Saturday, April 28, 2018

New Sheet music and more new transfers

It's about damn time. Hylands is on the left. 
This last Friday, I received a phenomenal piece of sheet music through the mail. When I first saw this piece on Ebay, I woke up the next morning after buying it thinking that all that was a dream. It seemed too good to be true, a piece of self published Hylands music with two pictures of him on the cover, it was too much at once. The piece was also relatively cheap considering my bad luck with Hylands sheets before then. This piece certainly makes up for losing his "Darkey Volunteer" and his "Uncle Sam" cake-walk. It's just as good. 
So you can all see the rest of the cover, here you go: 
What a salacious illustration!
It's also rather beautiful and gracefully drawn, whoever that cover artist is. The only reason I used that picture of the two of them is because it's a better picture of Hylands(and of course it's more aesthetically pleasing!). So after staring at the thing for a week an a half, I finally got to hold the music and get a great scan of those two Hylands pictures. This piece is from 1912, and it's hard, if not impossible, to trace in copyright records. I had seen this piece on the back of the cover of my early edition of his "Rag-Time boardinghouse", and never would have thought that I'd see the piece in its entirety. Of course the music aside, I got the piece because of the Hylands pictures and the exceeding rarity of the piece. Here's the other picture of Hylands in great detail:
Damn, he looks rough. 
Well, that's to be expected. Even with all of the wild things I've said about him, it seems that a lot of those assumptions were pretty true. He certainly looks like he had some rough times. You name it, drugs, alcohol, and fights. All of those things are clear in his rugged face at only 40. Not only that, his hair seems to have turned pretty light, if not rather white by then, which would point to my theory of his hair being vibrant red. Redheads unfortunately lose that beautiful shade rather early, with strands turning white often before age 35. Hylands just looks like a stereotypical redhead, you can almost see it in that detailed picture of him just above. 
Those eyes! 
What intensity and pleading! Even with the roughness and weirdness, those eyes are just haunting. Haunting in the best possible way of course. Now here's something interesting that I've noticed in both of the pictures; right near the dimple on his chin, there appears to be a scar of some kind. In both pictures a slash scar is visible. Hmm...That's so curious. That would be the sort of thing we'd all expect from Len Spencer, as he supposedly had that somewhere on his face. But thinking that Hylands had that is interesting, since I had the assumption that he was rather disliked for being rather pompous and egotistical(as taken from reviews of his Broadway shows and other newspaper bits), so I can see him slipping up at a gambling match before Columbia(or maybe during it for all we know!) and trying to smart his way out but failing miserably. Despite being freakishly tall and rather strong(assuming this is pre-1898), I'm sure someone would take him as bully bait and take a slash to his face. It would not be in nearly the same circumstances as Spencer's scar, as that would have been much more intense and dramatic, with a fistfight to get the razor to top it off. Imagine a shark just getting fed up with Hylands' wise chatter and losing it and quickly slashing his chin with a razor to shut him up. That's absolutely hilarious to imagine, it's a perfect cartoon template. 

Speaking of cartoons, now that I finally know what he looked like definitively, I must go back and edit the most detailed portraits of him that I've done, such as this one:
That's how it looks now, and it's painstakingly accurate now. 
It's strange that he had those dark sunken eyes that the Emerson's had. 
(there's Victor Emerson)
Hylands had the same kind of stare, and it's rather creepy to be honest.
Well, now that we see Hylands fully as he was, especially rough as he was later in life, his stare can now haunt us as we listen to records of his!

Speaking of that, it be time to analyze some of his records! Well, just as I've been doing for the last few posts, Santa Barbara keeps putting up new transfers, and each new one is outstanding. 
To begin, we have a new transfer of a George Schweinfest record.  
Oh he just looks so sweet!
Previously, Santa Barbara had a fast transfer of  "Bob White Polka" from c.1899-1900 up, but recently they put up a perfect transfer of a take from c.1902. It's absolutely lovely, with outstanding clarity, so here you go:
Toward the end Hylands plays some interesting quick notes that sound like Gottschalk's imitation of the piccolo! 
Of course, that's to be expected of Hylands, but it's nice to actually hear it in great clarity. Other than that, the record is pretty straightforward, it's one of those great Schweinfest solos which never fail to please. 

This next one is a long anticipated transfer, that has been sitting there on the website for a while. Like every time I check the website, I always check the Spencer records first. 
Of course at any opportunity possible I intend on using this picture of him. 
These next three transfers are just as good as Santa Barbara's old transfers, clear and crisp. 
This first one was scattered all over the internet years ago, but it was not the entire record transferred for some reason. Here's Spencer and Hylands' 1898 Columbia of "All Coons look Alike to Me":
It's hard luck that the record has that weird problem of losing the sound of the recording at the end of the first verse and for most of the chorus. This tune would be ideal in identifying pianist rag-time styles, as everyone recorded it on different labels, all with different pianists. This tune was also used in many early rag-time contests, such as the one that Mike Bernard won in 1900. The tune was the epitome of "rag time", and the "rag time life" as they would say in the late-90's. The "rag time life" being struck with free love and gambling and drugs, you know, the usual stereotype of new and rebellious music.From this take, we can hear Hylands' weirdness rather well, as it truly comes out at second chorus. He does all sorts of weird spiraling chromatic patterns that are hard to imitate since they are so strange. It's his classic Indiana rag style coming through. What he plays at the second chorus reminds me of a 1916 Indiana rag called "That Dizzy Rag"(take a listen! It's weird! The entire rag is full of stuff we often hear Hylands play). Anyway, this record is a classic great example of Hylands and Spencer collaborations, this time with one of the most recognizable coon songs of the era. 

This next Spencer and Hylands record is from a little bit later, but it's mislabeled on the website. 
This one has a transfer of the popular coon song "I ain't a-goin to weep no more", which is really nice, since Hylands plays all sorts of nice and weird stuff. It's transferred a bit fast, but we can still hear the lovely rag-time. On this take, it seems Hylands' style is constantly going and is rollicking, which is tantalizing. Again, there's not too much to explain here, as the rag-time explains all that needs to be said, and the way Spencer sings it is very different from all the other takes I've heard of it. Spencer often went his own way when singing popular songs. It's nice to have cross reference from other takes by different singers. Of course like many of these records, Spencer adds in a little sketch. Those little sketches vary in lecherousness, depending on the specific subject matter of the coon song. Keep in mind that he only does those on his coon song records, most often when with Hylands, though he did do them later long after his falling out(or whatever happened) with Hylands. 

I still think his sketch about "his gal" rubbernecking and talking all about polyamory is real risque. 

This is one of many reasons why Spencer is fascinating, his sketches before Ada Jones were much more like the nature that we'd expect from Spencer. 

Anyway, this last Spencer record is actually him with Vess Ossman.
(such a cute face!)
Spencer and Ossman never fail to please, as their musical chemistry was unequalled. Ossman brought a distinct self-taught style to Spencer's singing that seemed to fit perfectly. Ossman's ego seemed to piece together well with Spencer's control freak personality, since they weren't really that different. Also, Spencer had known Ossman since probably as early as 1892 if not earlier, which would mean he had experience with Ossman's troubles and issues in the studio. As some of us know, Ossman was difficult to work with in the studio. He was impatient with takes and tuning his banjo, as well as keeping it tuned as takes went along. He also had a short temper, that was notorious for being triggered in the studio when he was accompanying singers. Luckily, with Spencer, it would seem their high strung personalities cancelled out and made for outstanding records, such as this one. 
Here you go with their 1897 record of "I can't Give Up My Rough and Row'dish ways":
It seems that this song is a perfect anthem for Spencer's nature. No matter what he did and wherever he went, he was inevitably rough and willing to start a fight. It's also a good song too, with Ossman adding all sorts of nice rather jarring syncopation for a rather early example. I would put the date of this record to around the middle of 1897, such as March-June of that year, since it's most certainly in that transition period. Spencer also sounds slightly like his older self from the Issler era, but not quite like how he did when with Hylands around the same time and in the years succeeding. This record is truly a great example of Spencer in general, as he sings very nicely on pitch, and stays perfectly on beat with Ossman, both of which aren't always true, particularly with Spencer from 1892 to 1897. It's a real treat to hear Spencer just before he worked every day with Hylands and just after he had left his pledged position as Issler's assistant. Hearing him in that gray area is always important in piecing together late-1890's Columbia. 

Anyway, that Hylands sheet is still unbelievable to own, and is an absolute pleasure to own and be able to get nice scans of it. 

Hope you enjoyed this!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Charles Asbury and New Transfers

It seems Archeophone is back at it again, not like they aren't always. This next record that they're working on now is just phenomenal. I was looking around on Facebook this week, and came across a bit of samples for the new record that Archeophone is planning to release. This new record is only a two sided 45, but what's on it is tantalizing. For a while, I have highlighted the importance of Charles Asbury's records, or at least the one that is currently online. In terms of Rag-Time historians, his records are among the best case studies of the earliest examples. The one we've all heard online is his 1894 "Haul the Woodpile Down", and it never fails to amaze the Rag-Time historians. 
The only image I had seen of Asbury was a crude drawing from the December 1892 issue of The Phonogram. On that page, Asbury is surrounded by all the favorites, such as Len Spencer, Russell Hunting, John York AtLee, etc. It was surprising to actually see Asbury there in that bunch of recording stars, since we who know about him wouldn't think of associating him with them. 
Maybe we're mistaken by doing that? 

Here's that picture I'm talking about: 
It's pretty crude, and the quality of the scan isn't that great...
Now here's the thing about Asbury that's intriguing, there's nothing known about him! 
I remember years ago attempting to do some digging on Asbury, but was led nowhere. I did eventually find someone who had done thew same thing and assumed they had found him, a minstrel performer and banjoist born around 1852-53. The evidence and details were a but questionable, but it was and still is hopeful to see an interest in his mystery. The fact that his records are so good, and are such outstanding outliers to the other "coon song" singers, is what makes him attractive to record scholars. His records are nothing like the authentic rugged records of George W. Johnson, or the educated primitive nature of Len Spencer's(before 1897). Asbury's voice and banjo playing sound more like George W. Johnson than anyone else, but here's a thought...
Think of Silas Leachman: 
We are for certain that Leachman learnt all the music he recorded by ear, never from music. With Leachman we also get the benefit of his upbringing in Kentucky at a prime period of time, which is essential to his unique style. In keeping in mind Leachman's method of learning new music, we need to know what distinct characteristics to his singing and playing(of piano) would indicate this. 
It can be hard to tell whether someone learns music by ear, but being someone who does that myself, I can catch the signs. 
One important thing to notice is if the lyrics are switched around or are phrased differently from the written ones. This is why I almost always check to lyrics to certain songs to compare. This sort of thing is all over the place on Leachman's records, more particularly his brown wax records made at home. His records such as his 1895 or so recording of "old Uncle John" are perfect examples of how he switched around the lyric phrasing, even the time signature in the chorus. In the written music, the chorus is in 6/8, but on Leachman's take, the chorus is in 3/4. This sort of thing is a signature to leachman, even on many of his later Victors, all of these things are present here and there. But of course why am I saying this? We are certain that Leachman played by ear, it was written about in that long Chicago Tribune article from 1895 about him. In Leachman's case, we're just trying to make sure that the things correspond correctly to confirm it. 

What has all of this to do with Asbury?
Actually, quite a lot. 

After being able to hear a little more of Asbury this week, the ideas that I've formulated about Leachman have transferred to Asbury's style. The only reason I have any idea of this is because he had all the signs that would indicate learning by ear. Another important factor to this theory is the fact that the performer bring to the recording horn tunes that were never published, or cannot be traced historically. This is similar with Billy Golden and George W. Johnson. However, Johnson had the privilege of having Frank P. Banta to actually write down the songs that were his specialties, and arrange them exactly as Johnson performed them. 
Asbury was alone with his music, performing tunes that were rare even to the most popular recording stars. The very unpublished(or impossible to trace) tune of his I'm thinking of is "Haul the Woodpile Down". Wherever the tune came from, it's a very old, perhaps early American, song with elements similar to "Amazing Grace" and songs related.
Here's the record just to refresh the memory:

 With this in mind, the sample of Asbury singing "New Coon in Town"(released by Archeophone this week) already exhibits these essential elements of ear learning. The chorus has mixed around phrases and added words, without the complicatedness of the original song published in Chicago in 1884. This was a popular song as the "coon song" era started to take shape, so it doesn't particularly come as a surprise that he recorded this tune. The way he plays the song is particularly interesting, since it's nothing like the way that all of us Ragtimers play it. One of my good friends listened to the bit of the "new Coon in Town", and immediately assumed it was a different tune with the same way, but that's not true. That is indeed the same tune that was often quoted, including in an article about George W. Johnson's domestic troubles:
Yep, those are the same lyrics, but switched around as expected. Just as Leachman was, Asbury also had all the aspects of a fully natural musician, with near perfect vocal pitch, and a very attractive style of banjo and singing. 
All of this makes Asbury more tantalizing for sure, though keep in mind that all of what I just said about him is just a theory, and none of it may be true. Hopefully there's at least a basic level of information on him in the notes that accompany the record Archeophone is putting out next month. 
I just can't wait! The samples are just unbelievable!

Now to move on from well hidden mystery. I said in the last post that I would do some more digging in Santa Barbara's new transfers, and in the past few weeks, that's exactly what I did. The excitement is never ending now that they're gradually putting up random brown wax transfers that have been sitting there on the website without any means of hearing them. Since there was so much to talk about on just a single Spencer record, there's actually more Spencer records put up since I dug deep into that c. 1895 record of "Mamie!...". Before I get into those Spencer records, I should most certainly dig into Hylands records solely. 
The amount of good Hylands examples has almost doubled on Santa Barbara's website, which is absolutely fantastic. There's one particular example that stands far better than the others, and it's this seemingly modest one:
Never have I heard such mastery from Hylands. We can hear how well he had perfected the Banjo imitation style he supposedly played. What's genius about this particular take is that he's rarely playing the actual melody with Schweinfest, but he's playing accompanying melodic lines and quick banjo imitation patterns all over the piano. It's also rather shocking to note that the rather slow(but perfect for a cake-walk) tempo is kept constant throughout. This isn't often the case with early examples of authentic improvised Rag-Time. It's records like these where we are reminded why we love Hylands, and it's for that distinct and weird Rag style that is easy to pick out from the others. Of course, after hearing such recordings like this from 1899-1900, it makes me more anxious to hear this:
Such recordings as the subject matter here are good explanations for such compositions by Schweinfest of all people. 
Speaking of Roger Harding(the publisher of the Schweinfest piece), this reminds me of another new transfer that includes Harding. At last, there are a few different takes of "Little Alabama Coon" online. The more takes I've heard have been by Gaskin, which are the best ones, because of that horrid scream he does on each one. While the same little sketch is one every take, one thing can be assured always different, the end piano solo. This particular take is by the Greater New York Quartette, which included Steve Porter and Roger Harding on this record specifically. 
here's the record:
To be honest, I only listened to this the first time because I knew there would be a dance part piano solo at the end. Supposedly Issler put together the arrangement that we hear Gaskin do, with the song and dance part and everything. That makes no different here however. That solo Hylands plays at the end is perfectly in his style. We even get the bonus of him playing those rare walking bass octaves, which is a distinct characteristic, but one that isn't always present. Like almost every solo by any early studio pianist(after Issler), it has got to be a quote of another song, but this one has me stumped. Most of the time it takes a few listens to get the more obscure musical jokes of the studio pianists. Also, listen to the very end, there's a loud thump! as though something fell over and a voice acknowledging the crash. It's clearly a mistake because it's so abrupt and it caught by some other voices far back there. 

Since there 's another earlier take(the last one is from 1898 or so), that one should be exhibited too. This take is transferred too fast, but it's still Gaskin's original take, likely from 1893 or 1894, which is entirely valuable. 
That's Gaskin around 1895. 
So here's that transfer:
There's that signature scream. I know he's supposed to be a little black kid, but this take is where it sounds absolutely the most hilarious. I'm learning overtime that Gaskin was weird, more so than any of us could imagine. A little Irish leprechaun of a man with lots of energy left vacant from so many slow songs. The wildness comes alive on records such as his 1893 ish "Little Alabama Coon". By the way, the pianist on that is most likely Issler, indicated by the year and circumstances of how around that time I've seen newspaper evidence of Gaskin performing that very tune with Issler. 

Now to move to something that's a little questionable for me. 
Now you all know how much I'm in love with Fred Hager, but I cannot stand his violin records. They are such an infernal racket, and are generally boring selections.
However, Santa Barbara put a few Hager records that are of more interesting selections. The first interesting selection was his "Rag Time Medley", which ought to be good, given the chances are very high Frank P. Banta is the pianist behind him. Here you go:
Just imagine it, pretty Hager looking not too different from how he did above playing violin with Banta. What a beautiful thing to imagine...
There are a few reasons I can't stand Hager's violin records, one is that he's rarely in tune(that's my perfect pitch coming in), and that he slurs notes so much that some of them blend together and make it more out of tune. This particular record is rather entertaining because Banta is keeping the rhythm nice and constant, with added syncopation so complement Hager, but Hager trips all over the place. 
Though, they did seem to put up the best Hager violin solo I've heard so far, and it's from a bit later than expected.
I had assumed most of his violin records were from 1899 and 1900, but I guess 1901 still works out. At least Banta's still there behind him to keep him from tripping over. For such a virtuoso and matinee idol, you'd think that he would embody the long passed soul of Niccolo Paganini. Hager unfortunately was nowhere close to that, despite his musical status in music conservatories and with symphony musicians all over. He was better at arrangements and keeping bands together turns out. 

Seems we're getting warmer to Spencer, so how about some George W. Johnson? Johnson's records are always different, since the arrangements were basically only based on chord changes and weren't exactly melody driven, each take is very different. We may not exactly know the origins of Johnson's "The Laughing Coon", but it likely had something to do with Banta, just as "the Laughing song" had back in 1894. Of course, the take i'm going to use here is not one of the typical Banta Edison takes, it's another one of those ragged Hylands Columbia takes. 
Unfortunately, this take is transfered really quiet, likely due to it being played quite often in its life of 120 years:
It's really hard to hear, but from what we can hear of the piano accompaniment, it's really ragged and has all of those signature early Hylands characteristics. If you know the song as well as I do, you should be able to keep track of how the song goes and what might be played at certain times. That's the only way I've been able to understand and pull apart this recording at all, since it's so worn out and quiet. Hopefully I will be able to almost completely transcribe the accompaniment on this record, because in the end, this one is certainly worth the time and effort. This may be a case of pieceing together if anything. 

All right, time to get to that new Spencer transfer!
These are obviously the most exciting new things for me, since Santa Barbara has had quite a few good ones listed for a while, and none have been transferred. Now little by little they're being put up, which is a great way to get them. The one in particular that has been a source of fascination is his c.early 1898 Columbia of "Kentucky Babe". It sounds like it could have been recorded in late-1897, but its most certainly in the early era of Spencer with Hylands(pre publishing firm I mean).
Unlike every other take I've heard of this tune, this take is quick and jumpy, rather than following the very theme, that Spencer announces at the beginning, of the song(Picanniny Lullaby). That unusual fact makes this record all the more charming though. The piano accompaniment was recorded really well, which makes for a nice balance of Spencer and Hylands, and that's always good. We can hear them both equally, which isn't always the case. I must note, since it peeves me, that Spencer's pitch is not great on this take either, it's too reminiscent of his pre 1896 records...All I can comment on that is that Hylands is there, and his influence of anything addictive is likely present. 
That may also be part of why the song was played quicker and more playful than the slow and calming that it usually was. Who knows, with Spencer and Hylands, anything's possible. 
But what about that accompaniment? Wow. Hylands plays pretty nice throughout the record, playing weird inversions and voicings of chords like usual, but at the whistling solo at the end---all hell breaks loose! The quick and complicated banjo imitation is entirely unexpected. He's playing so many notes it's hard to fathom. It's based on the banjo imitation form, whatever he's playing, but it's got all of those 32nd notes that he was known for. At least we have more evidence of his frequent playing of banjo imitations, this time before 1900, and rather early in his collaborations with Spencer. Rag-Time scholars take note!

Anyway, there are quite a few new transfers I need to get to, but I've exhausted my immediate knowledge for the night, so I've got to leave it here. 

Hope you all enjoyed this!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Spencer Brown Wax

It seems Santa Barbara has been busy...
Two nights ago, I spent hours checking all of the records they had put up but hadn't transferred. That ended up being a great decision...since it kept me listening to many new records i had always wanted to hear. Among those were several outstanding transfers of George Schweinfest, Denny, and of course Spencer. The first person I checked however, as expected of me, would be Spencer. Santa Barbara has a few bundles of those 1897-1901 Columbias that Spencer made with Hylands, but next to none of them are transferred. When I checked, there were a few of them up, but one in particular has me perplexed. This brown wax has Spencer singing one of May Irwin's first hits. 
This tune, likely due to it being from 1893, is amongst some of the earliest overt "coon songs" of that era. See, consider this, I hypothesize the "coon song" era really started around 1895, as that's the point where we get the first hints of the specific term "rag" in the syncopated context. Anything before 1895 didn't really use "coon song" as a way to describe slightly syncopated(or overtly syncopated) songs about black America, before then we get the practically ancient descriptor "Ethiopian song"(ancient because it was used back to the 1820's-1830's). Before that we get more medleys of Negro Spiritual songs and reminiscent tunes of slavery days(unfortunately...).Here's a related example from 1895:
There we go! 
Even by 1895 Spencer was described like that on sheet music, not just records. So back to the record...
This record is mislabeled on the website, so it took a little doing to actually figure out what the tune really was, ending up seeing the sheet music pictured above to help. 
Here's the record:
(beware! it's really quiet)
My first listen to this made me assume that it was recorded around 1897, thinking of the Columbia record number that it attached to it, but after a few more detailed listens, something changed about that assumption. It seemed that this record had more aspects of the earliest records Spencer made. Luckily, I have had the experience of listening to enough of Spencer's pre-1896 records to know that his singing style varied dramatically from say 1895 to 1898. So in first trying to figure this out, we've got to go back to the earliest example of Spencer that we know(or at least that I've heard). 
Spencer's 1892 Columbia of "A Curl from baby's Head"
Spencer's voice sounds very different from what we're all used to. I'm not sure if it's the record speed, but the way he's recorded makes him sounds almost like a different person. But there are aspects of the early record that are still present on the later record. One thing that I've pointed out before about Spencer's early singing is that it sounds much different, but the main thing is that his sense of pitch got better over time. There's no way to really know why his sense of pitch changed, any why the sincerity of his voice changed, but the clear difference is interesting to note. Now the fact that there are specific characteristics to Spencer's style on "Mamie...", this would indicate a date other than 1897 to be put on the table. The only reason my first intuition assumed 1897 was the heavy and clear syncopation. But of course, when thinking of these things, we cannot underestimate the years before 1897 in terms of records. With all this in mind, it seems even with the prominent syncopation that this Spencer record is likely from 1895-96. It's also helpful that there's no announcement(even though usually this would be a deterrent), as this would indicate that it's likely earlier than 1897. This is not always the case, but with rather early sounding piano accompaniment and great quality capturing of the voice and piano indicates an original record. Original records always sound better, no matter what any of the ads said in that time. Usually with originals, the quality is at least ten times better, and we sometimes get more worn down copies, such as the record being analyzed. This record has the classic issues with a typical original record, it's still high quality and sharp, but the fact that it was played quite often makes it quiet. 
Aside from trying to establish a date, if it is indeed from pre 1897, it's an important piece of Rag-Time on brown wax, and not just because all of May Irwin's specialties are. Other than more slight examples of early syncopation, such as Gaskin's 1896 Berliner of "All Coons Look Alike to Me" with Gaisberg, this particular Spencer record  takes the prize for the best example of overt Rag-Time before the craze "started" in 1897. Just about every line that Spencer sings in the verse is syncopated, really take a listen and tap something as you go along and see for yourself! Even before Spencer became fully immersed in the world of George W. Johnson and the black tenderloin lifestyle, his "negro" dialect was distinct and more untrained and lyrical than rough and slick. I mean, really listen to the overt and groovy syncopation of the first verse of the record! His younger voice is just so fascinating, especially because of the mystery that surrounds his early records, and the little bits we have of them only for reference. This particular example if full of syncopation, full on cake-walk rag syncopation, and it's loose and not unnatural or forced like Dan W. Quinn's often sounded. 
Now I have no idea who the pianist is on than Spencer record, since his singing is so loose and slick, the piano accompaniment kind of follows with that style. Since the year is likely pre-1897, this would mean Hylands had not yet changed the world of Spencer, and therefore the overt rough and unique rag style is not present in the accompaniment. Considering the date, it's most likely that Issler is the pianist. It's a bit more creative and strange to be Issler at first, but really, when we consider a few records we've heard with Spencer and Issler, it's not too far fetched. Issler, as we've come to learn, could get pretty wild at times, and had unexpected characteristics of a seemingly conservative bearded Bavarian music teacher. 
Even though Spencer and Hylands were unstoppable on records, we often overlook where Spencer started, working with Issler. Spencer was Issler's roadie for the orchestra, booking them for shows and helping them out all the time while in the studio and out. So it seems Issler and Spencer had something that wasn't really there while he worked so tirelessly with his musical lovechild Fred Hylands. Spencer was the more submissive part of the relationship while working with Issler, as opposed to his relationship with Hylands later. Issler took in Spencer at at time when the record companies they both worked for were brawling over patents, and provided both Columbia and U.S. with the most loyal and sure fire studio workers they could ever ask for. This is where we get records like that curious "Mamie! Come Kiss your Honey Boy" brown wax, that seems to stand out from most Spencer records, even from his gems with Hylands in 1899. 

Well, since that description took so long, I'll have to save the other records they put up on Santa Barbara for the next few posts, since it's quite a lot to process and discuss. This one record stood out, even though it's quiet and hard to hear, it's got the most fascinating aspects to it, especially to the quest for the earliest studio recorded syncopation, this one so far takes the cake. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

That "unknown" Columbia Pianist

Well, it may not be perfectly clear what Fred Hylands' birthday is, but the day that we do have as a guess is February 28th. So in honor of that date(which is probably more likely his wife's birthday), I feel obligated to do a post on him in some way or another. 

Like any birthday post, it's hard to determine where to begin with Hylands...Of the three-four years I've done studying him, I've gone from just a single small bio in The Phonoscope to almost a complete picture. There are still so many missing pieces of vital information, which is to be expected, as it's hard to know what the man was really like. Before I get to the bulk of this post, I'd like to share what I know of how Hylands was in terms of character, and just a general outline of him...

It's clear that from a young age that Hylands lived in the typical mentality that being a musician could never be a life-long career. With that mentality, his parents refused to keep him from only pursuing music, despite being pushy about his talents by having him tour around as a child musician. Fred was bright from a young age, and by age 15, he was thrown in business school(likely by his father), and probably learnt a few things about business sense while there. With this foundation, he had confidence in himself in no matter what he went for, and was self-driven. With all of this, moving to Chicago got him his first serious job in the theater business. His success in Chicago and absorbing of new syncopated music got him the confidence to move out of the mid-west that he was used to, and he followed the lead of the other young "rag" pianists and performers(like Ben Harney and Max Hoffmann). 
Hylands entered New York with striving confidence and excitement. At this time(1896) he was tall, kind of handsome, and slim, certainly he would have assumed himself "soubrette bait". Once he had a seat at Pastor's theater, being surrounded by younger Rag pianists built up his status in the music community, particularly the budding Rag-Time community. Once Columbia took him in 1897, all bets were off, and most outside gigs of his were too. Once at Columbia, that's where he was practically imprisoned almost every hour of the day, playing one take after another of rounds, and dealing with more singers than he could have than at Pastor's as music director. He soon became weary of this studio work, and it changed him greatly, out of some strange mix of things. We know that he was no longer slim by 1898, for whatever reason, and working at such a sedentary job couldn't have been good for him, with the combination of little sleep(making the switch from actors' hours to the opposite), drinking more often, and just generally losing any sense of self-care, he changed dramatically, and likely seemed not the same person as he was when first getting to New York in 1896. He hated the work at Columbia, as he stated, but of course deep down he loved the theater that he experienced every day at work, particularly from tragedian studs like Len Spencer and the morality lectures from Dan W. Quinn. With the work taking a horrible tole on his body and health, he decided to go into publishing in late-1898, failing at that, but then determined, trying again in early 1899 with his studio idol Len Spencer. His relationship with Spencer seems much more complicated than it was on the surface. Starting in 1897, they saw one another at work almost every day(every day certainly by early 1898), and found that their musicalities had similar chemistry, with that, this is why their records sound a little more perfect than the other recording partners of the brown wax era(like Quinn and Banta). Spencer's vocal style fit with Hylands' weird piano style perfectly, and in a different sort of perfect as Edward Issler's did in the years before that. It didn't help that Spencer's family had roots in the same region as Hylands' birth...
By 1899, the second publishing endeavor was good to go, with Hylands' foundation in business, and Spencer's higher education status in business, it seemed a perfect combination to satisfy Fred's desire to be social with theater freaks. Spencer's beautiful logo sealed the deal on the publishing firm and did just what Fred desired, caught the attention of performers from all around. As his advertisement stated, it was clear that one intention of having this firm was not only to gather up all the recording stars so they could rely on only him for music, but to gain the praises and friendship of many other prominent performers. Among those performers that Hylands, along with his assistant Burt Green attracted to their "33" were Byron Harlan, Ada Jones, Barney Fagan, Fred Hager and J. Fred Helf, and Sallie Stembler. Hylands took a specific liking to each of these performers that Burt and Spencer told him about, since he was not there himself often to greet them when they called. Though the regulars at "33" soon were featured on several sheets of Fred's. A particular interest of Fred's was Sallie Stembler, who was on quite a few of his sheets in the relatively short time he published successfully. 
She was already a rising star at the point that she corresponded with Hylands and Spencer. Now nothing definitive can be said about Hylands flirting around with Sallie, but considering the aggressive charm he and his sister Etta had, it wouldn't come as too much of a surprise if he messed around with her a little. His Marie was always gone at night, solely on actors' hours for the most part, and would be getting home from work just shortly before Fred would have to go to work(at Columbia). Without exhibitions at night, Fred had a little more time on his hands he was not intending on wasting...
To add to the weirdness of the Sallie and Hylands thing, Sallie got divorced in 1900 not long after she was being pictured on Hylands' sheet music, and the charge was abuse and infidelity.  

Let that sink in for a moment...

When the publishing firm collapsed in the fall of 1900, Hylands held a grudge with all of the fellow managers, and wrote a scathing letter out to them all, expressing his displeasure with them. Even with the unreasonable anger, Hylands still had to continue to face Spencer very often at work(Columbia), and all the other recording stars involved with the publishing endeavor. From this tale, we learn that Hylands was overly ambitious and confident, but unable to keep commitments, as the power he held corrupted him and therefore burnt bridges he built with his closest Columbia friends. Even with the heartbreak of the firm, he continued onward at Columbia, and soon back again into the theater where he really belonged. 
(in this show, Hylands played the part of one of many New York character stereotypes, which type, I have yet to find out)
He flirted with the idea of joining a union as early as 1901, as he was surrounded by progressives that expressed their dissatisfaction with their work since the mid-1890's. Issler, Will J. Hardman, Art Young, then later the budding White Rats. After his failed attempt at another publishing firm and a union, he gave in and joined the White Rats. His faulty leadership skills came around again as he rose up in the White Rats, his desire to run around and flirt against the rules ended up being his downfall in 1911-1912. After being a high up leader in the White Rats, being an aggressive leader, his desire to move around and flirt against the rulebook is what condemned him to court in 1911 and got him thrown out of his leadership position of the union's then large network.

His shows outside of the union stuff were sort of successful, as all the big Broadway people seemed to know he was a  toxic musical freak to get involved with. They all knew he was an outstanding accompanist, but was full of himself and overly confident with his skills outside of improvising popular songs on piano and violin. His performance skills outside of recording and accompaniment were never really highly praised, but his charm was always what kept him on level with everyone else. 

Hylands may not have been the best publisher, or union leader, but his records are really where it's at. When we listen to his records, we get a sense of familiarity out of knowing it's him back there on piano, doing his strange accompaniment that we all know and love. He probably resented working for Columbia for so many years, and was likely ashamed of all the strange and rather horrible things he did while there(as we can well observe that this is the origin of where his health failed him), but it's what physical evidence we have of his footprint in the history of North American music(and recording sound in general). He was not the first studio pianist, nor the first studio pianist to play rag-time, but he brought a style to the recording horn that had never been heard before and hasn't been replicated since then. Like all the other brown wax era studio pianists, he suffered for the sake of making a mark on what we can still hear today as record collectors(though that wasn't really in the mindset of all recording stars at that point in time). He shortened his life by 20 years by working at Columbia, but what he left us is fascinating, as there's no context and stories to accompany the days he sounds different from others, and why he played so strangely sometimes. 

We all know about Banta, with his goodness and morality, and his praises from being a tragic story taken from the world too early, but in reality, Hylands was similar in a lot of ways. 

Tragic indeed, the story of a fantastic musician intended to be a businessman who strays away from this to become a theater manager, then at the height of success is pulled out to the lowest kind of work for a musician in the 1890's, the recording studio. The studio changes him from a funny country jay to a drugged, greedy, bitter young city rat. he tries to escape this life after the era of piano accompaniment fades to join back in theater, and rises high up once more in the advocation for his fellow performers, but his fatal attribute leads to his downfall. This attribute is adventure and habit. The downfall is deepened at the death of his father and he ultimately finds himself dead in another nation in the middle of a reviving tour. 

what a story!

Just as tradition, here are a few records with Hylands accompaniment. There are so many out there, I cannot even begin to choose some, here are a few good ones anyway:

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Saturdays at Berliner and Little Swirls

Within the past few days, I've noticed some curious things. After doing some digging through Berliners, it is becoming more apparent that this label was the most accomodating for its artists. Despite rusty old Berliner himself presiding over the studio often, the days without Gaisberg were basically a mess. Gaisberg left the U.S. toward the end of 1898, and he rarely returned to the old studio, doing so perhaps twice a year at most after then. 
Amid the Berliner studies I've done recently, the specific Berliners that are of the most focus are the Berliners that Spencer made. As most of us know, Spencer joined the Berliner team rather late, as that was the first time Spencer associated with a non-Columbia affiliated Company. Most of his fellows joined with Berliner at the very beginning, that being around 1894 and 1895. Spencer was too busy running errands for the Emerson's and two timing with Columbia and U.S. to join when everyone else did. he didn't get on the Berliner boat until 1899, which is right near the end of their official existence. Hist first Berliner session was April 15, 1899. You can see what he recorded in the link below:
This was a pretty nice session, as I have heard one of the records he made that day. The first one was a nice one to start off with. 
Okay, yes he may have had his first session there Mid-April 1899, but he was there with the others of the Columbia staff the previous year, as that's what this picture documented: 
They all took a visit to the Berliner studio, and luckily we have hard evidence that Spencer was there, even if he did not record for them at the time, and didn't actually do so until a year later. 
Now here's the thing about Spencer's Berliner's that are interesting. The bulk of his Berliner records were made on Saturdays in April of 1899. It's strange to notice this odd pattern, and luckily with Berliner, all of the ledgers are left so we can observe this. A few of them were made on Fridays, and after April, but in general, he wasn't there too often. He made just enough Berliners to be considered a regular for at least a month. 

But why Saturdays?
And why April?

Well, the first question leads us into the theory world. One theory I discussed with a friend is that the Berliner staff was very slim on Saturday evenings and at knowing this, Spencer took advantage of this to come in and make bunches of records with his faithful accompanist Fred Hylands. The reason this was hypothecized is because of how strange and out of whack his Berliners are, they're quite different from his Columbia records recorded around the same time(if not some of the same days). They're much less tame than the Columbia's. That's saying quite a lot in terms of Spencer and Hylands. Those Berliner's are rather wild, and are strange in balancing. The balancing usually varies record to record, which is also unusual. Many Berliner records are strange in these same aspects, but the Spencer Berliners are especially interesting. Here's why:

His singing is not particularly the best on these...
The piano playing is all over the place.
Spencer doesn't seem to do the usual moving back and forth to balance the tones of voice. 
The piano playing is very pushy and sometimes out of sync with Spencer. 
Spencer dramatically changes his tone of voice through the course of one of them I've heard. 

All of these factors make the theory of slim staff plausible. These records may actually be the best examples of how Spencer and Hylands sounded when they were pretty out of it. Spencer was already not the best singer on the earliest records, but on these Berliners, his limited skill shines through like chimes on brown wax. The accompaniment is almost certainly Hylands, because of specific characteristics of blending with Spencer, though the style is a little misleading on a few of them, since it's Hylands at his weirdest. I've heard quite a few questionable Columbia's of theirs, but all the Berliners are far beyond those. 
Imagine it, the two of them(remember that they were publishing partners at this time) stumbling into Berliner's back door(in the picture above) after recording most of the day at Columbia. They greet Mr. Berliner, or whoever was there at that time, already a little tipsy from work earlier in the day, ready as ever to record a handful of hot coon songs. 

It's interesting that most of what Spencer recorded on those Saturdays at Berliner were coon songs, there was very little room for anything else. That further points to the pianist on those being Hylands. Even though it rarely happened, to a certain extent, many of these artists had to cater to the accompanist, even though they were basically just slaves to the performers and record consumers. When Hylands was still relatively new at Columbia in 1898, we hear a whole lot of records where he's practically featured behind one of the singers. Artists with so much adoration for Hylands, like Spencer, would have catered to Hylands' distinct style as well, Spencer's Berliners being the perfect example of this taken to a different level than his Columbias from the same time.  To add to the catering point, there are plenty of examples of this happening with Banta, such as on Denny's 1901 Edison of "Go Way Back and Sit Down". 
It would seem incomplete if I just spoke about all of these records and not have any of them here to listen to. 
I'm just going to list a bunch of them here:
"Hello Ma Baby"
(notice how pushy the piano playing progresses to by the end of the record)
"Whistling Rufus"
"You'll get all that's-a-coming to you"
(one of those other voices has to be Hylands) 
"You don't stop the World from Going 'Round"
These are all coon songs. All of the others I've heard are also coon songs. 
There are others, but I can't share all of them, and haven't heard all of them. That's a goal though at this point, hearing all of his Berliners(that were issued). Since he didn't make that many, it's possible to hear them all. The overall quality of the music varies so much from record to record that hearing all of them would be fascinating. 

One more thing to note, while speaking with a friend about the Spencer Berliners, it also was brought up how much inspiration Spencer took from George W. Johnson. Not at all had this crossed my mind before this conversation. It makes so much sense. What's good about Spencer is that we can often tell exactly who he's imitating on certain records. Throughout listening to him, I've been able to catch Ben Harney, May Irwin, and DeWolf Hopper. The distinct way that Spencer whistled(that you can hear on the record of "Whistling Rufus" above) is very similar to how Johnson whistled on his records. It's interesting to hear Spencer's inspiration, directly on the same record labels around the same time. Not too often do we get to hear the performers' inspiration in the brown wax era. At this point it makes more sense why Spencer really started performing early "coon songs" around 1894. Before then, most of his records consisted of popular, comic, and sacred songs. It wasn't really until he joined forces with Quinn and Johnson that he really started performing coon songs as we know them. Also, keep in mind that the era of the coon song began around this time as well. By 1895, Spencer was known as the premier "Ethiopian delineator" on records. It's curious to see such as close friend of his and fellow recording star being partially the source of his inspiration. 

Now onto something rather different...
Digging through that 1888-1893 book of handwritten ledgers has been a recent obsession. While searching around in that book for the first George W. Johnson recording dates, I was bound to get stuck in something else amid the pages. That's exactly what happened...I noticed a few curious things throughout the pages, and it has to do with the handwriting on them. 

From session to session, the handwriting on the pages seems to vary here and there, depending on who's actually in the studio that day. What I noticed going through those ledgers is that the handwriting is specific to who's in the studio, which can indicates a few things. Most of the time this would point to a certain person's handwriting being all over the place in the book, after a certain point in time. After flipping through months of seeing that mysterious Henry Geisemann(it was spelled a few different ways throughout) as solo pianist and accompanist, by August 1889 we see Issler mentioned almost every day consecutively. 
These pages are fascinating, and the handwriting on many of them, while it varies in quality, is always the same person on each page that Issler is mentioned. 
The neatness of the handwriting varies from page to page. Here are a few various ways that Issler was signed in the ledgers:
What a cast of writing!
These were all written by the same person, but who that is exactly is what I'm wondering here. The writing is all over this book of ledgers, and since Issler was often running the studio when he was there, it wouldn't surprise me if that just happens to be his writing. One thing I noticed about this writing, is that it has that lefty look to it, much like George Gaskin's or Len Spencer's. It may depend on the way that he had to write the information, say at an awkward angle, but the smudges are often suspect. Issler was certainly one I would put as possibly a lefty. He was brilliant enough, and enough of a maverick to be put in this very special category. It's somewhat funny how much the handwriting varies from page to page, sometimes being very neat and well drawn, but other times looking a complete mess that's nearly indecipherable. 

Oh the days of the rounds, it seems even the handwriting in the ledgers shows the wear and tiredness. 

So now that there's the possibility of Issler being a lefty, it seems he joins the group that Spencer fit into. We know Spencer was a lefty naturally, and later at heart. Spencer's known signing of other people's names also becomes evident when seeing the names of George W. Johnson and Ada Jones looking in that weirdly slanted kind of out of whack style. Considering Spencer's status, it's likely he wrote with his right hand much more often, but when signing for others, he switched around. Also, it's interesting to note the similarities that lie in the names that were written on Hylands Spencer and Yeager music to that slogan on their logo:
Forget that I ever said all of that extra weird writing on the logo was Hylands. That was all Spencer it turns out. All of those beautiful little wind-like swirls and the little flying heart(or whatever that is) is all Spencer's hand. 
There are those little swirlies!
Well there ya go. That solves the mystery of who was responsible for that funky slogan as well as the little pen sketches that we know so well on Hylands music. Spencer was weird, as we already know, and seeing those little pen sketches in greater context puts that into perspective. This is really making me hope that he did more pen sketches...
Thinking of how adventurous he was, that wouldn't surprise me. 

Anyhow, those little swirlies are just lovely. 

Hope you enjoyed this!