Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Tale of Milo and Rega

  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, around the time he met Ring)

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: 

Funny stuff. 
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! 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

New perspectives and records


It's been a hell of a month for research. I mentioned this in the last post, but now that I have spent time combing through what Justin Ring left behind, it's clear that there's a lot more to see than his 6 page essay!

In the last few weeks, I have been closely studying the photographs that Ring kept, and just as expected, Hager is all over the place! I may have to split up this post into more than one because there are so many pictures to study. In the next post I'll stick to the pictures where Hager is included, and in this one I'll go through the pictures that were of him and his family. 

So, it came unexpectedly to know that Ring became a family man later in life. Considering the kind of life Ring lived in his early recording days, I would have never expected that. In previous posts I mentioned his first wife Alice Davis, whom he divorced around 1906. This marriage was short, and it was likely seen as a shameful mistake to Justin as he aged. I have no idea why they divorced, and it could be any number of reasons why exactly. Considering how much he enjoyed Hager's company, it come as a surprise that he remarried by the end of 1908. Of course in the period between 1906-1912, Ring and Hager were split, so maybe they didn't enjoy each other's company so much at that time. 

According to Ring's own writing(as per the essay detailed in the previous post), he met a young girl named Elsie Patz who had black hair and brown eyes. He met Elsie in 1907 while playing piano with the rather famous show The Chocolate Soldier. This was a big thing for him, as he had finally been invited to perform with the orchestra of a famous broadway production, something he had been wanting to do for years(at least since 1902). According to his essay, Elsie was the understudy to the leading woman in the show. 

an example of one of the covers for a song in the show. 
Ring even kept a portrait of Elsie in her costume for the show. 
There she is! 
It's awfully nice to have several high quality portraits of her, as before I had only that one crappy large group photo of the Okeh dinner. Elsie wasn't just any girl, she came from a long line of prominent musicians. Her father, Gustav Patz, was a in Gilmore's original band in the 1860's, and later a conductor for the Boston Symphony. All of her siblings were musical as well, and thanks to pictures that Ring kept, we can be assured that his in-laws were judging his musical ability closely during the supposed "quick courtship" they had. To the delight of his in-laws and his own family, Ring became a father at the end of 1910.When their first daughter Vera was born, quickly he changed his tune, from a rambling rag-timer to a devoted dad. His daughters were very dear to him, even the beckoning relationship with Edgar Farran at the time wasn't as important to him. 

Of all the amazing pictures that Ring kept, none was as captivating as this one, a serious yet somewhat candid portrait of dad and his dear baby daughter in 1911:
There's something so remarkable about this portrait. I'm not quite sure exactly what it is. His magnificent hands, very stylish hat and tie, and those eyes. I could stare at this picture for hours. 
That picture above made it very clear that he had a change in pace in his life. He was still a dandy, but if a dandy could be a devoted dad, he did it. It makes sense now why he spent a few years away from recording. Not long after this portrait was taken, he moved from the Bronx out to a larger home on the edge of Queens(called Flushing at the time). 
More family portraits like the one above don't come up again until the middle 1920's, after his second daughter, Marion was born. 
As we know, he didn't return to recording until about 1915, and even at that he didn't really resume all the same work he had been doing until Okeh was founded in 1918. He resumed his relationship with Hager around 1916. 
Marion was born in 1919, and it turns out that she became very curious about her father's past, and was part of the reason that her dad wrote that 6 page essay about his life. She knew him when he was older, and became most familiar with him out of context of his friends like Hager and Eddie King. By the mid-20's, Ring had a new member of the family, and it wasn't another daughter. 
When I saw this picture I screamed with joy. I love dogs, so knowing that he had a sweet German Shepherd just warmed my heart. The dog looks so happy here! 
As you can see, there's Marion on the left, mama Elsie in the middle, and Vera on the right. It's difficult to date this picture exactly but I'd say based on the car it's probably late-1920's. One thing that's interesting about Elsie is that in almost every picture of her she's got that big smile. Ring kept portraits of her going back to when she was a little girl, and she still looks extroverted and fun even then. 
Little Elsie around 1891. 
There were portraits of little Ring too, but I'll save those for the next post. Little Ring was absolutely adorable, and serious as always. 
A lot more photos that Ring kept were from the middle 1930's to middle 1940's. Thankfully the cute doggie makes another appearance! 
They look like an interesting couple, and of course the dog is well behaved. There were also two very curious portraits of old man Ring in the middle 1930's. These were taken around 1936, when he was still working for Decca! 
I must admit, as a historian who studies body language in portraits, these two portraits of Ring are very interesting with that in mind. 
Not surprisingly, Ring looks very stylish for 1936, with the short pointed waistcoat and wide trousers and all. he looks like a friendly old man here, with the pipe and all. It's quite amazing that at that time he was still working as an executive for Decca, a very modern record label, at least to many collectors(to me for sure!). The other portrait of him from around the same time is where my interest in body language comes into play. 
There's something about that pose. He's got a sort of swagger that I wouldn't normally expect from a rather reserved man. One thing that has remained constant is the non-existence of a very genuine smile. Those two portraits above are the closest we're going to get to a sweet smile. After reading through his essay, I'd think that part of the reason he didn't smile so genuinely because he had rotten teeth. He and his younger descendants remembered his love of sweets very well, so who knows how broken up those teeth were. 

I'd like to close out this part of the post with a portrait of Justin and Elsie from the late 1930's or so, that seems to sum them up pretty well. 
They seem like a fun old couple. 
It's also curious to note that Ring smoked. Hager, as I found out from gathering his papers, did not smoke. 

So I hope to cover more on Ring's papers in the next post, as I will cover the pictures and artifacts related to him and Hager. Thankfully there were quite a lot! There's also a lot of new information to explore on that front. 

*Thanks so much to Tricia Wentz SirLouis for sharing all these amazing pictures and documents!*


So as I promised in the last post, I will share my winnings from the Nauck auction. I must say, this is one of the best batches of records I've gotten since the brown wax find at a local antique store. I ended up paying the most for a cylinder this time, which came as a surprise. So here's some pictures of the stuff I got:

What a set of beauties! As you might expect, I am most proud of the banta cylinder. When I played it on my phonograph it almost brought me to tears, as it was so loud and clear. There's nothing quite like hearing the playing of Banta right through eartubes on a phonograph. 

So first of all, the Metropolitan orchestra record is some of the hottest rag-time I've heard on a record from that era. It's classic black rag-time led by Banta. It may be a 7 incher, but it packs quite a punch for its size. For years I had been wanting to hear that particular song by Will Marion Cook, as it has such a strange and comical title. Boy how it didn't disappoint! 
Here's a crude transfer of it:
(hope the link works for you!)
So getting this record actually has raised a question. I noticed that the Metropolitan orchestra recorded several very unusual yet very hot rag-time songs on Berliner and later Victor. I'm wondering what gave Banta the liberty to do so, arranging such unusual and rather serious rags like the one above. What I'd like to know is why Banta was given license to do that at Victor, but Fred Hylands, a pianist known specifically for his rag-time, wasn't. Why didn't Hylands get the freedom to record instrumental versions of coon songs with the Columbia orchestra? They did a few songs like "Hello my baby" "My Honolulu Lady" and "I guess I'll have to telegraph my baby", but nothing as obscure and rare as "who dat said chicken in dis crowd" or "The Sun do move"(a cake-walk). 
Banta wasn't known by all for his Rag-time, though it was certainly part of his charm. Hylands was specifically hired by Columbia for his rag-time abilities, so wouldn't it seem strange that all the most authentic and serious rag-time was recorded under Banta's command? 

something to think about. 

So the Zon-O-Phone record of "recollections of 1861" is actually really interesting, more so than you might think at first. The reason I bid on that record is because of the trumpet calls. 
In Hager's scrapbook, there are a few pages that include pieces from Zon-O-phone catalogs, and on one of these pages he saved a write up on the above selection. 
This was taken from a page of Hager's scrapbook.
I'm not sure if I have said it on here before, but I'm pretty sure Hager wrote up all the short descriptions for the records in the early Zono catalogs, as they are very characteristic of his writing to Jim Walsh and in his own papers many years later. So based on that little write up, Hager is playing the horn calls on the record above! Someone told me awhile ago that Hager played a brass instrument, but I wasn't sure whether to believe it. Well, there's your evidence! After getting to listen to the record, I'd say that it really does sound like Hager playing the horn, as it oddly has the same sort of inflections that his violin playing and composition style possessed. His playing was very precise and pointed, through not entirely accurate tonally.

I'll highlight one more of these records before I close out, and I'll include the others in my next post. 
Hager was very proud of his violin playing, and his solo records especially. With this in mind, it's no surprise that he kept a page from a Zon-O-Phone catalog with his solo records listed. I got two of these records in the recent auction, both of which are outstanding examples of the superior recording quality that all major record companies possessed in the year of 1900. Hager's "Hungarian dance" Zono was surprisingly good musically, and in terms of piano accompaniment, it was phenomenal. Both Ring and Hager's playing comes through clear as a bell(though the piano is just a bit louder!). 

So here's the catalog page from his scrapbook: 
Oh how he was so very vain. 
I got his record of the "Pilgrim's chorus" and it is a very well recorded piece as he states above, but I find his description of it more interesting than the actual record! 

"a magnificent record; the violin being loud and sweet and the piano unusually loud to give the variation effect that is so well known in this piece."

Oh Hager, his magnificence! 

I wish he saved more pages from Zono catalogs, as these descriptions are just as entertaining to read as listening to the records themselves. 

With that I will end it here. I'm really glad to have lots to research, and each day I am realizing something new about Ring as I comb through what remains of his papers. More records and photos in the next post! 

Hope you enjoyed this, 
Happy halloween! 

Friday, October 2, 2020

"The Gift of Love"

 In the last few weeks, it has been a busy time for me in terms of research. After several years of dead ends with Justin Ring, I decided to do something about it and contact his family. more recently(this week) I have been helping clean out a collector's house, which means I have been acquiring lots of new records. So far there's been lots of good stuff coming in, and within the next week or so I should be getting my Nauck auction winnings. 

So, regarding Ring...It seems that jumping into this project head on was a good idea. Before the last few weeks, it had been nearly impossible too find any decent information on Ring from period sources. 

Finding any mention of him not pertaining to recording or publishing is nearly impossible, but thanks to his descendants, I am finally getting a better idea of who he really was outside of his work. This project is still a work in progress, so I haven't made any serious conclusions yet, but it seems important enough to share pieces of an essay that Ring wrote later in his life. 

I have Hager's papers(or what's left of them), and from what he kept, Ring was an important figure in his life. Hager wanted to write several volumes of the life he lived in recording, as he expressed so aggressively to Jim Walsh. He never got to writing such these volumes, but I have small pieces that would have gone into these. He loved talking about his past, as he knew that he was an important figure in the music business for several decades. Naturally, if he told this story, his own words would be only half of the tale. The other half would go to Ring. 

Hager's story would be incomplete without Ring, and Rings's the same without Hager. It seems quite evident that they were indeed inseparable as Jim Walsh put it in 1962. After reading a few pages of Ring's writing, it is clear that he was a gifted storyteller, more so than his own beloved lyricists. 

There is this one 6 page essay written by Ring, and it is titled "The Gift of Love". he wrote this late in his life intended for future curious generations of his family. Ring became a family man, and dearly cared for his children and grandchildren. His daughter Marion(born 1919) was the family historian, as she did as much as she could to preserve her father's legacy. Ring wrote this for Marion, and it reads a lot like a grandfather telling tales to his grandchildren, of course in the best way possible. There isn't any specific organization to the essay, as he jumps around to different dates. I am still trying to figure out all the timing of the events he speaks of. 

There are several priceless anecdotes in this essay, one of the recurring jokes is little Ring grabbing a bunch of candies from a large jar on the counter. So it turns out that Ring's father, Justus Ringleben sr., opened a candy shop when he retired around 1880. They moved to that building that I visited back in January, and set up a candy store on the front below. So Ring would grab candies whenever father wasn't looking. In one of the stories he mentions that his father said:

"You are eating up all the profits again, off to school with you." 

This joke comes up a bunch of times. 

So for my regular readers here, you're probably wondering where Hager comes into the picture. So, here's the thing about that...He is prominently mentioned. The way he is spoken of and how he is mentioned is actually curious when looking at it from an analytical standpoint. Ring's organization in this essay is a little anachronistic, making it difficult to know where the stories are going and to keep track. But one thing that is very important about his language is how exactly he tells the story of his young life. 

He stopped the story in 1908 when he married his second wife Elsie, to whom he was married until 1959. So thankfully we don't get any of his later work confused with the early stuff(though he does mention working for Okeh and Decca). this document was written exclusively for his family, and the way he tells his story is through his close family. Practically nobody else outside of his own family is explicitly named or detailed...

except Hager. 

The only person he mentions outside of his family is Hager. This certainly doesn't come as a surprise, but considering the circumstances of the paper it is still rather curious. Yes, he mentions Hager, but the real question is how Ring spoke of him. Before reading this essay, I thought almost certainly that Ring was reluctant to speak of Hager to anyone, especially of that time between 1900 and 1904. So here's what he says about Hager: 

At that time there wasn't any musicians union so I joined Samuel Gompers who was very active in the cigar makers union. A few years later, I became a charter member of Local #802 of the Musicians Union. I continued to play at Ebling's Casino where I met Fred Hager, another musician who was to play a very important part in my future life. Fred played violin. Some nights after work we would gather the boys for a jam session and they would not go home until morning. 

In the summer of 1904 Fred Hager, the promoter, I called him, decided to try the record business which was then coming into being. I started composing in my spare time. I saw Fred from time to time as he progressed in his song business. Each time we met, he could try to get me to come in with him to start a recording company. I eventually did and before I knew it, I was the recording manager of Okeh records...

There you have it folks, his own words on Hager. So, there's a lot to take in here. He jumps all over the place in years, and a few things are a bit out of order, but based on what we know about him and Hager, we can pull it apart and set some dates to a sort of timeline. He doesn't give any specifics on when he met Hager, but he mentioned the Casino gig he had on the previous page, so I would put his employment there around 1897-1899. Hager began making records in the middle of 1898, and in early 1899 Frank Seaman and the Universal record company sent him out to pick up talent to record. Hager wrote this up in his own little essay like Ring's, in fact here's a piece from it: 

The following winter[1899] I was engaged by an inventor of a new type of disc records called the Zon-O-Phone and supplied him with various singers [and] instrumental singers[sic] for experimental players. I continued my band concerts for a number of seasons and after I finished my contract with Zon-O-Phone, my band was engaged for both the Edison and Columbia and I had earned the name of the record talent pioneer. 

*lots of mistakes and poorly typed words on this sheet from Hager's papers, I had difficulty writing it out to be as legible as possible. I'm sitting here with a headache staring at this faint typewriting trying to transcribe this damn thing*

So Hager claims that he went out and picked up a lot of that strange talent that recorded on Zono only in 1900 and 1901, and this is one of the few things we can be sure that he did. So comparing it with Ring's writing, it would seem that Ring was one of Hager's *discoveries* while running around the dives and vaudeville houses.  Hager must have gone around to nearly every place he could hear unusual talent, and I guess that this talent would include a willing accompanist for the new Zon-O-phone. 

(one of the first Zono ads to be used, from around February of 1899, taken from The Phonoscope)

The Zono crowd was eager for talent and investors, and with Hager's help, they were able to get what they needed by the end of 1900, and with their credibility growing quickly, big investors like Eldridge R. Johnson bought some of their stock.
So from what Ring stated, Hager picked him out from among many amateur performers, but it just so happened there was an immediate deeper connection between the two of them. he speaks about Hager as highly and as lovingly as he does the rest of his own family, more so than his own wife Elsie. Clearly Hager was family to Ring, whether his family liked it or not. Hager was really special to him, so much so that he'd speak of it so plainly to his daughters and grandchildren. Oddly enough, there is little mention of Ring in what remains of Hager's papers, though the full page portrait of Ring speaks volumes. 
This one: 
 I have yet to find out whether Ring kept a nice portrait of Hager in his own papers, but there's a chance he did.. 
Overall, in Ring's essay, he mentions little about his early days in recording, which is a little frustrating, but doesn't hinder me much. Before I move on to another small thing, I would like to acknowledge a curious line from his essay, one that is stated rather out of context. 

Life was good to me...

How it's written above is just about as out of context as it is in the actual essay. As a very particular researcher, I am intrigued by this line. It could mean a lot, though in this context I can see it more as an acknowledgement of how he was lucky to have been loved and adored by so many lovely people. With that, it seems really sweet and humble. Considering how much he did in his life, he spoke very little of how he actually was and things directly related to himself, unlike with Hager. he genuinely seems like a kind old man with many fantastic stories to tell, far more than those that he wrote about here.

See here's the catch...Ring would be perfectly willing to speak of his past, but only if you were family. Based on what I've seen here, he was somewhat reluctant to speak to Jim Walsh about his past. He cared so much for his family, because they understood him and loved him dearly. Some things about his past seemed that they wouldn't fare well written down by Walsh in articles. Ring was perfectly happy to keep the beloved stories he had within the family, not out in the open for all collectors to see. After reading this, there's definitely a deeper story between Ring and Hager, and my previous posts regarding the closeness of their relationship hold up. 

Before I close out, I'd like to address something else regarding Ring that folks have been asking me about. A little while ago, a few comments were thrown on here on Ring being an accomplished clarinetist. At first I was skeptical of this, as he was known for his record accompaniments and composing, and I had not seen any writings on him regarding woodwinds. So it seems that this was indeed true. he played clarinet and saxophone, along with everything else he played on records for Okeh and victor. His descendants are still quite musical, and it seems that a few play reed instruments! This actually does explain why Ring and Hager wrote so many pieces in the 20's that were intended for saxophone. 

In 1900 on Zon-O-Phone, a groups called the Zonophone reed orchestra made a few records. So it seems pretty certain who came up with this idea---Ring. 

Here's an example of one of these records: 


I just won a copy of one of these records, and should get it in the mail soon! Will definitely post about it when it comes. 

So there's this famous picture of what is the Edison Military band, taken around 1907. They're in the recording lab, all crowded together around the horn, with a whiskered conductor behind it. For years I had no idea who any of these musicians were, and just on a whim I went back and looked at it last week. I listened to a few Edison military band records, and remembered that there was a sax in that group. Upon inspecting the picture again, it hit me. 

That's Ring playing the saxophone!

 It actually makes a lot of sense, and this time it sure does look like him. That's pretty much the exact same profile in that picture with Hager from around 1902. Everything about how he looks lines up with other pictures I've seen of him. seven his descendants chimed in to say it looks a lot like "pop" as his grandchildren called him. 

All-right folks. I know it's been awhile since I've posted on here, and for that I apologize. I have been quite busy with research projects, particularly in communicating with Ring and Hager's descendants. After several years, I have finally been able to get somewhere with truly understanding the curious relationship between these two. There are more layers peeling away as I keep learning more about them, which is certainly a good thing! While this is good, it does make writing posts difficult, as I have to spend the time pulling apart each artifact and conversation. I've also been busy with maintaining my quickly growing record collection. within the last three months I've gotten close to 100 records, and more are on the way. I am officially out of space for my discs! It's a good feeling but frustrating for someone like me who wants everything organized. 

Stay safe and well out there! We can get through this folks! Keep listening! Keep digging! Stay curious! 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Mr. Farran

Along this journey of reconstructing the complicated lives of Fred W. Hager and Justin Ring, I assumed the two of them were a solid pair that were truly inseparable, in the words of Jim Walsh(and likely Hager himself). Within the last few weeks I discovered something that makes their relationship far more complicated than expected. 

There appears to have been a triangle here at work. 

(illustration, drawn by the author)
To recap, here's the overview of their relationship minus this new third character. 
They meet in the late 1890's or in 1900 in a recording lab, they hit it off and soon become a pair, a little more than musical partners so to speak. The recording community takes notice of this. In 1901-02, their relationship blossomed to the point where they opened a small publishing firm together, Hager attempts to move in with Ring, but it ultimately doesn't work out(for obvious reasons). In 1903 they write their most famous piece, Laughing Water, but unfortunately it earns Hager all the money and credibility, not Ring. In 1904 they write a few more popular pieces, one of them being Handsome Harry . By the end of the year Hager is working with J. Fred Helf in publishing, moving away from their employer Zon-O-Phone, and also Ring. In early 1905 Ring and Hager split up and Ring is forced to scrap the publishing firm they both set up(this was Ring music company, highlighted in my last post). In 1906 Hager leaves Zon-O-phone, and Ring takes over the orchestra, also leaves Hager to work for Seminary music company(later to publish some of Scott Joplin's later works like Wall Street Rag). Hager returns from working in Boston for the Phono-cut in early 1913 and begins the Rex company. Ring doesn't start writing music with Hager again until 1916-17. They remained together again until there middle 1920's when Ring takes over Hager's position as studio manager at the Okeh company. They don't work together again until the middle 1930's, then they stayed together again until about 1947 when Ring retires. 

Whew! There we go. So who is this third figure in the story? His name is Edgar Thornton Farran. His name occasionally came up in some of my previous digs on Ring and Hager, but I didn't think much of him. It started to seem suspicious when Ring seemed to have written perhaps dozens of pieces with Mr. Farran. Then as I kept looking it seemed that Hager took on Farran a little later and wrote many songs with him too. Something is at work here is seems. 

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a picture of this Mr. Farran, but I did come across two draft cards that give a rough physical description of the guy. Being a cartoonist who cares about appearances, it is frustrating to have only a generic description and no pictures. Anyhow, here's his WWI draft card: 
So it seems that he was tall, gray headed(likely redheaded based on the circumstances), blue eyed, with a medium build. Surely he doesn't seem like something to fight over. Well apparently he was. 
He was born April 29th 1879, and by 1900 he was working as a dressmaker in the Bronx, not far from where Ring and Hager lived and performed on the weekends in the summer. It is quite possible that Ring or Hager spied the young Farran at one of their park band concerts. By 1905 he was still working as a dressmaker in the Bronx, but his older brother Walter worked as a piano maker, likely catching the attention of publishers and music writers. Coming from a musical family, Edgar proved to be a talented lyric writer. However Edgar got tangled with Ring and Hager, he first started to catch the interest of a Hager-weary Ring. Hager was working more and more with Helf in 1905, so it is likely that Ring became more acquainted with Farran through possibly making dresses for Alice. Remember Alice? yes, she was married to Ring in 1905, and they had been together since the end of 1903. Alice having clothes made by Farran would prove to be a great way for him and Ring to get to know each other better. Something happened in early 1905 to get Ring and Hager to split, and there's a chance that poor Farran may have been entangled in it. 

Consider this scenario; Ring and Farran get together while Alice is getting Farran to make dresses for her. At first she is ignorant of the situation, but soon she suspects something isn't right. Hager notices nothing while he's working for Helf and minimally at Zon-O-Phone. Sometime within that year or the next, Alice finds hubby with Farran and she leaves him(they did split soon afterward, but when exactly I have yet to find). So with Alice gone, Ring spends the next three years with Farran. It is quite possible that Alice could have told Hager about all this, and Hager then becomes jealous and frustrated, taking on Helf as a partner. 

This is just me throwing around the possibilities here, based on all the events that happened between the end of 1904 and the middle of 1906. 

So it seems that Ring and Farran were working together for Seminary publishing in  1906. Ring wrote music and Farran wrote lyrics for the big time writers they were working for. From 1906 to 1909, Farran and Ring likely enjoyed some time together, away from Hager and the others. In late 1909, Ring remarried a childhood friend of his named Elsie Patz. Though he had just been married, his time with Farran continued. They wrote dozens of songs together, including this one here: 

They even wrote a song in 1907 titled Someday, I know You'll come back to me. That sure is a *suggestive* title for the time it was published. They wrote many songs together between 1906 and 1912, but after that date, Farran ceased working with Ring. Ring seemed to have taken a little break from recording and writing music for a few years, but Farran continued to be a prolific and popular lyric writer. Many of his songs were recorded in the early and mid-teen's. 

So this is where things get interesting with Farran, by 1915 he was working as a carpenter, following the family business. Despite this, Farran still wrote lots of music, and by 1916, he was working with someone curious---Hager. Somehow Hager had caught Farran and they were soon writing music together as they both had with Ring in the past. For the next three years, Hager and Farran wrote many songs for the war effort. In 1918, Hager worked with Farran and Ring, certainly making f0r some slightly awkward collaborations. Hager wrote much more music with Farran than with Ring from 1917 to 1920, but for some reason Farran disappears after 1920. 
I have not been able to track why Farran ceased working with Ring and Hager after 1920, but I'd guess that it had something to do with their high management roles at Okeh. After 1920 he worked as a carpenter, and he never married it seems. He lived with his mother until he died in mid 1943. 

Few remember Farran, but it seems that he may have had a significant impact on the lives of Ring and Hager, whatever this was exactly. He wasn't in any way an exceptionally famous or popular lyric writer, but the tin pan alley folks knew him, and considering his employment for Seminary music, he likely knew Scott Joplin and a young Irving Berlin. I have yet to fully discover what his relationship with Ring and Hager was, but there is indeed a possibility that a love triangle was at work here. A good way to figure this out would be finding out who met him first and how. Hopefully in the future I will be able to find more information about Farran, as his story from a humble Bronx dressmaker to songwriter is bound to be more interesting than it seems on the surface. In the next few months I will try to do some more digging on Farran, which so far has been going well, but I can't find much on him other than what was written above. A picture of him would be nice too, I'd like to be able to put a face to this mysterious lyricist that Ring and Hager spent time with. 

Well that's all I got so far in terms of new information. In the next few months however, I will be sharing more records from my own collection, as I finally got my turntable set up again! I am also getting bunches of new old records to go through, which so far has been really exciting and fun. Here are a few of the newest ones: 
 All of these are exceptional records, though the condition varies greatly. The "little  Indian Maiden" Zon-O-phone was especially good. There's a lot of very loud drumming on it, and it seems to have been recorded right before Eddie King took over that position, so the drummer is likely Jimmy Hager. 
Anyhow, I'll get into detail about these records soon, I have to go through and listen to them all thoroughly. 

Hope you're all holding up reasonably well out there. It's been up and down for me, some days are good, others aren't. 

Keep listening out there!