Saturday, October 8, 2016

analysis of the Johnson Trial, and inspiration from Hylands

The first part of the title seen just above is a subject that remains very dear to my psychological studies of these "show-biz" figures mentioned on this blog. The reason it is not only a great case study for the terms and morals of these performers, but how they operated when a sort of crisis befell them. It was so unexpected that it was expected when it came upon the Columbia staff, as Victor Emerson hadn't really been involved in any of the previous court battles of record companies(save for the fall of the U. S. Phonograph company in 1897, he was part of that somewhat). Emerson was the one who worried the most about this sort of thing, and the first time that Johnson got into trouble in 1898, it put everyone on the edge of the cliff for a brief moment, then when he was released from the courtroom innocent, everything and everyone went back to normal. The amount of trouble Emerson went through to create a fund for Johnson's defense ought to make anyone confused, as it was in this very era that concepts such as the "White-man's burden" became an important social implication in politics and in general knowledge. It remains very strange and backward that they all supported and valued Johnson so highly, seemingly forgetting their ingrained perspectives on race hierarchy. 

Of course, the strange fact that Johnson was convicted of killing a white woman the first time around(in 1898) didn't really effect the Columbia staff as much doesn't match morally(to the time period). The second time around(the murder trial), he was convicted of killing a supposed "mixed" woman, or Creole, as the existing evidence indicates. This would logically not be as important to the entirely white Columbia staff, though it seemed to hit them harder, in some way, that I cannot well understand, even by putting myself in their mindset. Yes, it is clear that the principal motivation for this contradicting support for his defense, would be money an profits, without doubt, that was what made Emerson, Fred Hylands, and Len Spencer scramble to begin this $2,000 fund for Johnson's defense. According to all the available sources, most of the money came from Columbia record exhibitors, as well as Columbia staff members. 

What must be noted here is that Johnson worked for Edison as well when this trial came along, and the Edison staff did nothing as this went by, as there's no way in hell that these companies would join together in this endeavor. They sat back and waited for Columbia's law department to take care of Johnson. 

None of these social implications seemed to matter when it was their only black man at stake. 
Everything was thrown out the window for the Johnson trial: all the disgruntled attitudes from having Johnson there, the previous mistakes he made, inequity from Johnson's race... it all went away until the trial was over and he was acquitted. One thing that I think I mentioned before in my Rollin Wooster post was about how in the years after being Hylands' lawyer and silent publishing partner, he became a Baptist preacher, probably out of the flaming guilt he had about advocating for Hylands, and for anything else sleazy he had done as a lawyer in the 1890's, which we know is quite a lot having stereotypes of lawyers being true. He must have believed his money was going to the wrong place as a lawyer, as it is clear that the man had money to burn before even becoming associated with the publishing firm with Len Spencer. For Hylands' next publishing endeavor of 1902, he must have gone to Wooster once more, asking if he would retake the place of legal advisor, but of course, he refused, then going through his transformation rather from an opportunist lawyer to a Baptist preacher. Rollin probably just scowled at Fred, and refused plainly, as it was obvious why he wouldn't join one of his ventures once more. We know that that publishing firm didn't last nearly as long as the previous one, primarily from his lack of donors and economic benefactors. 

Since everyone at Columbia was so focused on Hylands Spencer and Yeager, someone probably had to give them the news that this had happened, and it set everyone scrambling to come to solutions. Fred threw in some money to the defense fund, and attached Rollin Wooster to the money as one of Columbia's attorneys. It seems that Wooster had nothing to do whatsoever with Columbia before Hylands snatched him out of the Law department that the worked in at the time. Of course, much like the reason that Hylands took in Burt Green, Wooster was not only very smart and well-educated(remember in the last post I did on him, that he was a Yale Law Graduate), but was able to manage capital more effectively than Hylands. 

After reviewing the case for the hundredth time from Tim Brooks' Lost Sounds , Wooster is not mentioned at all as being associated with Fred Hylands and Len Spenccer, though it must be noted in such a strange matter as this. The fact that none of Johnson's fellow recording stars not testifying in the courtroom is of course one of the most suspicious of these factors that went into the presentation of the defense. Someone like Len Spencer could easily have testified, and told a great lie of how Johnson would have never done anything to hurt anyone, even though Johnson probably did nothing wrong to Spencer. 

Like I have said before, I still stand on the idea that Johnson did murder his common-law wife. Regardless of what anyone says about the matter, even the hard evidence of the court transcript won't convince me. 

Anyhow, enough moral talk, time for some music! 
This week one of those prominent record collectors posted a handful of records on Youtube this week, with one in particular that caught my ears. He posted a 1902 Moulded Edison cylinder of "Whistling Rufus" by Dan Quinn with Banta. 
It be about time to mention this great pianist and man once more. 
I was digging around on the Santa Barbara cylinder website a few days ago, and stumbled across two 1898 cylinders by Cal Stewart with Frank Banta. 
The first one is a very different take of George W. Johnson's famous "Laughing Coon", but Stewart took his own spin on it with this. At  the end of the record, there's 20 seconds of Banta playing a very interesting and well-structured solo, here you go:
Banta's solo at the end is very proper as far as Rag-Time goes, even though it can still be classified as such. The one thing that is really surprising about the quality of this record is how well-recorded the piano was, as well as the tone of the piano. Banta's solos between the chorus and verse is really interesting, though ht misses it the last time around, which is kind of funny, since we're not used to Banta playing such a prominent and clear mistake behind anyone. 

This next one is a similar story, with exactly the same format and sequencing as the last one, with the 20 second solo at the end just like the last one. This is also a Johnson specialty sung by Cal Stewart:
Banta is playing very proper and politely on these two records, even though he's throwing in those raucous fifths that don't seem to go with the very polite playing in the solos, but that's how Banta played. Of course we've heard him play much less so on records like this one here. 

This record I mentioned a little above that this record collector posted on Youtube is a strange version of "Whistling Rufus" by Dan Quinn with Banta, but there's something about the piano playing that kicks up some suspicion in comparison with another version of the same song. 
Here's the newly posted Quinn and Banta version:
The walking octaves. 
That's weird! 
That right there proves that Banta at least heard Hylands play, whether in person or on records, it proves my theory that once Hylands began working at Columbia, the Edison people took notice and forced Banta to listen to the new hot pianist at the competitor company. Just to get this point across further, here's Spencer and Hylands' 1899 version of the same song: to 6 minutes in for the music to start)
Of course, this version is just Hylands doing what he usually did behind Spencer amplified and added onto, with all the walking octaves a Rag-time pianist could handle. This version still remains one of the best Hylands Rag-Time examples out there, though I have heard better, but I cannot share the links on here. The best examples of course of Hylands playing Rag-Time is all on records with Spencer(go figure...), and my still relatively new acquisition of "On Emancipation Day" by them is no exception. All of these notions are things that I must take notes of in my Hylands seminar in November, since he is making to be more of an inspiration to other pianists than previously thought. 

To take this inspiration to another level, the great and hilarious black Vaudevillian Pete Hampton worked for Edison Bell and Nicole records in pre-1905 out in England, and with that, he worked with managers who worked often with Hylands before 1900. These managers were Steve Porter and Russell Hunting, and they seemed to be the best of luck for Hampton's studio pianists at these companies. Since Hampton recorded many fun "Coon" songs for these companies, the piano accompaniment on all of these is absolutely amazing for being British records! Charlie Judkins sent me a handful of these records this morning, and the ones that had piano accompaniment on them were exceptional! Two examples in particular were a record of "Bill Bailey" and one of "Any Rags", which were, first of all, recorded better than any American records from that time I have ever heard, in terms of piano accompaniment. I can hear every bass note, every trill, every syncopated note, it's all clear as a bell. It sounds like Steve Porter played recordings for the supposed pianist named Arthur Brooks that were by either Arthur Collins, or Len Spencer, with Hylands playing piano. That makes me assume that Brooks had amazing abilities in playing by ear, as he catches all of Hylands' characteristics better than anyone I have ever heard back then on records and even in Rag-Time communities now. If I didn't know any better, I'd've thought Hylands was playing piano! Porter and Hunting sure as hell kept something with them when they went overseas.

 I wonder if word got back to Hylands that Porter and Hunting were doing this...

Before the end of this post, I would like to share another newly slowed down transfer from this week. This time, it's a great original take of "The Laughing Coon" by George W. Johnson from 1898. The take in itself without any changes made has been used on this blog, but it always seemed too fast, so here's the newly fixed transfer:
Not all the piano playing can be heard, but it's better than it was. 
The solo at the end that Hylands plays is still a mess, even though when it's slower, it sounds better and fathomable. The tone of the piano can be heard better this time around, which is great, because it still sounds like that 1898-99 piano at Columbia, so that's reassuring to some extent. This record remains a good example of Hylands not playing his best, possibly from being somewhat intoxicated(that's always fun to hear!). Johnson is probably as such as well if you're really listening closely. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

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