Record-Cutting Machine

Shared by: Reed Martin

While visiting Dock one time, he mentioned that he knew of a family in the hills outside Whitesburg, Kentucky, who owned a machine that could cut 78 rpm records. I was quite surprised and asked him for their name. He said, "I remember it as Swartz or something like that. They got folks up to the cabin in the early 1950s and would make 78 records right on the spot." It seemed like a long shot, since it was now 1967, but I started walking the hills around Whitesburg and asking if anyone remembered this family and their record cutting machine.

Eventually I ended up at a run down shack with windows busted out and the door swinging back and forth on its hinges. Over in the corner was THE exact machine Dock had seen 25 years before.

There seemed to be a half-dozen kids running around, but nobody over the age of 18 was to be found. Their last name was something close to Swartz, and they lived up Pert Creek holler and then another holler, and then over a ridge or two, and there I was.

It was an extremely confused situation. Nobody could answer any questions, and nobody seemed to be in charge. Finally, a lady came walking up and didn't particularily want to see me there. She said that in WWll, one of the Swartz boys had been killed. The government sent the family a check for $75. which they spent in Hazard, Kentucky, to buy the record cutting machine. There were a lot of musicians in the family at that time, so they cut a lot of records. I looked around the piles of broken records and found a couple of dozen that were still intact. I put one on the wind-up victrola which was there and played it.

The recording quality was awful and the music was virtually unrecognizable. Lots of yelling and voices drowned out any music that was being played. The lady asked me if I wanted the machine and all the records for $200. I had no money, and the nearest road was ridges and valleys away, so even getting everything out of that cabin would have been a challenge.

So I declined the option to buy everything, thanked her for her stories, and left. I had the feeling that the dwelling would probably collapse soon just from neglect. In 1997, I drove back with my wife, from Maryland to Whitesburg, Kentucky. I wanted to show her some of the places I had explored in that summer of 1967. I tried to find anyone living who remembered the family with the 78 record cutting machine, but found no one. I asked the folks who run June Apple Records in Whitesburg, but they had never run into anyone who knew anything about this "Swartz" family. And so goes another chapter in the history of old time music.

Reed Martin - January 23, 2003

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