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Mandolin Picker

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

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Posted (edited)

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"


Edited by Mandolin Picker

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This just makes me sick... :(


All those priceless masters - gone forever. :cry:


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. :freak:


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

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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.

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