After posting my Vess Ossman playlist I came across a star recording over on archive.org that I didn’t know about — a 1907 banjo version of Scott Joplin‘s 1899 piece
Maple Leaf Rag, which would be almost the only currently recognizeable song in Ossman’s recorded works. (The other recognizeable works are the highly lame “William Tell Overture” and “Yankee Doodle”):
(1907) Vess Ossman – Maple Leaf Rag
According to Tangleweed, the blog where I found the song:
Only two of Joplin’s rags were recorded commercially during his lifetime, and the first piano recording of his most famous composition, Maple Leaf Rag, was not made until 1923, six years after his death.
More typical is this arrangement by banjo virtuoso Vess Ossman. The ubiquity of the banjo and relative scarcity of the piano in early recorded music has more to do with the limitations of early mechanical recording technology than with the popularity of the instruments. The volume and focused, directional sound of the banjo, combined with its lack of sustain, made it ideal for early mechanical recordings. Instruments like the piano and violin, however, tended to sound weak and warbly.