The early recordings of the Cape Breton Fiddler were on the old 78rpm recording labels like Columbia, Decca, and later Rodeo, Banff, and most notably Celtic. Some of the fiddlers who eventually became significant "tradition bearers" traveled by train to distant cities where the recording studios at the time were located. For example, Angus Chisholm, Angus Allan Gillis and Dan J. Campbell - revered fiddlers to the present day - were among those featured on the early 78's as the recordings became known. This trio traveled from Cape Breton to Montreal in 1934 to record music for several 78's, which featured some great old time Cape Breton traditional tunes. Among the classics were the "Old Time Wedding Reels" medley recorded by Dan J. Campbell and Angus Allan Gillis. This medley continues to be played by many Cape Breton Fiddlers today exactly as it was arranged and recorded by those fiddlers in 1934. When first invented, gramophones were expensive and only the wealthy could afford them. However, by the early 1920s, the machines were more affordable and phonograph recordings were making their way in to the homes of thousands throughout North America. By the late 1920s, according to Ian MacKinnon, “the Cape Breton fiddler began his involvement as a producer of music for the recording industry.” Record companies in the northeastern United States were the first companies to release recordings of Cape Breton fiddle music. Columbia in New York, for example, released recordings of the Columbia Scotch Band and the Caledonia Scotch band in their ethnic music series. These bands comprised musicians such as Dan Hughie MacEachern and Charlie MacKinnon who were then living in the northeastern United States. At this time, Cape Breton fiddle music was viewed by Columbia as “Scottish music.” Another Cape Breton fiddler, Colin Boyd, however, was grouped with Columbia’s Irish music series. He released three 78 rpm discs for Columbia in the late 1920s. Another company, Decca was founded in 1934 and released thirty-three recordings in their Scottish series including 78s by Cape Breton fiddlers such as: “Alcide Aucoin, Colin Boyd, Dan J. Campbell, Angus Chisholm, Alick Gillis, Angus Allan Gillis and Hugh A. MacDonald.” Clearly we need more research done on these early recordings of Cape Breton music and on some of these early groups of Cape Breton musicians such as the Columbia Scotch band and Alick Gillis and the Inverness Serenaders.”
Subsequently, throughout the 1940's and 1950's other noted fiddlers who recorded on the early 78 format included Donald MacLellan, Joe MacLean, Dan R. MacDonald, Little Jack MacDonald, Johnny Archie MacDonald, Dan Joe MacInnis, Winston "Scotty" Fitzgerald and Bill Lamey. Their music continues to set a standard which aspiring fiddlers of the present day try to emulate. These early recording sessions resulted in a large collection of popular records which were available at select stores in different parts of Canada. A quick review of Ian MacKinnon's work would suggest that possibly as many as 80 recording sessions took place, resulting in thousands of records being produced and widely distributed for sale. Many credit these recordings as an important source of transmitting the music among those especially at home in Cape Breton who would want to learn to play the fiddle, Cape Breton style. Several stories and anecdotes of these recording sessions are well documented in the research by Allister MacGillivary in his publication "The Cape Breton Fiddler" (1979)-(1981).
The fiddlers did not expect a large monetary return for their labour. Some air-time over local radio stations in the region, most notably CJFX (Antigonish) and CJCB (Sydney), would be a mark of recognition for their efforts. It was not expected that all the local households would necessarily collect these recordings as only a few of the homes were equipped with phonographs to play the music. But there would be some interest among several thousand people in cities like Boston and Detroit to purchase these recordings as they were heavily populated with native Cape Bretoners who were in a better position to acquire the records for entertainment and enjoy this tangible link with the homeland they had left behind.
As well, the Cape Breton fiddle recordings would receive air-play from radio stations out of Boston which at certain times of the evening could actually be picked up in different parts on the Maritimes, including Antigonish and parts of Cape Breton. These early American programs featuring Celtic music would place a heavy emphasis on Cape Breton fiddle recordings as well as those by artists like Ireland's Michael Coleman: his blend of jigs and reels were so popular in Cape Breton that certain variations of Cape Breton fiddle music have consequently acquired "an Irish taste". To a large extent, because of these early recordings, the music and the Cape Breton fiddlers would become "household" names beyond Cape Breton Island.