Dewey Corley

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There's not much chance of making jug band music without a jug, although a few have tried. A washtub bass doesn't hurt, either. In fact, one of the main concepts of this tricky, goofy, and spirited style…
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There's not much chance of making jug band music without a jug, although a few have tried. A washtub bass doesn't hurt, either. In fact, one of the main concepts of this tricky, goofy, and spirited style of music is to create a bass line out of something that basically sounds like a pile of junk. Perhaps it was supposed to be called "junk band music." There would be no more expert opinion than that of Dewey Corley, who was not only the leader of the Beale Street Jug Band from the '30s onward, but also one of the great players on all manner of jug band ordnance: including, of course, jug, and ranging from the depth-charge of the washtub bass to the insect-like whine of the kazoo, upon which he is considered one of the great soloists. In his later years, he also turned out to be one of the great A&R men, helping record companies such as Adelphi scout out missing Memphis blues legends such as the elusive Hacksaw Harney and the superb guitarist Willie Morris. Corley picked up the interest in music from his father and began playing the harmonica as a child growing up in Arkansas. He started hoboing around the country at the age of 18 and became highly influenced by Will Shade, the charismatic and superbly organized founder of the original Memphis Jug Band. It was Shade who introduced the genre in the river city after hearing a jug band holding forth over the hill in Kentucky. Corley came in and out of Shade's Memphis Jug Band, as did many other Memphis blues players such as Furry Lewis and Memphis Minnie. He was also a member of Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band and also backed quite a few of the city's diverse bluesmen in duo and trio settings. His own Beale Street Jug Band was a most successful venture and became a fixture in Memphis for nearly three decades. A series of 1950 photographs of a ceremony honoring W.C. Handy at the Beale Street Auditorium shows the aged blues composer standing at the entrance to the building, holding the sheet music for his "Memphis Blues and surrounded by many V.I.P.s. Seated in front of this group are the seven members of the Beale Street Jug Band with a broadly grinning Corley. In the end, he would be the last surviving member of both the Memphis Jug Band and the Beale Street Jug Band. In terms of his career, getting older just meant getting better for this artist. While he was busily involved in the blues scene in the '30s and '40s, he managed to keep out of the recording studio almost completely; inevitably, somebody else is tooting kazoo, thumbing washtub, or huffing clouds of feted breath across the top of a jug on vintage recordings by the Memphis Jug Band, or at least this is what the credits indicate on reissues. Corley himself refuted this information, stating on several occasions that he played jug with the Memphis Jug Band during a two-day recording session in 1934 for OKeh, and not Jab Jones. It was not a fact deemed worthy of a headline in Variety magazine such as "Jab No Jug." Perhaps Corley was actually busy at another engagement by the same band in another part of town because in its heyday, leader Shade employed so many players that he was able to keep two different versions of the group going simultaneously. Then there was the rock & roll era and at first it seemed like there were no bookings at all for the Memphis jug bands anymore. But while some older bluesmen balked at the onset of new record labels and enthusiastic young white listeners in the '60s, this was Corley's ticket into the recording studio, where he shined with enthusiasm and, needless to say, solos that sound like Charlie Parker might have, if he had played kazoo.