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! 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Ancestry digging and understanding Ringleben

It has been a difficult few months for me.  Since the beginning of April I dealt with serious panic attacks and crippling anxiety...but finally I have come out the other side. 

Since being locked down here in Northern California, it's given me lots of time to think about things, and you'd think that I would have written more here, but I simply haven't been in the right mood to do so. 

For that month I was out of commission, I could barely think about old records and rag-time, that's how bad it was. After that blew over, I was back to drawing, sewing, and thinking. 

About two weeks ago, I decided to dive back into some ancestry digging. Usually I do so to check things I have already seen, and this time is proved to be a good idea. In the past, Hager's family history has been somewhat vague, with the basic information known but the specifics aren't present. Thanks to a descendant of Hager's sister Georgiana, a lot of information was added within the last few months and this has opened up a lot of new questions, and answered some I had. Fred's history is still vague, but Jimmy's is far more complete! 

There are those boys! 

So I am not sure if I've said in the past on here, but I'm pretty sure these boys didn't like each other so much. In Fred's papers(or what's left of it) I see nothing on Jimmy anywhere, though they worked and lived closely for so many years. In 1905, both Fred's and Jimmy's families lived together! 
So from what I've recently learned on Jimmy, he had the absolute worst luck. He married in 1902, at age 20, lost two kids in infancy before his only surviving son was born in late 1905. His son, Mel, was the only male grandchild in the family, a great accomplishment considering brother Fred hadn't any male children. Mel was killed in a NY transit accident at the mere age of 36. In a previous post I highlighted that Mel was the type of young man who lived at home always working different jobs when the census people came around. His young wife Alice(born in 1908) died in 1940. Based on census records, Mel had likely just married Alice only a few months before, because in the 1940 census he was still listed as single. Some terrible luck indeed! 

Jimmy had to witness so many deaths of his children, which really broke my heart to learn. He already had it hard enough trying to scrape by as his brother's underling for so many years, and all his unfortunate luck with married life just adds insult to injury. 
On the brighter side, it seems that longevity runs in Hager's family, as his mother Annie, lived to the age of 99! She was born in 1850, and died in 1949, which is a hell of a lifespan. She would have seen the full extent of her sons' careers, and died not even a decade before her first born did.  Jimmy's daughter Veronica died in 2010 at age 100! In clippings from Hager's scrapbook, there was some mention of their father Mel. According to one page, Mel was a musical guy who encouraged all his children to enter in the music world. He worked on the railroad in the woods of Pennsylvania until 1881 when he decided to move the family to Manhattan.  Just a side note, Annie was pregnant with Jimmy when they moved! 

So with all this new information on the extended family, I am more intrigued by the tragedy that surrounded Jimmy Hager. He was naturally gifted musically, but was forced into the recording business by his overbearing and successful brother Fred. He always looked bitter, like there was something constantly troubling him, and it seems that there was. His drumming on all those Zon-O-Phone's has a lot more meaning now. 

So while doing all this Hager digging on Ancestry, I did realize something essential in understanding Ring and Hager's relationship. For a long while I've been trying to sort out when they split up the first time, and it seems that I have finally figured it out! Before spending time really thinking about the circumstances, I assumed they split in the middle of 1906, as by that time Ring was working for Seminary music and running the Zono orchestra with Eddie King. Turns out I was a year off!  
The way I found out was simply this sheet here: 
(a 1905 Ring sheet, from my collection)
So this sheet here, you might notice, was published by Ring. This publishing firm didn't last more than a year, as it was a vanity project originally hatched by Hager for his and Ring's music. Ultimately the firm didn't present itself to be very productive, so it folded not long after the publication of the sheet above. So what has this to do with his relationship with Hager? Well, actually a lot. 
This sheet's composer is neither Ring nor Hager, rather unusual for the publisher. This piece is likely one of half a dozen sheets they published within that year. It appears to be disassociated form Hager in every way possible, until you get to the back page:
Ah yes, Handsome Harry, that infernal specimen of male temptation. 
So there are only two pieces really advertised here, Handsome Harry and Jovial Joe, which considering the circumstances isn't really surprising. But the mere fact that Ring published such an obscure composer than wasn't associated with either of them, or recording for that matter proves some kind of separation from Hager. Honestly I had no idea Ring was still publishing independently in 1905, I assumed that when Hager officially joined Helf in late 1904 that he bought up all of Ring's stock(kinda not a great thing to do to your companion I'd think). He and Helf eventually did that, but evidently, not right away, which is curious. Another thing to note about this sheet is that the publishing address is slightly different from that of Jovial Joe. when I went to New York in January, I sat on the steps of 55 West 28th street, the address listed on Jovial Joe, but it turns out that he had moved to Helf and Hager's address by early 1905, which is very strange, even though it does make sense. 

So there's actually another layer to this story, thanks to Hager's family I know now that Fred's youngest daughter, Ethel, was born November 7th of 1905. If you were thinking what I was thinking, that would put conception around the time that the Ring sheet above was published. 

Think on that for a moment. 

So there's that. Before I close out, I'd like to talk a little about Ring. He his still as mysterious as he's always been. Little bits about him show up here and there, but the majority of what we'd like to know about him is still unknown. 
Hager's special portrait of Ring in his scrapbook(from my collection)

In a future post I'd like to talk about the importance of studying body language in what few pictures we have of these recording folks. From what there is to be observed about Ring, his non-verbal speaks volumes. He was a quiet and industrious worker, speaking few words and always buried in music. With so little to say, and often a blank face, his body language speaks as much as we could understand. In all the pictures there are of him, he was awkward in some kind of way, sometimes more than others. He was definitely a dandy(as Hager was), but he didn't want to attract much attention as others like Hylands or Hager would. His eyes were always cast aside, his legs a little undecided, but his hands were always graceful. It's little things like this that can help us better understand these weirdos who made all these early records.
 In my next post I hope to do some of this non-verbal analysis. Believe it or not, you can actually gather a lot from pictures of these folks, even though they were taken in an era where we normally wouldn't associate such quirks. A great example for unlocking the core of Hager's personality comes from those home movies that Jim Walsh took at the John Bieling Day memorial in 1950. Just from a few short clips of Hager(although silent) interacting with old farts like Billy Murray and Eugene Rose, all the traits I've described him with come through perfectly. 

Anyhow, that's all I got for now. I have had lots of ideas for blog posts since getting over my weird attacks, but formulating one good idea has been difficult, as I've spent a lot of time thinking things over. Another idea I've had is discussing the evolution of Rag-Time in fashion, as this is something that has caught my eye in the last few weeks. There were specific styles that young men and women wore in the middle and late 1890's that quickly became associated with rag-time, some of which are part of the era's stereotype as we know it today. Anyway, I'll close it off there. 

Hope you enjoyed this, and are staying healthy! 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Mysterious Ring and Newspaper digging

Well folks, here we are confined to our homes. Here in California we have been on lockdown for a bit longer than other places in the U.S. It's been a week and a half here since I've left the house, so what have I been doing with all this time? Well, a majority of this time has been dedicated to drawing and digging through newspapers.

 In the last few days I decided to dive back into going through newspapers. It's been over a year since I actually sat down and went through page after page. I forget how tedious it was, but ultimately rewarding. So before I dig into the newspaper stuff, I have been meaning to talk about a few interesting things I learned about Justin Ring. A few months back, I did a deep search on Ring in public records. In the past I have explained how difficult it's been to find him in any public records before 1915. The issue with finding him has been that his name was spelled at least 3 different ways. His full name was Justus Ringleben jr., but you almost never find his full name listed anywhere. 
So what to do? The best bet I had was spelling his name very slightly differently to finally find him in 1905. After a few years of trying to find him before 1915, I finally found him in the 1905 NY state census. 
He was living in the Bronx not too far from the Hager's and his younger brother Franz. When i saw where he was listed, he was living with a woman named Alice. Turns out he was married to her before he married Elsie in 1909. 
Later I found that Justus and Alice married in November of 1903. As far as I could find, this marriage produced no children. They were split by 1908. 
(Ring, probably taken in 1902)
So of course my curiosity peaked upon knowing of Ring's first marriage. So why is it that I hadn't known of this first marriage? It's simple, Ring lied. 
In the 1930 and 1940 census, Ring was living in his wife Elsie's lodging house. he had difficulty providing all the information to the census taker of all the folks living with them, and with that, he also lied about when he was first married. One of the questions on the 1930 census was the age of each person at their first marriage. Ring answered 33. So that would mean his first marriage was to Elsie in 1909, therefore completely disregarding the whole Alice thing. 

But this isn't where Ring's mysteries end. As I kept trying to find what happened to his siblings, Franz and Rosie(as they called her), I noticed something that the family indicated with their parents. According to the family, Justus and Franz had a different mother from Rosie. Now talk about some intrigue! I had previously suspected that Justin's father was a bit of your stereotypical 19th century musician father. This would mean that he kind of cared about his kids, sat and wrote music most of the time, had many female lovers, and pledged that his oldest son would carry on the music. So all of this seems to be coming together, based on what I've been able to find on Justin's childhood. So this leads me to wonder about this mysterious woman who was the biological mother of Justus and Franz. Rosie's mother was the one who raised the children, but there must have been some sourness between the boys and their step-mother. As a result of this, Justus and Franz were close, often living in close proximity, away from Rosie, who had married up to a rich Jewish man named Eugene. 
Keep in mind that Ring grew up right by the Bowery(I know! I went in his apartment building and walked along their street!). When he was growing up there it was the famous late 19th century slum that became so infamous for the tenements. The Ringleben's were just a step above being a tenement family, living in a three room apartment in a crowded building among all those poor immigrant souls whose pictures haunt many of us historians now. I can only imagine how rough Justus and Franz's childhood was growing up there, sneaking in the dives and clubs of fighting drunks and amateur music. This rough upbringing must have quieted Justus, making for his reserved personality later in life. Both the boys didn't attend high school, they were done with their schooling around age 13. From there the two of them were writing out music for their father and likely rambling around the Bowery together in the early and mid 1890's. Just as a side note, "The Bowery" was written in 1892, at that time Justin was 16 and Franz was 14, the perfect age for little urchins to be out getting into trouble there. 

So maybe all of this is why Ring wanted to forget his early days in the business. And I haven't even mentioned his relationship with Hager! In previous posts I have talked in detail about how obsessed Hager was with Ring, and this actually leads me into the next part of this post. Two posts ago about the Hager scrapbook, I made a point to highlight the queerness of the full two pages with Ring's portrait and short bio. This and the countless mentions of Ring throughout can seem quite suspicious. I still have yet to find more examples to definitively prove that their relationship was more than professional, but the findings from this newspaper dig were very promising. 

As I kept digging, I came across a handful of pages from the local papers of Ring and Hager's neighborhood. In the mid 1910's, Ring and Hager moved their families out to Flushing, NY(which I also had the chance to visit while in NY two months ago), which is a suburb right on the water between the east river and Long Island Sound, right by Queens. They lived here for the next three decades, and thankfully, the local papers really took to them both, well, Hager more particularly. By the middle of the depression, Hager was starting to slow down his career, no longer working in record labs, but he was working on radio with Ring. Ring was still working for Decca by 1936, but he still had the heart to prowl around with Hager in their neighborhood. The clippings I found ranged in date from 1932 to 1936, and most of them were on Hager rather than Ring, but yes indeed they were mentioned together very often. The way the column talks about them, it seems almost like there is some kind of inside joke about them being together.

So anyway, in February of 1936, this happened:
That sucks. 
Hager tripped and broke his ankle, and he was 61 when this happened! 
This little portion of Hager's writing was awfully nice to read, and it very much matches up with the other examples of his writing I have. The image of him stuck in bed hating the weather is quite relatable being stuck at home now. 
But see, there's one thing that I missed the first few times I read through this, look at how he addresses his old buddy:

"Justy Ring"

That's awfully interesting. It took several reads of this piece to catch that. It is very curious that he included that in the letter, so playfully referring to his old partner. Now I am convinced more that their relationship was more than just professional. 
So, the next few pieces in that same column presented updates on Hager's nearly month long recovery. They still continued to mention Ring and Hager together, calling them partners every time they were mentioned. So as it turns out, Hager was a local celebrity in his neighborhood, and he often wrote to the local paper. Thankfully the writer of the column was a regular friend of Hager's so they often wrote about his working in radio and writing music. I'm hoping that a little while back i at least mentioned the boat fiasco of 1922, if not, here's the piece to refresh:
So that happened...
After nearly killing his friends and employers, Hager not surprisingly bought another boat not too long afterward. According to one of the local papers on him from 1932, this boat he got after the "swanee Smiles" incident, was called Kathryn. I have no idea where he would have gotten that name from, but my curiosity with it has become quite itchy. Of course he got another boat after the first one, great going there Hager. So this got me thinking about the amount of money Hager must have had. In the post about the scrapbook I mentioned an over 27,000 dollar amount that Hager tried to get through a lawsuit over royalties in 1906. Now thats over 2 million in today's money, and somehow I doubt Hager's ambitions to get that amount for just a single song. 
He was suing to get that amount of money out of Laughing Water, which as we know was a major hit for many years, but I'm not so sure about it getting that much money in royalties in just two years. 
Whether or not he got that money, it did give me some real numbers, as I had wondered for many years how much money Hager actually had. If the money was anything like that, it makes him buying that defective motor boat seem like pocket change. 

Anyhow, Hager was rich. 

So, while doing this dig I also found a very sad piece on Hager's publishing with Helf. So it turns out that in 1910 their office on Broadway(which they had moved to the previous year) burned down. According to the piece, it was completely destroyed, with no sheets saved. 
So this actually answers the two important questions I had about them. I wondered what exactly caused Hager to leave, and also about why some sheets of theirs are very common and why others aren't. So this fire answers both of those questions. It also explains why sheets from them dated 1909-1910 are almost non-existent. Hager was too broken by this fire to jump back in with Helf, so he left, rather desperate, for Boston. Helf mourned for a little while but was back into the business within a few months, proving to become a successful publisher without Hager. This explains very well why Hager went to such a risky but desperate job right after working with Helf. Anything seemed good to him, and he wanted nothing to do with Helf or the other recording folks, no matter how long it lasted(the Phono-cut stuff ended in 1913). 

While on this ambitious newspaper dig, I decided to jump back into the Hylands stuff. It's been awhile, as I thought i had already seen most of what there is to see on Hylands in terms of newspapers. Well, thanks or one of the websites I use other than newspapers.com, they added some new stuff in the middle of last year. Most of this new stuff was quite different from what I had seen before. Most of these new sections came from a publication called The New York Player, which was a paper similar to the NY Clipper for the White rats. The first one I found was from 1913, about Hylands being the master of ceremonies at a large event for the White Rats. Not only was he the master of ceremonies at this event, but he was also the leader of the orchestra(not surprisingly). This piece was quite long, so he was mentioned a handful of times, which is nice. There were more than one of these events it seemed, as I had heard that they hosted lavish balls such as this one where Hylands was the master. Another mentioned Hylands as playing piano duets with famous rag-time composer George Botsford. Botsford wrote "Black and White rag" and many others that ended up becoming "standards". 
As i kept reading these various pieces on him working with the White Rats, it made a lot more sense to me how important he was in the organization. It wasn't very clear anywhere else, but after reading through a few of these, it becomes clear that he was one of the major leaders that everyone knew. 
The prize of the Hylands part of this dig was a picture! 
The new picture of Hylands in front of the Columbia lab was quite a score, and this one from the NY Player proved almost just as such. 
a rather blurry, grinning Hylands around 1898. 
So here's the new picture:
Oh my god! 
Okay, so upon first seeing this picture, Marie Hylands is easy to pick out, she's right in the front to the left of the lifesaver. The issue with this picture that I had was figuring out exactly where Hylands is. I can't really tell if he's the fourth or the second from the right in the back row. The description for the picture is nice to see, though him not being well is a bit depressing. From what the period sources indicated, Hylands was not well by the time they decided to go on this English tour in 1913, but he went with them anyway, refusing to let his pain and weakness hinder him. Of course, he died while on this tour. 

I did plenty more searches on this dig, but I will save those for another post. Before closing out I'd like to mention another picture that I cam across while going back through the Jim Walsh articles. After getting to really spend some time thinking about Hager's scrapbook, I went back through his writings to Walsh, curious to see if there was anything to fill in place where things seemed to be lacking in Hager's stories(more than we already know). While going back through the Walsh stuff, I went back to that one statement that Walsh said about Ring and Hager...you know, the inseparable companion thing. 
Right next to the picture of Ring and Hager together(the cropped version is above in this post), there's a portrait of a mysterious musician. 
This is the picture:
So, who is that?
Walsh claimed it was Fred Rose, a performer in Len Spencer's minstrels of 1899-1900. That immediately seemed suspicious. The first thing that struck me was that it couldn't be Hylands, but after thinking about the circumstances and staring at the minor details of the picture, I was starting to think that it might actually be a mislabeled portrait of a young Fred Hylands. From the Columbia exhibition picture, Hylands doesn't look too frightening, and somehow the unruly flash seemed to flatter his young face, unlike the candid Carson picture in front of the Columbia lab. 

The dimple chin and slightly curled lips along with the side parted(red looking) hair got me wondering about it. Also, Etta Hylands, his sister, had a nose that looked a lot like that. The tired, dilated eyes are also interesting. The placement of the picture itself in Walsh's writing is also curious, putting it right next to the other prominent accompanist of that period, Justin Ring. So there is a chance that this is an early portrait of Hylands, but I'm not making any definitive claims yet. 
I promise to talk about more of the newspaper findings soon. It was a lot to fit into one post so splitting it up seemed appropriate. 

Anyhow, hope the isolation/quarantine is going well for everyone, stay well out there if you can! We'll get through this. We have records and research to do! 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Hager as a character and the dilated stare

In the last few weeks, a few interesting things have come along in my research. About a week and a half ago, a descendant of Charlie Carson contacted me, and they sent along a bunch of really nice pictures that he and his friends took. Before i get into the Hager story here, I must talk about a single picture that opens up a lot more discussion about Fred Hylands. 
Since becoming immersed in this Ring and Hager project, a lot of my research on Fred Hylands has been put off to the side. Occasionally I do dive back into the Hylands project to add things and revise some information, but this picture has gotten me even more curious about his relationship with his Columbia co-workers. 
So here's the picture:
 Yeah that really does look like someone we know. So before I did any analysis on this being Hylands, I initially thought that it could be Hylands, Cal Stewart, Byron Harlan or Clyde Emerson. After ruling out Stewart and the others, I decided to stick with Hylands. Okay, it REALLY does look like Hylands. Yes, in the past I have gone on rants about other pictures of guys who look similar to Hylands, such as that other studio picture from 1897. I mean this one here:
Okay, I know now that that pianist is not Hylands, that's actually one of the engineers sitting in the piano chair for the shot. 
So that slim guy at the piano may not be Hylands, but that one exhibited first in this post IS. from what I can see in that picture of Hylands, he's wearing quite ill-advised cuts for his shape(this coming from someone who draws him often), and he looks like a rough mess overall. 
 The one thing that really put me over the top thinking it's Hylands was that stare. The one eye that is very visible through the blur is just as piercing and dilated as the other pictures I have of him. I compared the picture back to back with all the other confirmed portraits of him and everything seemed to line up. The hands, shallow but angled shoulders, collar and tie, leg structure, ears, nose, up-curled brows, crooked mouth, feet, smokers' cheeks, and especially those eyes all matched the other portraits. The moment I saw the picture the first time I thought that large tall man was Hylands. He even had a smile similar to that of Etta Hylands. 
Those legs look very similar, having the same structure and shape as the Carson picture. When I did my comparison I also noticed how the trouser legs gathered in exactly the same places as the one other confirmed picture of him standing. The trouser legs wrinkled at the knee and unevenly gathered at the ankles, creating a slight inward curve(the guy had interesting legs). See folks, this is how advanced and detailed my study in appearances has become. If you ever wondered how seriously I take my photo identification process, this is a perfect example. I have come a long way from that picture of Steve Porter at the recording horn with that slim "accompanist" behind him. At this point I am really studying the smallest details, and oddly enough the leg and feet aspect of this new Hylands picture proved very crucial, as the face is difficult to decipher from the suddenness of the snapshot. This picture was taken in front of the Columbia lab(1155 Broadway, exactly where I stood nearly two months ago), and it is entirely candid, completely unposed unlike the other early lab pictures. This snapshot was not taken for a phonograph publication, so it is very much a scene from life. With this in mind, it is fascinating to see Hylands without any theatrical air about him. He's looking like a stereotypical rag-time pianist would in the late-1890's(the picture was taken between 1897 and 1900), though he isn't wearing a waistcoat. One thing I noticed about his clothes in the picture is how much it looked like this here:
(The portrait of Hager on the cover of his Handsome Harry)
That is completely unrelated to this but it did remind me of that, and we know that Hylands and Hager worked together at Columbia from 1901 to 1903. 
I literally spent hours staring at that Carson picture, making sure that what I was seeing was indeed Fred Hylands. It's lucky that Hylands was captured right at the very second before these two random guys zipped by the photographer(you can kinda see them in the cropped version listed above). That does however make it a bit creepier than Hylands already was. Everything else is in motion while he's staring right into the viewer's soul. Anyway, that's about all I got on that topic. Hopefully more will come of this picture find, as it's really extraordinary to see Hylands in a family history still left intact. He can be found nowhere else, but Carson and his family kept that picture of where he worked, and Hylands just happened to be there. 

Moving on!

Yesterday I received a book in the mail. Only last week did I hear of this book's existence. last week was the 100th anniversary of Mamie Smith's first records, so naturally the 78 records Wordpress blog posted about it. If you are curious to see it(which I highly recommend reading and subscribing!), here you go:
So, I read the article, and I was intrigued by this book that was quoted, Born with the Blues. With this burning curiosity, I asked a few friends about this book, whether it would be worth my time and money to grab a copy. Those I spoke to about it recommended that I go get it. With the best of luck, there was a first edition copy on ebay for pretty cheap. I snagged it, and got the book yesterday. I immediately started pouring through it for the Hager story. To my surprise, Hager wasn't just some background figure in the story of getting Mamie Smith on record. For once Hager wasn't mentioned once and moved on from. This book is Perry Bradford's autobiography and his perspective of the transitional era from the black America of reconstruction to the Harlem renaissance. I read Nat Shilkret's book last year, and when doing so was overwhelmed with so much information that I am still attempting to work through it all. Bradford's book is very similar in this way, but it is a little better organized. I read only the chapter about Bradford's association with Okeh, but even that on its own was dense.
 So...Bradford had lots of difficulty getting Mamie in the recording lab and getting though the management. This isn't surprising, but he went to Columbia first around 1917 attempting to get his stage partner Jeanette a deal, but this didn't work. With the rise in recording authentic black southern blues, the white record boys were starting to feel the pressure to take action. Columbia in 1917 had just recorded several sides by W. C. Handy's Memphis orchestra, and with that, they were starting to dabble in the idea of recording more black artists playing authentic blues melodies(even though I have heard exceptional examples of pianists like Justin Ring play authentic 12 bar blues before 1905, but that's beside the point). Here is the beginning of his adventure in getting his dream realized:

After Columbia gave Jeanette the works, I contacted Mr. King[Eddie King]. the Victor top man. he wasn't so hard on us and set a recording date for Jeanette, but we went out of town to do some vaudeville dates. As soon as we came back I doubled back to see Mr. King again, not for Jeanette, but for Mamie Smith who sang in the show Made in Harlem. Mr King let Mamie make a test record of "That thing Called Love" with me playing piano for her, but it was never released. 
 I told Joe[a record store owner in Harlem], that [Wilbur] Sweatman tried Columbia first and Mamie Smith made a test record for Victor of "That Thing Called Love" and was turned down, but Joe countered with , "I've had a long discussion with the Victor salesman about you working with some other colored girl for the Victor Company." Then Joe suggested that I go back and see Mr. King, which I did, and Mr. King played the test record of "That Thing Called Love"and admitted that Victor had a better recording of the song than Okeh, but that Victor just couldn't lower their prestige by following these small companies. 
Then I went over to Bert Williams' office, where he and Will Vodery listened to the two records. Mr. King had loaned me the Victor test to let Bert hear them both. Instead of Bert Williams commenting on the records, he told me about the treatment Victor had put on him before he finally started making records for Columbia; how he made a test record and was refused. "Now you realize what I told you would happen," were Bert's parting words. 

So this is where Hager comes into the story. 

So I woke up on a cold February morning in 1920 and put on my lead-sheet(meaning my topcoat), because I'd hocked my overcoat(what the actors called--my full orchestration), and walked from 135th street in Harlem to Ford's saloon at 40th street and 8th avenue downtown. There I had all the free lunch I could devour and was feeling nonchalant, so I strolled aroun' to the Okeh studio at 145 west 45th street to see Mr. Fred Hager again, with the intention of making my last stab at trying to sell  a colored girl singing on records. All other attempts had failed, I'd walked out two pairs of shoes going from one studio to another, and my friends were begging and pleading with me to give up my fantastic dream and go back on the stage where I could always "mess-up" some plates every day, even if I had to stand off the restaurant man for my meals. 
Just as I showed my head in the door of Mr. Hager's office, before I could say good morning, I was confronted with the same old stock answer of:"Leave your name and address, if anything turns up, we will notify you."
No one except a fellow who has been in the same fix can realize how it feels when you're getting a square meal not and then, mostly then, to hear those "disappointing blues" sung to him everywhere he goes. 
 Seeing that I had been given the run-aroun' and I had been pestering Mr. Hager's secretary for a whole month and could never get past her desk, I finally did get a chance to see him(the only recording manager I seemed able to reach) and we had a "heart-to-heart" conversation and he admitted that his hands were tied. With all these setbacks i was slowly making uo my mind to throw in the sponge and call it quits, when Bill Tracy, the white writer of "Play that Barbershop Chord", gave me the key which opened up the prejudice door to my thorny problem.

So there's already a lot to take in here. Eddie King was at least kind to Bradford's offers, though ultimately he was little help. As Bradford elaborates on Hager, he paints him to be a sympathetic good hearted country boy. Applying his extraction to this descriptor portrays him to be a considerate and oddly thoughtful executive. I am unsure how much of that to believe, considering that Hager was aggressively selfish and ambitious, even in his middle and old age. Here is more of the story before I dig deeper into my analysis:

Here's how it happened. I'd kept on "gum-beating" in the C.V.B.A. club every night that something ought to be done to crack that solidly entrenched recording monopoly wide open, until it seemed to be getting on the members' nerves. But as soon as I mentioned Mr. Hager's name, Chris Smith told me, "I've known him for a long time and he's a regular guy." Then Bill Tracy, a song writer, butted in with these words, "next time you talk with Fred Hager, tell him I asked that he give you an audition for your colored girl singer."
As Tracy's "Barbershop Chord" had been published by the Helf and Hager's music firm, that's how I got to see him this time. Because when I entered his office, I told the information girl, "Don't worry, I know there's nothing today, " but I shouted out loud, "I have a message for Mr. Hager from Bill Tracy." And right away Mr. Hager poked his head out the door and wanted to know, "What's that about Bill Tracy?" After telling him that Chris Smith and Bill Tracy had given him a big build up by saying he's a regular guy and would give a struggling songwriter a break, then I spread this new approach. "There's fourteen million Negroes in our great country and they will buy records if recorded by one of their own, because we are the only folks than can sing and interpret hot jazz songs just off the griddle correctly."
What really got the butter and sold Mr. Hager was the big surprise of hearing about that big Southern market that no one up North had ever thought of. So he asked, "What songs have you in mind?" I showed him "That Thing Called Love" and "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down". After reading the lyrics and the music, he okayed them and promised an early recording if i would take them over to Sophie Tucker and tell her Okeh would record the two songs if she would sing them for us; because nobody could so justice to this material like she could. ...

Bradford went to Tucker with the songs, but she was contracted to Vocalion at the time, so she was to record them there instead of at Okeh. Bradford went back to Hager at Okeh and told him of Mamie, praising her so highly. This was Hager's reaction:

...Mr.Hager got a far off-look in his eyes[folks who have been following my Ring and Hager project can probably imagine this vividly as I do] and seemed somewhat worried, because of the many threatening letters he had received from some northern and southern pressure groups warning him not to have any truck with colored girls in the recording field. If he did, Okeh products--phonograph machines and records-- would be boycotted. 

And so this is where his praises for Hager begin. When considering this perspective in this topic, it must have been a difficult decision for old Hager. He had already made so much history and done a lot of people right and wrong to get where he was, but he ultimately took a chance on such a heated topic as this. Never have I seen such aggressive praise for Hager. Even with all of this I do wonder about what significance Hager actually thought this decision had in his own history. I cannot find any scrap of this story in Hager's papers(they may have been thrown out with the rest). 

May God bless Mr. Hager, for despite the many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerve and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which echoed aroun' the world...
So I shall remember Mr. Fred Hager as long as there is any breath left in my old carcass.   

That is indeed some very rather religious praise there if I've ever seen some. The one question I had going into reading this book was exactly what angle Bradford took to move Hager's ego. Of course, not so surprisingly, it took some massaging of that ego to get the ball rolling. He took it from the Helf and Hager angle, which seems like the perfect way to get his ears perked up. While reading this dense chapter, I literally threw my hands up when a certain Mr. Ring was mentioned. He's also mentioned in conjunction with Hager. 

Clearly I'm not the only one who sees this Ring and Hager thing. 

Anyhow, there is more on this topic to write about, but there's already so much here. I'll have to cut if off here. I have only read though this chapter once since getting the book in the mail, so I will have to go through it a few more times to really get a better analysis together. Reading this chapter really has been making me think about the entirety of Hager's personality. I think that he must have been a slimy sort of executive to get where he was by the 1920's. Without a doubt he had to be a serious hustler with freak ambition to get to that position, though I have often wondered how he was once he got to those high ranks. This chapter does shed some light on what he was like to deal with as a businessman and executive. i will have to think about this some more as I go back through Hager's papers that I have. One thing that is very much solidified from reading this chapter was that his massive ego was the key to him. I had guessed that before based on the content of what remains in his papers, and how he dealt with Walsh and poor old Ring. 

Nothing new to report in the world of new transfers, which is unfortunate, but hopefully I'll get to hear some new interesting stuff soon. All these Ring and Hager discoveries are burying me in their music and I'm starting to get tired of Hager's simple composition style and Ring's experimentation. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 



Friday, February 7, 2020

The Scrapbook

In the last post I mentioned the recent news regarding the Hager scrapbook, so it seems fit to do a post solely on this matter. 

After spending several years of knowing about its existence, I had been so anxious to at least one day see what was in it. Never would I have expected to own it. Not only do I have Hager's scrapbook, but I also have what is left of his papers. 
When Jim Walsh contacted Fred Hager in the mid 1940's, he had no idea what he'd be getting himself into. Since the late 1930's, Hager had once again teamed up with Ring to write some music and do some radio work. When the war was over Ring finally decided to retire, and leave the intense side of the music business entirely. Hager didn't want to abandon his life's work just yet, though after the war it seemed dire. Luckily, not long afterward Walsh contacted him, and this sprung Hager back to life, giving him a sense of blossoming hope. With this correspondence with Walsh, Hager became determined to preserve his legacy as well as the other history that he had been part of. Walsh was mostly inquiring of Hager regarding Cal Stewart and of other recording stars he knew(of which he knew them all at some point). 
In the decades prior, Hager kept a scrapbook, with the little spare time he had to do so. He started it around 1900, and kept it pretty consistent until about 1907, from there he hadn't the time to keep it up. Despite not keeping his scrapbook from that point onward, he did keep lots of important papers on himself and of his friends, Cal Stewart and Byron Harlan being two. By the time Walsh was contacting him, Hager had amassed a very complete and vast collection of papers and other ephemera from his fifty years in the business. Hager's writings to Walsh were clearly very passionate and rosy, as you read some of Hager's writing to Walsh, one could easily picture him going on about the past as he looked for things through folders and bound booklets(of which I have a few). You could easily see Hager so fondly going through his scrapbook.  

So what about the scrapbook? Well, I mentioned how Hager was so excited about Walsh and other young collectors like Quentin Riggs being so interested in early recordings that he made, so Hager presented himself to be one of the most generous of the old guys. After a life of aggressive selfishness, Hager wanted to give it all away to those who would appreciate it most(because his family didn't), and for generations to come. With this in mind, he took out many pages from his scrapbook, and gave away dozens of other papers to Walsh and Riggs. So, what's left in the scrapbook is curious. Most of what Hager took out was related to recording, so what's left is everything else regarding his live performances and publishing from 1900 to 1907. 

Hager died in 1958. He moved out of NY to Florida in 1956, and it was at that time that he was forced to rid of a good majority of his papers, but he kept that scrapbook till the day he died. When going through the pages, there are very minor tears at the bottoms of most pages where he grabbed it with his fingers. So he definitely handled the book a lot. He must have gone back and fondly reminisced the past often, wishing that Justin hadn't left the business when he did. 
Remember how Ring didn't attend any of the gatherings hosted by Jim Walsh in the late 40's and 50's? Ring became secluded after 1946, and he refused to write to Walsh(and we know that Walsh wrote to him many times). 

So what exactly was it what Hager was so fond of to leave in the scrapbook?
Well here's an overview...
What the front cover looks like. It's pretty unimpressive. Unlike scrapbooks such as Louis Armstrong's, this one is quite messy and not professionally organized. It was likely better organized when Hager had it, but even then it wasn't anything too special(its literally just a small notebook from the late 1890's). 
The first page:
So...there are dozens of these programs in this scrapbook. Each one does give us a pretty good idea of what his orchestra was playing live, and that what they did play mirrored their Zon-O-phone and Columbia records of this era. 
There's no way I could list out all of these in the scrapbook, but each of them includes interesting selections. This one includes Banta's "Ragged William". At another one of these concerts they played Banta's "Halimar". 
Someone who unexpectedly shows up often in the scrapbook is Bert Morphy. 
(from my collection)
Bert Morphy was known for singing with Sousa's band, and apparently, Hager's as well. No one has any idea where he came from, but he started making records around 1895, and remained a somewhat popular baritone on records until about 1902, then he disappears from there. He didn't disappear from music however. He stopped recording in 1902, but he remained a popular attraction with Sousa and other bands as late as 1913. 
Here's one of his records: 
So he shows up often in the scrapbook. As he was a popular singer but his catch for the musicians was that he was an excellent and renowned cook. 
This is one of about 6 clippings where he is mentioned. 
Before I move on to more about the scrapbook, here's one of my absolute favorite cartoons of the period(from the 78 records wordpress blog)
I have drawn Sousa only this way after seeing this cartoon(because it's brilliant and just the right amount of grotesque). 
So, not surprisingly, there are many portraits of Hager in this scrapbook(which is nice for me). He was very much proud of his looks, so it doesn't come as a surprise that he kept several nice portraits of himself in this book. 
Here are a few:
(those beautiful eyes *faints*) As you could probably guess, I stared at this page an awful lot when I got it.
and here's the least flattering one:
Anyway, you get the point, the man was quite vain. If it wasn't clear before all this, it sure is now. 
Here are a few more great odds and ends from various pages:
There are many pages dedicated to clippings on "Laughing Water". 
Shared this in the last post, but it deserves to be shared again. 
Before seeing the scrapbook, I had seen this particular piece. In the near future I hope to do a post on "Handsome Harry", as in the last month and a half or so, I came to discover that this particular term means more than just a popular Hager hit. Stay tuned for that!
The very last page of the scrapbook includes some of Hager's scribbles from who knows when. A particular name is mentioned here that I am interested in. 

So this begs the question, is Ring all over the scrapbook? Well, the answer is yes. As I had suspected, Ring is everywhere in the scrapbook. The thing that is quite striking about what Hager left in the scrapbook is what little there is on anyone other than himself. So of course someone he so admired would be given a full two pages, and from the marks of wear on those two pages, Hager opened to it often. These two pages are this: 
 *rolls eyes*
Gee no surprise there. At this point in time I still stand by my opinions about the two of them, in fact, the evidence keeps piling up. This is no exception to the mound of evidence regarding their relationship. Hager couldn't let go of Ring, though Ring had moved on when he knew it was time to. Hager kept this portrait of Ring to the day he died, something about it must have especially captured Ring's personality and spirit, at least to what Hager thought. 

Anyhow, I'll leave it there for now. There is a lot more to discuss within the scrapbook, but I should split up the information to a few posts, as I'm still currently processing it all, even a month after getting it all. There are bits of Zon-O-phone and Columbia catalogs buried within the pages, which is especially nice. I had never seen an early Zono catalog before seeing the scrapbook, as they are so uncommon. If there is anything in particular you'd like to see or wonder if it's in Hager's papers, do contact me here in the comments, I'd be happy to dig it out. 

Hope you enjoyed this!