Memphis Jug Band

Formed 1927, in Memphis, TN. Disbanded 1935.

A rollicking collection of street musicians led by the irrepressible Will Shade, the Memphis Jug Band dominated the town's blues culture in the 1930s with their jazzed-up version of country standards. Some of Memphis' most creative blues players shuffled in and out of Shade's group, among them harmonica maestro Walter Horton, mandolinist Charley Burse, slide guitar ace Will Weldon, jug popper and comic Charlie Polk and vocalist Hattie Hart. And always close at hand was kazoo man Ben Ramey, whose nattering instrument at times leavened--and other times marred--the group's fluid picking and singing. The group's almost-instant success among blues buyers in 1927 paved the way for similar jug groups led by Gus Cannon and Jack Kelly. The rolling "Memphis Jug-Blues" and "Sometimes I Think I Love You" set the pattern for the band's easy-paced, humorous efforts. Sweet-natured, romantic rags alternated with tough-minded tracks that played off the violent, comic nature of Memphis life. The most sardonic titles included "I Whipped My Woman with a Single-Tree" and "I Can Beat You Plenty"; their most enduring recording is "Stealing, Stealing," decades later a favorite in the jug band revival that swept through the folk community in the 1960s. The prolific band recorded nearly 70 songs for Victor and OKeh between 1927 and 1934, dropped only after their quaint country stylings fell out of favor with record buyers who preferred more urbane musicians such as Leroy Carr and Walter Davis. Undaunted, Will Shade kept putting together new versions of the Jug Band as late as the 1960s. Only his death in 1966 ended the long-running group.

Source: MusicHound Blues: The Essential Album Guide

Jug bands were found in nearly every city in the South during the 1920s and '30s, but they were most popular and prolific in Memphis, Tennessee. The Memphis Jug Band was the first (and some consider the best) of many to record. Between 1927 and 1934, the group recorded close to 100 sides. Led by multi-instrumentalist Will Shade, the Memphis Jug Band performed at every conceivable type of venue: street corners, backwater juke joints, city nightclubs, political rallies, private parties at elegant homes and hotel ballrooms, openings of stores, medicine shows, and even on excursion trains and riverboats. Their repertoire had to include a wide range of styles in order to entertain all these different sorts of audiences, so they could and did play everything from the latest popular ragtime pieces to old-time waltzes and breakdowns, raucous bawdy blues songs, and humorous vaudeville routines. This seminal jug band went through numerous configurations during its seven years of recording; the consistent element was the band's organizer, Will Shade (who sometimes used the pseudonym "Sun Brimmer," a local name for a parasol, which "will shade"). The group stopped recording in 1934, but in 1956 Sam Charters recorded a recreation of the Memphis Jug Band with two of its original members, Shade and Charlie Burse, joined by Gus Cannon (of Cannon's Jug Stompers). comprehensive introduction to the good-time party music played by this genre-defining aggregation of Memphis's finest musicians and spans their entire recorded output from 1927 to 1934. It includes all their classics: their most well-known song, "Stealin," the achingly beautiful vocal harmonies of "K.C. Moan," Hattie Hart's down-home "Cocaine Habit," the raunchy duet "Cave Man Blues," and much, much more. The Memphis Jug Band provided a benchmark for all future jug bands, and this material shows why: an entertaining, danceable fusion of blues, pop music, and old-time music featuring a thundering jug in place of a bass, melodic kazoo and harmonica duets anchored by two thumping guitars, vocals that are by turns lighthearted, lewd, melancholy, and comical. It's a must-have for anyone interested in jug band music.

Source: MusicHound Folk: The Essential Album Guide

    Charlie Burse, guitar, mandolin, vocals
    Jab Jones, piano, vocals, jug
    Charlie Pierce, violin
    Will Shade, harmonica, vocals
    Vol Stevens, mandolin, vocals
    Will Weldon, guitar, vocals
    Charlie Polk, vocals, jug
    Tewee Blackman, guitar
    Hattie Hart, vocals
    Charlie Nickerson, piano, vocals
    Ben Ramey, kazoo, vocals
    Milton Robie, violin
    Memphis Minnie, guitar, vocals
    Hambone Lewis, jug

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