Sunday, October 9, 2016

Exceptional and awful takes

For the seminar on Fred Hylands I will be giving in a little over a month, I have to pick two records that exhibit two sides of Hylands' studio playing. One is to be a very good take, and another is the worst of the worst we know of. The good take will be decided later, as that will be harder to choose than the bad takes. Last evening, I listened to many of the bad takes I know of, which just happened to be all from pre-1900, even though I have heard some bad takes from after then. Some of Hylands' bad takes are hard to believe that they were issued, with mistakes that are unbelievable. Of course, the bad takes are just as interesting as the good takes, in fact they are more so sometimes, because the mistakes are unexpected. The first record that Ryan Wishner and I discussed as far as the bad takes go is one by Steve Porter:
Steve Porter---Columbia's richest gambler

After taking a few listens to a few records by Porter, it seems that he wasn't really a very good singer early on, in fact, he was worse than Dan Quinn was, which is really saying something. Porter was really only integrated into the "Columbia Clan" because he was rich, and he had befriended Russell Hunting before everyone else did(in 1895 in fact). His massive wealth did him well at Columbia, and it earned him a job singing for their Graphophones in 1897, even if he wasn't a very good singer. He always had weekends playing golf or sailing in his yacht to look forward to after singing so much in the studio during the week(this actually stated in an edition of The Phonoscope). The record by Porter than was suggested for the bad takes to choose was an 1899 take of "In the Baggage Coach Ahead". 
Here's the take:
It's not a very good take as far as Hylands piano accompaniments go...
The piano playing is really scattered and rushed, much like most of the bad takes I know of. Much like Hylands usually did, if he was out-of-sync with a singer, he was ahead of them most of the time, and this Porter record does indeed exhibit that, but it's not clear enough to prove the point with a bad take. It's pretty awful regardless. Another bad take by Porter and Hylands is their 1901 recording of "Carrie Nation in Kansas". It's hilarious, but the piano playing is very weird and full of mistakes, such as Hylands' signature triplet thing at 38 seconds in. Hylands' rhythm is not the best either, it's pretty steady, but gets out of sync with Porter's singing at some points. Also! Listen to the sketch at the very end, which sounds much like those crazy Spam-war(Spanish-American war) 1898 descriptive selections by the Columbia orchestra(such as this fun one here!).

Who's that howling back there?

Damn! Who is that?! That's sure as hell some howl! It's more prominent than all of the ones on the Columbia orchestra descriptive selections about field battles. I can't tell if the howl comes from piano distance, but it sounds like it does. Hmm... ... ... Maybe that's a clue... ... ... 

Yes, all of the bad takes in terms of piano accompaniment are more likely than not recorded when Hylands or the featured singer was intoxicated. Of course, it would have to be just that, and the types of wild playing vary in fact, there's the anxious and very quick playing, and there's the scattered and weird slower playing like on the 1901 Porter cylinder above. Maybe those two different types of playing mean different influences...

The possibly white-ish powdered influence on Hylands can be heard on records like this one: 
(skip to just over a minute in for the record to finally start...)

The playing I mean here is the solo at the end primarily. It's quick, rushed, and scattered. It's very hard to keep up with when attempting to play the solo by ear, which is exactly what I'm getting at. I have heard this type of solo from Hylands a few times, one is from a disc of "Bye Bye my Honey" by Billy Golden, and another is from a 1903 recording of "The whistling Coon" by Billy Murray, as well as a 1902 Murray recording of "Has anybody Seen our Cat"(this is a newly slowed down transfer by the way!). 

These two in the links above are not really bad takes necessarily, but they're strange enough for to take notice. When I say bad takes, I mean records like these:

These bad takes are either bad on the piano players' part, the singer's, or both. Now when I say good takes, I mean these:

Len Spencer's 1899 Columbia concert of "Warmest Baby in the Bunch"
(can't share the link, sorry...)

It must be noted that the last cylinder listed here is a newly-posted record on Youtube, that was posted just to-day, and turned out to be among the best examples of Rag-Time on early Columbia records. All of the 1903 to 1905 Columbia's Roberts made with piano accompaniment sound like that record, with pristine and top-liner Rag-Time piano behind him. I hope I have made it clear that it's hard to choose just one record of these good and bad takes, though as far as the bad takes go, Johnson's "Whistling Girl" is especially so compared to the others listed, so does Spencer's "On Emancipation Day". Those two exhibit a mix of all the bad things about Hylands' playing when it wasn't at its best. On the other end, the good takes are more hard pressed when trying to pick one that is better than the others. The first one listed(that isn't a link) is one that can be considered a good and bad take, as it's a fantastic example of late-1890's Rag-Time, but Spencer's singing on it is particularly awful. The piano playing is weird and scattered, to make matters better, which is certainly Hylands by all means. 

With this dilemma, I would like ideas from other collectors on this, choosing one good take and a bad take, please drop your ideas in the comments on this post! 

As Hylands once advertised:
All mail cheerfully accepted!

Hope you enjoyed this! 

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