Musical Family Tree

Spreading Indiana Music

Richmond, IN 1968 Gas Explosion Disaster Ballad

By way of the WFMU blog comes an MP3 of a rare disaster ballad recording called "The Richmond Explosion" (MP3 file, 6.5mb) by Cecil Pigott. It was the A-side of a 7-inch released by the "Silver Star Recording" label. There is no date on the record.

The WFMU post explains:
On Saturday afternoon April 6, 1968 Richmond, Indiana was hammered by a natural gas explosion caused by faulty transmission lines directly beneath the heart of downtown. The extensive damage was then intensified when the resulting fire reached gunpowder stored beneath a sporting goods store, causing a second explosion. Twenty buildings were condemned in the aftermath of the devastation, which took 41 lives and injured over 100 people.

On the 40th anniversary of the tragedy, a documentary film called 1:47 (the time of the first explosion) was released to tell the story of what the town and its citizens experienced that day. Additional documentation and photography of the event can be found in Esther Kellner's book Death In A Sunny Street, published shortly after the events took place. The book is long out of print, but the entire volume has been digitized and can be perused at your convenience

I can find nothing else online about Cecil Pigott, except in an earlier post on the WFMU blog that includes the B-side of this same record, a song about the 1967 Silver Bridge disaster.

I also find little about the "Silver Star Recording" label. I suspect it was a tiny and forgotten regional label, though there's a remote chance it was a later evolution of an early-1900s label called The Silver Star (which I doubt).

Billboard magazine in 1967 did have fleeting mentions of an obscure "Silver Star recording artist" named Mary Madison, who in that year played a concert with Flatt & Scruggs and did a month-long run on a German radio program called "Country Music Time." Ms. Madison also appears to have been forgotten, though I did find one photo of her.

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Comment by mike whybark on January 28, 2010 at 4:27pm
29 fingers and three lousy drums
Comment by Kurt/Yukki on January 27, 2010 at 12:29pm
"I could post an MP3 copy somewheres for ya, if that's of interest."

Yes, please. Thank you!!!
Comment by mike whybark on January 27, 2010 at 3:14am
JB, whip up some more info on Senator Capehart. It is said where the coin-drop industry stands, interesting stories follow.
Comment by Jbarge on January 26, 2010 at 10:04pm
In my job as press clip agent I frequently read the Richmond paper and they would write about the gas explosion or, more rarely, that early jazz label.
I've always thought it odd that the label didn't spark a bigger blues/jazz/rockabilly scene way back when.
No 'Collapse of the Indy 500 Grandstand' ballads?
Finally, I was a bit startled to find out that podunk reactionary Indiana Senator Homer Capehart invented the Jukebox.
From Wikpedia:
Homer Earl Capehart (June 6, 1897–September 3, 1979), American business innovator and politician, was born in Algiers, Indiana, in Pike County.
Business career
Capehart attained fame as the father of the jukebox industry. He worked for the company Holcomb and Hoke, which made record players, until 1928. He started his own company in 1928, and was forced out of the company by investors in 1931. The company folded in 1939. In 1932 Capehart formed a new company called Packard. Packard developed the Simplex mechanism for automatic record changing, and sold the device to Wurlitzer. The entire company was eventually bought by Wurlitzer
Comment by mike whybark on January 26, 2010 at 9:25pm
I heartily advise yer to check out Starr/Gennett - it appears to be where the music came from in Indiana. It was an early blues/jazz recording studio and racked up an amazing number luminaries' early recordings. The catalog appears to be thin on the hillbilly side, but we can still credit it as a place where the mixin' got done.
Comment by Spencer (Shecky) Sundell on January 26, 2010 at 5:22pm
Kurt: Back in '99 or so I made a home-brew compilation called "Miserable Music", consisting of disaster ballads, murder ballads, one or two jingoist and racist songs, and other like stuffs culled from the Library of Congress site. I've got a streaming version (now quite ancient) online here, but I could post an MP3 copy somewheres for ya, if that's of interest.

Jeb: Oh cool, thanks much for tipping Jason. I hope he enjoys it and/or finds out more info.

Re: Starr/Silver Star I wasn't aware of the Starr company, and its a tempting deduction that they're one and the same. The spelling is different, but that coulda been a later evolution, I reckon. On the other hand, seems like there were quite a number of small labels that used some variation of "Silver Star." [shrug]
Comment by Kurt/Yukki on January 19, 2010 at 4:51pm
Yeah, this really hits me where I live, It's interesting that this kind of topical folk disaster ballad was still being written recorded and disseminated as late as 1969. These being the staple of many a recording in the early part of that century. Of course, there are tons of those types of recordings later, say, after Elvis died, but that was a world renowned figure. Something on that scale, in a relatively small city, must have been becoming rare at that point, although the surprising number of recordings relating to the Silver Bridge in your link might lead me to believe otherwise.

Maybe it was the payment of a karmic debt for Charley Patton having sung about the Mississippi Boll Weevil in Richmond in 1929, and recording it there.
>digressionbr />
Comment by Jeb Banner on January 19, 2010 at 10:10am
I sent Jason Yoder- a link and hopefully he can dig up more info.
Comment by Jeb Banner on January 19, 2010 at 10:09am
Great post, thanks for adding it to the site, hopefully we can dig up some more info on it.

Vess and I visited the old Gennett/Starr building on a trip to NYC about 7 years ago, it's a really cool coffee shop now. We were hoping to find some old 78s lying around but no luck! :)
Comment by mike whybark on January 19, 2010 at 12:26am
Richmond was the home of Gennett / Starr, so I'll groundessly speculate it's a local-to-Richmond label.

also, according to wikipedia, "Richmond is home to two of Indiana's three Egyptian mummies." No info on how they came to be there.

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