I have just listened to the King Mutt and His Tennessee Thumpers sides again earlier tonight, and what I hear on "Good Time Mamma" is "Play it, Butch". It could also be "...Mutt" but I think I hear a "ch" sound in there although it is really hard to tell. Were any of the old-time cornet players nicknamed "Butch"?
Also, on a related issue, I have read with interest Uncle Dave Lewis' piece on the band on AllMusic.com:
detailing the uncertaintly surrounding the personnel. My big question is, what EXACTLY does it say for the band in the Gennett Files? Who is the supposed leader, or does it just give the name of the group, no personnel, etc.??? How did they pay the musicians royalties for this recording, or I would guess they were just paid a flat fee for the session like so many other sessions back then?
Listening to it, it sounds like many of the same musicians as on the Dixie Four recordings, although there is a conspicous absence of a bass player, which, coupled with the poor miking of the piano, and the presence of an extra soprano instrument voice (the mandolin) gives the band an rather top-heavy sound, in my opinion.
I have both the Document Buddy Burton and Jimmy Blythe CDs with the Dixie Four and Midnight Rounders sessions, and King Mutt, to me, sounds like an expansion of these sessions with horns, but sans bass and with only one pianist (well, at a time, at least).
Why can't discographers make up their mind on who is playing bass and drums on these sessions? I have seen both the famous bassist Bill Johnson, OR Junie Cobb's bassist William Lyle credited as the bassist on these sides. Is it the same bassist on both or different bassists? How can we tell?
Now, as to the drummer, three different sessions gives three different ways to mike the drumset (or, rather, place it in relation to the single microphone???), but in my opinion the same drummer and same drumset is present on each one of these recordings, plus the "Alabama Jim and George" and "Harlem Trio" sides. The drummer has been attributed as Marcus Moman (or Norman), Clifford "Snags" Jones, Tommy Taylor and Jimmy Bertrand! Now, I am not an expert in any one of these gentlemen's styles, but I will repeat that it sounds to me like it's the same drummer, regardless of whoever it is, on these four sessions. He seems tightest and snappiest on the amazing Dixie Four sides, and loosest and sloppiest on the Burton-Moman(?) and Burton-Moman-Moore sides. Now, if this really is how they're credited in the record company logs, then the drummer on these sessions must be Marcus Moman (Norman???), who has now become one of my favorite drummers.
As to the duo and trio sides with Buddy Burton, I am of the theory that all men were so smashed that they could barely play, with the result of being either some of the worst or some of the "loosest" jazz(?) to ever be heard by anybody! In fact, as much as I dearly love Buddy Burton, the man and his music, it makes me mad that these awful, unmusical sides were released (by Gennett) while presumably brilliant and beautiful early ragtime performances by Felix Arndt and Roy Bargy remained unrelased and presumably dynamited into oblivion (by Victor) in the 1960s.
My other theory regarding these duo and trio sides is that the men were either so smashed or just so punchy from exhaustion that they decided to switch instruments, with the results being basically what you hear! Buddy Burton was a good drummer when he was having a good day, but (assuming the switch happened), you can tell that he can't do any more with the kit that day than Norman can do with the piano!
Speaking of switches, there is a boo-boo in Mike Montgomery's otherwise great liner notes to the Document Burton and Hudson CD: he mentions Jimmy Blythe as playing the bass and Buddy Burton the treble on "Dusting the Keys" which is correct, but then he repeats that line-up for the next side, "Block and Tackle" which is incorrect; as a pianist I can tell you right away that the two pianists have switched positions and Blythe is now playing the treble half of the piano; and Burton, the bass half.
This does bring up a question: which pianist is saying what on this classic recording? I originally thought that Burton was the man who starts the dialogue, and Blythe chimes in with questions now and then, but now I'm not sure.
This is compounded by the fact that Burton's voice sounds slightly different to me on almost every cut of the Document CD, and by the time we get to his slightly more consistent 1936 date with Irene Sanders (whom I believe is also the second pianist on "New Block and Tackle Blues"), Burton's voice is rather gravelly and hard for me to place in the earlier context.
How did his voice really sound? Was it high or low? The same goes for Jimmy Blythe; somewhere, I have seen Jimmy Blythe named as the high, exclamatory voice on the Dixie Four and Midnight Rounders sides, but then again, I have also seen that voice attributed to the drummer (Marcus Norman?), the bassist (Bill Johnson?), and even a guest vocalist (Frankie Half-Pint Jaxon?!?), while Peter Muir, in his dissertation on Blythe, claims the shouter on these records is none other than Buddy Burton, whom he also claims is the drummer! I would assume more trustworthy recordings (played at THE RIGHT SPEED, and IN THE RIGHT KEY instead of in-between keys!) exist of the voices of these musicians so we can make a comparison.
I love these recordings and would love to know who's on them once and for all, AND, how we know this (interviews with Buddy Burton?, Bill Johnson? etc.). Especially the Dixie Four sides, which are some of the most marvelous performances I've ever heard in my life. More on those at the end of this post, but first:
Regarding the piano on the King Mutt sides, I have listened to all seven and can say for certain that Jimmy Blythe is on piano on the first four sides (Mississippi/Blythe's Stomp, Shake Your Shimmy, Original Stomp, and Good Time Mamma). Although he is not his usual collected and accurate self (he sounds quite in-the-bottle and a little bit sloppy, rhythmically), it still sounds just like him.
For example: on "Original Stomp", he plays, for a solo, the theme of one of his piano rolls (actually, a Capitol roll strongly attributed to him), called "Sugar Dew Blues", although he eschews the boogie bass found on the roll for a more regular note-chord pattern. On "Good Time Mamma", his solo is basically the last chorus of his tune "Alley Rat" similar to as found on his fantastic piano roll!
There is also a Capitol piano roll of "Nut House Stomp" (that Nathan Bello has transcribed and recorded on his CD "Wild Side Blues") which suggests a connection with Blythe, although the tune is very simple and repetitive which is unusual of Blythe, unless of course he was in-the-bag by the time he improvised this tune with the rest of the King Mutt gang.
In fact, that is my theory: "Nut House Stomp" may have started out in the studio as an idea (drunken or not) of Blythe's, and at the beginning of this track, it seems to be his voice (or at least the question-asking voice of the Blythe and Burton "Block and Tackle Blues") who announces, in a hilarously swaggering fashion, that "I'm George Washington!" (after which he is met with loud mutters of disapproval from the rest of the group, and the tune starts). If this is indeed the voice of Blythe (and it is the same voice calling out who takes which solo on "Nut House", and then saying "cool it" or "knock it off", or "listen to this" or something to that effect, RIGHT before the piano solo), then this would seem to confirm that he is the leader, at least on that one track.
Continuing my theory, it follows that since Blythe (or SOMEBODY at Capitol) made rolls of many of the tunes appearing on Paramount, Gennett, and Vocalion race records at the time (for example "True Blues", "Hot Springs Water Blues", "Who'll Drive My Blues Away?", "Priscilla's Blues", "Better Cut That Out" etc. etc.), then he must have made the roll, or at least wrote the lead sheet for someone like Clarence Johnson or Alex Hill to have made the roll, of "Nut House Stomp".
Could Jimmy Blythe have been "King Mutt"? Was this a race-derived nickname or purely a "Good-Time" nickname? Unless it transpires that one of the group was actually mulatto, I am starting to believe the theory that King Mutt was a "collective creation" (so to speak) of the group, and not an actual person.
Confusing matters is the pianist on "Maxwell Street Stomp" who does not sound a lot like Blythe to me. It is possible that by the time they got round to this fifth side, Blythe (and presumably some of the others) had hit the bottle so often that they were incapable of playing their usual more sophisticated figures. Certainly, the FEEL is indicative of Blythe, even if the pianistic content is lacking in this area (and I mean LITERALLY lacking, as in sparse, not as in filled with non-Blythe content that would point a finger in someone else's direction).
The suggestion that the pianist is Frank Melrose is an interesting one. Frank Melrose, although a fine pianist in the Jelly Roll Morton tradition, with wise twists of his own, does not sound, to me, very much like Jimmy Blythe. Even though John Steiner mentions him as having listened to Blythe records (and Clarence Williams and Jelly Roll Morton records) brought home by a family member, Steiner does not mention Blythe again specifically in the article, nor does he give any indication that the two men met (although they very likely DID meet at some point, given Melrose's apparent propensity for frequenting seedy South-Side haunts). Steiner does, however, say that Melrose learned from many [African-American] pianists, suggesting that he did get around:
AND - once in a while, in those solo performances that I've heard, Frank Melrose DOES drop a Jimmy Blythe figure! BUT - it's usually just a quick reference, lasting for a bar or less, and almost always in the right hand (rarely, if ever, in the left), and certainly, although I have not heard every available Melrose recording (only his early commercially-issued material), I can say that he never seems to have taken anywhere near an entire chorus in something resembling Blythe's style (which sets him apart from Albert Ammons, Clarence Johnson, Alex Hill, and Cline Tindull, all of whom could sound remarkably like Blythe when they wanted to).
So, because of this, I would put the influence of Jimmy Blythe on Frank Melrose as about on par with Blythe's influence on Art Hodes: definitely there, but rarely audible in their playing, and not the most important factor in the shaping of their style (since of course, both of these gentlemen had their own personal tastes with regards to their musical influences)
Melrose's left hand is (and I DO NOT mean this in a disparaging way), straightforward, fine ragtime and Jelly Roll, and he rarely uses tenths, certainly not nearly as often as Blythe did, and I have never heard him use a tricky figure such as the walking octave-to-tenth chromatic Charley Straight figure that Blythe was so fond of.
With regards to the right hand, Melrose's statements were often in octaves or single notes, and were simultaneously more horn-like and more obtuse than Blythe's largely pianistic and frequently (but not always) pattern- or chord-derived figures.
I will allow that IT IS POSSIBLE (and kind of a fun thing to imagine) that Melrose dropped in on the King Mutt session, knocked a jug with the rest of the gang, and perhaps sat in on piano with the approval of Blythe himself. Certainly, I will allow that the piano on "Maxwell Street Stomp" and "Nut House Stomp" COULD BE Melrose (with Blythe sitting next to him on the bench or elsewhere in the studio yelling out orders on the latter track, and silencing the gang for Melrose's solo). He might also be on "I Wanna Get It", I have to listen to that track again to make sure.
BUT another nail in the coffin (TERRIBLE metaphor, sorry) of the theory that Frank Melrose is on the King Mutt sides, is the conspicuous absence of any mention of these sides on this scholarly and exhaustive page on his life and work:
Notice that the Jimmy Bertrand sides with "Aunt Jemima Stomp" etc. are mentioned, but NOWHERE are the King Mutt sides mentioned at all. Melrose seems to have obliged early discographers by attempting to list sides he was on as recalled in various brief interviews and encounters, but he never mentions the Mutt sides. Why? either he was ashamed of them, had simply forgotten the session took place (too "in the bottle") or, simply wasn't on the session? John Steiner's Frank Melrose discography, at the link a few paragraphs above, also makes no mention of these sides.
"I Wanna Get It", by the way, uses the same basic melody as "I'm going to the river, the shimmery river..." who wrote this theme? Who first recorded it? Don't break your back trying to research the answer for me, I would just appreciate everyone's best guess, since I've covered this tune a few times with The Surrenders, and we've considered it a folk tune.
Major kudos to the folks at Frog records for doing such a stellar job cleaning up these sides... you can really hear a lot of what is going on!
OK, before I go, I better finish what I started earlier talking about the Dixie Four sides. After having heard the Blythe and Burton record several times, as well as several verified Jimmy Blythe and Buddy Burton recordings, I am not so sure that Burton is the second pianist on the Dixie Four sides, although at first listen it would make sense (two pianists on one piano, one of the pianists is Jimmy Blythe, and the other pianist doesn't sound like Charlie Clark). After quite some time thinking about who the other pianist might be if it isn't Burton (I don't hear Burton's characteristic figures), I have come up with four possibilities (not definite, just good guesses):
1. Clarence Johnson
2. Janice Blythe
3. Alex Robinson
4. Aletha Dickerson
You're probably scratching your head right now. Well, Clarence Johnson was a very good friend of Jimmy Blythe's (to the point where they are frequently confused for each other on uncredited recordings accompanying singers, and also on uncredited piano rolls), and being approximately the same age (born in 1900, I think) probably influenced Blythe as much as Blythe influenced him. Both men were under the spell of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller's early piano rolls and recordings, and both learned many good things from them (with Johnson journeying to New York to record with singers and make rolls in 1923, and POSSIBLY getting to meet one or both of his heroes in-person). Clarence Johnson, in my opinion, was one of the best "popular" pianists (I use that term loosely to include blues and jazz) of the 1920s. He had very tasty ideas, and played with a very relaxed and laid-back "swing" feel that sounded quite modern for the time (although not the same kind of swing as Jelly Roll Morton was doing).
Anyway, Johnson and Blythe apparently did things together such as recording with the same singers (Sodarisa Miller, Priscilla Stewart, and Monette Moore), and even went so far as to make at least one piano roll together (though not playing at the same time).
This roll, "You Shall Reap Just What You Sow" was made up in Wisconsin for the Billings Roll Co. and perfectly illustrates the stylistic differences between the two men; one plays the verse of the tune including his own ingredients, for a couple verses, and then there is a pause and the other man takes over for the chorus, a few times through. It is a great roll. Robert Perry has scanned it but it is not yet available on his "Pianola NZ" website.
Anyway, the virtuosity of the two pianists on the Dixie Four sides is so stunning and well-matched, as contrasted with the somewhat bumbling (but definitely feel-good) Blythe and Burton sides, that I think Jimmie Blythe's pal Clarence Johnson is the most likely candidate for second pianist.
Another compelling reason is that the tune "St. Louis Man" is the exact same tune as co-composed by Clarence Johnson and the Smith Brothers, "Jelly's Blues". Clarence made at least one or two piano rolls of it and recorded it a couple times accompanying some singers. The Smith Brothers (Lloyd and Warren) published it in Chicago, but I have never so much as seen a copy on eBay so this sheet music be as rare as hen's teeth. The fact that Clarence Johnson's nickname "Jelly" was so close to that of "Jelly Roll" Morton probably didn't help matters much. In fact, I have a theory that both pianists' nicknames came from their respective well-known compositions, rather than the other way around. The same goes for J. H. "Mr. Freddie" Shayne, who was nicknamed that after his famous composition.
Now, unless the Smith brothers shafted or burned him in some way, I can't imagine why Clarence Johnson would want to re-record his own hit tune under another title, unless of course he had:
1. updated it with new lyrics and subject matter (which of course are not on this record),
2. sold it outright in which case he would have had to worry about paying fees etc. for recording his own tune,
3. or perhaps he's not on the Dixie Four recording and Jimmy Blythe changed the title of the tune so he could record it without Clarence knowing, for some unknown reason. (Clarence Johnson apparently died of tuberculosis in 1933)
Regardless of the reason behind this, "St. Louis Man" (somewhat ironically) ALSO came out on piano roll, just a few years after "Jelly's Blues" and released by the same company (Capitol, although Johnson had done a stellar rendition for QRS as well). The piano roll of St. Louis Man, whether originally played by Blythe, Burton, Johnson, or whoever (I think probably Blythe), has been transcribed by Nathan Bello and can be also heard by him in a killer rendition on "Wild Side Blues".
I firmly believe Johnson is the second pianist on "St. Louis Man" at least, because some of the breaks are identical to breaks he used to back up singers a few years earlier, and are characteristic of his style.
2. Janice Blythe (Jimmy's wife) was also reportedly a piano player, although I don't know how well she could play. This really reminds me of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Melrose, though, although Jimmy Blythe died before he got to see the happy piano-playing couple (they married in 1934).
3. Alex Robinson was reportedly a good piano player, although according to his wife, Aletha Dickerson, he never made any piano recordings...or at least solo recordings. She wasn't clear on wehter or not she meant he never accompanied anyone or played duets.
4. Aletha Dickerson claims she never recorded for Paramount during the time she worked there (which includes 1928, I think) but I'm including her just for the heck of it:
Now if Buddy Burton himself said he was on the Dixie Four sides, in his interview or elsewhere, then I rescind what I just wrote and defer to him. After all, he would have recognized his own work better than anyone else, and such a beautiful and fantastic jazz recording session as this should surely have remained a memorable event to all involved.
Andrew E. Barrett
--- In RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com, "David Brown" <johnhaleysims@...> wrote:
> Listening yet again the King Mutts. I find two exhortations to 'Play it
> Mutt' -- on 'Good Time Mama' during a trumpet solo and on 'Nut House Stomp'
> during a clarinet solo. Which is even more enigmatic but suggests to me that
> Mutt is a figment for added colour. The Thomas 'Boot It Boy' also offers a
> 'Play it Mutt' to the clarinettist.