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It is a strange reflection on our own society that the country blues of rancor & belligerence should be touted for their sincerity of expression, while the easy-going & relatively innocuous songs of Bo Carter can be written off as 'trite pornographic ditties' - Steve Calt's notes, Bo Carter, Banana In Your Fruit Basket, Yazoo

Author Topic: Jugband fever 1970 style  (Read 2163 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Jugband fever 1970 style
« on: August 14, 2008, 10:02:12 AM »
On June 6, 1970 self acclaimed "jugband", Mungo Jerry, reached number one in the UK pop chart with a song entitled "In The Summertime". It remained in the top 50 for 20 weeks. The popular music press had much to say on the subject of jug bands - mostly misinformed - with the exception of this from the Melody Maker, June 11, 1970. I'm amazed to discover that I have three of the recommended listening. I'd better get to it and listen, eh?

Mungo Jerry?s hit spotlights a minor boom in jug music,
Max Jones tells the history of jug addiction?

TO MOST PEOPLE, cradled in happy domesticity, jugs are simply deepish vessels from which to pour milk or more attractive fluids. But in the recent history of music ? over the last half century, that is?the jug has known a more exalted role. That of musical instrument.

Jug and washboard bands sprang up in noisy abundance in black areas of :America's South during the Twenties. In origin they were country bands playing folk music, and it is to be supposed that-the jug?like the kazoo, harmonica, washboard and tub bass ? was introduced on the grounds of cheapness and accessibility.

It may be, though, that some special affection was felt for the drinking-vessel, a flagon-like jug of earthenware or glass, that-had lately held corn liquor.

Perhaps a musician, draining his jug and then pursing his lips in disappointment, discovered that blowing or humming across the mouth produced a fat, hollowish sound not unlike a rather debased tuba note ? or an animal grunting, according to outlook.

However it was, jug blowing took the place of the bass in certain folk: groups or spasm bands making use of a guitar or banjo, maybe, and sundry home-made instruments.

Jug bands, washboard bands, spasm bands, even skiffle groups? all are part and parcel of the same unsophisticated branch of musical development which ran a course roughly parallel with that of jazz and blues in the Twenties and early Thirties.

The jug, let me say at once, isn't a vital component of such a combo. Nor are the rubbing board, the kazoo or harmonica. Any one or two of these instruments is enough to make jug or washboard music.

Doubtless in its folkiest beginnings the type of hokum band which utilised these unorthodox instruments (and others, among them the jews harp and ukelele) could be traced to the early years of the century or beyond.

But the jug and washboard bands we know from, records date back no farther than the mid-Twenties.

A band called Fowler's Washboard Wonders recorded " Chitterlin' Strut," " Washboard Stomp " and other numbers in the summer of '25, -and these had a saxophone or two horns in addition to piano, washboard and sometimes string bass.

It is relevant too, to consider Red McKenzie's Mound City Blue Blowers in this context since Red blew paper and comb and recorded in Chicago in February of '24 with a trio consisting of himself with Dick Slevin (kazoo) and Jack Bland (banjo). Later Eddie Lang came in on guitar. Definitely a skiffle set-up that.

From then on, numerous washboard groups appeared to brighten up the record catalogues. Clifford Hayes' Louisville Stompers, the Dixieland Jug Blowers, Five Harmoniacs, Memphis Jug Band, Cannon's Jug Stompers, the Beale Street Washboard Band, Alabama Jug Band, Birmingham Jug Band, the Johnny Dodds and Clarence Williams washboard groups and many, many more.

There was no one jug and washboard style, just as there is no one rock style today.

It was a movement, albeit unschooled and pretentious, brought from .rural obscurity to a comparatively fleeting national popularity by the accident of recording and the "race" market.

The music derived much of its strength from blues and jazz, and in turn fed ideas and vitality back to those forms.

Although the 'washboard and/or jug folk groups faded from the record scene as the Depression pushed the bottom out, of the market, they: have made sporadic reappearances until recent years.

And the influence lingers on in blues-with-washboard (remember Washboard Sam and Oh Red?), blues with jug (Hammie Nixon here in the '64 Blues Festival with Sleepy John Estes) and even in the blues-rock-country goodtime music of such as Spider John Koerner on Elektra's "Running, Jumping, Standing Still".

Nearer to home, the phenomenon known as skiffle arose simply because some "revivalist" musicians wished to evoke the atmosphere of the old folk groups ? the "hamfat" bands and bluesy combos rather than near-pure jazz units which used washboard for percussion.

Its exact origins are uncertain, and I don't intend to go far into that trap.

"Skiffle started in South East London, at a jazz club in Abbey Wood where Lonnie Donegan in the autumn of 1952, provided us with interval music," wrote James Asman bravely in the Decca Book of Jazz.

Alexis Korner, in at very near the beginning, says it probably started with Eric Lister's group in Manchester but that, in any event, Ken Colyer's was the first professional skiffle group in the country

"When Ken came back from the USA, around 53 and had the band with Chris Barber, he carried this skiffle band as a separate entity.

"It consisted of Ken on guitar, Lonnie Chris on bass, Bill Colyer on washboard and me on mandolin, guitar and occasional harmonica.

"There was no jug; very few British groups used a jug at that time, though I've heard some good blowing since then, especially Reg Turners with the Roundhouse Jazz Four on 'The Legendary Cyril Davies' album on Folklore label.

Alexis added that he thought most of, the revivalist jug or skiffle bands sounded a bit prissy compared with the genuine folk idiom.

"But I believe skiffle has a great deal to do with the Liverpool sound, for one thing. And its important effect was to loosen up the public attitude to the performance of music," he said.

As for the word "skiffle", so far as I can make out it was another name for a party or musical get-together?something like a house-rent party.

The earliest recording I have on which it appears is the two-part " Hometown Skiffle by the Paramount All Stars, recorded in Chicago in 1929, and this introduces the Hokum Boys, Will Ezell, Papa Charlie Jackson and others in mostly blues performances.

After a lengthy retirement, the word reappeared in '47 on an Exclusive 78 of "Chicken Shack Shuffle" and "Skiffle Blues" by pianist-singer Dan Burley and his Skiffle Boys the line-up had two guitars and bass and also t

Playing the record now, I found it more like elderly R&B than what we knew as skiffle music. But Korner says this kind of piano-guitar-vocal music ? and this record in particular ? inspired the pioneer British skifflemen.

Now, as I write, with the skiffle boom of the Fifties a memory that began to vanish as soon as Donegan ceased to use the word in his billing the whoof and clatter of updated skiffle, jug and washboard combos is again abroad in the land.

Mungo Jerry, of course with their "rock, blues, country, jug, jazz" music on Dawns maxi-single, is very much in the mould, Paul King (banjo, jug, kazoo, harp-vocal) Ray Dorset (guitarist, harp kazoo and practically everything else in the armoury) and Jo Rush (washboard) are among those heard blowing, banging and scraping on this curio.

Ian Anderson (guitar and vocal) leads a keenly rural influenced outfit, sporting harmonica, mandolin, washboard and Pete Hossell's nice jug booming, on his "Stereo Death Breakdown" on Liberty.

And the Famous Jug Band with ?Sunshine Possibilities" and "Chameleon?, (Liberty) makes use of the jug-puffing potential of Henry VIII. Henry Bartlett, to give him his real name, makes a big thing of scouting out and testing jugs for timbre, tonality, piquance and so on.

The best sound emanates from cider jugs, according to Henry, and also button polish jugs. But I emphasise that all sorts of whisky jars, even bottles and paraffin cans stove pipes and other tubes have been pressed into service in the long history of juggery. So long as the vessel has a fairly narrow aperture to blow across, and- a kind of expansion chamber it can be made to emit bass sounds.

So there it is?a back to the black roots attempt by a variety of local groups featuring various styles of jug and washboard music. Spencers Washboard Kings are another in the tradition, and so is the Panama Ltd Jug Band.

Albums are too numerous to detail here, but you can recapture the taste of British Skiffle on "Skiffle" (Ace of Clubs) and the authentic music on "Jug Jook and Washboard Bands" (Blues Classics), "Jugs and Washboards" (Ace of Hearts) " Washboard Get Together", a iazzier item on Regal, and "Jugs, Washboards and Kazoos" (RCA Victor).

If you don't derive satisfaction from this lot, I recommend you find your own cider jug and get cracking!

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: Jugband fever 1970 style
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2008, 06:20:26 AM »
I used to buy Melody Maker in those days (I was only a toddler at the time of course... ;)) and Max Jones knew what he was talking about.

Carl Spencer of Spencer's Washboard Kings lives in my home town of Rye now.  He still plays out with a band, but I believe it's all trad jazz stuff.
« Last Edit: August 15, 2008, 06:22:01 AM by Parlor Picker »
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
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Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: Jugband fever 1970 style
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2008, 07:11:45 AM »
and Max Jones knew what he was talking about.
In 1966 he was very supportive of a young wannabe blues scribe of my acquaintance!  ;)

There?s now an archive consisting of all of Max?s interviews, articles, photos etc which is maintained by his son.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: Jugband fever 1970 style
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2008, 08:17:03 AM »
and even in the blues-rock-country goodtime music of such as Spider John Koerner (and Willie Murphy's ) on Elektra's "Running, Jumping, Standing Still".

One of the great unsung, not so post psychedelic records of the period imho. The Red Palace is the name of the place......
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

Offline Richard

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Re: Jugband fever 1970 style
« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2008, 07:57:37 AM »

As I recall from musicians who who used to play in the band used to be called Spencer's Cardboard (or Cutout) Things...
(That's enough of that. Ed)

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