Saturday, August 20, 2016

Arthur Pryor, Ben Harney, Silas Leachman and more interesting analyses

Sorry it's been over a week since my last post, I have not only gone to another Rag-Time festival, but also began my new year in school. The school part is not exactly the most exciting, nor the most enjoyable part of what happened this week. I left my last post just prior to my going away to the Sutter Creek Rag-Time Festival, which was very fun and full of great music geeks just as usual. It's always fun to see everyone again, all the musicians, and friends of the performers just the same. I cannot thank Charlie Judkins enough for being able to put up with all of my antics and later being able to stay over at my home. He really made my weekend worth while!  All of the performers really made that weekend so much fun!

With the three days of festival and two more of staying over, Charlie and I listened to many records, and played many of these rare songs that only he and I have really studied deeply. Since just before this weekend, I had been awaiting to hear the only piano solo that Arthur Pryor made. Rather than just thinking that this is probably just another boring solo of a tune that none of us find important, it must be taken into consideration that Pryor's Rags are actually great examples of a strange and very syncopated style that I often highlight on this blog. Of all early recording stars who wrote music, Pryor's rags are among the most interesting(other than Hylands' and Burt Green's of course!). They kept many of these old traditions of Rag-time playing into the later 1900's and early 1910's to some extent. Knowing that Pryor made a piano solo in 1900 could unlock many unknown doors into how the early style of Rag-Time was really played, and Pryor being from rural Missouri says all that needs to be said in this matter. Being surrounded by the early studio pianists like Banta and Hylands also gives us hints. Just to further back up that statement, Pryor made his only piano solo on the same day that Banta made his infamous solo of "Hello My Baby", that really tells you that Banta and Pryor were at least in the same studio on the same day, to make two infamously hard-to-find piano solos. 
As of now, I am still anxiously awaiting to hear the solo, of which it is indeed out there in someone's collection. Once I hear it, I will report the details. 

Charlie and I often discussed the interesting background of Silas Leachman throughout much of the five days seeing each other. Leachman had a background that was full of mysteries, and interesting theories. 
He and I have concluded that Leachman was a traveling minstrel in various shows in the 1880's, performing in places like Detroit, Fort Wayne, Louisville, and later Chicago. With all of this traveling, Leachman stopped and performed in the hometowns of stars of the generation after Leachman, such as Fred Hylands, and Ben Harney. Leachman's recordings to this date remain among the best period examples of true and accurate imitations of black performers in the late-19th century. That may sound strange coming from a Len Spencer freak, but really, Leachman has Spencer beat by his accuracy, and it helps that the piano accompaniment on all his records was always great and fitting, regardless of who the pianist is. 

Now, here's the question, did Harney take from Leachman, or did Leachman take from Harney? 

It's hard to know, but since Leachman was a generation older than all of those Rag-Time pianists, it makes this dilemma even harder to solve. Leachman did probably perform in Harney's hometown in the early or mid-1880's, when Harney was just a youth, very bright and curious. With all of this curiosity from Harney, it seems inevitable that Leachman's performance style would have rubbed off on Harney. But of course, the only way to really get an idea of this is to listen to Leachman's rendition of Harney's most popular song for many decades:
This is great in all ways, and this recording will forever be important to the history of Rag-Time. This is even more so with this theory attached to it. After listening to this record,  the only way to really get a sense of this would be to listen to Harney's 1910's-20's recording of "Good Old Wagon". 

I hate to do this, but who ever is hiding the fifteen or so other cylinders of Harney singing out there, WHY ARE YOU HIDING THEM FROM US?!

Apologies for that... I feel the need to say that finally. Anyway, Harney's recording is very much similar in a lot of ways to the Leachman recordings that we know of, especially that one of "Mister Johnson". I know that I have done the Harney to Spencer comparison before, but from the two other takes I have heard of Spencer's Lambert of "Good Old Wagon", it seems that Spencer is the most similar to Harney in singing style of any of these performers. It seems inevitable that Spencer would have known Harney at some point in the late-1890's, since Spencer made the effort to go and meet all of these singers that he imitated(others include May Irwin, DeWolf Hopper, Barney Fagan, and George M. Cohan). Spencer was also involved in the booking field with Harry Yeager in 1896-1900, and that is the perfect timeframe to have met with all of these pianist and performers like Harney, in fact, this area must have been where he first met Fred Hylands. Yeager not only got him shows as a minstrel, but also was able to introduce him to many great figures of Broadway and of vaudeville. 
I don't know exactly how long Harry Yeager was involved with Spencer, but it was certainly a few years, that began around 1897 it seems. Yeager must have been a great help to Spencer, who was obviously someone too smart for his own good. With this intellect, he was bound to easily lose things and forget things(there is solid evidence of this!), so I have the feeling that Yeager was his sideman before Fred Hylands came along and literally consumed most of his time and living. Fred couldn't keep anything for the same reason, so Yeager was stuck between them as the nightmarish bookkeeper constantly ridden with anxiety and stress. Regardless of all of that, Yeager outlived the others in Hylands' publishing firm. Harry Yeager remains still a mysterious character in the mix of these "Columbia clan" members, even if he was mentioned a few times in The Phonoscope in 1899 and 1900, and I have been able to track him somewhat in census records. 
That's supposedly him in the early-1910's. 
He would have been about in his mid-40's at the time of this picture. That makes sense, considering the age of the others in the publishing firm. Yeager seems like the sort of man who was the best to communicate with when wanting to consult Hylands' firm. Hylands was not often home at reasonable times, as was Spencer, Burt Green was too good-looking and young, but with all of this, Yeager was the "straight-man", or just the regular businessman at the firm. He was the man that you'd've wanted to meet with when you called. You be damned if you met with Hylands himself! 
Yeager's official role in the firm itself remains unclear, though it's certain why he was involved in the first place, as that was the work of Spencer pulling Fred's leg earlier before the firm began. He did have to beg him it seemed. Harry's role might have been for to be the bookkeeper, and just another salesman, even if they had plenty of those. It must be noted that he was also a performer and show organizer, so that gives us some clues. He was clearly organized, and much more of an everyday man than Hylands, Spencer and Burt Green, even if he just happened to also be a singer. Things are yet to unfold about Harry Yeager, and we haven't that much to work with as of now. 

Other than going to Sutter Creek and spending time with Charlie, staying up 'til two in the morning listening to records, and beginning school again, there's not much more I have to say for this post. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

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