Monday, July 21, 2014


“Downfall Blues” contains the curious word “Yockadot”

Many years ago, I added “Downfall Blues”, by Tom Archia, to Disc 5 of my home-made jump blues compilation. The song, which features rare singing by the jazz saxophonist, fit well on beloved Disc 5, the novelty volume in a compilation that has, by now, stretched to 11 discs. Amid the sophisticated early statements from Archia’s tenor, amid the roughened lyrics about the musician’s weakness for whiskey, I became interested in a word, “yockadot”, that the man shouts twice before replacing the horn in his mouth and offering the listener his gracious swerve. The song subsides in a sweet, if haunting fashion.

Disc 5 contains early jump songs, such as those by Duke Henderson and Sammy Price. It presents jumps about certain characters like Deacon Jones and Butcher Pete. Some pieces serve as “answer songs”, such as the Lucky Millinder Orchestra’s “Who Said Shorty Wasn’t Coming Back?”, which answers Bull Moose Jackson’s piece, “Shorty’s Got To Go.” The disc veers into salty lyrics, food songs, New Orleans marching collision jumps, and plenty of drinking fare. Jimmy Liggins sings, in his song, “Drunk”: “Go home at night with a swimmin’ in my head / Reach for the pillow miss the whole durn bed.”

I discovered “Downfall Blues” when I bought a used copy of The Chronological Tom Archia 1947-1948, #5006 in the Classics Blues & Rhythm CD series (2001). While hunting for additional information on the saxophonist, I arrived at The Tom Archia Discography, a thorough online review of Archia’s life and output, written by Robert L.  Campbell and two other researchers. I wrote an email to Campbell, a Professor of Psychology at Clemson, about the word “Yockadot.” Kind enough to write back, he suggested that “Yockadot” may have been Archia’s “personal nonsense hipster word.”

Born in Texas, in 1919, Tom Archia played tenor saxophone in a high school orchestra that included Illinois Jacquet. He joined Milt Larkin’s band in 1940, and in 1942, the band landed a breakthrough nine-month residency at Chicago’s Rhumboogie Club. Archia would lead, play alongside, and/or record with the likes of Roy Eldridge, Charlie Parker, Wynonie Harris, Gene Ammons, and Dinah Washington, throughout his career. In the Classics liner notes, Dave Penny writes that Archia was “known among his contemporaries as ‘The Devil’ because he could play the hell out of his tenor.”

Tom Archia

A few years back, I hosted a group of friends at my apartment for a whiskey toast. We’d been following the Welsh football club, Swansea City, during their freshman campaign in the English Premier League, and after the club’s impressive finish, we aimed to celebrate their success with Penderyn, the single malt Welsh whiskey. My friend Doug Lang, a Swansea native and lifelong supporter of the football club, said, “iechyd da”, after we hoisted our glasses, the Welsh drinking toast pronounced, roughly, “yockee-dah.” We all knew the Archia song by then; Doug suggested a possible link to the drinking toast.

I cannot find any obvious link between Tom Archia and anything Welsh, although from the sound of “Downfall Blues”, he may have known a few toasts. If Archia indeed kept “yockadot” as his personal nonsense hipster word, perhaps he converted “iechyd da” via the jive phrasings of musicians in his scene, the muscular wailing of his tenor saxophone, or the beauty and “nonsense” associations that may occur to many of us when fooling with language. Either way, “iechyd da” often leads to Penderyn, and “yockadot” always leads to “Texas Tom” Archia’s fine tenor jump, a unique and necessary moment.

Sources of Information:

The Tom Archia Discography, written by Robert L. Campbell, Leonard J. Bukowski, and Armin Büttner

Wikipedia entry on Tom Archia

The Chronological Tom Archia 1947-1948
, #5006 in the Classics Blues & Rhythm CD series (2001). Liner notes written by Dave Penny

Band information for “Downfall Blues”: Tom Archia (tenor sax, vocals), Bill Searcy (piano), Leo Blevins (guitar), Lowell Pointer (bass), Robert ‘Hendu’ Henderson (drums). Recorded in Chicago, in October 1947, on Aristocrat #605.


Heather Fuller said...

Grt grt post grtstein. Mr. Archia's mad pure joy over whisky / moonshine / alcohol - "half a pint" - is a riled up moment indeed. Leslie Scalapino frequently spoke of "forming the language." The article there was no accident, and "forming" - well, a very careful choice. I daresay making a definitive link btwn our beloved Welsh toast & Mr. Archia's "nonsense" may be elusive, but the act of connection is what I believe "forming the language" is all abt. We drink from many lyrical troughs, form connections [cultural work], and the language [being alive] is richer. Iechyd da ... at anfeidredd.


Yr being too kind Hthr but okay and yeah -- I mean why keep coming back to this song? (1) The sweet tone on the tenor sax. (2) The improvised lyrics incl the vocabulary -- moonshine! (3) And then, with one "personal nonsense hipster word" the song treads into a whole other place altogether. (4) How he says the two Yockadots. It's almost as if the second one is a reminder -- a reinforcement -- a restatement of belief, even if hollered a bit in resignation, too. But in enny event what yr saying about Leslie and "forming the language" reminds us about how sound -- works. And this song proves it.

Oh, Yockadot, --------------------------------------- Yockadot, -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------BA