Primary Instrument: Band/ensemble/orchestra
Memphis Jug Band - band/ensemble
The Memphis Jug Band varied in composition but always included Will Shade, known also by a family name, Son Brimmer. Shade was not only a proficient guitarist but also a harmonica and jug player of some stature. He was born in Memphis, February 5, 1898, and worked with fellow Memphis musician Furry Lewis as early as 1917.
The Memphis Jug Band was formed in the early 1920s to play parties, clubs, and dances. The band's appeal was universal; they played for tips in Church's Park (now W.C. Handy Park) on Beale Street, swanky affairs at the Chickasaw Country Club, and for conventions at the Peabody Hotel. The band played the park not only for tips but also to learn new songs from other jug bands, such as Jack Kelly's Jug Busters (featuring Frank Stokes), the Three J's (featuring Sleepy John Estes), Robert Wilkins's four-piece outfit, and solo performers Gus Cannon (of Cannon's Jug Stompers) and Jim Jackson. In testament to their virtuosity, the Memphis Jug Band obtained the most lucrative gigs, including political rallies and private parties for E.H. Crump, Memphis' notorious mayor.
Various musicians recorded with the band from its first session in February 1927 to its final session in November 1934. These performers included Ben Ramey on kazoo, Will Weldon on guitar and mandolin, Shakey Walter Horton on harmonica, Charlie Polk on jug, Vol Stevens on banjo-mandolin (a banjo with a mandolin head), Jab Jones on jug, Hambone Lewis on jug, and vocalist Charlie Nickerson. In 1928, Charlie Burse joined the band as a permanent fixture on guitar and mandolin. The Memphis Jug Band frequently recorded with female singer Hattie Hart and with singer/guitarist Memphis Minnie on one occasion.
The band's first record was Sun Brimmer's Blues, whose title played a pun on Shade's nickname derived from a large brimmed hat. It was the first of more than seventy playful, eye-rolling, sly, and infectious tunes to be recorded over the next seven years. Shade was one of Memphis's best songwriters and most of the Memphis Jug Band's songs were original compositions.
The Great Depression, coupled with a concerted police crackdown on gambling in 1930, caused hard times on previously wide-open Beale Street. The jug band craze also subsided in the 1930s, bringing fewer recording opportunities and smaller tips. The band tried to update to a jazzier sound for their final recording date, but commercial success had passed. The Memphis Jug Band's best records epitomize the Roaring Twenties 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.