Memphis Jug Band
Complete Recorded Works 24 February 1927 – 28 November 1930
Vol. 1: (24th February to 13th February 1928)
Featuring the recordings of:
Will Shade, harmonica (1,2) / guitar (3,4) / vocal (3,4); Ben Ramey, kazoo/poss. speech (4); Will Weldon, guitar / vocal (1, 2, 3)/poss. speech (4); Charlie Polk, jug / vocal (3) Will Shade, guitar / vocal (5,7,8); Ben Ramey, kazoo / vocal (7,8); Will Weldon, guitar (5,6?,7, 8) / vocal (6, 7, 8)/shouts (5); Charlie Polk, jug; “Shakey Walter”, harmonica (5, 6) Will Shade, harmonica (12) / guitar (9,10, 11) / vocal (9,10,12); Ben Ramey, kazoo / vocal (12); Will Weldon, guitar / vocal (12); Vol Stevens, banjo-mandolin (9,10, 11) / guitar (12); Jennie Clayton, vocal (9,10,11); one of the band, speech (10) Will Shade, harmonica (13); Ben Ramev, kazoo; Will Weldon, guitar; Vol Stevens, guitar / vocal; Charlie Polk, jug (14); one of the band, speech (13) Will Shade, guitar (14) / vocal; Will Weldon, guitar; Vol Stevens, banjo-mandolin; Charlie Polk, jug. Will Shade, harmonica (17,18)/ guitar (20) / vocal (19,20); Will Weldon, guitar / vocal (19); Vol Stevens, banjo-mandolin (19,20) / guitar (17,18) / vocal (17,18); Ben Ramev, kazoo / vocal (19); Charlie Polk, jug; one of the band, speech (17, 18); several of the band, speech (20)
Genres: Blues, Memphis Blues, Tennessee Blues, Country Blues, Jug Band, Blues Harmonica, Country Blues Guitar, Hokum, Blues Mandolin, Female Blues,
Abridged from this albums original booklet notes. It’s appropriate that the breakthrough to recording for Memphis jug bands should have been spearheaded by the Memphis Jug Band, even if it no longer appears that Will Shade‘s group was the first of its kind in the city. The good sales of their first coupling both ensured that Victor recorded them extensively for three years, and paved the way into the studio for the bands led by Gus Cannon, Jed Davenport and Jack Kelly. The Memphis Jug Band‘s sound changed considerably with time, but it was always instantly recognisable; at the outset, the band comprised Will Shade and Will Weldon, whose two guitars make a sound often very like that of St. Louis bluesman Charlie Jordan; Ben Ramey, whose chugging, inventive kazoo shared the melodic duties with the harmonica that Shade also played; and Charlie Polk, who played the instrument that gave the band its name. (Was it really Walter Horton, aged nine, playing harmonica on Sometimes I Think I Love You and Sunshine Blues?; the cry of “Toot it, Mister Tooter!” on the former track affords no clue, but it sounds like Shade on Sunshine Blues, which has only one guitar.) Charlie Polk‘s other role with the band was as a dancer and comedian; perhaps it was his primary role, for he was sometimes a rather reticent jug player – even on Memphis Jug Blues! I’ll See You In The Spring, When The Birds Begin To Sing, is a raggy, pop-influenced number that points to the stylistic versatility that was one of the Memphis Jug Band‘s strengths, allowing them to play for audiences both working class black and country club white. At these early sessions, though, they emphasised blues numbers, perhaps in line with record company wishes. Shade recorded a number of takes of his theme tunes, Sun Brimmers Blues and the lyrically interesting Newport News – Blues, later remade as Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues. The other members of the band also sang from time to time, often contributing attractive, raggedy harmonies, or spoken comments. Shade’s wife, Jenny Clayton, joined the group for three numbers, one of which ends with an instrumental chorus or Careless Love; at these early sessions it’s not unusual for the records to end with quite lengthy instru¬mental sections. I’m Looking For The Bully Of The Town is one of such, with only two verses, followed by a long kazoo showpiece. Jenny Clayton‘s session with the band was her only one, but it also saw the important addition of Vol Stevens, who played guitar and a hybrid instrument called the banjo-mandolin. He blends perfectly with the ensemble; it was guitar that he played on a lovely relaxed Kansas City Blues, recorded only nine days after Jim Jackson’s hit version, and therefore not a cover of it. The four songs recorded at the Memphis Jug Band‘s 13th February 1928 session were the last to feature Will Weldon, later to reappear in Chicago playing Hawaiian guitar in a very different style, and Charlie Polk was also about to depart. Their replacements were respectively Charlie Burse and Jab Jones; the considerable difference they made to the band’s sound can be heard on Document album DOCD-5022.
Chris Smith Copyright 1990 & 2008 Document Records