'Pinned' 65-Note Rolls for 65-note Player Pianos

Some Roll History

From: FHimpsl@aol.com (Frank Himpsl)
Date: Thu, 6 Mar 1997 21:21:47 -0500 (EST)

Subject: Armand Muth and Rudy Erlebach

Hi Robbie, I noted your comment to a letter by Mr. Forcier yesterday, remarking that you felt Armand Muth might have been a pseudonym for Rudy Erlebach. I wanted to clarify that this is absolutely not the case. Here is some information and thoughts on these two very talented roll arrangers.

Armand Muth was a real person, not a pseudonym. He made rolls for only two companies; US Music Roll Co. in Chicago, and Staffnote Music Roll Co. (also known as the Billings Piano Roll Co.) in Milwaukee. His first rolls are on US and date from about 1918-19, including WW1 songs such as "Madelon."

When the Billings Roll Co. was started in the early 20s (by two brothers, if memory serves, one of whom was Robert Billings, a prolific US roll artist), Armand Muth became their principal roll artist. He continued to make most of their rolls (in Milwaukee) until they folded sometime around 1931 or '32. Billings-manufactured rolls were issued on the following labels: Playrite, Staffnote, Hitz, and (rarely) Browne.

Muth is listed in musician union directories of the period as a professional pianist. I believe Mike Montgomery has a Detroit musician's union list which shows him as being active throughout the 30s and later.

Muth is the composer of four original piano pieces of which I am aware, and there may be others. These are particularly interesting in that they were only published on piano roll, not having been printed and sold as sheet music. He seems to have written one for each pop genre! One is a rag, entitled "Keen Kut Ups." Another is a blues entitled "Big Mose Blues." Then there is an unusual oriental-tinge piece entitled "Sacristan." Finally, I know he composed a march tune as well, but the title unfortunately is no longer in my memory banks.

Rudy Erlebach, on the other hand, was New York based and never made rolls for Staffnote. His roll career started probably a few years earlier than Muth, at Aeolian, with all the various labels issued by them, Universal and Melodee being the most common. We know he frequently used the pseudonym of Dorothy Herzog on Universal. I believe that was his wife's maiden name.

Most roll collectors will be familiar with the "Erlebach and Herzog" duets on Universal, which parallel the Max Kortlander QRS 4-hand arrangements which were issued as "Baxter and Kortlander," or "Scott and Watters or "Osborne and Howe." Many of Erlebach's UN arrangements were also coded with expression and sold as Duo-Arts.

By the mid-20s Erlebach also started making rolls for Connorized in NY, but his Aeolian connection continued via Duo-Art issues. There were also a few arrangements for Welte, and these are very good. Erlebach probably used a number of pseudonyms on Connorized, based on the arranging style, but it's difficult to say for sure. Names like Jack Dunstan, Marion Rogers and Sybil Court are likely attributable to Rudy.

At some point around 1927 or '28 the Connorized company became known as Paramount Music Roll Co. Here I have no historical information on the business side, but it's very obvious that the same perforating/stencilling equipment was used as with the mid-20s Connorized rolls; even the same paper, spools and ceramic roll ends. But most importantly, the same artist stayed on: Rudy Erlebach. From having been lucky enough to hear and study hundreds of these Paramount arrangements over the years, I would state without hesitation that they are ALL the work of one man -- Rudy Erlebach.

The Paramount labels often use pseudonyms including Larry Arden (I always thought this was to make roll-buyers think of QRS super-champ Victor Arden), Al Johnson, Bud Earl (obvious Erlebach take-off), Jim Rooney and Lou Penn. They issued several thousand different titles from 1928 to about 1937.

It's hard to believe the company was able to survive so long, with declining interest in player pianos, plus severe competition from Imperial Industrial Co./QRS! After about 1934-35 Paramount stopped putting the artist name on the box label for some reason, but Erlebach was still making the arrangements. Quality of the rolls really headed south towards the end, with poor editing and perforation as well.

Erlebach made a number of rolls for QRS/Imperial in the 1940s through 1960s. These display a different styling than his Paramount arrangements, however, being more of a melding of J. Lawrence Cook and the Frank Milne "cocktail" sound. Nonetheless these are superb arrangements. But we all love Erlebach for his unparalleled syncopation in those wonderful Paramount arrangements. Some like to call it the "Erlebach rock."

Like Armand Muth, Rudy Erlebach also composed several piano pieces which apparently were only issued on roll. I'm aware of two; a raggy blues piece entitled "The Hick-Up Blues," and a raggy one-step-march entitled "Keep 'Em Going." These date from the Universal days, around 1919-20.

So, in conclusion, both these artists were obviously strongly influenced by the jazz and hot dance bands of the 20s, and they both built that kind of "sound" into their arrangements. They each came up with a type of piano roll syncopation which was uniquely theirs. They were both incredibly prolific -- especially Rudy, who is one of the few people who could compete with J. Lawrence Cook in terms of lifetime roll output.

All the Best,
Frank Himpsl

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This page was last revised on March 7, 1997 by John A. Tuttle.

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