Sunday, December 10, 2017

Detailing research and Arthur Pryor

Okay...who did it?

Who's been putting up all the less-than mediocre information on all these early recording stars? A few days ago I went online to dig up a picture of Charles P. Lowe for a friend,and for some reason I stumbled upon this picture:
The nice quality and the fact that it was more of the image than I had seen before caught my eye. But that's not all, the picture led me to a wikipedia page on Issler's orchestra. Okay, I would love to help someone out to get all of the information that I (with help)recently uncovered about Issler, including the basics. I don't want to mess with wikipedia, I find it important to keep independent research on its own, not in a place where it is less-than trusted. Independent researchers have much power, and I intend to keep it that way. However, the only time that I would step in, would be a time like now, since someone took many of my cropped images(from this blog!) and used them to accompany the less-than-mediocre articles on these giants like Len Spencer, Issler, and John Yorke AtLee. I am glad to see some of my research being used out there, but I don't like to see it misinterpreted and not used correctly. 
I promise to stay away from the generic(wikipedia), since that will take me out of this blog, and will frontload too much information to people looking for generic(BUT ACCURATE) information. 
I don't know who you are who did it, but stop taking pictures from here and writing less-than-mediocre articles about the earliest recording stars, and all I have to say is...


Let me handle that subject. I intend to use the research I have conducted, and make it accessible to everyone who is curious, but I don't like to see mediocre articles with my research either debunked or misinterpreted. 
I still think it's important to spread the word about Edward Issler though, since he is still very unknown in the record collecting world. Issler really should be one of the most important figures in the early recording world, and here's why this is evident:

-He was the first studio pianist there ever was(the first studio musician for that matter)
I'm sure the man himself would find it absolutely disgusting and depressing that no one remembers his work, which, at first glance seems an endless list. Of course, it will forever be a shame that Walsh didn't go find him, since Issler lived into the 1940's, and was still working into the 1930's. Though it may be evident that he was probably the most bitter old man, he still would have been the best source ever about the earliest days of early recording. 

-he knew literally everyone
This is the one reason why interviewing these studio musicians(not soloists) would  have been the most interesting and productive troves of information anywhere. Issler particularly knew everyone, since he worked for Edison , North American, U.S., and later Columbia the four earliest companies that were competitors. Luckily, Issler had the luck of working for all of them and essential times in their histories. So with that, he would have stories about everyone from Old man Edison to Fred Hylands to young Ada Jones. Think about it, think about all the people he would have known, in the recording studio and not. 

It's very hard to fathom at this point why Issler is forgotten, as he was all over catalogs, and his name was listed all over the place on actual ledgers. 
Look at that. There he is. Not only is he listed as a SOLO PIANIST but also as the accompanist for his clarinetist Willie Tuson. In this early book of ledgers, Issler is listed on almost every page doing something. This is why Issler is essential to studying the earliest recordings, in no matter what context, his name ought to show up almost anywhere. I hope to get to the point where we all know something about Issler and know how long he lived, since that is still a dead end when looking him up. Issler is still pretty mysterious to me, and I don't particularly know that much about him, though it may seem otherwise. 

We know he lived into the early 1940's, and would have been around 90 when he died, which is spectacular really. We still don't know what his relationship with Columbia was like, or any record company for that matter. 
Now I have a bunch of theories as to why he was kicked out of Columbia, or whatever they did. Of course, he may have been well used to how he was treated in the earliest days at Edison and North American, so when the business became much bigger and was becoming something very different, Issler must not have liked how he was becoming more of a wage slave than an orchestra leader. The way that Columbia treated their artists in the late brown wax era was less than mediocre, and this is very clear when examining the treatment of the studio musicians. He was used to being one of the sole managers of the studio, he was used to having much more power over the recording process. This couldn't have gone over well with the strict Emerson's. 
That is the face of Columbia's evil. 
He looks relatively harmless...Nope. 
I'm sure stubborn old Issler couldn't get along with Emerson. Even if Emerson was Issler's manager at U.S. from 1893 to 1896, Issler probably had enough of Emerson by 1898. His disappointment in Columbia must have been exacerbated by Hylands replacing him, who wasn't at all to the musical level that Issler was. Issler was likely the type similar to Hylands in the way that he was not only stubborn, but also intense and strident when it came to negotiations with booking agents and managers. Of course, under Emerson's rule, that wouldn't bode well. Emerson was stubborn and blunt, as we know from accounts of his former employees. Whatever they did with Issler, his recording stopped around 1899. And I really think more people should know about Issler, even if he's still mysterious and only a shadow of a figure in the history of early recording. 

Now to move to something else. 
recently, I have been digging into Arthur Pryor's rags, and I have come to a conclusion. Pryor should be regarded as one of the classic rag composers, on the same level as someone like Tom Turpin. I know that's saying an awful lot, but we often just think of Pryor on the context of his trombone playing. 
we often think of his amazing abilities that still astound trombonists and brass players today. Such as this record:
All of his solos bring a voice to the trombone that has never been replicated since then. 

There's three of the Sousa band guys, with Pryor at the far right. 
That picture was likely taken in 1893 while they were on their tour at the World's Fair in Chicago. All of them look very young, Pryor would have been 22-23 in that picture. When we look past the pretty face and the blond hair, Pryor was a fantastic Rag-Time composer. 
Underrated is the perfect word to describe his Rag-Time pieces. We need to keep in mind that he had a style that was a mix of the two most essential regional styles of early Rag-Time. In this case, I am referring to Missouri and Indiana style. Missouri is where Pryor came from, so he had the foundation of one of the most important Rag-Tim communities from the start. Later when he had just joined the Sousa band in 1892, he was destined to pick up interesting styles and sounds, and that's exactly what he did. After playing tunes like "Banjo Twang"(the Sousa band is mentioned on the cover of that piece) at the World's Fair, Pryor by the mid-1890's had the right foundation for a great rag composer. This foundation made his Rag style very strange while at the same time very interesting and varied. When we look at his published pieces, we can see they are very different from most of the rags we see out there, and when you get right down to it, his style sounds more like a primitive type of Joplin's style mashed together with Frank P. Banta's style. The thing about his style that is most interesting is how he often put the syncopated rhythm in the bass notes almost as much as in the treble. 
His most outstanding rag can be hard to determine, but my favourites of his are his "Frozen Bill Rag" and "Razzazza Mazzazza". He wrote quite a few more rags, and some of us Rag-Time sheet music collectors are still digging ones up, which is a good sign that there's more to hear of Pryor's musical genius. of course, I haven't said anything about his arrangements yet. That's a whole other thing to delve into, since he was just like Fred Hager, who left hundreds of arrangements without his name on them, but we have outstanding records to learn from. 
Pryor's band was hard to beat in terms of sound and talent, since unlike most of the studio orchestras from 1895 to 1915, I cannot find a single bad take by Pryor, or his band too. They seemed like the indestructible band, and Pryor was lucky to have inherited some of the best possible musicians for his group. 
As I have slowly been becoming obsessed with Pryor, I am trying to decide on a seminar topic for WCRF next year, since the earlier I have an idea the better in this case. With this new found affinity for Pryor has begun manifestation, Pryor is most certainly an option for a seminar. Of course, I will stick to more of what people don't usually focus on with him, his Rags and arrangements. 

Something that we can notice in his trombone playing that corresponds with his rags, is how he had that same kind of smooth but also pushy style that Fred Hylands had, which is a strange connection to make, but makes sense if you think about it. Pryor was on the outside of the recording studio constantly, much like Fred Hager, so we can be assured that Pryor took from his fellow studio bums(that being Banta and Hylands, and even Justin Ring). We are lucky to be able to see what he took from them, as even rags like Banta's "Ragged William" sound like some of Pryor's rags. 
take a listen:
Banta's style was pretty similar to Pryor's, in the way that both their styles were naturally manifested.

what the %$#* does that mean?
(naturally manifested)

In this case it means that both of them had a style that was not strictly taught and fostered by traditional methods. They were naturally drawn to their styles by high musical abilities, like perfect pitch and perfect rhythm. We know Banta had perfect pitch(thanks Dan Quinn!), though we can't say for sure whether Pryor had either of those things, it's at least likely one of them had him. These two studio ramblers were not really that different, it's just that one(Banta) was confined to the studio for more reasons than just being contracted. Banta had the awful curse of being weakly built and having asthma, so there's another(more horrific and depressing) reason Banta seems to many of us like he was chained up to the studios. Pryor was more of a virtuoso of course, and had the Sousa band and his own to manage and go give frequent concerts, unlike Banta who didn't really do too much outside orchestra work(though he did do some). 

Anyway, I could go on and on, it seems my next post is beginning to take shape after comparing Hager with Pryor, and adding Banta in there. really get into some Arthur Pryor if you can, nothing is bad, ever, it's shocking really. 

Hope you enjoyed this! Sorry posts have become out of whack in frequency...

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Getting buried in Jim Walsh Articles Part 1

What a week it's been for discoveries! In the past few days, I have been reading as much as I can at any possible time of those famous articles by Jim Walsh. As being expected of me, I went directly for the much spoken of articles he wrote on Len Spencer and the Spencer family.  When I had the chance to read the Spencer articles, I could barely contain my excitement, since I had heard of these for 10 years, and had always wanted to read them, after seeing little bits of them quoted everywhere, and then I was finally able to. I was immediately sucked in. It became hard to pry me away from the screen that the pages were on, not even the calling of a teacher could get me away from it easily. Of course the Spencer articles have been the most intriguing so far, even though I have started a bunch more of the others. It's honestly very hard to choose where to start, and it's hard to stay in one place when there's so much to read.

This is one of the most overwhelming few days I've ever had in terms of being  buried in information. 

The Spencer articles are what I started with, and they got me glued to them immediately. Its hard to find a place to start among all of this information, also because Walsh was always going back and correcting information that was incorrect from before. 

I began on Monday with the first article that Walsh did on Spencer, which was in 1947. That article was full of strange mistakes, as he was going off of what he had hard from second and third-hand sources, which, as we well know, isn't always the best to do in this field. Walsh wrote in his first article that the Spencer brothers were twins, and a former student of the Spencer Business college wrote the following account of his time there:

Not even the other students could tell Len and Harry apart. They would go to the blackboard and go through a regular drill, making the same strokes together My father...sent me to the college in the hope that I would overcome my unfortunate left-handedness. Mrs. Spencer was also trying to cure Len of this "vicious" habit...In Len's case the desired result was obtained, for he afterwards wrote in the beautiful flowing hand of his family.

Wait a second, did he just say that Len Spencer was naturally a lefty? Hold on, that's amazing.
Being a lefty, I am very proud of this idiosyncrasy. While yes indeed is can sometimes yield itself a curse, but most of the time, it is something to certainly be proud of, as some of the most brilliant minds throughout history were naturally lefties, even though the ideas that surrounded religion wanted to kill this "curse". To be honest, knowing that Spencer was a lefty says an awful lot. We do think differently, lefties, and we're much more scattered, but certainly stranger. Now All I can see when I imagine Spencer writing anything in that beautiful script, is him writing it with his left hand, even though, as we know, he wouldn't have been seen writing with that "wretched" hand. 

While on this binge, I also grabbed hold of all the amazing images that Walsh used to accompany the Spencer articles. The best one of course was one of him just before he began recording for Columbia, if not around the same time. 
(taken around 1888)
What was so shocking to me about this picture(it's now my favourite of him!) was how innocent and harmless he looks. Never would I have thought to see Spencer so sweet and harmless, considering his wild and reckless nature while in his recording career. It's really kind of touching to be able to see Spencer before the vices of the recording business took a toll on him. With that, remember what I dug up in my last post about Spencer, which incidentally, seems to contradict what new information I've learned on him in the past week. Well, as I've gathered from my past writings  on Spencer, anything on him could contradict something else. Again,this is why he remains endlessly interesting. 
Reading these articles on Spencer and his family(from the perspective of his daughters) really has helped me see Len Spencer as more of a human figure, not just some otherworldly hypnotizing voice captured for eternity. To a collector such as I, before reading these articles, I could still only see him as an immortal voice with that wasn't fully human being, and even if I tried to envision such a thing, that was not possible without reading accounts from the only people who could paint him as human--his daughters. Never had I been so enlightened and touched than to read all of the little things that his daughter Ethel recalled from the relatively short time she knew him. She painted him to be a fully-realized human being, who loved his daughters as much as a parent ought to. Here's an adorable section that almost brought me to tears from how sweet it was:
"cousin Ethel" laughed as she recalled Len Spencer's fondness for peanuts. he liked to take the children to the beach at Coney Island in an old-fashioned open streetcar, and would sit on a street facing backwards, eating "goobers" and dropping the shells in the car. Occasionally for Clara, Myrtle and Ethel's amusement, he would toss one into his mouth and swallow it with exaggerated appreciation. 
He later goes on to write more of Ethel's fond memories. 
"on these occasions," Mrs. Yarbray[Ethel] said, "he wore a wide brimmed hat and relaxed. He went out after dark, fighting 'way out beyond the breakers, but coming in refreshed and vigorous. He preferred it that way. He also liked to stand on the porch, with his arms folded, watching a storm and appearing to defy the elements. His brother Harry was exactly opposite. Thunderstorms frightened him horribly. When one came up he would hide in the bathroom with the shades down until it was over."

That whole bunch of stories was preceded by this:

Her[Ethel's] eyes took on a reminiscent glow as she recalled her tired father's nightly homecomings from his work. He would get off a trolley car on the corner of the street opposite that on which the family lived. The little girls weren't allowed to cross the street, but they would run to the corner, attracted by a peculiarly distinctive whistle which their father always gave once he got off the trolley. Then they would be hugged and would happily trot home with the big, handsome father they idolized. cute. 
The first time I read it through I could feel almost the urge to cry. This is exactly why this was so enlightening for me, to be able to put a face to that voice, and not just the one that we see in those pictures, but to be able to understand him better, and only begin to understand how complicated he was. Of course, there was plenty more cute stories, but telling ones as well that we'd sort of expect from Spencer.
Such as this one:
we were living in Washington, when sister Clara was born in 1902, and papa made trips and long stays in New York. I remember mother telling me one time that Clara was three weeks old before before papa even saw her...

Well there ya go, that's to be expected. I had assumed that this sort of thing happened, when considering how busy he was, and how frustrating is is for some us to even track him in public records. Again, we don't know why this is exactly, since he appeared to have stayed near Columbia(at 27th and Broadway) around 1898-1900, and luckily this is addressed in the articles, but we don't really know anything about it as of now. Before I move on to another story, here's a great picture of the family from around 1901.
There's Len, but it seems that his mother is also there. Well, that's nice to see. 
Those girls are just super cute, but they're also really intense. The intensity is clearly taking from their father. Also, I think it's important to note that Sara Spencer's hair was very short. In the article this picture came from, it was stated that she was "the original bobbed hair girl", and this can be made clear by the above picture. She supposedly bobbed her hair around the start of the 1870's. From an engraving I saw of her from 1874-ish, her hair appears to already look like Len's hair from around 1896(haha). It's also good to get an image of that fabled "Liz" that Len married in 1892 then split with, then remarried in 1895. Unfortunately, none of these articles have confirmed why all of that happened, and it's looking likely that we won't ever know. 
Speaking of "Liz", Walsh threw in a very interesting bit about her history, that is something we'd never expect:
Mrs. Yarbray surprised me by revealing that she is partly of Russian descent. Although her mother's family name had been Anglicized to Norris, it was originally Nowicki. Her father was a count in the court of the Czar of Russia. After being exiled, he came to the United States and married and American girl. He retained the Russian spelling until he died, but his daughter and two sons preferred Norris. 

Wow! A royal Russian, how interesting. She does look like she could be a blue-blooded Russian. In the paragraph just above came the most curious, and perhaps the most disturbing line of the entire article:

"Cousin Ethel" said, in remarking, that some of the details of her father's married life were obscure: "It has been over 35 years since I have lived near mother, and she was always reticent about discussing her affairs or papa's life, or anything for that matter. Mother was very quiet and felt that the less was discussed, the better for everyone."

What? Come again? That's a little disturbing. Okay, to be fully honest, when I saw that section a million things went through my head, and I was very rather shocked to read such a thing. 

A silent woman disturbs me...

Particularly in the situation here. Clearly Len was a very interesting guy, always doing something new and ever-curious, but to see that his wife was silent about their married life, and about him can spark all sorts of theories. She lived a long time, and could have been interviewed by Walsh, and I had always wondered why she wasn't interviewed, though now I see that such a thing wouldn't have happened in the first place. I can't, and really shouldn't, go on a rant about what theories I have now about why she was quiet, but there could be signs of impropriety on Len's part, since he was clearly a wild bull and stayed plenty of time away from his family. You are aware that I have stated in the past as a hypothesis that Spencer stayed with Fred Hylands often when he had that publishing firm, and that can at least explain 1899 to early 1900 kinda. But then again, that is only a theory, though it would make sense, since in the 1900 census(where we can't yet find Spencer) Hylands had a guest and his wife as boarders. Other than staying with "bad influence" Hylands, we know that the phonoscope and "guys from work"(fellow Columbians) had a dark and a not-so-serious outlook about what they heard around the studio. Speaking of that, one of the more disturbing sections from the same article regarding their married life read thus:
(this is regarding Spencer's unfortunate first wife, kinda...)
Mrs. Yarbray believes Margaret Agnes Kaiser, whose foster parents were named Allen, is the "Elizabeth Allen" whom old-time Columbia officials["guys from work"] thought Len married in a runaway match, and that the intervening years caused the name to become confused.
That sure does sound like the crude Columbia staff we know and love. I'm not sure what that means exactly, or which of his wives they were referring to(maybe Margaret? whatever...). These sort of stories are similar to the little puns that they would throw in The Phonoscope about Spencer, just like this one:
Gotta love playful alcoholic jokes!
Yes, this is exactly what I mean here. It seems obvious to us as collectors that he had some habit, just from seeing those pictures of him, and thinking of blurbs like the one above. Most of us can come to a consensus that he was an alcoholic, but of course, do we really know that? No. But! we do have subtle jokes like the above blurb to help us see how his friends from work(at U.S. and later Columbia) saw him, and how we can piece him together. Of course, I have tried my best to piece together his darker side, but of course, before I can know all of that, it's good to understand his soft side through the adorable recollections of his daughters. When reading these accounts, we only see that one side, and get little hints of another throughout. Though, after getting lots of time to think over this figure and his family(especially his saintly mother), I am ever more motivated to one day write a book detailing the fantastic life of this monumental human being. Now that I can see him as he truly was, he seems more human when his voice blares from a horn or through various kinds of eartubes. No longer, after reading Walsh's wonderfully insightful and well composed articles on Len Spencer, I see not as much a crook for wages under Master Edward Easton or Victor Emerson, I also see a flawed, but fully realized human being, who raised his daughters to be lovely and intelligent women with fascinating stories that will continue to be told by collectors from generation to generation, as long as Len's voice blares from phonographs and graphophones and anything else. 

Before I end off, here is a picture that really was touching to me to see:
That's baby Len Spencer, taken in December of 1867.
Even before he was a year on this earth, the sense of humor and love for life was already there, long before the innocence was lost and before recording corrupted his soul, but was able to make him save space for his daughters. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Death date and Spencer's relationship with Columbia

well, I'm still here everyone, those fires are far enough away. But you know, it's been a disaster that's really got me depressed and unmotivated to do any work I usually do and and am assigned. The one thing I for some reason have the motivation to do is a blog post. It seems the death date of this weekend is so important to motivate me to write a post. In honor of such dates as always, I wore all black and burnt incense. 
of course, some of you may already know whose death date it is, those of you who follow my Facebook page know this. 
104 years ago today, Fred Hylands died in a suburb of Liverpool in Britain. For some reason he left a pile of obscure sheet music while spending his final weeks in Britain. It seems strange that this is so, but there's a bunch of his music at a library in Britain, and it's either because of his investments there while a publisher with Len Spencer, or he had a bunch of sheets with him on his tour when he died. It will forever be strange to me why a bunch of very rare(some not copyrighted) pieces of his music. 
However that happened, hopefully I will sometime be able to see those sheets. 

Hopefully we all understand the circumstances and sequencing that led up to his death, and I have explained it in many previous blog posts. Of course it's hard for us to really know about all of that that led to his death, but one thing is for sure, he was sickly before he died. 
Here's three images of him in various years to compare, and so you'll see what I mean here: 
Early 1897.
Contrary to what some might assume, Hylands became rather sickly and looked similar to how he did in 1897(kinda). But we know it's obvious that he didn't take care of himself, and it comes through rather well when just looking through the few images we have of him (so far). as expected, some are still shocked to see such the change, or transformation rather, he went through at the beginning of his time at Columbia. i still can't really believe it too well, but that unknown pianist in that 1897 Columbia picture can't be anyone else. Also keep in mind that he was 41 when he died. That's less than ten years older than the age that Banta was when he died. when calculating and analyzing the median age these recording stars died, Hylands was on the low end of the spectrum(the median age seems to be 56). Uunfortunately, it seems he forced himself to live a hard life, even with all the supposed good money coming in from working at Columbia between 1897 and 1903-1904 ish(notice that we are beginning to debate the time he was dropped from Columbia again, this has returned as an item of discussion). By this, I mean that he didn't make his life any easier, he stuck his already injured foot into every snake pit he encountered. He joined in toxic partnerships(like with Len Spencer), and messed with unstable and risky communities and endeavors, this including his job at Columbia. His job at Columbia was risky, even if it was relatively stable the first few years, the Climax/Zon-O-Phone/Victor feud proved a death scare for everyone. After all of that, he toyed with the Socialist community, and that was never proved to be stable, nor was it well-organized. By that, I mean the usual friendly neighborhood socialists, but also the mean and bitter union leaders and crowd. He joined in and helped to better organize the White Rats Actors' Union, since Columbia had been mean to him(they actually joke or pun intended), and his first attempt at becoming socialist failed miserably. He soon rose up the ladder real quick and became a leading member of the White rats, and from 1905 on that's what he pledged his allegiance to. of course being the way he was he couldn't keep all those commitments and was soon breaking rules that he pledged to in the first place. In 1912, he was thrown out for being defiant and disloyal to the rules he helped to create and enforce. Hylands was dragged into court for his defiance, and was forced to testify, as indicated in a few papers I've read on the very trial, it seems that a few members of the union were tried in court that day for similar perpetrations. 
With this trial, Hylands was no longer a "chief rat" as they called him, and he was no longer able to speak at gatherings of the union. And just after then, he joined with Wilbur Held, with whom he performed until his death supposedly caused directly by diabetes. There's probably more that went into his cause of death, since it's obvious that he didn't take care of himself while at Columbia. That directly led to his issues years later, and it can easily be seen, this is not just some wild theory. 

So for the honoring of his death date, I not only wore black, but I also did something else that I will have become a ritual from now on. 
I first got some incense, then wrapped a picture of Hylands with a little note on it around the incense, lit it on fire, let the two things burn, and once it was burnt down, I grasped all the ashes and blew them into the breeze, then out in the world. 
I took pictures in sequence. 
Someone suggested that I do this, and I found it a really sweet and thoughtful way of remembering. From now on, this is going to be my ritual on important death dates. Next month comes Banta's, so that will be another good time to do this, and hopefully I can get my symbolic violet incense for him. 

Rest well Fred. You are not forgotten.

Now to move onward...
Last weekend I got to discuss some interesting matters with Charlie Judkins, and with that, we got into something that I had not previously considered. We discussed the interesting relationship that Len Spencer had with Columbia and U.S., and it appears to be more complicated than most of us might think. 
It's starting to become clear that Spencer was a common face amongst the men in blue all over New York and in Newark. 

Yes indeed.
Many policemen probably knew his face, or had heard his name as a "deadbeat" or something of that type in social terms. 
Now what has this to do with anything? 
well...It seems his relationship with Columbia and U.S. wasn't all peaches and cream(haha, Spencer and Jones pun). We all want to assumed that he was on great terms with Columbia, which is true without a doubt, but there were strange aspects to his relationship with U.S. and Columbia. We know that he began with Columbia in 1888-1889, and soon rose up the ladder from just a local dork with a golden ticket of a surname. He was soon a well-respected money maker for Columbia, even though in 1893, he was forced into some sketchy business with them...
Okay, so it seems that we may have a hypothesis as to why he used that strange pseudonym of "Gary Allen" on early Columbia and U.S. records. He was involved in some patent and law breaking activity with Columbia and U.S., and this can be proven through newspaper digging. In 1894, Spencer was tried in court for doing essentially the same thing he did while at U.S. in 1897(remember a few posts ago when I talked about the "midnight crooks"?), for stealing records from one company and bringing them to the next, and for doing who knows what else... 
tsk tsk Mr. Spencer...
So he was dropped from Columbia almost entirely in that sketchy period from 1893 to 1897, but after pledging to U.S. under Victor Emerson, he made some deal with Columbia under the table, and hence the reason that we get that jarring headline of him getting at last arrested for stealing those records with Georgie and Clyde Emerson. The second time it was the reverse, he was stealing records from U.S. to smuggle to Columbia, rather than stealing records from Columbia and smuggling them to U.S. Now what can we analyze from this? well, after discussing this recently, we can see Emerson(Victor) had those expected intentions with Spencer. He and the Management at Columbia, like Master Edward Easton, thought of Spencer as a so-called(excuse my language) "attention whore", and by this, I mean that Spencer was always wanting attention from the public for his work in the studio, and was pretty cocky about it. Hmm, from all this, we're getting a better image of Spencer for certain. Emerson and Easton as they were all getting Columbia set up in New York were looking for talent to hire with their new fresh start, and who was likely one of their first thoughts--Spencer. Right, he's nair-do-well, how about we get him to do some of our bidding. And so that's exactly as Spencer did, some deal was made, and he with the "lesser" Emerson brothers raided U.S. for the sake of pledging alliance secretly to Emerson at Columbia, though they weren't yet allowed to, since U.S. had not completely decimated at that point. All of this is making Columbia seem even more sleazy and like pirates. Edison called them "pirates" for a reason, and it may or may not be because of Spencer(well, now there's that possibility, so that makes this even more hilarious). 

So to sum up this about Spencer, it seems that Columbia saw him as a privileged deadbeat who could do anything for money and cocky bragging rights, so that's why we see him getting into trouble more than once with both of the companies he worked for before 1897. Now we can see why he used that strange pseudonym too, that's good to have cleared up. Hopefully we get to actually hear records from this fabled era sometime.

Hope you enjoyed this!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Records for Sale with commentary and troubles for the "whistling coon"

Looking at record auction lists can get us down...but at least by doing this we know what's out there. Recently(this past week) I looked through Kurt Nauck's auction list for this month. I was told that there was some unbelievable stuff for sale, and didn't believe that comment until seeing the listing! 
What a group of brown wax for sale!
That was really the most surprising thing I had seen, on page 119 of the list where the brown waxes are for sale. 
You can see the list here:
I just couldn't believe the amazing selection of records under the brown wax category. Starting with Hunting's original "Bureau" sketch? Come on. We all want to hear that one. But 500 dollars for a single record? No. of course not. 
I love these records more than many collectors probably ever have, and personally don't think that 500 dollars is worth two plays of a historic cylinder. If you're a reasonable collector of brown wax, the least you would do once owning such a cylinder is play it once to get a decent transfer, and never play it again until you have someone special over or are doing a demonstration. Is that in the end worth 500 dollars? Maybe. I've bought a dress in perfect condition from the same time period as that Hunting cylinder for less than that. 

Is two plays of Edward Favor singing "Sweet Rosie O'Grady" worth 250 dollars? Who knows. But generally I will say not. 
Okay, the one David Bangs Columbia is practically priceless, due to the odds against its existence. Generally records with unlikely survival stories do well in terms of collecting a ridiculous pile of money. 
I've been lucky to hear even a single record by Bangs, and he is not a lost cause in terms of continuing to search for records. He made enough recordings of curious selections to keep us looking(also, he was really good-looking!). Enough Shakespeare and coon songs to keep us sustained! 
Indeed, Bangs bantering on "A stump speech on Love" would certainly seem priceless to us poor but passionate collectors, but of course, those who have money will always win in the end, with that 1000 or whatever more money they have to spare just for a single recording with unlikely odds for survival. 

Let me elaborate on why this certain Bangs record really is a miracle for survival. One, it was recorded in 1894. That's a year that was deep in a recession, so generally records from 1894 and 1895 are hard to come by(even though there seem to be a lot of them transferred on the internet...). Two, this record is by David Bangs, a name we never normally see, like EVER. I only know of him because I saw his picture in a Berliner catalog, and saw what he recorded for them between 1894 and 1896. Oh, and he recorded for a short period of time as well, that usually lowers the odds of survival an awful lot. That's just two years of the entire brown wax era, and that era lasted from 1887 to 1901. Three, this is a Columbia record, and Columbia's from this period of 1894 to 1896 are sketchy and very few. Columbia almost went under in that recession period, and had death scares from every year 1889 onward to 1897. The fact that the record contains an attractive number paired with the record company, and the artist, and the year, makes this record an extraordinary example of the brown wax era. Okay, 1000 dollars is a lot, but actually, when considering the odds against it, and how attractive the artist and selection just happen to be. It's a powerful combo that will end up costing someone over 1000 dollars. go for it, whoever you are, with your plenty extra throw away money for a single cylinder...

Record pricing really gets to me, if you haven't already noticed. I have a hatred toward Ebay at the moment because of all the ridiculous bidding wars that have happened recently over sheet music. Of course, only one thing interested me more than anything could...Hylands' "You don't stop the world from going round" was for sale. But not only that! It wasn't just any edition of that coveted sheet, it was the one with his face on the cover!
Yes indeed. I was hoping it was some obscure picture of him that we'd never seen, but it was this one:
So it was at a reasonable 50 dollars for a few days, I checked it a few times a day(0f course). Remember that this is the fabled sheet, the one that was advertised in The Phonoscope with great pride and attention. This was the dream sheet, the only one(0ther than a certain "narcissus" by a certain composer) I would have paid no matter how much it went for. So I kept checking it, until the last night for bidding came. I even teamed up with one of my friends and made a deal where I would have gotten the music from him. So came the war, it soon rose over my first limit, over 100, then it went to 150, then to 175, then to 200, then back down to the winning bid of 189. Never had I felt such a loss in terms of sheet music. come to find out later, the hours after the fact, all the people I thought watched it saw it when it happened, and it was much to the likeness of a sporting event. We were all cheering and howling at the price changes as they were sent in. It was really quite a scene, and the frustration that cam about afterward perplexed us all. 
The week before that night, I convinced many potential bidders off of the music, since they knew I'd be all over it. After all, it was the "dream sheet", and I would have been complete had I gotten it. 

nope. Some rich collector had the money to burn to spend the absurd amount of 189 dollars on a single piece of sheet music. This person probably won't go out and do lectures on Fred Hylands or Len Spencer using this piece as an example of their curious Rag-Time work together. 

Whoever you are who got it, please disclose your identity to all of us  in the Rag-Time community.

So that's why I have given up on Ebay for records and sheet music. All of you rich collectors are too much. I just can't handle all these bidding wars over such dream items like Spencer brown waxes and coon song sheet music. 
yes, I still check Ebay every once in a while just to see what's out there, but usually there's not anything as good as that Hylands music. 

Now to move on...
The past two weeks or so, I went digging through the archives of newspapers on this website:
I dug through specifically the papers kept on the murder trial of George W. Johnson, which indeed I have dug through in great detail before, but I came across two particularly interesting articles that I had not previously seen before. One provided a very detailed description of a bout I had not heard of previously. Of course, as expected, while digging through these various papers, Johnson's common-law wife's name was spelled a variety of at least 5 different ways. I have always seen it as Roskin, but I saw Roxana, and Ruskin, and it seems we're at a point of uncertainty. The most reliable and detailed article called her Roskins, but let's not get into a fight over what her name was an how it was spelled, lets just stick with Roskin Stuart. 
It seems a few months before Creole Roskin met her end in later 1899, she and Johnson had an awful fight, and not just one of those usual quarrels that they had in their flat(according to testimonies of the neighbors). This seemed to have turned out much like one of those very "coon songs" we hear from Len Spencer or Quinn, which is always ironic to read these realistic stories. 
So, the "whistling coon"(Johnson) was minding his own business whistling on the front steps of their building, this was on the night of March 23,1899, he was just about to go inside...
but of course, there comes Roxana(as she's called in this one) with a black gentleman friend. He continued to whistle various tunes,(including "a new Coon In town"!), and she got very frustrated with him quoting various tunes, the last being "after the ball"(hahaha!). The article then goes on to say something very interesting to us who know somewhat about the relationship between these two:
"In fact, Johnson's general attitude was a riddle to her[Roskin]. She would rather he would speak instead of whistling with his head on one side like a pert sparrow, and she said as much emphatically."
That's a curious statement, something that we wouldn't often hear from the background of these two. It's certainly something I hadn't heard before. It is important when building our point of view of this whole murder trial to understand the relationship between these two in the months before she died. 
To move on in the story...
Finally Johnson gets to "the Mockingbird", and Roxana's man friend just isn't having it at this point. The other guy soon neared Johnson with clenched fists, making Johnson back off slightly. At his speechless whistle-talk, Roxana at last had enough and had burst into tears with frustration at him, and the man friend had run off at this point. All the speech quoted in this article is fully in dialect, so I won't quote it directly for the sake of readers...She says amid her emotional panic that she's only with him because he's " lined wif' five-dollar bills." Just after her hate speech to him, Johnson whistled up(hilariously...)
"You can go when you gets your trunks pack'd-
I don't Care it you never comes back!"
She had had enough, and with that, she pulled out a little revolver and shot at Johnson a few times. One of the shots hit Johnson in the calf, but luckily when the police arrived, an ambulance surgeon was able to tie up the wound for Johnson, and the policemen were able to get Roskin to the police station. All of that passed over quick, and everyone seemed to be back to normal after all of that craziness. 
But of course, as we know, that was only the beginning of their troubles. 

Another article from just after Roskin was killed(dated October 1899)provided very much needed background into the two of them that's also very detailed and brought up some curious theories. This article detailed the background to Roskin and what led to her immediate downfall. The article states that just two weeks before she died, she met her end with going out and singing at clubs.

WAIT what? Singing? at clubs? This article details how Roskin was a singer at Tenderloin clubs and underground black gathering places. She was said to have been called "The blackbird", which is curious, because around this time we can see a certain piece of music with a similar title...
hmm mm...what's this? 
Could that be a reference to Johnson's Roskin?
I mean, just like any theory of mine, there's always the possibility that it could be true. Of course, there's almost nothing to prove such a thing, but Hylands did indeed work with Johnson, rather often I might add. It must be noted that in 1899 was when Hylands was there at Columbia pretty much every day, since he lived at the address that is indicated on the sheet music above, and that is a block away from 1157 Broadway(notice how I used the present tense here...)
So of course with all of that, there's the possibility that this piece above was titled in honor of Johnson' common-law wife, though we can't know for sure, it's just interesting to point that out. 

Evermore we are reminded that Hylands was like a hawk watching everything go on at Columbia from his high perch at 33 W. 27th street, and occasionally getting into the mess going on below and almost getting in trouble or killed with each swoop down. He may have been part of it, but he seems to have been on the edge of the mush pit his entire time at Columbia. 

With all that, "the Blackbird" two weeks after getting at last thrown out of the final saloon, she was found dead by Johnson(0r whatever happened...). The article then goes along to tell the story of what happened the night(or morning) that she died, the same old story that we know. 
Johnson was minding his own business at the flat, and she came in an awful racket, and seeing that she was in trouble, Johnson went to a policeman near his flat and called him down to investigate. After Johnson told him what was wrong and how he came to find her in such a condition, Johnson was arrested. All the rest is history. 
Okay, you all know my opinions and theories about this touchy subject matter, but you know, I'm serious about this subject matter. This whole murder trial is one of the most complicated legal battles of the brown wax era, it's certainly more interesting than all the pointless patent battles that every company went through before 1903. Columbia didn't see this coming at all, and must have sent everyone in a scramble when it happened. Everyone must have been in panic, even though they might have been wary of Johnson before she died, since he was a guy with a troubled life, unfortunately scattered with awful women who didn't like him, but stayed with him because of his money. once we start digging into the names associated with the lawyers who went to the actual courtroom on trial day, that's when it gets complicated and deeper. I still think it's really strange how Hylands' legal associate Rollin Wooster(or whatever he was for Hylands...) was thrown in to learn everything about the trial and stayed completely silent on trial day. His comments after the trial will remain infamous to us. Let me remind you all of Wooster's comment right after the madness ensued in the courtroom at Johnson's acquittal:

Johnson is what you would call a good coon, he is too good-natured to have ever killed that woman. We're going to take him to a hotel tonight or to Mr. Emerson's  home and give him a good dinner, sitting down at the same table with him. I am glad I was the first to shake hands with him after he was discharged. He can earn 35 to 100 dollars a week singing and whistling.
This was taken from Lost Sounds by Tim Brooks.

Oh Wooster. That comment resonates with me well. I can almost see Hylands patting him on the back just after he shook hands with Johnson, as he said he did. What a relief it must have been for all of them. And as expected, the most uncomfortable one of the crew was most certainly Spencer. Spencer always gives me mixed messages with Johnson, since he clearly was nice to him and respectful, but thinking of how internalized racism was, and how passive aggressive it probably was with Spencer(in considering his privileged upbringing), his feelings about the ethics surrounding the trial must have been out of control. The prejudice was probably passive aggressive with all of them, since they all praised Johnson so highly just as soon as the trouble came around, and after that we don't hear much. The only thing we really hear is Spencer being yet again passive aggressive with Johnson while also housing him, soon forgetting about him, then a few years later finding him dead and the white guilt smacked him right in the face, harder than he could have ever expected by just going up to clean a forgotten room in his Lyceum. 

Again folks, this is why the trial is so complicated, and why it really was a landmark event for Columbia,since it was one of very few legal battles that didn't have to do with patents. Eventually I will have the time to do a super long report on this matter, with my unusual and rare point of view on it. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Mid-night crooks and "The Voice in Time"

Who are these three funny guys? 
Well, we ought to know that first guy(Len Spencer), but the other two could stump some of us. The second is George Emerson, and the third is Clyde Emerson. These three rough-and-tumblers seem to have pulled off an interesting heist back in 1897, one that has been causing all sorts of buzz among the brown wax community this past week. This heist of a sort was pulled off in early 1897(just as the U.S. Phonograph company was collapsing), and in fact, speaking of the U.S. company, it seems that this was part of what led to their demise. So after reading the other record blog that was all read, it seems that Russell Hunting wasn't the only one of these studio stars who was arrested in the 1890's. Len Spencer and those infernal Emerson's were also taken out of that studio by the men in blue. 

The three of them crooks went to their U.S. Company headquarters in Newark(I hope late at night!) and took a hundred records as it says(around 100 would be my guess, keep in mind that it's just three guys...) from that company and brought them to be sold to a company of "rival concern",which is probably Columbia at this point of time. The case was brought to court, with them three handed $2,500 in bail(hot damn that's a lot of money!), but were soon discharged upon having no strong stance on the case. 

So that's it?
Yes, essentially with all the evidence. 

But hold on! There's more to it...This is clearly an inside job, a very complicated story, much more so than it lends itself to be. This is one of those things that just can't be a small thing, with a bail set over the amount that Victor Emerson put aside for George W. Johnson, something ain't right to me...As with anything Emerson or Columbia related, there's some really tangled up backstory that involves several recording stars, as well as deals between rival companies. The U. S. Company was a sinking ship in 1896-97,and everyone had to get their way off into the water. Spencer was in an uncomfortable position for sure, since he had such strong and long lasting ties to U.S., but was being led on a string back to Columbia, since that's where he started, and that's where they wanted him. A similar story must have been attached to Edward Issler, though Issler was not nearly as valuable to the management(he would be the most valuable if managers really cared about musicians), however, he did have an important role at U.S. that succeeding pianists hadn't, the knowledge of the technical aspect. Everyone eventually were saved by Columbia, but it was a long and almost deadly process, as it always was with Columbia during any transition. Spencer just after this heist had pledged his services to Columbia, which is also a little fishy. Come on, you can't just see this as being a smoothly moving thing that just happened. Spencer got busted for it, and so did the two "lesser" Emerson brothers. Victor Emerson may not have been charged, but it's got to be for certain that he had some hand in this late-night raid. 
(a cartoon I did parodying this heist)
Even with the lack of names(unlike the Johnson trial), there must have been at least a dozen other sleazy hustlers involved in this raid, they just sent out the best hustlers to go and steal the records themselves to be sold. I'm sure brother Harry(Spencer) had a piece of this too, since Harry at this point wasn't fully set as a recording artist solely. Recall that at this time (early-1897) Harry was more of a salesman and repairman than a recording artist. It would seem in this case that everyone we might think who would have a hand in this probably did. Considering Columbia's rampant legal squad, they were sure to brush this off quick no matter what happened. Hopefully we'll be able to learn more about his rather hilarious bust with Columbia. It's always fun to read about these stars getting into trouble like this, whether it has to do with recording or not.

Now to move to Fred Gaisberg!
We all have grown to love this crazy guy, and I have most certainly done so, along the course of reading this lovely book:
(Thanks Charlie!)
At this point, I am over half way through the thing, and the first night I started reading it got through 90 pages. I already have written about the first two to three chapters in a previous blog post, but this time, since I've the book right here, I will get to quoting some of Gaisberg's priceless and utterly snobbish remarks about those he met places he went. 
Here's one of the first lines from chapter three:

The man finally selected[to manage Berliner's London outpost]for this task was William Barry Owen, a legal assistant to Frank Seaman...
"Berliner could have selected no finer agent than Owen to exploit his invention. He was an opportunist of quick decision and a bold gambler...You would always find him sitting at the stiffest game of poker in the smoking room...and his eyes would bulge as he laid a full house on the table...He brought to London an infectious enthusiasm and energetic leadership which I believe was quite new to the conservative English city man of that day."

That's most certainly Gaisberg's writing at it's finest...his descriptions and diction were just fantastic to every degree. When he wasn't describing a type of foreign music with his European eye, the images he painted through words otherwise were unbiased and nicely structured, giving us a very real and somewhat raw vision into the early recording business. 
His description of the old man Giuseppe Verdi was just as intriguing as his vibrant imagery of his first visits to Milan and Rome:

I often saw the venerable Verdi, who would regularly take an afternoon drive in an open landau drawn by two horses. People would stand on the curb and raise their hats in salute as the carriage proceeded down Via Manzoni to the park. A frail, transparent wisp of a man, but the trim of his pure white beard so corresponded with the popular picture of him that one could not fail to identify him. 

That pretty much sums up Verdi. Gaisberg and Willie Darby were utterly overwhelmed by the culture and constant vigor of Milan the first and few times they went. Being ever surrounded by lovely art, music, and people seemed to overwhelm Gaisberg at first, though after a little while he grew used to the culture.
I hate to move a little out of chronological order, but this book keeps opening to other important pages with Gaisberg's unequalled descriptions, here is his rather cute description of Alfred Clark around 1897:

He was, I remember, a youth big an well-proportioned, perfectly dressed in a tailor-made suit which, in those days of "off-the-peg" clothes[what does that mean?] (which I and even Berliner wore) struck a note of distinction. Further, his dark eyes and curly brown hair set off by a boyish blush whenever he spoke, made him irresistible[hmm mmm...interesting choice of words there], quite apart from the shadow of the great Edison.[That's where he worked before then]

That's a lovely description, and makes me laugh, since he and Clark lived adjacent one another above Berliner's studio from 1896 to 1897, and went to all sorts of shows and got plenty of bonding time in, whilst also learning of the business and local culture in Washington and in Philadelphia. 

Gaisberg's time from August 17th and 18th of 1899 is one of the absolute best two days in sequence throughout his entire years of travel. In these two days, he was traveling with Darby in Spain to France:

Thursday Aug. 17th 99. Plaza de Montesino, Valencia...
Here again the terrible uncertainty of whether to proceed to Libson or return to Madrid seized us, and for two hours we sat discussing the pros and cons. Our fate was decided when we discovered out luggage was already placed on the relief train and we sprung aboard...[then] the station-master informed us no connections for Libson would be made that day, but if we waited for MaƱana('tomorrow') connections would surely be made. 
Already knowing that a Spaniard's 'tomorrow' means 'never'[haha], we quickly had our luggage transferred to the Madrid train and at 7 o'c p.m. we re-journeyed over the same ground travelled last night--sad, tired and provoked. However, before starting we invested 9p. in a sausage three rolls, and a bottle of wine. This we tackled with great relish, as we were nearly famished. 
The night was awfully close, and as these European railroad carriages give no draft9as there is no vestibule) we suffered awfully from the heat and thirst caused by the salty sausage

Friday Aug. 18th 99.
We entered Madrid at 8 in the morning...arriving at the station we finally accomplished the difficult task of registering trunks, and tried to find a place in the coach--but they were full. At last, finding an empty seat, I jumped in and sat down just as a fat matron with a bitter tongue claimed it. I refused to move, and she plumped down in my lap and there remained, while Darby on the outside frantically ram about looking for me. At last I gave her a push and slipped out from beneath her and she fell back into the seat with a jar. Then Darby got in, and as the fat woman got out of the car to give the seat to her daughter for whom she was preserving it, Darby slapped himself into it, and immediately two men and the old woman yelled and pulled and tugged and punched at him. Finally he had to give it up, and with a long face squeezed himself in a place opposite, and then it was my turn to laugh[indeed so Fred!].
Well, the ride was the worst I ever endured. This was our third successive night on a train--and that in a car so crowded that one had to sleep as in a strait-jacket.

What a trip! Hot damn that sounds absolutely awful, but it's genuinely a hilarious story that sums up most of their journeys together. 

Many of us can get to wondering about Fred's love life, and luckily, there's a lot of it scattered throughout this book, and it seemed impulsive of him to be describing the women around him any time they were met. Of course, he knew that he's never actually settle with a lady, and with his constant state of moving from place to place, his status of bachelor seemed inevitable, no matter how long the traveling with Darby lasted. Here's a particularly interesting little affair from Feb. of 1900 while back at home base in London:

25th, Sunday...
I went to take Miss Waite's package to Miss Edell's, and there spent a delightful afternoon, at the same time taking tea with them. Returning to town. I dropped in at the Horse Show, and to my great surprise who should I see sitting there but Henrietta. I hardly recognised her at first. She looked entirely prosperous, and decked out in fine dressed an jewels. She tried to urge me to enter old associations with her, but I stoutly resisted the magnetism of her beautiful brown eyes. She waxed most furious. What an uncontrollable passion this spoilt beauty has!
26th. Monday
After work Henrietta met me at the office, where we had a short dance and singing[aww...what a cute picture...].Then after supper we went to the gallery of the Savoy theater to see The Rose of Persia on Newton's invitation. She followed me me all the way to my Kensington lodgings, where I abruptly left her.

How interesting. It really fascinated me to read such writings of his, since we would normally never hear this side of him. He seems confused in this whole love matter...but at the same time all mad about it. It's truly charming to gather his feelings about being kinda in love. He hadn't the best of luck with this matter it seems. 

Here's an interesting picture from just a few months later. This was taken of the family when he visited for Christmas:
I'm sure you can guess where Fred is. 
Their long and grueling trips to Russia were chock full of mockery for Gaisberg. He reveled in how ignorant the Russian opera audiences were, cheering madly at a single performer who wasn't even adequate(at least to what Gaisberg had experienced). But after a horridly busy week of recording and traveling in Russia, this horrid mess befell them in their room:
About 2 a.m...
We were awakened by a terrible battering on our door. The porter and three or four others wanted to know what terrible happenings were going on, the room below was all dripping with what might be blood or something deadly, and was falling on the face of the sleeping occupant. We went into our 'lab' and to our dismay found a bucket filled with old acid had sprung a leak, and the floor was flooded...The bright red fluid dripped through the ceiling on to the sleeping guest; when his body began to smart[interesting word choice there...]he roused the hotel. We had the disagreeable task of sopping it up in our nightshirts, and expecting the manager up every moment to pitch us out bag and baggage. 

What a horrid thing! That would have freaked me out if I had been that other hotel occupant. Certainly I would have been convinced it was blood a-dripping on my face! 

Oh how there's so much more to write here from this lovely book, but there's no way I could quote everything  that was curious, since his descriptions of eastern music and instruments  are very interesting, while at the same time also strongly judgemental. He wasn't easy with his words on eastern music and instruments. He didn't revel as much being in Japan as he ought to have. His time in India and the middle east especially was curious to him. It seemed he took a great fascination with these nations, and took many candid pictures of the street people and musicians. This book is an overload of information and quotes, since Gaisberg lived a fuller life than anyone I have ever studied. Such the amount of travel he did is more than anyone would hope to travel in an entire lifetime, and he did that much travel in 10 years, or even less. He seemed to have most enjoyed Milan throughout his time of travel, since he revisited the place very often, and spoke the highest of everything there. He seemed to have disliked the long grueling trips to Russia, and seriously disliked the music of Japanese opera. His tastes dramatically changed from his days back at Columbia in 1889! Never would he have guessed he'd be in the studio with the masters of Italian opera just 15 years later...

Over time, I will use quotes from this book, since there are so many more, and I have to finish reading it of course. Remember, I'm only just over halfway through!

Hope you enjoyed this!