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Frank "Josh" Billings

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  • jaykay
    I would like biographical and musical information (hard for me to come by, at least where I have looked) about this notable suitcase player, who was nothing
    Message 1 of 9 , Aug 20, 2010
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      I would like biographical and musical information (hard for me to come by, at least where I have looked) about this notable suitcase player, who was nothing but a name to me until I chanced unpon the Mound City Blue Blowers videos on You Tube. If I confess that his shtick makes him a favorite entertainer of mine, will you tell me what you know about his life. Did he make a living playing the suitcase? Was he a professional musician/entertainer? What have you heard? Thanks.
    • Mordechai Litzman
      Found a little more about Josh Billings: On February 23, 1929, the Mound City Blue Blowers recorded as the Mystery Orchestra. The recordings were unissued,
      Message 2 of 9 , Aug 20, 2010
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        Found a little more about Josh Billings:



        On February 23, 1929, the Mound City Blue Blowers recorded as the "Mystery
        Orchestra." The recordings were unissued, but Jack Bland is listed as playing
        banjo, and George Means is listed as playing "suitcase." Red McKenzie is said to
        have played "tin-can," which some have suggested as being a baritone kazoo.
        However, it was probably a regular kazoo played into a coffee can to produce a
        kind of wah-wah effect, as described by Bing Crosby.
        In June 1929, the Mound City Blue Blowers appeared in their second Vitaphone
        short, entitled "The Opry House." In addition to McKenzie and Bland, Carl Kress
        played guitar, and Josh Billings (1904-1957) played the suitcase. The suitcase
        was a real suitcase, which was played with two whisk brooms, while being kicked
        to produce a bass drum effect. This is presumably the same way George Means
        played it, four months earlier. (Frank "Josh" Billings grew up, in Chicago, with
        the Austin High School Gang. In addition to being an accomplished suitcase
        player, he played drums and piano.)
        During the summer and early fall of 1929, Red McKenzie made several recordings,
        as a vocalist, with Red Nichols and His Five Pennies, as well as the Midnight
        Airdales, another Nichols band. It was also during this time that Eddie Condon
        first recorded with the Mound City Blue Blowers, on August 19 and September 25,
        before joining the band for their landmark session of November 14, 1929, which
        included Coleman Hawkins.
        In April 1930, the Mound City Blue Blowers appeared in their last Vitaphone
        short, entitled "Nine O'Clock Folks." Red McKenzie played his hot comb,
        amplified by a large megaphone. Both Jack Bland and Eddie Condon played
        4-string, cello-bodied guitars, while Josh Billings played the suitcase.



        ________________________________
        From: jaykay <jaykay_4444@...>
        To: RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com
        Sent: Fri, August 20, 2010 1:55:57 PM
        Subject: [RedHotJazz] Frank "Josh" Billings


        I would like biographical and musical information (hard for me to come by, at
        least where I have looked) about this notable suitcase player, who was nothing
        but a name to me until I chanced unpon the Mound City Blue Blowers videos on You
        Tube. If I confess that his shtick makes him a favorite entertainer of mine,
        will you tell me what you know about his life. Did he make a living playing the
        suitcase? Was he a professional musician/entertainer? What have you heard?
        Thanks.







        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • gerry.paton
        Frank Josh Billings was on the fringes of the Austin High Gang. Eddie Condon credits him as having invented suitcase playing, but Ralph Berton recalled that
        Message 3 of 9 , Aug 24, 2010
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          Frank 'Josh' Billings was on the fringes of the Austin High Gang. Eddie Condon credits him as having invented suitcase playing, but Ralph Berton recalled that his brother Vic (and his associates) were using whisk-brooms with suitcases in 1921 (and probably earlier). Only at jam sessions, though. If you're interested, I researched and wrote a rather detailed article on the history of brush playing called 'Never Swat a Fly'. It covers how suitcase playing came about. Available as a free download from my website:

          www.brushbeat.org

          There are numerous anecdotes about Billings in Eddie Condon's autobiography 'We Called It Music', which is a really entertaining read. Billings once turned up to an engagement with most of his teeth missing and was unable to offer an explanation (nobody could understand him!) You'll notice in the Youtube vids of Billings that he has a huge gap when he smiles!

          Incidentally, George Means was a temporary replacement for Billings. I haven't read Mezz Mezzrow's autobiography yet, but I think I'm right in saying that Billings seems to have been involved with pot/cocaine at the time and was a little unreliable - Condon tactfully said something along the lines of Billings being absent for personal reasons, or 'taking a break' (it was a while ago since I read his book, so I can't remember his exact wording).

          There are also a few mentions of Billings in Max Kaminski's My Life In Jazz. He used to hang around with other drummers - he played conventional kit too - like George Wettling and Dave Tough. According to an obit I found (St Petersburg Times 14 Mar 1957), "He left the music business in 1933 to become an engraver."
        • gerry.paton
          Apologies for reviving this old thread, but I just posted a lengthy article about Frank Billings on my website. For those interested, here s the direct link
          Message 4 of 9 , Nov 29, 2011
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            Apologies for reviving this old thread, but I just posted a lengthy article about Frank Billings on my website. For those interested, here's the direct link (PDF format):

            http://brushbeat.org/documents/FrankJoshBillings.pdf

            Also accessible via the articles section of my site:

            http://brushbeat.org/Articles.php
          • Nick Dellow
            The train station photograph reproduced in your excellent article on Josh Billings was almost certainly taken on October 28th, 1928, when Paul Whiteman and
            Message 5 of 9 , Dec 1, 2011
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              The "train station" photograph reproduced in your excellent article on Josh
              Billings was almost certainly taken on October 28th, 1928, when Paul
              Whiteman and his Orchestra - including Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer
              - visited New Orleans during a long tour. Both Philip Evans in "Bix: The
              Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story" and Jean Paul Lion in "Bix: The Definitive
              Biography of a Jazz Legend" give the date of the photograph as October
              28th, 1928, and state that it shows Bix and Trumbauer, not Bix and
              Billings. In the earlier biography "Bix: Man And Legend" (by Richard
              Sudhalter and Philip Evans) the photo is stated to have been taken during
              the Spring of 1929, when the Whiteman Orchestra was en route to Hollywood
              to make "The King Of Jazz", but other photographs taken during the same
              period show Whiteman to be fatter and older-looking.

              Another photograph taken a few minutes earlier (or later) than the one
              reproduced in your article shows the Whiteman band's clarinettist Irving
              Friedman, Bix and Whiteman himself on the same train platform.
              Incidentally, Bix, Whiteman and Trumbauer are wearing identical hats, and
              all except Whiteman are wearing similar grey suits. This may signify that
              the apparel was bought by the Whiteman office for the band members to wear
              during the tour. Whiteman is wearing a white suit.

              I am sure that it is Frank Trumbauer not Josh Billings in the photo in your
              article, and the evidence available suggests that this is the case. Another
              clue is the fact that in the Metronome article the photo of Bix and
              Trumbauer was reproduced courtesy of Frank Trumbauer.

              Finally, I'd like to extend my gratitude to Albert Haim for his help in
              providing important information concerning this photograph.


              Nick


              On 29 November 2011 22:58, gerry.paton <gerry.paton@...> wrote:

              > **
              >
              >
              > Apologies for reviving this old thread, but I just posted a lengthy
              > article about Frank Billings on my website. For those interested, here's
              > the direct link (PDF format):
              >
              > http://brushbeat.org/documents/FrankJoshBillings.pdf
              >
              > Also accessible via the articles section of my site:
              >
              > http://brushbeat.org/Articles.php
              >
              >
              >


              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
            • gerry.paton
              Nick, many thanks for your input. I m going to have to do some rewriting it seems! Personally, Bix s companion doesn t look like Tram to me, but the
              Message 6 of 9 , Dec 1, 2011
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                Nick, many thanks for your input. I'm going to have to do some rewriting it seems!

                Personally, Bix's companion doesn't look like 'Tram' to me, but the evidence seems to be stacked in that direction so I need to clarify things and include this info - I'll probably leave the photo in but with a serious question mark as to whether it is actually Billings and then leave the reader to decide.

                Again, thank you for your input.


                --- In RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com, Nick Dellow <nick.dellow@...> wrote:
                >
                > The "train station" photograph reproduced in your excellent article on Josh
                > Billings was almost certainly taken on October 28th, 1928, when Paul
                > Whiteman and his Orchestra - including Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer
                > - visited New Orleans during a long tour. Both Philip Evans in "Bix: The
                > Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story" and Jean Paul Lion in "Bix: The Definitive
                > Biography of a Jazz Legend" give the date of the photograph as October
                > 28th, 1928, and state that it shows Bix and Trumbauer, not Bix and
                > Billings. In the earlier biography "Bix: Man And Legend" (by Richard
                > Sudhalter and Philip Evans) the photo is stated to have been taken during
                > the Spring of 1929, when the Whiteman Orchestra was en route to Hollywood
                > to make "The King Of Jazz", but other photographs taken during the same
                > period show Whiteman to be fatter and older-looking.
                >
                > Another photograph taken a few minutes earlier (or later) than the one
                > reproduced in your article shows the Whiteman band's clarinettist Irving
                > Friedman, Bix and Whiteman himself on the same train platform.
                > Incidentally, Bix, Whiteman and Trumbauer are wearing identical hats, and
                > all except Whiteman are wearing similar grey suits. This may signify that
                > the apparel was bought by the Whiteman office for the band members to wear
                > during the tour. Whiteman is wearing a white suit.
                >
                > I am sure that it is Frank Trumbauer not Josh Billings in the photo in your
                > article, and the evidence available suggests that this is the case. Another
                > clue is the fact that in the Metronome article the photo of Bix and
                > Trumbauer was reproduced courtesy of Frank Trumbauer.
                >
                > Finally, I'd like to extend my gratitude to Albert Haim for his help in
                > providing important information concerning this photograph.
                >
                >
                > Nick
                >
                >
                > On 29 November 2011 22:58, gerry.paton <gerry.paton@...> wrote:
                >
                > > **
                > >
                > >
                > > Apologies for reviving this old thread, but I just posted a lengthy
                > > article about Frank Billings on my website. For those interested, here's
                > > the direct link (PDF format):
                > >
                > > http://brushbeat.org/documents/FrankJoshBillings.pdf
                > >
                > > Also accessible via the articles section of my site:
                > >
                > > http://brushbeat.org/Articles.php
                > >
                > >
                > >
                >
                >
                > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                >
              • gerry.paton
                Another clue is the fact that in the Metronome article the photo of Bix and Trumbauer was reproduced courtesy of Frank Trumbauer. There s no mention of this
                Message 7 of 9 , Dec 1, 2011
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                  "Another clue is the fact that in the Metronome article the photo of Bix and Trumbauer was reproduced courtesy of Frank Trumbauer."

                  There's no mention of this in the Metronome article Nick (I own a copy). Perhaps in one of the other publications that you mentioned? Until I've checked those references (will do so in the New Year) I'll leave the photo in.

                  I have rewritten that section, however, so that it's only a possibility that the photo is of Josh (and not a certainty). Will change things again if necessary (once I've checked the other publications - thanks again!)
                • Nick Dellow
                  Sorry Gerry, I didn t give enough related information with respect to the Metronome photo and the fact that it was originally reproduced in the magazine
                  Message 8 of 9 , Dec 2, 2011
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                    Sorry Gerry, I didn't give enough related information with respect to the
                    Metronome photo and the fact that it was originally reproduced in the
                    magazine courtesy of Frank Trumbauer.

                    There are actually two editions of Metronome that include this photo
                    - November 1938 and July 1940. On page 19 of the November 1938 edition,
                    there is an article entitled "Bix" by Frank Trumbauer. There are two photos
                    on that page. One is of Bix and Tram, which is the same as that given in
                    the July 1940 Metronome, reproduced in your article. The caption reads "Bix
                    and Trumbauer" (no credit specified). The other photo on the page is the
                    one of Friedman, Bix and Whiteman on the same train platform (as also
                    referred to in my previous message). The caption reads "Izzy Friedman
                    (clarinetist), Bix and Whiteman. (Pictures this page courtesy Frank
                    Trumbauer.)" As the caption specifies that both photos are "courtesy Frank
                    Trumbauer" we can safely assume that the original source of the Metronome
                    photo, as reproduced in your article, is Frank Trumbauer.


                    Nick


                    On 1 December 2011 23:08, gerry.paton <gerry.paton@...> wrote:

                    > **
                    >
                    >
                    > "Another clue is the fact that in the Metronome article the photo of Bix
                    > and Trumbauer was reproduced courtesy of Frank Trumbauer."
                    >
                    > There's no mention of this in the Metronome article Nick (I own a copy).
                    > Perhaps in one of the other publications that you mentioned? Until I've
                    > checked those references (will do so in the New Year) I'll leave the photo
                    > in.
                    >
                    > I have rewritten that section, however, so that it's only a possibility
                    > that the photo is of Josh (and not a certainty). Will change things again
                    > if necessary (once I've checked the other publications - thanks again!)
                    >
                    >
                    >


                    [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                  • gerry.paton
                    Many thanks for the clarification Nick. It looks like I should pull the photo as it s only going to muddy the waters. I ll rewrite that section when I have a
                    Message 9 of 9 , Dec 2, 2011
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                      Many thanks for the clarification Nick. It looks like I should pull the photo as it's only going to muddy the waters. I'll rewrite that section when I have a moment. I already have a known photo of Josh in the article, plus the info re Bix still holds up, so not a huge loss.

                      Thanks again.

                      Gerry

                      --- In RedHotJazz@yahoogroups.com, Nick Dellow <nick.dellow@...> wrote:
                      >
                      > Sorry Gerry, I didn't give enough related information with respect to the
                      > Metronome photo and the fact that it was originally reproduced in the
                      > magazine courtesy of Frank Trumbauer.
                      >
                      > There are actually two editions of Metronome that include this photo
                      > - November 1938 and July 1940. On page 19 of the November 1938 edition,
                      > there is an article entitled "Bix" by Frank Trumbauer. There are two photos
                      > on that page. One is of Bix and Tram, which is the same as that given in
                      > the July 1940 Metronome, reproduced in your article. The caption reads "Bix
                      > and Trumbauer" (no credit specified). The other photo on the page is the
                      > one of Friedman, Bix and Whiteman on the same train platform (as also
                      > referred to in my previous message). The caption reads "Izzy Friedman
                      > (clarinetist), Bix and Whiteman. (Pictures this page courtesy Frank
                      > Trumbauer.)" As the caption specifies that both photos are "courtesy Frank
                      > Trumbauer" we can safely assume that the original source of the Metronome
                      > photo, as reproduced in your article, is Frank Trumbauer.
                      >
                      >
                      > Nick
                      >
                      >
                      > On 1 December 2011 23:08, gerry.paton <gerry.paton@...> wrote:
                      >
                      > > **
                      > >
                      > >
                      > > "Another clue is the fact that in the Metronome article the photo of Bix
                      > > and Trumbauer was reproduced courtesy of Frank Trumbauer."
                      > >
                      > > There's no mention of this in the Metronome article Nick (I own a copy).
                      > > Perhaps in one of the other publications that you mentioned? Until I've
                      > > checked those references (will do so in the New Year) I'll leave the photo
                      > > in.
                      > >
                      > > I have rewritten that section, however, so that it's only a possibility
                      > > that the photo is of Josh (and not a certainty). Will change things again
                      > > if necessary (once I've checked the other publications - thanks again!)
                      > >
                      > >
                      > >
                      >
                      >
                      > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                      >
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