Last Saturday, Charlie Judkins sent me a fantastic bunch of recordings that were from an LP of "North American" cylinders(this is in quotes because not all of them are from this company). This LP is essentially a compilation of interesting takes from 1892-1897 from a variety of early companies. The companies included are Columbia, Edison, U. S. of New Jersey, North American, and maybe even Bell and Tainter if we're that lucky.
Many of the records that were in these two LP's would have borne this lovely logo on a slip or indigo rectangular box. The majority of the "good stuff" on the LP's were made by the U. S. Phonograph company, such as the Issler's orchestra records. The solos by piccolo and xylophone were made for North American as suggested by the LP. The amount of recordings that came along with this find can be considered a treasure trove, since there's so much to listen to all at once, and it's all good! Two of the LP's indicated North American cylinders, and another indicated Berliner discs, and those are all certainly as the title suggests.
Since it's not completely full of interesting stuff, here's the link to the Berliner discs:
Where do I begin?
Well, that recording of "The Charlatan March" by the Metropolitan orchestra is really great, especially since we know that orchestra was led by Banta. And yes, if you're wondering it is indeed the same group by the same name that recorded for Victor after 1900.
"the Sidewalks of New York" by Gaskin is really nice as well, especially since I have friends who have been waiting for a good transfer of such a thing by Gaskin for a while. Well, here you go.
We've all heard "The Streets of Cairo" by Quinn, and the transfer on this one is not the best oddly enough, there are better transfers of it out there.
We know what the best record from this LP is. It's certainly Hunting's "Oh Uncle John". That's absolutely worth the wait to hear it. Since it's Hunting, it's more than likely that he's actually playing his own accompaniment. In fact, since the piano isn't very good, I would bet he's on piano. If you really want to hear this record, go to 24:31 for this specific transfer! It's fully worth it!
The next record worth the buffering of the long video for is the fantastic transfer of "Thoughts of Home Polka" by Messrs. Stengler and McNiece. That is an exceptional Berliner in terms of sound! It sounds like an early Berliner(from 1893-96), but it's from 1899, in the period were Berliner records sounded notoriously awful. Take a listen!
The last interesting take on this LP is the strange "Imitation of Steam Calliope" by the Brilliant Quartette. wow! that really does sound like a calliope! It's really impressive how accurate that sounds. The things that these vocal quartets did in the 1890's never fails to impress.
Alright, now for what this post is really meant to be on.
So,to begin, here's the link to the first LP that was sent to me:
After having the chance to hear a bunch of very early Spencer records(not just announcing!), I have come to an interesting conclusion. Listen to that fantastic recording of "Laugh you Little Niggers" in the link above, skip to 9:48 for this record. It seems that in his earlier days of recording, Spencer was much more energetic, and in some ways, more accurate in imitating the early minstrel show performers.
His imitation of that old black character seemed a little different from how it was in the late-1890's. From a wilder character to a calmer almost pimp-like figure. I know that seemed beyond a little kind to say, but really do a comparison of his 1895 U.S. phonograph record of "Laugh You Little Niggers"(again, excuse the racist title), to one of his classic late-1890's Columbia's with Hylands:
What a contrast! The 1899 cylinder is much looser(because of the piano accompaniment durr...), and the overall feeling of the music is completely different from the 1895 record. Another comparison can be heard on his 1894 Imperial Minstrels records, two of which you can hear on the other LP that goes along with the one in the link a little farther above in the post.
Here's the link to the other one:
The Imperial Minstrels record is at 31:40.
This is one of those long spoken of records that Spencer spent so much time and money on as a sort of project. The song Spencer sings on this record is that great syncopated piece recorded by quartets in the late 1890's, "A High Old Time", with a small orchestra as accompaniment. Spencer's singing early on can be well summed up on this one recording, since it has all of the same aspects of the 1895 "Laugh You Little Niggers"(sorry again...) are present just the same. It seemed his earlier style of singing(much to the likeness of Arthur Collins) was not only more energetic, but louder, and more inspired by the concept of "negro shouts" than his singing later in the 1890's. It's more antiquated, as well as more of what we'd expect from what we've heard about younger Spencer. Oddly enough, since I have perfect pitch, I can well notice that Spencer's tone overall early on was much better than it was later. Hmm... getting a little suspicious... There's not really a way to explain how this could have gradually happened, in fact I actually have no idea how that would have come about. The only thing to keep in mind here with this is that Spencer was an untrained singer, similar to Quinn, and it's possible that he just happened to have near perfect pitch, which is why his singing(at least early on) was near perfect as far as pitch goes. This is starting to open up some new theories about Spencer, some that couldn't have been formulated before hearing these earlier records. Here's a theory that's fitting into place just as I'm writing this:
Earlier on, Spencer was a little more high-strung(though it's clear according to how he died that he always was) than after the mid-1890's. With this, his nature for perfection began to gradually fade around 1897, as the end of the round era passed around that time, and the need for perfection and habits he had formulated with rounds were needed to be broken. It didn't help that Fred Hylands was constantly pulling at him in the studio beginning in 1897, and that further calmed his firey nature. Working with the young and temperamental Hylands forced Spencer to become more patient, while at the same time more daring.
This seems to make more sense now, because there's clearly a distinct contrast between Spencer's earlier records and his later ones. This contrast had to be for some reason, and the theory above could be a possible explanation. Clearly Spencer read Hylands early on, and realized that working with him was one of the best things he would do, but also the most toxic. We know very well that Spencer working with Hylands was one of the best duos in the acoustic era, both in dynamics, but also in their strange business relationship(that still doesn't make much sense). As I've said before, this partnership(Hylands and Spencer) remains one of the most complicated of the early recording business, more so than Collins and Harlan, and Russell Hunting and Charles Carson. Though their partnership lasted only a few years, it was full of all sorts of strange things, and it's surprising how long it lasted with the types of personalities the two of them had. Spencer was restless and a perfectionist, Hylands was disorganized and spontaneous. Yet with all of this, we still get fantastic recordings like these:
This is exactly why Spencer never ceases to lose my interest.
Now for some more early records! In the two links above(the links to the LP's), you can hear "The Wren Polka", and "Bobolink Schottische" both by George Schweinfest. These records very well represent the genius of Edward Issler, since he's on piano on both of them. You can also hear Issler on not only dozens of his orchestra recordings scatted all over the LP's(which seems to be over 50% of what's on them anyway), but also on those two cornet solos by Dana of "Ben Bolt" and the "Tit-Willow Song", also you can hear him on "The Wood Nymph Galop" by Charles Lowe, which is announced by Spencer, indicating a U. S. record.
The "Wren Polka" by Schweinfest is likely a North American record, because it is not announced by Spencer, and it has a different studio and piano sound than the obvious U. S. records. That recording in particular sounds like potentially the oldest recording on the LP's, other than that one U. S. Marine band record from 1891. If I were to date that Schweinfest solo, I would give it a date of 1892. With all that being said, who thinks this record below is a North American record?
Hmm. it sounds like an early record, much like the others exhibited here. It's certainly likely, even if it's played too fast on the machine.
Since we're on identifying of record companies, found something out this week that changes much about a few records we know very well.
Those so-called "Independent" cylinders on the Santa Barbara website are actually older than expected, because they're actually from the U. S. Phonograph Company, not Columbia.
Here are the links to the two main recordings that were mislabeled:
Wow! U. S. records sound really nice! Of course, these two records may be quiet, but they catch many notes on the piano that we never often hear, especially when the pianist(Issler) plays the final chord. The lowest note is always present it seems. To understand how closely related the Charles Lowe records are, listen to the second transfer on the red LP, "Dancing in the Sunlight", and the second to last transfer on the blue LP, "Wood Nymph Galop". They all sound the same, with the exact same balancing between the piano and xylophone. So with that being said, that FANTASTIC banjo imitation behind Ossman on "The Darkey's Dream" is not by Hylands, by Issler(as far as we can guess), because as we know about Ossman, there's always the chance Banta was on piano.
Though after having a handful of listens to the "Darkey's Dream" with this new information present, the pianist is almost certainly Issler, since much of the quick playing he's doing can be compared to other records of his, such as his c.1891 North American of "The Bell Buoy" with Myers. You can also compare his style of waltz playing on "The Bell Buoy" to how he plays it on "the Carnival of Venice" as well as the second recording on the Red LP, "The Tit-Willow Song" by Dana on U. S. from 1895. Well, this is what you get from the one company who was infamous for their ridiculous amount of rounds. Recall that Victor Emerson ran U. S. before he did Columbia.
This is all starting to fit into place! We can finally understand Issler's playing to a fuller extent now with all of these recordings. Issler is making out to be a fantastic pianist(not that he wasn't already!). Again, the first studio pianist was the best, which doesn't normally happen in a new business; the first of something being the best for many decades. Issler was hard to beat, with his technically superior playing, and perfect rhythm. These factors make playing along his his records much easier and less confusing, though his improvisations are something to keep track of. With all of this, Issler is essentially studio pianist god. I don't mean to make this seem a little strange, but he certainly was one of a kind, and there never was a studio pianist like him that came later, in all the history of recording.
Issler, the first and the best studio pianist.
It's a shame he was so picky and hard to work with toward the end of his recording career(this is why he was dropped from all recording by 1901).
After listening to all of these early records, other than my respect for Issler growing, my love for Schweinfest has grown just the same. We still have yet to hear him play a piano solo(same for Issler), but he certainly was a musician to admire, being just as competent as Issler, and being able to change with the times just as well as Fred Hager. Consider this, after working with Issler in and out of the studio since at least 1886, Schweinfest had to begin working with Hylands in 1897 at Columbia, and slowly saw his musical companion fade, eventually seeing his end in the studio(working with him to the end mind you), and agreed with no issues to work with Hylands, and we know how dramatically different Hylands was from Issler. Schwinfest even wrote syncopated pieces, such as his 1900 piece "Coon Jine"(which we have yet to hear), composed as a cake-walk.
There you go. Published by Roger Harding because Hylands wouldn't.
Hope to find a copy of that exceedingly rare music.
Anyway, I could go on and on about all of this, I got to the point already.
Hope you enjoyed this!