Memphis Shake

Today has been a very busy day, so I haven’t had time to put finger to keyboard at all. I always feel I’m letting the side down if I don’t post every day, but I’ve only got a few minutes before going for dinner. Fortunately I’ve got a list of little fillers for such occasions so I thought I’d try this one on you. Experience suggests you will either love it or hate it!

I’ve blogged before about the pioneering clarinettist Johnny Dodds, who appeared on an astonishingly high fraction of the greatest recordings of the era of classic jazz. But although he was a jazz age superstar he remained until his death in 1940 a modest and self-effacing man who never tried to hog the limelight.

One day in December 1926, Johnny Dodds happened to be in the Chicago studios of the Victor record company. The band that happened to be recording at that time was an obscure folk group from Louisville (Kentucky)with the unpromising sounding name of The Dixieland Jug Blowers. After some discussion, Johnny Dodds agreed to sit in with them while they recorded a tune called Memphis Shake. They weren’t really a jazz band and didn’t use the usual jazz instruments. There is what sounds like an alto sax on this record, but there is also a fiddle, banjo and, of course, the “jug”  (an earthenware whisky jar or some such item, played  by blowing across the top to produce a whimsical kind of bass). The idea of a jugband probably sound very hokey now, but were in fact extremely popular in the pre-jazz era and well into the 1920s. Other than the fact that they were led by a chap called Earl Macdonald and the fiddle is played by Clifford Hayes, I really don’t know anything else about the personnel.

As you’ll hear, Johnny Dodds takes quite a back seat, but his presence on this record turned it into a little  piece of jazz history and original 78s of this are much sought after among collectors. It is a bit of an oddity. It’s not really jazz and it’s not really folk, but what it is is one of the most joyously carefree pieces of music you will ever hear in your life. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, I hope it at least brings a smile to your face as it does to mine whenever I hear it.

One Response to “Memphis Shake”

  1. […] Anyway, the tune Memphis Shake is introduced by Humph as “from way back” and I in fact posted the original version some time ago. The band clearly enjoyed playing that night way back” in […]

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