Sunday, December 4, 2016

Denny's Wails and Spencer's wise Cracks

There's a whole lot to love about Will F. Denny, but despite the praise he's gotten with record collectors, there's not much known about him. This is unfortunate, since he's one of the earliest Columbia "regulars", being advertised in The Phonogram as early as 1892. He was really the most energetic and vigorous of the earliest recording stars, even he surpassed Leachman's level of this on his Victors. Most collectors know of Denny's signature wails and laughs on most of his records, which made his recordings distinct in the era they were made. 
His records are comical in different ways than those of the Spencer's or Russell Hunting's, but his humor is a type that more collectors can easily catch, and agree with as well. Spencer and Hunting are often too crass for many collectors, which is perfectly fine to my liking. Denny's humor however, was full of energy and practical humor, that seemed more widely enjoyed by Victorian people. Denny's humor(for the most part), was the humor of the stuffy upper class, even though this was not always the case. Spencer's and Hunting's was the humor of the people, or saloon-goers and workers. It seems strange to compare these recording stars by the type of humor they conveyed on their recordings, but there's certainly a difference between Denny and Spencer. 

One thing to consider when reviewing Spencer's sense of humor is the fact that he was a dandy. 
Even at about 23, Spencer was already cultivating the dandy's style, as that tie is very unusual from the early 1890's. His humor was rather dark and crass, even with his well-to-do upbringing. His background didn't seem to matter when he became involved with the first "clan" members Russell Hunting and Victor Emerson. Hunting really got him into the business "full-time" so to speak, as it seems he was in and out of recording before 1892. Hunting was drawn to Spencer because of his knowledge and curiosity of recording, especially Spencer's ability and interest in the mechanics of recording, even though we know that Spencer did more than that. Of course, we know what Hunting decided to do almost just as he became a recoding star, recording smut. Once he began doing this, he must have gone to Spencer to ask if he would be one of his "doubles" to record his smut under pseudonyms, but of course, Spencer refused the offer. But after Hunting's bust in 1896, Spencer took on little bits of Hunting's crass humor and set them in some of his sketches and songs. With sketches like this one:

 (in a high voice) Say Nigger--

Well, what now lady?

(high voice)I wanta aks yew which one out a' all these gals you've got that yew really love the best?

Well lady, I consider that an impersonal 'cause I don't discuss my love affairs with nobody. But since that you are rubberneckin' an' wants ta know, why I'll tell you it's a---
(sings the rest of the song etc...)
This sketch came from Spencer's 1899 Columbia of "My Josephine" with Hylands on piano. This is certainly one of the more racy sketches of Spencer's, even though his auction records sometimes have even more saucy comments and puns, such as this one from his Victor of "Auction Sale of Household Goods":
"The lady that sells this piano's got beautifully carved legs, double back action..."
That's one that could easily be missed when listening to the recording, it took several listens to fully catch the joke. It's things exactly like this that define the humor of both the Spencer's, and what sets then apart from Denny's wild recordings. 

Denny always threw in something to his records to make them more energetic, and sometimes they seem a little strange, such as one of the earliest surviving recordings of him, his 1893 New England Phonograph record of "You Can't Think of Everything". This recording is strange for the fact that Denny gradually grows louder as he sings the verses, which is something that recording stars were advised not to do, or maybe someone told him to do that, but this was the result. It's very weird, that he was probably told to be very loud, and how he delivered! He's shouting by the last chorus, which is something only suited for Edward M. Favor when making records. When he came around again in 1896, Denny used his shouting for more practical comedic effect, rather than just shouting the lyrics to the song by the end of the cylinder. A great example of this is on his early 1902 recording of "Has Anybody Seen Our Cat?", of which the link I cannot share, but if you know the song, you could guess that Denny really does all of his signature comedy, in fact, he does just that, and a little bit more. He does a whole Meow! Meow! Thing at the end, and it tops of the whole recording's wild nature. His many Columbia cylinders from 1898-1899, are among the best examples of his entire range of recording, since that's when there was a wide variety, but also a whole lot of his signature Comic songs, such as his wild version of "How'd You Like to be the Iceman?", and His 1898 patter specialty, "A Man Took A Girl"(Music starts at 5 minutes in...). His "A Man Took A Girl" is especially a great example of his Vaudeville skill, patter songs just like that are the apex of still-relatable comedy. It helps Denny had Fred Hylands behind him on all those fantastic recordings, especially since Hylands added little tags of Rag-Time at the end of the recordings, which always balances out the straight time in the rest of the song. 

Of course, like all the early recording stars, Denny recorded some coons songs here and there, but with him, they're pretty uncommon. One of the few coon songs he did was "Ain't that A Shame", and "Just because She Made Them Goo Goo Eyes", of which all versions of both recordings are fantastic. Noe can compare to Denny's wild side on his 1901 Zon-O-Phone of "Aint You my Lulu"(transferred too fast though...). Damn, Denny really is all over the place on that recording. It's pretty much the wildest of Denny's recordings I've heard so far, because the piano accompaniment is just as weird and spontaneous. of course, it's one of those in-between Zon-0-Phone's where the pianist could be Fred Hager, Hylands, or Banta, with that, I don't know who the pianist is on this one. That really is unfortunate, since the piano on that is fantastic, but it sounds like too much of a hybrid of all three pianists listed just above to be anyone in particular, so maybe it's the fabled Fred Hager. 

Hager might be more of a pianist that we've all cut him out to be...Just saying....

Denny's recordings can be compared to some of Arthur Collins' earliest recordings, though of course Denny's wails are sometimes a little more prominent and overkilled than Collins'. Just to get this point across, here's Collins' 1902 Zon-o-phone of "Just Because she Made them Goo Goo Eyes", and here's Denny's 1902 version of the same thing. The good thing about these two recordings is that the piano accompaniment on both of them is fantastic, in different ways, because it's likely they're two different pianists. Hager is likely on the Collins version, and Hylands is on the Denny version. Collins sings it much more like we would assumed Denny to, but interestingly, Denny sings it very straight, with little to none of his signature wails. Strangely enough, it almost seems like the star of the Denny recording isn't Denny! It actually seems that they might have intentionally made the piano louder than Denny, because it's suspiciously loud and well-recorded. It's actually not too strange for when this was recorded, since for some reason, for about the entirety of 1902 or so, the piano was always balanced weird on Columbia records, in fact, the piano was balanced in such a way that the singers were almost drowned out by the piano(wow, how Hylands must have been elated they were doing that....), wish I knew why, but it's always on 1902 Columbia records. They are all recorded just before Charles Prince took over the Columbia orchestra, hmm... Wonder if there's a correlation there? It's records like the Denny recording above and this one here that illustrate this strange effect on such a short period of Columbia records. Personally, I really like that this was a "thing" for almost the entirety of 1902, it makes Rag-Time pianists really listen, and actually be able to listen to the piano accompaniment. 

Denny's wails are really great to hear, and make his recordings much more fun to listen to, though it's unfortunate that he didn't live into the 1910's, where he could have been in silent films, and we could see his fantastic and hilarious range of facial expressions. The picture at the beginning of this post is only a slight example of one of many great expressions Denny had when he made records. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Amazing Tommy Glynn(1872-1897)

Within the last week or so, it seems that I've been able to gather a heap more of information on that mysterious banjoist Tommy Glynn, and before delving into this new information we begin with a tintype:
This AMAZING  image came up when I did some digging on Glynn, and I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT THIS EXISTS! It's Glynn in the mid-1880's. 
It is for images like this that I always dig through every pile of cabinet cards and tintypes that I spot anywhere, because, if you're not looking carefully, you'll miss something as extraordinary as this. For all we know, someone will find a tintype like the one above from 1886 of Fred Hylands with a fiddle! 

Glynn was very similar to all of the other banjoists that he was in harsh competition with in the late-1880's, though he would have been practically a child up against 21 year old Vess Ossman and almost 20 year old Ruby Brooks, who were just as willing to win all the awards they could flaunt around on their silk coat lapels. Glynn's similarity begins with his talents sprawling from a young age, and inevitably turning him into a prodigy, much like Ossman, though Ossman had to go through some years of being a nomad banjoist to get to where he went. Glynn had earned a reputation it seems by 1890, and infamously, so did Ossman, but in the years before these banjoists(some of them) were able to be recorded by the major phonograph companies, Glynn reigned supreme as the future of famous banjoists, since he was writing legitimate music for the instrument by that time, at not even 20. It seems that since he isn't well-known particularly by modern banjo scholars, he must have been not nearly as flamboyant as Ossman, which must have earned him respect as a musician and man, but not exactly in terms of his success as a banjoist. He probably won many of the banjo contests that were so hotly spoken of in the early 1890's, but of course Ossman won over many of the judges somehow, even if Glynn before the contests was indeed considered the nation's best banjoist. But just as Charlie Judkins dropped on me, I seems very strange that they didn't bother to record the so-called "best" performers of their field, and Glynn would be among these unfortunately never recorded greats. Many of the early banjo contest competitors were recorded at some point, but most of them weren't, and sadly, Glynn wasn't chosen over Ossman to make records in 1893-94. It's ever more unfortunate that he didn't make records because he easily COULD  have. Wouldn't have done this for very long, but would have done it in the first place anyhow. 

It seems to be a curse of some kind that many of these amazing banjoists had, and Glynn was the prime example of this, where they died quick and suddenly, at the height of a career with astronomic potential. Glynn is officially the youngest to have died in all of these old recording studies I've done so far(after Glynn comes Banta by the way). Glynn died in May of 1897 after catching Typhoid fever, which is horrid, and really made my heart sink when reading that. Just as a factoid, to put that into perspective, Byron Harlan caught Typhoid fever in 1911 and almost died, but didn't, though it took several months to recover. It really is awful that Glynn caught it and died so quickly, perhaps right in the middle, or maybe even the beginning of an extremely successful career. 

Despite the competition, all these banjoists played each other's music and arrangements all the time, and the recordings that the few of them made are full of examples of this. Of course, now I find it a little strange that Ossman and Glynn were pictured together:
That seems a little strange now, and it seems like pairing them together for anything was asking for the chemicals to not mix right. The expressions on their faces alone can say something about them, and maybe that it probably didn't work as a duo for them. But maybe it did? It's hard to know, though Ossman was often hard to work with, and was infamous for such a thing. 

Of course there's no way we can actually hear Glynn play, but we can hear many of his arrangements played by his fellow contest banjoists, like Ossman, Brooks, Bacon, and even Van Eps. 
Speaking of Brooks:
Brooks is standing.(taken c.1894)
While writing this post, I've been listening to the few recordings that he made from 1897 to 1905, and his playing is very interesting to compare to that of Ossman. 
One thing about Brooks that makes you realise why he didn't beat out Ossman in those banjo contests, it because of the amount of mistakes he often played. Pretty much every one of the records of his out there have some kind of very audible mistakes, which isn't such a good thing when he played very quick. Brooks wasn't like Ossman, who always said "Banjoists much play metronomically", as Brooks clearly didn't learn to play the instrument in the same era or on the same terms as Ossman, and the evidence shows. His time was very pushy, and it makes the mistakes he played more often than they ought to be. Oddly enough, when Brooks made his Edison records, guess who his pianist was!


That's really hilarious if you think about it, because Banta was Ossman's official accompanist from 1892-1895ish. Banta is on most of( if not all) his recordings, and that adds a whole other level of awkwardness, with the whole Ossman thing. Brooks would have know this, just to make it ever more uncomfortable. 
Here are three fantastic examples of Brooks' recordings:

Glynn would have sounded much better than Brooks, in technicality, tone, and rhythm, he wasn't one of the best banjoists around for nothing. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Issler's Syncopation and The Slow Speed effect

Edward Issler, the first studio pianist there ever was, and the first one to syncopate behind a singer on a recording. 
It's amazing to fathom that fact, that Issler was the first to play syncopated rhythm behind a singer, and it just happened to be the first recording that the first black recording star made in his career. Issler would have hated to have been known as the first pianist to clearly play "ragged time" on a recording, but it's without a doubt true. It was bound to happen anyhow, as George W. Johnson grew up surrounded by music and melodies that were not the typical straight rhythm tunes that we all know of Victorian Music, it helped that Johnson grew up on a Virginia Plantation, and heard who knows what. Clearly Johnson had the typical sense of "swung" rhythm that many blacks were very familiar with from the days of the early minstrel shows. Issler luckily was gifted with the relatively rare perfect sense of time and pitch. His rhythm was metronomic, rare for the era in which he was schooled musically, and proved an advantage later when making records with his orchestra, as well as learning new rhythmic styles for singers. After going through the few recordings of Issler's where he plays this "ragged" time, is seems likely that learned how to play this way from hearing Johnson's syncopated whistling, since the type of syncopation he played later after recording with him in 1891 is the same rhythm and type. Issler was probably not well-acquainted with the new style of music that was emerging that was being played in minstrel shows and vaudeville functions, but certainly would have been after recording with Johnson in 1891. It is Johnson's recording of "The Whistling Coon" that is the oldest example of a recording of what "rag-time" would have sounded like many years before 1897. Here's the recording:
Without a doubt, this recording gets across the point of syncopated rhythm very well, on Johnson's and Issler's part. Johnson is whistling all sorts of syncopated rhythms, and Issler tags along and plays some occasional sections with the same, but different types of syncopation. 
In fact, it seems that Johnson's syncopation at about 56 seconds in is the exact type that Issler played on later recordings by his orchestra. A similar type that Issler later used is also Johnson's at 1:56. The first type at 56 seconds in is exactly the same type as that on the perplexing c.1896 recording of "Dixie" by Issler's orchestra(announced by Len Spencer). The syncopation is just after 1:20 seconds in. How that's the strangest thing! It is not the earliest example, but clearly Issler learned how to(kind of) do that from someone, and it is likely that working with George W. Johnson informally taught him how to play that way. It is clear now that Issler was able to play syncopated music, but of course, not in the most natural or loose manner. Since we know that he's on that infamous recording of "Uncle Jefferson" by Billy Golden, there's another good example of what Issler was capable of in terms of improvising. It's clearly syncopated, and a little bit more so than the other examples here, but it's certainly Issler, and it helps that the other recordings have the same syncopation and reasonably set dates to them. That record of "Dixie" is likely from 1896 more than any other year for many logistical reasons, such as the fact that Len Spencer is the announcer, the syncopation is there, and that the company that made the record(The U.S. Phonograph Company) had completely dissolved by May of 1897, and Spencer had left them in January of that year, so there's really no way that the recording is from very early 1897. That makes it one of the few examples of Ragged time on recordings from pre-1897. In that category, I know of about five recordings so far. Hoping to find more out there! 

Now to transition from this matter into a subject that continues to puzzle record collectors all over. When you play recordings from this era at much slower speeds, you can really hear the high and impressive quality of the recordings, from things as slight as single bass notes in the piano accompaniment to specific syllables that singers utter. It's a very strange phenomenon really, and in fact, some of these recordings seem to be made louder when played slower. I tried this yesterday with a few favourite recordings of the collection I have, and all of these aspects came through all the same, and the recordings sounded better overall. Tried playing a few Victors slow, and they sounded so much better, then tried it on some of my one-sided records, and the result was stunning. The recording of "Big Indian Chief" I have by Myers is one that sounded just that way after playing it much slower. 
Myers' actual range had been a debated matter between Ryan Wishner and I recently, and this experiment proves that what we had thought previously was not true. Ryan had assumed that the recording of "Alice Where Art Thou" we slowed down was slowed down too much, but in fact, it is at exactly the right speed. Myers was a low baritone for the most part, though his range was very versatile and could go far into the bass and into the tenor range. The original transfer of "Alice Where Art Thou" is very quick and just sounds as so even without any background information or prior knowledge of the singer or pianist. Just to get the comparison across clearly, here's the original transfer. Now listen to the newer slowed down transfer. One thing I just noticed while listening to the record while writing this is that Hylands hits a very deep single bass note at 1:04, and I didn't notice it before, only because it's one of those notes that reproducer just barely caught, just like a few notes in the whistling chorus of this 1901 Climax record. In fact, I have come to notice that Climax records did that often, only catch the tone of the rattling piano string, not the note in its entirety. Another example is another that we have recently slowed down from the original transfer. 
Here's the original transfer of Collins' "When Mr. Shakespeare Comes to Town" from 1901, now here's the newly slowed down transfer of the same.
Climax records had great sound quality(though they weren't as good as Zon-O-phones from the same era). The final octave that is played in the very last chord of the piano is caught by the diaphragm in exactly the same way as the other Climaxes exhibited here. The very low C is just barely caught, and now that the recording is played slower, this can be heard much better, and about as much it can be, since it's a Climax. 

The final recording to exhibit in furthering the astonishing effects of playing records slower is one of the very few recordings that Fred Bacon made. 
That's him in the early 20's. 
His recordings are highly valued to banjoists all over, since his banjos were among the best made in the 1920's, and they are regarded highly in jazz bands. It helps that his masterful skill transferred from his playing to his making of banjos as well. His playing style was technically better than Ossman's or Ruby Brooks, and it was smoother, as well as sweeter toned. His Victor recording of "West Lawn Polka" is no exception to his mastery, and it's a little funny that the banjoist who arranged it is in this picture here:
But it's not who you might be thinking it is. 
it's the banjoist on the right this time! 
Tommy Glynn. 
Here's the original transfer we all know of Bacon's "West Lawn Polka", now here's my copy slowed down to perfection.
Now that it's slower, the actual tone of the string plucking can be heard, and it brings out the harp-like effect that few banjo recordings from the acoustic era got. It's really how the banjo was intended to sound on these recordings, and it helps that Bacon was an exceptional banjoist, and, in my opinion, the best of these studio stars, and this is only from hearing three recordings of his playing. When three recordings alone get that point across, you know he was a truly gifted musician. The slowed down transfer really exhibits the sweet and dark tone that Bacon got on banjo, and the fact that his playing was the smoothest of the early studio banjoists. 

It must be noted that the pianist on this record is Fred Bachmann, though unfortunately, there's not really anything to distinguish his playing, but he's listed as the pianist in the ledgers, so there's no pianist debate here.

Before I finish the post, I just want to say that if you own a copy of "The battle of Manila" by the Columbia orchestra, I mean the brown wax from 1898, not any later remakes of it, Fred Hylands can be heard toward the beginning yelling in a kind of delirious and slurred way:


I know it's Hylands because I went back and listened to the two other records where Hylands is assumed to be speaking, and what do ya know! It's the same voice! 
Just to get an idea of it, here are the two recordings I used to support the theory:
Harry Spencer's "Side Show Shouter" from 1898
(Hylands is also on organ)
"The Jolly Coppersmith" by the Columbia orchestra from 1898
(Hylands is heard humming or singing(?) the tune at the trio)
just something to keep in mind, as I hadn't noticed it until I listened to a copy of "The Battle of Manila" this evening, and heard that familiar haunting and railroad brute-sounding voice.

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Vess Ossman and a little of Columbia's Transition period

At the West Coast Ragtime Festival this past weekend, I spoke with a very kind and knowledgeable Banjo historian named Peter Pardee. His plans for the future in studies of the banjo and the banjo in Rag-Time include a seminar about the subject in great detail, which seems exceedingly interesting. This got me thinking, after seeing a few rare images of the great Fred Bacon from his collection on his computer.

Among these recording stars, Vess Ossman remains an interesting one as far as the studio instrumentalists go. 
Cute and fresh-faced Vess in c.1893-94, looking very Germanic as he always did. 
Vess often could be interpreted as a small man, as before I knew any better, I had thought just that, but in reality, he was a tall and slim figure, appearing very fitting to play the banjo, with his long legs corresponding to the long neck of the instrument, and his long fingers gliding about gracefully on the harp-like strings. 
His skills on the banjo had been known to the masses since the late-1880's, and with that, he had authority in the community of legitimate banjoists that was sprawling all over the east coast. He was much like Mike Bernard, just that her played banjo rather than piano. Of course, just like Bernard, Ossman's success got to him rather quick, and its effects stayed with him for many years, which made some musicians refuse working with him more than once. He always had that notorious short temper of his, and often seemed helplessly in love with his Eunice, whom he married in 1891 when she was only 16 to his 21. Remember that he ran off with her the year before that, and couldn't legally marry her just yet, even if he already attempted to have a child with her before they had married. All of that was considered a mild scandal of course, since something like that was often looked down upon in that era. 

Ossman's story before recording is always interesting and fun to speak of, since it's more scandalous and eventful than the pre-recording stories of other early recording stars. 

One thing about Ossman's records that remains a mystery is the pianist on his 1895-97 Columbia records, as it seems likely that he dragged in Frank P. Banta for these sessions, since he was still working regularly with Banta. one record that has been recently transferred and put up on the Santa Barbara website is Ossman's c.1896 Columbia of "The Liberty Bell March":
(the record is played too fast, so there will probably be a slowed down version of it pretty soon)
If you really focus on the music, you can hear how clear and dead the recording is. It practically sounds like and original recording, since the sounds that pantographing usually made are not present at all, even the sound of the long tube to make the copies is not present at all. The exceptional sound quality, minus the mold noise, is really what makes me think the date is c.1896. The sound of the recording room is nonexistent on this recording, which is very weird, since Columbia's rooms had a signature echo sound and fullness to them, that for some reason, this one hasn't whatsoever. After taking a few listens to the announcement at the beginning, it seems that the voice is that of Len Spencer, which is a little unexpected from such a strange recording. That fact makes the date little more speculative, and maybe a year or two later, though that's not likely, since the sound quality is that of an original "round" from the mid-1890's. With that being said, the pianist is probably either Edward Issler or Frank P. Banta. This recording is very similar to his January-February 1897 recording of "Stars and Stripes Forever", with Edward Issler on piano. Now that this recording has been studied extensively in terms of the piano accompaniment, we now know the pianist is Issler. It helps that this image:
was taken in 1897-ish, just around the time that Ossman recorded "Stars and Stripes Forever". The only thing about his recording of that that sets it apart from the strange "Liberty Bell" cylinder is the fact that the recording room can at least be heard a little better, and it helps that Issler(or Gaisberg) plays the piccolo part at the end so loudly. In fact, since I'm listening to the "Stars and Stripes" recording when writing this, it seems exceedingly anomalous how well that piccolo part was recorded in the piano accompaniment. It seems like they specifically did something different to the balance of the instruments to have that become the most well-recorded thing on the entire recording. That little characteristic right there is what leads me to believe that Issler is more likely on piano, since only he would have mastered how to record every note of the piano(even Spencer couldn't have surpassed his ability in doing this). Of course, like any of these transition era Columbia's(late 1896-1897), it's a bout on its own to try to dissect the piano accompaniment for any means of identification. It must be noted that both of these Ossman brown waxes are from the tail-end of the "round" era, and were recorded when Len Spencer was still bragging about making three hundred rounds a week. Here is the section from The Phonoscope that stated this:
This was from the August-September 1897 issue, which is very late for the round era, and it is taken from a section on the duplication machine, of which Hunting credits his friend Frank Capps for inventing. Spencer went on boasting of his stamina to sing three hundred rounds or more a week, and before 1896 probably more than that, including his placement as the sound effects man and announcer for Issler's Orchestra. Since he had done all of these rounds, he had among the highest authority of the studio stars by 1898, even though Issler was at the one who really had done the most rounds by 1898, no matter what unfathomable number Spencer bluffed or bragged. 

That's about all I got to say for now, in the next post I will get in-depth into Columbia's transition period and the fall of the U. S. Phonograph Company. 

Hope you enjoyed this! The West Coast Ragtime Festival was very fun, and all of "the squad" made it ever more enjoyable. Thanks everyone! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Search for Will J. Hardman and More fixed transfers

After spending a little time to-day searching on sheet music archive websites, I finally came across a few pieces by Lyricist Will J. Hardman, who was Hylands' lyricist in 1899 and 1900. After so much time wondering about anything that would be traced on him, I finally found some more music of his! What I found was nothing like the songs he wrote with Hylands though, in fact it was much older than the other music he wrote with Hylands. It seems he was one of those composers who began writing music earlier than expected, like Monroe Rosenfeld. The oldest piece of his I was able to trace was from 1885, 14 years before he was writing music with Hylands. The piece that was closest in date to 1899 was this one here:
Wow, what a bleak subject matter in contrast with his lyrical genius of "You Don't Stop the World from Goin Round". Without a doubt, Hardman was a genius when it came to language and diction, and this has been made ever clearer by seeing more of his music, both in the sense of lyrics and in music. One thing that is for certain now, is that Hardman was probably born in the 1860's, or just generally older than Hylands, and that debunks my preconception that he was the same age or around that of Hylands. Maybe he was Gaskin's age?(born 1863), that wouldn't be too unreasonable. Until I see census records there will only be guesses of his age. I understand now why Hylands probably had him as his lyricist, and it was because of his longer experience and previous success in the matter, though Hylands didn't publish any instrumental music of Hardman's, which is a little strange, yet somewhat telling. 
It is a little strange though that he was writing very emotional songs in the 1880's and even the 1890's, but then once Hylands had pulled on his leg long enough, Hardman was writing Rag-Time songs with him. That leap to the other side of popular songs seems really interesting to me, and must be noted in studies of Hardman. He seems like a very interesting character, as it seems like that had to be a requirement to be one of Hylands' friends, since that's a trend with those who Hylands associated himself with. 

Hylands probably took notice to Hardman's talents around the time that he was a music director at Pastor's(in 1897), since his music had been laying around in piles of music at his office, and being a music director, of course he came across Hardman's music! Since he took an interest in Hardman's music, he probably tracked him down, and he wasn't too far, since he last piece was published not far away from where Hylands worked in the next year(1898). It even could have been something as random as Hylands commuting to work sometime in 1898 and stumbling into Hardman's direction, and them getting to at last praise each other's music, instantly forming a solid friendship. According to The Phonoscope , things like this did happen when some of the recording stars were commuting to and from work(such as the horrific cable car crash of September 1898). Just to give this thoery some credibility, Hylands' commute from where he lived to Columbia would have been passing the address of the publishing firm in the music pictured above, though not every day he would have passed by it however. 

Just as a side note, Hylands lived really close to Union Square in 1898, but really far away from Columbia, just to put that into perspective. This is exactly why he moved to 33 W. 27th street in 1899, a block away from Columbia. All of you collectors out there who still aren't sure if Hylands worked at Columbia after 1898, this little blurb is the evidence.

 If he worked on 14th street, that's where he lived, if he lived on 27th street, that's where he lived, it's not that hard to comprehend. 

However they first met, he and Hardman must have become good friends quick, as it was much like his relationship with Spencer, though he didn't work in the studio with Hardman. Alright, it seems I'm able to piece together the people who worked with Hylands in his publishing firm who weren't the names in their gorgeous footer:
Here are some of the names:
Roger Harding, Burt Green, Will C. Jones, his sister Etta, Rollin Wooster, Georgie Emerson, Steve Porter, Will J. Hardman, and George Gaskin.

There are others, but these are the ones who helped him directly under Spencer and Harry Yeager, and there are probably more who we have yet to discover. Some fraternity it was! 

Now it's time to listen to some music! The endeavor of slowing down these records scattered about the Internet has been slowing down, since we're getting ready for the West Coast Ragtime Festival this weekend, and finding records played at the wrong speed is becoming harder to find, though there is so much more we can do. One record that we recently slowed down is Gaskin's 1903 recording of "The Bassoon", which is certainly played far too fast on the website it came from. 
An image of Gaskin from c.1895 that makes him look innocent and sweeter than others out there. Something about Gaskin's singing is very pleasant, but his thick dialect is often what makes it not nearly as perfect in the pleasant factor for me. I guess that's why I can never really love Gaskin's records. He seems to have been a more influential figure in the early recording business than previously thought, with his advocacy for George W. Johnson, he certainly earns some points for that, as well as throwing in a whole lot of money to the fund for his defense team in 1899. 
Without further ado, here's the original transfer of the record:
Far too fast and screechy, here's the newly slowed down version:
So much better. 
Like a breath of fresh cool air. 

Another record that we fixed involved many things to be done to the original transfer in order for it to sound as is does now. It is a record by:
John Yorke AtLee. 
For a long time, I knew that he recorded a few coon songs with whistling choruses, and one had been put up on the Santa Barbara cylinder website for not too long, but it was completely mis-labeled as a cylinder by Billy Golden, just because it was a coon song with whistling, which was Golden's specialty. Nope, this was even stranger record, it was one of two or three coon songs that AtLee recorded in 1897-1899. Here's his take of "Whistling Yaller Dinah":

This record has origins that are very hard to trace, since it is one of those independent recording companies, possibly one of the original masters of records that AtLee sold under his own company in 1898-1900. I only know of one other example of an AtLee original from that period, and it's his "Our Whistling Servant Girl", with a hard to trace date. Much like that one, the newly slowed down AtLee record is hard to trace when it comes to putting an accurate date on it. The "Whistling Servant Girl" cylinder comes from, and the company is said to be the U. S. Phonograph company, and is dated at 1900, though that doesn't make any logical sense. That company fell completely by the middle of 1897, and it had a pitiful and ugly end, dissolving to nothing in just a few weeks. 

Now the question of these two recordings comes to the piano accompaniment. Who does the pianist sound like? Well, none of the studio pianists. It just sounds like Gaisberg a little bit, but it's not, as the dates would be in the range that he was still in the United States, even though I think they're probably from 1898. After digging around in the go-to source for possible information on this, The Phonoscope, it seemed that there was a little section in the September 1898 issue that hints at a pianist playing behind him. This section stated that AtLee was at a recent phonograph demonstration(connected with Columbia, durr...), and he sung three songs accompanying himself on the piano. WHAT! REALLY? That's amazing, and raises suspicion of who might be playing piano on these two records, since they're not strictly Columbia's, with Hylands or Gaisberg on piano for certain, it makes some sense that he be playing piano on his self-made records. Keep in mind that this only applies to the records he made on his own in 1897 to 1900, not his records for Columbia in 1897 and 1898, nor his records from 1891-1894 with Fred Gaisberg. 

He had an interesting piano style if he's playing piano on these two records! 

It says in one advertisement for AtLee's records that he recorded "The Whistling Coon". Now that's a record I hope exists somewhere. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

An important Birthday and new discoveries

Some of you may already know what important birthday is to-day, and if you don't, it's this great performer:
Bert Williams. 
love that look on his face

Most of us know of him, with his signature song "Nobody", and other song hits, including a few Broadway shows with full Black casts, many years before Sissle and Blake's Shuffle Along of 1922. Williams and his stage partner George Walker were really the ones who helped begin the "rag" fad in 1896, by performing Ernest Hogan's "La Pas Ma La", and in 1896 show A Trip to Coontown only to later become among the best of the "coon song" writers, in many ways, more prestigious than many of the white composers. Their status in the early "rag" fad was higher than May Irwin's, but not as high as Ben Harney, because everyone was convinced that he invented and begun the fad, but let's not go there... ...
Williams' signature singing style was not much singing at all really, it was more of rhythmic talk, and sketches being accompanied by orchestras. Even if this was a common style in the era, he was really the one who has long been known for it, though it's hard to know if he was the first one to do this. Many of us record collectors will fight to the death over Williams and Walker's early Victors, since they are rare and astronomically valued to all record collectors, regardless of specific likes. They are priceless examples of true black vaudeville, and it's believed that Williams played piano on all of those Victors they made. Just to get across the reasoning, here's my favourite of their early Victors:
This one is announced by Williams, which is unusual, because usually their Victors were announced by Victor's regular announcer(whose name has still not been uncovered).
This song is also hilarious, and it helps that it was written by Ernest Hogan. This tune was also in many of the early Rag medleys, such as Ben Jerome's "A Bunch of Rags"(which has nothing to do with Vess Ossman's medley of the same title from the same year). Williams' piano playing wasn't the best, but it's great to know that he's on piano, so that saves any pianist debate that would come along with that. Something to note, George Walker sounds like Ben Harney, which is a little backward and strange, but if you really listen closely, it can be noticed. 
Every one of their Victors is amazing, and really interesting to listen to, since they are really a balancing and musical mess, so each one is very different, but again, there aren't very many of them. 
My favourite of Williams' recordings are among that large batch he made in 1919, his "Everybody Wants the Key to My Cellar". It really has everything that was great about Williams, even though the records where he played piano really had a certain charm that his orchestra accompanied Columbia's don't have. It must have been a big deal in the recording business when Eldridge Johnson recorded Williams and Walker, since no on had bothered to go at it before for some reason, and after that, all we get are dozens of versions by the white recording stars of the songs they recorded, such as "Good Morning, Carrie", and "All agoin Out and nothin Comin In", which seems like a response to Johnson recording them in 1901. The recordings of those songs in particular came after they recorded them. When In Dahomey took over Broadway in 1903, all of the songs from that revolutionary show were recorded by all the white recording stars, such as Dan Quinn and Arthur Collins.
Here are two scenes from In Dahomey:
(the cake-walk of course)
Both of these were featured in The Theatre magazine in 1903. 
You can see that this was a fantastic show. Wish I could have seen it! 

As one of Williams' songs went, Let it alone! and don't try to mess with these great old records and songs! 

Now for the second part of this post. Amid these past few days, and this excruciatingly hard week, I had some time to dig through some of those magazines about early recordings in the 1970's and 80's and booklets by Tim Brooks and Tim Gracyk. While digging through these, I stumbled across many images of these performers I had never seen before, some that were earlier than others found. The one of all these images I found that will be the most useful in the posts ahead will certainly be this one:
Who's that?
Why, it's Fred Gaisberg in c.1897! 
Yay, a great picture of him finally
That's a really good picture of him, in fact, it's the best one I have ever seen compared to the other ones that people use when speaking of him. In addition to this one, I found a picture of him from c.1920:
Still has that great smile of his. 
One thing that I have noticed about the pictures of Gaisberg out there is that there are quite a lot of them with him smiling, much like the one just above. There's a channel that we get on our TV out here called the Arts channel, and they show clips of musical performances, parts of documentaries, and excerpts of classic films, and they have a short documentary about Caruso's first recordings. Oddly enough, guess whose face was pictured----
They had a fantastic picture of him with a big smile showing lots of teeth, which as could be gathered, is a little more comical than the one just above. Wish I could dig that picture they used of him up, but I don't know who has it, because I would use it all the time when I mention him, since there aren't too many pictures of these performers so funny and strange as that one. It was so different in fact, that I wasn't sure if that was Gaisberg! It looked too comical to be him, but it was indeed him. 

Another image I found is this one here:
Hey, it's Collins and Harlan! 
This struck me as a very unusual and early image of them, and together to make matters better. Since this looks like c.1902-1903, it is likely the oldest image of Collins I have ever seen, since that one that everyone uses:
is specifically dated at 1904. 
That new image of them is certainly earlier than the Collins picture just above, since Collins is younger, and maybe just a few years younger, which makes the date work logically. It's just interesting to look at the early one compared to their later pictures together, like this one from c.1919:
Ha! Collins pretty much has exactly the same look on his face. 
Never realised how beady Collins' eyes were, weird. 
Just because we're on the subject of Collins and Harlan, here's a fun cartoon I did of them with Hylands from around the time that new-old picture of them would be from:
This is making fun of Hylands' social bias toward liking Harlan more, because of the whole publishing firm thing. 

The other images I found will be used in up coming posts, these ones are just the highlights of those that I found, and were the more unusual of the bunch. 
Here's my favourite Collins and Harlan with Hylands record to end the post:

SMASH! Indeed Hylands. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Studio Politics and New Leachman cylinders

Ah yes, the week prior to election day, and this time around, it's the most frantic one for many decades. To remain on the subject of politics, this brings me to the first part of this post. Much of the studio politics are hard to track as far as these documents go, but if you're looking into the outside activities of these recording stars, many assumptions and theories can be formulated. Sometimes it's a little misleading, such as someone like Len Spencer, who followed many ideals of the Democrats of that time, but embodied most of the mindset of Lincoln, as well as James Garfield(remember that Garfield was his godfather, and is where his middle name came from). Other than all of this, Spencer was a harshly standing Republican, and this is clear after reading some of those sections from The Phonoscope that he was a Roosevelt man, also McKinley for that matter. Other than Spencer's beliefs being primarily republican, most of his fraternal friends of the publishing firm were Roosevelt/McKinley supporters, and at that progressive Republicans, though with the rise of new ideas circulating at that time, some of these "brothers"(referring to the "fraternal" atmosphere that Hylands specifically promoted for the publishing firm)  later entered in the other, Socialism. That came around after 1900 though, even if the ideals existed before then. 

That one section from the May, 1900 issue of The Phonoscope very well illustrates the devotion to Roosevelt/McKinley that some of the Columbia staff had, more specifically Roger Harding and Len Spencer. With two sections in the General News section about the upcoming election, it seems that there's more than just a little devotion to politics there, even after Hunting was settled in out in England, and had been gone for almost two years by then. To add to this, Harding had his own republican club out in New York, and hosted performances of Spencer's minstrels there in 1900 as well, as it was in May of that year that a few performances can be tracked in local newspapers. Since Harding was such a politico, it seems that he ran most of the politics of the "Clan" at Columbia, and kicked aside those who weren't republican, or progressive. This would immediately eliminate Silas Leachman from any of the "clan" activity. 

That brings me to Leachman, who was a Democrat and it's clear that he was, as that's the party he ran for as a Chicago Alderman around his time of making Victor records(1901-1903). Leachman was from Kentucky though, so it isn't too surprising that he was a Conservative politician in Chicago. Take into consideration that the Democrats were the party of the trusts, and the barons of railroads and corporations. Leachman was part of no studio clan though, he just had local politicians and some local characters in his circles. There didn't seem to be a clan of recording studio performers out in Chicago, even if there kind of was in the mid-1890's, Leachman wasn't one of them. This group would have included Bert Morphy, Banta's orchestra, the North American outpost employees, and some more who recorded for the Chicago Talking Machine Company.

With all of these conflicting views of politics, it would seem strange to think where some of the "clan" member went after it broke up around 1903. Len Spencer remained firmly on Roosevelt's side, and when Wilson was put in office, he must have had none of it. It seems Fred Hylands became more progressive than previously thought, as he had begun to associate himself with not only strange and sassy actor folk(like J. Grant Gibson) , but also with Union leaders and workers' rights activists, and of course with this spreading like disease all over New York, it would seem inevitable for him to get roped in to the rough gangs of Socialists that were sprouting up. The friendly local Socialists must have found Fred to be a great example of someone that could make real change in their cause. He must not have been sure if joining them was a good idea, but since they were the ones for beginning all of these unions, it's not surprising that hard standing Socialist like Art Young would take an interest in Hylands' advocacy. Of course, now we have evidence of this happening, as this cartoon says everything about it:

Yes indeed, that fantastic and very accurate portrayal of Hylands. 

If you haven't already guessed, I will be using this cartoon of Hylands rather often now, since it really does personify everything about him that I draw and have pieced together. These union acts from Hylands certainly not only had him lose friends, but gain some that had nothing to do really with performing, like Art Young for example. I'm not saying that Hylands was solely socialist, but there must have been hints of it here and there, but remember, this is around the time that Columbia dropped him is when this was beginning. I would say that his socialist side began to kick in around the earlier part of 1902, when he was almost thrown out of Columbia because of the Climax/Victor/ZonOphone/Columbia feud, and it had nothing to do with him whatsoever, even if he was technically working for all of those companies when it happened(which was not really okay as you might have guessed). Of course, that's just typical Hylands, committing for a little while, then seeing more opportunities along the way and taking them, not regarding pre-existing animosity, legal stability, or company names. That, as we know, got him into trouble, and out of the Union that he helped kickstart in 1905(the White Rats that is). Spencer might have liked Hylands' hints of Socialism here and there, but when he began the owner of a Lyceum with many valued workers, maybe not so much, and especially since it's clear that Spencer hosted White Rats performances at his theater, he must have had enough of it by that contract fail in 1908. 

Spencer had another reason to be bitter toward is old accompanist by then.

Anyway, time for some music! While searching around in the Santa Barbara cylinder website, doing my daily checking for new transfers, I stumbled across three of the Leachman cylinders they have, and they're finally transferred! 
Yay! More Leachman cylinders! 
These transfers were messy, which is unfortunate, but one of them stands out more than the others in that respect. More than half of the cylinder can be heard very well and clearly, with almost no mold, but the other two are plagued with the spores. 
Here's the best one:
This is a fantastic example of authentic Chicago Rag-Time, and all of the playing is made more interesting by the great sound of the piano! It sounds a lot like Columbia's piano after Spencer flipped it over back in 1897. Since it's not balanced the same way that normal studios were balanced, it sounds a little weird and out-of-whack, and that's really why the piano sounds the way it does. However, the piano really does sound great from my strange standpoint of what historically accurate pianos sound like, in fact, that little interlude he plays at about 1:21 is one of the best examples of what a studio piano from that time should sound like, and it's not a studio piano! it's just the piano that Leachman had at his home, as it is one of those cylinders, that he made at home with four cylinder players set atop the piano, recording them "white wax style"(or like Spencer did when he began making records in 1889). 
Here's the one that's second best as far as mold goes:
The piano certainly sounds better on this one, more well-recorded and tuned. It's a great cylinder, even if it's really messy. That can't compare in mold to the third one:
From what can be heard, it is a fantastic cylinder, that would sound really good if it wasn't moldy. It's also a really good song on it, which certainly helps to make it better to listen to. It must be noted that Leachman plays the final chord of the piano accompaniment exactly the same way that Hylands did, which is very strange, yet makes sense, since Hylands was a Chicago pianist when Leachman was making records in the mid-1890's. After listening to these, I see why Vic Emerson always said Leachman was not really the best musician, but he only said that because he was comparing him to the pianists he had at Columbia, which isn't really a fair comparison. Of course, those Victor that Leachman made in 1901-1903 are better examples of his singing and his absolutely phenomenal vocal range, but since no one really said who was on piano, all guesses are essentially off for his Victors, as they could be any one of the early studio pianists, or even Leachman himself. Maybe there's a reason that some of his Victors sound a little unbalanced as far as piano goes...
It's not impossible that he would have been playing his own accompaniment, as that was his act, and the Victor people might have seen past Emerson's ignorant claims to Leachman's musicianship. A particular Victor of his that comes to mind is "I need the money" from 1901, not only can we hear the piano extremely clear, but also hear Leachman change his voice from his normal tone to a Hebrew dialect, and then Irish, all on the same recording. Really listen to when he changes from his regular voice to the others, it's really extraordinary, and ingenious. That's something you don't get to hear too often on these early records, the change from normal tone of voice to something completely different. Someone who also did that often was Roger Harding, and he sounded pretty different once he did, but not nearly as different as Leachman. It's that about Leachman that is so ingenious, that most people don't realise, that his range and versatility was in reality more so than all the other early recording stars, and yes, even Len Spencer. 

There's probably no way we'll ever know for sure if Leachman played piano on his Victors, but that's something to keep in mind when listening to them. Maybe try to envision them being recorded that way if you're someone who can do that when listening(that's what I do usually).

For a good comparison, here's a 1901 Victor by Roger Harding:
Damn I love Roger Harding. This record is exactly why. 
Listen to how the piano is recorded, with the distance, and tone.
Now compare it to the first and second takes of "Whoa Dar Mule" by Leachman:
There's a dramatic difference in the sound of the piano, and it's a little suspicious. Alright, I'm a little more convinced that Leachman played his own accompaniment on at least some of his Victors. If this is true, we've got some listening to do Rag-Time pianists, because he sounds an awful lot like the earliest Rag composers, out in Chicago that is. 

Maybe that's why I thought Hylands was on some of his Victors... ...

Hope you enjoyed this!