|Al Duvall's latest single
I'll admit, what first drew me to Al Duvall was the fact that he'd actually teamed up with one of my other FMA discoveries, the lovely Singing Sadie.(Whatever happened to her? Someone lemme know!)
But soon I was lured to Duvall's own strange compositions like "Stuck on a Hat Check Girl" and "When Dorey's Behind the Door" (I find myself singing the refrain to this at the strangest moments.)
Usually accompanying himself on banjo, sometimes doubling on kazoo, Duvall seems like some medicine-show performer from some past century come to life. Vaudeville for the criminally insane. His pun-heavy lyrics are dark and wicked, in a Tom Lehrer sort of way. Not hard to imagine Lehrer and Duvall sitting on a park bench together poisoning the pigeons.
Not much is known about Duvall. There are a couple of interesting bios online. This one appears on his FMA page:
Born June 31, 1877 in Pahrump, West Virginia, Algernon Otmer Duvall began his musical career on the vaudeville stage as end-man in Lew Dockstader's Minstrels. He fought in a bicycle squadron in Ypres during World War I, where he received a crippling dose of the Hun's mustard. Returning home, he made ends meet working at a sausage factory in Harrington Delaware from 1921 until 1989. He took up the banjo in 1991 as physical therapy for his pleurisy. He went on to master the alto kazoo at the age of 118. "Al" Duvall attributes his remarkable longevity to a daily dram of Hamlin's Quinsy Balsam.
A slightly different version of the Duvall biography can be found at his Reverb Nation site.
Al Duvall, a grandchild of the Great Depression, was one of many unemployed musicians in 1932 who was sent via time machine into the future to find work, as part of the WPA program. His timing couldn't have been better, for IN TIMES LIKE THESE (SM) we could all use an entertainer whose charm and musicianship once made the Great Depression so great. Hopefully, Al will bring a little bit of Depression to you with his cloud-scattering mirth.
I don't know which one to believe.
Actually, I understand he lives in Brooklyn and might not really be over 100.
Here is a tune called "Bareknuckle Ballerina" There's a classic Duvall line in this one: "I still cherish that night in Paris / When you were in St. Paul ..."
Apparently Duvall found religion. In fact he's been washed in the "Blood of the Hog." (Warning: This melody might remind you of a Lovin' Spoonful song.)
Below is Duvall's most recent album, Insomnibus available at Bandcamp. You can listen to it for free. But if you like it, buy the darn thing. I just did.