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”.
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.
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?”.
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)”.
Updated on December 1, 2016, June 24, 2017, and April 29, 2018.
Can you tell me the sound quality of the transfers on theLP release The Five Harmaniacs – 1926-27 (Puritan 3004)? I have the Document album that has the Five Harmaniacs but sound quality is pretty poor. Thank you!
I am Walter Howard Jr. And in my 70s . I still love listening to my dad and the 5 Harmaniacs.
Since the versions of Coney Island Washboard by the Mills Brothers, 60s folk and jazz groups etc. have vocals, did the Harmaniacs record the lyrics, or at least write them down, or did these come later?