Memphis Jug Band – Complete Recorded Works (1932-1934)
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Picaninny Jug Band: Will Shade, harmonica; Jab Jones, jug; Charlie Burse, vocal, tenor guitar, Vol Stevens, vocal, mandolin, Otto Gilmore, drums. Memphis Jug Band: Same as Picininny Jug Band with appearances by: Charlie Pierce, violin and Robert Burse, drums.In 1932 a bunch of musicians traveled to Richmond, Indiana, to cut records for Gennett’s soon to be extinct cheap label Champion. Despite, or more likely because of, times being hard, the Picaninny Jug Band’s music is generally up tempo, jolly music, with Otto Gilmore’s capering percussion strongly featured. Even so, the discs sold poorly. Some of the titles were to be re-cut at the Memphis jug Band’s last, two-day session, for Okeh in 1934. The band that recorded then was an accomplished and versatile unit: Will Shade, Charlie Burse and Jab Jones all sang; Shade played guitar and harmonica, and Burse guitar and mandolin, while Jones doubled piano and jug (unless, as he claimed, Dewey Corley was the jug player for this date). Charlie’s brother Robert handled the percussion, while on fiddle there was Charlie Pierce, older than the rest of the band, and formerly a member of W C. Handy’s Orchestra. The Memphis Jug Band’s music had changed radically since their Victor days, in an effort to keep up with changing fashions. There is a considerable infusion of jazz, and Pierce’s virtuoso fiddle playing draws heavily on white country music. The effect of all this, and the crosstalk, scatting and laughter, often recalls the Western Swing that was coming out of Texas and Oklahoma, itself heavily influenced by blues and jazz. The jug, of course, made the MJB’s music distinct with instruments playing thunderous solos of remarkable fluency. Often, the selections amount to fiddle-jug duets, although on Gator Wobble and the high speed tour-de-force Jazzbo Stomp,it’s Shade’s harmonica that’s the feature. If their music had altered to the point where many of the discs described it as “novelty hot dance”, it was still distinctively black, and often still steeped in the blues; Jab Jones’s Mary Anna Cut Off (which refers to Marianna, Arkansas) is a barrelhouse piano classic, while She Done Sold it Out reverts to the sound of their 1929-30 recordings. Did the Memphis jug Band know that this was to be their last session? No doubt that Jug Band Quartette,its melancholy harmony contrasting elegantly with the celebratory lyrics, is a conscious, elegiac tribute to themselves, their fellow musicians “way down yonder in old Memphis, Tennessee”, and the music that even now sounds “so sweet, you know it’s hard to beat”. Informative booklet notes by Chris Smith.
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