Monday, December 28, 2015

Fred. Hylands in the studio, and the old Piano Chair

I know that what's in the title of this post is something that I do speak of very much on this blog, but I had a great long conversation last evening coming back from Sacramento. It made me think about old studios and Fred Hylands just slightly differently, but it was just wonderful. Anyhow, I spoke of all the notions of unregulated studios in the 1890's, and I know that is a special item of interest on my blog, because it is something that record collectors who own brown wax cylinders or even early discs do not take into consideration when listening to them. This is why the piano accompaniment aspect of the old records is so interesting, because it's an unexplored realm in this field, and also because it's much more convoluted than it would seem. They weren't just "second fiddle'' in those studios. 

Anyhow, I got to talking about how Hylands was like working at Columbia, with certain artists, and with his pay(that he complained so much about!), and from what my dear friend Virginia said, she said that somehow, Hylands' ego was oppressed when working for Columbia, because sometimes you can even hear some sort of musical argument on some of these records that he's behind a singer or featured instrumentalist. This was a big problem with Hylands and Vess Ossman:

(Vess, c.1894)
Yes, that was a little bit of a problematic duo at Columbia, and sometimes even at Victor. Just take into consideration that Vess had an ego that filled the room when he entered the studio, and he was always THE performer, not just a part of what records were being made. That was a problem when Hylands was there at the piano, as Hylands also had the same sort of ego with him, so those many Hylands and Ossman Columbia sessions can sound like a musical battle half the time. Why? Well, Hylands was often out of sync with Ossman, and was playing all sorts of frivolous Rag-Time things that didn't exactly match with what Ossman was playing. That was especially a problem when Hylands played his syncopated improvisations in the same register that Ossman was playing in. I just got a record yesterday that represents all of these aspects, here it is: 
Hear this record here.

It is a record where Hylands and Ossman are at subliminal battle within the music.There are times where Hylands was tame and modest behind Ossman, where he did as he was really meant to behind a banjo player. Banta was just better at this in general, because he was a much more modest and accommodating accompanist. Hylands was used to attention, and that was what he expected to get when began working at Columbia. Hylands was, no matter what, "second fiddle" there at Columbia, because he was an accompanist, and that's what purpose he served while there. 
Here are a few Ossman and Hylands examples  just to understand what point I'm trying to make:

If you're still not really convinced, go out and dig up some more Ossman and Hylands records yourself and take a close listen or two.  They're not the most uncommon records around. You just won't find the pianist listed. 

Ossman must have found Hylands' drinking in the studio laughable, and unruly, Vess must have commented one time between a take in 1898 or 1899 something like this:
"Fred, why is it that you drink in this studio, when you could just sound your best all the time?"

(Fred) "Sylvester, I sound best all of the time. No matter if a drink has come to me or not." 

Yes indeed, that would sound about right. I would bet that many of Columbia's featured artists asked Fred the same thing, and got a reply that is a variant of what is written above. J. W. Myers must have demanded that Hylands be sober when he came in. Now onto J. W. Myers.
Yes indeed, J. W. Myers, the Welsh "diva". 
What I just said about Myers being a diva pretty much sums up Hylands and Myers altogether. Myers expected much of Hylands, and he obeyed, but it is certain that Hylands hated Myers for being such a demanding singer, and telling him what to do specifically. Here is one that you can kind of hear it, with Hylands playing all sorts of things behind Myers, trying to get his attention from the listener:

There are few times where the piano accompaniment can seem slightly more penetrating than the voice on records, but the one just above is one of them, and that is what happened much more with Hylands, as I don't really know of a time where Banta had that problem. Not surprisingly, Hylands had this problem at Victor, with Silas Leachman singing. Leachman was undoubtedly a genius, but so was Hylands, so it made those Victor sessions quite a powerful mix. Hylands alternated with Banta for those Leachman sessions, so when one finds a Leachman Victor, it could be either one of the two on piano behind him. 

Speaking of Hylands and Leachman, I was just at my friend Tom Hawthorn's home last evening, and I dug through much of his stash of Leachman's. While doing this, I found two takes of Leachman's "Don't You Hear Dem Bells", and of course, I took both of them to the phonograph upstairs. I listened to both of them, and the first one was take 1, and the second was take 5. Take 3 had been my favourite before I found take 5, but when I heard take 5, I was confused by the piano playing. Before I get into details,here is a link to takes 1 and 3.
The thing that was so fascinating about take 5(which is numbered Victor 803), was that the piano playing slowed down so much! It was bad enough on take 3(listen above), but on this one, there was whole new kind of weird. I stood at the mouth of the horn for ten minutes trying to figure out what was going on with the piano accompaniment. I would have a transfer of it here, but I do not own the record. That must have been Hylands! I knew it by how slow it was, and how loose the playing was, that it had to be Hylands. This record is another great example of Hylands wanting his attention, even if Leachman himself was quite a singer who could keep anyone's attention easily. Just for a comparison with the last one listed, here is Leachman with Banta doing Harney's "Mister Johnson Turn me Loose". Compare that with take 3 of "Hear Dem Bells" by Leachman, with Hylands. 

Now, Hylands did indeed at least once acted unruly around each singer or instrumentalist he accompanied, as he would either take a disliking to them, or would be so broken up from working that he would drink terribly, which also brought on the unruly side of him. Sometimes one can wonder what Ed Easton thought of Hylands at first, before they hired him in 1897. He must not have known that Hylands would drink if he felt he was overworked, or have such specific wants from where he worked. Hylands must have just charmed Easton and Emerson so much when they took him in for some tests. They knew he was the right person for the job as their pianist, even if they had no idea of the kind of trouble they would run into with him later. 

Speaking of these troubles that the Columbia management ran into, they must not have realised that their piano chair wasn't the best fit for their new pianist. Take a look at their piano chair in 1897:
(from the July, 1898 issue of The Phonoscope)
That chair must not have been in good luck when Hylands first came in. It's legs probably creaked and cracked upon first holding up 300 pounds of Fred Hylands. The studio workers must have gasped quietly in the distance, worrying terribly for that chair, that had only endured Fred Gaisberg, Frank Banta, and George Schweinfest before that. After a few sessions with that suffering chair creaking terribly, they at last got rid of it, by whatever means it took to kill this worrisome chair. Whether by burning, beating to pieces, or just simply selling it to another company. There is not a doubt in my mind that the chair from the picture above would have been a problem when Hylands began to work there. One can only imagine how the engineers got rid of that chair. It would be great if we could actually see the piano chair in this picture here:
Can anyone see it? I doubt it(cause I can't!). I just know that Hylands is there looking out to the rest of the band  at the piano. I am not sure who everyone else is, but I'm assuming there are members of the Columbia orchestra there, like Tom Clark, and George Schweinfest. If anyone can identify anyone else, please tell me! 

I hope you enjoyed this! 

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