Victor 20293 & 20507 – Five Harmaniacs – 1926/1927

Styling themselves as cowboys, the Five Harmaniacs were a novelty jug band that had a short-lived but apparently successful run on vaudeville in the middle part of the 1920s.  During that run, they also made a series of recordings for a number of companies in 1926 and ’27.  The group cut their first side, titled “Harmaniac Blues”, in Chicago for Paramount in June of ’26 as the Harmaniac Five.  They followed with four sides for Victor, two for Brunswick, two for Edison, and one for Gennett, all of them recorded in New York.  They also made radio appearances across the United States.

There is conflicting information surrounding the identities of the members of the Five Harmaniacs.  Brian Rust lists Claude Shugart as the jug and washboard player, Jerry Adams on comb, Percy Stoner on kazoo and banjo, with Wade Hampton Durand, Walter Howard, and Ned Nestor filling out the rest of the band, each taking some part on banjo, guitar, harmonica, and ukulele.  The 1978 LP release The Five Harmaniacs – 1926-27 (Puritan 3004) lists an entirely different personnel including Syd Newman on harmonica, kazoo, and washboard, Dave Robertson on harmonica and washboard, Roy King on banjo, ukulele, and jug, Jerry Adams on comb, Walter Howard on guitar, and Claude Shugart on ukulele. Claude Shugart is incorrectly identified in some sources as Clyde, and Wade Durand (incorrectly) as Wayne.  The Mainspring Press asserts that “the usual members of this group were Jerry Adams, Hampton Durand, Walter Howard, Ned Nestor, Clyde Shugart, and Percy Stoner,” with that information apparently recorded in Brunswick ledgers from their session with that company.

C. Shugart is listed as the vocalist on the label of “Sadie Green Vamp of New Orleans”, confirming his presence in the Harmaniacs.  He may have also played kazoo and possibly banjo.  Rust’s identification of Shugart as playing jug is likely incorrect, as jug can be heard during his vocal on “Sadie Green”.  It is also certain that Walter Howard was the vocalist on “What Makes My Baby Cry?”, and surviving evidence indicates that he played the guitar as well.  With Jerry Adams listed on comb in both sources, he most likely did in fact fill that role, and may have doubled on banjo.  It would not have been uncommon in this type of band for each member to have played more than one instrument, and they may have switched back and forth periodically.  As all sources confirm Howard, Shugart, and Adams as members, there is little evidence to cast doubt on their presence, but the identities of the other members are unconfirmed, at least in my research.

Walter Howard was born in 1897 and hailed from Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.  His brother Edgar, who played banjo, was also a musician of some merit.  Wade Hampton Durand was born in Indiana in 1877, and was working in music as early as the turn of the century.  In 1918, he worked as a musical director in Los Angeles, and by 1940, he was an arranger in New York, living in a hotel that played host to a host of other musicians.  Durand died in 1964.  While Durand is confirmed as the co-composer of “Coney Island Washboard” and “Sleepy Blues”, his instrumental role in the Harmaniacs, if any, is uncertain.  It has also been posited that Jerry Adams real name was Harold Whitacre.

The two discs, four sides, featured in this post account for the Five Harmaniacs’ full recorded output for the Victor Talking Machine Company.

Victor 20293 was recorded September 17, 1926 in New York City.  C. Shugart (be it Clyde or Claude) provides the vocals on pop hit “Sadie Green Vamp of New Orleans”.

Sadie Green Vamp of New Orleans, recorded September 17, 1926 by the Five Harmaniacs.

On the other side, they play the first ever recording of the now classic “Coney Island Washboard”, composed by Durand and Adams, with words by Shugart and Ned Nestor, as an instrumental.

Coney Island Washboard, recorded September 17, 1926 by the Five Harmaniacs.

The Harmaniacs returned to the Victor studio five months later and recorded Victor 20507 on February 5, 1927.  Walter Howard recites the vocal on the rollicking “What Makes My Baby Cry?”,

What Makes My Baby Cry?, recorded February 8, 1927 by the Five Harmaniacs.

On the flip, they back it up with the little bit bluer sounding instrumental “It Takes a Good Woman (To Keep a Good Man at Home)”.

It Takes a Good Woman (To Keep a Good Man at Home), recorded February 8, 1927 by the Five Harmaniacs.

Updated on December 1, 2016, June 24, 2017, and April 29, 2018.

Perfect 0207 – Big Bill & his Jug Busters – 1932

On June 26, we celebrate the probable birthday of blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.  As is the case with many early blues players, such as Lemon Jefferson, the exact date of his birth is disputed; Broonzy himself claimed to have been born in 1893, but family records stated a more probable date of 1903.  There is also mystery surrounding his place of birth, while Broonzy stated his hometown as Scott, Mississippi, recent research suggests he may have come from Arkansas.

Whatever the true details may be, Big Bill grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and learned from his uncle to play a homemade cigar box fiddle, which he played at local social functions.  In 1920, as many Southern black people did at the time, Broonzy emigrated to Chicago in search of new opportunity, where he switched from fiddle to guitar, mentored by Papa Charlie Jackson.  In Chicago, Broonzy worked odd jobs while trying make it as a musician.  In 1927, he got his break when Charlie Jackson helped him l get an audition with J. Mayo Williams of Paramount Records, and after several rejected tests, made his first released records with his friend John Thomas as “Big Bill and Thomps”.  Though his records sold poorly for the first few years, sales eventually began to pick up as he gained popularity in the Chicago blues scene in the 1930s, even playing in John Hammond’s From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and ’39, with his style evolving from his rural roots to a more urban style all the while.  Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Big Bill recorded steadily, both solo and as an accompanist.  In the late 1940s into the 1950s, Broonzy became a part of the folk music revival occurring at that time, and he toured abroad in the 1950s, starting in Europe in 1951.  His autobiography, written with the help of Yannick Bruynoghe, was published in 1955.  Broonzy died of throat cancer in August of 1958.

Perfect 0207 was recorded March 29 and 30, 1932 in New York City, at Big Bill’s first and second session for the American Record Corporation under his own name (excepting some 1930 recordings under the name Sammy Sampson and as a part of the Hokum Boys).  The Jug Busters side features W.E. “Buddy” Burton on kazoo, piano by Black Bob Hudson, and Jimmy Bertrand on washboard.  The identity of the jug player is unknown.

“How You Want it Done?”, recorded March 29, is a fantastic side with stupendous flatpicked guitar by Big Bill, an unusual method for blues playing.  It’s likely that Broonzy picked up this song, along with its flatpicking style, from his contemporary Louie Lasky, who later recorded it in 1935, though Bill recorded it earlier.  Big Bill first recorded this song in 1930 for Gennett, then for Paramount in ’31 (of which no copies have been located)  This recording was also featured on the last record in Vocalion’s race series (1745).  It remained in Broonzy’s repertoire for many years, and he was filmed performing it in 1957.

How You Want it Done?, recorded

How You Want it Done?, recorded March 29, 1932 by Big Bill.

Recorded one day after the first side, Big Bill is accompanied by a jug band on “M & O Blues”, referring of course to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  The authorship of this song is often credited to Walter Davis.  It’s worth noting that there was another “M & O Blues” sung by legendary Delta bluesman Willie Brown which was an entirely different song.  Though the label looks prettier, this side unfortunately has some pretty bad stripped grooves that make a lot of noise in brief but quite intrusive passages, but it does clean up a bit as it plays.  Heck, the Document Records transfer is quite noisy, so cut me a little slack!

M & O Blues, recorded

M & O Blues, recorded March 30, 1932 by Big Bill & his Jug Busters.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Bluebird B-5942 – Jimmie Rodgers/Jesse Rodgers – 1931/1935

This record is a remarkable one for a number of reasons.  One of those is that, being a Depression era release, it is quite scarce (and I don’t mean to sound braggadocious, I’m still surprised that I have it, myself).  Another is that is one of a number of records of the 1920s and 1930s to feature black and white artists performing together, in this case Jimmie Rodgers with the Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  On the downside, this copy has certainly seen better days.  The years have not been kind to it, and its sound reflects that. It’s still listenable, but has a layer of surface noise.  Another bit worth mentioning is that the flip side of this record, which was released after Rodgers’ passing, features a recording by another blue yodeler who happened to be Jimmie Rodgers’ first cousin.

Both sides of Bluebird B-5942 were recorded on separate occasions.  The “A” side was recorded on June 16, 1931 in Louisville, Kentucky, the “B” side was recorded January 28, 1935 in San Antonio, Texas.  The personnel of the jug band on the first side includes George Allen on clarinet, Clifford Hayes on violin, Cal Smith on tenor guitar, Fred Smith on guitar and Earl McDonald on jug, the same basic group as the Dixieland Jug Blowers.  One seller claimed that it sold a total of 2,757 copies, but I have no idea how they came up with that number and whether or not it’s accurate, though those numbers don’t sound out of line.

On the first side, the Blue Yodeler sings “My Good Gal’s Gone”, with outstanding accompaniment by Earl McDonald’s Louisville Jug Band.  Though it was recorded in 1931, this 1935 Bluebird is the first issue of this recording.  Takes “2” and “3” of this song exist, this one is the latter.

My Good Gal’s Gone, recorded June 16, 1931 by Jimmie Rodgers.

On the “B” side, Jimmie’s first cousin, Jesse Rodgers sings “Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama” in a style that reminds me of Cliff Carlisle more than Jimmie.  Jesse stuck around for quite a while, later dropping the “d” from his name to become Jesse Rogers by the end of the 1930s.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Leave Me Alone, Sweet Mama, recorded January 28, 1935 by Jesse Rodgers.

Updated with improved audio on May 23, 2017.

Victor 20552 – Memphis Jug Band – 1927

On this day, February 5, we remember Will Shade, leader of the Memphis Jug Band, on the 118th anniversary of his birth on that day in 1898.  Unfortunately, this disc by his illustrious Memphis Jug Band has seen a lot of action in its eighty-nine years of existence, and is in pretty poor condition, but, as is the case with many jug band records, it’s quite uncommon, and this is the best copy I was able to procure.  “Audible but muffled” is the description given to the record by its previous owner, and the music sort of fades between “almost decent” and “downright lousy”.  Oh well.  Nonetheless, here it is.

Victor 20552 was recorded February 24, 1927 at the McCall Building in Memphis, Tennessee, the first two sides from the Memphis Jug Band’s first recording session, and their first issued record.  The band includes Will Shade on guitar and harmonica, Will Weldon on guitar, Charlie Polk on jug, and Ben Ramey on kazoo.

“Stingy Woman” may or may not play a little cleaner than the flip side, which unfortunately isn’t saying a whole lot, and was recorded second in the session.  Apparently the original owner wasn’t a fan of Will Weldon, going by their defacement of the label.

Stingy Woman, recorded

Stingy Woman, recorded February 24, 1927 by the Memphis Jug Band.

“Sun Brimmers” takes its name from Will Shade’s nickname, Son Brimmer, and perhaps was intended to be titled “Son Brimmer’s Blues”.  This was the first side recorded by the Memphis Jug Band.

Sun Brimmers, recorded

Sun Brimmers, recorded February 24, 1927 by the Memphis Jug Band.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Victor 20415 – Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers/Dixieland Jug Blowers – 1926

October 20, 1890 is one of several possible birth dates for famed jazz pianist and composer Ferd. “Jelly Roll” Morton, the others being September 20, 1885, September 20, 1889, and September 13, 1884.  For the sake of this post, happy 125th birthday, Jelly Roll.  For the occasion, I present one of his finest recordings.

One of the most interesting and storied characters in jazz, Jelly Roll Morton, born Ferdinand LaMothe, later Mouton after his mother remarried, started out playing piano in the Storyville “sporting houses” of his home town of New Orleans before taking off to tour around the United States, working in minstrel shows and vaudeville, as well as reportedly a gambler, pool shark and pimp.  He first recorded in 1923 for Paramount, and recorded with a number of different groups until he was signed to Victor in 1926, with whom he remained until he was abruptly dropped in 1930.  The Depression years proved difficult for Morton, who was robbed of royalties by his publisher, Walter Melrose.  He was recorded again for the Library of Congress in 1938 and began recording again around then.  Blaming his declining health on a voodoo spell, Jelly Roll Morton died in Los Angeles, California in 1941.

Victor 20415 was recorded December 16 and 11, 1926 at the Webster Hotel in Chicago, Illinois.  The Jelly Roll side features George Mitchell on cornet, Kid Ory on trombone, Omer Simeon on clarinet, Jelly Roll Morton on piano and also singing the vocal, Johnny St. Cyr on banjo, John Lindsay on string bass, and Andrew Hilaire on drums.  The Dixieland Jug Blowers side features Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lockwood Lewis on alto sax, Freddie Smith on banjo, Cal Smith on tenor banjo, Curtis Hayes on guitjo, and Henry Clifford and Earl McDonald on jugs.

First up, Jelly Roll’s Red Hot Peppers play one of their all-time greatest sides, King Oliver’s “Doctor Jazz Stomp” (and boy does it stomp), recorded on the December 16 date.

Doctor Jazz,

Doctor Jazz, recorded December 16, 1926 by Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers.

On the flip side, the Dixieland Jug Blowers with Johnny Dodds on clarinet play “Memphis Shake”, recorded on the December 11 date.

Memphis Shake, recorded December 11, 1926 by the Dixieland Jug Blowers.

Memphis Shake, recorded December 11, 1926 by the Dixieland Jug Blowers.

Updated with improved audio on June 6, 2017.