A feature in The New York Times Magazine has revealed that the master recordings of nearly 500,000 songs in a Universal Music Group archive from artists spanning the 20th and 21st century were destroyed in a massive fire from 2008.
The fire happened on June 1, 2008 in Universal Studio Hollywood on a set that eventually spread to Building 6197, which was the Universal vault that contained a number of film taps and reels, but it also contained the Universal Music Group’s library of master recordings. The lost tapes represent irreplaceable recordings a who’s who of music icons. NYT Magazine reports that the following labels/artists/song master recordings were among those partially or completely lost in the 2008 fire:
-Decca Records artists Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and Patsy Cline.
-Chess Records artists Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and Little Walter.
-Aretha Franklin’s first commercially released recordings.
-All of Buddy Holly’s master recordings
-Impulse! Records artists John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders.
-Notable early rock R&B hits like Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88,” Bo Diddley’s “Bo Diddley/I’m A Man,” Etta James’s “At Last,” the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” and the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”
As if that loss wasn’t enough, NYT Magazine continued and listed even more artists where “single and album masers takes” were also destroyed in the fire. Those artists included “Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, the Andrews Sisters, the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Clara Ward, Sammy Davis Jr., Les Paul, Fats Domino, Big Mama Thornton, Burl Ives, the Weavers, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Bobby (Blue) Bland, B.B. King, Ike Turner, the Four Tops, Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Joan Baez, Neil Diamond, Sonny and Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Buffett, the Eagles, Don Henley, Aerosmith, Steely Dan, Iggy Pop, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Barry White, Patti LaBelle, Yoko Ono, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Police, Sting, George Strait, Steve Earle, R.E.M., Janet Jackson, Eric B. and Rakim, New Edition, Bobby Brown, Guns N’ Roses, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Hole, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Tupac Shakur, Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots.”
The feature lays out that lack of public knowledge of this extensive loss until now “…represents a triumph of crisis management. In the days following the fire, officials at UMG’s global headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., and in New York scrambled to spin and contain press coverage.”
What may have been a “triumph of crisis management” is actually a horrific and devastating loss of art and history.
Erica Banas is rock/classic rock news blogger that loves the smell of old vinyl in the morning.