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|Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization
Bill Schurk, the Collectors’ Collector and a Sixteen Ton Problem
Do you remember Tennessee Ernie Ford's big hit “Sixteen Tons”: “You load sixteen tons and what
do you get, another day older and deeper in debt.” Bill Schurk had a 16 ton problem as well but
fortunately it did not seem to make him any older. But first, who is Bill Schurk?
Professor William L. Schurk is Sound Recordings Archivist, collector, writer, reference librarian
and administrator at Bowling Green State University in Northwest Ohio. He has memberships in
the American Culture Association and the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) and
serves on the ARSC Blue Ribbon Awards Committee for popular music. Professor Schurk is the
author of numerous articles and books related to popular culture and music According to
Clatanoff (2009), the Archives “. . . is home to the largest academic repository of popular music in
the United States and, possibly, the world”. In fact, there are now over a million recordings, plus a
formidable collection of supporting books, periodicals, discographies and specialized files in the
Archives. (Scroll down to see four more pictures of the Archives.)
Bill started the collection in 1967 and has been a mainstay of the organization to this day. Indeed, it
has been through his efforts that the many, many materials have been acquired through his own
donations and gifts from interested people. Bill is an avid collector of popular music recordings
but he also collects anything related to popular culture. In addition to the BGSU Sound
Recordings Archives, Bill has his own collection of recorded popular music and popular culture
books and artifacts. His “modest” record collection in his home exceeds 30,000 items and is
contained in a specially constructed room addition. Also there are bookcases in every room of his
home with volumes on all topics! Perhaps that’s a story for another time. This article concentrates
on his primary interest in acquiring recordings of popular music and the BGSU Sound Recordings
The Sound Recordings Archives is much more than the collection of dusty old 78s and CDs
(although there are plenty of those there!). According to Bill and a very informative brochure I
picked up when I visited Bill in the library, "The primary purpose of the Sound Recordings
Archives is to collect, preserve, and make accessible the wealth of popular music materials to all
scholars, interested community members, BGSU students and faculty and visiting researchers."
Although most of the materials available to interested persons are recorded, there are other items
such as books, magazines, pictures, posters, and artifacts that relate to America's heritage of
popular music. As you make your way through the maze of rooms, hallways, shelving, and storage
areas, you may get the feeling of visual sensory overload. Practically every square inch of every
wall and doorway is covered with record jackets, posters, autographed photos and the like.
Horizontal areas are not neglected; there are ancient Victrolas, Bakelite radios, old 45rpm record
players, figurines, matchboxes, a bust of Elvis Presley and a Country Music Hall of Fame flyswatter!
There are hundreds of books related to popular music and jazz and many reference books and
discographies, all important to the serious musicologist and researcher as well as to the more casual
musician and jazz fan. The sheet music collection is modest – only about 13,000 items many of
which are original music documenting WW I and WW II songs.
The Sound Recordings Archives depends upon contributions for much of its acquisitions. Two
contributors and facilitators are well known to NE Ohio jazz fans and musicians. Bill Randle, radio
personality in the Cleveland area donated books, phonograph records, and other music artifacts to
the library. (Boettcher and Schurk, 1998) Retired BGSU Journalism professor, Bob Byler, has
provided photographs and jazz videos to the Archives and facilitated the acquisition of many of
cornetist Wild Bill Davison’s papers and recordings. Wild Bill is a native of Defiance, OH.
Sticking with the recorded music, there are thousands of 33 ½ rpm LPs and 45s, 50,000+ CDs, 8-
tracks and cassettes (and the equipment to play them). And the 78s – I’ll get to those in a bit.
All these numbers are certainly impressive but immediately you may ask: “Yes, but how on earth
do you ever find anything?”
The heart of the Archives is the catalog. Most of these materials – books, sheet music, recordings,
etc. – are carefully cataloged and accessible through the library’s regular computer catalog system.
(I say ‘most’ of the materials because, as with any library, there is always a backlog of items waiting
to be cataloged and properly shelved.) Anyone can access the electronic catalog through the BGSU
Libraries Catalog, the OhioLink Catalog and OCLC, an international library database.
I decided to give the electronic catalog a test to see how easy it is to use and to check the
extensiveness of the Archives holdings of songs associated with New Orleans and traditional
Dixieland jazz. Here is how I did it – and you can do it, too if you have access to the internet.
Go to www.bgsu.edu and click on “Libraries” on the main page and then “Music Library & Sound
Recording Archives”. On that page, clicking BGSU Libraries Catalog brings up a very simple and
easy to use search form. (You can go directly to the search form by entering http://maurice.bgsu.
Type in “Muskrat Ramble” and in two seconds you are presented with a list of 259 items, almost all
of them sound recordings and videos, complete with artist, dates, labels, etc. I know “Muskrat
Ramble” is a real ‘war horse’ frequently recorded but I was astonished by the various treatments
and styles. Of course, the jazz musicians you would expect to play the song show up in the list: Kid
Ory, Armstrong, Teagarden, Bechet, Spanier, Wild Bill, Pete Fountain, Bobby Hackett, Al Hirt. But
there are many other artists who covered the tune:
Artists such as Ray Conniff, the McGuire Sisters, Jonah Jones, Canadian Brass, Big Bill Broonzy,
Les Elgart, Guy Lombardo, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Harry Connick, Phil Harris, Chet Atkins
Foreign bands from Belgium, Finland, Japan, Okinawa, Hungary, Greece, Germany, France as well
as Burleske Jeugdharmonie en Big Band from Belgium
Various treatments: Disco, Twist, Progressive, Mambo, organ and bongos, strings
And, of interest to our NE Ohio readers: Bourbon St. 6 at the Factory, distributed by the Retread
Similar results were achieved when I searched for other often played traditional jazz songs and
some not so common ones:
Basin Street Blues: 367 items; Tiger Rag: 372 items; Maple Leaf Rag: 215 items;
Wild Man Blues: 288 items; Washboard Wiggles: 14 items; King Chanticleer: 28 items;
Russian Rag: 22 items; Red Rose Rag: 70 items. I was surprised to see that quite a few songs are
available in video format and can be viewed on VCRs or DVD players.
All of the recorded materials are in the closed stacks: students and researchers are not permitted to
enter the stacks and handle the materials. Rather, there are 20 listening stations in the Archives.
Listeners may request any of thousands of selections to be played on a variety of playback systems
(CDs, LPs, 45s, 78s, cassettes, even 8-track). Staff members retrieve them and play them back for
the individual listener.
It would be nice if the recordings could be made available to anyone on the internet but legal
(copyright) issues are a problem. Also, a huge bottleneck (and expense) would be converting the
millions of tracks into digital format for transmission over the internet.
In case you are wondering about 78 rpm records . . . You may recall that a single 78 rpm shellac
record weighs as much or more than 10 CDs. Bill had collected thousands of 78s and had then
nicely shelved on one side of the library. Rumor (just rumor!) has it that someone noticed the
eight- story library was leaning a bit southward somewhat like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was
determined that the 78s were causing the problem. Subsequently, Bill had to move 16 tons of 78s to
an offsite location strong enough to support such a load!
If you are interested in this archive and the popular culture it represents, it is well worth the trip to
Bowling Green, OH. In the meantime, go to http://www.earlyjas.org and select the Schurk article
in the Personalities section of the web site. There you can see many photos of the archive and this
article. Of course, you can also go to the Sound Recording Archives web site and explore the
Additional information about this fascinating collection is available:
Music Library and Sound Recordings Archives
William T. Jerome Library, 3rd floor
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43403
Boettcher, Bonna J. and Schurk, William L. ( 1998 )”From Games to Grunge: Popular Culture
Research Collections at Bowling Green State University” Notes, Quarterly Journal of the Music
Bowling Green State University. (Undated) Sound Recording Archives (brochure). University
Libraries, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH
Clatanoff, Kit. (2009) One Million and Counting: A Tour through the Sound Recordings Archives
at Bowling Green State University. Academia. http://www.ybp.com/acad/features/0309_recordings.
Other jazz club newsletters and jazz publications are encouraged to reprint articles but should
include the following credit: “Reprinted from the EARLYJAS Rag, Kent, OH.”
Scroll down to see additional photos of the Sound Recording Archives.