Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The "Columbia Clan" examined and defined

The "Columbia Clan" is the name I've given the talent staff at the Columbia phonograph Company from 1897-1903. It is essentially a metaphor for the staff being like a gang who went out in a group, and wouldn't let in new members very easily. It is sometimes hard to define who was part of this so-called "clan" but there are some definite members in there. What was unique about Columbia is that they had created a bond between the staff that Edison never did, and it was all because of the management. Walter Miller at Edison was at least musical, but was much more opposed to the volunteering and democratic ways of Edward Easton's Columbia. The democratic atmosphere was well-promoted at Columbia, as this is why they had certain artists perform at those Waldorf dinners that the Eastons's held, it was done by volunteering, not by assignment, like it would be at Edison. 

In this "clan" here would be a few definite members:

Roger Harding.
J. W. Myers 
and of course,
Fred Hylands. 

There would also be Burt Green here, though he was not a Columbia recording artist, he still was involved with much of Hylands' shenanigans of 1899-1900, which immediately puts him in this group. Anyone who was involved with Hylands, Spencer and Yeager is part of this group, as it really established in some way that there was a sort of "clan" of Columbia artists, and with this, Hylands was determined to become the master of this group. Hylands wanted to be the "ringmaster", or the man with the whip, which for a short time, he actually was! It's very weird to think that the accompanist became the master of the music at Columbia in 1899, but it did essentially happen if you think about it. 
Hylands had all the music they recorded, and he was able to publish anything that the recording artists wrote, he kept much of their mail at his house, and he housed them ofttimes, therefore being the "landlord" to them(though it would be his father dealing with the money, Fred would just collect it from them)

The true leader of this "clan" was Len Spencer without a doubt, since he began forming friendships with other recording artists in 1892. It first started with Russell Hunting, who was forming his own tag team of Columbia workers, which, believe it or not, included this chap:
Victor Emerson. 
Russell Hunting was the founder of this Columbia clan, as he would be expected to have done this in the first place. Later in 1892, this small group included Len Spencer, Frank Dorian, and Billy Golden. The "clan" of 1892 to 1896 was much more of a club rather than a group of friends, as later on, it became a group that not everyone approved of, which is why many Columbia artists that one would expect to be there weren't. Emerson was kicked out of this group when he became the studio and music manager in 1897, and especially when he became that lame and tone-deaf manager he was in 1898 and 1899. With the entrance of Fred Hylands in late-1897, the mindset and musical output at Columbia changed quick. Since Rag-Time was all the rage, they needed Hylands at the time they hired him, to compete with that other pianist who played "rag time" over at Edison. 

The signing of the big contract in 1898 also led to a short time of exclusive Columbia artists, furthering a sort of "clan" created by the staff. It left many artists stuck at Columbia until after 1900, including Len Spencer, Billy Golden, George Gaskin, and Steve Porter. Some "Columbia clan" members went off to make some Edison cylinders in 1899, like Roger Harding, Vess Ossman, Will F. Denny, and Dan Quinn. Quinn in many respects, was more fit in the Edison staff, as he did not approve of much of the activity that the Columbia talent went off doing, though he approved of Hylands' tantalizing advertisements of Quinn on his sheet music, that was about it. 
This group travelled as one often, and performed as one, from knowing that Len Spencer and Harry Yeager managed most of the shows they did in 1899, it makes sense that Hylands Spencer and Yeager was the core of this "clan". It took all of 1898 for this to happen, as in that year Hylands was not really showing his true colours yet, as it was from that year that we get this here: 
Yes indeed. He was still learning the place by September 1898. 

Between September 1898 and March 1899, Hylands was working the system under Vic Emerson to begin his publishing firm, which he did in December of 1898, but it was only done to finally publish his "The Darkey Volunteer". 

This "clan" began to split after 1901, as they still made minstrel records in 1901 to 1903, but they weren't exactly of the same novelty and jollity than the ones of the brown wax era had been. Also the bitterness Hylands and Spencer had toward each other after October-November 1900 was another issue, since they were essentially the "alpha dogs" of the clan, and if they couldn't get along with each other, than the clan would crack and break up. Regardless, the 1899 members of the "Columbia Clan" still remained friends after it officially dissipated by 1903. Part of this breaking up of the "clan" was Charles Prince taking over the Columbia orchestra, which meant that Tom Clark was no longer a Columbia employee, which also happened in 1903. Charles Prince was not a "clan" member, and wanted to start his own Columbia orchestra, which meant dropping many of the great old soloists under Edward Issler, and throwing Hylands out of many regular sessions. Prince saw the future of record-making, with the orchestra accompaniment era just beginning, he was determined to make recording not as exclusive and hidden to most people. Most of the original "clan" members still worked at Columbia, but they didn't do all of those "descriptive selections" and weren't paired in groups on records behind Fred Hylands like they used to be.  
It was also a big loss to the "clan" in 1901 when Roger Harding died, as he was a big part of the group, and was essentially "second fiddle" at Hylands Spencer and Yeager, so his death caused more of the clan to split after that. Steve Porter  and Russell Hunting going abroad also contributed to this as well. 

Before I close out this post, here are a few records done in groups by "Columbia Clan" members during their existence:

This one features three clan members, Len spencer, Roger Harding, and Fred Hylands. 

This one features four clan members, Len Spencer, Steve Porter, Roger Harding, and Fred Hylands.(the piano sounds great on this!)

This one features five clan members, Len Spencer, Harry Spencer, George Gaskin, Fred Hylands, and Pete LaMaire. 

I hope I've made it clear that Len Spencer was the leader of this "clan". It should make more sense when seeing their records and hearing them, since he's on all of them. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

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