African-American History Month - “When the blues overtake me”
From humble beginnings, legacies are built. When traveling musician Will Shade 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 included a guitar and a jug - like the Kentucky bands - 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 on 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. They made 80 recordings or more with the names of these various bands and as an accompanying band for various members. For most of those recording and performances, they were simply The Memphis Jug Band.
Ralph Peer was a talent scout and producer, and worked variably for Columbis, OKeh, and Victor. He is credited with a list of “firsts.” His role, in an age of limited availability of technical equipment, was to travel and record in various cities, setting up makeshift studios in New Orleans, Atlanta, Bristol and Memphis, Tennessee. Scouting and recording in Bristol Tennessee in 1927, he is recognized for the first country music recording and the discoveries of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family group.
Earlier that year he was in Memphis. He brought Will Shade and his band - at that time with Charlie Polk, Ben Ramey, and Will Wheldon - into the McCall Building, formerly in the now vacant lot north of the Orpheum, and made what have been credited as the first commercial recordings in Tennessee. On this day in 1927, The Memphis Jug Band recorded four songs for the Victor Talking Machine Company.