The LJC Definitive Visual Reference Guide to the Riverside Records Label
Significant changes in the label design history based on further research, particularly releases in 1958, when the small label was introduced.
(Last updated: December 15, 2020)
Riverside recordings – crucial performances of Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans Trio, Cannonball Adderley and a host of others – were released in the US on both the Riverside label and Grauer’s alternative, Jazzland label. The Riverside catalog of jazz is a rich heritage: “Records For The Discriminating Listener”.
RIVERSIDE LABEL HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
Between the foundation of the Riverside label in 1953 and its disappearance into the Fantasy Records conglomerate in 1972, these labels trace the evolution of the Riverside catalogue, enabling you to pinpoint the original status of any pressing.
Monk’s masterpiece, RLP 242 Monk’s Music, which includes the intensely moving straight rendition of “Abide With Me” ( what I want played as they shuffle me off!) is found on almost every label variation, though I couldn’t find a large blue/silver without “INC” but I’m sure it’s out there. Plus there are countless European pressings, Japanese, modern audiophile, that’s why you should always read the label. Very few sellers understand the significance of label size and presence of the “INC”, and seem to think “deep groove = original!”.
Here follows the LJC Comprehensive Visual Reference Guide to Riverside pressing identification, which is illustrated with real-world pictures every step of the way. You don’t have to take my word for anything, see for yourself. I have almost none of these US Riversides myself, my copies are almost entirely Interdisk UK pressings, so all the pictures here are scraped off the net, but selected with an informed eye, and retouched by LJC. The quality of label-pictures on the internet ranges from bad to worse, with the occasional gem, so not every release is covered, but particular attention is paid to labelography at changeover points. The variation in the shade of blue is of no significance: blue is highly affected by yellow tungsten room lighting which pulls blue towards cyan, and by incorrect exposure. Riverside are mostly the same colour blue in real life, just not in photographs.
Enjoy, and remember, always read the label (and that cover address)
RIVERSIDE COVER ADDRESS
Three addresses are found at the foot of the back cover, shown chronologically below (updated Feb 21,2018 Dottor Jazz)
If the cover is an “original” matching the record, it should match as regards the presence or absence of “INC” after “Bill Grauer Productions” and the address match the catalogue number as indicated. Print-runs of covers may or may not have matched pressing runs of vinyl so they may not match exactly, for other reasons
There would seem to have been some transitional printing of jacket slicks, which had incorporated company name but the earlier address.
The 235 West address later was set in one long horizontal line
1. RIVERSIDE (1955-6) WHITE LABEL RLP 12-201 to 242
The first early US Riverside RLP 12-200 series label: white label/ pastel grey logo box and twin reels; deep groove; mono:
Photo courtesy of Dottor Jazz
At some point the pastel grey changes to a pastel blue. LJC reader Diego had the good fortune to acquire this lovely example recently, and was kind enough to share it. Great record, Monk solo is an opportunity to hear the orchestra in his head, wonderful.
Photo courtesy of Diego
All the samples found on the net shown below differ slightly (series incomplete, some not found) , even allowing for variation in the photographer’s white balance. There are indications the grey variation is the early catalogue numbers and pastel blue the later in the series. Any record RLP 201 – 242 on blue/ silver label is a second or later pressing.
(click to view full screen)
First Pressing checklist
White label: catalog numbers RLP 12-201 to 242 inclusive
Label logo: two colour variants of twin reels-mic-logo
1) white label/pastel grey logo: 12-201 to 217
2) white label /light blue logo: 12-218 to 242
Deep Groove: always present
Bill Grauer Productions “Inc”: never found, on either cover or label
Cover address, two variants:
1) 418 West 49: 12-201 to 228
2) 553 West 51: 12-229 to 242
2. BLUE/SILVER TEXT TWIN REELS & MIC LABEL (1957-64)
Probably the main cause of Riverside confusion is the fact that the “familiar” and long-running blue label/ silver text “twin reels and mic” label is not quite as “familiar” as people think. It comes in two sizes – 92mm and 100mm – a difference that is not immediately obvious unless you are aware of it and know what to look for. Different size labels were used over a number of years, hence a later re-press will often be found on the “wrong” size label in use at that later date.
One variation, referred to as the “large label” is 100 mm diameter (100mm is the “normal” size of all other record labels) ,the other variation a smaller size label (92mm diameter). The two sizes are illustrated in below, to comparable scale. For ease of recognition, on the small label the deep groove cuts through the mic, and on the 100mm “large” label the pressing die mark is below the mic .
Why the small diameter label? The purpose of the reduced size of label is unclear but may well relate to the Research Craft patent-protected raised vinyl profile design (conically elevated “gruve-guard”) which supposedly protects grooves when records were stacked in an autochanger..
To establish the provenance of a Riverside record, it is necessary to have regard to the catalogue number, which label variation was current on its initial release, the size of the label in front of you, and the presence or otherwise of the abbreviation “INC” after the name Bill Grauer Productions at the foot of the label.
Chronologically, three variations of the blue/silver twin-reels and mic label can be identified as first pressings, as follows:
First variation: RLP 243 – 279 (1957-58) large 100mm blue/silver, no INC;
Second variation: RLP 279 – 333 (1958-60) small 92mm blue/silver, no INC;
Third variation: RLP 334 – 476 (1960-64) large 100mm blue/silver, with “INC” (excluding RLP 339 which is an anomalous second variation)
(Note: there remains uncertainty over the exact transition of label design between First and Second variation, as a number of titles released in 1958 are found with both labels. Promo stamps found on some of the large labels in this series suggest the large label is the earliest pressing)
First variation: RLP 12-243 – 279: large 100mm diameter blue/ silver label,
Always deep groove, which cuts below the microphone in the twin reels logo (instead of through its lower half in the small label) . The label extends fully to the trail-off groove. No “INC” after BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS. The presence or absence of “INC” is the only difference between the first and third variation of the blue/silver label.
Note the serif italic “proper” font (upper and lower case) for the record title, distinguished from the sans-serif capitals for artist and track detail. It doesn’t appear on every title – label printing (and pressing) probably divided between east and west coast plants, different printers made different decisions in type-setting.
Second variation: RLP 279 – 333: small 92mm diameter blue/silver label (1958-60)
Note the 4mm strip of exposed vinyl land in the label area, between the edge of the small label and the trail-off groove area; also the deep groove cuts through the lower half of the microphone logo instead of below.
I hereby put a curse on Ebay sellers who do not include a clear photo of the label, photograph it at an eccentric angle on a turntable, or half tucked into the cover, or shoot the whole vinyl with a blurred tiny centre label – clue, all vinyl looks the same, it is only the label that tells us anything useful, 80% of the photo of vinyl is a wasted opportunity.
Between 262 and 282, records are found with both the early large label (no INC) and the latersmall label. It is likely Riverside were manufactured at several different plants, and possibly out of sync with the new small label design (labels were usually printed printed locally to each pressing plant). There is evidence from promo-stamped records that the large label is the earlier pressing, though with distributed manufacture, both could be “first” .Examples shown below:
The first six titles below are shown with the large label (273-9), thereafter with small label. I think the large label is chronologically the first in these cases (evidence based on promos), but it remains unproven. First pressing Fundamentalists should look closely at the back cover promotion of the artist’s other titles. Titles listed which are later than the current title indicates a later manufactured cover.
Effectively the same as the first variation apart from the incorporation “INC”
The return of the large 100mm blue silver label in 1960 is marked by the appearance for the first time of “INC” as “Bill Grauer Productions Inc”, following the incorporation of the company. It is found on first releases from RLP 12-334 and higher.The presence of “INC” on a blue/ silver label of any title RLP 201 – 334 indicates a later reissue.
There is one anomaly in the “+INC” 334-476 series, RLP 12-339. Whilst the “INC” suffix is well established in production, RLP 339 surfaces in various forms with and without INC:
RLP 339: a window on the world of vinyl manufacture. The differences in fonts and typesetting illustrates disparate manufacturing plants printing labels locally, using different pressing dies at different times.
Beyond this point records are variously deep groove or non-deep groove, according to the pressing plant responsible and the dies in use at that time. The deep groove pressing die was largely phased out of use in the very early ’60s
3. Riverside Pressing Plants
Riverside would appear to have followed the majors in using pressing plants located closer to markets in order to cut distribution costs. Pressing plants appear to have mastered locally from copy tape (run-out etchings and groove width settings differ between issues), with a result that theoretically they may sound different, though that difference would be unlikely something anyone was aware of at the time.
Example: two copies of RLP 226, one pressed by Research Craft L.A. on the west coast, the other by Abbey Manufacturing N.J. for the east coast. The labels are both 92mm small, the recording is the same length, yet the groove cutting and trail-off area are verydifferent sizes, indicating local re-mastering with different pitch settings on the lathe.
Commencing in 1959, as rival labels also began experimenting with stereo, Riverside began to issue stereo editions, starting by reissuing earlier recordings from the RLP 12-200 series, the first being RLP 242 Monk’s Music issued in stereo as S 1102.
The 1100 series was only a selection of the RLP 12-200 catalogue of titles, and around RLP 12-330, in 1960, the stereo catalogue number switches to the 9300 series, which then mimics the RLP number with an added “9” prefix i.e. RLP 330 = RLP 9330. There are a few overlaps at the start, following which the parallel numbering system is maintained through to the end of series RLP 499 which is RLP 9499 Cannonball Adderley Sextet Live in Belgium. More genever!
Black label twin reels/mic 100mm (large) and 92mm diameter (small)
For new releases, the black stereo label appears to follow the rules set out for the blue/silver equivalent, given that many titles were released in both formats at around the same time. Here you see the second blue/ silver variation, the small 92 mm label, paired with its twin stereo release, also small 92 mm label.
Another example, this time the third variation on the blue/silver label – large 100mm diameter, each with INC, a matching pair.
Note that in the course of the 12-200 series, somewhere around RLP 440 (in 1963) the “RLP” catalogue naming convention adapts to the presence of both mono and stereo editions , with new titles issued as either RM XXX (Riverside Mono) or RS 9XXX (Riverside Stereo). RM however appears on a few earlier titles, the RLP designation remains persistent and in use for reissues, and even appears on the early stereo editions. There is probably an explanation, though I am not sure signifies anything of importance.
Stereo was seen as the next big thing – and Riverside’s unique proposition was a response to “hard panning” – the phantom speaker.
The production quality of Riverside’s early stereo engineering is similar to early stereo with many other labels – generally quite primitive with characteristic hard panning left right and centre, quite unlike the silky smooth soundstage achieved by Contemporary (Roy du Nann) and Columbia (Fred Plaut). The main exceptions are Bill Evans Trio and Thelonious Monk solo piano, which positively demand listening in stereo. For the rest, it is more a matter of personal preference.
Fortunately, Riverside did not go the road of pseudo (fake) stereo through channel delays, high and low pass filters and addition of reverb, as will be found on some labels. None to my knowledge are electronically rechanneled for stereo, (but as always with the internet, someone will go the extra mile to prove me wrong. Hey LJC, you’re wrong there…They like to do it)
5. Late flowering (1965-6) Riverside’s Plain Label
In the run up to the sale of Riverside to Orpheum Productions, a new label appears, with a simple text design, without the twin reels & mic traditional logo. It is possible that there were legal issues over the ownership of the logo and these were a “dress rehearsal” for Orpheum.The choice of a narrow serif font for the company name is odd. (Odd design choices can often be traced to one of two sources – the lawyers, or someone’s girlfriend fancies themselves as a “graphic designer”)
Only a few titles appear with this livery, all are stereo, and the label printers type-setting choices between upper and lower case for artist and title appear arbitrary, no discipline or house style.
6.Riverside – Orpheum Productions (1966-8)
Riverside’s catalogue was sold to an investment group in 1966, who proceeded to reissue many important titles, and some new releases, abandoning the twin reels &mic logo and replacing it with a simple text design and the legend “Orpheum Productions” The mono editions adopted the “RM” catalogue designation, and stereo as “RS” and reissues are identified by their original Riverside catalogue number.
6.1 Orpheum Stereo – Blue green , white font
6.2 Blue Green, Silver font. Note the mono catalog number RM on the label but “stereo” in deadwax , “9M” or more likely intended to be “RM” (as per the label) at 2 o’clock; initials “PC”.
6.3 Orpheum Stereo – Blue
Just when you have the Blue-Green figured, along comes a traditional Riverside blue from Orpheum.
Orpheum pressings are sonically very close to original Riverside pressings, probably taken from the same acquired masters and possibly even same pressing plant. A brief flowering of quality not to be overlooked, much as the Blue Note Liberty/ NY pressings.
(Photo courtesy of Gordon)
More Orpheum madness, black label, also courtesy of Gordon. Whilst in record labels black was often used to signify stereo editions, there seems no logic for the colour selection here. Perhaps how the designer was feeling that day?
7 ABC RIVERSIDE
Riverside’s catalogue was leased by the giant ABC Records, owners of the Impulse imprint, before everything was sold on to Fantasy in the early ’70s.
Black / Orange ring mono US (1968-72) “Distributed by ABC Records Inc”
(photo courtesy of Cristian)
ABC/ RIVERSIDE – Stereo – Black/Orange Ring =- Bell Sound pressing
Pressing by Bell Sound, NYC (engineer “sf” – Sam Feldman)
Note the “new” Riverside logo italic script style “R” – mostly these are poor quality reissues from here on, though some are quite accepable. Changing times and nose-diving pressing quality tears the heart out of subsequent Riverside releases. At this point I believe CD offers a more satisfactory listening experience, if you are unable to source an earlier twin reels/mic white or blue label copy.
RIVERSIDE US and GB PATENT ETCHINGs
“These GB/US patents found on some US Riverside pressings were held by one Allan R.Ellsworth. Ellsworth was President of a Los Angeles pressing plant Research Craft Co. It is likely that Research Craft pressed LP’s showing these patent claims”
The Patent: “When the record is used in an automatic record changer or the like wherein the records are stacked one on the other, there is danger of damaging the sound groove areas when relative motion between the records occurs Furthermore, there may be a danger in injuring the record through contact with a turntable.
It is accordingly one object of this invention to provide an improved form of phonograph record to reduce the hazard of damage to the sound groove area For this purpose, use is made of a phonograph record having a sound groove area of reduced thickness, as compared with other portions of the record In this manner, the delicate area of the record is out of contact with surfaces with which the record may contact, reducing the hazard of damage to the sound groove area.”
In summary, reduced record thickness in the groove area combines with “frusto-conical shape” tapering in the run-off area and label area to create a more flexible record with lower cost. Great! Bye bye Deep Groove!
Descriptive Labelography From JazzCollector, Riverside buff, Michel :
“beginning around 240-241-242 : “white label era” : labels are white with clear blue lettering. Some flat edges.
From 242 to around 270-280 (probable overlappings) : “large blue label era” : the original labels are LARGE blue, the deep groove is not always pronounced. Some of them bear a Pat Pending US and GB for export purposes (after that Fontana pressed directly in England) .
From 280 to around 330-335 (probable overlappings): “small blue label era”: the original labels are SMALL.
From 330-335 to the end: “new style large blue label era” : back to the LARGE label, BUT, with a more pronounced and squared deep groove.
On some titles, during the end of this period, deep groove COEXISTS with no deep groove. Means that different stampers where used at the same time. Anyway, when “large blue labels era” titles were later reissued, they have the small label : those reissue are often taken as original, and they are not. And you can also find “small label era” titles, reissued later with new style large labels DG or not. Cover has often a thinner spine.”
8. MODERN RIVERSIDE 1972+
Into the hands of Fantasy Records, Berkley, California, who later introduced the OJC reissue programme – Original Jazz Classics.
White label and grey logo twin reels and mic, reborne. Here follows the featherweight OJC reissues, all the way through to Analogue Productions “Audiophile” issues.
Summary for Audiophiles
I would direct any audiophile back to vintage Riverside pressings. Bill Grauer was a businessman, not an audiophile. Riverside US pressings can be ropey, prone to surface noise even when the vinyl looks clean. It is not an “audiophile-grade” label in the same way as Blue Note, Prestige, Contemporary and Impulse. Early stereo is best avoided, with a preference for mono, and Fantasy/OJC not recommended.
The music on Riverside is historically and musically important (Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, many other), but manufacturing fell hostage to cost-avoiding practices. In those days, perhaps nobody knew. Now, we do.
No bias here, but ’60s UK/European Interdisk Riverside releases, pressed initially by Decca, then later by Philips, can be a more satisfactory alternative to US pressings. Riverside and its fellow label Jazzland are one of the few cases where original US pressings are not preferable.