Piano Rolls Played by Percy Wenrich
by Frank Himpsl (060629 MMDigest)
Wenrich&Straight3.gif (5 kb)

In response to Bob Perry's question about the Percy Wenrich rolls, to my knowledge there were two of them recorded in 1919 for Imperial in Chicago, both being duets with Charley Straight:

  Imperial No. 9792  "How Are You Goin' To Wet Your Whistle?"
  Imperial No. 9782  "By The Camp Fire"

The first tune is a one-step and the second a fox-trot.  Both are Wenrich compositions.

Unfortunately, the Wenrich rolls certainly wouldn't stand out in the crowd.  Neither roll is particularly distinguished in any way; i.e., there are no characteristics in the playing that would differentiate these rolls from any of the many dozens of other four-hand rolls which Imperial issued.  Typical duet couplings were Charley Straight/Roy Bargy, Straight/ Burt Franklin, and Straight/W.H. (William Hartman, an Imperial staff arranger).

The Imperial duet arrangements typically tended towards a generic sound with a heavy marimba melody line, probably intended for "sing-along" rather than to convey the feeling of a live, pianistically stylized performance.  There are examples where an instrumental interlude section is included, but these are far and few between.

It's impossible to know at this point whether Wenrich had anything to do with the playing or arranging of these rolls.  Personally I think it is more likely that Imperial made an agreement with Wenrich for permission to use his name on their rolls of these two numbers.  Both of the tunes were very popular and Wenrich was certainly a prolific and well-known songwriter, so his name as artist on the label might have been considered a selling point.

In any event, as Bob points out these rolls certainly are of historic value considering Wenrich's stature as a songwriter, but musically they are more curiosities rather than examples of how the man might have played the piano.  To my knowledge, Wenrich never recorded either piano or vocals on cylinders or disks.

For the MMD Archive I'm sending MIDI files of both the Percy Wenrich Imperial rolls, as well as label scans and a scan of the stenciled signature of Wenrich and Charley Straight which was stamped on the roll leaders.  The rolls are:

imp9782p.mid (29 kb) Imperial No. 9782  "By The Campfire"  p/b Wenrich and Straight
imp9792p.mid (18 kb) Imperial No. 9792  "How Are You Goin' To Wet Your Whistle"  p/b Wenrich and Straight

This copy of IMP #9792 was issued with a Supertone label pasted over the original Imperial label.  Comparing the box label to that on the leader shows the story.  This particular Supertone label design is the one used by Bennett & White of Newark, NJ, manufacturers of Artempo brand rolls.  For a short period of time around 1919 they were the roll suppliers for Sears Roebuck Co., whose store roll brand was Supertone.  Bennett & White must have aquired a number of Imperial rolls of this particular tune and re-labelled them with their own Supertone label and serial number 1037.  This is the only example I've seen of an early Imperial roll re-labelled as a Supertone.  Later Imperial rolls (ca. 1931-32) were re-labelled as Supertones when the Imperial Industrial Co. became Sears' supplier.

All best,

Frank Himpsl
Valley Forge Music Roll Co.
28 Jun 2006 23:29:28 +1200
1 Jul 2006 22:21:58 EDT

imp9782Label.jpg (130 kb)    imp9792sup1037b.jpg (134 kb)

imp9792sup1037a.jpg (191 kb)

Wenrich&Straight.jpg (140 kb)

7 July 2006