Thursday, October 01, 2015

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Saluting a Jug Band Giant

from the April 1930 edition of What’s on the Air, a publication of WHAS radio in Louisville, Ky.
Earl McDonald is the banjo man in the middle.
Click the image to make it more readable

Most people haven't heard of him, but American music owes a lot to an African American banjo player from Kentucky named Earl McDonald.

As a teenager circa 1900, (no that's not a typo), McDonald was a fan of what might have been the very first jug band in the known universe, The Cy Anderson Jug Band, which featured early jug pioneer B.D. Tite. 

The Anderson band, based in Louisville, knocked around for about nine years, playing "riverboats, carnivals, parties and venues throughout the Midwest and upper South" according to Don Kent's liner notes for the wonderful Yazoo jug band collection Ruckus Juice & Chitlins

But by 1909, a homesick Anderson decided to move back to Virginia. But McDonald was ready to fill the void. Earl McDonald's Original Louisville Jug Band got a gig playing the Kentucky Derby. According to the Jug Band Hall of Fame:

By 1914, he was travelling with his band to performances in New York and Chicago. Earl McDonald led the Ballard Chefs' weekly performances on Louisville's WHAS radio for three years (1929-1932). Public response exceeded expectations, enhancing the popularity of jug band music throughout the eastern half of the United States. Earl McDonald's voice and the rhythm of his jug blowing enlivened the recordings of more than 40 tunes with a half-dozen bands from 1924 to 1931.

McDonald played with the  Original Louisville Jug Band as well as the Ballard Chefs and The Old Southern Jug Band. And in 1924 with a group that eventally became known as The Dixieland Jug Blowers -- which was a merger of McDonald's Original band and one led by his former musical partner Clifford Hayes -- he made the first known jug band recording backing singer Sara Martin on "Blue Devil Blues."

I wasn't able to find any information and what happened to McDonald. He was doing his Ballard Chefs radio gig as late as 1932. Tat's about the time the bottom was falling out of the recording industry, especially for "race" records and "hillbilly" records. I'm not even sure when McDonald died. 

But he sure left some fun tunes behind. Enjoy some now.

Here's my favorite Earl McDonald song, "She's in the Graveyard Now," a variation of "In the Jailhouse Now."

And here's another classic

And here is another McDonald, Hayes and Martin collaboration from 1924

And what the heck, here are a bunch of songs from McDonald and his bands

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