Dance Band Encyclopaedia

Visiting Americans

Paul Specht - Part 5

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Part Five: Paul Specht; the later years

Following his problems in 1926, Specht does not seem to have returned to England again, nor does he appear to have made any attempt to do so. However he continued to argue and debate the matter of his treatment by England over the next eight years.

During the Summer of 1929, there was much talk in the musical press of a visit to America by Jack Hylton and his band, who were booked to play in one or two large theatres in New York. As they had done before, the AFM objected, stating the pit orchestras of those theatres would go on strike if Hylton appeared there. Rhythm for September, 1929 carried a lengthy article by Specht, entitled “What English Musicians May Expect From The Yankee?’. In this article Specht complained again about his difficulties in England, and made it clear he felt Hylton was entirely responsible for the refusal of Work Permits for the bands he had tried to send over. However, in the same article he admitted for the first time that Work Permits had been refused for him and the Carolina Club Orchestra in 1924, although he maintained that he had a firm contract to play at the Piccadilly Hotel. He also admitted that he had lobbied in America to have foreign bands barred from playing even in theatres there. From 1925 the AFM had put such a ban in place, although whether Specht was actually responsible for this is questionable.

A similar article in Rhythm for November, 1934, entitled “What To Expect From The Yankee?’, was written about the time the British bandleader Ray Noble went over to America Specht again complained again about his treatment by England, and wrote “. . .you will remember the past controversies I had years ago with the Musicians Union relative to the banning of my band and other American bands from playing in England as well as the subsequent (sic) banning of English bands playing in the USA. “He also stated the policy of the British Ministry of Labour in refusing Work Permits to American bands was dictated by the Musicians Union. As will be seen from my piece entitled “The Sensitive Matter of Work Permits”, this was certainly not the case. He claimed again that he had held a contract to supply American bands on all the liners of the Cunard Company, the true account of which can be found in Part Two of the Specht story. Finally he referred to the Willis-Vaile Bill as having resulted in the barring of foreign artists and musicians from entering America. As has been noted in Part Four, the Bill was not passed.

In October of the following year Jack Hylton finally got to America - but not to play with his own band. Hylton had been booked to play in America by the Standard Oil Company, who wanted him to appear on a series of sponsored radio programmes. There was the inevitable opposition from the AFM, who stated that Hylton would have to use American musicians whilst there. However, Hylton and his full band went over to New York, where the members of the band enjoyed about ten days holiday before returning to England, not having played so much as a note on American soil! (It appears the cost of all this was met by Standard Oil.)

Whilst nearly all American bandleaders were prepared to (and did) extend the hand of friendship to Hylton, one bandleader in particular opposed his visit. Melody Maker reported his departure from England and arrival in America in some detail, and referred to Specht as being a ”lone voice of opposition”.

Paul Specht then wrote a lengthy article in a late-1934 issue of the Chicago-based magazine Down Beat, Hylton having moved to Chicago from New York This apparently repeated all the previous complaints and arguments, and also stated that he (Specht) would be suing Hylton for the sum of $100.000, as recompense for Hylton having been responsible for all his difficulties in England. This was duly reported in Rhythm of December 1935, with the comment that “Specht spoke for no-one but himself”

The following issue of Rhythm, for January 1936, made it clear that by this time Hylton had had more than enough. It appears he took the whole of the front page of a later issue of Down Beat, and gave a very detailed account of all Specht’s activities during his three visits to England. This included Specht’s efforts at political lobbying to gain entry to England, and also the agreement which he tried to enter into with Hylton, whereby Hylton would have had to pay over to Specht 50% of all his earnings, PLUS an additional 10% on American bookings.

I have to date been unable to locate copies of the original issues of Down Beat which contain these exchanges, but the report in Rhythm suggested that Hylton’s response was so detailed and accurate that Specht would have no reply to it.

Rhythm appears to have been correct, in that I have been unable to trace any further attacks by Specht on either Jack Hylton or the Musicians Union. He continued to be a successful bandleader in America, but by the late 1940s he apparently contracted reumatoid arthritis, which led to an enforced retirement from band work During his final years he lived in Greenwich Village, New York, and was taken ill in 1954 and died in the University Hospital, New York City on April 1st of that year. He was aged 59, and at the time of his death he was still doing musical arrangements for radio and television programmes.



Public Record Office, Kew, London:- Ministry of Labour files; 1920-1930 (LAB 2),
Incoming Passenger Lists (BT26), Outgoing Passenger Lists (BT27) and Aliens Registration Office (MEPO 35).#
Dancing Times; published in England
Melody Maker; published in England
Rhythm; published in England
The Times; published in England
Billboard; published in America
Metronome; published in America
Talking Machine World; published in America
Variety; published in America.

..and my grateful thanks to the following researchers and collectors who either searched through their own files, or assisted with advice and comment:- Charles Hippisley-Cox, Nick Dellow, Dick Hill, Richard Johnson, Mark Miller, Ray Mitchell, Mike Thomas and Steven Walker.