Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Digging into the Workings of Columbia(1892-1901)

(Spencer advertising his Columbia devotion, The Phonoscope March, 1898)

and the very address that Spencer advertises from around the same month and year. 

It has been stated before that the majority of collectors out there brush Columbia aside from the other record companies in study, since their ledgers are gone, and there's almost nothing set in stone from this fact. Almost nothing can be found in the LOC from Columbia's late-1890's setup at 27th and Broadway, and pretty much everywhere else as well. It's a lost cause to most collectors, but we need to make it so that this isn't so, as from what is left, it was a very complicated system that had many layers to its management. 

Famed Legal Invincibility

Whenever a legal battle came over the horizon for Columbia, that was when their strongest weapons were set up. Their lawyers and attorneys were among the best that any bad-luck-stricken company could ever dream of. Since the company began on the intention of keeping themselves safe in the courtrooms, they intended to have this remain, and how they did. From the legal battles in their beginning, they were determined to keep only the best legal staff, and to also govern the affairs of their talent staff. This especially became important as the recording stars were beginning to run off and start businesses of their own in 1897, 1898, and 1899. Pretty much every one of these studio artists had one of the attorneys on their side, to manage their out-of-studio affairs. For example, Fred Hylands' attorney was Rollin Wooster, the infamous silent man in the George W. Johnson vs. The people case of late-1899. Since Fred had no experience in law, Rollin was the one who took care of all of that, as well as Len Spencer, who had been taught enough law to understand the inner workings  from his father and other law professors at their family's Business college.  Every one of these businesses begun by the studio performers had a legal advisor of some kind. Since Hylands Spencer and Yeager was such a large operation, it needed Rollin Wooster to keep the thing running well, and this firm was after all, an extension of Columbia's so-called "clan". The prime era of their legal invincibility ended when Master Edward Easton died, as he was not only the founder, he was the man who kept the legal aspect of their business the way that it was for so many years. The whole prime of Columbia ended at Easton's death, also since many of the earliest staff members were dying off by that time as well. 

The "Clan" (1892-1902)

This so-called "clan" was founded in 1892 by Russell Hunting, the infamous man of smut in the early recording business. Hunting was a progressive, the most vocal one of all the early Columbia staff, and unintentionally created a small sort of club of performers and technicians that was centered around Columbia's management. This group was, in its beginning, a clan of technicians who were a group in the first place to invent new and more efficient means of recording, and later film. This groups looked very different when it began, and it was a force for good in the studios, which is why Dan Quinn was part of it, as we know about his "good" Christian views. The "clan" of Columbia staff members faded away by 1896, as that was one of two painful transition years for Columbia. It mainly was this way for the clan since their leader, Russ Hunting, went on trial and was thrown in prison for his smut cylinders in the middle of that year. It took until the middle of 1897 for the clan to re-boot themselves by purging old members and bringing in new ones. They broke up for a brief period when Hunting was in prison, but regrouped when The Phonoscope was started in November and December of that year. Hunting was still their leader in 1897, and new members entered in that year, such as Steve Porter and Roger Harding, both of which would become important members later on. By the later months of 1897, this clan was becoming something that it wasn't in the beginning, a force for necessary good. Since more of the technicians and electricians were being thrown out of the clan by this time, it was becoming an exclusive club of elites rather than inventors and studio geniuses. With Steve Porter's yacht races, Roger Harding's phonograph parlor, the Universal Phonograph company, it was without a doubt that this clan was becoming something that the founder did not intend for to be. By early 1898, this group was shaken by a new member, the warmest there was after Len Spencer owned that spot since 1895. This was Fred Hylands. He was more consuming of a member than Hunting could ever have been. After the initiation of Hylands in early 1898, Hunting's reputation as the leader of this clan was fading, even though he was still a very popular member by that time. Spencer was beginning to take this spot, since Hunting was making more time for writing in The Phonoscope and for many more business affairs with his records. With Spencer taking Hunting's place, this officially changed the purpose of this group, as it was certainly no longer the intended force for good. It was in 1898 that the exhibitions took place and further established an elite class that was Columbia's talent staff. With more recognition from the record-buyers, this meant that the clan members could go off and enjoy the more money they were being paid. This allowed for more Yacht gatherings hosted by Steve Porter, parlor parties from Roger Harding, and gatherings at the Waldorf hosted by Master Easton himself.  It took until early 1899 for Fred Hylands to grab everyone, so they were insured that he was the leader of the clan. With the creation of "The Knickerbockers" publishing firm, Hylands' intentions were clear. This firm did not last as we know, but the next one he started from the embers of that one was what prompted corruption and Hylands' leadership of the clan. Hylands Spencer and Yeager, or the clan in this case, was a force for selling Hylands' music, and the music of the studio artists as well, which is a good thing in itself, but Hylands and Spencer being the ones running it did not exactly promote the most good. Their records made during this period are all that need to explain this fact. Everyone involved in this firm was associated daily with Hylands, and he was the somewhat-bipolar circus master at this time, who essentially ran all the music coming in and out at Columbia, which gave him high power over the record talent. Since Burt Green was his sideman, the Rag-Time was inevitable and, to a point, overwhelming. With all the gatherings, wealth, drinking, smoking, and everything else, this firm collapsed by November of 1900, leaving Fred almost broke, the clan in pieces, and the leaders bitter toward each other. Russell Hunting was long gone out in Europe, and could not at all help to repair the damages that Hylands and Spencer caused to the clan. Even if all the members still occasionally made records together after November 1900, it was clear that this group was no more by the beginning of the moulded cylinder era, and the end of the brown wax era. The clan was no more as the newer artists came along in 1902 and 1903, such as Billy Murray, Arthur Collins, Fred Van Eps, and even Ada Jones.  

The Management(1889-1905)

From their beginning, Columbia's management was an interesting mix of non-musical born leaders.  After Columbia got settled in 1889, their first studio manager was a man who looked like this: 

That, is Frank Dorian. 
He was their first studio manager and paymaster, who was a record technician and blunt leader, in the Columbia tradition. He was part of a clan of three brothers who ran different aspects of early Columbia, though he was the Dorian with the highest position for the longest time. His term as manager was a turbulent time, as he was studio manager during their painful transition year of 1896 and very early 1897. He left his position right in the middle of their big transition, as in March 1897, he was officially given the job as the manager of Columbia's new Paris office. With him gone from 27th and Broadway, a new face was elected as studio manager... ... 
One of the Emerson brothers, in this case, Victor Hugo. 

Just like the previous studio manager, Victor was part of a clan of brothers who were involved in different aspects of Columbia. This time, there were four of them: Ralph, Clyde, Victor, and George. Clyde, Victor and George were the ones who took Columbia by storm in the early 1890's with their technical genius. Victor particularly shone as a bright young man to Columbia clan leader Russell Hunting. From there, Vic Emerson rose up the ladder of management at Columbia, until 1897, when he was made their studio manager succeeding Frank Dorian. He quickly became someone that the studio stars did not like. As to those who had worked with him before knew that he was really only good for being a studio engineer and fix-it man. He and Georgie Emerson(as they called his younger brother) took turns being the engineer in the studio and just being present to manage daily recording activity. Emerson was not preferred by the Columbia staff, even if he was praised so highly often in The Phonoscope, they still did not enjoy how he ran that studio. His demanding and illogical commands were impossible for some of the studio workers to fulfill. The way he ran the studio made the artists kick him out of the clan in the first place, as it was doing injustice to many of the staff members. He was the manager of Columbia in the unstable times of the George W. Johnson trial, and was the man who began that immense pit of money for the innocence of Johnson, which did work with all of the great legal people Columbia had at the time. He also witnessed all of Hylands Spencer and Yeager, thought he only watched from a high perch, not really being able to fully understand under-the-table deals going on with Spencer and Hylands. He knew of that venture just as a publishing firm begun by their everyday Rag-Time studio pianist, nothing more.  After the fall of the firm, he had the Climax/Zon-O-phone/Victor affair of the next year to deal with, which almost got everyone at Columbia thrown out of the record business...again. It was amazing that after this feud, Emerson got through all-right, and still remained to manage some recording sessions, still being hated by many of the regulars at Columbia. Around 1905, he disappeared from much of Columbia's activity, even though he was still somewhere close to them, as there were some artists after 1902 who recalled him being in the studio on occasion, throwing around his demanding comments. After that, the classic dynasties of Columbia management ended. As has been explained before, Columbia's management was the reason that they had such an "anything goes" atmosphere in their studio for so many years. Edward Easton was the first of their management to promote this democratic atmosphere, and since he ran the entire thing, this mindset spread to all aspects of Columbia. The volunteering was encouraged, and surprisingly, free enterprise of the studio talent was as well, which is why we see all of these small record businesses begun by the studio stars. None of that was so at Edison. 

I would love to do a section on their ledgers... ... but we know why that won't happen. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

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