Friday, October 30, 2015
Following the popularity of the recent post of a vintage LP collection of jug band music, here is another, a 1967 collection on the RCA Victor Vintage Series titled "Jugs, Washboards & Kazoos". As was mentioned in the previous post's comment section, the RCA Victor era reissues tend to have excellent sound quality as they most likely had the original metal parts to work from. This LP does have some overlap with LX-3009 so I apologize for the duplication of tracks, but it does add many more great titles as well and I'm confident followers of the Scratchy Attic will enjoy and appreciate it.
Liner notes are as follows:
These lively and delightful tunes recorded three or four decades ago have many elements of the finest early jazz—strong rhythmic pulse, simple harmonics, high spirit, warmth and excitement. This music properly belongs on the jazz periphery, closely identified with its roots, but a measure removed from the mainstream. Along with the avalanche of vocal blues records which attained such immense popularity during the mid-1920s, the jug and washboard bands represent the first recorded examples of the folk backgrounds of jazz.
With a few shining exceptions, the men who play on these long-forgotten records are among the least known and most obscure musicians ever to perform for RCA Victor. They used the simplest of instruments—harmonicas, banjos, ukuleles and kazoos, beat on galvanized washboards with tin thimbles for rhythm, and blew into the spouts of earthenware jugs to make bass notes. As their music clearly demonstrates, they were relaxed, uninhibited individualists with no formal music training. They were completely unaware that they represented a sort of bridge between the world of pure jazz and the world of folk music. They lived and worked before the advent of critics and experts, playing music for its own sake and enjoying it on its own terms.
Musical tastes tend to run in cycles, and now, as this album is issued, American popular music has once again swung back toward its roots. Despite the gentle patina of age these records have collected over the years, it is important to remember that the vigorous music herein was the music of youth. It was played by young people—it appealed to young people. In many respects it foreshadowed the highly colorful “folk-rock” style so popular with our younger generation today.
Nothing points up this fact more clearly to me than the response my own kids had to these recordings. Not long ago they discovered the Dixieland Jug Blowers and the Five Harmaniacs among the thousands of old 78 rpm’s which crowd our house from cellar to attic. The reaction was instantaneous. They and their teen-aged friends were wild about this stuff. There is something in the banjo, guitar and kazoo sounds, the loose relaxed vocal choruses, the hokum talking, the jug and washboard backgrounds, to which they relate by instinct. To a much greater degree than the jazz classics of Armstrong, Oliver, et al, these records have something real and vital to say to them.
The five groups included on this album have certain elements in common—the use of unorthodox instruments, rollicking good humor, vigorous beat—but their performances represent varying degrees of affinity to the folk idiom. The Dixieland Jug Blowers, whom Samuel Charters has described as “the greatest of the city jug bands,” produced a level of musicianship which was a cut above the country jug music of the period but which still retained the latter’s distinctive style. Under the direction of Clifford Hayes, their fiddle-playing leader from Louisville, Kentucky, the Jug Blowers made a series of records in Chicago during the ‘20s that are classics of the genre. Boodle-Am-Shake, with its nonsense lyrics, and Don’t Give All the Lard Away are among my personal favorites because of their lilting, medium-tempo rhythm, the whimsical violin phrases which overlay the vocal choruses, and the strongly accented jug work. House Rent Rag opens with a waggish sermon on the shortness of women’s skirts and hair in 1926 and closes with some strong clarinet work by the New Orleans jazz master Johnny Dodds. (Dodds worked with the group for one recording session in December 1926.) Banjoreno, with its sparkling three-banjo ensemble, lends a ragtime/minstrel-show flavor to the album. Southern Shout, another fast instrumental number, contains a lovely jug break, some nice violin/jug counterpoint, and builds to a good climax in its later choruses, despite wobbly saxophone work at the halfway mark.
A young guitar and harmonica player named Will Shade was the moving force of the Memphis Jug Band and, although he claimed his music was inspired by the recordings of the Dixieland Jug Blowers, in performance it was very much closer to country blues and folk sources. The group recorded a long series of traditional blues and original novelty tunes in Memphis during the latter 1920s and early ‘30s and the records sold in great numbers throughout the South. Of the three tracks on this album, Newport News Blues and Sun Brimmers Blues are charmingly played and sung in the blues idiom. Overseas Stomp is a frolic—a delightful example of the bouncing joie de vivre that is so typical of many jug band numbers. It begins as a tribute to Lindbergh’s famed solo flight to Paris—and takes more than a few roguish twists and turns before returning to earth six choruses later.
The four sides here included by the Five Harmaniacs are cast in a somewhat different mold. Not as strong rhythmically as the jug bands (although they do occasionally use the jug themselves), the Harmaniacs identify more closely with guitar and banjo playing groups such as the New Christy Minstrels which are so popular now. Their stock in trade was the novelty number. My particular favorites are Sadie Green Vamp of New Orleans, an old Johnny Dunn tune which extolled the beauties of its heroine in the whimsical hyperbole of the 1920s (viz: “She’d make bald men tear their hair!”), and Coney Island Washboard, an original composition of the Harmaniacs which has become one of the standard classics in the repertoire of barbershop quartets.
Hartzell Strathdene Parham, nicknamed “Tiny,” was a 300-pound piano player, a native of Kansas City, who headed a number of bands and recording units in Chicago during that city’s bootleg years. He made some fine and long-neglected sides for Victor in ‘28 and ‘29 featuring the trombonist Ike Covington and other interesting sidemen. The two numbers included here, Washboard Wiggles and Sud Buster’s Dream, demonstrate the use of the washboard as a solo instrument. Ernie Marrero temporarily deserts his drums and, backed by Parham’s light piano touch, he shows how effective a washboard and thimbles can be in the hands of a skilled professional.
No album featuring washboard music would be complete without a couple of roaring sides by the Washboard Rhythm Kings. During the early 1930s this group of musical extroverts made several dozen records (sometimes using the name Washboard Rhythm Boys). Their utterly wild and distinctive style can be heard to fine effect in Pepper Steak and Shoot ‘Em. (You will not have to listen too carefully to the latter number to recognize why the original title listing on the Victor label was changed from Shoot ‘Em in the Pants!) These two final numbers, with their great outbursts of pure musical energy, represent a sort of ultimate communion of the worlds of folk and jazz music. At the same time they offer a captivating lightness of spirit which characterizes the entire contents of this cheery and buoyant album.
Mr. Shultz has been studying and writing about jazz and folk sounds since the ‘30s. He has contributed to such publications as the Saturday Review.
1. Dixieland Jug Blowers-Boodle-Am-Shake
2. Dixieland Jug Blowers-Don't Give All The Lard Away
3. Dixieland Jug Blowers-House Rent Rag
4. Dixieland Jug Blowers-Banjorena
5. Dixieland Jug Blowers-Southern Shout
6. Memphis Jug Band-Newport News Blues
7. Memphis Jug Band-Sun Brimmers Blues
8. Memphis Jug Band-Overseas Stomp (Lindberg Hop)
9. Five Harmaniacs-Sadie Green The Vamp Of New Orleans
10. Five Harmaniacs-Coney Island Washboard
11. Five Harmaniacs-What Makes My Baby Cry
12. Five Harmaniacs-It Takes A Good Woman (To Keep A Good Man At Home)
13. Tiny Parham And His Musicians-Washboard Wiggles
14. Tiny Parham And His Musicians-Sud Buster's Dream
15. Washboard Rhythm Kings-Pepper Steak
16. Washboard Rhythm Kings-Shoot 'Em