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!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Mysterious Photographer

Not often do I speak historically of photography, but sometimes knowing something about period photography helps in understanding some of the mess I'm digging through. Recently, I was getting a few Ossman pictures together for a cartoon idea, but then I realized something about one of the pictures I was using. 
I opened this picture for the first time in a while, and noticed that it was not taken at the Edison studio in c.1898. I cropped this larger version of this crappy image from this:
Edison? What?
Okay, so the first thing that caught my eye and made me realize that this was not taken at Edison was that wallpaper. I've seen that wallpaper quite a few times in Columbia studio pictures. Just so you can all visually see that this wallpaper is most certainly Columbia's is through this picture here:
We know for certain that this group of musicians is the Columbia orchestra. Thanks to The Phonoscope, we can be assured that these are familiar musicians that we've seen before, such as the clarinetist and the piccolo player. Those two recognizable musicians are William Tuson and George Schweinfest, with any one of the cornet players probably being Tom Clark. The picture above is certainly Columbia's studio, as not only do we see familiar Columbia musicians, but we also see those distinct windows that were on that immense building that Columbia occupied in the late-1890's. You can't see those windows in that picture of the studio in 1898:
Unfortunately the picture was taken just so that you can't see those windows, but everything inside is the same as usual. You can see them here though:
There's those windows!
So anyway, now that we've got that sorted out, let's get back to that Ossman picture. 
We can now see that it was taken at the same place as this picture, according to the familiar wallpaper sheathing the background of every early Columbia picture:
there's that same wallpaper!
So with all of this evidence of Columbia being the location of that crude Ossman picture, what of it?
Well, it's not Edison as the note below it states. So, since I've gathered all of these early Columbia pictures from around the same time, this had led me to question something. 
What's with all these crude pictures?
It can seem curious to look through all these Columbia pictures and find a pattern. What I've noticed about these Columbia pictures is that they are nothing like the well composed Edison pictures from around the same time, and a little earlier. Even the earliest Columbia pictures have a period composition that were taken by a skilled photographer. The strange composition of these Columbia photographs is not typical to what I've seen in general from the time period. They're out of whack and uniquely composed. 

I mean, it would be hard to look at that Ossman studio picture and not see that it's weird. Just like the 1898 exhibition picture, it's clear someone was experimenting. Also, after doing some more digging through my studio pictures, I realized that the one picture of Estella Mann making records was also taken at Columbia...
That same wallpaper!
The composition of these photos is very strange, and I hope that you see why. Not often do we see in an 1890's photograph a picture like the Ossman one, likely taken down the hallway from the main recording room, leaving the door open and taking up half of the photo's composition. Being in an advanced placement art class, my teacher would give that image a funny look, since often photographers are advised to compose the image with balance, but that Ossman picture has not that at all. Even with my inner artiste talking, I love these strange Columbia photographs. They're especially unique, not just from the technical standpoint of noticing the same wallpaper, but also from the artistic standpoint of the weird composition. With all of Columbia's rotten corporate rules and atmosphere, they still had the most down-to-earth bunch of leaders on their recording staff. Another thing to keep in mind with these Columbia pictures is that they were all taken around the same time, within a two year time frame(or so). The time I mean here would be from 1897-1898. Even though I have not used the exhibition picture as an example, that picture also is included in this study. It be about time to use it again anyway:
This image is composed similarly strange to the other ones. 
Really look at it. 
This image was likely taken at that rounded corner that we can see in the picture of the outside of the place in 1898. Since we can see all of this, here's the real question...
Who was taking all these pictures?
Of course since there's no "Columbia Archive" anywhere, we can't definitively see who took thee pictures, but we can have some good guesses. We know many of these Columbia recording stars were experimenting through their long recording careers, but the one specific guess I have would be Len Spencer. We know that in 1895-96, both Spencer's along with Steve Porter and Russell Hunting tried entering in the new film business. After that endeavor collapsed, Harry Spencer was left with all the equipment and connections they made, the remnants of this you can see in the earliest edition of The Phonoscope. Considering Spencer's relentless experimentation, it would be too surprising if he was part of the reason for those strange Columbia pictures. Since he did have an "artsy" side(being that he was naturally a lefty) he must have had an apt viewpoint when it came to taking photographs. Another reason I think it may be Spencer is because of who is missing in the exhibition photograph. We see Harry Spencer clearly identified, but no Len in sight. I'm not saying that I would always assumed the Spencer brothers to be together, but since the image above is of an exhibition, it would be very likely that Len was elsewhere in that chaotic scene. By elsewhere, I mean "experimenting" with a camera he had. When considering Spencer's nature to experiment, it wouldn't be surprising if he was responsible for that exhibition picture, or the strangely composed Ossman one from around 1897 or so. 
Let me reiterate that picture again, just so we can all see it again:
That's the stranger portion, where we're peeking into the recording room at Ossman while he makes records. It's a clever photograph really, even with the almost too wide door. 
The other seemingly random half of the picture here is this also interesting character:
Who's that?
When looking over this image once more, I almost immediately recognized that guy. He's got to be an Emerson brother. But which one exactly is the question...
Well, as I went to dig through all the pictures of those three brothers, I assumed first that it was the most obvious guess, Victor. We all know about Victor, with those intense eyes and red hair, with a stare that'll knock anyone cold(and not in a good way!). 
There he is...You can just see the evil in his eyes...
After looking at pictures of the three Emerson brothers, I saw that this figure was not Victor, but it was George. 
The handsomest of the Emerson boys, also the youngest. 
You can see that this mysterious engineer in the artsy Columbia picture is George for a few reasons. 
One...That's exactly the same mouth and lip structure.
Two...those distinct ears, that were slightly different from Victor's more pointy ones. 
Three...That curly, wavy hair. All three(there were four mind you) of the Emerson boys had this hair type, but it seems that George got the most prominent variation on this theme, and you can see it in the artsy picture, as can be observed in the picture directly above.

Another observation...if that's George Emerson in the Ossman picture(of whatever it is...), he looks older than his age. Lets say that picture was taken in 1898, so with that, Emerson would have been 22. He looks older than a young chap of 22. Thanks to The Phonoscope we know that he was the sporty one of the brothers. He got himself into tangles with wandering women, and it looks like he was a drinker as well, similar to Victor in a certain aspect. 

Anyway, it seems I've exhausted this topic for now, hopefully I can sometime see the originals of these images and get a much better scan of them, wherever they're kept hidden...

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

A birthday with analysis

Well, since I did a post past year on Spencer's birthday, it would seem appropriate to keep with the tradition, since I so greatly admire Spencer and his work. 
Of course when I say "admire" in this context it's not at all in the more attractive context I use when regarding Fred Hager. I cannot enough emphasize how eyeopening those Walsh articles on Spencer. Seeing the sweet side to Spencer described in such vivid detail was heartwarming, and made me see him as a fully realized and complicated human. I'll not stay on that matter, as I described it in that post regarding that, almost moving myself to tears as I wrote it. 
After really reading through those articles a few times, Spencer makes so much more sense, but when I say that, I actually mean he's more complicated. Most of my critical questions regarding him have still not been answered, even after reading all of the articles in great detail. But one thing was evident, after reading the articles, it's clear that the idea of Spencer having two sides is certainly true. 

He had a good side, and a bad side. 

Unfortunately, we may never really know what his "bad side" was truly like, since it's only the other that is spoken of anywhere, and it's likely only what we'll see. This "bad side" was referred to in the articles, but not at all by the daughters(which is probably a good thing). Only from his second wife "Liz" do we get slight hints of something else within him that never showed to his beloved daughters. Of course, what we are teased with is what we crave to know most, and this is exactly what perpetually peeves me. Any time I get to thinking about Spencer, I am reverted to thinking of what his unspoken side was like. The only one who would have known about Spencer as a whole was his wife "Liz", but she fiercely remained silent regarding her affairs with Len. His daughters were all too young to remember him in the 1890's, and only saw him after he had seemed to have calmed down a little(after 1900). From thinking of how his records sounded in 1894-95 compared to 1898, and then to 1906, he  went from a wild youngster with an infectious laugh to a slicker type with perpetual wise cracks. He had all of these attributes throughout his recording career, but these specific characters he played became dominant in his recordings at certain periods of time. 
(he probably wrote this signature left-handed)
A lot of these changes in character must have corresponded with changes in his life, whatever they may have been. 
Other than typical standards of the time, there must have been a reason that Elizabeth was so quiet, and refused to speak of Len. Since she refused to do so around the girls, it must have something to do with Liz and Len's relationship. The suspicion I've always had around his quick and long separation from her seems to rightfully be there, since Walsh seemed a little weirded out by it when he described their marriage in detail. Just to refresh those who forgot exactly why their marriage was strange, they got married in 1892, but then after a few months they separated, and then they remarried in 1895. Since it's also evident that the studio staff gossiped like mad about Spencer, they most likely spread all sorts of stories around regarding this strange separation. Throughout most of his time working every day at the U.S. phonograph company, he was not having to go back home to see Liz. And as expected from Len, once they  remarried(for whatever reason), they got right to business. Just as a side note, the reason I implied that he got right to marital business is that he did that with his first wife, though to the disappointment of all the family, he was only 18. I hope you all know what I mean here with "getting to business", please, don't make me explain it...
When speaking of why Liz was so quiet and reserved(other than standards of the time), all sorts of theories come up. I have had long conversations detailing why this may have been so, some outrageous claims have been made, but some logical. It wouldn't be surprising at all if Len was a frequent cheat, or that Liz hated his gambling habit with a passion. Both of those are very likely true, but it seemed Len was never immune to the vices of a few Columbia staff members. Russell Hunting and Fred Hylands were particularly bad influences on Spencer, or maybe it was the other way around? 
Len's saintly mother knew he was a "wild child" and spoke often of how that was true. She must have resented him, and he must have felt the same. Another layer to Spencer's complexities, was his bitter relationship with his mother. Though some of The Phonoscope sections that mention her say otherwise, there was no way that she enjoyed hearing of her son's ramblings and capers from work. Since he clearly did not hold Liz to an equitable standard, without doubt his mother was cross with him. His mother must have approved of the kind atmosphere that he provided for his daughters, while at the same time scolding him about spending so much time away from the family. In one of the articles, Ethel recalled that her father didn't see the youngest daughter Clara until she was three weeks old. That alone says quite a lot about Spencer, as I would assume he did that sort of thing often. Of course, I'd assume that this was more common with him before 1900, especially in those days of the publishing firm with Hylands. I'm also sure that the family did not at all approve of Hylands, they probably saw him as insensitive "white trash"(excuse my terminology), and probably was kept out of the house. Many others of his co-workers likely had a similar status to Hylands in their home, though the more respectable ones like Steve Porter and Roger Harding were held to a different standard. 

So all of this brings to me the ever illusive question,
what was his bad side?

Of course there's no way to know at this point in time, but we can piece things together from outside sources(by this it's meant other than the family). Fred Gaisberg's accounts of Spencer remain the most questionable and tantalizing of them all, since they regard a side to him that we wouldn't see with the family. Fred Gaisberg not only described him as "particular pet", and specifically stated thus:

Perhaps because of his unsavory reputation, my particular pet and hero of this time was the handsome Len Spencer. 
Later on in the section, Gaisberg elaborates on the subject of his "hero" of his earliest days at Columbia in 1889. 

Later I was always to remember his handsome face disfigured by a scar, the result of a razor-slash in an up-river gambling brawl. he was said to have been an adroit poker-player.
(both of these sections came from A Voice in Time)
In so many ways I agree with what Gaisberg says here, but what's interesting is that many of these comments were contradicted by the accounts that Walsh collected. However, the accounts of managers and fellow co-workers have a sort of value to them that the family accounts do not. Though Gaisberg is not always the best source for these accounts, as many of them are twisted around and exaggerated, but his accounts of Spencer are very realistic, and help us better understand(to a certain extent) why he had this "unsavory reputation". This exact term that Gaisberg used is exactly what I mean by his "bad side". Long before I had the privilege of powering through that book(A Voice in Time) I got little bits of that reputation from all of the usual sources, such as The Phonoscope, even his fellows were hinting at it here and there. 
A perfect example is this infamous section from August or so of 1898: 
Ah yes, that one. 
This hints at another aspect of him that all of us can see in pictures of him, but have very little written evidence of it. 
We all see his rugged face illuminate any picture he's in. Just as Gaisberg described, his face seemed marred by something, and unlike the account, it didn't seem a razor slash was the culprit. By this, I mean that being a ravaging alcoholic may have been the answer. The evidence lies in pictures of him, and in that single Phonoscope section listed above. I'm sure this idea is nothing that Liz would have spoken of, even if directly asked the question. Being involved and rambling around with those Columbia "sports" must not have helped his case, though since he had so much status at Columbia, he was likely the leader of this group(or "fellowship" or whatever you call it...).

 With his clearly dominant influence at Columbia, he likely took a stand to lead the group whenever orders were given from the management, or some serious changes were made in the studio. At a certain point in time, Fred Hylands attempted to take over this role, since he did essentially have the power to do it when he was their house publisher, but he abused that power far faster than Spencer could have expected. 

Other than his addictive side(whether it be alcohol or drugs of any kind), I have pointed out before how he was also a "two-timer" for all of these record companies. He may have been a leader, but at the same time was a first class hustler who was ever loyal to record companies, at whatever costs. He would even do a midnight raid of one company to earn back trust. As we recall that story of him and the Emerson brothers raiding U.S. for Columbia, keep in mind that his gambling habit may have also forced more sneaky under-the-table deals with record companies. 
For the raid, that's how he covered his tracks...using The Phonoscope.
Other than that bust in 1897, and the one in 1894 or so with the North American lawsuit or that weird thing Columbia went through from 1893 to 1896. He clearly had his hands in that weirdness of Columbia around 1893, much like the second time Columbia almost died in 1896-97. Spencer's greed kept him in a smart place at all times in the early days, his hustling skills forced him to learn which companies were best to remain with. While it was a good thing in terms of remaining in the business, it also became part of the so-called "unsavory reputation" that Gaisberg described. 

So even with all of this information I've pieced together regarding his "bad side", I still have no candid evidence of this side to him, at least not from the most reliable sources(his family). But from what we can see, he was a wild man with lots of complicated layers to his soul. We often wonder about this so-called "unsavory reputation" regarding Spencer, with only bits and pieces of what it might actually be, though there is enough to slightly understand how his fellows at work saw and spoke of him. His friends at work often spread rumors about him, one of them was mentioned one of the Walsh articles, and it was kind of regarding his first wife(?), though the names were all out of whack:

...Margaret Agnes Kaiser, whose foster parents were named Allen, is the "Elizabeth Allen" that old-time Columbia officials thought Len married in a runaway match...

I still do not know for the life of me what "runaway match" means in this context, please, if someone knows please leave a comment on this post.
Okay, at least that kind of explains where Spencer got that strange pseudonym from on his early records. Luckily, someone put up one of those highly desired records by Spencer with that strange "Gary Allen" pseudonym, so now we can hear one of them!
here's the c.1891-92 Columbia with Spencer using that pseudonym
Even though the speed doesn't really sound right, it's still clear that he sounded much different before 1895. He most certainly became a better singer as the years went on. It would be interesting to hear an early "Ethiopian song" that Spencer recorded, as by 1895 he was already well-known for such songs. 
Allow me to zoom in to the little thing on the top of the cover...
This tune was published right before the term "coon song" was used to describe these early "rag" songs. 

At this point, it seems I've said all I really need to say about this matter, since you all know my opinions and feelings regarding Len Spencer. Since it's his birthday when I'm putting this up, everyone ought to get out all their Spencer records, and luckily, there's quite a lot of them out there. 

Still hoping day by day that I am contacted by the descendants of this fantastic family, with so many fascinating characters baring the name Spencer.

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Some more studio politics

Now that the holidays are essentially over, hopefully I can get back to making more blog posts, since it's still been hard to find more interesting information to talk about. 

Recently while searching around for quartet records, I came across a very strange record that hadn't even a record number to be found. The performer listed in the announcement of the record was given by the familiar voice of this chap:
Steve Porter.
So the creation of this strange record seems to have been facilitated by Mr. Porter, though the leading voice in this so-called "Diamond Quartette" would most certainly be George Gaskin. This record is centered around a parody on the hit "I'd Leave my Happy Home for You", but on the record it is called "I'd Leave my Job to Vote for You"(haha). 
Porter's announcement begins with this, 
"republican campaign song..." 
after the announcement the lovely and unmistakable Ragged playing of Hylands lumbers through. 
Of course on this record, there's a mot more than just Hylands and that Quartette. It seems that in this quartette, there was Gaskin, Porter, Roger Harding, and George Hargraves. This witty parody is rallying for William McKinley's campaign in 1900, and throws William Jennings Bryan and the Democrats in the dust. Sorry, it's one of those records I can't share out of kind courtesy to the owner. 
So, in past digging, I had heard of such campaign songs and rallying done by a certain group at Columbia. Those "clan" members at Columbia(let's say Harding, Porter, Spencer, Gaskin, Emerson brothers, Hylands at this point in time) were most certainly prominent politicos in their time. And with that, it can further be proven by the first Phonoscope section I found regarding their prominence in the Republican Party of New York. 
I hate that these are so hard to read. What a politico Harding was! Harding did quite a lot of rallying. well there ya go, there's that exact group from that record I've described. It's amazing to see an actual written account regarding the group, and then later finding a rather "wild" record by the very same group. Of course when digging all of this up after listening to the record, this brought back the research I did on studio politics a little while ago. Also, while doing some random digging on something else last night, I stumbled across something else telling about a certain someone.
It's clear that I talk about Fred Hylands quite often, and finding new information on him has been very slim the past 6 months. One thing that's fascinating about Hylands however is that his political view and morals seemed to have changed somewhat after a certain point in time. This change was a gradual process, and it took a few years for him to transition. Luckily, that recording and Hylands' associations in the recording business can lead us to assume he was on the dominant Republican side of the Columbia staff(keep in mind not every one of the boys and few ladies was on the same political side). Despite Hylands' more popular relations, he(much like Scott Joplin believe it or not) around 1899-1900 began associating himself with some of the underground people's and political activists. By these terms, I mean Socialists. Those progressive outcasts that were dreaded by every factory and corporation, yes, Hylands began flirting with members of these groups. 
I've made it clear that Hylands switched to the other side by 1904-1905 by becoming a leader with the White Rats, but it seems that a few years before that he was pondering the ideas that his progressive friends told to him. I had assumed some of his actor friends like J. Grant Gibson would have swayed him over, but actually, come to find out it was someone else familiar. 
Well, this "ranting Bill" is Will J. Hardman. 
(cartoon by me!)
Just last night, I went digging for some early roots of Rag-Time on the Johns Hopkins sheet music website, but stumbled upon something fascinating. So what has Will J. Hardman to do with Hylands' socialist streak? Well it seems I found an indirect answer. 
(the date on this one is 1886)
There we go! It seems I found another source of influence for this transition. 
Of course! It makes so much sense now. Hardman was a gifted wordsmith, and now it seems that my hypothesis of his friendship with Hylands was in fact true! I had assumed by how many songs Hylands wrote with Hardman in such a short period of time that they had a bond outside of their music. So at a certain point, Hardman must have explained his world view to Hylands, and since Hylands was already somewhat fed up with Columbia, these new ideas from progressive Hardman must have been eyeopening. Unfortunately, I know nothing on Hardman at all, but because of the age of the other pieces I've dug up, he was most certainly older than Hylands, probably a decade older as far as I can guess. That would put him at around 38 by the time he met Hylands. Without a doubt, in 1900, Hylands was keeping his rebellion and disenchantment well hidden, since he had to participate in many of those political gatherings that Harding organized. By the time of the publishing firm with Spencer collapsed, Hylands was essentially outcasted from the tight pact that the Columbia staff had in the 1890's. With the shunning however, came Hylands' opportunity to go the way he desired, and head off to become a "Knight of Labor". We know his first try left all his old friends at Columbia a little frightened while also made him the laughingstock of Columbia and the Broadway community. This Socialist leaning left some of his old Columbia fellows concerned, and it must have made Len Spencer roll his eyes. 
Spencer after 1900 went a different direction as well, he was still a solid Roosevelt Republican, but his entering into the business aspect of vaudeville took something out of him. Spencer was unhappy with the progressives like Hylands and the other Union men, and this must have worsened over time when he had to deal with quite a few scrambles regarding union members and leaders. Of course, before his "falling out" with Hylands, Spencer would have seen bits of these progressives, as Frank P. Banta was part of a musicians' union, despite the contradictory nature of his employers. 
Since Hylands' relationship with Hardman was relatively close for enough time, it's likely that Hardman was part of Hylands' political transition. Another thing to note from that sheet music cover I found, notice the other titles listed under Hardman's name.
"For one day of Turkey there's six days of hash" 
well well Mr. Hardman, that's an amusing title certain. The words above the title are also interesting:
"an injury to one is the concern of all"
What a Socialist remark that is. Much like the cartoon above, I can envision Hylands being hypnotized by Hardman's ranting, since his lyrics were perfect with Hylands' weird often drug-induced Rag style.(think about the multiple meanings for "hash" in the title listed above). Keep in mind that Hardman's lyrics to Hylands' songs are very weird. They're strange even for the time period, and weirdly poetic all the same. 
Really listen to those lyrics, they're funny but really weird and have a few nearly unrelated lines. 
Of course one can wonder about how Hylands and Hardman became friends, and of course my mind goes directly to them both being den ramblers(essentially the opium equivalent to drinking buddies), who were both second grade musician/composers with unique talents. Hopefully, someone will dig something up on Hardman sometime soon, the suspense of learning little bits about him through his music is starting to get aggravating. 

Before I finish, I wanted to share the two record related finds I got for Christmas. The first thing I saw was an original Columbia box from 1897 or so, and when I opened the box, out popped a bunch of the soft fluff that record companies used to protect their records. I had always wanted one of those beautiful pre 1900 Columbia boxes, as they were colorful and elaborate, much like the late-1890's was in a nutshell. 
There's the pretty old box. 
Now the record on the inside was also really nice too, because it's Dan Quinn singing "put me off at Buffalo" from around 1898 or so. 
I'm looking forward to hearing the thing sometimes soon, as it will likely be a varied round of this take:
There's the record and the box. 
And my gloved hand holding it correctly. 
So far I've heard three different takes of Quinn singing this song all on Columbia brown wax. I wonder how many rounds he made of it for Columbia anyway. 
Other than that fantastic gift, I also unwrapped a piece of Hylands published sheet music. He did not write it, but it's another Hylands, Spencer, and Yeager piece, which is always worth my time and money. Of course it's not one with Dan Quinn or Spencer on the cover, but it's about the next best thing. 
there ya go. 
Another Hylands Spencer and Yeager piece is always welcome in my sheet music collection. Any time that certain lady is on a Hylands piece is always interesting to me. 
So I've seen her on three Hylands sheets now...the number seems to keep increasing, as does the evidence of a little fling there. I learned somewhat recently that she divorced her husband in 1900, the year that this piece was published with her picture on it. The charges of the divorce were impropriety. It's very tantalizing to read this, and it legitimately shocked me when I saw it. Maybe sometime I'll do a post on what evidence I have about this tantalizing coincidence....


Hope you all had an all-right holiday season!