Sunday, December 10, 2017

Detailing research and Arthur Pryor

Okay...who did it?

Who's been putting up all the less-than mediocre information on all these early recording stars? A few days ago I went online to dig up a picture of Charles P. Lowe for a friend,and for some reason I stumbled upon this picture:
The nice quality and the fact that it was more of the image than I had seen before caught my eye. But that's not all, the picture led me to a wikipedia page on Issler's orchestra. Okay, I would love to help someone out to get all of the information that I (with help)recently uncovered about Issler, including the basics. I don't want to mess with wikipedia, I find it important to keep independent research on its own, not in a place where it is less-than trusted. Independent researchers have much power, and I intend to keep it that way. However, the only time that I would step in, would be a time like now, since someone took many of my cropped images(from this blog!) and used them to accompany the less-than-mediocre articles on these giants like Len Spencer, Issler, and John Yorke AtLee. I am glad to see some of my research being used out there, but I don't like to see it misinterpreted and not used correctly. 
I promise to stay away from the generic(wikipedia), since that will take me out of this blog, and will frontload too much information to people looking for generic(BUT ACCURATE) information. 
I don't know who you are who did it, but stop taking pictures from here and writing less-than-mediocre articles about the earliest recording stars, and all I have to say is...


Let me handle that subject. I intend to use the research I have conducted, and make it accessible to everyone who is curious, but I don't like to see mediocre articles with my research either debunked or misinterpreted. 
I still think it's important to spread the word about Edward Issler though, since he is still very unknown in the record collecting world. Issler really should be one of the most important figures in the early recording world, and here's why this is evident:

-He was the first studio pianist there ever was(the first studio musician for that matter)
I'm sure the man himself would find it absolutely disgusting and depressing that no one remembers his work, which, at first glance seems an endless list. Of course, it will forever be a shame that Walsh didn't go find him, since Issler lived into the 1940's, and was still working into the 1930's. Though it may be evident that he was probably the most bitter old man, he still would have been the best source ever about the earliest days of early recording. 

-he knew literally everyone
This is the one reason why interviewing these studio musicians(not soloists) would  have been the most interesting and productive troves of information anywhere. Issler particularly knew everyone, since he worked for Edison , North American, U.S., and later Columbia the four earliest companies that were competitors. Luckily, Issler had the luck of working for all of them and essential times in their histories. So with that, he would have stories about everyone from Old man Edison to Fred Hylands to young Ada Jones. Think about it, think about all the people he would have known, in the recording studio and not. 

It's very hard to fathom at this point why Issler is forgotten, as he was all over catalogs, and his name was listed all over the place on actual ledgers. 
Look at that. There he is. Not only is he listed as a SOLO PIANIST but also as the accompanist for his clarinetist Willie Tuson. In this early book of ledgers, Issler is listed on almost every page doing something. This is why Issler is essential to studying the earliest recordings, in no matter what context, his name ought to show up almost anywhere. I hope to get to the point where we all know something about Issler and know how long he lived, since that is still a dead end when looking him up. Issler is still pretty mysterious to me, and I don't particularly know that much about him, though it may seem otherwise. 

We know he lived into the early 1940's, and would have been around 90 when he died, which is spectacular really. We still don't know what his relationship with Columbia was like, or any record company for that matter. 
Now I have a bunch of theories as to why he was kicked out of Columbia, or whatever they did. Of course, he may have been well used to how he was treated in the earliest days at Edison and North American, so when the business became much bigger and was becoming something very different, Issler must not have liked how he was becoming more of a wage slave than an orchestra leader. The way that Columbia treated their artists in the late brown wax era was less than mediocre, and this is very clear when examining the treatment of the studio musicians. He was used to being one of the sole managers of the studio, he was used to having much more power over the recording process. This couldn't have gone over well with the strict Emerson's. 
That is the face of Columbia's evil. 
He looks relatively harmless...Nope. 
I'm sure stubborn old Issler couldn't get along with Emerson. Even if Emerson was Issler's manager at U.S. from 1893 to 1896, Issler probably had enough of Emerson by 1898. His disappointment in Columbia must have been exacerbated by Hylands replacing him, who wasn't at all to the musical level that Issler was. Issler was likely the type similar to Hylands in the way that he was not only stubborn, but also intense and strident when it came to negotiations with booking agents and managers. Of course, under Emerson's rule, that wouldn't bode well. Emerson was stubborn and blunt, as we know from accounts of his former employees. Whatever they did with Issler, his recording stopped around 1899. And I really think more people should know about Issler, even if he's still mysterious and only a shadow of a figure in the history of early recording. 

Now to move to something else. 
recently, I have been digging into Arthur Pryor's rags, and I have come to a conclusion. Pryor should be regarded as one of the classic rag composers, on the same level as someone like Tom Turpin. I know that's saying an awful lot, but we often just think of Pryor on the context of his trombone playing. 
we often think of his amazing abilities that still astound trombonists and brass players today. Such as this record:
All of his solos bring a voice to the trombone that has never been replicated since then. 

There's three of the Sousa band guys, with Pryor at the far right. 
That picture was likely taken in 1893 while they were on their tour at the World's Fair in Chicago. All of them look very young, Pryor would have been 22-23 in that picture. When we look past the pretty face and the blond hair, Pryor was a fantastic Rag-Time composer. 
Underrated is the perfect word to describe his Rag-Time pieces. We need to keep in mind that he had a style that was a mix of the two most essential regional styles of early Rag-Time. In this case, I am referring to Missouri and Indiana style. Missouri is where Pryor came from, so he had the foundation of one of the most important Rag-Tim communities from the start. Later when he had just joined the Sousa band in 1892, he was destined to pick up interesting styles and sounds, and that's exactly what he did. After playing tunes like "Banjo Twang"(the Sousa band is mentioned on the cover of that piece) at the World's Fair, Pryor by the mid-1890's had the right foundation for a great rag composer. This foundation made his Rag style very strange while at the same time very interesting and varied. When we look at his published pieces, we can see they are very different from most of the rags we see out there, and when you get right down to it, his style sounds more like a primitive type of Joplin's style mashed together with Frank P. Banta's style. The thing about his style that is most interesting is how he often put the syncopated rhythm in the bass notes almost as much as in the treble. 
His most outstanding rag can be hard to determine, but my favourites of his are his "Frozen Bill Rag" and "Razzazza Mazzazza". He wrote quite a few more rags, and some of us Rag-Time sheet music collectors are still digging ones up, which is a good sign that there's more to hear of Pryor's musical genius. of course, I haven't said anything about his arrangements yet. That's a whole other thing to delve into, since he was just like Fred Hager, who left hundreds of arrangements without his name on them, but we have outstanding records to learn from. 
Pryor's band was hard to beat in terms of sound and talent, since unlike most of the studio orchestras from 1895 to 1915, I cannot find a single bad take by Pryor, or his band too. They seemed like the indestructible band, and Pryor was lucky to have inherited some of the best possible musicians for his group. 
As I have slowly been becoming obsessed with Pryor, I am trying to decide on a seminar topic for WCRF next year, since the earlier I have an idea the better in this case. With this new found affinity for Pryor has begun manifestation, Pryor is most certainly an option for a seminar. Of course, I will stick to more of what people don't usually focus on with him, his Rags and arrangements. 

Something that we can notice in his trombone playing that corresponds with his rags, is how he had that same kind of smooth but also pushy style that Fred Hylands had, which is a strange connection to make, but makes sense if you think about it. Pryor was on the outside of the recording studio constantly, much like Fred Hager, so we can be assured that Pryor took from his fellow studio bums(that being Banta and Hylands, and even Justin Ring). We are lucky to be able to see what he took from them, as even rags like Banta's "Ragged William" sound like some of Pryor's rags. 
take a listen:
Banta's style was pretty similar to Pryor's, in the way that both their styles were naturally manifested.

what the %$#* does that mean?
(naturally manifested)

In this case it means that both of them had a style that was not strictly taught and fostered by traditional methods. They were naturally drawn to their styles by high musical abilities, like perfect pitch and perfect rhythm. We know Banta had perfect pitch(thanks Dan Quinn!), though we can't say for sure whether Pryor had either of those things, it's at least likely one of them had him. These two studio ramblers were not really that different, it's just that one(Banta) was confined to the studio for more reasons than just being contracted. Banta had the awful curse of being weakly built and having asthma, so there's another(more horrific and depressing) reason Banta seems to many of us like he was chained up to the studios. Pryor was more of a virtuoso of course, and had the Sousa band and his own to manage and go give frequent concerts, unlike Banta who didn't really do too much outside orchestra work(though he did do some). 

Anyway, I could go on and on, it seems my next post is beginning to take shape after comparing Hager with Pryor, and adding Banta in there. really get into some Arthur Pryor if you can, nothing is bad, ever, it's shocking really. 

Hope you enjoyed this! Sorry posts have become out of whack in frequency...


  1. Yes, the time is overripe for Pryor,will happily follow more of your writing. So Sousa was credited of bringing syncopated music to Europe but I am sure that it was Pryor and Pryor's influence that made it.
    I sometimes wish you would restrain the use of "fantastic" a bit but here I agree.

  2. Ramona -- Best thing you could do about Wikipedia is sign up and become an editor yourself. A login would also give you access to Wikimedia Commons -- where the Wikipedia images live -- and challenge those images of yours and they will be taken down. Also, on the "History" tab of each page you could find the username of the person who is using your images. If you wanted to expand the mediocre articles and make them better, you could do that too, but be sure and take the time to read their guidelines first -- particularly the sections on notability, citations and what they call "original research." Good luck! I edit Wikis myself, and it can be fun and rewarding once you get the hang of it, but frustrating when others come along and chop up your stuff. You have the benefit of being able to link to your own posts and use them as citations, but be aware of the "original reseach" limitation.

  3. Hi Ramona, my name is Mason Vander Lugt, and I wrote the Wikipedia articles you refer to in this post. I've worked hard to write succinct and factual articles based on primary source materials, but if you have something to contribute you're welcome to edit them, as Dave suggests above. I assure you I haven't been taking images from your blog, but you can check the sources in the Wikimedia commons for each image if you don't believe me. On the other hand, however, many images you use, including the "First Book of Phonograph Records" above, the Jim Walsh articles, and Phonogram, are from my research and work. I don't mind that you're using them, that's why I made them available, but I would like you to consider the irony. I like your blog. When we're left with so little good information about the lives of the first generation of recording stars I think some speculation is warranted and fun. I don't think attacking other researchers, though, makes you look as informed or accomplished as you seem to believe.

    P.s. I posted a decent photo of Lowe to my blog last summer. Feel free to use it ;)

    1. Say! Thank so much for your comment! Your work has been of much help to me certainly... I very much appreciate the outstanding pictures you have put up on your blog. Since you have put up so much great stuff, I will have to use some of the outstanding sources you've put up.