Monday, March 9, 2015

A Wild Mind---Len Spencer

you can see so much in his eyes, some sort of devilish ways...
This picture has always been, in my opinion, the best representation of Spencer's personality, especially when he was younger. It must be taken into consideration that this was taken around the time he was split with his second wife...

You may have thought his brother Harry was a weirdo, don't get me wrong they both were, but Len was a different kind of weird. He was very impatient, extremely intelligent,  sometimes almost spoke with a stutter, rather eccentric, and determined to get every idea he and his brother had out there, at any cost. He must have been a bit off-kilter most of his life, as he split with his second wife in 1892 (yes, his second wife, his first one died in 1891) and remained separate from her until 1895. He must have done this again in the late 1890's and early 1900's, as he was said to have come into record every day, and as was custom, he had to be at the studio by around 8 am.
You couldn't keep him from the music, as I'm sure that he learned many of the thousands of songs recorded from playing piano and singing at home, when he was at home. His two surviving daughters remembered their father fondly, and saw him as a funny man but also a rather absent father, as he was gone for much of his girls' childhood, but clearly he had enough time at home to move the family a few times between 1898 and 1906. As goes with most of the early recording artists, they all had a different opinion on him, and a different view of him. Someone like Fred. Hylands would have been a perfect example of someone to talk to about Spencer, if only he had lived longer... Most of his friends saw him as a very dandy and modern fella with everything fashionable and up-to-date with him, but only a few saw him as wild, manic, and moody. He was a comical and kind person, but he had some awful habits. 
These habits of his hit him harder than any of his friends. as that can be seen in all the later picture of him. 
He has that slightly manic look in his eyes in this picture. But what you see is true Victorian intellect. 
He was indeed what The Phonoscope portrays him as, comical, dandy, quick-minded and up-to-date. As I have mentioned on this blog before, he always had something else on his mind, whether is be another tune, or it be something completely different. But he had the perfect voice and means for singing and playing Ragtime. He practically recorded on Ben Harney's behalf in the mid-late 1890's and again in the early 1900's. Recording Ragtime was not an uncommon thing, but he really got the Rag-Time spirit going around the Columbia staff, and onto their records. He saw this fad early, in 1896 in fact, and he saw true potential in this just as Ben Harney did, he saw it the way it was, just an extension of the minstrel tunes he was already recording by then. 
Spencer could get temper-mental sometimes when small things were not right, and he kind of a snob when is came to the music he liked. He did record over 600 different songs as of November 1896, and just over 62,000 cylinders in all by the same date. But this large sum doesn't mean that he wasn't picky, there were plenty of sings that he just left for his friends to record, such as "Put Me Off at Buffalo", which was one of the biggest hits of 1895 and 1896, and surprisingly, Spencer never recorded it. All of his friends did though. He must have always been found tapping his foot to something or whistling melodies, whenever someone came upon him. As ideas of all kinds were always running through his mind. 

One thing that very few have noticed from Spencer's records is that when he was fully alert,  he often fumbled sentences in monologues, as he was reading off the sheet of paper and his mind was moving so quick that it made him stutter a few words or get them mixed up. And yes, this is when he was completely sober. When he was a little drunk, this changed quite a heap, as he wasn't too quick for his means when a drink or too overtook him. In my opinion, he was funnier when he was drunk and did the black dialect material better that way. I'm sure that he and his studio friends thought the same thing.
His temper and habits must have worsened as he got older, as he was half-committing himself to so many things, it was wearing him out. 
No doubt, he had a very pleasing speaking voice, perfect to make the kind acquaintance of the phonograph. He must have acted rather meek in the machine's presence when he just started out in 1888. But he quickly learned the power in his voice and knew that that was the way to make these records sound better. 

Not bad for a 22 year old college teacher.  :-) 

The phonograph was calling to him. It's greedy horn wanted his voice in it. 
His from 1891, ideas ran wild, from balancing techniques to finding a new girl to marry. As his first wife had just died, he was now single and free to do what ever he wanted until a new girl came his way. 
It's crazy to try to analyze his personal life, as from what has been found, it must have been a complete mess, far too complicated to get in the right order. Not that his life was like that of Mike Bernard's, but is was probably a similar story, minus the many women involved factor. 

Much of the music that Spencer wrote had been lost to history, as many of the songs he wrote were not recorded by him. But the ones that were are an interesting mix of minstrelsy and comic songs. His song(recorded by several other singers) "The Minstrel Man of Mine" is a great rare example of  Spencer's song writing style: 
(here's Spencer and Ossman doing it on s Victor)

This song really represents Spencer's quick-witted and dandy personality, the line from this " you're all the money" really reflects the amount of slang that he used, and also "Yer quite the caper" and "T'here's somethin' doing". Very up-to-date and dandy Leonard! 

I hope you enjoyed this!
(I'm doing all of these articles on Spencer to get everything written out for my possible presentation of a project involving Spencer in April)

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