Saturday, January 16, 2016

Character studies--George J. Gaskin(1863-1920)

"I was the zenith. Not a doubt could defeat that claim!" is similar to what George J. Gaskin claimed about his voice and popularity in the early recording business. 

Since to-day is Gaskin's birthdate, I thought it would be very appropriate to complete a post on him to-day. 
He believed he was the most popular recording star of the recording business in the 1890's, which, in many ways, he actually was, but that's partially just his ego talking mush. He recorded the most of the songs that many people who aren't record nerds remember now, which is a big plus on his part. Len Spencer made more records, but he didn't record some of the most easily remembered songs(ahem! most of them were coon songs!). Gaskin was very popular no doubt, as a phonograph singer and a general singer on the stage as well, which didn't always work with these studio singers. Gaskin was an interesting character in this mix of interesting and odd studio performers. Just as most of them were. For some reason, there's much mystery about Gaskin, even if he was one of the most popular recording artists of the 1890's. Just to put this into perspective, we know more about Dan W. Quinn and Len Spencer more than Gaskin, and Gaskin is sometimes regarded as being more popular than those two. There are also many "studio stories" that surround Gaskin's history, some true, and some not. 

Gaskin was a very vain chap, and his flamboyant personality could be seen in everything he did. He was a striking fellow, with dark auburn hair, always slicked in one direction, bright steel-blue eyes, light eyebrows, and a crooked mouth that affected his speech greatly. He seemed careless in the studios sometimes, and this is where the rumor that he chewed tobacco in the studio rooms spread. One person said that they recalled Gaskin as a singer who would chew tobacco in the studios, and spit it into the horns, or on the floor somewhere near. That tale only spread because of how they all knew he was flamboyant and eager for attention. It's more than likely to not be true, but it's funny anyhow, whoever it came from. He wasn't picky about what what Issler and Gaisberg should play when he was back at North American and Edison, early on, in fact, he really grew to like Columbia's and Berliner's pianist Fred Gaisberg. He began working for Berliner in 1894, the year that he first came to the U.S. to make records commercially. Gaskin was chosen along with Russ Hunting, Billy Golden, A. C. Weaver, and David Bangs. He was hard to work with when Berliner himself was in the room, as Gaskin would drink, chew tobacco, and act as he did, in front of the inventor of the machine he was singing to. In 1894, Gaskin also began to record regularly for Columbia(though he did make some cylinders for them in 1893), and this was when he split ties with Edison's company, as North American vanished in '94, and that was part of Edison after that. After happily being himself in the studios, working with Gaisberg and George Schweinfest, at Columbia and Berliner, along came Fred Hylands in 1897. Gaskin liked Hylands' sense of humor and playing style, and his willingness to work with everyone, but Gaskin must not have been fond of  how big a personality he was, and he was just the pianist! It was a slight battle of attention any time Gaskin came in and Hylands was there. He thought of himself so great, that he thought he could sing anything that he wanted, even though his renditions of "Coon Songs" were infamously disliked by record buyers, but were bought mostly as "gags"(everyone knew Len Spencer's were better!). He was told by his fellows in the studio to not sing "coon songs", and to stick to singing popular songs and Irish songs. He refused to listen to everyone, and he still recorded anything that he was told was new, or that the other artists were singing. He still thought he was the best of the Irish tenors, even by 1900 and 1901 when he was beginning to fade in the business. He was working only for Columbia and Zon-O-phone by then, and occasionally for Leeds when 1903 came along. He still preferred the piano accompaniment at Columbia, even if it just happened to still be Fred Hylands there. By 1903, he must have known somewhat that he was going to be ending his recording career soon, even if he must have acted as though he denied it. By 1904, he was out of the business, much like Dan Quinn was within the next two years. It is unknown what he did in the time he was gone, but it has been said that he stayed in vaudeville and performing for the rich. In 1917, he returned for a brief time to make a few records, much like Dan Quinn did. He must have known that his style was a gone fad, that only the older generation could enjoy. He couldn't adapt, and he didn't want to either. He must have known that he wouldn't live much longer, as he died three years later in 1920. 

Even though he made thousands of records between 1891 and 1904, his records are still rather hard to find to-day, so they are almost certain to be pricey when searching around for them. 
Happy birthday Gaskin! 

I hope you enjoyed this! 

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