Volume One Special Coverage: Pulling Together While Staying Apart

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Wisconsin Chair Company: Home of the Blues

Jasmine Ferrell

A 78rpm record pressed by Paramount. Image.
A 78rpm record pressed in 1930 by Paramount. Highly collectible, this particular record from Blues artist Tommy Johnson was sold for $37,100 on eBay in 2013.

If there’s one thing Wisconsin chair companies are good at, it’s making chairs. If there’s another, it’s defining the history of American music. Yes folks, it's true – without the Wisconsin Chair Company (of Grafton) our global culture of music might not sound like it does today. Feel free to sit in a chair as you let that soak in.

Paramount Records (ring a bell?) began as a side project of the Wisconsin Chair Company, and initially was created out of necessity. After all, everyone needed something to play on their fine phonographs purchased at said company. As an interview recently posted to Collectors Weekly explains ...

Paramount is this incredible label that was born from a company called the Wisconsin Chair Company, which was making chairs, obviously. The company had started building phonograph cabinets to contain turntables, which they also were licensing. And they developed, like many furniture companies, an arm that was a record label so that they could make records to sell with the cabinets. This was before a time in which record stores existed. People bought their records at the furniture store, because they were things you needed to make your furniture work.

Small scale as it was, Paramount soon became a top notch source for “race records” in the late 1920s. Shipping artists up from the south (who couldn't command a high price for their music), Paramount’s scouts happened across some of the most influential talent in the Blues genre. Ever heard of Skip James? They recorded him. What about Blind Lemon Jefferson? They recorded him too. Let’s just say, if they were great blues artists, they recorded with Paramount. I mean, with an incentive like a trip to Wisconsin, how could anybody say no to their business offer?

Modern vinyl enthusiasts now revere these (78 rpm) records as the crown jewel of any Blues collection. Unfortunately, Paramount didn’t splurge on their materials and not many records have survived, and many of those that did have the added ambient effect of surface noise. So for those who like the Blues, and those who like a challenge, grab your whip and fedora and hunt after some of Wisconsin’s own.

Lasker Jewelers
Lasker Jewelers

Pulling Together Partners

The following organizations are currently supporting Volume One’s work in the community during the pandemic:

Lasker Jewelers

L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, Eau Claire

Downtown Eau Claire Inc DECI

University of Wisconsin Eau Claire

Pablo Group

Wisconsin Independent Network

Middle West Management

Bon Iver

Royal Credit Union

Silver Spring

Evergreen Surgical

Charter Bank

Chippewa Valley Technical College

The Murty Henriksen Family

The Larry and Marie Past Family

The Dan and Kerry Kincaid Family

Anton and Rae Schilling-Smets

Brady and Jeanne Foust

If your organization is interested in supporting Volume One during this difficult time, nick@volumeone.orgcontact us.