Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What Les Copeland heard as a youngster, and some folk Rag-Time

That's the eccentricity Les Copeland.

Many folk Rag-Time enthusiasts know very well of Les Copeland, from his eccentric style, and his very odd personality. 

Now think about this for a moment, what could have Copeland grown up listening to?  He was born in 1887, and was beginning to flourish as a young musician around the end of the brown wax era. Copeland may have been born in the second generation of Rag-Time pianists, but he played much like those born in the first one, for example, Fred Hylands(1872), Ben Harney(1872), Theodore Northrup(1869) or Max Hoffmann(1873). What would have caused this off displacement of style and age? Well, to begin, recordings. These brown wax cylinders that Copeland may have heard when a youngster would be one way to indicate where his early style came from. Yes, I know that he was born in Kansas, and that certainly helps with his style's origins. The more concrete evidence that his style was played many years before his published rags of the early teen's is really the recordings of the late-1890's. It has always been a little suspicious to me that Copeland's style sounded almost identical to Fred Hylands', well, for as long as I have known about Hylands that is. In the extremely helpful and informative book, Rags and Ragtime by Trebor Tichenor and Dave Jasen, it is indicated in a small section this: 

Some of the irregular idiosyncrasies can be heard in those folk performances recorded on 78's[and cylinders] and piano rolls, where undoubtedly a few playing characteristics were lost(probably in the way of bass patterns), but the rag was destined to become more formalized, a disciplined for m of broader and more varied expression. 

There is not a doubt about the section just above that the point of the loss of queer characteristics was present, though since Tichenor knew very little to nothing at all about Fred Hylands, it is not at all surprising that he was not mentioned at all in the introduction section, and on the very broad examination of folk Rag-Time. It must be noted however, that Hylands' accompaniments are the most tangible examples of early folk Rag-Time that exist, and they're not uncommon to find either. You may run across some of Charles Hunter's, Tom Turpin's, Max Hoffmann's or Theodore Northrup's rags, but that is only written, it cannot be heard exactly how the pianist or composer would have played it. It is not the same as putting your head up to a horn and listening to the hands of one of the best accompanists in vaudeville play behind a popular studio star. Another great example of folk Rag-Time is the piano rolls that Les Copeland made in the 1910's. 

Copeland grew up in a similar environment to Ben Harney, and in fact, being in exactly the same area that Brun Campbell was located, the two of them were distant acquaintances, much like Max Hoffmann and Fred Hylands in Chicago. Copeland and Campbell had highly varying styles, though they came from the same area, which is a very strange thing if you think about it,as regional styles were very prominent, and easily an indicator of where a pianist came from. Copeland's style, believe it or not, was more of a Chicago-Indiana-Kentucky style, more than a Kansas and Missouri sort of style. As I'm writing this, I am listening to Brun Campbell's solos, trying to catch similarities to all of the other styles of these other pianists I mentioned, and Campbell seems like an anomaly in this mix, as he was the most rough playing of all of them, and the least showy. Campbell, not surprisingly, sounds the most like a brothel pianist. 

Unlike all of the famous composers and pianists of the early 1910's in New York, Copeland refused the modern ways of "Tin Pan Alley" and remained playing his archaic style which was just as mid-1890's as all the Rag players of the mid-1890's. It is still unknown as to why Copeland's style was specifically 1890's-sounding rather than the typical early "Tin Pan Alley" style that was emerging at the time he was getting his rags published. He might have been listening very closely when all those records were being put out in the late-1890's and early 1900's. He was listening to a pianist who had a similar sense of musical mirth that he did, Fred Hylands. And of course, this did help once he was out touring with the B. F. Keith theater circuit, which, as you might recall, Fred Hylands was part of, starting in c.1893. It is most impossible that Copeland and Hylands would have actually passed by one another, but, the possibility that Copeland had heard many of Hylands' records is highly plausible. 
It is hard to doubt this possibility when you actually hear Copeland's rags:
his rendition of "The Texas Blues" made in 1917

his "Rocky Mountain Fox"

his famous "French Pastry Rag" from 1914

his "Twist and Twirl Rag"
Copeland's "Twist and Twirl Rag" especially shows Hylands influence all over the place, especially with the walking octaves in the left hand, which was a lost tradition by 1914. Also! It must be noted that Copeland ended his rags with a rolled fifth or tenth in the left hand with a right hand chord, which was a tradition that Hylands used on almost everything I have heard him on, from his early records in 1897 to his latest in 1905. 
You can hear records similar to Copeland's Rags above here, with that final chord thing I mentioned:
Hylands with George W. Johnson on "The Laughing Coon", 1898
(ends on a rolled G chord, with a G octave in the bass with an added fifth)

Hylands with Spencer on "Whistling Rufus"1899(skip to 6 minutes for music!)
This one is a fine example of Hylands' will in the left hand, showcasing everything he did with it. I also forgot to mention the habit of interchanging between fifths and octaves in the left hand that was also a similarity. 

"Ain't Dat a Shame" by Bob Roberts with Hylands, 1902
This one gives away one of the prime attributes of Copeland's playing, the lagging and jagged sense of rhythm. It sounds almost too exaggerated, but Hylands was actually making fun of it when he played, because the pianists who came before him at Columbia did that often. Copeland just played that way, and from hearing that from Hylands, it might make a strong connection of these styles. 
Another example of this jagged time paired with great rhythm is on Spencer's cylinder of "My Gal is a High Born Lady" with Hylands from c.January 1898

I would love to point out the similarities in Copeland's playing to Hylands and Golden's "Turkey in the Straw", but actually, the only thing I can really find similar on that one would be the walking octaves, and the occasional fifths in the left hand. Hylands plays much more like a true vaudeville pianist on that one, in this case, more in the nature of Mike Bernard. Copeland would have thought of Hylands' playing on that cylinder too showy and broken to be understood by any listener. 
Whatever it was that kept that eccentricity Les Copeland with that old style of Rags, he certainly would have gotten it from somewhere, and it's a style that all Rag-Time pianists and performers now can appreciate, even if they aren't really into the folk-ragtime as much. 

Before I end this post, I must share two records is just heard recently by George Schweinfest and Hylands. The first one I will share is in the collection of a kind friend of mine, who just recently learned of how valuable it is in the sense of piano accompanied records. Anyhow, it's an unusual take of "The Nigger Fever" recorded in 1901:
This is a fascinating record, that has so much odd stylings played by Hylands on it! Including almost everything he did, minus the walking octaves though. I must point out that once they got to the section in A flat, I hear a whole lot of fifths in the left hand, and also in the minor section as well. 

The next one is a different take of a record I have used on this blog before. I used the 7-inch version of this before, but now I have tracked down the 10-inch! It's Schweinfest and Hylands playing "A Rag-Time Skedaddle" with some interesting extended repeats, and some fun mistakes!(done by Hylands of course...)
This record is fantastic, and I love that the final strain is repeated at the end! 
In thinking what to-day is, Hylands was probably high on some kind of drug when they got to making the take just above.

Hope you all had a good 4/20! 

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