Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The stage fight and Respectable Gentlemen

With a title as strange as the one just above, the subject matter of this post must be interesting, as it certainly is to some extent. I spoke with Charlie Judkins yesterday, and many great ideas were shared between the two of us, as it always is when we talk. Some of these things were fantastically outrageous theories that just had to be true, much like many things that are discussed among few record geeks. Before I get to the theories, a strangely funny thing was spoken of about Len Spencer. 
We know of Spencer being a frightening-faced man, and rough when absolutely needed. We also know that Ada Jones once recalled that he had a scar on his face from a knife fight in his youth, which makes sense fully. Aside from all of this, he was a kind man really, with a very fun and pleasing personality. 
(Spencer in c.1891, from Tim Brooks' Lost Sounds)
Even at about 24, Spencer was frightening, and looked like someone lesser than to be trusted. Anyway, with this obvious side of fight in Spencer, we can easily assume that he got into some fistfights, whether they be with a knife, or without any sort of weapon. From the scar thing is where this all stems from, as he would have had that cut on his face in the picture just above, but, thanks to retouching, we can't see it at all. In case you are wondering, it was just off center on his chin, and skews leftward, tapering off a little. Anyhow, this thing that we discussed was another documented battle, that Spencer just happened to get tangled in, at a theater that he later was part of. 
Without any further a-d0, here's that article:
Yes indeed. What a fight! 
This was a surprising thing to read, while at the same time, was not surprised at all about something like this happening. Spencer would rarely snap like this, but when he did, it was hell. I would have realised right away if Spencer was my manager that it would be a terrible idea to get him fired up, as he certainly could kill someone without too much effort. He wouldn't, but how he'd make threats. Of the few incidents that he get to read about in the sense of early recording stars, this one is a real gem. It's good to read something about Spencer that hasn't anything to do with The Phonoscope or anything with recording, that way, there's not any bias with recording companies. 
The next step to learning more about this would be to find a transcript of the trial, which would be fantastic. That way, we'd be able to know what it was they were fighting about. It would have to have been something that made Spencer snap in an instant. Hmm, that would have made him snap that quickly?... I am not sure, but it would be something big, as little things didn't get to him, though I have the feeling that his brother Harry was a little more temper-mental. Spencer probably didn't want to resort to fighting, but it must have escalated too quickly for him to step down. I hope someone will be able to find the transcript of the trial some time. 
Really, all I need to say about this is--

typical Len Spencer....

Anyhow, the second subject matter I'd like to discuss is something that Charlie and I spoke of last evening, it's another one of those crazy theories that most older record collectors would think is just a bunch of mush. Most of those theories I have don't get very far because of older collectors who are so stuck in their ways and mindset that these notions are far to wild and abhorrent for them. Though Fred Hylands being Columbia's prized pianist is not at all a crazy theory.
This theory was simply that in the early recording business, regardless of company, there was a sort of class structure in the sense that on one end, there were the respectable studio stars, and on the other, there were the more despicable ones. In thinking of these two sections, here's who would go where:

Respectable: Harry Spencer, Dan W. Quinn, Frank P. Banta, Edward Issler, George Schweinfest, Steve Porter, Byron Harlan,  Edward M. Favor, J. W. Myers, Frank Dorian, Tom Clark, John Yorke AtLee, Fred Gaisberg, C. H. H. Booth, Cal Stewart, and a few more studio workers, like engineers and electricians. The women who worked at these companies also belong here. 

Non-respectable: Fred Hylands, Will F. Denny, George P. Watson, George Graham, Arthur Collins, Russell Hunting, Roger Harding, George Gaskin, Henry Burr, Victor Emerson, S. H. Dudley(S. Holland Rous), Billy Golden, and a few more. 

Now I thought long about each name I listed in these sections,and there are some that I cannot exactly place in either of these, like Vess Ossman and Len Spencer. Spencer belongs in the middle of these, as both the Spencer's were very well-respected at first, from their highly regarded background, but Len was really the one who kicked up more trouble, and rambled with the wild ones. Vess Ossman earned respect from winning all those banjo contests in the early 1890's and therefore had respect and status, but he was infamous for being narcissistic and mean to fellow banjoists as well as studio performers. Some names might be surprising to see in certain categories, like Will F. Denny, and Arthur Collins. 
Denny, like all of those in the non-respectable section, was a smoker, but when thinking of his wildly loud and energetic recordings, one may wonder if it was more than just tobacco... maybe opium...
Whatever it was, it can be confirmed that he was a smoker, as one of the contributions to what killed him was an excess of smoking. It makes much more sense now. This is why you have to wonder on recordings of his like:
His 1893 recording of "You Can't Think of Everything"
His 1901 recording of "Ain't You Ma Lulu"
Yep, these and many more of records have gotten me suspicious, and this time it's not just in the piano accompaniment.
I think we all know why Hylands is listed first. Well, if you don't agree with all of the things I've said about him, the only easily seen piece of evidence of this is that he wasn't mentioned anywhere in Jim Walsh's writings, and pretty much everyone Walsh spoke to mentioned him at some point, as Walsh himself said that he recalled people mentioning Hylands as a prominent studio pianist. It is also indicated that he was to much likeness of Banta as a studio pianist, not at all as a human being. Hylands drank, smoked(who knows what!), ate far too much, gambled, and wasn't good with his money. All of those things were things that the respectable studio workers never did, or did very little of. 

Dan Quinn was the most respectable of all of them, as being a strong supporter of the temperance movement, and being a devout Christian, those were two traits that earned everyone's admiration, especially since he witnessed the downfalls of many of his fellows in the studio. Banta was not far behind Quinn in this matter, as he probably drank very little, and was a kind little man, who had a thoughtful and a widely agreeable sense of humor. The "family men" of the early recording business were the respectable ones, if you think about it, if they were family oriented--- they didn't drink, and/or had highly regarded jobs outside of the studio, or came into the business with economic status(that would be the Spencer's and Steve Porter in this case). 

We know why Russell Hunting is placed where he is, as that whole "smut-cylinder" case of 1896 says everything, and his sense of humor and politics was not always agreeable with the respectable workers. Henry Burr, Arthur Collins and S. H. Dudley are placed there for the same reason, being obviously vain, and not the nicest people in the world, who even had bad reputations in Jim Walsh's writings, which in itself is amazing if you've read any of Walsh's articles. 

Roger Harding is one of those who is hard to place in either of these categories, as he gambled with Fred Hylands, and obviously drank also, though he was well-respected for being a prominent stage performer(much like Hylands mind you), and was in fair competition with the famous Irish song writer Chauncey Olcott, which is no small thing for a recording star in that time. He is a hard one to pinpoint, since so little is known about him, it can be hard to know, but anyone who willingly associated with Fred Hylands in his time of the publishing firm dove into that mess that Hylands created. I don't think I need to explain why George Graham is there, and unfortunately, even in his time of recording, many thought of him as that drunk with the weird voice, that recorded well for some reason.

Anyhow, I will leave it at that for now, until I speak with Charlie once again about this, and we sort out a whole lot more. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

No comments:

Post a Comment