From the Record Shelves #136

Fourth Street Mess Around

LP Yazoo 1067

In the 1960s there was a radio program of half an hours’ length in which Olle Helander went around in the south of the USA interviewing and recording the original blues men. In one of the programs he managed to find Will Shade, the leader of Memphis Jug Band, with quite amusing results. The orderly Swedish radio man who was a great enthusiast and expert of American jazz and blues music still gets shocked over the poverty, the drinking and the constant arguing that surrounded Shade and his companions. At one point they try using a bath tub bass, but have a fight about it, and finally it gets kicked under a bed.

If Helander had been there in Memphis in the 1920s on Beale Street, the center of sin, gambling and drinking he would not have been surprised I guess. In the Handy Park the musicians around Shade used to gather and jam in a style that was originated in Louisville and had become a craze among ordinary people. The music was called jug band music because it used a jug blewn like a tuba as a bass instrument, otherwise it was based on string instruments like the guitar, banjo and mandolin.

The core of the Memphis Jug Band consisted of Will Shade, harmonica and guitar; Charlie Burse, guitar and banjo-mandolin and Jab Jones on jug. Around them loosely knit to the band was a herd of local talent, instrumentalists, singers and entertainers. On this tune recorded in 1930 Charlie Nickerson does the lead vocal, and it has Ben Ramey on kazoo.

Three persons needs to be mentioned for making this fine double album and helping to give attention to the band.

  • Cover & back art: R. Crumb
  • Mastering: Nick Perls
  • Notes: Bengt Olsson

Olsson was a Swedish guy that traveled in the US and became the expert on jug band music. He once had a shop selling American food specialties here in my hometown Malmö and I often went there. He was very shy, I was respectful, and I regret that I never got to talk with him about the jug band music, and then one day he and his shop was gone.