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The UMG Fire in 2009 Was Catastrophic for Music History - Updated Listing

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  • The UMG Fire in 2009 Was Catastrophic for Music History - Updated Listing

    The fire at the Universal Studios back lot in 2008 was huge, taking over 24-hours to extinguish. At the time, there was concern about the loss of film and video archives lost to the fire. What no one really knew (and what wasn't really reported on) at the time was the losses related to the history of music. The New York Times as an in-depth article on the fire and the losses that were incurred, such as:
    "There were recordings from dozens of record companies that had been absorbed by Universal over the years, including several of the most important labels of all time. The vault housed tape masters for Decca, the pop, jazz and classical powerhouse; it housed master tapes for the storied blues label Chess; it housed masters for Impulse, the groundbreaking jazz label. The vault held masters for the MCA, ABC, A&M, Geffen and Interscope labels. And it held masters for a host of smaller subsidiary labels. Nearly all of these masters — in some cases, the complete discographies of entire record labels — were wiped out in the fire.

    "Among the incinerated Decca masters were recordings by titanic figures in American music: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland. The tape masters for Billie Holiday’s Decca catalog were most likely lost in total. The Decca masters also included recordings by such greats as Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and Patsy Cline.

    "The fire most likely claimed most of Chuck Berry’s Chess masters and multitrack masters, a body of work that constitutes Berry’s greatest recordings. The destroyed Chess masters encompassed nearly everything else recorded for the label and its subsidiaries, including most of the Chess output of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Little Walter. Also very likely lost were master tapes of the first commercially released material by Aretha Franklin, recorded when she was a young teenager performing in the church services of her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, who made dozens of albums for Chess and its sublabels."

    The full article can be found at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/m...ecordings.html

    Update: List of Artists Whose Masters Were Lost
    There is an update over at Digital Music News that lists the artist that lost master recordings in the fire.

    "It’s impossible to determine what exactly was lost in the fire, though Rosen estimated more than 500,000 different recordings were obliterated. Here’s a list of all of the artists mentioned in the Times article that lost original masters.
    50 Cent
    Al Green
    Al Jolson
    Albert Ayler
    Alice Coltrane
    Aretha Franklin
    Art Blakey
    B.B. King
    Barry White
    Benny Goodman
    Big Mama Thornton
    Bill Haley and His Comets
    Billie Holiday
    Bing Crosby
    Bo Diddley
    Bobby Bland
    Bobby Brown
    Buddy Guy
    Buddy Holly
    Burl Ives
    Burt Bacharach
    Cab Calloway
    Captain Beefheart
    Cat Stevens
    Charles Mingus
    Chuck Berry
    Clara Ward
    Coleman Hawkins
    Count Basie
    Dizzy Gillespie
    Don Henley
    Duke Ellington
    Ella Fitzgerald
    Elton John
    Eric B. and Rakim
    Eric Clapton
    Ernest Tubb
    Etta James
    Fats Domino
    George Jones
    George Strait
    Gladys Knight and the Pips
    Guns N’ Roses
    Howlin’ Wolf
    Iggy Pop
    Ike Turner
    Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats
    Janet Jackson
    Jimmy Buffett
    Joan Baez
    John Coltrane
    John Lee Hooker
    Joni Mitchell
    Judy Garland
    Kitty Wells
    Lefty Frizzell
    Les Paul
    Lionel Hampton
    Little Walter
    Loretta Lynn
    Louis Armstrong
    Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five
    Lynyrd Skynyrd
    Mary J. Blige
    Max Roach
    Merle Haggard
    Muddy Waters
    Neil Diamond
    New Edition
    Nine Inch Nails
    No Doubt
    Ornette Coleman
    Patsy Cline
    Patti LaBelle
    Pharoah Sanders
    Queen Latifah
    Quincy Jones
    Ray Charles
    Rufus and Chaka Khan
    Sammy Davis Jr.
    Sheryl Crow
    Sister Rosetta Tharpe
    Snoop Dogg
    Sonic Youth
    Sonny Rollins
    Sonny and Cher
    Steely Dan
    Steve Earle
    Sun Ra
    The Andrews Sisters
    The Carpenters
    The Eagles
    The Flying Burrito Brothers
    The Four Tops
    The Impressions
    The Ink Spots
    The Kingsmen
    The Mamas and the Papas
    The Mills Brothers
    The Police
    The Roots
    The Weavers
    Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
    Tupac Shakur
    Willie Dixon
    Yoko Ono"
    It was the biggest disaster in the history of the music business — and almost nobody knew. This is the story of the 2008 Universal fire.
    Last edited by Mandolin Picker; 06-13-2019, 03:51 PM.
    The Mandolin Picker

    "Bless your hearts... and all your vital organs" - John Duffy

    "Got time to breath, got time for music!"- Briscoe Darling, Jr.

  • #2
    This just makes me sick...

    All those priceless masters - gone forever.

    I remember that fire - and I remember them saying at the time it was just video copies that were lost - no originals. And zero word - in fact, strong denials - that any audio masters were lost. I can't imagine why they'd keep that a secret. Sure, the bands and engineers are going to be ticked-off (and with good reason - questionable sprinkler systems? They should have had a halon system in place to protect something like that IMO...), but didn't they submit an insurance claim? You'd think the audio masters and the value of them would have to be listed as one of the losses.

    Tape and film both burn readily, and fiercely. Not having it better protected from a fire just makes zero sense.

    Again, this just makes me sick to my stomach to even think about... and angry too.

    "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."
    - George Carlin

    "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."
    - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

    "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."
    - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter


    • #3
      That's horrible news.


      • #4
        I wonder how many of those Masters were transferred digitally? I know Frank Zappa transferred his entire catalog once he learned that tape eventually oxidizes.