Douglas Williams

Douglas Williams

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The first album ever released under the name of Memphis clarinetist and bandleader Douglas Williams contains 24 sides cut for the Victor label between January 31, 1928 and June 5, 1930. This handsome compilation opens with a pair of vaudeville blues performances by Alfoncy and Bethenea Harris. The male half of this team, who is perhaps erroneously credited in the discography as playing alto saxophone, also made records with Blind Willie McTell, the team of George Williams and Bessie Brown, and pianist Curtis Jones. "That Same Cat" is an adaptation of "That Same Dog," a song recorded several years earlier by the famous vaudeville blues duo, Butterbeans & Susie. It is as leader of the accompanying trio on the Harris & Harris record that Douglas Williams made his first posthumous appearance on compact discs, first in 1997 on Document 5528, a compilation featuring George Williams and Bessie Brown and other vaudeville and blues vocal duos, and subsequently on the more widely distributed set When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll. On the day that the Harris records were made, the session began with four titles played by Williams, pianist Blaine Elliott, and drummer Sam Sims. Williams, who sounded very much like Johnny Dodds, was most comfortable in the lower register of the clarinet. His "Slow Death" is a marvel of focused expression employing wide vibrato, gritty trills, and giddy passages that recall the deliberate excesses of Wilton Crawley. "One Hour To-night," which bears only incidental resemblance to the similarly titled tune by James P. Johnson, has another vaudeville blues vocal, this time by Thelma Lee and a man identified only as B. Smith. On "Sister Ella" and the "Riverside Stomp" (which feature Sims on the washboard), Elliott was permanently replaced by Edgar Brown, a capable pianist who had made a record with Billy and Mary Mack in 1925. On September 4, 1928 the clarinetist's brother Nathaniel Williams joined the group, which for that one day was billed as the Douglas Williams Four. Over the next couple of weeks the clarinetist recorded three duets with his pianist. "Friendless Blues" is credited to Williams, but might well have been composed by (or co-written with) W.C. Handy, who had recorded Williams' "Hooking Cow Blues" in 1917. The remaining titles were all performed by quintets with guitarist Melvin "Mel" Parker taking vocals on the "Undertaker Blues," "Leaving Blues," "Thrill Me," and "Don't Treat Me Like a Dog." With the "Louisiana Hop" and a brisk "Darktown Jubilee," Williams managed to achieve hot swinging jazz that withstands comparison with just about anything else recorded in 1930. This fascinating music has languished in obscurity for many years. The folks at Jazz Oracle deserve a congressional medal for unearthing, remastering, and presenting it so diligently.

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