In the last post I hinted at what I'd be writing for this one, and I will do so.
I never thought I'd have the privilege to go through the prized photographs and papers Justin Ring kept, and after being able to do so, not a lot of what was there was quite surprising. Hager is an essential part of Ring's story, and this has become even clearer after seeing all this stuff.
Two posts ago I quoted Ring's late-in-life essay, "Gift of Love", more specifically the portion where he mentions Hager, just as a refresher, I will quote it again to start this look into their relationship though photographs.
Here is what he said of Hager throughout the essay:
"I continued to play at Ebling's Casino where I met Fred Hager, another musician who was to play a very important role in my future life. Fred played violin. Some nights after work[the recording labs] we would gather the boys for a jam session and they would not go home until morning.
In the summer of 1904[probably a few years earlier] Fred Hager, the promoter, I called him, decided to try the record business which was just coming into being...I saw Fred from time to time as he progressed in his song business. Each time we met, he would try to get me to come in with him and start a recording company."
And that is all he said about Hager.
Despite it being rather minimal, it is essential to understanding their story. As with Hager's side of the story, Ring also downplayed the closeness of their relationship. He writes about Hager in a way that only suggests a business partnership, but the mere mention of him in this essay is noteworthy. The fact that he takes up almost an entire page on Hager speaks volumes. Ring wrote this essay to tell his story through only his family, yet he takes up significant space for Hager, who wasn't blood related. He didn't grow up with Hager. They would have met, based on Hager's writing(quoted two posts ago), at the end of 1898 or very early 1899.
(Ring, c.1897, photo courtesy of Tricia Wentz SirLouis)
Ring was 22--going on 23, an assistant to the New York philharmonic, sent to work in the amateur cabaret halls of the lower east side. he had also much potential, and by that time it was likely that he was acquainted with the phonograph. he also likely knew musicians like Frank P. Banta and Edward Issler, who were prominent early members of the new musician's union(0f which Ring was one of the youngest members). It must have caught him off guard to suddenly feel a delicate hand on his back that one night at the casino.
Hager was 24, just married, and right out of music school. He was looking for talent, as he was assigned by Frank Seaman and the other founders of the Zon-O-Phone to pluck musicians out of their dives and put them into an orchestra he had been forming since at least 1896. He was considered the youngest competent bandleader at the time. He was just kicking around all the dives on the east side, and he just happened to come into Ebling's, likely for some nice dinner and entertainment---and there he was.
Clearly there was something about that pianist, something about him was different than the other accompanists he knew(like Fred Hylands and Frank P. Banta). His attack was intense but somehow controlled. He could listen but also add on to the accompaniments perfectly. Something was special about him.
From that moment that Hager came up to him, both of their paths changed forever. The long nights of jam sessions must have gone over well, and stuck so fondly in their hearts that the records they made proved to be exceptional. So much so that Hager kept his write up on them in his scrapbook until he died. Whatever it was between them, that at this point seems very likely to be more than professional as Ring implied, it blossomed in 1901 and 1902. Their relationship was so close and seemingly intimate by the middle of 1902 that they decided to take a few pictures together at a photographer a few blocks down from the Columbia lab. These pictures were so dear to both of them, they they both kept copies of them until they both died.Remember this picture? Well, the copy you are seeing here is the one that Ring kept for decades.
On that same day, they took a few more pictures together, but only two 0f them survive. Ring kept another of the two of them that seems more intimate than the one above.
(The writing on the print is Ring's)
I nearly cried upon first seeing this picture. It is so perfect-- it captured their personalities quite well. Another thing I noticed about the picture just above is that they have matching collars and shirts. It is also rather uncommon to see the two of them looking right at the viewer, as the both of them were rather awkward in different ways. Ring's eyes were very bright(difficult to photograph correctly) and he was generally a bit reserved and awkward. Hager's eyes were uneven and the composition of his social skills was questionable.
Based on the timing of these pictures, they were taken at what I've observed was the zenith of their relationship. They were writing many songs together, working together everyday in more than one recording lab, and spending weeks living together writing and publishing their own music. As Ring said in his essay, "life was good to me" and that it seems in this case.
With Hager gaining more success in the publishing and recording world, he could bring Ring up with him, and that is exactly what he did. They were promoted to publishing with a larger firm in the middle of 1902. This is where Ring's name for Hager, "The promoter" comes into play. Thanks to Ring being brought up as musical nobility, he hadn't much need to push his own talents to others, so such aggressive hustling wasn't part of his nature or vocabulary. If Hager was good at anything, it was his hustling skills. He got to where he was through charisma and manipulation. He wasn't necessarily the best musician, and a decent composer, but his true forte remained in his expert manipulation to rise up the musical food chain. This is also where the term "inseparable" could be implemented with their relationship. As Hager rose up and gathered all the recording lab contracts he could, he took Justus with him no matter what. It was guarantee that blond headed blue eyed Justus would be by his side, and everyone was becoming familiar with this. Naturally, their fellow orchestra men came to know this sooner than the other Tin Pan Alley writers.
(half of Hager's orchestra, 1902)
"Inseparable" is how Jim Walsh described Ring and Hager in 1962, just weeks before Ring died. I still have yet to know whether it was Ring or Hager who described their relationship in that way to Walsh. After poking through both of what remains of their papers, it is difficult to tell which of them said the word. No matter who said it, they both handled the relationship very differently, and it impacted how they lived for decades.
When Hager met Ring, he had been married since the end of 1897, and he had one daughter by early 1899. He was a respectable young father, with seemingly no funny business going on, and an already successful career. In mid 1900, his second daughter Florence was born, and by then it seemed he had cemented his normal family life, but something wasn't right. He was spending most of his time at two recording labs, and he was getting to know this mysterious Justus Ringleben. By the middle of 1902, Hager was spending barely any time with his wife and kids. He lived days and weeks at a time with Ring, who at this time wasn't married. These good times with Ring proved to be consequential in the years to come, as Hager's older daughters wanted nothing to do with their father's legacy. It was because of the youngest daughter Ethel that any of Hager's papers survive. Ethel was born after all the initial funny business with Ring had passed(late 1905). She got to see her father much more than Clara and Florence had. Hager made sure to pay much more attention to Ethel, as he wrote many child-themed and novelty pieces when she was growing up. When his daughters were in their teen's all three of them left the house for substantial jobs, giving Fred more time at work and more time with Ring of course.
Amid some recent research, I realized that Ring and Hager may have reunited in the early 1910's. Ring married in 1909, and spent a few years out of sight of his old friends, occasionally writing songs with Ed Farran and making some records with Eddie King, but more often he was spending time getting to know his in-laws. His in-laws, the Patz family, lived in Fitchburg Massachusetts, and old father Gustav had been in the Boston symphony for years by then. He went to visit the in-laws often when he was getting to know Elsie better, likely spending holidays with them in Boston.
(Elsie with her parents, sister, nephew, niece, and her daughter Vera, its likely that Ring took the picture. taken c.1911)
On these trips to visit the in-laws, Ring likely set aside some time to visit Hager at the phono-cut lab, or socialize with the Boston Symphony musicians that Hager hired to make records.
After the Phono-cut disbanded, Ring spent more time with his wife, kid, and dog. He probably had little to do with Hager's operation at Rex, therefore not meeting up with him again until at least 1916.
They were back together when the Okeh company was founded in 1918, and this time it seems they were going to stay together. The novelty and nostalgia of their time together nearly two decades before must have been part of the reason they got back together so quickly. Just as before, they were writing music and arrangements once again. Hager also had quite a good amount of disposable income at the time, so he had the bright idea to buy a very expensive motorboat. The first boat he purchased didn't work out so well:
Well after almost killing all the Okeh management, he decided to get another one, as he apparently had the money to do so.
He kept the second boat for much longer than the first. According to a 1936 local paper article, Hager named this boat Kathryn. Why? I do not know. Ring seemed to enjoy Hager's boat, as within the dozens of photos Ring kept, there were a few of them on that second boat.
Never have I seen such a happy Ring.
But of course, there's one picture that sums up everything I've said about them, and it seems quite fitting that it was taken on Hager's boat.
Yes indeed folks.
That's Ring and Hager out at sea in what looks like the middle 1920's. It's difficult to date, but it looks to be from before 1930. There's so much about this picture that is informative to their characters and relationship. Hager is wearing actual shorts, and Ring is wearing linen trousers neatly cuffed. They are wearing matching shirts, as I mentioned in the earlier part of this post with that other picture. Hager really looks like an old burnt out executive, but Ring happily has some life in him. There are so many little nuances about this picture that are important to note. Being an artist, this picture helps me understand a lot more about how they looked, from Hager's rounded shoulders to Ring's gentle but sturdy hands. Never have I laughed so much with joy about a picture as I did upon seeing this one. I am so grateful that Ring kept this picture, and that his descendants kept it intact.
Anyhow, they remained close into the 1930's and 40's, continuing to write music together. They both headed to work on radio shows in the 1930's, as Hager wrote to a local reporter in 1936. Hager, being always ambitious and energetic, slipped on ice and broke his ankle in early 1936. Here is the local write up on it:
So of course with Ring's kind heart, he had the courtesy to come and visit Hager while he was stuck in bed. Justy as Hager called him. Even at age 60, they still cared for each other greatly.
They wrote lots of music together in the 1940's, but after the war they both took some form of retirement. Ring officially retired around 1947, but Hager kept going with his paperwork in publishing into the 1950's. Being contacted by Jim Walsh reinvigorated old man Hager, and it might have done so for Ring a bit, but he was reluctant to attend the gatherings that Walsh and John Bieling hosted. Hager told perhaps hundreds of stories to Walsh and other young collectors at the time, and all he wanted to do was give them things from his past. Ring may have given Walsh a few things, but we have yet to find out exactly what he was willing to tell to Walsh, and if Ring even wrote back.
They may have been split at Hager's death in 1958, but their time together remains set in stone by the many photos that Ring and his loving descendants preserved for decades. So that's the tale of Milo and Rega.
Whew! Honestly I never thought I'd be able to tell their story in a way such as this. It seems much clearer now after thoroughly examining both their papers. Oddly enough, Ring's papers seem more complete than Hager's, though Hager's may have been extensive at one time.
I know I promised I'd get back into some more of my new records in this post, So I'll post a few links to crappy transfers I did of the ones I didn't in the last post.
This one is "uncle Jefferson" by Arthur Collins and Ring on a Zon-O-phone. For years I've had a transfer of this record for its phenomenal accompaniment, but never would I have dreamt I'd have such a pristine copy.
Any version of this song is good to me, so naturally a Collins version is just as good as any of Billy Golden's. I appreciate that Ring played his accompaniment in a way that slightly imitates how Fred Hylands played it. Just to get the point across, here's Golden's 1897 Columbia of it with Hylands:
This record here is still one of the best concrete examples of rag-time in its earliest form. It's rare that we can hear real live syncopation as it was actually played, and this record shows it to us clear as a bell.
I heard a Climax record of this piece last year and fell in love with it. I was hoping to come across a copy of that very Climax record someday, but this great little 7 incher will suffice for the moment.
It features some classic very expressive and slightly frivolous Hylands accompaniment. Such is always welcome to my regular listening. It's quite unassuming, and I haven't much to say about it, as it's just a great record.
Anyhow, I'll have to end it off here, just so the post isn't too long. I've also exhausted a lot of information and mind power on this post. Believe it or not, I actually have another topic in the pipeline for the next post, as I have been getting into more percussion on early disc records. In the next post I'll be exploring the bass drum effect on early discs and the connections between Frank P. Banta and trombonist Arthur Pryor, stay tuned!