who appreciate these assets for other than what profit they can produce. Most producers and researchers that seem to have used the stuff seem to be from outside the company. There might also be legal liability problems. They have insurance and tax situations to think about. They want to get paid for their loss so they have to prove the loss. On the other hand, these were assets that they don't want to publicly admit they lost. It is an embarassment as well as a possible drag on their reputation and stock value. There is an additional irony here. These are the type of things that almost every company has PURPOSEFULLY destroyed over the years. If the company now claims an asset loss and needs reimbursement for lost assets as well as lost reputation and value, then why does this not become a factor whenever any company purposefully destroys any of their archive assets?

The hints that are coming out lead to the possibility that the things that had the greatest potential for mass sales are what have been duplicated and/or moved. What was left is what WE are interested in. The stuff that is already out there is what they might have saved.

One for-instance of what sounds fishy in these posts is Chess. Universal recently (in this decade) remastered (for the 3rd time in some cases) large chunks of the Chess catalog. That makes me thing that those tapes were not buried in a deep archive along with Bing Crosby B-sides from the 40's, but anything is possible.

See? That's just what I said!
As for the comments about Iron Mountain, that facility is unlikely to catch fire but there are some well known stories of tapes gone missing there. I am not saying it's the fault of Iron Mountain given the slipshod inventory control of some record labels.

Of course some of the "missing" assets occasionally turn up reissued! No bank vault is truly burglar-proof. Even the Mona Lisa had been stolen (this sounds like a song cue. Nat?)

All of this screams for some sort of copyright reform. The big companies are commercial ventures and thus cannot give much funding or care to things they deem of no commercial value. There should be a mechanism where those things can be distributed into the PD, whether or not there is a ridicu-length copyright on them, perhaps in exchange for some sort of asset-writeoff tax break.

YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES!!!!!! Once again, this is what Tim Brooks and Sam Brylawski, among others, have been working towards. Look at Tim's ARSC Copyright Committee info page.

It's also strange that some old Universal Music stuff from MCA would be at that Hollywood location and some of it is already in Germany. There was a concerted effort, at least a few years ago, to consolidate much of the company's archive in Germany.

It's a long way to Tipparary on a long and winding road.

Anyway, I'm not seeing enough confirmation from first-hand sources here to consider it fact that a bunch of music masters were lost. All of us interested in this should keep shaking the trees until the facts come out. I'm surprised Billboard and other music-press outlets haven't done this already.

-- Tom Fine

Actually this was a tree shaking effort itself, the third we have had over on the 78-L. We had some prior reports from our people who had been in the facility about what had been there, but they had no way of knowing what was there on the day of the fire. I'd link to that but that's not on this computer. Maybe some other dual members can link to the earlier 78-L postings. One of the posters in Both Sides Now had a good point that we might not be able to find the extent of the loss until they ask for things while working on a project and are told that it no longer exists. And even then it might turn out that what does "exist" is only in a digital copy form but the original has been lost. Knowing the mentality of some of these companies it might be the digital and safety copies that had been moved to Iron Mt. and/or Germany, leaving behind the originals as fuel for the fire.

Why won't they tell us?????

Mike (not in a fireproof vault myself) Biel mbiel@xxxxxxxxx

----- Original Message ----- From: "Michael Biel" <mbiel@xxxxxxxxx>
To: <ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Friday, September 19, 2008 10:05 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Sad news about Dick Sudhalter and Decca archive

Tom Fine wrote:
Followup on this -- Michael, do you mean the California fire? If so, are you talking about AMERICAN Decca or BRITISH Decca?

American, of course.
Why would British Decca materials be stored at Universal in California?

Why indeed! That's why it didn't even dawn on me to make a distinction!

I can understand American Decca because it was owned by MCA.

And then became Universal Music, which now is separate from the rest of Universal but had not yet removed most of the archive.

Also, Universal Music flacks were swearing up and down that no music stuff was lost in that fire in the days and weeks following the fire.

Yeah, "flacks" is the operative word. There seems to be a mixture of indifference to and ignorance of the past and things that are not of obvious and immediate commercial value. The operative word being "commercial". Mix in embarrassment and worries about stock value. Pay no attention to the rubble behind the curtain.

What is your "confirmation" you speak of below? Not wanting a flame-o-thon, just asking for facts.

-- Tom Fine


The "Marty" is Marty Wekser, identified as "a well-known mastering engineer who frequently works on compilations covering the 50s and 60s for labels such as Varese and Collector's Choice."

A story from the original time of the fire with initial reaction is here.


At that time a rep of Universal -- the film side, not the music side -- announced that nothing was lost that was not also preserved elsewhere. Of course he knew nothing of the music side since that was no longer a part of his company. Now we hear another interpretation of this. While the content might not be lost, the form is. For example, going back to the film side:

"Universal Classics sent out an e-mail notice today [June 2, 1008] to film bookers that nearly 100% of their 35mm. archive prints stored at the studio were destroyed in the fire. These copies were made available to arts organizations and film societies around the world. Will Universal make replacement prints for all these titles, or will they be available only in digital formats (if at all) in the future? Comment by L.B. --- June 2, 2008."

This was explained on 78-L today by William A. Brent: "the prints that were destroyed were the only screeners - and no one is going to
putt the negs out of cold mountain storage and make new prints - its just not worth it."

The films exist, just not in a form that film societies, revival theatres, etc want them in. And who cares about performers forgotten by the masses -- and the employees -- and if the unissued material was all that important, why the hell didn't it get issued in the first place.
Mike Biel mbiel@xxxxxxxxx

----- Original Message ----- From: "Tom Fine" <tflists@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: <ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Friday, September 19, 2008 6:05 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Sad news about Dick Sudhalter and Decca archive

Hi Michael:

Could you provide some details about the Universal archive fire? When and where did this happen? I thought the Decca masters were all consolidated in a climate-controlled and "fire-proof" archive in Germany, associated with Berliner Studios.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- From: "Michael Biel" <mbiel@xxxxxxxxx>
To: <ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Friday, September 19, 2008 3:05 PM
Subject: [ARSCLIST] Sad news about Dick Sudhalter and Decca archive

It is a sad day over at the 78-L and I am not going to cross-post what is over there, but just give you heads-up. Richard Sudhalter passed away last night. And there is now confirmation that the Universal vault fire consumed the entire Decca masters from the 30s thru the 50s. Metal, tape, test pressings, and paper.

There's no justice in the world.

Mike Biel mbiel@xxxxxxxxx

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