Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mina Hickman before Ada Jones and Some interesting alternate takes

I know nothing of Mina Hickman, but she was a very early female recording artist who needs to be noticed. No one I know has any information on her either, so it's very weird of a case. The only reason I've had a spark of interest in Hickman is because I heard a cylinder yesterday by Len Spencer and Mina Hickman(with Fred Hylands on piano!). I was not at all expecting this duo, I didn't even know that Hickman ever made records with Spencer! That says quite a lot about Spencer's ideas when making records, that he already had  female partner on records before Ada Jones. 

Ada Jones didn't join Spencer on records until 1905, and several years before that, Spencer had Minnie Emmett and Mina Hickman. These two ladies were the "token women" of the Columbia and Victor companies, as this was long before Sophie Tucker and Ada Jones. It was in fact Emmett that Harry Spencer tested his device for recording the female voice in 1897. I don't know any details about this device, but it must have been an interesting contraption. Anyhow, that record of "Reuben and Cynthia" by Spencer and Hickman is here.
(It's the second take listed on the page). It's very weird indeed. Len Spencer, Mina Hickman, and Fred Hylands, on a cylinder in 1901. I wonder where she came from, how and who discovered her, and when exactly. I don't know if it was before 1900, because that's when she began making records. She's a little hard to find any information on, as no matter where you go to find any, you won't find it. Before I began this post, I dug around for anything on Mina, and I couldn't find anything that didn't have to do with listing the records she made. Now, there's something that tells me that Hickman might have been one of those pretty women that Hylands and Spencer endorsed in 1899-1900 on their sheet music covers. She might have been one of those ladies that Hylands or Burt Green had to "bribe" to get her involved with their firm(if you know what I might be getting at...)

If anyone knows any personal information about Mina Hickman, like where she was born, and when, please comment here!

Now onto the second part of this post. 
This first record is by these two here:
Freddy Hylands 
and Dan Quinn.
Now it's been a while since I have highlighted a record by Quinn, and it's time to do that once again, also to pay my kindly dues to the Quinn family. 
Now this record is one that I don't think I have ever pointed out on here. It's a fun English comic song with great lyrics and fun piano playing. 
Here are two takes of "The Penny Whistler" by Dan Quinn and Fred Hylands, 
recorded in 1903
Now these two takes are very different. Much more than one would think listening to them just once through. The first thing I need to point out about these two takes is that Hylands' rhythm is very unsteady and kind of broken. This is one of those few times where it really sounds like Hylands was drunk on both of the takes. Usually it's one take that's especially noticeable, but both of these are a mess. I do think that take 2 is a little better rhythm wise than take 5. Take 5 is a real mess, and since it was recorded later, it can safely be assumed that Hylands had some drinks between takes. They aren't that far from each other though, it's only a difference of three takes. Three can make a difference. 
Also, here's some observations to make about the differences of these takes;
-Take 5 is slower
-Take 2 has a different 10 second solo by Hylands at the end from take 5

-There's this very slight melodic change that I don't think any of you were able catch, at about 0:15 in on take 2, Hylands hits the same note in the bass between the chords, but listen to that on take 5-- it's a different note!(with a different weird chord also...)

**now that melodic difference ^^ is a very "Hylands" thing, as he did that quite often in his regular playing, which is adding weird notes, octaves, or chords that are not exactly equal with the notes that are being played in the right hand, but do as  matter of fact work when you play them, not exactly when seeing them written**

Now for an even better comparison, here's a different take of it! On a disc this time:
here's the same song but on a Columbia disc,take # not given though :-(
This one also has Hylands on piano, and it's even more interesting and weird from the other takes. This one has some odd aspects to it that were not present on the other ones. You can notice that Hylands' rhythm is even worse on this one than on takes 2 and 5. This one is slower!(at some parts...)The solo at the end is very different from the other two though, and what it is, is very odd, It's kind of a strange little dance section with very rushed trills(as he knew he was running out of time!). 

Onto the second batch of takes. This next one is a bunch of takes of "Bill Bailey" by differing singers and Hylands, all recorded within a few weeks of each other. This song was recorded so many times in 1902 that there's no doubt to be many different takes by the same artists and different ones. Now this first one is a 7-inch of the song with Bob Roberts:
here's take 11.
sounds just as slow as it needs to be, with a perfect tempo chosen by Hylands, paired with fantastic right hand improvisations.
now that you've internalized that take:
here's take 12. 
Quite different indeed. Here are differences:
-Take 12 is slower
-Hylands' rhythm is a little more shaky on take 12
-Hylands was more controlled in playing on take 11
-Hylands hits two chords at 1:26, whereas on take 11, he doesn't do that
- Hylands' left hand is much more steady and controlled on take 11

They are very interesting takes indeed, but there are more! As I said, this song was recorded many times in 1902, so it is easier to find other takes of this one than others. This next take was probably recorded on the same day as the last two, but was released on a cylinder, so it has a much different sound to it. 
Here is another take of Bob Roberts singing "Bill Bailey"
This is a very fun take as well, even if it's not exactly the same as the other ones. There's quite a lot different about this one. The piano playing is the most Hylands you could get, as every aspect of his playing is present, even the broken octaves(they're hard to hear though...). 
This take is much like Arthur Collins' Zon-O-Phone from the same time, which you can hear here. Now this Zon-O-Phone is one of the most wild examples of Rag-Time I have ever heard on records from the piano accompaniment era. It beats everything Hylands did with Len Spencer in the late-1890's ten fold. It's really an amazing record, with Hylands playing till he dropped on the last strain. One thing is for sure about this Zon-O-Phone, it's not Banta on piano! 

Now this final take is by Collins as well, but it's a Columbia this time, and it's the famous record of "Bill Bailey" that everyone uses. 
Here you go. 
I love that on all of those CD's that had this record on it always say that the pianist is "anonymous" or "unknown", or if they want to seem like they all know what it it they're talking about, it'll say Frank P. Banta. HA! That's all just mush! We all know it's Fred Hylands, and now that he's not forgotten, we can place him rightfully in the section of "Studio pianist" on this record. Seeing the pianist as "unknown" or just "Studio pianist" always irritates me greatly, as they were very hard-working musicians who were almost worked to death for the singers. 

Anyhow, onto a record that's a little bit of a different one. It's a record by a singer I don't mention too often on this blog:
Yes indeed(that's him in c.1900)
Now this cylinder is a bit of a mystery, as the record company cannot be traced. 
here's "My Honolulu Lady" by Frank C. Stanley, c.1898
This is a fascinating cylinder, as the record company is unknown, the date is very unsure, and the piano accompaniment is fantastic. Now I have a notion that the piano accompaniment is by Fred Hylands, even if it's an unknown or forgotten record company. The Rag style in the accompaniment is too syncopated and "lazy" if you will for it to be Frank P. Banta. I know that this cylinder cannot be a pirated Edison cylinder, and it is also important to remember that many independent record companies started up in the 1897-1900 era(when this cylinder was recorded), and Frank Stanley did make records for many of these obscure companies in his earliest days of record-making. It's a fantastic cylinder either way, that, even though it's very quiet, it's still very clear, and has the Rag-Time piano mastery of Fred Hylands. 

I hope you enjoyed this! 


  1. very interesting - i have also been trying to find mina hickman's details

    1. Since this post, nothing has really become of knowing of her more.
      However, it Sallie Stembler was also a recording star, as it had been assumed, but much later on.