Memphis Harp & Jug Blowers 1927 – 1939
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Although Louisville is credited with the first flowering of jug band music, it was Memphis where it came to full maturity with the Memphis Jug Band, Cannon’s Jug Stompers and the Beale Street Jug Band. A little taste of the MJB can be heard in the accompaniment to Minnie Wallace’s 1929 recordings but the main attraction here is the wonderful Beale Street Jug Band, led by harmonica maestro and multi-instrumentalist Jed Davenport. This was probably and principally a studio conceived recording group as it included; Joe McCoy, recording artist, singer/guitarist and musical (and for a time life) partner of the great Memphis Minnie and another singer/guitarist who had already recorded, Henry L. Castle, known as Too Tight Henry (we won’t speculate as to what was too tight!), Minnie herself was probably in there somewhere too, playing guitar. Davenport’s first record featured him playing distinctive "talking" harp on instrumental covers of two major hits of the day by, respectively, Leroy Carr and Cow Cow Davenport, with guitar backing (probably by Joe McCoy). A few months later Brunswick / Vocalion’s field unit were back in Memphis with a vengeance, recording twenty acts, including the Beale Street Jug Band, their answer to the two jug bands providing the Victor label with hits. Minnie Wallace’s powerful vocal delivery suggests a tent show background; Dirty Butter, with Milton Roby’s fiddle prominent in accompaniment, makes reference to Beale Street, while the chorus of The Old Folks Started It suggests it was also known as ‘The Darktown Strut’ and might even have harked back to minstrel show days. Six years on Wallace, again partnered with Memphis Jug Band leader Will Shade (playing distinctive high register harmonica), recorded two further sessions for Vocalion. In complete contrast to Minnie Wallace’s tough, outgoing performances, Charlie "Little Buddy" Doyle recorded ten brilliant, introspective blues that mostly reflected the hard times he experienced and difficult personal relationships. The same excellent harmonica player seems to have been on both Doyle recording sessions but his identity remains in doubt. Hammie Nixon made a strong claim but so did Walter Horton and while aurally I favour the former identification, it could equally be that it is neither of them.