Saturday, August 20, 2016

Arthur Pryor, Ben Harney, Silas Leachman and more interesting analyses

Sorry it's been over a week since my last post, I have not only gone to another Rag-Time festival, but also began my new year in school. The school part is not exactly the most exciting, nor the most enjoyable part of what happened this week. I left my last post just prior to my going away to the Sutter Creek Rag-Time Festival, which was very fun and full of great music geeks just as usual. It's always fun to see everyone again, all the musicians, and friends of the performers just the same. I cannot thank Charlie Judkins enough for being able to put up with all of my antics and later being able to stay over at my home. He really made my weekend worth while!  All of the performers really made that weekend so much fun!

With the three days of festival and two more of staying over, Charlie and I listened to many records, and played many of these rare songs that only he and I have really studied deeply. Since just before this weekend, I had been awaiting to hear the only piano solo that Arthur Pryor made. Rather than just thinking that this is probably just another boring solo of a tune that none of us find important, it must be taken into consideration that Pryor's Rags are actually great examples of a strange and very syncopated style that I often highlight on this blog. Of all early recording stars who wrote music, Pryor's rags are among the most interesting(other than Hylands' and Burt Green's of course!). They kept many of these old traditions of Rag-time playing into the later 1900's and early 1910's to some extent. Knowing that Pryor made a piano solo in 1900 could unlock many unknown doors into how the early style of Rag-Time was really played, and Pryor being from rural Missouri says all that needs to be said in this matter. Being surrounded by the early studio pianists like Banta and Hylands also gives us hints. Just to further back up that statement, Pryor made his only piano solo on the same day that Banta made his infamous solo of "Hello My Baby", that really tells you that Banta and Pryor were at least in the same studio on the same day, to make two infamously hard-to-find piano solos. 
As of now, I am still anxiously awaiting to hear the solo, of which it is indeed out there in someone's collection. Once I hear it, I will report the details. 

Charlie and I often discussed the interesting background of Silas Leachman throughout much of the five days seeing each other. Leachman had a background that was full of mysteries, and interesting theories. 
He and I have concluded that Leachman was a traveling minstrel in various shows in the 1880's, performing in places like Detroit, Fort Wayne, Louisville, and later Chicago. With all of this traveling, Leachman stopped and performed in the hometowns of stars of the generation after Leachman, such as Fred Hylands, and Ben Harney. Leachman's recordings to this date remain among the best period examples of true and accurate imitations of black performers in the late-19th century. That may sound strange coming from a Len Spencer freak, but really, Leachman has Spencer beat by his accuracy, and it helps that the piano accompaniment on all his records was always great and fitting, regardless of who the pianist is. 

Now, here's the question, did Harney take from Leachman, or did Leachman take from Harney? 

It's hard to know, but since Leachman was a generation older than all of those Rag-Time pianists, it makes this dilemma even harder to solve. Leachman did probably perform in Harney's hometown in the early or mid-1880's, when Harney was just a youth, very bright and curious. With all of this curiosity from Harney, it seems inevitable that Leachman's performance style would have rubbed off on Harney. But of course, the only way to really get an idea of this is to listen to Leachman's rendition of Harney's most popular song for many decades:
This is great in all ways, and this recording will forever be important to the history of Rag-Time. This is even more so with this theory attached to it. After listening to this record,  the only way to really get a sense of this would be to listen to Harney's 1910's-20's recording of "Good Old Wagon". 

I hate to do this, but who ever is hiding the fifteen or so other cylinders of Harney singing out there, WHY ARE YOU HIDING THEM FROM US?!

Apologies for that... I feel the need to say that finally. Anyway, Harney's recording is very much similar in a lot of ways to the Leachman recordings that we know of, especially that one of "Mister Johnson". I know that I have done the Harney to Spencer comparison before, but from the two other takes I have heard of Spencer's Lambert of "Good Old Wagon", it seems that Spencer is the most similar to Harney in singing style of any of these performers. It seems inevitable that Spencer would have known Harney at some point in the late-1890's, since Spencer made the effort to go and meet all of these singers that he imitated(others include May Irwin, DeWolf Hopper, Barney Fagan, and George M. Cohan). Spencer was also involved in the booking field with Harry Yeager in 1896-1900, and that is the perfect timeframe to have met with all of these pianist and performers like Harney, in fact, this area must have been where he first met Fred Hylands. Yeager not only got him shows as a minstrel, but also was able to introduce him to many great figures of Broadway and of vaudeville. 
I don't know exactly how long Harry Yeager was involved with Spencer, but it was certainly a few years, that began around 1897 it seems. Yeager must have been a great help to Spencer, who was obviously someone too smart for his own good. With this intellect, he was bound to easily lose things and forget things(there is solid evidence of this!), so I have the feeling that Yeager was his sideman before Fred Hylands came along and literally consumed most of his time and living. Fred couldn't keep anything for the same reason, so Yeager was stuck between them as the nightmarish bookkeeper constantly ridden with anxiety and stress. Regardless of all of that, Yeager outlived the others in Hylands' publishing firm. Harry Yeager remains still a mysterious character in the mix of these "Columbia clan" members, even if he was mentioned a few times in The Phonoscope in 1899 and 1900, and I have been able to track him somewhat in census records. 
That's supposedly him in the early-1910's. 
He would have been about in his mid-40's at the time of this picture. That makes sense, considering the age of the others in the publishing firm. Yeager seems like the sort of man who was the best to communicate with when wanting to consult Hylands' firm. Hylands was not often home at reasonable times, as was Spencer, Burt Green was too good-looking and young, but with all of this, Yeager was the "straight-man", or just the regular businessman at the firm. He was the man that you'd've wanted to meet with when you called. You be damned if you met with Hylands himself! 
Yeager's official role in the firm itself remains unclear, though it's certain why he was involved in the first place, as that was the work of Spencer pulling Fred's leg earlier before the firm began. He did have to beg him it seemed. Harry's role might have been for to be the bookkeeper, and just another salesman, even if they had plenty of those. It must be noted that he was also a performer and show organizer, so that gives us some clues. He was clearly organized, and much more of an everyday man than Hylands, Spencer and Burt Green, even if he just happened to also be a singer. Things are yet to unfold about Harry Yeager, and we haven't that much to work with as of now. 

Other than going to Sutter Creek and spending time with Charlie, staying up 'til two in the morning listening to records, and beginning school again, there's not much more I have to say for this post. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Underhanded Music Dealing in the 1890's

The name Fred Hylands is mentioned very often on this blog, as he was not only a prominent studio pianist at the prime of the early Rag-Time era, but was also an important part of the comedic side of early Broadway. His name and influence fits into many subjects that go into this line of study. One of these subjects is the title of this post. The under-the-table dealing of music in the 1890's is a very understudied topic, as it simply wasn't written about often. One of these strategies that we have all heard of is handing a singer or performer an advance copy before the music is published, and surprisingly, this happened more than most people think. There weren't specific publishing firms that were begun by recording stars to unite the two parts of the music business, early on in the 1890's that is. 

One famous composer-phonograph singer friendship was
Monroe Rosenfeld and
Len Spencer.
Most people don't know about this friendship, since it was well-hidden, but advertised occasionally in earlier editions of The Phonoscope. We know of many composers that Spencer endorsed early on, but one of the first would logically be Rosenfeld and also Barney Fagan. Rosenfeld came first, since his early "negro dances" were so popular, he also wrote lyrics to these pre-ragtime pieces, many of which Spencer became well-known for recording. Many of Rosenfeld's pieces from the 1880's were minstrel songs with slightly syncopated melodies, and with that, Spencer was bound to make hundreds of rounds of any of them. When speaking of this, I mean early on in Spencer's recording days, in the era where he worked regularly with Issler's Orchestra, 1892 to 1896 that is. The solos he made during this time were done under pseudonyms for the most part, but he was still known as the prime coon song singer on phonograph records. With this fame, the composers and publishers took an interest in Spencer, and kept their ears open for a time to hand him an advance copy of a new song. This probably happened with Spencer a few times in the mid-1890's, though it's not well-documented, according to others in the business, it did happen with Dan Quinn and J. W. Myers. Quinn stated in some of his letters to Jim Walsh that publishers handed him songs before they were published to singer before all the others got to it,he claimed to be the first one to sing 

This great early Rag song with a very racist cover(typical for 1896...)
I'm not sure whether to believe that Quinn was handed an advance copy of this in 1896, but it's not impossible. I would believe it more if he said that Spencer was the one who got it first. I have seen so many advertisements that mention Spencer's record of "The Bully" as being one of his best records, and the most popular as far as his individual records go.  This had to be so, since it was reported that Spencer was making rounds of this tune into early 1898. I don't know who was handed the advance copy first, even if Quinn stated that he was the one who got it first, not everything he said is to be trusted, remember. Other than Quinn's "Bully Song" statement, there wasn't much early music dealing in the era before 1897, though there was probably more than what we are presented in this matter. 

It took until the "rag" fad to spread in 1896 for music publishers and composers to take more of a direct interest in recording stars. New publishers such as Joseph Stern took in some of the most popular studio stars under Russell Hunting's obliging with the Universal Phonograph Company. Many of their advertisements are in editions of The Phonoscope, here is their earliest one:
This came from the January 1897 issue of The Phonoscope
Their ads were often in pieces of music published by Jos. Stern in 1897, of which I have one of these buried in my sheet music collection. They were usually small triangle-shaped things that said simply that the song this is on can be found on records made by the Universal Phonograph Company. That's perfect in illustrating this point of publisher and recording artist, so early on in the era as well. 1897 would be toward the beginning of this idea of uniting the two aspects of the music business, as most people think of this happening in the 1910's and 1920's, but in reality, it began in the late-1890's. The Universal Phonograph Company didn't last to see the end of 1897, but it proved that a publisher could join with a record company to sell music and make records. This quick venture for the Columbia staff got everyone thinking about beginning something else like that, but they needed a better publisher for the job.
Composers still remained friends of many studio stars, such as Barney Fagan and Len Spencer or Quinn and May Irwin. It took until Columbia threw out their old pianist in mid-1897 for this idea to resurface. Fred Hylands was not yet a publisher as we know, but the ideas were formulating. There weren't any reports of music being dealt under-the-table in 1897 and 1898 at Columbia and Edison, but by early late-1898 and early 1899, the staff had begged Hylands enough to begin a publishing firm, and so he did. He was exactly the kind of publisher that Columbia's staff wanted and needed, since he worked there, it all seemed to work perfectly. 

No one saw their finish of course. 

But that doesn't matter just yet, it was the perfect everything for Columbia. If you really want to talk about some severe under-the-table music dealing, Hylands Spencer and Yeager is the firm to study. 
Pretty much everything that Hylands published was given to someone as an advance copy before he published it. This was especially so with anything he wrote(durr...). The instrumental music was given out after publication, but not the vocal pieces. Hylands handed his "You Don't Stop the World from Goin Round" to Len Spencer before he published it, so they could record it first, then sell the music, and he also did this with his "Prize Cake-Walker is Old Uncle Sam", and he gave that one to Dan Quinn of all people(that's kind of strange if you think about it). The ladies that Fred took a liking to eventually were ones who got music before it was published, such as Ada Jones, Sallie Stembler, and some of his wife's friends in the performing business. As the firm began to fade by early 1900, Hylands stopped handing out advance copies, as someone might have told him to end his habit of doing that, or something else, I really don't know, but it seemed that he stopped doing that after the end of 1899. It was around this time that everyone involved saw their finish, or Fred's in this case since he was the one who was going to take the harshest blow after it fell through. After the firm's end in November 1900, the idea of publisher and recording star lost its novelty, and all the old Columbia stars didn't bother to associate themselves with specific publishers or composers any more after that. 
The second wave of studio stars adopted some of these ways, as many collectors are aware of the Collins and Harlan friendship with Theodore Morse, which lasted over a decade. Harlan had been part of Hylands' publishing firm, but after about five more years, Harlan was working not only with Collins, but found Theodore Morse a better asset than Hylands, which is many ways was a smart move on Collins and Harlan's part. This 1890's tradition carried on into the 1910's, 20's and even the 1930's in fact, and it seemed to become a much less hidden subject as the decades went on, making it not as sleazy and interesting as it was early on. 

*I just want to take a moment to send my love and regards to Tom Brier and his family, as he was recently in an awful car accident and will take many months to recover. We will miss you at Sutter Creek this weekend! Some of the soul of the festival is lost without Brier there.*

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

"Hiding in the Bushes"

The title of this post is a phrase that I use for those involved in this line of study who disappeared after their prime careers. Some who would be part of this include Max Hoffmann, Russell Hunting, George Schweinfest, and J. W. Myers just to name a few. Many of these recording stars(more particularly the earlier ones), disappeared after their recording career's were over, and some of them stayed in the business vaguely, but were not really heard of after their years in the studio ended. One that I did not mention, but certainly is one of these disappearing stars, is Harry Spencer. 
Haven't seen this sketch I did of him in a while, so I thought it be a good time to use it again. 
The thing about Harry Spencer is that we actually know what happened to him, and I have been able to track him in census records from 1910 to 1940. What's interesting about him is that he outlived pretty much all of the other earliest recording stars, even Dan Quinn and Fred Gaisberg. He didn't outlive George Schweinfest and Edward Issler though, that's really astonishing. Harry was living much different from his brother Len, and after Len died, he took over his brother's massive endeavor as a Lyceum owner, which was too much for him, and by the middle of 1915, the business had fallen. After all of this, Harry was on his own, and didn't make any more records, and it seems that after 1905, he wasn't making records anymore. The new Charles Prince's Columbia orchestra rid of him in that period of transition. After 1915, Harry lived in various boardinghouses with his dusky Italian wife Gazella, working as a local investigator after the whole recording jag passed over. No recording came for him after all of this, even though some collectors still speak of him maybe being a behind-the-scenes worker in the early days of radio. The only good account of what Harry was doing many years after recording is from Joe Belmont, who stated that he was a train-caller, which is not inaccurate considering that his voice was so well-praised and perfect for anything. I wonder how Belmont came to know that... He knew a lot about where everyone left ended up in the 30's and 40's. He had stories about practically everyone, well, who was left in this case. There weren't too many of the original "clan" left by the 1920's and 30's. Harry Spencer was not interviewed by Jim Walsh for a few very obvious reasons:
1. He was hard to track, as he was living from boardinghouse to boardinghouse in the 1930's.

2. Joe Belmont didn't exactly know where or what he was doing, someone probably told him that he was a train-caller. But who?
That's not the point here...

3. By the early 1940's, he was living at a mental hospital, which kept Walsh from him for certain.

It's frustrating that he didn't get to Harry, because it was within his reach to go find him. He did find Quinn, and Harlan, which is why I'm saying this. 

Another one of these recording stars who vanished and "hid in the bushes" so to speak, was Russell Hunting. 

As much good as he did for the early recording business, being the most liberal and progressive of all of them, he did essentially vanish from the business by the late-1920's. Hunting was still working for Pathe by the mid-1920's, but after that, he handed the management to someone new, officially ending one of the most important eras even in Pathe's history(they still exist to-day!Thanks Hunting!). He didn't leave the U. S. or anything, but he did just what Max Hoffmann did, and enjoyed his retirement doing whatever the devil he did. This is exactly what I mean! We don't know what he did for the last twenty years of his life, as he lived into the mid-1940's, and Walsh didn't bother to look around for him. The kind of stories he would have told would be like none of the others, and would, without doubt, be more interesting and complicated than any of Quinn's or Murray's. We would, essentially, understand the 1890's recording business a whole lot more if Hunting were interviewed in the 1930's or 40's. Our view into this history would perhaps be very different if this happened, and certainly it wouldn't be a subject that all collectors would approve of as well. 

There's a reason that Hunting is my favourite of these early recording stars, and I don't care a rap about what you all think. 

Max Hoffmann is a great example of someone who "hid in the bushes" after his prime passed over, even if he wasn't a recording star. 
Now he seemed to fade away gradually by 1910, as he wasn't really writing too much music after then. As I have said before, he allowed his wife Gertrude to do all of the work for him, and take the spotlight for the next fifteen years or so. Not much is generally known on him as of now, which is surprising since he was really one of the few to truly "kick start" the rag craze of the late-1890's. It continues to shock me how little every one of the famous Rag-Time enthusiasts have refused to study him more. His impact was larger than Ben Harney's in a way, in the means of published music that is. Harney was more influential as a performer than a composer. Hoffmann was influential and important as a composer. He was essentially the first composer to write down the early Rag-Time style in the most excruciating of detail. He really analyzed how to play and write out this style, he perfected how to do this from being a pianist in mid-1890's Chicago. He really did write out much of the strange Rag style that we hear on records, just not purposely relating them to records at all. He began writing out these so-called "rags" in c.1895, and became known for it in chicago at that time, only to later take it with him when he went to New York. 

This cover has dates that are hard to trace, as it says 1891 inside the cover, but has photographs from 1896, other than that, this is one of the earliest mentions of "rag" in the sense we know of on a cover of sheet music. 
Here ya go Rag-Time freaks!
It seems that Hoffmann was famous for arranging "ragged" interpretations of popular coon songs as early as c.1895, as the music just above indicates. 

With all of this amazing history to Hoffmann, he went and completely faded away from the public eye by the 1920's. After that, his amazing musical endeavors seemed to have become largely forgotten. He outlived pretty much everyone he worked alongside in the early "rag" scence, living until 1960 beats everyone in his generation of the "rag" scene. Nothing is known of what he did after 1920, we just know that he lived out in Hollywood(I hope he's buried here in California! I want to go find him!), because his son worked in Hollywood in the 1930's. His son's films are still trying to be tracked by many of us Rag-Time freaks, but none of us have come to discover them just yet. We all just want to see if Junior looked like his father. 

The final performer I would like to mention who "hid in the bushes" is Edward Issler. 
Just recently, a treasure trove of information on Issler was presented to me from Charlie Judkins. We not only found how long he lived, which was much longer than thought for perhaps seventy years. As it turns out, Issler was still living when Walsh was contacting all of these recording stars. Talk about someone who outlived everyone...Issler is the perfect example of this. He was 86 when he died, and he lived pretty far into the 20th century for someone born literally in the middle of the 19th century. It's funny to put into perspective that he was the first studio pianist, but he outlived all of the ones that came after him in the era. Now he would have had some amazing stories, that no one else would have, since he was in the business in 1888-89, and he witnessed all of the 1890's madness at the U. S. Phonograph company and at Columbia. Issler and Schweinfest had similar stories after they ended recording(though Schweinfest ended later as we know), where they were not making records, but they were still performing in military bands all over the place in New Jersey and New York. They were separate for the most part in the decades after recording, but I have always had the feeling that they regrouped for occasional performances, since they were such good musical friends. Issler remained performing in military bands into the early 1920's, and left the business by 1930. He didn't remain a popular bandleader in the 1900's and 1910's, but he still performed in bands at that time. He was never heard of again after 1900 with the recording business though, which is surprising, since he was so popular in the 1890's, and around the time he retired, the "nostalgic" look back to the 1890's had started to come in as a fad. I'm surprised that he wasn't interviewed on any sort of radio program in that time, as he would have known the music business in that time like no one else still living at that time. After 1900 or so, Issler hid in the bushes, and a few years after that, Schweinfest joined him, to keep the old deep-running friendship going. 

The two of them did make piano duets together in 1889, do take that into consideration when analyzing their obvious friendship. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Delving into Hunting, and The Phonogram

This is just one of many great photographs presented amid the pages of The Phonogram. (This picture is now my favourite one of Hunting!)

Just within the last two days, the entire set of editions of The Phonogram were put up on the Internet Archive(or, and it has made for some great time searching around in its pages. Now I'll admit truthfully, that it is not nearly as fun to read as The Phonoscope, but it's still interesting, since it's much earlier on in the business, when much of the action didn't happen yet. It began in a very somewhat too young and uneventful time in a sense. It was begun so early, that there wasn't too much of the infamous craziness going on yet. Hunting began The Phonoscope, at a perfect time, and not a time could have been better. Now that I have the chance to go through The Phonogram, it seems that Hunting's purpose with beginning The Phonoscope, was not exactly the most serious of matters. He began it for the same reason of The Phonogram, but he created a comical and rude spin-off in a way to it. It was more so this way toward the beginning of its existence rather than when 1900 neared closer. Hunting's intentions were much less serious than those who ran The Phonogram, and it seems clear by the very existence of the Our Tattler section that always included some of the funniest things having to do with the late-1890's recording business. That column is where we get these sections:
(still don't exactly know that that means...)
still funny. 
I like that Hunting found this funny, and the rest of The Phonoscope people did too. 

Most of the sections I use often are from the Our Tattler section, and it's the most questionable of these sections from The Phonoscope, only because they are often little items of gossip and the official so-called "scandal-sheet" of the magazine. Items of gossip are not always to be fully trusted, though the fact that Hunting was behind most of it until late-1898 gives credit up to that point, he was a better insider to have been writing about this than some of his friends. There was none of this in The Phonogram, which strangely seems Edison/North American biased, as we know very well that The Phonoscope was Columbia-biased, though there were many articles and such on old man Edison. Those boys at The Phonoscope did portray Edison not the nicest ways, aside from easily getting across his genius with the Phonograph and the electric light. The Phonoscope people were the kinds who would go for Tesla in the Edison vs. Tesla debate over AC and DC electricity. 

From what I've gathered in The Phonogram, it seems more like a magazine for the salesmen and managers of record companies rather than the group of recording stars themselves. It didn't have all of the great gossip and stories that we all love The Phonoscope for, and it ended so early on that it missed all of the good stuff that Hunting was around to see and write about. 

Had The Phonogram gone a year or two longer, they probably would have taken back all of the praise they gave Hunting in 1892, as they didn't see their finish as arcade owners with Hunting's "experimental" records. By that, I mean all of his infamous smut cylinders. They would have freaked out the same way that all of the "Columbia clan" did when the Johnson murder trial befell them. The first scandal of the business was essentially Hunting's smut cylinders, as before that there was the fall of North American, but that wasn't a scandal at all, it was just two major companies sparring over patents, which happened all the time, so that wasn't really a big deal. It just ended a very innovative and unique early record company, that's all. Hunting's scandal was the failure of the slot machine owners, but his moment of glory as Anthony Comstock's men scrambled for every last one of the records. All the records were destroyed during the trial and while he was in prison, so there wasn't much he could do about it. This scandal practically ended the slot machine age for the phonograph, even though plenty of phonograph parlors existed after the fact, they were more likely owned by recording stars or exhibitioners, not saloonkeepers and enthusiasts like they used to be. 
Take for example Roger Harding's phonograph parlor, which was clearly advertised in The Phonoscope in 1897, which was one of many places where the "clan" could gather, and where Harding could get credit for his "sales commission" that began at Columbia in 1898. I don't think I need to explain that, as it is pretty much what it sounds to be. 

From reading through The Phonogram, it seems that John Yorke AtLee was a much more prominent and popular recording star than previously thought. I knew that he was popular in the early days, and remained as such into the late-1890's, but the amount of writing on him in The Phonogram really says a lot about how important they all thought he was. 
Here's two of the same picture from The Phonogram:
Here's the original, sorry it wasn't copied very well...
There ya go, an actual photograph of AtLee!
Here's an etching of the same photograph:
Now you can inadvertently see it better. 
Well, he still had the best whiskers at Columbia, without doubt.
He looks more like a policeman than a recording star! Those are the most civil war-era looking whiskers I've seen. The picture of him is probably from c.1888-1890. AtLee was prided by Columbia more so than Edward Issler and Spencer were in 1895-1897, which is really saying a lot. He and the U. S. Marine band were really what Columbia was advertising in 1889 to 1892, all of the famous recording stars was know well came a little later, though a few of them are mentioned inThe Phonogram. Spencer, Denny, Gaskin, Schweinfest, Issler, and Hunting were all advertised in The Phonogram in 1892, which makes sense, but it seems a little early for Spencer to be specifically advertised as a soloist, since there was practically nothing on him in that magazine in 1891, and at that time, he was using pseudonyms for the most part, and was working in Issler's orchestra. Maybe they were mentioning that he was an Issler worker, since that's where most of us hear him before 1896. If you are not entirely aware of this, here are a few examples:

One thing I don't think I've noted about "Dancing on the Housetops", is that it's genuinely syncopated, which is very strange for a schottische of the early 1890's that isn't a "danse de negres"(as Gottschalk's music was called). It is actually a very good and well-hidden piece of early Rag-Time. It was much more socially acceptable in this case. Since this is the oldest one I know of, and it has the syncopation, that makes it inadvertently an early piece of Rag-Time. I'm sure Issler would not like to hear that. 

Well, I will have more onThe Phonogram within the next few days, but there's not really too much to take away from it, since it's so early on and not full of charming gossip. I hate to like Hunting for this, but you can't go wrong with his points made inThe Phonoscope.

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Odds and Ends in piano accompaniment--Leeds and Busy Bee

These strange record labels are not often considered musically and material-wise to many collectors I know, only because they were infamous for their not very good record quality, as when they're in bad condition, they sound unbearable to listen to. Their sound quality was actually pretty good for the time period, many of them being in bad shape is what has earned them the bad reputation. They are the strangest and most interesting of all the early disc labels to listen to, as their mysterious management let the strangest things pass. Of all the record companies of the early era, Leeds had the easiest rules when it came to anything recorded in their studio, as many selections done by these popular studio stars were only found on Leeds records. They basically took masters and titles from other labels that the big companies didn't find useful. 

There are so many things we will never know about Leeds records, as nothing of their ledgers are left, and their record labels are not really the most informative all the time. Leeds records must have had some connections with Columbia, and it must have been rooted in the late-1890's in fact, since that's when they began making cylinder records. Those Leeds workers must have used late-1890's Columbia technology, and improved upon it, as their gold foil records sounded fantastic. The future Leeds studio workers probably originated at late-1890's Columbia, who later went out to Talk-O-Phone in Ohio, which was where the headquarters for the company that Leeds was owned by. With the roots in the "Clan era" at Columbia, they had their eyes(and ears), on the good musicians and studio stars there. While Leeds sold cylinders in 1900 to 1903, they watched from their high perch all of the strange and brutal legal doings and show-biz drama at Columbia, Climax, Victor and Lambert, they were figuring out who and what they'd be able to reap from the remains of these bouts. By early 1903, their era of making cylinders had come to an abrupt end, but they were making discs at this time, in fact, making those famous gold foil label records. These records were the most "anything goes" types of recordings ever made at that time, even more so than late-1890's Columbia records. 

The management at Leeds must have seized the moment when Hylands was all fired up about his union bust in 1902, Hylands was infrequently at Columbia after that, so the Leeds people must have made a contract with some Columbia staff members. Since there were loopholes in many of the rules and contracting guidelines, Leeds was alright to make records for the time being, and snatch Columbia's discontented pianist at a moment of dying embers in the man's flames of hate. 
Around the end of 1903, the Busy Bee label did the same, for the same reason that Leeds did. With these strange new labels attaining Hylands finally, after observing him from a long distance, they turned him loose in their studios. They probably told him something like this at Leeds and Busy Bee:

"We've seen that you're such a great studio worker and pianist, so we'll just allow you to take over the orchestra."

They didn't realise how much of a bad idea that was. It is not really noticeable to most people who listen to these Leeds or Busy Bee records, but if you're paying attention somewhat to the music, most of those Leeds records with piano accompaniment or piano in the orchestra, they sound broken. This must have been a similar story to those Zon-O-Phone records I spoke of in earlier posts, where the studio workers enjoyed Hylands in their studio while he remained there. Of course, they probably didn't take it to mind at first that Hylands was a problematic alcoholic sometimes, but they soon learnt of their mistake.
 Getting into this reminds me of a recording that my friend Craig once played for me. This was a Busy Bee record from 1905, by the Invincible Quartette, and it was them performing the popular coon song "Shame On You". The singing wasn't very good to start, but to make matters worse, the piano playing wasn't good either. The piano was not in time with the singing as I recall now, and much of the sketch part of the record was very strange and didn't sound right. I wish I could share a transfer of the record here, but it's been several years since I heard it. I only mention it because it's a good example of a very bad take issued by Busy Bee, with Hylands not playing very well on the piano behind them. There were many more records they issued that had a similar story. 
Another thing to point out about Busy Bee records is that their house orchestra was not very good, and they have a similar tale to the Leeds orchestra, which includes the same pianist. I don't know what Busy Bee and Leeds did with balancing, but one thing is for sure, they almost always had that piano very loud and oftentimes consuming the other instruments in the orchestra. I heard one recently from 1905 by Collins and Harlan where the orchestra doesn't really sound very good, but the rhythm and sense of time is very good, and makes up for the out-of-tune cornet and violin. The piano was once again consuming, as it usually was on Busy Bee records. Since Busy Bee records were essentially Leeds masters most of the time, it is very likely that Hylands more often than not on that very loud and overpowering piano. 

Here is an example: "The Whirlwind Polka" by Bohumir Kryl on Busy Bee A-88
This record exhibits everything I was talking about. Since it was recorded in 1905, it helps that it's still within the range of Hylands still doing studio work somewhat. The issue with many of these later Leeds masters is that they are recorded in 1905 and in the years after that, so that doesn't mean that any one of these well-known studio pianists were on piano. When I say that I mean records like Ossman's 1907 Leeds take of "Dill Pickles". It's far too late to be any of the early studio pianists, though it sounds like one of them in many ways. Maybe we're underestimating Leeds in this sense, in the sense that maybe they had some sort of "deal" with Hylands that lasted longer than when he was dropped from Columbia. It's not impossible, but it's strange. 

The only records that Leeds made where it's certainly Hylands on piano are the early Gold foil records from 1903. All of those have all of the Hylands characteristics, and it made their house orchestra sound a little like the Columbia orchestra, which is a little weird.  I have't really heard too many of these Gold Foil Leeds records, but from what I've heard, the management there must have had a special deal or contract with Hylands. They probably told him they'd pay him a certain amount that he really liked, so he found their business just as good, if not better than Columbia's. It must have been better at the time it happened, since Columbia's orchestra was becoming a partnership that threw Hylands out of most discussion. By this, it is meant that Charles Prince was taking over, and was creating and orchestra with less piano, and entering in more musicians that weren't old favourites. At Leeds, it seemed that Hylands was the leader man, which was just what he needed when Prince was gradually creating the new Columbia orchestra. During his term at Leeds, Hylands was making their records interesting, and it's where we get records like these:

Yes I know all three of these records are by Collins, didn't really mean for that to happen. 
All three of these examples exhibit Hylands attributes, and what's more, they exhibit different ones! The first one listed even has the amazing added bonus of walking bass octaves in the interlude at the beginning and at the very end of the record! The second one has some of the strange rhythmic patterns that are kind of syncopated much like on many Columbia's. It's clear that Leeds had some kind of deal with Columbia when they were making those gold foil records. 

The final Leeds record I would like to showcase it one that is owned by one of my friends in collecting, and in fact, there's a good picture of the label as well!
It is a little hard to read, which is somewhat common with those Gold Foil Leeds records. 
The information given is not very complete, as all they give as the performer is"S Q and O." which to someone who doesn't really well know these records would be a sort of dead end at first sight. Without further ado, here is that record:

It is just the strangest thing, with the most unusual unknown origins. The Spencer quintette? Who the hell was in that? Other than Len Spencer obviously, all the other voices are very hard to pick out, but I have a feeling that somewhere in the cheers and singing, Fred Hylands can be heard(since he's on piano). I do think I hear both Spencer's here, which would logically make sense, but at the same time is very weird. Any one of Spencer's friends could be here, so the guesses are limitless with this record. I'm not entirely sure of the premise of this descriptive selection either, which is odd, because usually we can figure out what it is with descriptive selections of the Spencer's making. As said in the video description in the link, it is the Len Spencer party record, and that is so in all senses of the term. It confirms much of what I've hypothesized about Spencer and his friends, and it's not a Columbia record! I cannot start throwing around guesses as to who I think is on this record, and I'll leave that to you to comment and leave your guesses. 

Before I finish, the picture of that label just above came from an interesting and informative post here:

*It must be noted that the strangest thing about Leeds having Fred Hylands as their pianist, is that Columbia was one of the disc record companies who found Leeds to be an illegal and pestering issue while Columbia held those patents, so Leeds might have done something even more hidden and deceiving than just grabbing Hylands by the collar to record in their studio. Essentially, this was the only time that Hylands was working for an enemy of Columbia, and probably agreed to that just to piss off the Columbia management.*

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

14th Street Swells--Some popular New York Rag pianists

A cartoon I did poking fun at Burt Green and Fred Hylands as being "swells" who both lived and worked on 14th street in the late-1890's. 

Back in 1897 and 1898, East 14th street in New York City was a hub for several theaters, and where many of the pianists who played there lived. Among these swells included Burt Green, Mike Bernard, Ben Harney, and Fred Hylands. Pretty much the entire New York "rag time" scene lived either on 14th street, or somewhere around it. Much of these old buildings where the pianists resided still stand to-day on 14th street, including Fred Hylands' old flat while he worked at Columbia in his early era there. 

It seemed inevitable for all of these pianists to know one another, as they all worked at the same theater, and Hylands was their manager at one hot point. First, in 1896, Ben Harney broke the old traditions of vaudeville music by performing his "ragged" interpretation of his own "Mister Johnson Turn Me Loose", which really started a craze for music that was ragged in "Ethiopian songs" as they were often called at that time(that was actually a very old minstrel music term, that had been around since the 1830's). From there, all of these younger performers began taking up Harney's act and creating their own spin on it, adding all sorts of new and interesting things to it. Burt Green was considered among one of the best Harney imitators around, which believe it or not, was stated in an obituary for Harney in 1938. What was special about Green was the fact that he not only took up the piano playing style, but he also did some of the dancing that Harney was so well-known for. 
His dances included things like these:
There were so many more things he did, these are only two of several more that were photographed in 1911. Green did these dances well, as he was known for it it seems, and he sometime parodied them as well. From what we can hear on those handful of records Green made from 1911 to 1915, it is certain that he was one of those early rag pianists, and took much of his style from those other famous early performers. 
There he is around 1908. 

From the few pictures I've seen of Burt Green, I can easily see him being one of Fred Hylands' publishing associates, and since he was one of Fred's income sources, he remained a valuable asset for him for many years, even after the publishing firm. They met probably not long after Fred first came to New York, as they worked at the same theater in 1897, and Fred was at one point the music director there, so it's inevitable that they became friends early on. Their friendship worked so well in many ways, as what they were missing in their lives were fulfilled with one another, and they were easily both just as strange and eccentric. As I've said before, Burt's looks made up for Fred's, and it helped that most of the stars they endorsed on their music covers would encounter Burt first rather than Fred. Fred came next. The first impressions Burt made must have been much better than if Fred were there during recording days. During the publishing firm, Burt still worked on 14th street, at Huber's museum, and occasionally filled in at Tony Pastor's theater for Mike Bernard. But as could be expected, Fred and Burt learned early on not to mess with Bernard, and Fred knew him best, since he was his director for a short but busy time. 
Bernard must have been one of the 14th street swells who was auditioned for Columbia in 1897, as they probably tried all of these famous theater accompanists. Knowing how much of a peach Bernard was, he must have hated the idea of being almost quite literally a slave to the singers and performers who entered the studio. Harney was not very versatile, and would probably done well on all of those coon songs, but everything else wouldn't work. Burt must have been one of their second decisions, but he probably turned the studio job down. Of all these theater pianists other than Hylands, Green would have been another great studio pianist, and since he was so much like Hylands, he  was probably considered something like "Freddy's double" if they needed another pianist for something. In reality, the one who took that place was Ed Issler, and Issler was not a show-biz insider like Hylands, which meant for an immediately different approach. 

While Burt worked at Huber's, he met many of the famous faces pictured on Hylands' music covers, including these two:
(Fun fact! Spencer probably wrote her name on this picture!)
(These both came from sheet music covers in my collection)

I'm sure you all recognise these faces, especially the first one. Green probably found them first, and soon went to Hylands and Spencer about his latest findings. Where Harlan came from in this case it is not certain, but Ada Jones was a regular at Huber's 14th Street museum, and it is almost certain that he met her there. Wherever of whomever introduced Harlan to Hylands, that friendship lasted a long time, and it was randomly revived in 1901 when Harlan began recording at Columbia. Other performers like Barney Fagan and Sallie Stembler must have been Hylands and Spencer findings. Burt working at Huber's not only got him an immense amount of money, but it earned Hylands and Spencer some very important friendships, such as the Ada Jones and Spencer duo that made hundreds of records from 1905 to 1913. 

No Billy Murray, you did not find her first. Damn lie...

Anyway, you understand what I'm getting at here, 14th street was a fantastic place to live and work in the late-1890's. There were more famous stage pianists who came from 14th street, but that comes later in the era, around the gaudy time of Tin Pan Alley, of which none of these early pianists were officially part of. These great pianists were too good to be part of that mess. 
Max Hoffmann was another one of these pianists I did not mention, as he was performing all over those theaters on 14th street in 1897-98, which logically works since he was such a famous "rag" pianist. Hoffmann remained pretty well-hidden considering that all of these other pianists were not really writing all of this music, but they were playing it in that same Hoffmann-like style. He remained hidden because he wasn't exactly a show-biz character out front, he was a sort of behind-the-scenes type, since he married a dancer who made up for this. His slim and pretty wife was scandalous enough to keep everyone's hands off of him, so they could scrutinize her. 
Something like this is what I mean. 
That's his wife in the center by the way. 
Funny to think that Hylands was director at the theater where this was taken. Hehe...
Hoffmann's marriage was brilliant, in so many ways, and it really is funny to think of it as a strategic show-biz marriage, far more than just the typical Hylands and Green marriages of pianist and singer. Chronologically, Hylands' marriage came first of all these famous pianist-singer ones, with the intention of an act being created from it. It wasn't as famous as the others that came after it, like Burt's marriage to Irene Franklin, but it was the same sort of thing. Fred married a singer who was not really well known, and she became a little more well-known after being married to Fred for ten years, since it took that long for him to finally put her in one of his Broadway shows. 
(that's her! on his music of course)
Took him long enough...
 It would be interesting if he dragged her in to Columbia to make some records. Probably didn't happen, but we can well assume that he considered it early on. We know that he was desperate for attention from the Columbia staff in 1898, and something like this was probably laughed upon by the long-time studio stars. It helps that he lived on 14th street in 1898, though he was not within walking distance of the studio. The bouts with cable cars were inevitable!

Anyhow, I'm just going to keep rambling on about all of this, so that's where I'll end it. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Digging into Leachman, and other Chicago Eccentricities

(Leachman, c.1898-1901, from Charlie Judkins)

Under the kind obliging of a friend of mine, I will do another post outlining Silas Leachman, including all of the new information on him that has been found within the last few years. 
When I mentioned that "treasure trove" of information in my last Burt Shepard post, I meant all of the basic background information on Leachman was made available to everyone, as before that, he a was very mysterious figure in the early recording business. It seemed someone did all of the census record findings and newspaper searching to find everything. Whomever that was, you cannot be thanked enough! Much like Burt Shepard, there's a lot about Leachman we will always wonder about, and will probably never know. Leachman was one of the few early recording stars who was genuinely a genius musically, and technically, which was very uncommon. You many argue that the Spencer's deserve that spot and title as well, but Leachman really takes the prize on this matter. 

It's really fascinating to consider that Leachman was not only just a local eccentric in Chicago, but he was also involved with the show business in the area, as he knew all the other famous eccentrics, and just others who passed by the city while he was there. Chicago seems more and more like the true Rag-Time melting pot as I study these encounters, as pretty much every one of the earliest Rag composers lived in Chicago at some point in the early or mid 1890's, which includes some of the popular New York performers as well, not just composers. Leachman just happened to be right in the middle of it, and luckily for him, all of these composers, performers and publishers found him interesting and took quick interest in him. It's not that strange to see a piece of Chicago music published in 1893-1896 mentioning Leachman on the cover, or anywhere in the music's pages. Local Chicago talking machine advertisements would mention him often as well. I have mentioned before in my Chicago posts that Leachman encountered "Bill" Krell, as my dad called him once(It was strange to hear someone call him that!). This was W. H. Krell:
Krell in 1895 
As I have come to notice recently, Krell actually had a Fred Hylands-like figure, which is strange to think, but if you really take a good look, you can notice it. Of course, at first glance, Krell looks like a handsome-faced, blond-haired German chap, it doesn't help that this is the only photograph there is of him, so far as I know.
A cartoon I did mocking several Chicago eccentrics of the mid-1890's, including Krell, Fred Hylands and Bert Morphy(who was also a famous cook!)

We Rag-Time freaks know him as the man who wrote "Missisippi Rag", which was the first tune to formally have "Rag" in the title, in the use of music terms that is. Krell was a young and new bandleader in 1892 and 1893 in Chicago, dearly wanting to get on the same terms as the other local military bands, since he had grown up among band competition of that sort. In 1893, he met a kind local eccentric named Silas Leachman, and wrote a tune dedicated to the former mayor of Chicago who had died during the Exposition of that year. Leachman must have sung this tune at performances by Krell's band in 1893 at the fair, in memory of the mayor. From there, Krell and Leachman had connections, and among the performers Krell endorsed, Leachman was probably one of them. Fred Hylands and Ben Harney were others among the long list of performers.  Leachman's connections earned him a lot of work with the local Chicago Talking machine company, and performing work in the city. Those thousands of brown waxes he made at home from 1892-1899 really give you a idea of how busy and demanded he was by Chicago record-buyers. The fact that he was mentioned more than once in The Phonoscope also tells you that he was a popular subject of gossip among the Columbia clan. He was not involved in all of their antics, but he was experimenting much like they were at the same time, in fact, he was doing things that none of the famous Columbia studio geniuses thought of, such as recording his voice in four different ranges and creating a quartette from only his voice(you can read the section from The Phonoscope here.)  
Other than being a famous recording star, Leachman was also just a local gambler and enthusiast. Among his local activities included owning a race horse, and being the epitome of a Kentucky dandy(of which this is personified in Roger Harding's hilarious 1901 recording here). He would dress in his best and go out to the races, being one of the warmest society swells at the track (Hmm, sounds like some other swells we know from Columbia...), with this fame and wealth from recording and horse races, he also became a policeman, for which he became even more well-known. We know that once he became chief of personnel for the Chicago police, that was when his recording career faded away. He was making all of those Victors when this new era in his life began, and when the pervious one was slowly ending. 

It's hard to believe that when he was making all of those Victors that just after then, he wanted all of that to be forgotten. Every one of his Victor's is amazing to hear, since they seemed to catch more of him than the few surviving brown waxes he made. It would seem that his brown waxes allowed him to be more wild, but the Victor's made him become someone else sometimes, though still keeping some of his prized humor from the brown wax era. His times at Victor were also where he could reconnect with some of his old Chicago eccentrics, like Fred Hylands, and Frank Banta(though Banta only came for a brief time in 1895, and maybe in passing before that while touring with Ossman). It is certain that he was able to reconnect with Hylands, as without a doubt, he was one of those strange and young "rag" pianists of the mid-1890's. I have always had the feeling that Leachman must have been hard to work with in the studio, and not really in the same ways that Arthur Collins and Henry Burr were. Leachman's issues in the studio came from how he remembered songs and recordings, as it's important to remember that he learned everything by ear. He was also constantly imitating other popular singers that the studio pianists would have known, which must have really been a kick to the pianists. Among the singers he imitated, I've heard Len Spencer, George Gaskin, Billy Golden and Arthur Collins. He was certainly good at imitating them, as Billy Golden was the hardest to imitate of all of them, and he did that often. 

I can tell that he heard a lot of Len Spencer. Heh! Who didn't? 

Many of his records imitate things that Spencer did only, and it helps that many of Leachman's Victor's were of Coon songs. Billy Golden is also another to consider that he heard often, as he did a recording of "Turkey in the Straw" in 1901, and he certainly took from Billy Golden's famous version of unknown origins. Here's Leachman's take on Billy Golden's famous specialty. It's funny that Banta's on piano here, as he would have known only how to accompany Golden's version, and would have been unsure of how Leachman wanted to do this. Leachman must have dissected every chorus of Golden's version to do this. Though as we know, the final verse was completely improvised on Leachman's Victor, which is extraordinary. That look on Banta's face when Leachman told him he was going to improvise the last verse must have been priceless. Leachman's ear must have been amazing, as he could probably hear things that most people couldn't, and could decipher Billy Golden's "Turkey in the Straw" better than anyone ever could. It has become a sort of pun how no one can fully transcribe Golden's lyrics to"Turkey in the Straw", and I think that Leachman could actually do it, so I wonder about how accurate Leachman's interpretation actually was. We will perhaps never know. Like I said, there's a lot about Leachman we will never know. 

It's frustrating how he wanted his whole recording thing to be forgotten, as that was why for so many years almost nothing was known about him,  and why much was probably lost since then. Leachman must have been like Len Spencer, complicated to the point of where none of us modern collectors will understand, and contradicting to many contemporary accounts. A lot of it doesn't make sense. With all of that about Leachman it's alright that he wasn't part of the Columbia clan, because if he had left Chicago earlier, he probably would have been, and that would have killed him, literally. 

Maybe we'll find more information on Leachman someday soon, and hopefully, some of his complicated nature will make more sense. That's not guaranteed though, much like Spencer's impossible personality. 

Hope you enjoyed this! Sorry about not posting for many days, staying on a single subject become hard to do within the last week or so. 

*Who ever you are viewing in Russia, I'm glad you're enjoying my blog! Thanks for the great heap of views within the past week!*