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Author Topic: Memphis Jug Band Players  (Read 1009 times)

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Offline arlotone

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Memphis Jug Band Players
« on: November 16, 2016, 01:18:30 AM »
I've been trying to identify who plays what on every Memphis Jug Band record. I have Blues & Gospel Records (BGR), 4th Edition, but it doesn't distinguish between multiple guitarists, and it includes some errors. It's been a fun project, and I can now recognize the styles of the main guitarists, although some instruments are barely audible on some records.

Anyway, here's what I've come up with. If you have any feedback, or skepticism about my conclusions, please post below and I'll update the list as needed:


Will Shade

Shade played all the harmonica parts on the Memphis Jug Band's records. BGR credits "Shakey Walter" with harmonica on Shade with guitar on "Sometimes I Think I Love You" and "Sunshine Blues." This is supported by a comment in The Country Blues that the Memphis Jug Band took Shakey Walter along to Chicago for some gigs before this recording session, and by claims by Walter Horton himself, despite the fact that he was at most 10 years old at the time of this session. In any case, I think Shade was actually the harmonica player. On "Sometimes I Think I Love You," his guitar part stops three bars before the harmonica starts, and on "Sunshine Blues" he doesn't play guitar at all. Similarly, BGR credits Shade with guitar and "unknown" with harmonica on "On the Road Again," but I think this is also Shade's harmonica because I don't hear his guitar here.

Considering his guitar parts, Shade usually played the lead part in the early recordings, with Will Weldon or Charlie Burse playing second. A good example of a Shade/Weldon guitar duet is "Memphis Jug Blues," where Shade begins with two chords in a high register and then Weldon comes in with open chord strums. The two parts are more distinct in the last 45 seconds of the song, especially in the last 25 seconds when Weldon plays a solo on the bass strings. Another example is "State of Tennesee Blues," where Shade's more distant guitar begins with some high lead lines while Weldon's closer guitar begins with alternating bass notes and eventually settles into a heavy strum.

Shade continued playing lead parts for a while when Charlie Burse joined the band, and the two used a similar arrangement on songs like "Oh Ambulance Man" and "Aunt Caroline Dyer," with Shade strumming chords or playing lead lines in a high register while Burse played a bassy, heavy strum. However, on later records, they traded roles, so you can hear Burse's treble intro on "Fishin' In the Dark," backed by Shade's (or Laura Dukes's) barely audible strumming, and on "She Done Sold It Out" you can hear Shade's closer guitar doing a heavy strum while Burse's more distant guitar plays lead lines. Shade never played alternating bass notes or bass runs like the other guitarists.

Shade was the sole guitarist on two records released under his own name, "Better Leave That Stuff Alone" and "She Stabbed Me With an Ice Pick," and on two records where Charlie Burse played mandolin, "Everybody's Talking About Sadie Green" and "Fourth Street Mess Around."

Shade played jug on one record, "I'll See You In the Spring, When the Birds Begin to Sing." BGR credits Charlie Polk with jug on this record, but I don't think this is correct, because it was recorded in Atlanta and none of the other records from that trip have jug, and because the jug playing here sounds different from Polk's jug on other sessions.


Will Weldon

Weldon played guitar on the first year's worth of records, but was replaced by Charlie Burse in 1928. Weldon typically played open chords with some inventive bass runs, and an occasional solo on the bass strings, as on "Sun Brimmer's Blues" and "Memphis Jug Blues." Since Weldon sang lead on many of the early records, his guitar was often relatively loud in the mix.

Weldon returned to record "Move That Thing" and "You Got Me Rollin'" for a 1930 session when Burse was absent. BGR credits Burse with the guitar and "possibly" Will Weldon with the mandolin on these records, but I think it was actually Weldon on guitar and Stevens on mandolin, because the guitar and background vocal sound more like Weldon than Burse, and because the singer of "Move That Thing" says, "Come out, Bill, on that guitar."

At the end of one Memphis Jug Band session, Weldon made two records under his own name, "Turpentine Blues" and "Hitch Me To Your Buggy, and Drive Me Like a Mule," where he was able to show some of his chops by taking the lead part.


Vol Stevens

Stevens played most of the mandolin parts. Exceptions are the two Charlie Burse parts and the two Laura Dukes parts mentioned below.

Stevens played guitar on five Memphis Jug Band records. In all these cases, Will Weldon also played guitar, and Stevens took the lead role. Examples of his treble parts are "I'll See You In the Spring, When the Birds Begin to Sing" and "Coal Oil Blues." An atypical example is "Beale Street Mess Around," where he plays an unusual rhythm part. Stevens also played second guitar on the two Will Weldon solo releases. In these cases, he played more complex parts than most second guitar parts on the full band recordings.

At the end of one Memphis Jug Band session, Stevens made two records under his own name, "Vol Stevens Blues" and "Baby Got the Rickets." He returned to the mandolin for these, with Will Weldon backing him on guitar.


Charlie Burse

Burse joined the band in 1928 and never left, evolving from a barely audible second guitarist to the sole guitarist and leader of most of the songs recorded in their final sessions. Burse was arguably the boldest and most inventive of the band's guitarists, helped in part by his use of a resonator tenor guitar.

Burse plays a fairly traditional (in the style of Shade) lead part on "Taking Your Place," but shows his emerging style on "Tired of You Driving Me" with an unusual bass line in the turnaround and some rhythmic flair during the verses. In "Aunt Caroline Dyer," he returns to the second guitar role, but tosses an unusual rhythm into the second line of every verse. His lively bass runs in "You May Leave But This Will Bring You Back" are a distinctive element of that song. By 1934, we can hear him kicking off "Insane Crazy Blues" with a gem of an intro before leading the group through one of their jazzier numbers.

Burse also played mandolin on "Everybody's Talking About Sadie Green" and "Fourth Street Mess Around."


Tewee Blackman

Blackman recorded two sides with the Memphis Jug Band in 1929, "Memphis Yo Yo Blues" and "K.C. Moan"; the latter was his composition. He played the lead part and Charlie Burse played second guitar behind him.


Memphis Minnie

Memphis Minnie McCoy recorded two sides with the Memphis Jug Band in 1930, "Bumble Bee Blues" and "Meningitis Blues." She played the lead part and Charlie Burse played second guitar behind her.


Milton Roby

Roby played fiddle for a batch of songs recorded in 1929, including "What's the Matter" and "I Can Beat You Plenty", and one more in 1930, "Cave Man Blues." He played pizzicato solos on "I Can't Stand It" and "Won't You Be Kind To Me," and achieved a wonderful interaction with the harmonica on "The Old Folks Started It." His performance on "I Can Beat You Plenty" includes the main riff, some lovely long notes behind the verses and a heavy chop during the harmonica solo.


Charlie Pierce

Pierce was the fiddler for the final 1934 sessions, and is responsible for the two fiddle showcases, "Memphis Shakedown" and "Rukus Juice and Chittlin'." Other notable fiddle parts from these sessions are on "My Love Is Cold," "Little Green Slippers" and "Fishin' in the Dark," and a lesser-known instrumental, "My Business Ain't Right."


Laura Dukes

Dukes came to the band late, but, along with Burse, was still playing with Will Shade into the 1960s. She plays mandolin on "Mary Anna Cut Off" (where Charlie Burse says, "Beat it out, Miss Dukes") and "My Love is Cold." She also plays lead parts on ukulele on "Little Green Slippers" (where they're only audible in the stop at 1:33) and "Fishin' in the Dark."


Charlie Nickerson

"Bozo" Nickerson made his mark on the Memphis Jug Band as a distinctive singer, but he played piano on his first recording with the band, "I Whipped My Woman with a Single Tree."


Johnny Hardge

Hardge (or Hodges) only played piano on the records featuring Hattie Hart, so he was probably more associated with her than with the jug band.


Ben Ramey

Ramey was the band's only kazoo player, so his parts are easy to identify! He sang lots of backup vocal parts and a couple lead vocals, but didn't play another instrument. He played on most of the band's sessions through 1930.


Charlie Polk

Polk played jug for the first year's worth of recordings, the same time period as Will Weldon. He skipped the trip to Atlanta in October 1927, but played on all the other sides during the first year. Some of his best playing is on "Sunshine Blues"; most of his playing is more monotone.


Hambone Lewis

Lewis was the jug player for some key sessions in 1930. He shows an impressive range on "Everybody's Talking About Sadie Green," "Fourth Street Mess Around" and "It Won't Act Right."


Jab Jones

Jones played jug from late 1928 through 1929, then returned in late 1930 and continued through the last session. In an interview in 1960, Will Shade named Jones as the best jug player he worked with. He gives a solid performance on earlier songs like "Jug Band Waltz," but really shows his chops on later songs like "Tear It Down, Bed Slats and All," "Little Green Slippers" and especially "Memphis Shakedown."

Jones also played piano on the two Will Shade solo releases, "Better Leave That Stuff Alone" and "She Stabbed Me With an Ice Pick," the Minnie Wallace release "Dirty Butter," and several of the 1934 records. On "Jazzbo Stomp," he plays piano for most of the song, but switches to jug for two solos.

Jones was the only one of the jug players who sang, so many of his songs don't have jug all the way through.

Two recordings from 1930 were attributed to Jab Jones and His Jug Band, but weren't released. Four recordings from 1932 were attributed to Poor Jab, but of these, only "Come Along Little Children" has been reissued.


Otto Gilmore

Gilmore played percussion for the 1932 session. His setup sounds like a washboard with a variety of woodblocks, cowbells and cymbals attached. "You Gotta Have That Thing" and "Come Along Little Children" are good examples of his playing.


Robert Burse

Robert Burse (Charlie's brother) played percussion for the 1934 session. His setup sounds similar to Gilmore's. "Gator Wobble" and "Memphis Shakedown" are good examples of his playing.



Miscellaneous Notes:

- I haven't tried to distinguish between Charlie Burse playing a guitar or a (resonator) tenor guitar. Can anyone help with that? His first record with the band was "Lindberg Hop," where I believe he plays the intro. National's resonator tenor came out in 1928, so if he was playing one for this session, he was an early adopter. Other songs to check are "On the Road Again" from the same session, where he is the only guitarist, and jumps up the neck for the IV chord, as I would expect a tenor guitarist to do; and "Tired of You Driving Me," where he is also the only guitarist, and plays a combination of strumming, treble leads and a stylish bass run.

- I also haven't tried to distinguish between mandolin and banjo-mandolin. If I had to guess, I would say Burse plays banjo-mandolin on "Everybody's Talking About Sadie Green" and regular mandolin on "Fourth Street Mess Around," but maybe they are both banjo-mandos. I think Vol Stevens used a banjo-mando for everything, but it's hard to hear on the 1932 session. I think Laura Dukes is using a regular mandolin in 1934, but that's even harder to hear because the mandolin and Burse's tenor guitar are intertwined.

- The stringed instruments are hard to pick out on the 1934 records. I think "Mary Anna Cut Off" and "My Love Is Cold" have both mandolin and tenor guitar, but no guitar, then "Gator Wobble" has just tenor guitar. I think "Little Green Slippers" and "Fishin' In the Dark" have tenor guitar and uke. I can't tell if "Bottle It Up and Go" and "Insane Crazy Blues" have a second guitar, or just the tenor guitar. It sounds like "Memphis Shakedown," "Rukus Juice and Chittlin'" and "My Business Ain't Right" only have the tenor guitar. If that's the case, then Shade's contributions to the final 1934 sessions were remarkably limited, playing an instrument on only about half the songs and doing nothing more than a bit of speech on a couple, even though his harmonica part on "Jazzbo Stomp" shows that the then 36-year old was playing better than ever.

- Most of these records have 5 or 6 players, but some of the smaller configurations really stood out to me. Among the songs released under the Memphis Jug Band name, "A Black Woman Is Like a Black Snake" is the only trio, and it's a tour de force. Similarly, "Jazzbo Stomp" just has four players, but they tear it up.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2017, 07:47:57 AM by arlotone »

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2016, 06:19:05 AM »
Thanks for writing this up. Interesting stuff.

Online Johnm

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2016, 07:55:29 AM »
Yes, thanks for the information, arlotone.  That takes a lot of listening to sort out all of those personnel variations.  Congratulations on your work!
All best,
John

Offline jpeters609

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2016, 12:51:58 PM »
the singer of "Move That Thing" says, "Come out, Bill, on that guitar," apparently referencing Weldon's nickname, "Casey Bill."

I believe it is now generally accepted that Will Weldon of the Memphis Jug Band and Casey Bill Weldon (of Hawaiian-style guitar fame) were two different people. This, of course, does not affect your argument that Will Weldon is playing guitar on "Move That Thing."
Jeff

Offline arlotone

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2016, 08:39:31 PM »
I believe it is now generally accepted that Will Weldon of the Memphis Jug Band and Casey Bill Weldon (of Hawaiian-style guitar fame) were two different people.

Oh, okay. I wonder who Nickerson was addressing as "Bill" then. I'll listen again, but it seemed pretty clear that's what he said. He had another confusing comment on "Cave Man Blues," when after addressing various band members, he said, "Listen to old T trying to get away," and I don't have any theories about what that meant. A lot of these spoken comments were helpful in identifying the players, but of course some of them could be nonsense, or inside jokes, or who knows what.

Offline jpeters609

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2016, 06:45:07 AM »
"Bill" is the common diminutive for "William," so I suspect your initial instinct is correct: Nickerson is addressing Will Weldon as "Bill."
Jeff

Offline arlotone

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2016, 07:24:45 AM »
"Bill" is the common diminutive for "William"

Oh right, what was I thinking. I just removed the bit about Casey Bill above. Thanks!

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2016, 10:38:09 AM »
I've heard mention of Memphis Minnie's first husband being "Will Weldon." Anybody have any further info on that? Was she supposedly married to the MJB's Will Weldon, or was it Casey Bill Weldon who she also recorded with?

Offline jpeters609

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2016, 11:44:41 AM »
This is what Paul and Beth Garon have to say in their biography of Memphis Minnie, "Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues":

"The information that Minnie was in a relationship with Weldon before she met Kansas Joe apparently came from Mike Leadbitter via Daisy Douglas Johnson (Minnie's sister). 'He was a member of the Memphis Jug Band and was a lot younger than Minnie,' Leadbitter reported. But neither Daisy nor her sister-in-law Ethel recognized his name in 1992. If Memphis Minnie was with a Weldon at this juncture in her career, it would likely have been Will Weldon, a documented resident of Memphis who better fits the description of being not only a jug band member but also 'a lot younger than Minnie.'"

Sounds like the marriage story must be considered less than a sure thing.
Jeff

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #9 on: November 19, 2016, 12:16:42 AM »
This is what Paul and Beth Garon have to say in their biography of Memphis Minnie, "Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie's Blues":

"The information that Minnie was in a relationship with Weldon before she met Kansas Joe apparently came from Mike Leadbitter via Daisy Douglas Johnson (Minnie's sister). 'He was a member of the Memphis Jug Band and was a lot younger than Minnie,' Leadbitter reported. But neither Daisy nor her sister-in-law Ethel recognized his name in 1992. If Memphis Minnie was with a Weldon at this juncture in her career, it would likely have been Will Weldon, a documented resident of Memphis who better fits the description of being not only a jug band member but also 'a lot younger than Minnie.'"

Sounds like the marriage story must be considered less than a sure thing.

For those who may not know Paul & Beth thoroughly revised and expanded their book in 2014. It's almost a "different beast" published by City Lights Books, San Francisco, 407pps.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS FOR THE NEW EDITION

Jim O'Neal, Robert Pruter and Bob Eagle were tireless in turnČing up fresh information about Memphis Minnie. Jim discovČered Minnie and Kansas Joe's marriage license and a new photo of Minnie (and much more, as well), Bob Pruter sent us countČless display advertisements from the Chicago Defender, and Bob Eagle passed along all of his newly discovered census data about Minnie's early life. To them I owe my greatest thanks.

The generosity of other blues scholars and historians has been outstanding, and we thank Cliff Warnken, Felix Wohrstein, Guido van Rijn, Bob West/Arcola Records, Frank Scott of Roots & Rhythm Mail Order, Scott Dirks, Robert Ford, Chris Smith, Howard Rye, Melanie Keithley, and Scott Barretta for their kindness.

Revising the discography to account for all of the LP and CD reissues of Minnie's records since 1992 was a bigger job than we realized, but once again, many friends were eager to lend a hand. Other workers passed along items of interest that contributed to the richness that will make this edition superior to the last one, and we'd like to thank each one of them: Byron Foulger, Catherine Yronrode, Helge Thygesen, Art Schuna, Gorgen Antonsson, Robert Ford, Howard Rye, Kate Lewis, Jenny Meistcr, Alan Balfour and Stefan Wirz.

We would be remiss if we didn't mention the usefulness of several online lists for desseminating our requests for new inforČmation: the Prewar Blues List at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ pre-war-blues/ and the facebook group, the Real Blues Forum. Thank you one and all.



Offline Mark Miller

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Re: Memphis Jug Band Players
« Reply #10 on: November 24, 2016, 06:51:33 PM »
What a fantastic post (and thread). Thanks!  I love that band!

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