Jaybird Coleman & The Birmingham Jug Band (1927-1930)
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Complete Recorded Works 1927 – 1930
Featuring the recordings of:
Bertha Ross, vocal; acc. Bessemer Blues Pickers: Vance Patterson, piano; probably Jaybird. Coleman, harmonica; unknown, whistling. Jaybird Coleman, vocal, harmonica. Jaybird Coleman, vocal, harmonica; Ollis Martin, 2nd harmonica. Frank Palmes (almost certainly a pseudonym for Jaybird Coleman. Jaybird Coleman, vocal, harmonica; prob. Robert McCoy or R. D. Norwood, piano. Birmingham Jug Band: unknown, harmonica /mandolin / guitar / jug /vocal. Joe Williams gives the following personnel: Jaybird Coleman, harmonica; Joe Williams, One-Armed Dave (Dave Miles), Dr. Scott, Bogus Ben Covington, guitar / mandolin; Honeycup, jug; New Orleans Slide, washboard; some of whom may be present.
Genres: Blues, Country Blues, Alabama Blues, Blues Harmonica, Female Blues, Jug Band, Blues Piano, Hokum, Georgia Blues, Gospel
Abridged from this albums original booklet notes. It is highly unlikely that the correct personnel will ever be known for this energetic, but enigmatic, group. The standard sources give the following possible group members, information which was apparently obtained many years ago from Big Joe Williams: Jaybird Coleman (harp), Joe Williams, One-Armed Dave (Dave Miles), Dr. Scott, Bogus Ben Covington (stringed instruments), Honeycup, (jug), New Orleans Slide, (washboard). There may be elements of accuracy in Williams assertions; certainly his word will stand until more reliable information surfaces. One fact is indisputable: the Birmingham Jug Band participated in an exceptionally diverse field session in Atlanta that included the Middle Georgia Singing Convention No.1, Macon Ed and Tampa Joe, Rev. J. M. Gates, and King Davids Jug Band. The truth is that the names themselves are not as important as the music itself because the Birmingham Jug Band was one of the most raucous groups to record. I wish Id been able to attend one of their live performances (they sound like a group that played together and were not just a studio band), but we can hear eight of the nine selections they recorded for OKeh in December of 1930. These sides underscore their place in American music history as one of the most irrepressible jug bands ever to record. Its varied repertoire reflects the general diversity of African-American music in the deep South in the late 1920s; Bill Wilson is an engaging version of John Henry, while Giving It Away reflects the hokum blues so popular at the time. One of their most entertaining performances, The Wild Cat Squall is a hectic, almost frenzied, showcase for the harmonica player. Kickin Mule Blues illustrates two of the groups most pronounced musical characteristics: its tempo is rather quick and it features a thick musical texture, enriched by the blend of jug, percussion and stringed instruments. Burl C. Jaybird Coleman originally from Gainesville, Georgia, is alleged to be the harmonica player for the Birmingham Jug Band, which strikes me as an unlikely proposition, although their styles are not dissimilar. Even if he was not on these jug band sides we know that he served in the Army around World War I, worked with minstrel shows and as a solo artist before his death in June, 1950 in Tuskegee, Alabama. On his own unaccompanied recordings Jaybird Coleman tends to use a higher pitched harp – often playing in the key of C or D. His timing on these recordings issued on Gennett, Black Patti and related labels, not surprisingly, is much more idiosyncratic. These fascinating selections are a compromise between field hollers and blues, especially in Jaybirds cavalier disregard for the 12-bar blues form and his frequent use of the falsetto voice range. Colemans harp also often serves as an extension of his voice or as a call and response, similar to the musical form of a group work song. Like so many bluesmen, Jaybird Colemans recorded repertoire easily moves between the secular and the sacred. His duet with Ollis Martin, Im Gonna Cross The River Of Jordan – Some O These Days is a masterful version of this 19th century spiritual. Equally strong and moving are the blues-like performances; Man Trouble Blues and Save Your Money – Let These Women Go are tough, personal, and utterly unique. Boll Weevil is his lament for the demise of southern agriculture, which began at the turn of the century, and a highly entertaining version of this blues ballad. His final recordings for Columbia are the only selections on which he sounds somewhat uneasy. It is evident that he has to keep his own creative impulses in check while trying to keep in sync with the unknown piano player. This is particularly evident in Man Trouble Blues, which pales in comparison to his Gennett recording from two and a half years earlier.Kip Lornell, Smithsonian Institution Copyright: 1992 & 2009 Document Records