Eve Golden / Queen of the Dead – Dan W. Quinn

More Work for the Undertaker

A copy of “More Work for the Undertaker” that was listed for sale at Collectors Frenzy at $137.50.

Dan W. Quinn

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to early recording star Ada Jones; now I want you to meet and hear one of her male contemporaries. “Billy Murray!” I hear you all cry happily. “We love Billy Murray!” Well, of course you do, everyone loves Billy Murray. But today’s subject is the equally delightful Dan W. Quinn, who specialized in pop and humorous songs, and who had a recording career that stretched from 1892 till 1918. Remarkably, he was pretty much a star by 1896, when the Berliner catalog listed an astonishing 60 of his records, according to ace music historian Tim Gracyk.

Quinn was born in San Francisco, probably in 1859, and had a tiny little career in vaudeville before making his first, tentative recordings in 1892, when he would have been about 33. One doesn’t really think of 1890s records as anything more than a technological novelty — like those 1890s Edison films. But even though they were brand-new, recordings were a burgeoning industry in those years. “

I was lucky enough to have a voice and style of singing that were just ‘made’ for recording,” Quinn said late in life. “I don’t know what it was about my voice that made it ‘go,’ as I always sang quietly. There must have been some latent penetrating power.” He had a charming, personality-filled tenor in those “sing into a horn” days; one pictures him with a handlebar moustache, though none appear in the few photos we can find.

Through the 1890s till around 1905—when his career slowed down and he semi-retired — Quinn recorded such delightful and still fondly-remembered classics as “Sweet Rosie O’Grady,” “The Sidewalks of New York,” “Daisy Bell” (better remembered as “A Bicycle Built for Two”), “The Band Played On,” “The Bowery” (“They say such things and they do strange things!”) and “The Cat Came Back.” YouTube also turns up such selections as “Glorious Beer,” “Good Morning, Carrie,” “The Mick Who Threw the Brick,” the darkly hilarious “More Work for the Undertaker” and “The Swellest Thing in Town.” He recorded for numerous firms: Berliner, Columbia, Edison, Victor, all located in New York or New Jersey.

Quinn basically retired—or was pushed out by competition—by around 1906. From then till the late 1910s, he would poke his head back in and do a few recordings, such as the great 1910s novelty songs “Beatrice Fairfax, Tell Me What To Do,” “I Can Dance With Everybody But My Wife” and “If I Knock the ‘L’ Out Of Kelly” (“he will knock the ‘l’ out of me!”).

We don’t really know much about Dan W. Quinn—what kind of a person he was, I mean. The fact that he so jauntily recorded such funny songs makes me think well of him, but of course it is entirely possible he was a complete jerk. Who knows? He had one long (one hopes happy) marriage, and five children, and Tim Gracyk quotes a record executive saying in 1934 that “It’s good to know that he’s comfortably well off. He and Billy Murray are outstanding among the limited number of old-time recording artists who have taken care of their money and become men of prominence and influence in their communities.” Quinn died in 1938, aged about 80-ish.
I leave you with two of Quinn’s happiest numbers: the 1899 “Glorious Beer” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvbGADKa_Gg) and the 1902 “More Work for the Undertaker” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VtHBkV2dew).

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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2 Responses to Eve Golden / Queen of the Dead – Dan W. Quinn

  1. CatM says:

    Did he do Take Me Out to the Ballgame? That’s what popped into my head when I read his name.


    • Eve Golden says:

      You may be thinking of the wonderful singer/songwriter Jack Norworth, who may get his own Queen of the Dead sometime soon.


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