One of the most dominant figures in jazz music in the 1920s—alongside the likes of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson—was Clarence Williams, who had his finger in just about every pie there was in the world of music for more than a decade in the 1920s and ’30s.
Clarence Williams was born on October 8, 1893 (though some sources suggest 1898, it has been suggested that that was fabricated for “vanity” purposes), in Plaquemine, Louisiana, of Creole and Choctaw descent. He began singing and playing piano at a young age, and ran off to join Billy Kersand’s minstrels at the age of twelve. He later settled in New Orleans, where he played professionally, and began composing songs, starting a music publishing company with fellow jazz musician Armand J. Piron. A few of his many noted compositions include “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”, the “Royal Garden Blues”, and “Shout, Sister, Shout”. Williams and Piron later started a touring vaudeville act, which brought him in to contact with W.C. Handy, who invited to duo to join him in an Atlanta concert. In 1921, Williams moved to Chicago and opened a music store, and the following year married blues singer Eva Taylor, with whom he frequently collaborated. Williams first recorded a pair of vocal sides for Okeh in September of 1921, which were unissued, but he soon followed with more successful session the next month, producing four recordings, all of which were released. From then on, he recorded extensively, often as an accompanist for blues singers, such as Bessie Smith or his wife Eva Taylor, or as leader of studio groups such as his “Blue Five”, “Washboard Band”, “Jug Band”, or “Jazz Kings”. The bulk of his recordings were made for Okeh, Columbia, and Vocalion, but he also appeared on Bluebird, Brunswick, and numerous other labels. During the 1920s, Williams was supervisor of “race” records for Okeh. With his hand in virtually every facet of the music industry, Williams became one of the most commercially successful and influential people in jazz. He continued to record fairly prolifically throughout the 1930s, up until his retirement in 1943, at which point he sold his back-catalog to Decca Records. Clarence Williams died in Queens, New York on November 6, 1965. He was survived by his wife, Eva Taylor, who passed in 1977.
Brunswick 7000 was recorded on March 8, 1927 in New York City. It was the first record released in Brunswick’s 7000-series of “race” records, before their signature “lightning bolt” styled label was introduced. Williams’ Washboard Band was made up of Ed Allen on cornet, Carmelo Jari (or Jejo) on clarinet, Clarence Williams on piano, and Floyd Casey on washboard. Clarence Lee sings the vocals. Different takes of both sides were released on Vocalion 1088.
First up is the train-themed “P.D.Q. Blues”, played slow.
Next, they play a stomp, the “Cushion Foot Stomp”, to be precise.