As a percussion instrument, the humble washboard seems to share a common ancestry with the guiro, a ribbed wooden scraper associated with Afro-Caribbean music and traceable in some form or another to most cultures throughout the world if you dig deep enough. By the end of the 19th century, the rub board was well on its the way to making the quantum leap from the washtub to the gramophone, and during the period between the first and second world wars, records by washboard-driven blues and jazz bands cropped up in the catalogs of regionally and nationally distributed labels. Since the introduction of the compact disc, this type of historic material has been made available by numerous reissue labels, sometimes being upgraded from 78 rpm originals to the digital format without ever having been pressed onto vinyl LPs. Released in 1996, EPM's The Washboard Story contains 18 examples drawn from the years 1926-1939, beginning with Jimmy Bertrand's Washboard Wonders and proceeding more or less chronologically with well-chosen titles by the Clarence Williams Washboard Band, the Beale Street Washboard Band, the Chicago Stompers, the Alabama Washboard Stompers, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and the great Washboard Sam, whose main asset was always his rich and persuasive singing voice. In addition to those already mentioned by name, washboard handlers heard on this excellent collection are Bruce Johnson, Jasper Taylor, Floyd Casey, and Warren "Baby" Dodds. What you get here is an invigorating cross-section of vintage good-time music that includes a snappy version of Fats Waller's "I'm Goin' Huntin'" featuring cornetist Louis Armstrong, and the Clarence Williams band's rock-solid "Cushion Foot Stomp." This collection is greatly enhanced by the reassuring presence of clarinetist Johnny Dodds on "Forty and Tight" and "Piggly Wiggly"; the almost unbridled frenzy of the Alabama Washboard Stompers' "Pepper Steak," and the calm assurance of Washboard Sam, whose Bluebird recordings with guitarist Big Bill Broonzy were such an important ingredient in Chicago's black music scene during and after the second world war. Many options exist for those who wish to study or simply enjoy the sounds of classic washboard units, and EPM's Washboard Story is an excellent place to start. If this little taste leaves you with an uncontrollable craving for similar material, seek out two volumes of Jimmy O'Bryant's Washboard Wonders and the collection Harps, Jugs, Washboards & Kazoos on RST; multiple sets on Collector's Classics devoted to the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Clarence Williams, and seven volumes of Washboard Sam on Document.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf