Memphis Jug Band

Former Memphis Jug Band members with Will Bates, 1938, Memphis.

The Memphis Jug Band was the most recorded (over 100 sides between 1927 and 1934) and one of the most popular of the jug bands to spring up in Memphis in the 1920s (along with Cannon's Jug Stompers). The jug band craze started in Louisville, Kentucky around 1905. By 1910 there were a number of bands active in Louisville, including string bands and jazz groups that had added a jug player to cash in on the craze.

The central figure in the Memphis Jug Band was Will Shade (aka Son Brimmer, a knickname from his grandmother, Annie Brimmer, who raised him). Will Shade (Born Feburary 5, 1898 Memphis TN) first heard the records of a Louisville jug band called the Dixieland Jug Blowers in 1925. He convinced a local musician called "lionhouse" to switch from blowing an empty whiskey bottle to a gallon jug, added Tee Wee Blackman on guitar and Ben Ramey and the Memphis Jug Band was born. Shade played guitar, harmonica and "bullfiddle", a stand up bass made from a garbage can, a broom handle and a string.

The Memphis Jug Band was a loose knit outfit with a constantly changing membership. They played local events and were one of the main attractions when they played at Handy's Park in Memphis. By the late 1920s they were managed by Howard Yancey of Yancey Booking Agency at 326 Beale. He was able to get them well paying gigs at the Chickasaw Country Club, the Hunt Polo Club and at conventions at the Peabody Hotel. They were also hired regularly by Edward H Crump, the local political boss, for private parties and by food stands and restuarants to attract people. They played on the back of trucks advertising Colonial Bread and Schlitz.

By this time a number of jug bands had organized in Memphis, including Cannon's Jug Stompers, Jed Davenport's Beale St Jug Band, The Three Js and Jack Kelly's Jug Band (later known as The South Memphis Jug Band). The Memphis Jub Band was the most recorded of the local jug bands, recording over 60 sides for Victor between 1927 and 1930. The majority of these sessions were held in Memphis, with some recordings done in Chicago (1927) and Atlanta (1928). The final recordings of The Memphis Jug Band were made in Chicago in 1934 for Okeh/Vocalion and exhibited a more jazzy sound than their earlier recordings.

By the late 1930s Memphis was in decline, know as the "murder capital of the world" it was rife with corruption. Local politicians tried to combat the problems by closing down the gambling houses and brothels. This signaled the end of the jug band era in Memphis. Will Shade continued to put together jug bands in the 1940s, often with Charlie Burse. The two were rediscovered and recorded by blues researcher Samuel Charters in 1956. Will Shade died of pneumonia on September 18, 1966 at John Gaston Hospital and was buried in Shelby County Cemetery in Memphis.

Recording History

Lindberg Hop (Traditional)

Jab Jones - Jug/Lead Vocal
Will Shade - Guitar
Vol Stevens - Mandolin
Ben Ramey - Kazoo
Will Weldon - 2nd Vocal

Also known as The Lindy and The Overseas Stomp.

  • Memphis Jug Band (Yazoo 1067)
    Recorded September 11, 1928, Memphis, Tennessee

On The Road Again (Traditional)

Will Shade - Guitar/Harmonica
Charlie Borse - Guitar/Vocal
Ben Ramey - Kazoo/Vocal
Jab Jones - Jug/Lead Vocal

Note the use of a somewhat stronger term than "rounder" in this version. (A "rounder" is an itinerant railroad worker who moves from one railroad to another.)

  • Memphis Jug Band (Yazoo 1067)
    Recorded September 11, 1928, Memphis, Tennessee

Stealin' Stealin' (Gus Cannon)

Memphis Jug Band (Yazoo 1067)
Recorded September 15 , 1928, Memphis, Tennessee

Will Shade - Lead Vocal
Vol Stevens - Guitar/Vocal
Ben Ramey - Kazoo
Jab Jones - Jug

Usually listed as just Stealin', note the line "Put your arms around me like a circle 'round the sun". This was copyrighted as being written by Gus Cannon, but it seems odd that Gus did not record it.