you all know Mr. Spencer
Why these four? Well, George Graham was notorious for getting so drunk at some Berliner sessions that he would collapse onto the floor if not held up. George P. Watson sounds loaded on most of his early Columbia's. Where should I start with Spencer...Well, I know by his deep age lines and gray hairs that he was a drinker, and this can be heard on many of his Columbia's and even a few of his Victors(not many of them though...) Just compare a few of his records with each other and you may notice a few differences, significant ones... Now Hylands is a different story, as I have mentioned him so many times on this blog, he was a sensational pianist don't get me wrong, but if you listen to a different take of the same selection, recorded on the same very day, the piano playing seems to diminish as the takes go along. As this is also especially relevant when Hylands is accompanying Len Spencer, as the two of them were practically made for each other, music wise.
It is clear from these records where the great artists that all of us record collectors know and love, that rules in the recording studios were very loose and practically invisible. So this means that recording studios allowed drinking, smoking(durr...obviously), and who knows what else! Columbia was particularly the most open in the 1890s and even in the first few years of the twentieth century this tradition still existed(as Arthur Collins can seem a bit off on a few of his columbia records in 1900 to 1903, and Hylands is clearly on piano on those records). I'm sure that being in the recording studio with a loaded Len Spencer and Fred. Hylands must have seemed like a disaster until the music got going, they were so used to the recording process that they could still get it going after two glasses of beer(and that's beer in that time period!) As I'm listening to one of Spencer's Victors as I'm writing this, I'm thinking that his logic must have been something like this:
"I can't sing in my best coon dialect without a little drink engineer boy."
(he would have know the recording engineer's name, I'm just making a point here)
Hylands and George P. Waston must have been the same way, as piano players can be pretty messy when they play slightly drunk(I have heard this enough to understand this...) Spencer's(as well as Hylands') time also stutters when they're loaded, as I'm on a different Victor by Spencer at this very moment, and he's more alert and quick-speaking(as that's how he was when he was sober). Hyland must have also been overly-anxious to play his specialty Ragtime when he was loaded, as he was quick and shaky when he played drunk. Here's the way to describe Hylands when he recorded a take pretty "wasted":
he was loose, rough, and willing to play out the ivories. His playing was slurred, hands were extremely anxious, to the point of heavy trembling which caused his fingers to lose their place and his time was broken when a solo was thrown at him. He felt divine, but the recording engineers could only cringe at his horridly audible mistakes.
that was how I described George W. Johnson's "The Laughing Song" with Hylands on the piano, recorded for Columbia in 1898. There are several records i would like to mention here, but the onely other one i feel that i MUST mention is Blue American record no. 31046.
Why do I mention this odd records on a rather obscure label?
well, my dear friend Craig Ventresco played me this American 31046 record one time when I was visiting him, and it was the most awful record I had ever heard! But it was a historic example of a record that must have been accidently issued as the wrong take. This record is the Invincible quartet(Arthur Collins, Byron G. Harlan, George S. Lennox, and Frank C. Stanley) singing(barely) the great old tune "Shame on You" with just horrible piano accompaniment, which to how awful it is, it's probably either Frank Stanley or Byron Harlan. It wasn't very well balanced, and the chorus of the song is so out of tune that it makes ya wonder. All four of them must have been completely wasted...
anyhow, I hope you enjoyed this!