Sun 29 Apr 2012
|Memphis Jug Band||Sun Brimmers Blues||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Memphis Jug Band||Kansas City Blues||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Will Weldon||Turpentine Blues||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Vol Stevens||Baby Got The Rickets (Mama's Got The Mobile Blues)||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Memphis Jug Band||I'll See You In The Spring, When The Birds Begin To Sing||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Memphis Jug Band||Beale Street Mess Around||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Memphis Jug Band||Stealin' Stealin'||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Memphis Jug Band||Whitewash Station Blues||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Memphis Jug Band||A Black Woman Is Like A Black Snake||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Charlie Burse & his Memphis Mudcats||Brand New Day Blues||Memphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics|
|Will Shade||He Stabbed Me With An Ice-Pick||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Will Shade||Better Leave That Stuff Alone||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Minnie Wallace||The Old Folks Started It||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Minnie Wallace||Dirty Butter||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Memphis Jug Band||K.C. Moan||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Memphis Jug Band||On The Road Again||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Hattie Hart||Won't You Be Kind?||Memphis Masters: Early American Blues Classics 1927-34|
|Hattie Hart||Memphis Yo Yo Blues||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Hattie Hart||Papa's Got Your Water On||I Can't Be Satisfied: Early American Blues Singers Vol. 1|
|Charlie Bozo Nickerson||What's the Matter Now? Part 3||Memphis Blues 1927-1938|
|Memphis Jug Band||Cave Man Blues||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Memphis Jug Band||Fourth Street Mess||Ruckus Juice & Chitlins Vol. 1|
|Memphis Jug Band||Going Back To Memphis||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Memphis Jug Band||He's In The Jailhouse Now||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Memphis Jug Band||You May Leave But This Will Bring You Back||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Memphis Jug Band||Cocaine Habit Blues||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Memphis Minnie||Bumble Bee Blue||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Kaiser Clifton||Fort Worth & Denver Blues||Memphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics|
|Picaninny Jug Band||I Got Good Taters||Memphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics|
|Memphis Jug Band||Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues||Best of the Memphis Jug Band|
|Memphis Jug Band||You Got Me Rollin'||Memphis Jug Band with Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers|
|Memphis Jug Band||Tear It Down, Bed Slats And All||Memphis Shakedown: More Jug Band Classics|
The Memphis Jug Band was one of the most popular musical groups of the late 1920's and early 1930's and arguably the most important jug band in the history of the blues. Born in Memphis in 1894, Will Shade (also known as Son Brimmer) was the founder of the Memphis Jug Band. He learned guitar from Tee Wee Blackman, a sometime member of the band and also played harmonica. After performing around Memphis and touring with medicine shows for a few years, Shade formed the group in the mid-1920's after being inspired by the records of the influential Louisville jug band, the Dixieland Jug Blowers. Furry Lewis was in the early incarnation of the band (probably around 1925) as he recalled: "After we moved to Memphis , I just got with the boys, and just got us a little old band they called a jug band. In my jug band the fellow that blowed the jug Will Shade. There was me and Will Shade, Dewey Thomas and Ham."
|The Memphis Jug Band, from a Victor catalog of 1930|
The band's repertoire, as Tony Russell wrote, drew "from a book that included blues, ragtime tunes, comic songs, breakdowns, waltzes, old Southern country songs, and glee-club quartet numbers: altogether one of the most varied and fascinating repertoires in the history of African-American music. …The MJB's primary colors were harmonica, kazoo, and a couple of guitars (the jug, of course, was a given)…" Although this remained the group's core instrumentation, "Shade frequently tinkered with the prototype, adding Milton Roby's violin, Jab Jones' piano or Vol Stevens' mandolin, and experimenting with different lead singers, replacing his doleful, phlegmy voice or Will Weldon's rather plain one with the more expressive Jones or Charlie Burse, or the effervescent Charlie Nickerson…" The group also worked with several female singers including Shade's wife, Jennie Clayton, Minnie Wallace, Memphis Minnie and the magnificent Hattie Hart.
The band initially played in the city's parks, streets and taverns. As their fame spread they performed at political rallies, store openings and other civic affairs. Memphis was a wide open town in the late twenties and clubs like Pee Wee's, The Monarch and The Hole In The Wall catered to crap-shooters and policy players with bootleg whiskey. "There was so much excitement down there on Beale Street", Will Shade told Paul Oliver, "It'd take me a year and a day to tell you about (it) …Aw we used to have a rough kind of crowd."
The lineup of the Memphis Jug Band changed constantly throughout its career, both inside and outside the recording studio. Between 1927 and 1934, the Memphis Jug Band made over some 80-odd sides for Victor, Champion, and OKeh, achieving considerable fame and commercial success. In addition to the sides cut under the Memphis Jug Band name, we also play sides by those who worked with the band, cutting sides under their own name but usually backed by members of the band. So today we also spin sides cut under the names of Will Shade, Vol Stevens, Hattie Hart, Will Weldon, Minnie Wallace, Charlie Burse, Charlie Nickerson and others.
With success of the Memphis Jug Band other jug bands followed so by the 30's the city boasted six different jug groups including the Beale Street Jug Band, Jack Kelly and His South Memphis Jug Band and Cannon's Jug Stompers. The jug bands were enjoyed by whites and blacks, and at times found their employment almost entirely at white parties. Mr. Crump – Boss Crump, the biggest man in Memphis at the time, often hired these groups to play for his own entertainments. That didn't stop the band from making some pointed comments in their rendition of of the medicine show staple, "He's In The Jailhouse Now" from 1930:
I remember last election
Sam Jones got in action
Said he'd vote for the man who paid the biggest price
The next day at the polls
He voted with heart and soul
But instead of voting once he voted twice
He's in the jailhouse now (2x)
Instead of staying at home
Leaving the white folks' business alone
He's in the jailhouse now
In February 1927 Ralph Peer of Victor Records went to Memphis to audition talent. His first discovery was the Memphis Jug Band who consisted of Shade, Ben Ramsey, Will Weldon and Charlie Polk. The band cut four sides which were so successful the band was summoned to Chicago in June for four more sides. In October 1927 the band went to Atlanta to record with Shade's wife Jennie Clayton as singer and Vol Stevens who played guitar, mandolin and fiddle. Stevens takes the vocal on two band numbers: “Beale Street Mess Around” and “I'll See You In The Spring, When The Birds Begin To Sing” (better known as "Fare Thee Honey"). The following day solo sides were cut by Stevens and Weldon, each backing the other on his session. We spin Weldon's "Turpentine Blues" and Steven's colorfully titled "Baby Got The Rickets (Mama's Got The Mobile Blues)." Whether Will is the Casey Bill Weldon who recorded prolifically in Chicago throughout the 30's has been the object of much speculation. Current evidence suggests they are two different performers. Weldon played guitar on some twenty sides with the Memphis Jug Band between 1927 and 1928.
|Chicago Defender Ad, December 6, 1930|
All the Memphis musicians used to hang out in PeeWee's on Beale street and it was there that Will Shade met guitarist Charlie Burse on September 9th, 1928 and invited him to join a recording session two days later. Burse and Shade would become lifelong associates and continued playing together for nearly four decades (one of their last recording efforts together was the wonderful Beale St. Mess Around album on Rounder). Shade and Burse duet on “A Black Woman Is Like A Black Snake.” “Stealin' Stealin'” was cut four days later and is one of the band's best known numbers. In 1939, Burse put together his own band, the Memphis Mudcats who cut a batch of sides for Vocalion.
As mentioned the Memphis Jug Band worked with several fine female singers. Jennie Clayton was the first, and shares vocals on"I Packed My Suitcase and "State of Tennessee" and solos on "Bob Lee Junior." On September 23, 1929 the band was in the studio to back singer Minnie Wallace on two numbers, "The Old Folks Started It b/w Dirty Butter." Shade backed Wallace on her next session cut in 1935. By this point Vol Stevens was out of the band, replaced by violinist Milton Roby. Roby had followed the medicine shows circuit and like Shade, learned guitar from Tee Wee Blackman. In Bengt Olsson's Memphis Blues and Jug Bands (view PDF below) some light was shed on singer Hattie Hart: "Hattie Hart and Allen Shaw came together on record when they engaged in one memorable session in New York, in the late summer of 1934. Willie Borum was also present, playing guitar behind Shaw on some of the songs as well as singing four of his own. He and Shaw were new to the recording studio, but Hattie Hart had appeared on several of the Memphis Jug Band's discs in 1929 and 1930, singing the unforgettable 'Memphis Yo Yo Blues', 'Cocaine Habit Blues', 'Oh Ambulance Man, 'Papa's Got Your Bath Water On' and 'Spider's Nest Blues.' "Cocaine Habit" is probably Hart's greatest performance; the song dates from the turn of the century (known as "Take A Whiff on Me"), when cocaine was both legal and endemic in Memphis, with Lehman's Drugstore on Union the main source:
Cocaine habit mighty bad
It's the worst old habit that I ever had
Hey, hey, Honey take a whiff on me
I went to Mr Lehman's in a lope
Saw a sign on the window said no more dope
Hey, hey, Honey take a whiff on me
At a session in 1930 Will Shade, Ham Lewis and Charlie Burse were joined by Memphis Minnie who was at the beginning of her career. Minnie had occasionally worked with the band in Handy's Park in Memphis. The session yielded “Bumble Bee Blues” and “Meningitis Blues.”
In 1930 Victor was back in Memphis, recording the band on nine separate occasions, six times in one month for a total of twenty titles. Singer/pianist Charlie Nickerson had joined the band in 1929. He takes the vocals on several numbers including “Cave Man Blues”, "Fourth Street Mess" and leads the whole band on “ Going Back To Memphis”:
I love ol' Memphis, where I was born
Wear my boxback suit and drink my pint of corn
Nickerson and is also heard to good effect on the boozy "fourth Street Mess:"
Somebody tell me, what makes this jug band drink? (2x)
They get you whipping these blues, and they begin to think
About that Fourth Street mess around
Originated by that jug band from Memphis town
Go down Fourth until you get to Vance, ask anybody about that brand new dance
The gals will say You’re going my way, it’s right here for you, here’s your only chance
Then ease down Vance until you get to Main
Turn around, beat it back again
Excuse us, stranger, for being bold this morn, but would you knock the jug band another drink of corn
While we play that Fourth Street mess around
Nickerson cut a handful of side under his own name over the course of three sessions in 1930, several were unissued. We feature his "What's the Matter Now? Part 3" on today's show.
The Memphis Jug Band recorded under several names on various recording labels. Alternate names found on record labels include the Picaninny Jug Band, Memphis Sanctified Singers, the Carolina Peanut Boys, the Dallas Jug Band and the Jolly Jug Band. As the Picaninny Jug Band (Will Shade, harmonica; Jab Jones, jug; Charlie Burse, vocal, tenor guitar, Vol Stevens, vocal, mandolin, Otto Gilmore, drums) they cut ten sides for Gennett in 1932. From that session we play the raucous and rough "I Got Good Taters."
The Memphis Jug Band’s music at their final 1934 session (now recording for Okeh) had changed radically since their Victor days, in an effort to keep up with changing fashions. There is a considerable infusion of jazz, and Charlie Pierce’s virtuoso fiddle playing draws heavily on white country music. By the mid-1930s the popularity of jug band music had begun to wane considerably as the Great Depression drastically diminished record sales and as newer and more urbane musical styles emerged.The band waxed some exciting music at their swansong including "Jazzbo Stomp", "Gator Wobble" and our selection, "Tear It Down, Bed Slats And All." One of their last numbers was an affecting tribute to the jug band sound in the song "Jug Band Quartett:"
You know, way down yonder in Memphis Tennessee
Jug band music sounds sweet to me
Because it sounds so sweet
Oh you know they're hard to beat
You know the jug band's music certainly was a treat to me
Eventually the Memphis Jug Band’s live engagements became less frequent, and the group could no longer get recording dates after 1934. Still, the group occasionally performed in and around Memphis for years after that, and in 1956, Will Shade and Charlie Burse made a few recordings for the Folkways label (credited as the Memphis Jug Band). In 1963 Shade recorded one last time with another Memphian, 79-year-old Gus Cannon, former leader of Cannon’s Jug Stompers. They recorded the album Walk Right In, on Stax Records, a result of The Rooftop Singers having made Cannon's "Walk Right In" into a number one single. Will Shade on jug and former Memphis Jug Band member Milton Roby on washboard perform a series of thirteen traditional songs, plus Cannon's great hit "Walk Right In." Shade recorded a handful of songs for other labels in the early 1960's before his death in 1966.
Other songs we play today are by Kaiser Clifton and both sides of the 1928 78 Will Shade cut under his own name, "She Stabbed Me With An Ice-Pick b/w Better Leave That Stuff Alone." Although recorded in Memphis (four sides cut in 1930), Kaiser Clifton was almost certainly from further south, as “Fort Worth and Denver Blues” (which includes a mention of the Sunshine Special that Blind Lemon Jefferson sang about) and references to his home in Texas in “Cash Money” suggest. Will Shade plays guitar and Ham Lewis is on jug.
There's speculation that the Memphis Jug Band was the group who recorded in Memphis on a February 21, 1930 date resulting in four gospel and two secular sides. As the the Holy Ghost Sanctified Singers on "Thou Carest Lord, For Me ", "Jesus Throwed Up A Highway For", "Sinner I'd Make A Change", "When I Get Inside The Gate" and backing singer Madelyn James on "Stinging Snake Blues" and "Long Time Blues."
Related Articles: -Memphis Blues and Jug Bands by Begnt Olsson (Studio Vista, 1970) [PDF]
-Memphis Blues and Jug Bands by Begnt Olsson (Studio Vista, 1970) [PDF]