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Ragtime! Revisited, part 1







Slivers

1909

Music by: Harry L. Cook
Lyrics by: none, piano solo
Cover artist: unknown

As our lead-off piece for this month we offer you a rare and unusual piece by a composer who though not in the mainstream of music, was a unique character in music history. Titled an "eccentric rag" and carrying the subtitle information, "As used by SLIVERS in his famous pantomime, THE BALL GAME," the work is a pretty standard ragtime construction with an AABBAACCA layout. Though not a particularly memorable work, it is nonetheless a solid example of the early ragtime style and has enjoyed a moderate popularity by ragtime performers.

The larger question about this work is, who the heck was Slivers and why did this composer write a song about him. Well, we can answer the first question, but not the second. Originally, we had been led to believe that Slivers and the composer were the same persona. That information was found at another Ragtime source on the net. In actuality, Slivers was a famous Barnum & Bailey circus clown by the name of Frank Oakley. Oakley most often was known simply by the name "Slivers" Oakley. His most famous routine was one where he pantomimed a baseball game, portraying all the different players. The true identity of "Slivers" was helpfully provided by one of our Parlor Songs visitors, Mr. Todd Robbins. Our thanks to Todd for helping us with this question. The composer, Cook also wrote another ragtime work, Shovel Fish in 1907. Beyond that, I'm unable to find out much more about him.

Enjoy this original rag now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version

 

Frog Legs Rag

1906

Music by: James Scott
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: unknown

One of the pioneers of the classic rag style was James Scott. This work by Scott is a perfect example of a classic rag (For a definition and explanation of the classic rag style, go to out "In Search of " article on Ragtime.) Since Scott was one of the main developers of the classic rag, as you would expect, this rag has the sound and "feel" of what we most commonly associate with rags of this period. It is published by Stark Music, the company that is most associated with the classic rags.

James Sylvester Scott was born in Neosho Missouri in 1886, he studied with other notable black composers of the period including John Coleman and later, Scott Joplin. He was one of Scott Joplin's disciples and along with Joseph Lamb, helped create the Missouri "school" of rag music. In 1902 he moved to Carthage, Mo. and started work as a handyman in Dumar's music store where one day he was discovered playing the piano. When Dumar learned that Scott had been musically schooled, he promoted him to salesman and song plugger. Dumar encouraged Scott and he thought so much of Scott's music that he became his publisher. In 1903 he issued two of Scott's works, A Summer Breeze and Fascinator. His first works clearly showed the influence of Joplin but also showed his own originality. Scott stayed on with Dumar for twelve years or so and during that time he visited St. Louis where he connected with Joplin. Through Joplin, he was introduced to John Stark who published for Joplin and then took up Scott's publishing. In 1914 he moved to Kansas City where he was married and began teaching. From around 1916 to '26, Scott also was an organist and musical arranger at the Panama Theater. All this time, Scott continued to write rags all the way till his last one, Broadway Rag in 1922. Frog Legs Rag is one of his earlier rags and perhaps one of his most popular. He also wrote the Kansas City Rag (1907) and The Great Scott Rag (1909). In addition to rags, he also wrote some more traditional songs including Take Me Out To Lakeside (1914) and The Shimmie Shake in 1920. In his later years, Scott suffered from dropsy and was often in pain yet still continued playing the piano. He died in a hospital in Springfield, Mo. in 1938. His music is often compared to Joplin's and some experts have described it as clearer and more lyrical than Joplin's. There is no doubt that Frog Legs fits that description.

Hear this 1906 classic rag (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version

 


Tangle-Foot Rag

1910


Music by: F.H. Losey
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: Dittmar

F. H. Losey is more known today for his marches and his large scale band or orchestral works, yet this example demonstrates his versatility as a composer and musician. We have featured other works by Losey in prior issues, and a survey of his work shows a composer of great depth and breadth. The Tanglefoot Rag is a classic rag that has a wonderful melody and brings to mind the works of Joplin, Scott and Lamb. It is written in the classic layout form with the introduction then an AABBAACC(Trio)DD layout. All of the melodies show originality and I think this work deserves a permanent place in the ragtime repertoire.

Frank Hoyt Losey was born in Rochester, NY in 1872 and died in Erie, PA in 1931. Known as a composer arranger and teacher, his primary instruments were brass. He composed and arranged for Fischer publishing as well as Vandersloot. In 1914, he founded Losey's Military Band School in Erie. He became most famous for his marches, many of which are still played by marching bands. His most famous march, is Gloria. Losey made more than 2500 band arrangements some of which were for Edison Phonograph Co. and Henry Ford's personal orchestra. He wrote over 400 original compositions. If you have the patience for an MP3 download, you can get an MP3 copy of Gloria as well as Losey's The Magnet at: March Music Online The USAF Heritage of America Band site. If you have a 56k connection, the download will take 12 - 15 minutes. It might be easier to go buy the CD!

Listen to this wonderful rag (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

 

Tickle The Ivories

1913


Music by: Wallie Herzer
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: unknown

This song for me was one of those wonderful discoveries that makes collecting sheet music worthwhile. The music is a pure delight! The skill level required to play this work is a cut above much of the popular music of the day and even so as relates to rags. A thoroughly original work, when I hear the first two phrases of the "A" section, I am reminded of the 1950 Teresa Brewer hit, "Music, Music, Music", but only briefly. Is it possible the writer of that song was inspired by this one? Constructed using a trio, the layout of this work is classic but the repeat of the "A" strain after the "B" is not repeated and leads directly to the "C" strain resulting in a "AABBACC" map for the work. This is a very creative work and shows a great deal of musical skill.

Perhaps best known for his 1912 song Everybody Two Step, Wallie Herzer, also wrote Aloha Land which was recorded on an Edison Record in 1916. The rest of the story on this creative composer is seemingly unknown. I was unable to even find birth and death dates or any other information. The cover states the work was "Featured in J.C. Williamson's Musical Play Katinka." Katinka is based on a Russian story about a woman who marries out of a sense of duty but who loves another. The story seems to have been produced in a number of versions by several composers, the most prominent and lasting being by Rudolf Friml in 1916. Friml's version resulted in a number of hit songs.

Hear this great rag (scorch)


Listen to MIDI version

 



Good Gravy Rag

1913

Music by: Harry Belding
Lyrics by: none, piano solo
Cover artist: C. Buck

Sub titled "A Musical Relish", Harry Belding has indeed created a work of musical art to relish! With great melodic invention, Belding has created a rag in the classic contruct that just bounces along with good feelings and joy. The cover of this work is magnificent but I can't help but wonder what association the woman pictured, Madeline Rossiter, might have with the work. Perhaps she "introduced it" or in some other way performed it and became associated with it.

I can find absolutely no information about Rossiter, I assume she may be related to Will Rossiter, the turn of the century Chicago music publisher. As for Belding, it does appear that he wrote a few other rags including The Apple Sass Rag in 1914. Both of these works were recorded and Good Gravy currently appears on Dorian Recording DOR-93165 THATSUM RAG! played by the New Columbian Brass Band. After the usual introduction, the rag layout is AA BB Transition CC DD. With an infectious rhythm, this work is definitely one of the best rags composed during the period. One interesting musical aspect of the work is that Belding did not use different endings for the repeats of sections A and B. . He simply repeated the entire section as written. Almost all other rags (and songs) of the time used a first and second ending. Belding did use that construction format for sections C and D. It is minor, yet unusual.

Enjoy this great 1920 song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version


Russian Pony Rag

1915


Music by: Don Ramsay
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: Unknown

This work begins with an interesting dedication; "written especially for Milt Wood, America's Great Wooden Shoe Dancer." Subtitled, A Syncopated Prance, I can only imagine (hard to keep a straight face) a guy in wooden shoes clomping across the stage to this melody. It must have been quite a sight. During the early 20th century, there was a short lived (thank you) fad and appearance of dancers who wore wooden shoes. The fad was not only an American one for even in 1912 at the Putney Hippodrome in England, Ivey Aberdare comedienne & wooden shoe dancer was listed on the play bill. In 1906, in the Chicago Opera house, the production "Rip Van Winkle" W. Irving's story adapted by Joe Jefferson, produced by Horne, with comedian and wooden shoe dancer, Ed. F. Hale and "Rip" and his dog Schneider appeared. I can't help wonder if Schneider the dog also wore wooden shoes.

Unfortunately, no record of Milt Wood's career seems to have survived, nor has any information about Don Ramsay (that's his photo in the small inset near the left top). Another ragtime midi producer on the net states that "despite Joplin's admonition that rags are to be played 'slow', this one needs to go fast! However, the composer himself states on the score "Not Too Fast". I am sure that is in sympathy to Wood. I can't imagine trying to dance fast in wooden shoes! I have chosen a moderate tempo.

Listen to this 1915 song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

 


Dill Pickles

1906


Music by: Charles L. Johnson
Lyrics by: none
Cover artist: Unknown

This rag is one of the lasting favorites of ragtime players and midi producers, you can find many references to it on the net. The cover is a classic one also and shows some rather whimsical fantasy in that the unknown artist has for some strange reason, made the dill pickle into a hot air balloon. The work was first published in 1906 by Johnson as his own publisher. In 1907, Jerome Remick bought the rights to the work and republished it. Dill Pickles became Remick's first million selling rag. Over 1800 rags were published from 1900-10 and only a few reached this level of publicity and distribution.

Charles Leslie Johnson was born in Kansas City, Kansas on December 3, 1876. He started taking piano lessons at age six and at sixteen was studying composition and music theory. Incredibly talented, he taught himself to play the violin, banjo, guitar and mandolin. He not only was a composer and performer but also an important patron of the arts in organizing a number of string orchestras. Like many great composers of the times, he was a song plugger early in his career, playing for J.W. Jenkins Sons' Music Company. His first published rag was Scandalous Thompson, published by Jenkins in 1899. Later, Johnson was associated with Central Music Publishing and then Carl Hoffman Music Company. According to musical lore. while working at Hoffman in 1906, Johnson was working on a new rag when the bookkeeper walked in and asked him what the name of the new work was. Johnson had not named the song yet but noticed the man carrying a carton of dill pickles. Johnson supposedly replied, "I'll call it 'Dill Pickles Rag.' " After the success of Dill Pickles, Johnson started his own publishing firm which was purchased by Will Rossiter in 1910 with the stipulation that Johnson not reenter publishing for at least one year.

Johnson became one of the most prolific composers of the period and expanded his compositions to cover all types of music other than rags. He was published by all of the major firms and was so productive he even resorted to using pseudonyms to make it look like he had a staff of composers working for him. In all, Johnson wrote thirty two rags including Porcupine Rag in 1909 and Blue Goose Rag in 1913. His biggest money making song was Sweet and Low in 1919. Considered a clever and creative composer, Johnson's high sense of humor was often reflected in his works, as it is in Dill Pickles. Always a homebody, Johnson stayed in his hometown of KC for his entire life and died there on December 28, 1950.

Listen to this 1915 song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

 

WAIT! There's more Ragtime to see and hear.

More Ragtime Music and Covers in this month's issue, go to part B.



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