Sunday, August 7, 2016

"Hiding in the Bushes"

The title of this post is a phrase that I use for those involved in this line of study who disappeared after their prime careers. Some who would be part of this include Max Hoffmann, Russell Hunting, George Schweinfest, and J. W. Myers just to name a few. Many of these recording stars(more particularly the earlier ones), disappeared after their recording career's were over, and some of them stayed in the business vaguely, but were not really heard of after their years in the studio ended. One that I did not mention, but certainly is one of these disappearing stars, is Harry Spencer. 
Haven't seen this sketch I did of him in a while, so I thought it be a good time to use it again. 
The thing about Harry Spencer is that we actually know what happened to him, and I have been able to track him in census records from 1910 to 1940. What's interesting about him is that he outlived pretty much all of the other earliest recording stars, even Dan Quinn and Fred Gaisberg. He didn't outlive George Schweinfest and Edward Issler though, that's really astonishing. Harry was living much different from his brother Len, and after Len died, he took over his brother's massive endeavor as a Lyceum owner, which was too much for him, and by the middle of 1915, the business had fallen. After all of this, Harry was on his own, and didn't make any more records, and it seems that after 1905, he wasn't making records anymore. The new Charles Prince's Columbia orchestra rid of him in that period of transition. After 1915, Harry lived in various boardinghouses with his dusky Italian wife Gazella, working as a local investigator after the whole recording jag passed over. No recording came for him after all of this, even though some collectors still speak of him maybe being a behind-the-scenes worker in the early days of radio. The only good account of what Harry was doing many years after recording is from Joe Belmont, who stated that he was a train-caller, which is not inaccurate considering that his voice was so well-praised and perfect for anything. I wonder how Belmont came to know that... He knew a lot about where everyone left ended up in the 30's and 40's. He had stories about practically everyone, well, who was left in this case. There weren't too many of the original "clan" left by the 1920's and 30's. Harry Spencer was not interviewed by Jim Walsh for a few very obvious reasons:
1. He was hard to track, as he was living from boardinghouse to boardinghouse in the 1930's.

2. Joe Belmont didn't exactly know where or what he was doing, someone probably told him that he was a train-caller. But who?
That's not the point here...

3. By the early 1940's, he was living at a mental hospital, which kept Walsh from him for certain.

It's frustrating that he didn't get to Harry, because it was within his reach to go find him. He did find Quinn, and Harlan, which is why I'm saying this. 

Another one of these recording stars who vanished and "hid in the bushes" so to speak, was Russell Hunting. 

As much good as he did for the early recording business, being the most liberal and progressive of all of them, he did essentially vanish from the business by the late-1920's. Hunting was still working for Pathe by the mid-1920's, but after that, he handed the management to someone new, officially ending one of the most important eras even in Pathe's history(they still exist to-day!Thanks Hunting!). He didn't leave the U. S. or anything, but he did just what Max Hoffmann did, and enjoyed his retirement doing whatever the devil he did. This is exactly what I mean! We don't know what he did for the last twenty years of his life, as he lived into the mid-1940's, and Walsh didn't bother to look around for him. The kind of stories he would have told would be like none of the others, and would, without doubt, be more interesting and complicated than any of Quinn's or Murray's. We would, essentially, understand the 1890's recording business a whole lot more if Hunting were interviewed in the 1930's or 40's. Our view into this history would perhaps be very different if this happened, and certainly it wouldn't be a subject that all collectors would approve of as well. 

There's a reason that Hunting is my favourite of these early recording stars, and I don't care a rap about what you all think. 

Max Hoffmann is a great example of someone who "hid in the bushes" after his prime passed over, even if he wasn't a recording star. 
Now he seemed to fade away gradually by 1910, as he wasn't really writing too much music after then. As I have said before, he allowed his wife Gertrude to do all of the work for him, and take the spotlight for the next fifteen years or so. Not much is generally known on him as of now, which is surprising since he was really one of the few to truly "kick start" the rag craze of the late-1890's. It continues to shock me how little every one of the famous Rag-Time enthusiasts have refused to study him more. His impact was larger than Ben Harney's in a way, in the means of published music that is. Harney was more influential as a performer than a composer. Hoffmann was influential and important as a composer. He was essentially the first composer to write down the early Rag-Time style in the most excruciating of detail. He really analyzed how to play and write out this style, he perfected how to do this from being a pianist in mid-1890's Chicago. He really did write out much of the strange Rag style that we hear on records, just not purposely relating them to records at all. He began writing out these so-called "rags" in c.1895, and became known for it in chicago at that time, only to later take it with him when he went to New York. 

This cover has dates that are hard to trace, as it says 1891 inside the cover, but has photographs from 1896, other than that, this is one of the earliest mentions of "rag" in the sense we know of on a cover of sheet music. 
Here ya go Rag-Time freaks!
It seems that Hoffmann was famous for arranging "ragged" interpretations of popular coon songs as early as c.1895, as the music just above indicates. 

With all of this amazing history to Hoffmann, he went and completely faded away from the public eye by the 1920's. After that, his amazing musical endeavors seemed to have become largely forgotten. He outlived pretty much everyone he worked alongside in the early "rag" scence, living until 1960 beats everyone in his generation of the "rag" scene. Nothing is known of what he did after 1920, we just know that he lived out in Hollywood(I hope he's buried here in California! I want to go find him!), because his son worked in Hollywood in the 1930's. His son's films are still trying to be tracked by many of us Rag-Time freaks, but none of us have come to discover them just yet. We all just want to see if Junior looked like his father. 

The final performer I would like to mention who "hid in the bushes" is Edward Issler. 
Just recently, a treasure trove of information on Issler was presented to me from Charlie Judkins. We not only found how long he lived, which was much longer than thought for perhaps seventy years. As it turns out, Issler was still living when Walsh was contacting all of these recording stars. Talk about someone who outlived everyone...Issler is the perfect example of this. He was 86 when he died, and he lived pretty far into the 20th century for someone born literally in the middle of the 19th century. It's funny to put into perspective that he was the first studio pianist, but he outlived all of the ones that came after him in the era. Now he would have had some amazing stories, that no one else would have, since he was in the business in 1888-89, and he witnessed all of the 1890's madness at the U. S. Phonograph company and at Columbia. Issler and Schweinfest had similar stories after they ended recording(though Schweinfest ended later as we know), where they were not making records, but they were still performing in military bands all over the place in New Jersey and New York. They were separate for the most part in the decades after recording, but I have always had the feeling that they regrouped for occasional performances, since they were such good musical friends. Issler remained performing in military bands into the early 1920's, and left the business by 1930. He didn't remain a popular bandleader in the 1900's and 1910's, but he still performed in bands at that time. He was never heard of again after 1900 with the recording business though, which is surprising, since he was so popular in the 1890's, and around the time he retired, the "nostalgic" look back to the 1890's had started to come in as a fad. I'm surprised that he wasn't interviewed on any sort of radio program in that time, as he would have known the music business in that time like no one else still living at that time. After 1900 or so, Issler hid in the bushes, and a few years after that, Schweinfest joined him, to keep the old deep-running friendship going. 

The two of them did make piano duets together in 1889, do take that into consideration when analyzing their obvious friendship. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

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