February 5 in Memphis Music History
From humble beginnings, legacies are built. When a travelling musician returned home to Memphis in 1926, he started a band like one he had heard in Louisville Kentucky. Ever changing and growing, the first version of the group was a guitar, a jug, and a kazoo. The multi-instrumentalist bandleader wanted a little more so he added a second guitar. Over the years, there were guitars, a fiddle, washboard, harmonica, and mandolin. Other musicians, playing additional instruments floated in and out of the band or backed them on recordings. They played parties, parks, picnics, and of course clubs and Beale Street. They even played political gatherings as a favorite of Mayor “Boss” Crump. The group travelled widely - New Orleans, Chicago, Dallas and the Southeast, taking on different names as they recorded and performed such as the Dallas Jug Band and Carolina Peanut Boys. It’s thought they made the first record in Memphis in 1927 for Victor, and made as many as 80 recordings with the names of these various bands and as an accompanying band for various members including the founder and Memphis Minnie, a sometimes vocalist and guitarist for the group. With varying instruments, the band’s sound ranged from country blues to jazz. The bandleader’s talent on his first instrument, the harmonica, has influenced generations of country blues players and the band’s songs have been covered by blues and rock bands.
Though a model business manager for the band and stockholder in Victor via royalties and retainers, the bandleader was financially ruined by the 1929 crash and depression, but played on. He gathered some musicians together, was recorded by Alan Lomax in 1959 and backed up old friend Gus Cannon on his Stax recordings in 1963. He was rediscovered in the ‘60’s with many other blues and folk legends, but it was too late. He died of pneumonia in Memphis on September 18, 1966 and was buried in a pauper’s grave - number 497 - in the Shelby County Cemetery.
Let’s honor a giant of early Memphis music - Will Shade, or Son Brimmer, of The Memphis Jug Band - musician, performer, producer, composer, and bandleader without peer - who was born on this day in 1898 in Memphis!