Restoring Ray Bourbon’s Recorded Legacy: An Update

In the 1990s, when I first began researching Ray’s life and work, I got copies of most of his recordings from various collectors, mostly on cassette tape.  I also dubbed all of his lp recordings to digital.  These were briefly released on cd through a “print on demand” service.  When that service folded, I offered up the recordings at archive.org.

Since then, I wanted to revisit the project.  For over a decade, I worked on collecting and restoring Old Time Radio transcriptions, obtaining a specialized turntable, styli, and software to properly transfer and restore vintage recordings.

Thanks to some devoted collectors, I’ve finally finished work on transferring and restoring practically all of Ray’s recorded works, from his first 78s issued in the 1930s through his last live recorded live performances at the Kansas City Jewel Box and a New Orleans private party in the mid-1960s.

The masters for Ray’s recordings were discarded or lost years ago.  So I had to go back to original pressings of the discs.  Each of Ray’s 78s was transferred direct from disc to digital by either myself or another collector and I newly transferred all of Ray’s UTC lp releases from the best copies available.  In most cases, we had multiple copies of discs to work with – only a few of Ray’s 78 releases are known in single copies – so multiple versions were auditioned before picking the one that has the best sound quality.

Ray’s 78s and some of his lp work were produced before standards for lp records were codified in the late 1950s.  I used re-equalization software to bring out the sound that was originally intended.  Light sound reduction software was used to de-click and de-noise the tracks, while keeping the overall range of the original sound.

Here are some previews of the results – in each of these demonstrations, you’ll hear excerpts from the original versions uploaded at archive.org and the recently completed restorations.  (Note that some of the tracks have had further noise reduction work since these previews were created.)

https://soundcloud.com/randy-a-riddle/bourbon-78s-restoration-demo-july-2019

In the process of gathering the material, we found several new tracks from 78s by Ray that were previously undocumented.  Those have been added to Ray’s online discography.

In all, there’s about ten hours of material – a remarkable and unique record of thirty years of Ray’s work in nightclubs.  For the first time, you can hear multiple versions of some of Ray’s songs and routines, originally recorded in the 1930s or 40s and later reworked in the 1950s and 60s, and material he probably originally performed in vaudeville and get a better sense of how Ray grew and changed as an artist.  With the clarity of the sound, you can hear the subtleties in the performances of Ray and the musicians that accompanied him.

Right now, I’m having people who contributed recordings to the project to double-check my work and look for any tweaks that might be needed to the restorations.  I’m hoping, in the future, I can offer a complete Ray Bourbon collection or “best of” collections on compact disc or digital download.

If you would like to be informed when these restorations are available, or if you are with a record label interested in the project, please contact me.

And, of course, if you have any releases by Ray not documented in the discography, please let me know right away!

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