Saturday, November 28, 2015

Character Studies--- Harry Spencer(1875-1946)

Harry Spencer, the Spencer who was always Len's shadow. 

Many record nerds forget about Len's younger brother Harry,  which is many ways is unfortunate, but does make some sense. He only had one talent, dramatic recitations, not singing. All the singing was left to Len. Harry was damn good at recitations however, and in some ways, he had a voice more fit for doing more dramatized monologues than Len. They both had haunting voices, that were frightening to some who heard them. Harry's voice, being darker and deeper certainly was the more frightening one. Harry could never do those records intended for the Spencer girls that Len did in the late-1890's. Harry had just as strong a love for the phonograph as his brother Len, but never was able to get the love and praise that Len received from his records. Harry had even more of an engineering mindset than Len did, and that's really saying quite a heap, as Len was always said to have been the one who took things from Columbia when they started and was later making chimes records in the churches late at night. Harry knew the technical end of the recording sessions better than anyone did, which is why he was such a great announcer and sound effects man. He remained one of Columbia's best exhibitors for many years, doing practically all of their nightly exhibitions from 1896 to 1901. Harry was a sort of behind-the-scenes genius at Columbia, fixing all the little things in the technology of the studio, and keeping the machines running finely as often as they could be, and he did this for many years, and for thousands of surviving records. 

Harry was the more handsome of the Spencer boys. Many of the ladies and girls that came to the exhibitions looked more toward Harry than Len, as Len was rather frightening sometimes, but Harry, with a sutler face, was easier on the eyes. Harry was not as tall as Len, and had a little more of a plumpness to him, contrasted with Len with that ridiculously tall stature and the ancient Roman physique. Harry's voice was darker than Len's, more penetrating, and certainly haunting. The few times that he was seen with that wife of his, they could easily have been mistaken for Len and Eliza(that was his wife's name). His wife was Gazella, a true Italian dame, with skin more of an Olive tone than pale white, and a long nose, with a shapely figure. When the Spencer's all came to those dinners and parties that were hosted by the Emerson's and Easton's, Harry was much more quiet than Len and his well-respected mother Sarah. Harry hadn't the best social skills, as he was always thinking technically, whereas Len was getting drunk and talking to everyone with full passion and contentment in his voice and words. Gazella did much of the talking for Harry, as many times she would introduce him to new people for him, especially when Len was running that publishing firm with Freddy Hylands. So many new names were dropped in the business in that short period of time, and Harry was only just on the edge of all of that madness. He remained a popular monologists, who was very great at imitating famous political figures. In 1901, Harry was the only successful recording artist to imitate William McKinley not long after he was assassinated. Spencer must have studied the president's speech very closely, probably going to many of his speeches, and probably attended his inauguration parade in 1897.  It must not have been too hard for him, as McKinley was from Ohio, much like the Spencer's were, so that allowed for some immediate likeness when the people hear the record by Spencer. They purposely didn't list the artist on the label when the Climax record was sold in 1901, as it fooled most of the people who heard it, they assumed it was president McKinley shortly before he was shot, but it was actually the voice of Harry Spencer. Harry worked prominently in the business for another 6 years or so, after that living in various boardinghouses with Gazella, not really doing nearly as much as Len was. Harry was just Len's "first servant" if you will, as that Lyceum needed the best help it could get, so Harry was running the thing under Len and his top advisors. He primarily ran the lyceum with his brother until Len croaked in 1914. Harry was probably doing some technical work when he heard from one of his nieces that Len had collapsed on his desk and died. Harry was then forced to run the business, be since he hadn't the social ability and leadership, the business soon fell by the middle of 1915. If Len had known that his whole vaudeville empire had crashed and burned only a few months after he died, he would have gotten into a "fight-to-the-death" with Harry, and probably would have ended up terribly hurting his brother, just from his anger with this. Harry completely left the music business by 1920, from there just living from boardinghouse to boardinghouse with Gazella, telling wild old tales of the old recording business to the other boarders and people he met. His mental health had always been unstable, and since he was so quiet and antisocial, many of the people around him assumed something was not completely right about him, but no one knew what could have been the problem, if there was any. This especially began to show after Len's death, it was a slow downhill drop, but it was getting lesser with every year that passed by. He worked occasional jobs here and there, all up until the second World War, where he was still living as a boarder with Gazella, but by the early 40's, she had died, which was a terrible blow to him. This is where he fell into the abyss, he was sent to a mental asylum in the early 40's, where he did nothing but tell crazy stories, and weep and whine for Len or Gazella. That's all he did there until he died in 1946, over 30 years after Len passed. It's a terrible and hard tale to tell, as he would have been a wonderful source of information about early recording, but he had deteriorated far too much to get a reasonable amount of information from him. Or to get anything out of him, since he was so introverted.

To close off, here is one of his most haunting records, from 1903:

I hope you enjoyed this! 

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