Music from Gaslight Square Glows With the Energy of a Long-Lost Era

For a good four decades, the album “A Musical Tour of Gaslight Square” was the finest example of the nightlife that blossomed in midtown St. Louis during the late ‘50s and early ’60s. Though a few CD copies of the record were pressed before the eventual passing of the Norman Records label, most listeners have been treated to these sounds via good, old-fashioned albums, many of them scratched or well-grooved over the years.


That album’s long-ago charms have been complemented by “In The Afterglow: Memories of Gaslight Square,” released on the Gaslight Records label this spring. Housed at the retail shop Webster Records, the Gaslight label has offered up a variety of St. Louis musical artifacts since 1998, including releases dedicated to ragtime and the 1904 World’s Fair. The accuracy to detail, the desire to lovingly reflect on the past, the sympathetic artwork and liner notes … those attributes have always been there on Gaslight Records releases, and they’re seen again on “Afterglow.”


The album cover is a near copy of the original “Musical Tour” release and some of the 11 artists – captured on 20 songs here – are veterans of that previous recording. Other artists are represented by newly found tracks that emerged after significant detective work by Dan Warner, owner of both Gaslight Records and Webster Records.


“It took about two years to bring to life,” Warner said. “It was one of the one most exciting eras of St. Louis [history]. And to listen to these recordings, to be a fly on the wall of these recording sessions, was a real treat. I’m 46 and was too young to be a part of that era. One of the good things about this CD is [that it puts] a listener back in that era, maybe giving a chance to be back there if they weren’t able to be. At least six of the tracks here have never been released before. It’s pretty exciting when you can find music like that.


“These were being kept in basements and garages, truly,” Warner continued, “and it took us a year to pull these tapes together because they were with different sources. But I found a few, in particular, that were recorded with Universal Studios in Chicago with Russ David that the fidelity is outstanding. They took hardly any refurbishing. Other tracks, I had the good fortune of holding my thumb against the tape to keep it from wobbling, so we could get a good sound out of it. So it really ran the gamut. The overall production, it’s
really good.”


The family of Norman Records founder/namesake Norman Wienstroer was highly cooperative throughout the project, as were the artists involved, some of whom – like Jeanne Trevor and Bob Kuban – are still mainstays on the local club and festival circuit.


But there were still pleasant surprises all through the process for Warner, who ran across studio takes, live recordings and some spontaneous sessions as well.


“The thing that surprised me the most was Ceil Clayton,” Warner said. “You could hear the banter back and forth with the audience and her. And you could also see the graciousness, how she carried herself with the audience. That told me about the person and the ambiance that you got when you went to Gaslight Square. The chance that you were walking into someone’s living room and they were welcoming you from stage, as a friend. That’s what Gaslight had, these intimate settings, especially in the early years. There were people going three, four, five times a week.


“That was the beauty of it. Every night was a different night. It was a different show, though it was the same musicians,” Warner said. “Another thing that was very unique about Gaslight Square that you don’t see any more are bands playing six nights a week at the same club. Where do you see that in St. Louis? Bands play monthly at clubs, maybe weekly. But they were playing every night. They developed not only a rapport with the audience but with other bandmates. They improvised so well. Jazz is an improvised art anyway. And they got to know how to play consistently together differently, if you will.”


In all, the CD captures the sounds of Kuban, Trevor, Clayton, Singleton Palmer, Quartette Tres Bien, Davey “Nose” Bold, Clea Bradford, Joanne Cameron, Russ David, Muggsy Sprecher and Marty Bronson, who penned some nice liner notes for the disc. All were regulars in the clubs along the intersection of Boyle Avenue and Olive Boulevard.


There are still plenty of tracks left in the proverbial vaults, and Warner has already heard the question asked: “Will there be another disc?”


The answer is a shaded “maybe.”


“I didn’t want to hold back a few good ones,” Warner said of the selection process. “This has all my favorites, the 20 favorites of the 150 that I had to choose from. So there is more than enough for a second volume and it is being considered. There is certainly enough material if the interest is there.”


Currently, “In the Afterglow” is available at Webster Records, online at www.websterrecords.com.