Jack Kelly & His South Memphis Jug Band 1939 – 1939
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Jack Kelly, vocal, guitar.
Includes; Will Batts, violin; Dan Sane, guitar and others…
Genres: Memphis country blues. Jug band.
Informative booklet Notes by Alan Balfour
Memphis boasted a preponderance of jug bands and when record companies finally got round to recording the genre there were at least six formally organised bands working in the city. Four of those, Will Shade’s Memphis Jug Band, Gus Cannon’s jug Stompers, Jed Davenport’s Beale Street Jug Band and Jack Kelly’s South Memphis Jug Band, had fairly flourished recording careers.
Little is known of Jack Kelly. It is thought that he was born in northern Mississippi at the turn of the century, moving to Memphis in the twenties where he remained until his death around 1960. He is remembered as a street musician who worked with guitarist Frank Stokes, Dan Sane and fiddle player, Will Batts. Later Kelly, Sane and Batts augmented their sound with a jug player, DM Higgs, forming a group called the South Memphis Jug Band. Their repertoire tended to favour blues based material and the combination of two guitars, violin and jug produced a decidedly “country blues”.
The uninhibited music of the country juke joint and southern township hall is evident in Kelly’s first recording in 1933, the all pervasive impression being one of musical excellence rather than originality of lyric. Jack Kelly‘s basic chording and medium tempo picking, perfectly complemented by Dan Sane’s busy, base run flat picking, underscored by Will Batt’s plaintive fiddling and sonorous jug blowing of Dr Higgs, add new dimension to fairly standard themes like Highway 61 or Ko Ko Mo Blues. However, when Jack Kelly and Will Batts returned to the studio six years later they underwent a metamorphous, dropping Sane and Higgs – along with the “South Memphis Jug Band” – tag, and in their place an unidentified guitarist, possibly Little Son Joe, providing the foil. This change of personnel had a marked effect on their sound, almost taking their music back to the decade that produced the fine partnership of Frank Stokes and Dan Sane. Also, the material took on a more lyrical, profound and topical air as in, for example, Joe Louis Special (“Steak and gravy is his favour-ite dished”), Diamond Buyer (“Somebody, somebody, somebody been trimming my horses main”) or the post depression Neck Bones Blues (“times got so hard, well, it made many men to eat kneckbones”).
Throughout the forties and fifties Jack Kelly remained playing in Memphis finally teaming up with harmonica player Walter Horton. In 1952 they recorded two numbers for Sun records as Jackie Boy and Little Walter, but that was the last contact Walter Horton had with Jack Kelly.