Monday, December 7, 2015

Character Studies-- Silas Leachman(1859-1936)

Yes indeed, the man with the rarest perfect pitch a person can inherit. 

 Leachman had a famous great ear for music, and he was considered a freak for how good it was. He was an everyday railroad worker back in the 1870's and 1880's(possibly being a brakeman), which didn't prove to be an enjoyable job for him. While he was a railroad worker, he still lived in Kentucky, and possibly played and sang at local saloons, where he discovered the hidden talent he had. by the late 1880's, he had moved out to Chicago, where he married and found a nice home in the outskirts of the windy city. It was here that he began to perform at small local places, and the record company jobbers found him to be an interesting venture. They at last began to record him in 1891, and by 1892, he had offered to make his own records for them, which just seemed to work better on his part.  Bu 1894, he was making hundreds of records a week for the record companies out in Chicago, at his home, with him doing all of the work. Leachman was said to have been the first one to record his voice in four part harmony on different machines and putting his voice four tones as one onto a single cylinder. What? Yes, he made it seem like he  was a full quartet, only one Leachman. He was good enough with the equipment and with his vocal skill that he could do this. Whatever he did, he made it work, and those who heard the record were fooled. In 1901, he began to make records for the Victor talking Machine Company for Eldridge R. Johnson, which is where most of his surviving records were made.   He came out to Philadelphia periodically to make records, as he still lived in Chicago. 

And actually, it was in this very week in 1901 that Leachman came in and made a big batch of his most well-known Victors. Including "Trusculina Brown", "Turkey in the Straw","Don't You Hear them Bells", and a bunch more of his top selections. On this day back in 1901, Leachman made records of "Mister Johnson Turn Me Loose", "My Maid from Hindoostan", and a few more popular songs.

Leachman did not mean to, but whatever studio he entered, he owned the room. He loved making records, and he put his best of effort into making each and every record that he made, as each selection was a favourite of his. His skills were extraordinary, for being mostly illiterate, both musically and grammatically. Leachman had mastered uses for the phonograph that not even the Spencer brothers could have devised, which is really saying quite a lot. Leachman was a completely untrained singer(less trained than Dan W. Quinn!), which is truly amazing since he was such a versatile and melodically great vocalist. Somehow Leachman just happened to be the most gifted of all the early recording stars, and when this is said, it ain't a lie, as just look at the abilities that Leachman had, and how they were once described. It is truly an honor to be able to hear Leachman on those Victors 110 years after they were recorded, and it's truly a phenomenal thing. He was very kind to the pianists that accompanied him at Victor, which were either Frank P. Banta or Fred Hylands. Every time he wold come in, he would greet the pianist kindly, and thank them beforehand, especially if it was Hylands. He and Hylands had met back in the mid-1890's in Chicago, with Hylands possibly accompanying him for something back then. So one can imagine the kind of pleasant surprise that Leachman got when he found that Fred Hylands was a pianist for Victor. No matter which of the two pianists just happened to be in that day, Leachman worked with them almost perfectly. He always fell completely into character when he made those records, where the only way to get him out of his characters was to tell him that it was time for the next take. To further explain his awe-inspiring abilities, he learned everything he did by ear. EVERYTHING. He heard a record of the song by another singer, such as Len Spencer, Arthur Collins, Billy Golden, Dan Quinn, and all the other popular recording stars at that time, and after he heard the record through once, he could sit at a piano a play back the whole thing, with all the piano accompaniment and all the vocal tones. He could also imitate other singers, such as Billy Golden or Len Spencer, which it is evident that he did this when one hears a tune that was recorded by those two done by Leachman. He probably never met the other artists in person, but the artists themselves certainly heard of Leachman, as he was an artist who came out of nowhere in 1901 to make Victors, and he soon became almost just as popular as Arthur Collins or Len Spencer. Leachman was a truly eccentric character, who, since he had earned so much money from recording in the mid-1890's, owned race horses, and was called "The Kentucky Colonel"(yes, I am serious about this!), among other nicknames he had, that was one of them. He would sit at his piano at home in Chicago for hours every day of the week, and sing in that loud voice of his to make records for the local Chicago Talking machine company, with only his wife at home to hear him sing and help him make records, of which he made hundreds of during the week, getting 35 cents for each of them, and only the bravest of Chicago residents would ever dare to venture out to his home, which as the Chicago Tribune described it, was more located on the way to Milwaukee than to Chicago itself. He lived far out in the styx not just so he could make his records in peace, but also because of how he wanted to be only with his wife out alone from the rest of society. That must be an indicator of what he was like as a person, likable to be around, but mostly an introvert who wanted to do his genius works only in a secluded land where he wouldn't be set on display, like all the other recording were at exhibitions. He wanted to do his art in peace, without others around to gaze at him. He was a tall, powerfully build chap, with a baritone voice that suited his figure fully, with long hands, and whiskers on his upper lip that curved downward, that oftentimes covered his smiles. It's odd to think, but after 1904, Leachman left all of this recording business behind him. He felt that it was something to be forgotten, and so he did. He still lived in that secluded area of his, but after 1905, he came into town all covered up, because people still would recall that eccentric that he was back in the 90's. By the 20's, he was working as the police department's inspector of personnel, 
which he had apparently been working as since about 1905. Very few people remembered who he was, and whenever someone would ask, he would act as through that never happened, and he would be silent about it. It's so odd to think, because he loved making records so much, and he was said to have been one of the most passionate of the early recording stars, becoming character after character, and loving his acting more than anything in the world. Pleasing the phonograph was his specialty, and he was the most gifted of any person who had stood before the phonograph horns before the microphone. He died almost completely forgotten in 1936.

Here are a few records that he made between the dates of December 3 and 7 of 1901, this very week, 114 years ago.

As far as I know, here's a pianist listing of each of those days(who I am pretty sure is on the piano):
December 3: Hylands
December 4: (debatable...) 
December 5: Banta
December 6: Hylands
December 7: Hylands 

I hope you enjoyed this!


  1. Wonderful research here. It's been awhile since I came across any recently written material about Leachman that wasn't redundant.

  2. Wonderful research here. It's been awhile since I came across any recently written material about Leachman that wasn't redundant.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Hope to read more comments!

  3. Thanks for this great essay. I recently acquired my only Leachman, " Quit That Ticklin' Me." He was a great artist.