Saturday, November 27, 2021



Whereas some superstars date many ladies, most of the mortal gal-seeking universe knows that, once you’ve got yourself a gal, you ought to assemble the ensemble and set everybody to dancing. The James Cole String Band thought so, ‘round about 1928. Behold the keen roof-raising principles of “I Got A Gal,” which emphasize the piercing fiddle and capering rhythm.

The James Cole String Band was likely an African American group. Its musicians may have hailed from Indianapolis. Cole, the bandleader and fiddler, may have recorded additional records in the 1930s, yet there could have been a different James Cole by that point. Not much can be said with certainty about the ensemble, except that “I Got A Gal” rattles the windows.

Our Musicology Department has been working overtime on the particulars, and we’re proud to present lyrics, below, followed by discographic information.

We love the pun “She’s a moonshine gal and I love her still.” Lines like that — as well as “I turned out and told turn in” — could represent square dance banter or, you know, some early century inn-you-end-dough. The gal is either “mighty thin” or “big and fat” but either way she lives on the hill in her bathing suit. Of course, and thankfully, silliness prevails. (That, or a touch of the corn liquor.)

Do we think you should play this song on high volume, grab your sweetie pie, and jump around? Why, yes, we do!

I Got A Gal
James Cole String Band


I got a gal she’s mighty thin,
I turned out and told ‘turn in.’
I got a gal she’s mighty cute,
I saw her in a bathing suit.


I got a gal she lives on the hill,
She’s a moonshine gal and I love her still.
I got a gal she lives in town,
Going to see if I can run her down.


I got a gal she wastes her time,
I ain’t seen her for a long, long time.
I got a gal she’s big and fat,
But I can’t tell just where she’s at.

likely personnel / recording data
James Cole, fiddle; Tommie Bradley, guitar; Eddie Dimmitt, mandolin; unknown, string bass; unknown, vocal. Vocalion 5226 b/w “Bill Cheatem.” Recorded on June 22 or June 25, 1928, in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

sources of information
DAHR (discography) page for “I Got A Gal”
DAHR (discography) page for James Cole String Band
Document Records page for James Cole / Tommie Bradley compilation
Allen Lowe. Turn Me Loose White Man. Constant Sorrow Press, 2020
Diane Pecknold. Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music. Duke University Press, 2013


Some of the partygoers had slurped down the Jell-O Shots. Some, the dishwasher pods. Amid the ensuing knee and elbow chaos, the projectile hiccoughs, and the bicycle bros slapping low fives, a Facebook Crisis Page appeared. “Mark yourself safe,” it suggested. Thus, the poet took action. He marked himself safe during the Accidental Jell-O Shots & Cascade Platinum Mix-Up.

Just a few minutes earlier, the cute hostess girl had passed-by, bearing a silver tray of the squishy delights — and, apparently, detergent — so he’d taken one. He’d swallowed something. Hmph. Pretty soon, the likes began piling up. Thirty-three … forty-one … forty-five. Comments, too. “Wait, what?” and “Jell-OMG” and “Pot-scrubbahs!” they read.

Too many nauseous hipsters had queued for the ground-level wash closet, so the poet traipsed upstairs, where he tried a burnished brass doorknob. The light from the hallway slashed into a humid bedroom where two slinky figures scrambled to cover their bodies with bedclothes. One of them, probably the cute hostess, lunged toward the door. Behind her, the “minnie haha” menace of what? Some kind of townie gangster? With bad teeth?

The poet apologized his way into the actual bathroom, at the end of the hall. There, he refreshed Facebook, but the likes had plateaued at fifty-six. He’d gotten many more reactions when he posted pictures of the impressive human poop someone had left behind in his cat’s litterbox. Hmph. He splashed water on his face, and in doing so, scotched his rumpled, holey sweater.

An acquaintance of his (the one w/ dreadful book on University Press — she) had swallowed a Cascade Platinum. She had not marked herself safe. “Oh, I am HORRID,” she posted. “I feel like a MAYTAG.” And the wows, cares, and hearts had exceeded one hundred ninety … A minute later, the poet trudged home, beneath the shivery chandelier of the gibbous, gibbous moon.

Should I mark myself safe, he wondered, from the local criminal element? From my own corporeal pinchings? Chilly winds chapped his ears, as if the Crisis Page immunization had already worn off. Let meter triumph, he declared, over metrics! He shook his fist merrily, yes, merrily, at nobody in particular. That would leave only God — or Facebook — as the recipient. Yet neither heard his prayers. God’s aloofness and Facebook’s aloofness had become the one, the only temperature. 

Friday, October 15, 2021


Key to the photographs: 

1. Deep, deep in the shrubberies: behold the beaver. Being human and smart-alecky, one ponders the paddle. We’re told that the paddle is for dam building, but that can’t be all. The beaver, for example, knows love. What doeth the paddle during the love-making of the beaver? People paddle each other, although the paddle is not — organically — attached to them. You might think “furry, cute little critter” but I think not. I see a varmint that can chew through a tree. Knowing not what might aggravate the beaver, I keep moving along.

2. This massive heron floats down to earth. It is equal parts dinosaur, goose, and 747. A comedian. Slender and plump. Where are the myths about this fine specimen? How come no Leda and the Great Blue? It is a stoic. Perhaps it thinks me a stoic, as well. The two of us, trudging along in the miserable murk that defines our lives. Me ‘n’ the heron, we complaineth not.

3. Thank you for inquiring about the Early Girl tomato plant. Given the absence of bees on the balcony, Dear Reader, I hand-pollinated every single flower. Lo, the plant begat many dozen tomatoes! We had a terrific affair. As for the fruits themselves, well, they were quite tasty, as it works out. This bit of gardening provided me with an essential activity as my skeleton reeled from an injury.

4. During my convalescence from said injury (which continues at present) I watched some reruns of Law & Order. I would like to say that Claire Kincaid, played by Jill Hennessey, is my favorite character. Dunno how the show continued on without her.

5. I got bitten! Not only that, but the venom (of whatever bit me) tried to slay me. But I endured.

6. Given the seriousness of the injury, I hadn’t seen my BFF from the faunal kingdom in several months. But one day, as part of my rehabilitation walk, I thought I saw the little ears sticking up, out of the sand trap. So I says, “Hey mate,” in my silly Australian accent. “Hey mate, you’re a good-looking fox.” This is how all the animals in my orbit know it’s me. The silly accent. She sits bolt upright, curling the big brush of the tail behind her. I think she even whined a little bit. That really broke me up!

7. The fox, stirring.

8. The fox, running. She looks hale and hearty. She’s a good-looking fox, mate.


Tuesday, August 17, 2021



We’re taking a break from our standard musicology fare, in order to bring you breaking developments from the world of enclosed balcony gardening. The Early Girl Tomato Plant takes the spotlight today. Having placed one such specimen on the third-floor balcony at the abode of my parents in late June, I quickly realized that I couldn’t depend upon honeybees for the pollination of the little yellow flowers. A raid to capture a honeybee was considered, in that we’d grab one outside, release it into the balcony area for a period of a few weeks, befriend it, and provide it with all the creature comforts it might desire, including cantaloupes, deep tissue massage, and career counseling.

In the end, it became necessary to pollinate the Early Girl Tomato Plant by hand. A strict training regimen was adopted with the goal of strengthening the acute vibrational muscles & associated giblets. Boxes were rifled-through until a suite of fine art paintbrushes was prized. Then followed a period of speculative vibration, which included (initially, my friends) great periods of isolation and despair. However, there did appear, one fortuitous day, a little green tomato, lo, a cluster of fledgling Early Girls. Mind you, it’s basically mid-August, so the Early Girls are kinda late, eh? I immediately engaged in Early Girl research. I pored over best practices as established in peer-reviewed literature. I wanted to raise me some p-h-a-t tomatoes.

Serious tomato action!

In the end, the Early Girl responds to the basics: sunlight, grow lamps, water, and the singing of “Liza Jane” songs. And, of course, channeling my inner honeybee. I cannot say with any certainty that this strategy of intense vibration would benefit other flowers, and other situations, but I can say this: the Early Girl Tomato Plant is mighty happy to see me.

Song excerpts:
“Goodbye Liza Jane
” (traditional)
“Little Liza Jane
” (Sam Chatmon)

Thursday, June 3, 2021


If you’re courting Liza Jane, and you want to have any chance at winning her hand, you’ve got to swing her madly. Clark Kessinger and his nephew Luches did just that in 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression. This instrumental dance number appeared toward the conclusion of a formidable recording spree: nearly three years and thirty singles, much of it for the Brunswick label. “Liza Jane” peaks and flourishes well beyond the traditional structure that the two men inherited; it frolics and dips; and when it dips into that classic “Liza Jane” country melody, you can sing “Riding on that train” or “Goodbye Liza Jane” because those lines—and every song in the “Liza Jane” family—are related.

The virtuoso fiddler Clark Kessinger was already playing West Virginia saloons and dances when he was summoned for service in World War I. While overseas, he may have whistled a different tune, “Li’l Liza Jane,” which had become freshly popular in that era, and had been transported by the rank and file to the theatre of war. Upon returning, he teamed with his nephew to form the fiddle-guitar duo that could both ignite blazes and extinguish them in the space of a three-minute, ten-inch, vinyl cut. No, they’re not brothers after all in the nuclear family sense, but they are related, and they are certainly brothers-in-skill. During the Great Depression, the Kessingers gradually faded from the music scene. Luches even passed away in 1944. Eventually, Clark Kessinger was rediscovered in the 1960s, as part of the folk music revival, and from what I can tell, he didn’t disappoint. Other fiddlers were reluctant to compete with him, even at an advanced age. The elder Kessinger passed away in 1975.

“Liza Jane” was bundled with a somewhat melancholy pop tune, “Whistling Rufus,” that nevertheless jumps in the hands of the duo. It’s not clear which of the two songs was the A-side but the record was released as Brunswick 521 in June 1929. By then, the “Liza Jane” family of songs had been circulating for many decades, in various idioms. Clark and Luches weren’t playing a “white mountain song” but a tune that had traded hands between black and white musicians—and would continue to do so in the decades to follow. For example, a sedate and divine Mississippi John Hurt plays a mellow version of this song (with words) on his 1963 album Folk Songs and Blues.

According to scholar Charles Wolfe, Clark Kessinger ripped into a fiddle tune the way a hungry fellow would rip into a plate of fried chicken. As we’ve noted, that’s how vigorous you need to be, when courting Liza Jane. You love her, you tell her so, you swing her ma-a-a-adly, but she remains aloof. She’s one obstinate poor gal. And in all likelihood, she’ll go down the new-cut road and you’ll go down the lane, and if I get there before you do, well, goodbye Liza Jane.  

coda: liza jane

I happen to have developed a specialty in “Liza Jane” songs (just a little bit) owing to a collaboration with my colleague Emily Cohen for a forthcoming documentary film that is being happily and gloriously rejuvenated and reimagined at present, after the pandemic sidelined us unexpectedly. Check out our website and my previous posts (cultural history of the song + behind the scenes at our trailer shoot) for information that will help you understand my historical claims, although we’re saving the vast majority of our best details for the film. I can confidently say that there are good days ahead for this beloved family of folk tunes.

sources of information

All Music Guide listing for the Kessinger Brothers
Discography of American Historical Recordings entry for Brunswick 521 record
Discography of American Historical Recordings entry for “Liza Jane”
Hill Billy Music entry for the Kessinger Brothers
Mountains of Music: West Virginia Traditional Music from Goldenseal. Ed. John Lilly (University of Illinois Press, 1999)
West Virginia Music Hall of Fame entry for Clark Kessinger
Wikipedia entry for Clark Kessinger




Key to the images: 

1. I’ve been seeing this hawk up in the greenery, no not that greenery, I mean the greenery! For months. Here, she fluttered down to engage in some scrutiny with me, her only human friend. It was a lengthy, calm, formal visit. I spoke English. She listened. That is our dynamic. 

2. This is my favorite deer. “You’re a good-looking deer,” I tell her. Now, before you wicked people start with your quips, I am already involved with a fox. The other deer are like bounding here, bounding there. Whatevs. I need dependability in a deer. Like a newspaper: she’s waiting, daily. 

3. Behold the mole kingsnake! I nearly jogged on this fella. It’s a perfectly good snake, only you don’t lay eyes on it very often, so you’re like “copperhead?” but no, that’s not a copperhead. To be clear, I don’t like snakes: most of them can go f*** off. But I like this one. 

4. Here we see a renegade member of Brood X reclining comfortably on a stalk of grass. I remember when everybody was like “Where’s Brood X?” blah blah blah (impatiently) but not anymore. Cicadas everywhere: mating on my car tires, ffs. Good thing I’ve got all-weather radials. 

5. The Fox in My Life. (a) She jumps the creek but looks back to see where I am. (b) She appears suddenly in the grassy grassy lea. (c) She jogs with me at a remove, on the edge of the woods. (d) She checks on me in the snow, after I had slipped! (e) This is just heartbreaking, I will confess. Here she is, waiting for me, sitting as a dog might sit. I have been pandemic-isolated from so many people and places but this fox has been my friend.


Wednesday, May 5, 2021



Scroll down for complete lyrics

When the self-taught guitarist Joshua Barnes Howell played the blues, it came from a place of multiple hardships and irregular pursuits. Born in 1888 to a farming family in rural Georgia, Mr. Howell worked as a farmer himself until an argument led his brother in-law to shoot him in the leg, forcing its amputation, and generating the man’s unanticipated nickname. No longer able to labor on the farm, “Peg Leg” Howell drifted to Atlanta in the early 1920s, where he began busking and bootlegging. After a one-year stint in jail for a moonshine-related offense, he was discovered playing some raucous licks with a group of musicians on Decatur Street.

Columbia Records wound up recording Peg Leg Howell solo, as well as in an ensemble known as Peg Leg Howell and His Gang. The latter featured the bust-out greasy electricity of fiddler Eddie Anthony and the steady second guitar of Henry Williams. In all, Howell cut about two-dozen sides for Columbia between 1926 and 1929, and was noteworthy for being one of the first African American country blues musicians to record his music. The Great Depression deprived him of further recording opportunities but he continued to play in Atlanta. When the fiddler Eddie Anthony passed away in the mid-1930s, Howell retreated into obscurity, only to be rediscovered by a folklorist about three decades later. By then, Howell was an impoverished double amputee, owing to “sugar diabetes.” He recorded an album’s worth of material (released on the Testament label) before passing away in 1966.

Howell’s first recording session in 1926 (solo vocals and guitar) generated a song—“New Prison Blues”—that merits placement alongside the great murder ballads, including Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Stack O’Lee Blues.” Howell and His Gang (together) conquered a variety of idioms including string band, jazz, and dance numbers; the peppy 1927 “Beaver Slide Rag” might be just the song that’d make you reach for the corn liquor. Springing-forth from that vein, but omitting guitarist Williams, we present for your devotion the magnificent 1928 tune “Turkey Buzzard Blues,” which thoroughly douses itself in suggestive language and never stops jumping. We can only imagine how Eddie Anthony didn’t saw his fiddle in half during the session that produced this gem.

(L) Williams; (C) Anthony; (R) Howell

Our Musicology Department has been working overtime on this song and we’re proud to present the lyrics, below. “Turkey Buzzard Blues” may borrow some floating verses from traditional sources and also refers to another country song, “Sugar in the Gourd.” Moreover, it’s the only song not about chinquapin hunting that mentions chinquapin hunting. I’ll save you the trouble of looking the word up: the chinquapin is a “dwarf chestnut” tree or shrubbery of the southern regions that provides fruit, shade, and cover to people and animals alike. Indeed, someone (a cute little poor gal) could’ve climbed into a chinquapin tree, fell down, and the other person—who happened to be a peg-legged singer—could’ve seen “sump’in.” Go have a listen to Peg Leg and Eddie swinging the dickens out of the universe.

“Turkey Buzzard Blues”
Peg Leg Howell and Eddie Anthony
Peg Leg Howell (guitar, vocals); Eddie Anthony (fiddle, vocals)
Columbia Records 14382-D (Atlanta, Ga., 1928) 10-inch B-side b/w “Banjo Blues”  

Had a long gal, she was tall and thin
Had a long gal, she was tall and thin
Had a long gal, tall and thin
Every time she jigs (I said) “do it up again!”

If you got six bits (you) think you want to spend
Got six bits, think you want to spend
Got six bits, think you want to spend
Go around the corner and cop it till it win

Now me and my gal went chinquapin huntin’
Me and my gal went a-chinquapin huntin’
Me and my gal went a-chinquapin huntin’
She fell down and I saw sump’in!

Have you ever went fishing on a bright sunny day?
Standin’ on the bank, see the little fish play
Hands in your pockets, in your pockets, in your pants
See the little bitty fish do the hoochie coochie dance!

Had an old hen and had a peg leg
Fattest old hen that ever laid a egg
It laid more eggs than the hens around the barn
Another little drink wouldn’t do me no harm

There’s sugar in the gourd, can’t get it out
Sugar in the gourd, can’t get it out
Sugar in the gourd, can’t get it out
Now the way to get sugar, gotta roll it all about

sources of information

AllMusic Guide biography for Peg Leg Howell
Charters, Samuel Barclay. Country Blues. (Da Capo Press, 1975).
DAHR discography for Peg Leg Howell
Early Blues article about “Beaver Slide Rag”
Oakley, Giles. The Devil's Music. (Da Capo Press, 1997).
Oliver, Paul. Songsters and Saints. (Cambridge University Press, 1984).
Old Time Blues article on early recordings of Peg Leg Howell
Oliver, Paul. The story of the blues. (Chilton, 1969).
WayBack Machine article on Peg Leg Howell
Wikipedia article on Castanea Pumila (Chinquapin tree)
Wikipedia article on Peg Leg Howell
WIRZ discography for Peg Leg Howell




Scroll down for complete lyrics.

In April 1924, Aunt Samantha Bumgarner and her collaborator Eva Davis became the first women to record country music. At the same time, Bumgarner and Davis became the first people to record five-string banjo. Summoned by Columbia Records, the duo traveled from the mountains of western North Carolina to New York, where they cut several sides together, and some solo sides apiece. Neither artist would record again. While Davis refrained from performances afterwards, Bumgarner established herself as one of the most influential country musicians—fiddler, banjoist, singer—of her generation. She passed away in 1960. 

Born circa 1878 (or 1880) to a musically-inclined family, Bumgarner (neĆ© Biddix) nevertheless faced resistance when demonstrating an interest in playing instruments. Her father finally allowed her to play a homemade banjo—a gourd with a cat’s hide stretched over it and strings made of cotton thread slathered in beeswax—before purchasing her a “10 cent” store banjo. Later, her husband Carse bought her the first “devil’s box” (or fiddle) she ever owned. While her ambitions may have challenged the “appropriateness of gender roles” at the time (that is: only a man can fiddle Appalachian mountain music) it was probably obvious that she possessed what the kids would call “mad talent.” Bumgarner defeated many a male banjo player in winning contest after contest.

Given the respectful musician title “Aunt” at age 30, Bumgarner would become a regular at Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. It was there that a young student, Pete Seeger, was inspired by Aunt Samantha Bumgarner and her five-string clawhammer banjo technique. In 1939, Lunsford, Bumgarner, and others
appeared at a command performance for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, hosted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. It’s funny to imagine English royalty sitting there, squirming stoically, while Aunt Samantha Bumgarner might’ve torn through a North Carolina dance number like “Big-Eyed Rabbit.”

Our Musicology Department has been working overtime on this song and we’re proud to present the lyrics, below. My goodness: where to start? The whirling pace—and rough elegance—of Bumgarner’s fiddle? The cool, yet not inelastic anchoring of Davis’ banjo? How could we not discuss the clipped, frenetic vernacular of Bumgarner’s vocals? And what of the song’s story? That beloved rascal the big-eyed rabbit. Howling hound dogs. Threat of the old shotgun. The regular “lord, lord” invocation of a deity. The concept of “getting’ there now” which is mighty ticklish, given the song’s dizzying pace. Clearly, many people were “rocking” well in advance of rock ‘n’ roll. Would your life be better if you turned this tune up loud and hopped around? Why yes it would.

“Big-Eyed Rabbit”

Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis
Samantha Bumgarner (fiddle, vocals); Eva Davis (banjo)
Columbia Records 81710 129-D (New York, N.Y., 1924) 10-inch A-side b/w “Wild Bill Jones” [Notably, “Wild Bill Jones” features only Davis.]

Rabbit oh rabbit done hear them hounds
Yes lord lord they’re gettin’ me around
Get there rabbit rabbit get there now
Yes lord lord I’m gettin’ there now

Rabbit oh rabbit your ears mighty red
Yes lord lord been jerkin’ [up afraid]
Get there rabbit rabbit get there now
Yes lord lord I’m gettin’ there now

You jump out and start to run
Shoot you down with my old shotgun
Get there rabbit rabbit get there now
Yes lord lord I’m gettin’ there now

Rabbit oh rabbit your foot’s mighty round
Yes lord lord make a hole in the ground
Get there rabbit rabbit get there now
Yes lord lord I’m gettin’ there now

Rabbit’s in the garden siftin’ sand
‘Fore tomorrow morning I’ll have him in my hand
Get there rabbit rabbit get there now
Yes lord lord I’m gettin’ there now

Rascal rascal hearin’ my dog
Yes lord lord I want [a call]
Get there rabbit rabbit get there now
Yes lord lord I’m gettin’ there now

sources of information

Appalachian History (.net) article on Samantha Bumgarner
Banjo News article on Samantha Bumgarner
Birthplace of Country Music article on “Big-Eyed Rabbit”
Bluegrass Today article on Samantha Bumgarner
Bufwack, Mary A., and Oermann, Robert K. Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800-2000. (Country Music Foundation Press, 2003.)
Cloer, Tom. “Aunt Samantha Bumgarner: Pioneer in Southern Music.” Pickens County Courier (July 10, 2013).
DAHR discography for Samantha Bumgarner
DAHR discography for Eva Davis
Hotaling, Lynn. “Samantha Bumgarner was a musical pioneer.” The Sylva Herald (May 1, 2019).
Old Time Party article on Samantha Bumgarner
WIRZ discography for Samantha Bumgarner
Wolfe, Charles K. “Samantha Bumgarner: The Original Banjo Pickin’ Girl.” Old Time Herald (Winter 1987-88), pp.6-9.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021



In 1926, a man named John L. “Uncle Bunt” Stephens recorded an unforgettable tune—“Candy Girl”—as part of one-day recording stint at Columbia Records in New York. He had drifted out of obscurity after he may have won (or placed highly in) a series of fiddling contests sponsored by Henry Ford. We say “may have won” because there may have been fewer contests than claimed, or rather no contests at all. Uncle Bunt toured that year and made some notable appearances before drifting back to the rural area of Tennessee where he lived with his second wife.

In the mid-1920s, Ford dealerships apparently sponsored local fiddling contests. Uncle Bunt seems to have competed in these, placing highly or triumphing. Then, according to legend, Uncle Bunt and other highly-placing fiddlers traveled to Detroit in early 1926, where Henry Ford himself held a supreme fiddling competition that Uncle Bunt claims to have won, by playing “Old Hen Cackled” and “Sail Away Lady.” Furthermore, according to legend, Ford presented the triumphant fiddler with a new car, a rich payday, and a new suit; he also paid to have Uncle Bunt’s teeth fixed. A scholarly article appearing in the
Journal of the Society for American Music suggests that therein may lie more fiction than fact. (We wonder if dental records could offer some conclusive evidence.)

A letter from Uncle Bunt to Ford dated August 20, 1926, refers to the “blue ribbon” that Uncle Bunt had been awarded at Ford’s last old time fiddling contest. It also inquires about the prospects of a Ford automobile being made available for Uncle Bunt’s touring. At the very least, this would seem to discredit the notion that Ford had awarded Stephens a car. There is no record of a reply.

However things may have transpired with the Ford Motor Company, Uncle Bunt Stephens enjoyed some fame in 1926. He appeared at the WSN
Barn Dance (later renamed the Grand Ole Opry), on radio stations, and at performance venues across the eastern half of the country. He traveled to New York, where he cut “Candy Girl.” Columbia Records would make it Side 1, bundled with “Left in the Dark Blues” as Side 2. Columbia also released “Louisburg Blues” b/w “Sail Away Lady.” It’s possible that Uncle Bunt recorded two additional songs at the same session—“Jenny in the Garden” and “Leather Breeches”—but if he did, these cuts were never released. He recorded these songs on March 29, 1926; he would never record again.

Three days before the recording session, the New Britain Herald (of Conn.) reported that “Uncle Bunt Stephens of Tullahoma, Tenn., who won a Ford fiddling bee, is visiting town. He complains that in Nashville two pairs of pants given him by Henry [Ford] were stolen and he had to pay $1.10 for a shave in Chicago.” Two forms of theft in the big city. Two good reasons to ditch the dangers of densely populated regions for the less-manic tableaux of the countryside.

Importantly, Uncle Bunt’s recordings have been included in Harry Smith’s influential
Anthology of American Folk Music as well as the Harry Smith B-sides anthology. The author Allen Lowe also included Uncle Bunt’s music as part of his impressive 30-CD anthology that accompanies his recently released two volume set of books, “Turn Me Loose White Man,” in which Lowe analyzes a wide swath of important American recordings. Uncle Bunt’s four songs made quite an impression.

To our ears, “Candy Girl” walks the line between brightness and mournfulness. Call it beauty. The tune is triumphant, to be sure, yet it expresses the powerful, grating sorrows that inform our systems of remorse. Columbia billed this record as “mountain dance music” and we don’t disagree. It’s hard to imagine folks sitting still, when encountering “Candy Girl” in performance. Of course, we encountered “Candy Girl” while sitting still, and it gouged us. By “gouge” we mean that it clobbered us with its inherent (priceless) weights. The tune played perfectly in the pandemic ravaged world of 2021, as we imagine it played perfectly just scant years after the Spanish Flu receded.

John L. Stephens was born in Tennessee, orphaned at an early age, and raised by an aunt. He was proficient on the harmonica as a boy, and claimed to have bought a fiddle from a tramp; the fiddle was of German manufacture and may have dated to 1699. While “Uncle” is a common title bestowed upon venerable fiddlers, we can’t comment on the man’s full nickname. He didn’t play baseball, and to our knowledge, he didn’t ram anything with his forehead. Uncle Bunt Stephens passed away in 1951 at the age of 72. “Candy Girl” lives on. We hear it and our eyes well-up, simply.

Brownsville Herald (Tex.) April 3, 1926

sources of information
AllMusic Guide page for Uncle Bunt Stephens
Discography of American Historical Recordings page for Uncle bunt Stephens
Paul M. Gifford, “Henry Ford's Dance Revival and Fiddle Contests: Myth and Reality,” Journal of the Society for American Music 4, n. 3 (Aug. 2010): 330-332
National Museum of American History page for the “Candy Girl”
New Britain Herald via Chronicling America (March 26, 1926)
Don Roberson via Internet Archive Way Back Machine article on Uncle Bunt Stephens
Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music at Smithsonian Folkways
Harry Smith B-Sides anthology at Dust-to-Digital
Ryan Thomson, The Fiddler’s Almanac (1985)
Wikipedia page for Uncle Bunt Stephens

Thursday, February 4, 2021



A song so unrestrainable that the singer can only prevent its escape for an agonizing eight seconds. “La-de-da apartments”—the kind described by writer Toni Cade Bambara—all across the country—were soon jumping to “Out Of This World,” which quickly rackets uphill.

The singer was / is “Jumpin’” Gino Washington. At the time, he was a bad-ass teenager from Detroit. Kids today would insist upon calling him a BAMF and we would not disagree. In fact, this BAMF is among us. We congratulate him heartily for his greatly stomping contribution.

When the song first appeared, Cash Box predicted that it would “take a quick trip to chartsville” and it did just that, spending five weeks on the Billboard charts and peaking at #44, in March 1964. The backing vocalists, The Rochelles, would later become Tony Orlando’s “Dawn.”

The bass player was not the Chuck Berry, but he was a guy named Chuck Berry. He was part of a white band, The Atlantics, that backed the three black singers. While groups like Rodney and the Blazers or Booker T and the MGs come to mind, that era was not known for integrated bands.

A short while later, Mr. Washington was drafted into the Army, and sent to Vietnam. When he returned in 1967, his career had vanished. Meanwhile, a UK-based singer, Geno Washington, had stolen all but one letter of his name. This “Geno” was also an American serviceman (Air Force). But enough of that.

Before he served in Vietnam, Gino Washington opened for the Rolling Stones. He worked with the Primettes, who would go on to become the Supremes. He released other hits, such as “Gino Is A Coward.” And to this blogger’s approval, he was backed at some point by the Royaltones.

Returning to “Out Of This World”—it may borrow its opening saxophone riff from “Mr. Twist,” an obscure 1962 shaker by Tommy and the Twisters. The lyrics are barely discernible. The lead vocals are sludgy and the backing vocals may be too enthusiastic in their gluey star-brightness.

The guitar solo searches for itself in the cloakroom. It rifles through a lot of the coats, trying, perhaps, to thieve some taxicab fare. And yet, “Out Of This World” is almost perfect. “Does this 45 have a B-side?” you might ask. Why yes it does. Behold: 

“Come Monkey With Me” employs “monkey” as verb, with double entendre. Not only should you do the monkey with me, but you should fool around with me, too. It enters the long list of monkey songs, the best of which may be Dave Bartholomew’s “The Monkey Speaks His Mind.”

But we love “Come Monkey With Me” because it could’ve been the A-side. There’s very little energy lost between these two singles. According to the song, if the gal would come monkey with [me], the singer promises to love her…ten-der-ly. Yeah right.

A friend of mine once pointed out that she liked “Mr. Five by Five” (Jimmy Rushing) because his jump blues voice had that gruffness, full of character, and she was right. For some, Gino Washington might not compare to fellow Detroit crooners Jackie Wilson and Little Willie John, but he does possess that roughened shouting stuff. It’s A-one.

The Detroit Metro Times ranked “Out Of This World” as the 19th greatest Detroit song ever, noting that The Atlantics (garage), the Rochelles (doo wop?), and Gino Washington (soul) brought “the myriad threads of Detroit music to a boiling point.” Yes. We agree.

When you consider the Detroit acts that that rank higher than him—Marvin Gaye, The Stooges, John Lee Hooker, The Supremes, MC5, etc.—it’s quite a distinction. Look a little bit farther down the list for Nathaniel Mayer’s “Village of Love.” We almost chose that song for this post.


Likely personnel for “Out Of This World” b/w “Come Monkey With Me”

Gino Washington (lead vocals); The Rochelles: Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent (backing vocals); The Atlantics: Jeff Williams (lead guitar), Jim Watkins (rhythm guitar), Rick White (sax), Chuck Berry (bass), and Cliff Rosin (drums). Songwriting/arranging: George “Gino” Washington. Released on Amon 90580 (1963) and Wand 147 (1964).

sources of information

AllMusic Guide entry for Gino Washington
Billboard charting details for Gino Washington
Black Cat Rockabilly Europe entry for Gino Washington
Cash Box February 1964
Detroit Metro Times ranking of the best Detroit songs ever
Discogs entry for The Atlantics
Discogs entry for “Out Of This World” / “Come Monkey With Me”
Wikipedia entry for Geno Washington
Wikipedia entry for Gino Washington
Wikipedia entry for Tony Orlando and Dawn

Tuesday, January 12, 2021



Have a watch, then learn about the mayhem, below. 

As I recall, the video shoot lasted from about 3 p.m. until 5 a.m. We got Chinese takeout somewhere in the middle. It was warm in November (2019). It rained. By the morning, it was much cooler. The script called for the official Joy on Fire cat, Funz, to participate at the very end. The fabulous director, Damien Davis, asked us a famous question: “Will Funz cooperate?” (You’ll have to watch the entire video to find out.) Damien and Chris work together; it was Chris who recruited Damien for the video and the results speak for themselves. “Thunderdome” debuted on NPR’s All Songs Considered, hosted by Bob Boilen, Nov. 17, 2020.

Everything took place in John and Anna’s living room, in Trenton. We assembled a collage. (Can you identify my two additions, Paul Celan and Clarice Lispector?) I did my best work as a purveyor of Air Bass. All of us wore sunglasses, except Anna, until the song’s final sequence, when she appears (movie magic!) in shades. The music in “Thunderdome” never stops walloping. To the best of my ability, I’d describe the lyrics as equal parts interpersonal and societal outcry. “We Are Full of Anger and Decency.” Hasn’t that been obvious, lately?

The final still photo is just a gratuitous pancakes image. It was taken after Joy on Fire played a week earlier at Silvana, in Harlem. We wound up later at the Seinfeld diner. So I did what anybody would do under those circumstances. Sensibly, I ordered the blueberry flapjacks. Thanks for having a look, if you’ve had a look, and thanks for any thumbs-ups, if you’ve given us any thumbs-ups. It is our dream that Tina Turner will come across our video and have herself a fine little chuckle. What’s love, but a second-hand emoticon?

key to the still photos, in order: damien davis; chris olsen; john paul carillo, anna meadors, and chris; john; the wall collage; anna, john, and chris; me and funz; chris; damien, anna, and chris; me and pancakes.

this post is part of a double-issue focused on joy on fire music videos. for a look at our anti-gun protest video “uh huh” click [here].



Have a watch then learn about the mayhem below. 

John kept playing combinations of “dinn-dinn-dunn” on the bass and I kept saying “uh huh” after every iteration. This was 2018, when he and I first started adding words to music, in my old apartment up the hill, in Adams Morgan, D.C., where you could see the Washington Monument from the living room windows. The amp was thumping; the neighbors must’ve been going crazy. Were there bottles of stout? Why, yes there were. “dunn-dinn-dunn!” // “uh huh!”

I said “uh huh” because I dug the bass line, but it became a regular part of the song’s opening cycle, and eventually the title, too. A change in the lyrics would appear after one of the song’s thumping, electrified transformations. There, the words would speculate on the unknowable: the songs not for the dead but of the dead. Ultimately, “Uh Huh” is an anti-gun anthem. In it, we challenge murderers to atone, by returning the bodies (of those they murdered) to the earth.


Importantly, other hands touched the song. Chris Olsen would add the metrical necessity of drums. Anna Meadors added both dirgeful and enraged saxophones; she also devised the refrain (the little loop of singing) at the outro; she engineered the entire recording. In the fullness of time, Mark Isaac and Gabriela Bulisova interpreted the song visually, through a combination of thermal, rippling water, video game, marching, and corporeal imagery. It seems quite accurate.

Even as Covid-19 has prevented us from performing, the video has been gaining traction at several international film festivals. A special thanks to our friends at the Oregon Short Film Festival, London Rocks Film Festival, L.A. Rocks Film Festival, Brussels Independent Film Festival, Hollywood Verge Film Awards, and Rome Independent Prisma Awards. Yo! With a dozen more submissions yet to go! We didn’t have ginormous resources for a big push, thus the level of interest has been especially surprising.

If you are inclined, travel to YouTube and give us a thumb’s up. Give us an “uh huh.” Thanks.

this post is part of a double-issue focused on joy on fire music videos. for behind the scenes at the “thunderdome” video shoot, click [here].