History of the Blues Calendar

Paramount record plant in Grafton, Wisconsin

With a few exceptions, the images and photographs used in our calendars have not been seen by the public since they were first created back in the 1920’s. These images are but a small part of a huge stash of promotional material created over 70 years ago to promote the latest record releases of now legendary Blues singers.

This stash of artwork and photographs was first discovered over twenty years ago by two Wisconsin newspaper reporters on a loading dock near some dumpsters, where it all had been placed by the new owners of a newspaper who were clearing out and disposing of old, useless files. Since they were hours from being thrown in those dumpsters and thereby lost to the world forever, the two reporters (who had a casual interest in Blues music) decided to rescue the material from certain destruction. Neither reporter had a single clue as to the significance of their find. Since the images were intriguing and it seemed a waste to see them destroyed, they divided them up and took them home, carefully storing them for the past twenty years.

In 2002, Blues Images™ became aware of their existence and quickly purchased the entire hoard. We will be sharing all of the artwork with the world in the coming years. The calendar you have so kindly purchased is the first of many projects that will showcase these beautiful images. The 2004 Classic Blues Calendar is the first of many projects that will showcase these beautiful images.

Paramount Offices, Port Washington, Wisconsin. Now demolished.

Back in the late 1920’s, the F.W. Boerner Company billed itself as the “World’s Largest Distributor of Race Records.” The Boerner company was headquartered in Port Washington, Wisconsin and its owners were indirectly connected with the legendary Blues and Jazz label called Paramount. It was Fred Boerner and his friends at Paramount who made a huge impact on the world of Blues music by operating a mail order company directed at African American record buyers throughout the USA.

The recordings made and released by Paramount are considered by Blues experts and historians to be representative of the pinnacle in recorded Blues. In the mid-1920’s, Paramount began advertising in the now legendary Chicago Defender, carefully promoting each new Blues release with clever artwork and appropriate hype. The artwork and advertisements were produced in Wisconsin and then sent to Chicago for publication. Apparently, all the printing was done by the local newspaper in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin.

As the Great Depression took its toll, Paramount stopped advertising in the Defender (though they continued to produce artwork and promotional materials they sent directly to record stores) and eventually folded in 1933. The Boerner company continued to limp along until the 1940’s when it finally succumbed.

The photos and promotional artwork remained in the files of the newspaper until that day when the newspaper was sold and the artwork was placed on the loading dock.

In the 1960’s, Dutch Blues researcher and Paramount label collector Max Vreede first discovered some of the advertisements while doing research for his Paramount Records Discography. He found, on microfilm, some ancient issues of the Chicago Defender, which contained some of the artwork. His book (long out of print) reproduced a few of the images for the first time but, coming from old microfilm, they were grainy and blurry. The only way to see them as the original artists intended would be to locate the original artwork, yet no one had any idea how or where to find it — until the two Wisconsin reporters unknowingly did just that.

These newly discovered images are of supreme quality. They have been touched up a bit and even slightly altered for this calendar to make them even more striking. The overall beauty and charm of the original artwork has not been compromised, only strengthened.

The cover photograph of Charley Patton on our 2004 Classic Blues Artwork Calendar was shown here for the very first time anywhere. Everything in the history of Blues music revolves around, or was inspired in part by, Patton. Robert Johnson may be more well-known due to the legends surrounding him, but even Johnson had to be inspired by someone and that someone was Patton.

In the 1960’s, a small, grainy photo of only Patton’s head was found in Georgia by Blues collector Max Tarpley. It was, until now, the only existing photograph of Patton. That photograph has been reproduced worldwide on CD’s, magazine covers and artsy Blues books for the past 40 years. Record collectors and Blues enthusiasts have had reoccurring dreams that somewhere out there a complete, crisp and clear photo existed.

Only recently has this dream became a reality now that a full body shot of Patton with guitar has finally been located. The importance of this photograph cannot be understated. To honor Patton as the “King of The Delta Blues” that he is, this photo has been prominently placed on the front cover, which will bring immediate joy to Blues collectors worldwide!

We understand that some African Americans in today’s society may be offended at some of the images represented here. However, we feel it is important to remember that this artwork was aimed at the African American record buyers of the time. They gladly paid their extremely hard-earned dollars to purchase the 78 rpm records advertised in these images.

These records were not marketed to whites. While the drawings may have a bit of an “Amos ’n’ Andy” look to them, they indeed reflect a period in American history that cannot be denied. They can now be seen as an indicator of the torrent of abuse of the Black man that led to the creation of the art form called The Blues.

We do not know if the artists who created the original drawings used in this calendar were African American or not. We conducted an exhaustive search to find the artists or their descendents, but found no one. Paramount did have an African American talent scout, J. Mayo Williams, but as far as we know, Fred Boerner and the rest of Paramount’s employees were white. It doesn’t really matter because it’s the music that counts!

The Blues has evolved into America’s call letters to the rest of the world.

Presented here are magnificent promotional materials for the music and singers which changed music forever and inspired much of what became Rock & Roll. To further help you understand the significance of the true roots of Rock & Roll, included is a CD of the songs actually depicted in the artwork. Enjoy!

John Tefteller,
World's Rarest Records
Blues Images